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Ecuador 2017 – December 22, 2017

January 19th, 2018 No comments

Friday, December 22, 2017

Today is a travel day with our return flight to Quito making a quick stop in Guayaquil. Pick up at the hotel is promptly at 7:00 so we come down with our bags for an early breakfast. We have been warned that there could be several delays along the trip, waiting for the water taxi or waiting for the buses as it is a multi-staged transport scenario to make it to the airport. One the first stage we take a bus ride across the island and unload at the boat dock. A boat is busily loading up and so our new guide hurries over to buy our passage and get us onboard. After only a 5 minute wait, we take a 10 minute water taxi across a canal. On the other side we are again in luck as a bus is currently loading up and we scurry to get our bags in the lower luggage area and then our group all aboard. We just make it with seats in the back as we start the bus ride that takes us to the airport. The airport is on an old U.S. air base that was originally built to protect the Panama Canal. Now abandoned, it has been converted to a commercial airport.

With such good fortune in making all the connections from the hotel we are quite early for our flight. Remembering the pitiful ham and cheese sandwich on the way over we seek out a place to get a bit to eat and another coffee. It is a small airport with about four gates, perhaps half a dozen little shops, and a couple small cafes. One cafe has empanadas but the coffee machine has no milk, so we visit the other cafe and are in luck as their coffee machine is order. The large waiting area is filled with hard plastic chairs lined up in groups of three or four and we muse that we could all take our airplane ordered seats in here.

The flight is uneventful and once the group is in Quito, we say goodbyes as everyone is either returning home or continuing on with other adventures. Janine who has quite an extended holiday is now visiting Columbia and hiking about for several weeks; I guess it is much safer than it used to be. We strongly negotiate for a room that is not directly on the street this time as we will have a couple of days here and would like to rest well at night.

We stop at a local pharmacia to again stock up on electrolytes for our altitude adjustment phase. For dinner we return to the La Purisima. Jason’s soup is served in a shallow bowl that looks more like an appetizer than a soup. A couple of chunks of meat and vegetables, but no “soup”. We all look at it confused and then look up at each other and start laughing. A moment later the waiter comes out and ladles the soup from a very ornate bowl that he was holding. Jason comments, “apparently some assembly is required.”

Whether it was the altitude, airline food, last night’s tuna, or some other component of our diet, everyone has a touch of diarrhea that quickly passes, no pun intended.

Categories: Ecuador 2017 Tags: ,

Ecuador 2017 – December 21, 2017

January 18th, 2018 No comments

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Breakfast is from 6:30 to 9:00 but Jorge is picking up the group at 8:30. We met Jason and Chris at 7:30 for a leisurely breakfast.

We take a short walk through town to a path that leads to Tortuga Bay. This path is a pavement of hexagonal blocks relatively smooth, but a few stones are not level and I nearly twist my ankle. This path goes on for quite a ways (2,500m or about 1.5 miles) before we reach the beach. We then walked along the beach of Tortuga Bay to a protected lagoon, Playa Mansa. The lagoon waters are calm and clear – perfect for kayaking.
View from room
Tortuga Bay
Due to a scheduling mix-up, we have to wait another hour to go kayaking. Vicky and I decide to explore a little bit while we wait. Walking down the sand beach we see small children playing in the shallow calm water which seem to extend far out into the lagoon. Marine iguanas are sharing the beach with the swimmers and kayakers. Around a group of mangroves a small path leads to a rocky cliff where we find four blue-footed boobies. The hour passes by quickly and we return to the kayak area.
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Jorge and another guide, Andy, lead the group around the lagoon for the next hour. The first stop is an area protected by mangroves where there are no less than 50 white tip reef sharks just a few feet beneath the kayaks. Even though I know they have no interest in us, I still catch my breath with that number of sharks swimming around just underneath my small kayak.
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Kayaking
Out in the center of the lagoon we find eagle rays and sea turtles near the surface. Crossing the lagoon to the eastern shore we see a swimming marine iguana make its exit up on to the rocks. In another mangrove alcove we see a baby black tip reef shark swimming around. Jorge gives as another 20 minutes free time with the kayaks. Vicky and I decide to revisit the alcove across the lagoon where the white tip reef sharks were hanging out. This time there are a couple of snorkelers kicking their way over to where we are watching the swirling activity below. I am thinking these guys are surely loco. Returning to the beach, we gather our belongings and begin the long hike back to the hotel.

After getting cleaned up, we search out some lunch. We find a place called the “Red Tuna” and since we are going to be having tuna for dinner, most of us opt for a burger that also has an egg and bacon on it along with a side of fries. It is an open air restaurant and we casually watch the activity on the street. There is quite an abundance of taxi trucks as Santa Cruz is clearly the most populated and commercialize little town in the islands.

Chris decides he wants a souvenir t-shirt so we stroll down the street and check out a few of the shops lining the street. It does not take long before he finds one he likes. We now have a few hours so I decided to catch up on the journal. Jorge meets us at 7:00 to take the group out for their last Galapagos dinner.

Walking around
Walking around
I did not catch the name of the restaurant, but we were up on the third floor terrace with a view overlooking the harbor and streets below. For dinner, nearly everyone ordered the tuna and we ordered ours rare. The tuna was seared and lightly coated in something akin to breadcrumbs. This rates as one of the best meals this trip. We all say our farewells to Jorge and express our appreciation for the excellent job he did as our guide in these beautiful islands.

Categories: Ecuador 2017 Tags: ,

Ecuador 2017 – December 20, 2017

January 17th, 2018 No comments

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I wake up just before the alarm clock goes off and hit the shower. The water never did get hot so it was a very brisk shower. I know everyone isn’t taking their shower already, perhaps the water heater is on a timer that hasn’t yet decided it is time to make hot water, brrr.

The bus picks us up at 6:15 to take us to the docks. We have another luggage inspection before boarding the boat. The inspector asks if I took and rocks, shells, corals, plants, seeds, fruits, etc. I replied, “No, but I did take a lot of pictures!” She smiled and closed up my pack and wished me safe journeys. The water taxi takes us out to our “speed boat” for the two hour trip to Isla Santa Cruz.
Boat ride
Speed boat
The waters are smooth today as again we opt for the upper deck and we join Patesh just outside the Captain’s steering console. It is very overcast today and I can’t help but wonder if we are going to get caught in a storm on the way. Next thing I know the theme song from Gilligan’s Island is going through my head. “… a three hour tour…” As we pass a nearby island I see a blue-footed booby fly by the front of the boat.

Various boats are seen on the horizon as we approach the south end of the island. It appears that many are out on morning fishing trips from Santa Cruz. We pull into the harbor with an array of boats anchored here and there, and are met by a water taxi to take us ashore. A taxi, which is actually a pickup truck takes our luggage to the hotel while we walk the short distance to the Grand Hotel Lobo De Mar. Pretty much all of the taxis on the island are Toyota trucks having learned that they usually need to also carry a variety of gear along with the people.

Our rooms are not yet ready as it is still very early, and we pile our luggage in the lobby for now. Breakfast and coffee are most welcome at this point. Egg frittata, ham and cheese slices, fresh fruit, granola and yogurt really hits the spot.

As we walk to the Charles Darwin Research Station, we pass the local fish market where freshly caught fish and lobsters are being sold. Pelicans, frigate birds, and sea lions are looking for a free hand out as the ladies are chopping the large tuna and other fish into portions for display to the waiting crowd. Reaching the research station, we learn about the Giant Tortoises and “Lonesome George” and “Diego”. Lonesome George was the last known individual of the Pinta Island Tortoise. When he was discovered he had been alone on Pinta for several decades. Despite being offered numerous females of related species, George preferred to spend his time with nearby rocks. He passed away in 2012 without any offspring and thus marked the end of the species.
Fish market
Fish market
Charles Darwin
Cemetery
Iguana blocking the road
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Lonesome George
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station
On the other hand, Diego, of the species Chelonoidis hoodensis, was happy to propagate his species. During the 1970’s the numbers dwindled down to a nearly a dozen. Diego, doing his part, has fathered more than 800 offspring bringing them back from the brink of extinction.

On the way back to the hotel we have lunch at a street side restaurant. I have fish soup, the fish and shrimp with plantain sauce, salad with avocado, and white rice.

After lunch we get a two hour break to unpack, rest, and catch up on the journal. Our room has a view of the water and we can hear the waves. This is the best room we have had so far. Later, we meet up in the lobby to take a bus to the Galapagos National Park where the tortoises run wild. In fact, along the way we see signs on the highway warning drivers of turtle crossings.

As we get closer to the park, we begin spotting turtles in fields, alongside the road, and even in peoples yards and driveways. A long dirt road takes us from the highway to the visitor area of the national park. Along the way we see countless turtles – a few walking alongside the road. Our luck ran out when a very large tortoise was in the middle of the roadway and the bus was unable to pass. Jorge was able to eventually convince the tortoise out of the way.
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Upon entering the park, we put on black rubber boots to protect us from tortoise poop and fire ants. Now we explore the surroundings watching the turtles eat, sleep, and also relax in the ponds and mud puddles.
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park
Next we walk to a nearby sugar cane farm where Chris helps grind the cane into juice. Normally a mule is used to propel the grinding machine, but the young ones in our group enjoy the activity of running around to turn the grinder. The owner explains how the juice is boiled down to make syrup. They also ferment and distill the juice into “fire water” or a rum like alcohol. We take a moment to toast and sample the liquor.
Sugar Cane Farm
Sugar Cane Farm
Sugar Cane Farm
Sugar Cane Farm
Sugar Cane Farm
The farmer also grows coffee beans and explains the process of shelling, roasting, and grinding the beans to make coffee. This like the making of “fire water” is a very manual process.
Sugar Cane Farm
On the way back to the hotel we stop at a large lava tunnel. The sun is going down making the surrounding light difficult for pictures, but the size of the tunnel is impressive.
Lava tunnel
Lava tunnel
Lava tunnel
Returning to the hotel, we walk down near the docks looking for the sushi restaurant Jorge recommended, “La Regata” We order some cocktails that are 3 for 1. This is a bit of a teaser as I doubt that a single cocktail is over $10, but ok. After our drinks arrive we go to order our meals only to find out that they are out of sushi. Again our plans for sushi are put on hold. Sigh. Instead I get a shrimp and chicken combo that was good.
Lava tunnel
Lava tunnel
Once back at the room, I am exhausted after another day full of activities. I play a couple of quick games of Sudoku before falling asleep. The ocean sounds are even better than our sound machine back home.

Categories: Ecuador 2017 Tags: ,