I realize that I haven’t posted much about Quito. In all of the height of excitement around the Galapagos I failed to write about Quito itself. Cody and I stayed in Quito for a substantial amount of time too! About five days before the Galapagos and a whole 6 days after the Galapagos.
Much of our time before the Galapagos trip however was planning and organizing our trip. The day before the trip I spent about 5 hours in and around the Boliviariano bank trying to transfer my funds into the Galapagos trip agency’s account. I had forgotten about my withdrawal limit on my card and consequently spent much of the day calling my mom who called my bank for me as well as going from one ATM to the next trying to withdrawal the amount I needed for my trip. Stressful day but luckily I managed to get the funds transferred. One thing to remember is that Mondays in the middle of the month are bill paying days…. The line outside the bank was at least 20 people for the entire day! What a day. Thankfully I made it back to the hostel before Cody got too worried about my being MIA. For the first time in the entire trip Cody’s bank withdrawal and transfer worked like magic. What are the odds. Haha. We managed alright though. Everything just takes about 3x as long as they should or would back home. Just the nature of it all…
One of my favorite nights in Quito was GIRLS NIGHT with Renee and Cody. Every Wednesday night is Lady’s night in Quito. Many bars open from 8-10 and only allow women in. During that time drinks are free. Any and all mixed drinks are free. The three of us started there and had a few drinks. After Which we went to a salsa dance club. Ever since learning to salsa dance in Costa Rica 6 years ago I have fallen in love with the dance. Renee told us that we may need to ask the guys to dance with us but we didn’t have any trouble finding a partner. What fun! I was surprised by how well I did. I may not be able to move my hips like a Latina but I can spin and follow when I have a good lead. I danced with this one guy who takes the dance very seriously but wow was he good! Half of the time I didn’t know where I was… spinning around and around and in and out. Awesome! Cody danced with a number of guys too! Renee was incredibly good! She had taken lessons before and was so much fun to watch! Definitely a highlight of the trip. Salsa dancing in Quito! So fun!
Another highlight of the trip was the street food. Sliced mangoes = $0.50. Coconut with straw = $1. Plate of grilled chicken & potatoes & plantain & salad = $1. Meat on a stick = $1. Bag of fuzzy red grape like fruits = $1. Bag of 6 apples = $1.
Sooo wonderful! I’m home now and already miss the fresh produce off the street! Mngoes always perfectly ripe. My daily dose of awesomeness!
I was trying to understand why I waited so long to write up a blog for Quito. I think its because even for the short amount of time that we stayed in Quito it became our home. The hostel was wonderful. The food was all homemade and elegantly presented. Fresh granola and yogurt with fruit for breakfasts and homemade soups salads and sandwiches for dinners. We became friends with most people at the hostel. It really felt like a community. We traveled to the famous market in Otavalo with a good friend from the Hostel one day and traveled to the Equator with a group of about 8 another day. We all ate dinners together and hung out in the hostel together.
Out of all of the Capital cities that we visited Santiago Lima and Quito… Quito was my favorite. We learned the transportation quickly and traveled by bus and trolley around the city. We found a coffee shop that we liked and enjoyed walking around the Colonial district knowing where we were going… taking the map out less with each outing. The area that we stayed in was the Colonial District of the city. Colorful houses were built up on the hillsides similar to Cuzco. We could feel and see the history of the city while walking around. There was a culture in the city. It wasn’t completely westernized like Santiago or parts of Lima. The main plazas were beautiful and busy with people or theatrical events. The churches were stunning. We even climbed the towers of the Basilica to catch a 360 degree view of the city. Incredible!
Quito… definite highlight of my trip and along with the Galapagos Islands it was my favorite part of Ecuador! Loved it.
Our chef Carlos! Making a delicious cake!
My bookmark :)
Frigate birds above our boat.
Pelican on our boat!
Rainbow in the Galapagos!
Las Islas Galapagos
Day 1 April 17th 2012
We arrived in Galapagos on Baltra Island Airport, paid our $100 entrance fee and had our bags checked for fruit. It was really interesting because before landing, the flight attendants opened all of the overhead compartments and sprayed inside each one with some arosol product. They explained that it was to ensure that no bugs or animals would be transferred to the islands.
What was strange about our arrival was that there was no company holding a sign for us. No sign with our names or with the boat’s name. No big deal… About a minute of looking around aimlessly as we do from time to time, a guy came up and asked us which tour we had. We told him that we had booked a tour with the boat New Flamingo. He pointed us to a small group of people and there ya have it! Found our group! Check!
A little while later, we are told to board the bus… Ok! Excitedly, we hop on. I talked for a bit with the woman next to me. I think she worked on the Islands because she recognized the name of our boat. Awesome! We aren’t going in the wrong direction!
The bus took us to a small boat that would ferry us from Balta Island to Santa Cruz Island. After a quick three minute journey across, we were herded like sheep to the rest our five person group, also on their way to the New Flamingo. Still no guide or representative but once again, we followed directions. The next set of directions gets all five of us into a small white pickup truck. All cabs here are white pickup trucks. After we began our journey south to the harbor where our boat would be, it began to POUR! I find it really interesting how different rain can be in different places. From a distance, I saw the line where the rain began. Immediately after crossing through that line, it poured!
After about 35 minutes of driving, we reach a small town. I can’t tell what the name of the harbor is from the map but it is just east of Tortuga Bay. The hilarious part was that the driver drove us up to a hostel named Flamingo. Uh oh… That wasn’t it. We needed the boat named New Flamingo. Haha. He then drove us to the pier where yet again, we looked lost and confused. The taxi guy had no idea. I’m not sure really how it happenend but a guy walked up to us and said he was with New Flamingo! Of course he was. Key to discovering where you need to be is to look like a lost gringo… Works like a charm! Thankfully our guide Christan paid the taxi.
Christian, our guide for the week then walked us over to the pier, where a panga boat came to collect us. Did I mention how incredibly blue the water is!? It’s amazing!!! The boat New Flamingo houses 10 guests. I’m not sure where the crew sleeps but I imagine there is space for them too. There is main sala area where the 10 of us eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, a kitchen and three cabins in front and three in the back. Cody and I have a room up in the front down a few stairs. The cabin is barely large enough to fit two standing people. The length of the room is the length of a bed and the bunks are the width of about 3 feet. We have a couple of shelves and share a small bathroom, large enough for one standing person.
We were served lunch upon our arrival… Fish, rice and salad. It was pretty good actually! I dont know how the cheff cooks the things he cooks in that tiny little kitchen. Impressive. We then had about two hours to relax before our first outing with Christain. Cody showered and I went up top to join the others. As I walked up the ladder stairs, I suddenly noticed a Brown Pelican sitting on the railing, just chilling’. Awesome!!! For the next hour, I just watched them all! They would fly around a bit and then BAM! Dive bomb into the water to catch lunch! It was awesome! Looked just like the pelican in Finding Nemo!
2:45pm Adventure #1: Santa Rosa Highlands: Giant Tortoises!
We took a small bus hired by the tour company up to the highland area on the island. I believe the area was called Reserva El Chato or Santa Rosa. I saw signs for both. After a bumpy bumpy road, we all had to pile out of the bus to make our way to the trail head because the bus couldn’t continue on the rocky road.
After about 10 minutes of walking, we spotted our first land tortoise! It was off in the distance and really just looked like a giant rock in a field.. Another 10 minutes passed and we found a tortoise, which Christain explained was likely about 12 years old. He was about three feet in length and had a rough shell, with defined square shapes in each section of the shell. As they age, the shells become smooth and less defined. This one made a deep breath sound, very prehistoric sounding.
Just keep walking… Just keep walking… What do we find!? A GIANT 120 YEAR OLD Tortoise! We are talking 5 feet in length, 3+ feet in width and with the neck and head stretched out, would probably come to my waist!!! Giant!
The coolest moment was when the tortoise turned around an stared at me. Maybe he wasn’t but I’d like to think he was looking right at me. We shared a moment! It was awesome! Then he walked away into the small pond that was near by. So incredible!
Christian was really hilarious. I asked him how you could tell if it was a male or female. He said the males are nearly twice the size of the females. This is to dominate them, he told us. Then he proceeded to give us a lesson of how the male dominates a female to have sex. He approaches from behind and puts his weight on the front part of her shell. This allows the back shell to lift up…. You can figure out the rest…
From January to March is breeding season. The tortoises see only infrared light. During mating season, the female’s temperature changes, communicating to the male that she is ready to mate. The female’s temp rises to a temp comparable to that of humans. Sometimes when a male tortoise gets close enough to a person, he will raise his neck up to him or her signifying that he is ready to dominate and mate. Males will typically fight one another for territory and for mates by neck biting.
Activity #2: Lava tunnels
The tunnels were pretty cool. Usually there are some lights to illuminate the pathway but the power had gone out so we all shared a few flashlights. Apparently the caves and land formations are similar to those of Hawaii and for that reason many geologists share theories of how they were formed. The Galapagos Islands are younger than the Hawaiian islands. I need to look up the dates. It took us about 30 minutes to walk all the way through the tunnels. The colors were wonderful with all of the different elements like copper, silver and magnesium. Lichen grew all around in the caves. My grandpa would have enjoyed that. :)
Day 2 Isla San Cristobal
We motored all night long to make it to San Cristobal Island. They served us breakfast after we anchored.
Activity #1: Snorkeling off San Cristobal on Cerro Brujo, Witch Hill. Most of the snorkeling that I’ve done is in freezing cold water up at Pender Island. This water though is perfect! We went just in our swim suits, flippers and goggles!!! The water was a little foggy but we were still able to see a lot of colorful fish. Blues, oranges, greens! Small, medium and large fish! The best snorkeling though was closer to the white sand beaches! I followed this one fish for a while that was carrying a shell in it’s mouth. Finally, I heard a crunch!!! Sooo cool! Lunch time for fish! We also saw a young sting ray that was about two feet in diameter! Christain said it was probably only a couple years old but they can get up to 3 meters in diameter on some islands!!! Wow! I also swam with a school of needle fish! They were small with a needle tip nose!
The beach was the whitest beach I have ever seen! The sand was so soft and warm! There were seal lions lounging on the beach, basking in the sun. Babies and moms. I saw one baby curled up in a rock! Perfect fit! We also saw marine iguanas so black that they blended in perfectly with the black lava rocks. There were bright red crabs and pitch black crabs both the same species of crab, just different ages.
The swimming was amazing. The water was like bath water and the sand was pristine. We saw great blue herons and pelicans fishing. Blue footed boobies flew above us and dove into the water to fish! I loved it! And its totally true! Their feet are blue!!! The coolest part was that the ten of us were the only ones there! On the way back to the panga, we saw a San Cristobal Mockingbird! These can only be found on this island and there are only about 300 of them! There are many other types of mockingbirds but this one is the most rare to see. Us and the animals on La Isla San Cristobal Galapagos Islands! Wow, incredible!!!
We then motored the boat up around the corner to Punta Pitt for more snorkeling and to see the Red Footed Boobies!
Activity 2: Hiking at Punta Pitt
After arriving at Punta Pitt, we motored to the beach. There were about 20 sea lions sleeping along the rocks. There were several babies nursing. They didn’t seem to mind us at all. Back home they would move back to the water if we got too close. Here, they barely look at you. There were also two large marine iguanas hanging out. About 3 feet long!!
The hike took us up to the top of the Island. We saw masked boobies, short billed annies and several lava lizards! These are the oldest of the lizards that exist on the Islands. They are smaller than I expected and have a bright orange chest! From the view point, we could see the waves crash up against the rocks! The waves remind me of the Oregon coast. Crashing and exploding up into the air! Awesome!!!
After a quick stop at the boat to grab our snorkel gear, we motored out to a small island near by. We snorkeled with beautiful tropical fish. They remind me of the fish you would see in large fish tanks at Thai and Chinese restaurants! Especially the ones at On Rice in Bellingham! I swam right over a giant school of Black Striped Salema fish with over 300 fish! It was really awesome! At one point, there were two or three sea lions swimming around and under us!!! That was pretty amazing.
Day 3 Islas Plazas y Isla Mosquera
Activity 1: Islas Plazas
It is thought that this small flat island was once connected to Isla Santa Cruz. There are two islands. North and South Plaza. The North Island is used only by researchers and scientists. The South island is for tourism. There were at least four other groups that arrived early this morning.
On the island we saw several sea lions, lava lizards, land iguanas, red-billed tropicbirds and three blue footed boobies!!! We have also seen red footed and masked boobies but the blue footed boobies are by far the coolest!!!
Activity 2: Isla Masquera
Snorkel time again!!! Here, the water was choppy and deep. We saw schools of giant tropical fish but what we saw that wad both terrifying and awesome were the two large hammerhead sharks swimming beneath us! The largest one was a female. It seemed as though she was circling around us from below. Christian told us that the way you can tell the difference between males and females is that females will have bite or scratch marks around her head. The males do this when they are ready to mate. Hammerhead sharks!!! Crazy! We also saw white tipped sharks, but they were a lot smaller than the hammerhead.
Oh man! And can you believe it? I almost forgot to say that I saw a sea turtle swimming!!! How incredibly graceful and beautiful it was! It looked like it could have been a green sea turtle, which is the kind that Rachel and I worked with in Costa Rica! Wow! Sooo awesome! Chris!!! I hope we can see them in Hawaii!!
Activity 3: Masquera Island walk
The Island itself is really long and narrow. On the sandy white beaches are hundreds of sea lions! The crazy part of it is, you can walk right along side them! There were babies no older than 2 months old sleeping next to their mom or another baby. Some were nursing. Soo sweet! Watching them waddle around was so hilarious! The big ones especially. I think at one point we were too close because one chased us off. Eek. Lo siento. We saw marine iguanas and giant red crabs and tons of tons of sea lions.
Awesome but exhausting day! Sea turtles and hammerhead sharks! Awesome!
Turns out the day of sharks didn’t end there! After dinner we were told that there were some Galapagos sharks circling the boat! A small group of us took our flashlights and cameras out on the back deck to see if we could spot them!! Most sharks only attack what they know to be their prey. The Silky sharks are the most dangerous of those in the Galapagos but is further out from land. This shark bites first, then decide if it selected its prey correctly. Yikes. I’m glad I found that out before I went snorkeling with Scalloped Hammerheads, White Tipped Sharks and possibly the occasional Galapagos shark!!! The group and I waited patiently for the shark to circle around and then suddenly!!!, our light would catch the sharks body swimming below! It had to be at least 6 feet long! Wow! So crazy. One of the couples had their camera in hand and got a few really great shots through the hoards of small fish! An hour later, and we were still at it. A few times I got startled by the sea lions that were swimming around as well. They were great to watch too! They would jump like a skipping rock after a fish! There were also at least three pelicans fishing around us. And when they weren’t fishing, they would park themselves on the swim deck with us or on the panga boat together. So hilarious looking! At one point, we thought the shark was going to eat the pelican on the surface of the water because he was going straight for it. But alas, no. Haha! Sharks!!!! I saw three types of sharks today in the Galapagos! How cool is that!?
Activity 1: Daphne boat ride
At seven this morning, the boat rode around Daphne island so that we could see all of the sea birds nesting on the hill and cliffside. We saw blue footed boobies, masked boobies, frigate birds, herons and gulls. There were even some sea lions sleeping along the waters edge. It was a very peaceful morning. Very calm waters.
Around 10 am, half of the people on board left for the airport. While we waited for the next group to arrive to take their place, we relaxed on the beach. I read most of the two hours. We did see a sting ray close to shore swimming around. :) After climbing back aboard, we relaxed a bit. While we were all on the upper deck, Patricia saw a green sea turtle swimming along side the boat! I was able to take a picture of it!!!! So awesome! She circled the boat a couple times but then disappeared below the surface.
After the new group arrived, we motored to Playa Las Bachas on Isla Santa Cruz. When we arrives, it began to pour!!! We all got into the Panga for a wet landing ashore. Wet landing just means you hop off into the water close to shore. Here we snorkeled. The water was a little foggy but closer to the rocks, we could see a lot of colorful fish. My favorite was this one large blue parrotfish! I followed it for a while. I hadn’t realized how big it’s teeth we’re until I got closer to it! As I was snorkeling around, I came across this giant school of small fish, I think the same as the ones we saw circling the boat with the Galapagos shark last night. As I moved, they moved. It was as though I was the director of a dance and the fish were my students. I pointed to the right, a group would swim to the right in unison, while the other to the left in unison. I probably followed and played around with them for a good 10-15minutes. I even got Cody hooked. Fun times…
After a while, we were feeling ready to turn back to the beach. But as we were swimming, something big caught my eye… It moved so gracefully that I had to take a second look to be sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Nope! It was definitely what I thought it was!!! A giant female green sea turtle!!! Cody saw it about the same time. As it turned, we turned. We followed the turtle for about five minutes. It was as though she was flying through the water, her arms lifting her up and letting her body fall in the water. She looked back once or twice. It was though she smiled at us but wasn’t frightened of us. We were within 6 feet of her the entire time. I thought for a moment of letting others know what was happening but then I realized that this moment was a moment I had always dreamed of! Swimming with sea turtles! It was incredible. I was completely in the moment, looking occasionally over at Cody as if to reassure myself that this was actually happening! Absolutely incredible. One of my life’s dreams came true today and it was cooler than I ever imagined. I swam with a giant sea turtle today and it was beautiful!
In a small lagoon just off the beach, there were about 7 pink flamingos. Kaitlin, you would have loved them! They were bright pink, highlighter pink with stark black feathers under their wings. I hadn’t known this before but baby flamingos actually receive milk from their mothers. Babies have straight beaks when they are young, while their mothers have curved beaks. There is no way for the babies to eat regurgitated food from their parents like other birds. There is a glad inside the parents mouth that when pecked at by the baby, it releases milk. The baby survives off of this until their beak starts to curve and they can feed for themselves. Mysterious birds. There are about 400 flamingos here. Apparently it was really rare to see so many, especially within 5 meters of us! Very cool!
Today we woke up next to Santiago Island in Sullivan Bay. It is hypothesized that the volcano on this island last erupted in the 1830s or 40s. Christian told us that in Darwin’s diary, he wrote about hearing loud explosions from where he was studying on the islands. Its possible that the explosions he heard were from the volcanic eruption on Santiago. It’s amazing that we have that type of documentation. The Island is one of the larger ones in the Galapagos. The area we saw was the lava fields just below the volcano! The hardened lava was pitch black and had the pattern of the surface of the cerebellum.
We snorkeled in Sullivan bay for an hour or so. I saw a penguin for the first time! It was only about 14 inches tall. How sweet it was, just sitting on the lava rocks. :) We saw the usual fish. Moorish fish, schools of White Salema, Black Striped Salema, Azure Parrotfish, Spinster Wrass, and many others that I dont remember the names of. I also saw sea urchins and sea anemones, white sea cucumbers and lots of barnacles. The water was the clearest this morning than we have seen it yet. The water was warm and the most beautiful blue color.
Bartaleme Island is its own island but is connected by the same hardened lava flow below the water from the 1700s eruption. We snorkeled here and saw two more penguins. Cody named him Steven Bartolome :) the name suited him :) And then….. We swam with white tipped reef sharks! Uhg. It was cool the first time but then it was just a little scary. Sharks!!! Just swimming below us. Swimming, swimming, circling, circling… Swimming…. Creepy! There was one that circled the boat this afternoon for about an hour! Maybe looking for leftovers from board!? I don’t know. Christian tells me the most dangerous one is the Silky Shark, but those are further out from land. Oceanic sharks…those guys you have to look out for!
From the water we saw a few blue footed boobies on the cliffside. Sooo blue!!! Awesome. We went into the boat a little early because the clouds had turned a dark grey, preparing for torrential rains. When we got back, we quickly changed and hopped back onto the panga to go climb to the top of Bartoleme for the view point. We didn’t beat the rains though. The rain here is not like home. It pours when it rains. Absolutely POURS. It’s great though because it’s warm. :) Unfortunately we couldn’t see too far in the distance because of the rain. The lava fields were expansive though. How impressive that eruption must have been!
Tonight, I had one of the coolest moments of possibly my entire trip. After dinner, the storm had calmed and the skies cleared. I looked out the window and saw the Southern Cross… A constellation only visible in the Southern hemisphere. A few people went out onto the swim deck to see the stars, Cody included. I heard her call my name. She could see the Big Dipper! We are so close to the equator here that it’s possible to see both the Southern Cross AND the Big Dipper in the same sky! For me, the big dipper has been something that has always connected me with home. Like the moon, it can be seen by my family and myself even if I am away. For the last three months, I haven’t been able to see the Big Dipper until now. As I stood up top on the boat deck, I saw the Southern Cross to the South, connecting me with my memories and friends of my travels and to the North I could see the Big Dipper, connecting me with my family, friends and loved ones. I am at a turning point right now, a moment of transition, connecting my past, my present and my future. I travel to Arizona in nine days. In eleven I return back to Washington. Tonight is a moment to remember. Past, present and future all together in one magnificent moment in a boat in the Galapagos Islands. Incredible.
This morning we started our snorkel on Espumilla Beach, which is near the northern part of Santiago Island. The sand here was blackish but the water was pretty clear. I saw a lot of fish and a few sting rays.
On the beach, I saw a juvenile Galapagos Hawk. He walked close to me and just stared at me from about 4 feet away. My guide later told me that he probably liked the color of my hair. Haha.
On our way to Puerto Egas, we rode past Bucanero cliffside, which used to be a pirate/sailor meeting spot! Pretty cool! :) In the afternoon we went on a beach hike in Puerto Egas. This was cool because we were located on the opposite side of the volcano that we were seeing the day before from the lava fields. There was much more vegetation on this side of the volcano. Along the beach was the same black rock from the lava flows. Here, there were hundreds of marine iguanas! Several times I was startled by them because they are the black of the lava rocks and when together in groups, they appear to be their own solid rock. I couldn’t believe how many of them there were and how prehistoric they looked!
Towards the end of our beach walk, the rains came again. We all went snorkeling though so it didn’t matter much that we were drenched by the time we got in the water. The water was choppy but shallow. All ten of us encountered a sea turtle! We swam with it for a while. I much preferred the time when it was just Cody and I. I got really frustrated with how close everyone got. They were touching her and taking flash pictures. I much would have preferred letting her do her thing while we just watched but that’s just me. It was awesome watching her eat vegetation off of the rocks and chomp down on the leaves. Such graceful swimmers. I could have watched her all day. Beautiful animals.
I also saw another Ray today… Giant! It was slightly buried under the sand so it was difficult to see but it reminded me of the school teacher in Finding Nemo!
We began our day with a beach walk on Isla Rábida, which is a small island off of Isla Santiago. It has been incredible seeing so many beaches, all with a different color sand and different species endemic to that island alone. This beach was a rich red color. The contrast of the colors were wonderful. Blue skies, white clouds, red sand and cliffs and bright blue waters. Amazing. We went on a short hike up over to view the cliffside on the opposite side, facing Isabella. Incredible blue waters. Sooo clear!
Snorkeling came next! The water was deeper but so clear! We saw two or three white tipped sharks and an eagle ray.
After lunch, we boated to Sombrero Chino, the Chinese Hat shaped island. We anchored in a shallow canal area between Santiago and Sombrero Chino. White sandy beach with crystal blue waters. Paradise views. This was the first day in a few days that we had perfect clear skies and no rain. The sun was so intense! We all went swimming off the boat after lunch to cool off. Perfect water.
The next couple hours, we spent snorkeling and hanging out on the white beaches with a mother seal and three babies. We saw more sharks, still kind of scary, penguins, a pufferfish and the usual assortment of starfish, sea cucumbers and fish. I love how each day, the things I see and do seem to become my “normal routine”. Haha
Our day of activities finished early so that we could boat back to Port Ayora on Santa Cruz for the night before our flight. I spent some time on shore with some companions from the boat. We bought some wonderful fresh juice at a little restaurant. Mine was peach, blackberry, banana. Mmm. Soo fresh. Afterwards, I went dancing for a few hours at a local discoteca with some people from our boat. Late night but it’s still cool to say I’ve gone dancing on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. :)
Early morning for us… 6am breakfast and 7am to the Charles Darwin Research Center. Unfortunately we were rushed for time and couldn’t linger for long but all was fine. We saw Lonesome George, a 120ish year old land tortoise, the last of its species. Unfortunately efforts to breed him with other closely related species have been unsuccessful. There was also a turtle hatchery here. There were dozens of baby turtles the size of my palm!!! When they reach 8 years old, there researchers can then release them into the wild, much less likely to be eaten by predators prematurely. So fun. Baby turtles! How cute!!!
Then to the airport we went! And now here we are again… In Quito… With only 6 more days to go until we journey back to the states. Crazy.
Rain and thunder in Quito!