From The Galapagos to Quito and on to Peru, July 8-12
From the peak to the "pinnacle rock," Bartolome Island, The Galapagos
Thurs, July 8:
Thank goodness for being anchored at night! Once you get it in your head that seasickness is a possibility, it's nice to feel some definite relief. Actually, the scopalmine patches are working wonders for Jenn. Anica, too (unlike some of the other kids) hasn't had any worries.
From our anchored position off Bartolome Island, we took the panga to a staircase/wooden walkway. It leads to a lookout that's the highest spot on foot in all of the Galapagos Islands. We took group photos there. It's really a great group of people - as good as you could ask for on a tour.
We also picked up huge lava rocks that are incredibly light because they're filled with gas, then snorkeled on a beach beside a rock called the Pinnacles. Anica used Jenn's mask and had a good snorkel with that. I was with the group that swam out to the pinnacle rock at the corner of the bay. There I swam above (and slightly behind!) a white-tipped shark for several minutes.
After lunch, on North Seymour Island, we saw a couple of land igaunas (for the first time), blue-footed booby nests and frigates doing their famous red-chest display.
We sailed to Santa Cruz Island and anchored in its harbor for the night. Everybody was too spooked to eat while we were sailing because it was pretty rough, but by 9:00 we'd arrived and all was calm. It was weird seeing all the lights of the town - we'd been mostly anchored off the shores of uninhabited islands so far.
Fri, July 9:
Disembarking at the pier in the town of Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos Islands (pop 20, 000), we took a half-hour bus ride to the "highlands." Each island we've been on is different, and so is this one. It's older, meaning there's more growth. It's the greenest island we've seen; instead of otherworldly, this is lushly tropical.
Still, though, there is the spectacular evidence of its volcanic origins. We peered into huge craters, and walked through "lava tubes" (tunnels created by lava flow) so big we could have driven our bus through them.
We visited a farm that has "wild" tortoises roaming it in what's basically their natural habitiat anyway. The farmer now makes most of his money charging visitors to come see the tortoises. These land tortoises are perhaps the most famous of the Galapagos creatures. They're equal parts impressive and comical. The first ones we saw were wallowing in mud. The next ones were perfectly positioned to pose behind for photos. Then we captured a male giving "low speed chase" to a female.
In the afternoon, led by Pepe, we went with Megan's family to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. At their pier we saw marine igaunas swimming for the first time. But it was the tortoises at the CDRC that were the stars: babies, just a year old or less, numbered in bright colour-coded paint by their island of origin; "Lonesome George," the last of his kind from Pinta Island; and Diego, who was returned from the San Diego Zoo and his since fathered 2,000 babies!
Free time followed on the main street strip, where Anica bought a stuffed animal (blue-footed booby), Jenn bought a "retablo," art-work, and I avoided the temptation to buy the t-shirt that says "I love boobies."
We doled out our extra patches, as everyone anticipated a rough night of sailing, but it wasn't too bad even though we sailed through the night again.
One note about the food: as good as it's been, we've noticed that if we don't finish it the first time, the leftovers will show up the next day in the soup. Jon has coined a phrase for this: 'punishment soup.' Although it's a buffet, the soup is served directly to our tables by our unflappable waiter, Jairo. There's no escaping the punishment soup.
Click-Clacking away: Waved Albatross on Espanola Island, The Galapagos
Sat, July 10:
It's our last full day on Flamingo I. Espanola Island this morning, where our hike took us past many Waved Albatross. These birds have an enormous wingspan, but we saw them mainly around their nests doing their curious mating dance. It consists of clicking beaks together, and "sky-pointing." Pretty weird. Also that they'd continue to do it with a dozen tourists five feet away from them.
The cliffs on this island reminded us of Ireland's Cliffs of Moher - not as tall, but somehow similar. We took pictures of the famous blow-hole, trying to time it so the spraying water was at its apex.
Cliffs, and More. Hiking across Espanola Island, The Galapagos
The final beach was the nicest: white sand and many playful sea lions. I swam out to the rocks offshore to snorkel after a while, and saw a golden ray and coronet fish as well as the usual schools of other fish. The current was pretty strong, though.
One final event back on board was the "Captain's Cocktail." Each crew member was thanked, and then each passenger got a map of our journey, and a certificate of equator crossing where we were re-baptized with a Galapagos species name. Jenn: yelllow warbler, Anica: flamingo, me: giant tortoise. Read into that what you will!
Lay off of my blue suede shoes!
Sun, July 11:
Back onshore in the town where we started! It was Sunday morning and some streets were closed for a "marathon." Our group walked instead, a kilometre to the "Interpretative Centre." As the runners passed we all clapped. Most of them looked pretty surprised at this show of support!
The Interpretative Centre showed the natural and human history of the Galapagos, thus functioning as a sort of review of what we'd learned. After we walked the main strip of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Andres said goodbye to the kids ("Now everybody smile and pretend we like each other") and dubbed Anica and Megan the "gossip girls' and Jenn and I "best-behaved couple."
On the fight Jodi (Megan's Mom) sat with Jenn and I so Anica and Megan could sit together. All the families said goodbye at the baggage claim, and we were back to Hotel Los Alpes in Quito in the same room.
We had arranged to meet Jon, Jodi, Jackson and Megan at the "Magic Bean" restaurant and we each arrived and departed by separate taxis (don't walk the streets of Quito at night!). It was nice to seem them one more time. Anica and Megan will be staying in touch by email. They were instant, inseparable friends - a great experience.
Our taxi driver after dinner had no idea where our hotel was, and spoke not a word of English. He drove us around for half an hour, and eventually asked the right people where to find it. The surprise was that he didn't rip us off: he charged just $1 and apologized! An honest cab-driver!
Mon, July 12:
The Church and Convent of St. Francis, Quito, Ecuador
Now we had one day in Quito with a flight to Lima tonight. Museums are closed Mondays, so we went to the Old Town Quito. We started in Plaza Gran, where a celebration was going on (maybe for the top students because they were all lined up in front of the Presidential Palace in their various uniforms). Then the President (?) spoke from the balcony (from his wheelchair?). A band marched in, soldiers on horses, flags were raised...we had no idea what was going on, but it was a neat spectacle. The crowd left huge gaps open where the direct sun shone down and stuck to the shaded areas. It may only have been 16 degrees but it's still the equatorial sun.
We bought a printed walking tour of the Old Town and followed it with Anica reading it aloud. We ate a full "Menu del dia" for $2 each. The taxi back again was no trouble - no rip-off - very refreshing compared to Bangkok, Beijing, Mumbai....
There was a huge lightning storm as we headed to the aiport that evening, flooding thre streets and - for the first time ever - penetrating part of our backpacks.
To Lima we flew TACA - great leg-room. Fly TACA if you can, say to a Central Amerian resort from Toronto. They're way nicer than Air Canada or American. We had a ten-hour layover through the night in Lima, so we checked into a hostel near the aiprport that a lot of backpackers use in transit. It's called "Pay Purix" and run by Australian ex-pats. All funky neon and lava lamps. Unheated, of course, like most places in Peru. It's in such a rough neighborhood that there's just a small hand-written sign on the door and they answer it like a speakeasy. At 3:30 AM, strange sounds woke Anica. "Mommy, what is that?" Jenn: "Some idiot pretending to be a rooster." Turns out, it was a rooster! Welcome to Peru.