A Travellerspoint blog

Galapagos Islands - Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Slept like a baby last night.  The bed is great and the ship was sailing all night which made for a good night's sleep AND we were so tired from our early morning rise the day before.

Our first excursion ashore was to Santiago Island where the beach is black, volcanic sand.  It started to rain and before long we all looked like drowned rats.  This is the place for us to see amphibian iguanas and we weren't disappointed.  They were everywhere and we all went crazy taking photos of them.  They are so wonderfully camouflaged.  These crabs and the iguanas live quite happily, side by side.

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We came to a deep rock pool and saw four sea lions frolicking in the water.  We stayed there for ages just watching their antics.  It was great.

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We walked back to the beach to do some beach snorkelling.

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I hadn't done and snorkelling for many years and it took a few goes before I got it right.  I kept getting water in my air pipe, but all of a sudden it was okay and I was away. The water was warm and lovely and I saw lots of different fish. We snorkelled for about an hour and then the zodiac took us back to the ship. It is very hot and humid.

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The snorkellers!

After another fabulous lunch, the ship had sailed to another island and we went ashore for our afternoon excursion.

Before our afternoon excursion, there was some more beach snorkelling and Tony and I were the only ones from our group who went. This time I had more confidence and ventured out deeper and saw lots more fish. I snorkelled near the rocks and had a wonderful time just floating there watching all the activity below. Magic! Back on board and just time for a quick shower before our next excursion.

Have I mentioned how hot and humid it is? The landscape on this island is barren and stark. It is the product of a volcanic eruption millions of years ago and nothing grows on it at all. The view from the top is marvellous and we climbed and climbed and climbed, until we got to the top. It was so hot and humid but worth the struggle. We had a group photo on the top just to prove that we did it.

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After the long walk back down to the zodiac, we went for a ride around the shore and got up close and personal with some sea lions. The Galapagos is really a magical place.

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Dinner this evening was a barbecue on the Moon Deck. How lovely it was.

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Phil became friendly with this little Japanese girl who was travelling with her grandmother. He was practising his three words of Japanese with her and she was practising her English with him which was very good.

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After dinner, when it was dark, we were still up on deck, and saw several huge sharks circling the ship. Then a staff member came up and we did some star spotting. We were in the unique position of being able to view the Southern Cross in the Southern Hemisphere and the Big Dipper in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Posted by gaddingabout 17:26 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito to the Galapagos Islands - Monday, 23 March 2015

Fly to the Galapagos Islands and board our cruise ship, MV Galapagos Legend - Legend Suite

The alarm went off at 3.45 am (eek!).  We had probably had about five hours sleep so that wasn't too bad.  This hotel is pretty good.  How many hotels do you know that will start breakfast at 4.30 am?  Not many, I bet!

We had a very quick breakfast as we had to be on the bus at 5.15 am.  Our check in luggage had been collected the night before at 8.30 pm and was taken to the airport to be opened and checked and then put on the plane and we didn't see it again until we landed in the Galapagos.

The trip to the airport was quick and uneventful because it was SO early in the morning and there was no traffic on the road.  We arrived at the airport at about 6.00 am, and proceeded through immigration and security without a hitch.  Our forms had been partially printed for us and we just had to fill in our home addresses.  Our guide had really stressed the point that no matter what was on the form, whether it was right or wrong, it didn't matter, JUST DON'T OVERWRITE ANYTHING or the authorities could get quite bolshi.  On our forms, they had me as a male and Phil as a female!

We arrived at our departure gate and Phil decided to go for a walk and disappeared.  Just then they announced boarding for our flight to the Galapagos, and he was no where to be seen.  Everyone lined up and I was left standing with our bags, waiting for him to come back.  Good grief!  Finally he came wandering back and we were almost the last ones to board the bus that took us out to our aircraft.  As we were taxiing to the runway, we finally got to see Cota Paxi volcano.  Very impressive.  Phil has been trying to see it for the last six days in Quito but it has always been covered by clouds.

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I am so impressed with all our flights in South America so far.  They all take off precisely on time.  Our flight to the Galapagos went via Guyaquil.  We landed there after about 40 minutes and then those of us who were going on to the Galapagos just stayed on the plane.  Thank goodness we didn't have to get off and then board again.

Our flight took off about 40 minutes later and it took about an hour forty to get to the Galapagos.  South American airlines are known for their lack of food on flights.  You usually only get some crackers and cheese, however we were given a hot ham and cheese roll which wasn't too bad.  Phil sat next to Leo during the flight.  Leo is a guide on our ship and they talked a lot about the Galapagos.

Galapagos has three airports.  We landed at Baltra Airport and we're starting to feel the heat.  Hot and humid.  By the time we got on the bus for the 10 minute ride to the wharf, then put on our life jackets, then hopped in the zodiac with all our carry ons for the ride to the ship, we are sopping wet.

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Our cabin is lovely.  Scenic upgraded us because we had a few problems in our cabin on Le Boreal - nothing dramatic, just no water on a couple of occasions, which was fixed very quickly and no lights one night.  Anyway, we are in this huge cabin with a big bed, a double balcony and an absolutely huge bathroom.  It's great.

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Sort of unpacked and then went down for lunch which was really nice.  The first course was quinoa and vegetable soup which was just yummy.  Most of our group had a beer with their lunch as we were so hot.

After lunch we attended a briefing about which groups we are in and our afternoon excursion.  We belong to the cormorant group - the 10 of us plus Roy and Virginia from Winnipeg and Chantelle from Scotland and Ian from Leeds.  Before going ashore, those of us who will be snorkelling over the next few days, went up to the Moon Deck to collect our snorkels and flippers.  It was like the Boxing Day sales, everyone grabbing everything!

Our first excursion was to see the giant tortoises at El Chato 2 ranch.  We took a zodiac from the ship to the shore.  It is quite a long way, not short like our Antarctic zodiac trips.  We passed a colony of blue footed boobies and they are just like we have seen in documentaries. They have the most amazing blue feet and the blue comes from little scales in their feet that fill up with water and reflect the colour of the sky.  That sounds a bit wrong so I'll have to google it when I get the internet connection again. Then we boarded a bus and it took about 40 minutes to get to the farm.  A large section of the road was extremely bumpy and pot holed.

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We were no sooner off the bus when we saw our first tortoise.  They are amazing.  We walked off the track, into the grass to get close to it and while we were standing there, some of us were attacked by ants.  Yipes!  It is really weird why some people get bitten and others don't.  Roy, the Canadian, standing next to me, with sandals on as well didn't get bitten, but I did.  Mary had some insect repellant which I rubbed all over my feet.  It had DEET in it and was so strong, it half removed my finger nail and toe nail polish.  They are now a mess but I just haven't had a spare minute to repair the damage.

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Luckily I had a pair of socks in my bag because if the tracks were muddy, we were supposed to be given gum boots to wear.  So in typical Pommie fashion, I wore my socks with sandals to protect my feet from any more attacking ants.  Nice look, isn't it?

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We wandered along the tracks and saw a lot of these fabulous animals.  Just imagine doing this and it is only Day 1.

This bloke was trying to "make" it but didn't have much success.

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On the other hand, this one was having a lovely time.

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We have seen lions mating in Africa and now giant tortoises in the Galapagos.  How lucky are we?

Back on the bus, back on the zodiac and back on the ship and a quick shower and down for dinner.  The food is really nice and we have our Scenic tables reserved for the 10 of us.

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Into bed and we were asleep before our heads hit the pillow.  It has been a huge, wonderful day.

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Posted by gaddingabout 16:32 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito, Ecuador - Sunday, 22 March 2015

Ecuador is Spanish for Equator. Tour the Equator line and monument.

semi-overcast 15 °C

This morning we left the hotel at 9.30 am for the 45 minute drive to the Equator.

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Before we got exactly to the Equator, we saw some exhibitions about the Amazon. Yipes! One of these spiders is only a baby. I hope we don't come across one when we are there.

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This is how to make a shrunken head - just in case you needed to know!

This is called a "penis" fish. Now I am going to tell you what the guide told us about it. We are not sure if this is true or just a tall tale to stop blokes weeing in the Amazon. Apparently, if a man is in the Amazon River and he does a wee, this fish will swim up his penis and it has to be surgically removed. Fact or fiction? Who knows?

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It was a very interesting place with lots of games focussing on the amazing things that happen when you are right on the Equator. For example, right on the Equator, water drops straight down out of a tub. Just a bit to either side of the line it empties out either clock wise or anti clockwise, depending on what hemisphere you are in. Apparently scientists have done a study on this and say it's not true, but we have seen it for ourselves, both here in South America and Kenya in Africa.

We tried to balance an egg on the head of a nail, but it was very difficult, but possible. Our guide can do it, but he gets lots of practice.

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One leg in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern and straddling the Equator.

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We tried walking a straight line, one foot in front of the other, with our eyes closed and that is impossible too. You can definitely feel the pull to one side. Interestingly, Phil and I fell to different sides. I wonder if it has anything to do with my being left handed and Phil being right handed? It's just a thought.

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We were all dressed for Quito weather, high altitude, misty, drizzly and cool (15 degrees), and we were all feeling a bit warm by the end of our visit.

If children were brought to this complex, I am sure they would find it so very, very interesting, that they would go home and immediately sign up for a science degree.

Back in the bus and heading back to Quito, Ampara started speaking in earnest about the arrangements for our travel to the Galapagos tomorrow. We were all totally focussed on what she was saying and didn't notice where we were going. All of a sudden the bus was lurching up this narrow road, high up in the mountains. We got off the bus and is was very, very fresh - 3,100 metres

Our welcome party!

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Our lunch stop was a delightful restaurant high up in the mountains. It was called the Rumi Loma Hacienda. We had cheviche and cheese cake. It was such a lovely atmosphere and because our group is only 10, we could all sit around the same table and chat together. It is a very nice group and we are all getting on very well together.

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A few llamas were grazing just outside the front door.

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We have an exceptionally early flight to the Galapagos tomorrow. Bags have to be out at 8.30 tonight, unlocked so they can be taken away and opened and checked. Breakfast is at 4.30 am and we have to be on the bus to the airport at 5.15 am. It will be a long but exciting day.

Ecuador has three main exports - oil, bananas and roses. The roses are so gorgeous and they export them all around the world. Russia requires roses with stems one plus metres long! Now that's what I call a long stemed rose!

We are having room service and then into bed.

Posted by gaddingabout 18:08 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito, Ecuador - Saturday, 21 March 2015

Walking tour to the historic centre and the Cathedral. Lunch at the Cafe Plaza Grande. Welcome dinner at La Belle Epoque restaurant, overlooking the floodlit main square.

semi-overcast 16 °C

What a difference a day makes. Awoke this morning to this!

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Met the group at 8.45 this morning - Annie and Byron and Tony and Lol from Sydney; Mary and Josh from Melbourne; Elfie and Ingrid from Cooroy in Queensland, and us. It is a nice group and I think the next few weeks will be most enjoyable.

Ampara gave us our pre tour briefing and then we all boarded the bus for our city walking tour.

First we visited the Basilica and went inside and took some photos. They were about to start a service of some kind and there were lots of nuns in the congregation. 95% of the population of Quito is Catholic, so Good Friday will be huge. There is a procession from the church with thousands of people taking part - dragging crosses, walking in bare feet, flailing themselves with whips etc. It's all very dramatic.

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We then walked down La Ronda street which is probably the most famous street in Quito. It was once a very run down area but has now been restored and is really quite lovely. It is used in a lot of movies. Quito was the first city in the world to be sponsored by UNESCO as a heritage city.

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We went into the Panama hat shop and had fun trying on hats. Isn't this a stunning hat?

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We got a bit caught up in a March against abortion.

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We were supposed to go to a church but it was closed, so Ampara checked with another one and we were allowed to go inside, but unfortunately, no photos were allowed. It was the most magnificent church I have ever seen. There was just gold, gold and more gold. It makes the churches of Russia and Europe look sick. This is just a peek inside the front door. It took 160 years to build and is in a state of constant refurbishment.

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We went to the front of the Presidential Palace and Phil broke the arm off his old sun glasses, which was loose anyway. We were given 25 minutes free time in the square and a local women spoke to Edison, and told him where we could get them fixed. We walked around the corner to the shop but it was closed. We tried another shop near the square, but it was also closed. End of the sun glasses story. They are now in the bag and won't see the light of day until we are home.

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Some of the different costumes seen in the local square.

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Phil had his shoes shined and then we proceeded to lunch in the Plaza Grande Hotel. It was lovely.

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This guy was running around the restaurant serving ice cream in a flurry of dry ice smoke. He is called a kukaratcha (which is probably not the correct spelling) and is a figure used to keep the children in line, sort of like our bogey man, but what he was doing in a restaurant, I'm not really sure. Anyway it added quite an air of mystery to our lunch.

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Back on the bus and because the sun was partly shining, we went up the hill to see Shungoloma, the virgin with wings. We had been up there a couple of days ago but she looked totally different in the sunshine.

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Back to the hotel for a little rest before our Welcome Dinner tonight.

We were on the bus by 7pm and drove back to the main square. It is really beautiful at night. Our Welcome Dinner was held in the Plaza Grande, the same place where we had lunch today, but we went upstairs into a beautifully furnished restaurant called La Belle Epoque. We were served three courses with three different things on our plates. It's sort of like a degustation menu, but they put three entrees on the plate, three mains and three desserts, albeit small helpings. Thank heavens. But the food was really delicious.

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Then out of nowhere, this women in a mask appeared and started singing well known opera pieces. She had the most magnificent soprano voice. Then a guy appeared, a tenor. He was excellent too. She sang to the men and the man sang to me. It's a bit embarrassing but we all had a great evening. The singing was excellent.

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The couple is actually married and he has studied in Barcelona and he also her teacher. Her voice was stunning.

That is our first Scenic Welcome Dinner where we have been entertained, and so magnificently.

Posted by gaddingabout 20:41 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito, Ecuador - Friday, 20 March 2015

Our third and final tour begins!

We awoke today to pouring rain, but the good news is that I can now download photos into my blog AND after reading today's paper in Spanish (I hope you're impressed) it seems that yesterday's demonstration went off without any violence, which is a good thing.

There seemed to be a few more Aussies at breakfast this morning as our tour starts this evening at 6.00 pm when we meet our Scenic guide in the foyer. The rain is now clearing, so we are going to get Phil's glasses fixed AGAIN! We have just heard on the BBC news that Malcolm Fraser died aged 84.

This is Quito's idea of health and safety. No safety harnesses or anything like that and it is always raining and slippery!

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We walked down the road to the Optometrist and the sun almost came out.

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We walked around the streets of our hotel for a while and then took a taxi to Quicentro shopping mall. It is a very modern mall and is spotlessly clean and smells gorgeous. We had lunch at Vaca y Vaca which was nice. It was a very popular place because people were queueing up to get in.

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The people aren't very tall in Quito - not even five foot. I think it is because the sun never shines, that they don't grow. I feel very tall here.

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We met with our new guide Ampara at 6.00 pm, along with two other ladies from the Sunshine Coast. They seem very nice and will be with us for the rest of our time in South America. Three more couples arrive late tonight, so there will be 10 of us going to the Galapagos, then we pick up another five for the Amazon and 10 more for Peru. 25 is quite a nice size group. Ampara also handed us a letter from Scenic to say that when we go to the Galapagos, we have been upgraded to the Balcony Plus Suite on the Moon Deck, with two private balconies and a large bathroom. Does this dream ever end? Now all we need is Baptiste our Butler from the Le Boreal and everything will be perfect!

So, 8.45 am tomorrow it begins with a 45 minute briefing, followed by a city tour, lunch and a welcome dinner tomorrow night. We are having room service tonight and early to bed to prepare for tomorrow.

Posted by gaddingabout 05:53 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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