Packed and ready to go. Quick transit through Santiago and go to Guayaquil. Got to love hot showers and comfortable beds.
Woke to floor to ceiling picture windows overlooking the river. Easy start to the day as I walked around the hotel taking in the colourful box houses on the hill and the vast flat riverside.
Had a tiki-tour around the colonial heart of the city. Cruised up some of the narrow streets where the giant papier-mache structures were being built on the pavement. Super hero anyone? Such an enormous amount of work just to burnt at 31 December. Loved the Park of the Land Iguanas - they were everywhere and much bigger than I imagined.
Time to get on a plane and fly West. I have been wanting to get to the Galapagos for so long, it's a 'pinch-me' moment to actually getting so close.
When we arrived at the small airport it was all rather causal and relaxed. Asked for the Galapagos stamp while some other passengers were fussing with their bags.
Met with the welcoming committee from the 'La Pinta' - crossed the island by bus to reach the quayside... and there is was a beautiful white boat rocking gently as anchor. My home for the next few days.
Also on the quayside was a loud Sea Lion, mating call??? Terriorial Warning??? 'Welcome to the Galapagos in sealionese???
Nice cabin with lots of room, porthole and even a small table and chair. Got to love an en suite and complimentary toileteries. The best gift was the metal water bottle, electric blue with official La Pinta logo.
Punt Pitt (San Cristobal Island). We landed at the eastern tip of the island. The sand was olivine, something I had read about but not seen in the flesh... so not really yellow sand more green. While I was waiting for the other panga (zodiac) I wandered over to the nearby rocks to investigate the layers and colours. Beautiful swirls of ocher and red.
Next minute a baby sea lion was advantaging at speed towards me and all I could think of was.. "oh no, got to keep a distance from the animals for everyone's safety - and the joly thing can't read." The naturist with us yelled at me to stand still. Believe me, I wasn't going anywhere. The pup came close, gave a sniff then waddled off to the sea. No fear of me, just nosey.
Off that I stayed (as much as I am able) with the pack as we set off uphill to the viewpoint. Everywhere were birds, red footed boobies, finches and flying frigates.
Came back to the beach for a swim. The water was 25C, so a very easy splash around.
Cerro Brujo (san Cristobal Island). I got to walk on the same beach as Darwin did in 1835!!!
Punta Suarez /Gardner Bay (Espanola Island). This island was just something extra. Low and flat it was an old volcanoe and the place was alive with animals. I'd stop to just look and find I had caused a traffic jam for the Marine Iguanas. They sat, waited, talked on their cell-phones and then when I moved, lumbered on pass to get to the sea. Took my breathe away
Further inland we passed a young hawk on its nest. Only 10 metres away and just watching us, not fussed at all.
On to the Albratross, one of my favourite sea birds. Not so graceful on the land but when they are aloft - magnificent.
Crossing the island (its very small) we reached the cliff face where the Albratross throw themselves into the air. Below Marine Iguanas were eating in the rock pools, surged by the ocean. I thought the delights of the walk were done, until we started our way back and it was straight through the rooky of the Nazca Boobies. So very close to nesting birds (1-2 metres) and they couldn't get a toss. Extra-ordinary.
All in all, one best days ever.
Charles Darwin Research Station (Santa Cruz Island). Today we left the ship - very sad to say goodbye to the fabulous crew. (Not sad to leave the rather pompous brits aboard with their loud boasting - we kiwis know how to behave in polite company.
The Research Station was having some updating work done which certainly looked like it was necessary. Personally I prefer animals in the wild or more natural habitats - maybe the changes will improve this.
Took a panga to Finch Bay Hotel, an eco lodge just around the headland. Very nice.
Crossed back over the Santa Cruz township by hotel water taxi and enjoyed wandering around the shops - oh and a spot of geo-caching for those who know me well.
Time to leave the Galapagos which meant a cross island trip. Stopped in on a private giant land tortoise breeding area and got up close and personal with these gentle creatures. One of our party managed to crawl inside a shell - yes they are that big!
The Baltra Airport has the IATA code - GPS - going to keep that boarding card for a while.
Arrived in Quito Airport and knew immediately we were back on a large contenient, everything was on the grand scale once more, the earthy smells and lack of salty air.
What does one do in Quito, he capital of Ecuador? One buys a Panama hat. Well I am told they are really an Ecuador hat but President Roosevelt was given one when he visited the Panama Canal and it has been ever since misnamed for Panama.
The colonial old town was full of small shops, cobbled streets, churches, history and great shopping.
Lunch was a riot at the Grande with the monks, bells and steaming ice-cream.
What else does one do in Ecuador? They stand on the equator! Oh, I so enjoyed having half of me in the northern hemiphere and other half in the southern hemisphere.
But, me being me, I got out the trusty GPS to determine if those French Surveyors got it right - no cigar for them, the true equator was up the road a bit - but I got my 000 00.000 N/S !
The day could have ended there for me but there was an extinct volcano, a ruin, a rain forest and a very bumpy road yet. Arrived at Mashpi Lodge in time for lunch. Mashpi stands in the middle of the rain forest where a saw-mill once was. Trees, birds and silence.
Rose at dawn to catch the birds on the roof of the lodge. Those naturalists are quick at the spotting and identifying each species, while I was still looking for the coffee.
Left after breakfast for a walk through the forest - gumboots supplied. It wasn't a difficult walk it was just getting damper, then wetter and then again it is called a rain forest for a reason. Climbing the observation tower for a brief glimpse across the canopy between clouds and rain. On a good day I am told we could appreciate 70% of the forest's biodiversity - good to know but I think the clever creatures were tucked up in bed with a good book.
On the Sky-bike... this aerial bicycle was an original and exciting way to whiz across a gorge and river. I promise I tried to listen carefully to all the instructions both in English, Spanish and Spanenglish but in the end it was get on, hold on tight and enjoy the ride. My room-share and I sped down the first side - gravity and middle-age spread helped with that - used momentum to climb the other side and then it was up to me to 'bike' our way to the platform. I was SO pleased to see our companions appear out the mist, my little legs were getting tired with moving both of our weight against gravity. Lots of fun though and I would do it again in a heartbeat.. or when my heart isn't beating so fast.
Second best day coming right up. My soul just sang to being in the primal forest, to see that there was some orginial rainforest left, and when left alone nature can recover. The trees were enormous, moist and alive with birds, insects and plants. We climbed a ridge and then descended slowly to the stream. Walking along the stoney surface, the water sparkled and tinkled its way through the trees. Occasionally there were huge boulders and fallen logs.
We arrived at Copra waterfall where we jumped in to cool off. The water was cool, but it had that 'Hey, I'm Alive' freshness. Julia and I were last to leave and somehow got separated from the others - too much talking? So there we were two women in our swimwear, gumboots and hats tramping through the forest. We eventually were found by the young fit guide (dressed as we were but with a machet across his hip), Julia came over all a flutter.
I bet when the naturalists looked at their hidden motion-sensor cameras that night they got a bit more than expected.
And that was that - time to pack up and head off on the long journey home. First stop was the hummingbird station - these birds are like little jewels flying through the air.
Second stop, a night in Quito
Third stop, Lima. Fourth stop Santiago and then home!
Mandy is one well-travelled person, having visited all 7 continents! Over the years her travels have taken her to the UK, Europe, the USA, Canada, Vanuatu, the Philippines, South Africa, Kenya, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Mexico, Russia, China, Burma, Croatia, Slovenia, Vietnam, India, Laos, Cambodia, Argentina and Antarctica plus a few more.
Mandy has always had an adventurous spirit, especially for places more unusual. She particularly enjoys introducing others to these destinations and making it possible for people to realise a life’s dream.