This travelogue include Northern Ecuador, Quito, the Jungle and Galapagos.
This is part of my diary from my trip to Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador in August and September 1996. The first 6 weeks I was travelling with a friend, Sara, who is in the last year of her studies of Nordic Literature and Language.
I'm 28 and work as a programmer in a small computer company in Århus, Denmark, and I had a prolonged holiday. I've had two evening courses in Spanish, and knew enough to get around, but not enough (unfortunately) to have deep conversations with people.
This travelogue is written to help people who are going to travel to this area, and for others who like to know about what is happening in the world.
Exchange rate: 1US$=3250 Sucres (s./); 1 Danish Crown=560 s./
We flew Billund-Frankfurt (with Maersk) - Bogota-Caracas
(Avianca), and back from Quito-Bogota-Frankfurt (Avianca)-Billund
(Maersk). The roundtrip costed 1150$.
After crossing the bridge from Ipiales in Colombia to Ecuador, we get on a shared Collectivo (500p/1300s/./0.40$) to Tulcan - full of poncho clad families. I caught myself staring at them. They were pretty. They were not beautiful in a western sense, but colourful.
The first bank we saw at the park did only accept MasterCard, but 5 blocks into town there is a VISA branch where we get 800.000 s./ (3250 s./ per US$). Opposite the bank, is a good chicken store, where they fry the chickens over coal - they do it many places, and they are really crispy. 1/4 chicken with potatoes (the only thing they sell!) for 4.000 s./1.25$. But you get greasy fingers. Sara wanted to take a picture of an Indian woman, so to be discrete she pointed the camera at me, and just before taking the picture she turned it enough to frame the woman. We walk back to where we started from, to see the famous churchyard. We take turns walking around. It is amazing how they have cut all the bushes to resemble faces, persons, animals, and all sort of structures. I get a good talk with two children who take Polaroid snaps of people coming here. They give us a picture each for free - now, how often do this happen for you? We take a taxi to the terminal at the opposite end for 2.500 s./0.77$, and at once there are people taking our bags into their office, and Sara holds the tickets in her hands even before we enter the office. OK, there is a fierce competition here, and we take the tickets anyway since the bus leaves in 15 minutes - at 2 p.m., and it is only 14.000 s./4.31$ for both of us to Otavalo. The bus is unfortunately the worst one of the lot. It takes 2½ hours and we get off on the east side of Otavalo; walk to the Hotel Rivera Sucre, which is quite nice - and only 12.000 s./3.70$ per person! It is not with bath though, but it has a nice garden.
We take a walk to the main Plaza. The Fiesta del
Yamor is going on this week, but it is the wrong days we are here;
nothing happens until the weekend - we check the program, and
it seems it may be worth going there - the program lists maybe
50-75 events for these two days. Sara starts checking out some
of the stores with handicrafts. Back at the hotel, I don the woollen
underwear; it is pretty high up and cold at night. We want to
try Mexican food, but it takes half an hour getting to the restaurant
since Sara has to check out some of the Indian woollen shirts
shops. The shops are all made up of a big room with piles of shirts,
jerseys and cardigans - and some on the walls too. She buys a
couple of vests 22.000 s./6.77$ for 2. We get a fantastic meal
at "Tabascos"; we get so much to eat that we are about
to burst. We are served by a 7-8 year old girl (it happens several
times on our trip that they use child labour), who says a very
cute "de nada" every time we say "Gracias".
We walk back around 8.30 p.m.. Actually I feel pretty safe and
comfortable after getting out of Colombia. Actually I liked Colombia
a lot, but you have to watch your back all the time. It is very
interesting with people here; it is full of Indians - and they
are SO small! All the time you are overtaking these miniature
people with plaited hair and ponytails (Sara gives me a lecture
about these things) - both men and women. They all wear lots of
chains, ponchos etc.
Up at 8.30 a.m.. Buy Bon-Yurts (yes, they also have them here in Ecuador - Sara's favourite yoghurt from Colombia) at the baker opposite. We are told that the busses to Quito leave from the new 'Terminal' (it is not in the TSK), so we walk there and find out that busses leave every 20 minutes. We walk to the Poncho Plaza which is totally filled with goods - so it is not just the Saturday morning marked now where you can buy things. Still it is probably more busy at that time; at this time just a few tourists wanders about. Sara goes crazy - but she also have to bring back gifts to the whole family, and it is a good place to stock up on them here, I have to admit. I buy a small cloth-bag for my camera (8.000 s./2.45$) and a couple of cloth-pants (15.000 s./4.61$). Sara has to check a couple of other shops, so we meet at the hotel later and walk to the terminal. A bus is 'saliendo!' at 12.20 a.m., and it costs 4700 s./1.45$ per person to Quito. A very beautiful trip - there are beautiful views of Cayambe (5790m) with snow capped peaks. It starts to get more and more dry after Cayambe.
We arrive in Quito at 2.40 p.m., and take a taxi to the hotel we want to go to. It costs 8.000 s./2.46$. "Hay un meter, no?", I ask. He shrugs, say something I don't understand, and use it. Wow it ticks fast! It turns out to 7.800 s./- expensive! The trip is quite short, and in Bogota we could get three times a far for this amount. We try not to take taxis any more after this. What we did not know at this time is that the Trolé (which is a bus which runs in special lanes and uses electricity from cables in the air) goes right past the terminal, and through most of the city. Well, the Hotel St. James is not there any more, but there is another one at the same place. It costs 37.000 s./11.38$ for a musty and boring room. Sara waits here while I check out Santa Clara (not much better for 50.000 s./15.38$). While I check the books for others, a guy who stutters some English (I think he just want to practice). He tells me about a street, 'Asuncion', where there is a good one, but he doesn't remember the name. I walk there, and at the first hotel in the street they still have a room for 50.000 s./15.38$, but it is 10 times better than the others; a clean hotel with TV - Hotel Bianca. I get 10 minutes to fetch Sara, since they only have this one room left. It is 4 p.m. Avianca (our flight company) is not where the TSK states, and in general not many things are where the TSK states. We check some tour options, and there is quite a range to choose between. There are now thousands lined up at Avenida Amazonas. Jungle tours for 4/5 days are from 200$ to 400$. All agencies have maybe 3 to choose between. Galapagos tours (8 days) are divided into budget (500$-560$), Tourist Class (670-700$), and First Class (800+$). To this you have to add 290$ for the flight (100$ more in the tourist season which ends 1.September), 91$ in taxes and tips - but check later in this travelogue; last minute prices are much lower. The itineraries are quite different from each other, but there seems to be good space at the boats this month (low season), so I decide to wait since most companies have last minute prices. About the jungle trip, I am a bit afraid that they are too much a tourist thing, but it is not that expensive, so we decide to give it a try.
We walk back to the hotel, which has a good, modern
restaurant, which is not particularly expensive - shrimps frita,
salad and french fries for 11.000 s./3.39$. We are starving since
we have not had any lunch today. Afterwards we go up and look
at our tour options.
Up at 8. Continental breakfast at the hotels restaurant. It costs 4.000 s./1.23$, and isn't very good (two toasts with a tiny piece of cheese, juice and coffee). Sara buys the usual Bon-Yurt. I get a city map at the hotel. I ask at the Trolé-station for a route-map, but they don't have anything. We walk to the tourist-office, but it has moved - to Parque la Carolina. Take a stroll at Amazonas to get a couple more offers. Ask at Galsam Tours which is mentioned in TSK. Same price, but they only have tours to the jungle on Mondays, and we are not really into Shaman and Indian visits - it can only be artificial. They have their own boats on Galapagos, and Tourist Class for 700$. We decide to go with Aventur, Amazonas 333 y Washington, and Jose from the agency looks a bit surprised when we say we want to go tomorrow. He is not sure if he can get a seat on the plane, but he succeeds. The trip for 5 days costs 200$+20$ park fee and 52$ for a flight (one way) to Lago Agrio. It is the tour we like best - and also the cheapest. We pay with travellers cheques. Jose is going to meet us at the airport tomorrow with the plane tickets. He is a nice guy who have travelled to most places in Ecuador. He recommends a guide he knows, Jorge, who doesn't speak perfect English, but he is born there and Jose says he is the best. We ask at Tierra del Sol (opposite) if we can send e-mails; we can but not until after 2 p.m., and it costs 7.000 s./2.15$.
We walk to the Old town; it is quite different. Go to the Basilica church which is quite huge and has a lot of spires. We end up in a funeral ceremony with harmonicas. This and other churches are actually where they are supposed to be according to the TSK - to our relief. At the way to Plaza de la Indepencia, Sara is 'robbed'. Between a car and the wall, she cannot go either forward or backward because of two men. After she gets past them, she notices that the back pocket of her bag had been unzipped, and her Paragurts are missing (pills for the stomach! :-) But it makes us more cautious. El Sagrano is open, but La Compañia, San Francisco and the Cathedral are all closed. We take the Trolé to Parque de Carolina in the new Town (the fare in the Trolé is a flat 700 s./0.22$). We find a good place for Pizza. Sara can't stand the waiter who stands close to the table, and says 'Permisso', and don't serve the glass with Coke, the knifes, the bill, etc. before we say 'Si!'. Too polite. 2 persons Pizza for 19.000 s./5.84$. But plus 10% IVA and 10% service charge. We walk through the park. There are mountain bike tracks, playgrounds, and different sport fields.
We ask at a kiosk for the 'Vivarium' (our destination),
but they don't know about this. We ask a taxi driver: Yes, it
was here once, but it has moved to Colon and La Rabida. We walk
there (a couple of kilometres). It is hot and the sky is clear.
It is not there, but we are directed by a vendor to Reina Victoria,
close to Colon - and it is there! It is a house with snakes and
creep from all of Ecuador, and we get an English translation.
There are 28 glass cages, and it is easy to get a good look at
the snakes, turtles and toads. Entrance fee is 4.000 s./1.23$.
It is worth a visit. But this is the fourth time we go to a place
which has moved since the last TSK - we need a new guide book.
We find out later that all who understands German use a new one
from 'Reisenführer'. We take a walk at Amazonas to find a
bank. The teller machines will only give you 200.000 for our VISA
- which is nothing compared to the fee of 40 DKr we have to pay.
So we change 200$ in travellers cheques instead (2340 s./ per
$). We get a Cappuccino at a street café, but it is quite
tiring with all the sales people, beggars and shoe shiners who
are all around you. Walk home before sunset and buy a newspaper.
It seems USA have bombed Iraq again. Eat at the restaurant next
to our hotel, which is quite cheaper than Bianca. It cost 5.000
s./1.54$ for the most expensive meal, and you get quite big portions.
The Tomato-soup index is 2.000 s./0.62$.
The hotel is willing to take care of our luggage and valuables while we are in the jungle. For the rest of our trip, I use the Bianca as a base, and just take with me what I need. We get a Bon-Yurt and get on the first non-full bus for the Airport - they leave from just outside, and most go through Avenida Amazonas. It takes 15 minutes and costs 500 s./0.15$. Busses costs 500 (0.15$) or 250. We are in good time so there is time for a coffee. At 9.40 I hear the name 'Sara Andersen' called through the speakers to go to Information. It isn't José, but someone else who gives us our tickets, which are pre-checked. We have a nice flight in a Boeing 767 to the small Lago Agrio in the jungle. The plane is full. First we cross the Altiplano and then it goes down pretty steep and the mountains have vegetation all over. Then it changes to jungle - as far as you can see to 3 sides, just green and green. It is pretty hot - 31 degrees and very humid. We are met by Marcelo who takes us to the town where we meet Volker and Thorsten from East Germany. We have lunch (3 courses) with red soda gelatine for desert :-) Two minutes before Marcelo returns with our guide Jorge, we meet Martin, who have come here by bus and who is looking for a trip, but the agents have told him they need at least 4 people. The Germans have paid 220$ for the same trip as us at the same company, which they are a bit upset about. We get into our jeep and do some shopping in town (ice, meat, etc.), and before leaving town, Martin comes along. We drive 3 hours on a dirt road which at places are full of oil - and not pretty. Martin have just had 5 weeks of Spanish classes in Quito, and speaks perfectly - we are quite envious with him. We get to the park and meet other tourists who have returned. We ask how it was, and they answer: hot, humid, dirty and not many animals. Doesn't sound too good... We pay the 40.000 s./12.30$ entrance fee and they write down information from our passports. The sun is up high, and it is quite hot until we leave in the dug out canoes with a outboard motor. Then the sun hides behind a cloud. It is a beautiful and long trip - which we enjoy, and it isn't humid any more. There is not so much water in the river. It looks like something from Disney Land, quite unreal. We stop sometimes on the way to look at birds, and at one place we see 2 monkeys (not more than 40 cm long) climbing in the bushes.
The trip takes until sunset where we come to a big
lake - and a fantastic sunset. We enter a mangrove where the trees
stand deep into the water (it is the rainy season here now). The
place has 3 cabañas which are basically 3 elevated floors
with roofs. Under one of them we put up our tents, and below the
other a kitchen and 'dining hall'. There are no walls. It is pitch
dark at 6.30 p.m. But we are not alone. There are millions of
sounds from the surrounding jungle. Great!!! We talk about education,
the countries, etc., and have first a soup followed by chicken
and vegetables. The place is right on the equator, Jorge tells
us. After dinner some people arrive in a boat - a brother of one
of the people have been murdered in Lago Agrio, and has come to
ask if Jorge had heard anything. We take a walk with flashlights
for a 30 minutes hunt. First we see some Caimans - that is 'something
orange shining' when we point our flashlight out in the water.
They are hunting now. They are basically small crocodiles (about
a meter long). In the daytime they sleep in the jungle, until
12 p.m. they hunt and in the night they rest at the river banks.
When hunting, only their eyes are above the water, which is what
we can spot with our torches. We spot a lot of fish, or 'food
for caimans' as Jorge says. And then the highlight of the day:
Torsten spots a 2 meter Rainbow Boa snake (Arcoiris Boa) !!! It
is red-brown with circles all over. It is crawling right next
to the path. Wow. We had also seen one like this at the Vivarium
in Quito. Later, after some more Caiman spotting, we find it again
at its home - a tree stump. We get something to lie on and two
persons in each tent. Good we brought our sheets which is enough
(don't bring sleeping bags [Sara's comments: I disagree, if you
don't like being cold - bring your sleeping bag!]). In the nights
Jorge and Sara hears 12 Monkeys (howler monkeys) passing by in
the trees. Actually Jorge says there might have been 60. Well,
what do I know.
Up at 7.30 a.m.. Continental breakfast (we asked for it as a joke last evening) with scrambled eggs. Jorge came back to Lago Agrio two days ago from Quito where he had been hospitalised with a serious attack of Malaria. We don long trousers, rubber boots (supplied by the company) and a T-shirt - and 'mucho, mucho repellente', as Jorge says. We paddle in a dug out canoe across the lake to a path, which is an old trail through the jungle to Colombia - 9 hours. Probably a smuggler's path. Here in the shadow of the jungle you can really feel the humidity - but is not the worst I have experienced. First we take a look at a Kinin-tree; Indians lick the bark to prevent malaria - 10 minutes equals one tablet, Jorge says. Next to it is a rubber tree, and a small lump can burn a whole night. We try igniting a bit. Twenty meters into the jungle is a log on which an army of ants are crossing - each one with a green leaf (or part of one). We all find it very impressing.
We stop often when Jorge spots a bird, or to show
us some survival tricks - like how to make an arrow for the blowguns.
They used to get the poison from toads, but now they get it from
the lianas hanging down from the trees. When the monkey is shot,
they put salt into the wound which neutralises the poison. We
continue on a couple of hours, some places it is mud all the way
up the top of our boots. At 11 a.m. Jorge finds some branches
which are enlarged some places. He opens them with a knife and
lots of small ants piles out. He licks them up - yack!, but we
are all convinced that it is OK, and try as well (a lot of pictures
taken at the critical moment) - they taste like lemon. You should
spit them out afterwards. Jorge says that all ants taste like
lemon, but this species is a peaceful kind. He shows us another
species of ant which lives in earthballs on trees. They are flesh
eaters, and bite into his hands (you don't want to eat this kind!).
We are back 12.30 a.m., where we get a jugo and tuna/onion rice
and fried platanos (bananas). We talk Mafia, Colombians, the war
against Peru. Jorge has been a scout for the Ecuadorians since
he knows the jungle. We leave in shorts only, to fish Pirañas.
The others (except Sara and I) take a swim in the lake. We paddle
up a river, and Jorge looses most of his meet-bait to the Pirañas.
So we have to go to another place where there are others waiting
to be fed by the humans. The boat with the motor arrives, and
the boatman with his two sons try further up the river. The string
with the hook is hardly out before we get our first one. Wow!
It is 25cm long - I always thought they were maybe 5-8 cm. Even
after 10 minutes it can cut through branches with its teeth. We
catch 4 more, and one of them is 30 cm, which is one of the biggest
Jorge has ever seen. We sail back. The others take another swim,
and we wait 20 minutes for a nice sunset. I wonder how come it
is so comfortable and cosy here in the Amazonas. The books says
95-100% humidity - but it isn't! We talk about the events of the
day - and have fried Pirañas, whisky and a cup of coffee.
Later in the evening, Jorge goes to catch fish with his long knife
- really - Whack! He catches 7. Spot several red-blinking eyes
in the beam of the flashlight - caimans. The water temperature
of the lake is 29.7 degrees, and the day temperature had been
Up at 7.45. I have a diarrhoea, but it seems only
to be me - probably chewed too much on the ants. Luckily it only
lasts the day. Breakfast and packing. The boat driver arrives
and after we have deposited our canoe at another tourist-trip-cottage-place,
we continue down the river. We fish some more for Pirañas,
and Martin is lucky and catches one (he is called 'big hunter'
after this) - and we loose a lot of meat. After a couple of relaxing
hours, we see more and more birds. Herons, jungle chickens, small,
big ones. See a couple of Bromils (?) which is in the family of
orchids. The river is getting quite wide - 20 to 30 meters. We
take a stop in a small Indian village to buy supplies. There is
a football field, 10 cabins and street lights (but no streets).
Some enjoy a beer. We continue on for 10 minutes and arrive at
a very 'tranquila' place - a house at a river bend. Lots of insects
here though. Spaghetti for lunch, and relaxing in the hammocks.
There is 29 degrees, and it isn't humid at all. We do some blowing
with blowguns, but it isn't wildly interesting (I'm not the one
who get the best hits :-). The gun is 2 meters long, and the arrows
are 20 cm long thin sticks with cotton in one end. Sara and Martin
are the best shooters. Then we are going to row without cameras,
etc. Jorge and Martin in one, the two Germans in one, and Sara
and I in a dug out canoe. We do some practice - Sara is quite
scared - with good reason :-), and we go with the stream. The
two other canoes race - and Jorge's sinks two times :-) Then the
big hit: Fresh water dolphins! A mother with a child. We see them
10-12 times where they jump up. At one time they are only 5-7
meters from our canoe! Wow, this is exciting! It is more difficult
to get back - up against the stream; mostly because the boat crosses
the stream many times. We do get back just after sunset. Get beans,
fried bananas and rice. Lots of insects arrives, and I light a
mosquito coil, which keeps the smaller ones away. Cockroaches
and our cricket, Jesper, are not scared away, and entertains us
for some time. Jesper is 4-5 cm, and jumps around the table, through
the candlelight, and stares at us with big eyes. Sara is terrified.
The others have started speaking German most of the time, which
is a bit annoying, but OK since it is the first language of the
three of them, and Sara speaks fluently as well, no problem.
The Shaman is going to a reunion in the afternoon, so he isn't coming with us for the jungle trek today. Instead the brother dresses up as a Shaman with a feather in his hair and a costume. So we enter the jungle. The temperature is only 25 degrees, but it feels much hotter! A humidity of 100%. We repeat some of the things we did the other day (Jorge isn't with us), and only see a bird or two. We do see footprints of Tapirs (at least they tell us), a cave of a Armadillo and scratches on a tree from a wild cat. Even the jungle beer is quite bad (taken from cut jungle lianas). We take a swing in the lianas, which results in resin on my (only) Colombia T-shirt [it takes 20 washes with very toxic stuff to get it off...] - but it makes a good picture at least :-)
We look at herbs which are good for the teeth, wounds and lazy people - I wonder what it do to lazy people... We also see trees which are going to be used for canoes etc. We also throw bark from a tree to fish in a stream; after 10 minutes they are supposed to faint, and can be picked up. Neat. We don't wait to see it happen (or not) though.
We are back at 12 a.m., and it is good to get some water to drink. Here it is 30 degrees, but the air is dry, so it feels colder. I read a bit while the others go for a canoe ride. Lunch at 1.30 p.m., and we do a bit of siesta. Then we go to catch Pirañas - this time for the teeth as souvenirs. Sara stays back. At first, Martin and I are in one boat, and I can see why they turned over yesterday! We are almost under the waterline... After 100 meter downstream, he goes with Marcelo and the Indian - they have been digging up some worms. The Indian can't swim, and they have to go ashore several times when Martin runs into the shore :-) We all think it is quite funny. Now that I'm alone, it is much easier, even upstream! Volker and Thorsten sinks, and when they are up again, Volker (who is a bit bigger than the rest of us) get my canoe, and I go with Thorsten. The river is full of 30 cm meat-hungry fish, Anacondas, Carneros (fish which enters holes in the body (ears, nose, etc.), and take a bite - and can't be pulled loose - just ask Martin; I think he still has nightmares about them :-), electric eels, but what frightens me isn't all of that, but the Bilharzie, worms, amoebas, etc. It is better to wait with the bath, I think...
Thorsten gets us back safely and we relax until dinner. Again it is good. It is dark at 6.30 p.m., and after lighting a coil, only the ants are left on our table with the cockroaches and Jesper. We forgot a cracker at lunch time, so one million ants have made a trail from the ground and all the way up on the table where they labour hard to get the crumbs back to their place.
At 9 p.m. we go for a Caiman hunt. The 'driver' is drunk and runs our boat directly up on a log in the river (there are lots of them around), and all get on the log in complete darkness until help comes from the hut where we are staying. As thank you for the help, they get some petrol, which results in us not having enough the next day :-) We continue on, and the Amazonas is really beautiful at night! All the sounds; the bright star night, the shooting stars (Sara reluctantly admits that she has never seen one before!) and the big trees against the moonlit sky. We only see a couple of gleaming eyes during 1½ hours, but it is a good trip! The river is very wide at this place (about 60 m), so it is quite comfortable to sail here. We are back at 10 p.m.
Jorge explains that the Shaman has 'mucho rom in
su cabeza', which means that we are saved from a sermon with him.
I'm not too sorry about that. Instead we take a cup of rum before
going to sleep.
Up at 2.30 a.m., and there is a 15 cm big very hairy spider on our tent. It looks very scary from the inside - and from the outside! I get Jorge to look at it, and he gives it a couple of puffs, but I'm not sure it is quite gone. For the first time, I just don my boots without shaking them! I freezes when I realise what I just did! Luckily the spider didn't hide in there... Volker is the only one who has the nerve to get a picture of the creep. [If you ever read this Volker - send me copy, please!]
We leave at about 3 a.m. in total darkness, and it is pretty cold. The light doesn't come until Lago Cayabeno, and Jorge stands in the front with a flashlight the whole way and shows the way. After a while, he spots a Caiman, and this time we get all the way up to it, and it doesn't dive. Nice one. Later we see Tucans (they have a beak like a banana, and the beak is just as long as the rest of the bird), and just before we are back to civilisation, 2 parrots fly screeching by.
During the last days, we have seen a big snake, Pirañas, parrots, spiders, Carneros, dolphins, mega ants, lemon ants, crickets, lots of creeps, monkeys, lots of birds and scratches from 'cats',
We reach the Lago Cayabeno at 5.30 a.m. - at sunrise, and we have to go around the lake to the other huts to get some gasoline. We get to the entrance of the park at 8.30, and there is a bus from the border of Colombia 20 minutes later. It is one of the kind with doors for all rows, and no aisle. It is funny, and it is very quick to get in and out of, except that most people have a sack or two on the roof as well. Once in a while a hand reaches into the room from the roof - then people are supposed to put money in the hand.
We are in Lago Agrio at 12.00 a.m.. Get lunch here and since there is no bus until 4 p.m., we relax a bit. The hotels won't rent a room with a bath to us for an hour (we'll have to pay for a day) - they probably think we are going to do something dirty, though I try to tell them we want to do the opposite... I also call the hotel in Quito, but they won't be open when we get there at 1 or 2 a.m. in the morning, so I cancel our reservation, and we decide to get off before Quito.
The trip has been very good - and it was even an 'adventure trip', and the cheapest we found! Lots of animals (which was mainly because of the guide).
Jorge and Marcelo doesn't come and say good bye to us (they said they would), so they miss their tip. We all go with the same bus to Quito, and Martin decides to go with us to the hot springs in Papallacta - he has told us many stories about the wonders they can do to you. The trip costs 25.000 s./7.69$ for 9 hours.
Just out of town is a checkpoint where all the details
about people are noted, which takes half an hour. The guard thinks
it is strange that I don't have to get a new passport because
I have had a name change, and Sara was not supposed to be let
through since her passport is at the hotel in Quito, and we only
brought a copy - she is scolded, but is let through - and she
didn't understand what he said in Spanish anyway :-) The mountains
starts right after, and we glare out until sunset at 6.30 p.m.
At 8 there is a supper stop where we get a soup. At 9.45 p.m.
we get off at Papallacta, and even though I ask the co-driver
if it is here, he says 'no'. He comes back to me shortly after
and says that it IS here (he has probably asked the driver). So
we get off on the muddy dirt road in the darkness (the paved road
starts here). In the first guest house no one answers, so we go
to a shop nearby where they 'maybe' have a room; then no. We ask
if there are other places in town. 'No'. (There is of course a
nice hotel by the hot springs, but then we have to go out of town
a couple of kilometres in darkness). We talk for a couple of minutes,
and they say OK. We get a cold musty room with 3 beds and dirty
linen - but we are more dirty :-) We have to pay the outrageous
sum of 10.000 s./3.07$ per person - but what can we do. We fall
asleep with good thought for tomorrow.
Up at 5.30 ! Again a night with little sleep. It is dog-cold as we would say in Denmark, and dark, but we dress in our dirty clothes and hastens towards the hot springs 2 kilometres uphill. The waste water is steaming in the stream by the road, and it looks like a chemical spill. 8.000 s./2.46$ in entrance fee. It must be quite expensive for the Ecuadorians. It is a quite nice and clean place with 6 pools of different temperatures. The first one I try is scalding hot, and I can't even get one feet under. The next ones are better. There is only one family besides us at 6.15 a.m. This is the highest blessing in days! Delight! Delight! I measure the temperatures with my watch in the different pools to be between 34-41 degrees. And it is pure, clean spring water! Wow. Around 7.30 other people start to come. We enjoy and relax until 8.20 (2 hours in the water) - and I can usually only stay 20 minutes in the water before I'm freezing cold. Unfortunately we can't see the snow-capped Antisana (5704m) because of the clouds - Martin assured us that it was quite a good sight.
We have a good (but expensive - 10.000 s./) breakfast, but it is filling - and the milk is fresh from the cow :-) We walk back and pay our rent at the 'hotel' and wait at the police checkpoint for the bus. We get there at 10.30, and 4 or 5 busses pass for Lago Agrio, but none heading for Quito. A guy says that there should be one at 11, but at 11.15 the policeman says that it is not until 12. Meanwhile I read a travelogue I've brought about Galapagos and in the TSK about the different islands. At 11.40 the first bus comes, but it is full, but we are lucky and the next one passes at 12, and we get on even though I have to stand up, which means that I don't see the beautiful scenery up to the pass at 4100 m, which goes up quit steeply from Papallacta. It goes very slow up, and just after the pass we stop and get a closer look at the Paramo and buy a couple of boiled corn cobs. Then is goes (slowly) down again, but finally the driver starts to drive faster, and we get to Quito at 2 p.m. (in 2 hours). Martin tells us that the Trolé leaves right here from the station, so it is quite easy to get to the hotel. We say good bye to Martin - and thanks for the good company! We arrange that he checks my homepage after a month to check (*this) [Hi Martin! If you do read this, remember to e-mail me!].
We have to wait an hour to get a room, so we go for a quick lunch. Sara waits at the hotel while I go to hunt for my Galapagos trip. It is amazing how much one can save with last minute offers. A trip for 8 days, tourist class is around 520$ (normally 700$), a 1. Class (normally around 1200$) can be had with Galsam for 720$. Unfortunately all the trips were for the 'usual' islands (Santa Crux, San Cristobal, Española, Floreana, Santiago), and not any of those I wanted to go to (Fernandina, Isabela and Genovesa). Then I find the one I want. It is a 1. Class tour which goes to all the exciting islands, and they have a special program for this week, and leave the same time Thursday as Sara is leaving for Denmark. The normal price is 1,470$ (in the high season though), the usual last minute price is 920$, but I can have it for 820$ - which I think several people on our boat got it for. After a bit of thinking, I decide for this trip, and ask for 50$ more discount. I get 30$. I was more looking for a budget or tourist class boat, but this was the only one with a route I liked. It turns out to be a good choice. I pay my last 300$ in travellers cheques in deposit. The only hatch is that if one want to pay with credit card, it costs 10% extra, which is 81$ in my case! So I'll try to get the money from the bank the next day. The boat is called the Tip Top III, and is owned by the Wittmer family, which is one of the first families on the islands [To find them on the web: Just search for 'Wittmer', and you'll get right to them].
We have dinner at a Chinese restaurant opposite our
After a Bon-Yurt we go to each our bank to withdraw respectively 1 and 1½ million on our Visa and MasterCard, which I pay at the Rolf Wittmer bureau.
The most famous book store in Quito is close by (Libri Mundi), so we take a look, and I buy a book of Galapagos: "Odyssey Illustrated Guide to The Galapagos Islands", by Pierre Constant. It looks to be the most interesting for me, and it turns out to be very handy on the trip since it has very good descriptions of the animals. It costs me 68.500 s./21$.
We take the Trolé to the Old Town, and walk to the Miguel, El Tejar/J. López place where the busses for the 'Mitad del Mundo' were supposed to leave from. It doesn't any more, but from the other side of the nearby tunnel. A young guy from a shop (where we just had bought a couple of colas) ask a bus to drop us off on the other side of the tunnel, and we are quickly on the right bus. It takes an hour out of town, and the bus drives directly to the monument. The Mitad del Mundo is the first place on earth that it was measured that this was 'really' the equator, by an expedition in 1736. More about this later. A guy with a camioneto comes and asks if he should drive us to the Pululahua crater for 10.000 s./. It is not that bad, so we jump in his pig-wagon. There is view to the Cayambe volcano on the way up. There is also a good vista into the crater from the rim, and we take our no-shadow-at-12-o-clock-at-the-equator-picture. The clouds come into the crater through a hole in the rim from the west, but dissolves quickly. The bottom of the crater is cultivated. The trip is much recommended, though there is not much else to do, unless you have the time to descent into the crater. We go down 20 meters, but be careful, it is very slippery. We return to the Mitad, and do the trendy push-ups at the equator. In the monument there is a quite nice museum about all the Indian tribes. We also recognise those from Cayabeno reserve. We have lunch in the village which is build around the monument; cosy places, but mostly for the tourists. Sara buys some more handicrafts.
We return (the bus ride is about 1.500-2000 s./0.50$), and I'm a bit nervous since I don't have much cash left. I visit 5 teller machines (withdrawal in banks ends at 3 p.m..) with my MasterCard, but without luck. Later Sara tries one place with her Visa, and she can withdraw 200.000 s./, which is nothing bearing in mind that you have to pay 6$ in fees - but I need the money.
Packing and pizza at El Hornero (recommended in TSK);
Sara decides this evening. The pizza is good, but the portions
are quite small, so I have to order extra. On the way we buy a
couple of CDs with Andean music. More packing, and great expectations
for the adventures of tomorrow....
Up 6.15, and out of the door 6.55. Again no problem in getting a bus from Parque El Ejido to the Airport, so we are there at 7.15. I get my ticket quite fast from another member of the Wittmer family, Enrique. We have breakfast at the cafeteria in the Domestic terminal (and of course it is quite expensive here at the airport). Here I meet the first 3 people from 'my' boat, and we say a quick hello. Good bye, and thanks to Sara for great company during the last month. She flies Quito-Bogota-Paris-Billund.
I pay my 80$ in park fee, and the departure is at 8.30 a.m., and there is a fabulous view over the mountains. My counting on that the best views would be seen from the left side is right; we flew due west, and south along the volcanoes, so the Cotopaxi and Chimborazo shows their top neatly over the clouds. The plane is half tourists and half Ecuadorians until the stopover in Guyaquil, but on the next stretch its mostly tourists. The woman and her child next to me are Ecuadorians who are going to the Galapagos for 3 days, and they are going to take day tours from Santa Cruz. I'm so excited for what lies ahead, I can hardly wait. This is going to be the highlight.
At the airport we are met by our guide, Rosie, who are Ecuadorian and speaks fluent English, German and Spanish. She works two months, and then have some time off with her family in Quito. We pay the 12$ airport tax and hand over our return tickets and passports. The passports the captain have to keep until the return; the tickets are going to be pre-checked.
We gather in the group for our boat; only one or two other boats are leaving this day. After everybody get their luggage, we get into a bus and drives 5 minutes to our waiting boat, the Tip Top III. Soon after we are all aboard, and have the first briefing and introduction, of do's and don't - mostly the latter. During lunch (rice, vegetables and minced meat, we sail towards the first island, Isla Rábida, where we have a wet landing. Blue footed boobies plunge into the water in crowds, which is very fascinating. They can spot the fish from way up, and steer towards the water in full dive, and they pull their wings to their body just before entering the water, and after a few seconds they surface again.
The boat carries flippers, masks and snorkels for all who wants to snorkel, which many try the first day. The water is 22 degrees, so we can't be in for very long. The water is murky, and only along the rocks can we see anything. James see a big sting ray, of which the rest of us are very envious. There are all sorts of other fish along the rocks. The beach is full of sea lion colonies (a male with several females), and it is from the start quite strange that the animals totally ignore you, and you can get as close as you want. Just behind the beach, there used to be a flamingo colony, but they are gone. We see several of Darwin's finches, yellow warblers, mocking birds, frigate birds, pelicans, lava lizards and white checked pintails.
For dinner we have fish, vegetables and ice cream. After dinner there is the first lecture and introduction to the landing tomorrow.
Most of the people on board are only here for 5 days,
and a few for the 8 day tour. We are from all over the world,
and we end up speaking all kinds of languages, though English
is mostly the official language of the boat. James from Australia
(researcher in tropical diseases - around Esmeralda), John &
Sharon from Toronto, Canada, Eyal & Anjanette (Israeli/British
couple who live in NYC), Luc and Hilde, Belgium, Ina & Phillipe,
Germany, Wolfgang, Germany (the oldest of us; he has travelled
on most of the earth, as a captain - and had just been learning
Spanish in Quito for several weeks), Silke, Germany (student of
economics), Susanne and Markus, Switzerland, a couple from Guadeloupe,
and Mario from Chile (working as a surgeon in Santiago). Most
are between 25 and 40 years old (I think :-)
During nights, the boat sails to another place, and this first night, we go all the way around Isla Isabela (the largest island), and several of the passengers had been awake during the night, but I have had a good nights sleep, and so did my room mate, James (the Australian). Breakfast at 7 am, and the first landing of the day at 7.45 on Isla Fernandina, which is the westernmost island, and the most active volcano in the world! Last time it erupted was last year (1995), and Rosie had been with the captain and seen it from close by. It has erupted something like 50 times during the last 100 years, and is situated right on a so-called hot spot.
From the boat we cannot see much, only a couple of birds, but when we approach with our dinghy, we see that the black lava is full of black marine iguanas (maybe 50-80 cm). They are strange creatures which snots out salt from their nostrils. They are also great swimmers and they eat algae from the bottom. After taking a swim, they have to sun bathe the rest of the day to regain their temperature. Another feature is the red Sally lightfoot crabs which are quite easy to spot on the lava. Thousands. We have to take care for every step we take since there is always something which has to move away first, being a lava lizard, an iguana or something else. We procede to a nearby lagoon where there are a lot of big sea turtles (about a meter long); they stick out their head and inhale once in a while. Also big herds of eagle rays (I find out that a ray is a 'Rokke' in Danish). They fly gracefully through the water; very fascinating. We also see a red vermillion flycatcher, which usually lives up on the volcanoes. Again it is the sea lions which get our attention with their play. A big male tries to get near, and we witness a big fight which results in the protruder being chased away in much haste. We also see a Galapagos hawk nearby. Further away we see the flightless cormorants which live only on this very island. They cannot fly, but are closely related to the boobies. They lost their ability to fly lately since there was so much food here, and no competition, so they just swim out and dive - more or less like a penguin. We see their courtship where they twist their necks around each other, and also a chick which has its neck all the way down in the parents throat - looks formidable.
Lunch back at the boat and we sail to Tagus Cove on Isabela, just across the strait, which used to be a hideout for pirates - there is actually graffiti from back to 1836 and the first pirates. While the first team goes for a dinghy ride along the coast, John, James and I go snorkelling. There is a big sea turtle close by, but it dives just a we approach. The water is cold (19 degrees) because of a cold current from the west, and we cannot see far - which makes us a bit nervous since this is shark infested water. We really want to see the hammer head sharks, but I don't like not being able to see through the water... Galapagos should be one of the best places to see sharks since they don't have a record of attacking people here. We return soon, and go on the next team with the dinghy. We see a few penguins (they are only 30 cm tall), like the saving box we had as kids from Den Danske Bank, without the scarf. There are also colonies of Brown Noddi nesting on the cliffs. It was also here that Darwin was watching finches, and we do see a few of them while we are walking up past a round (volcano) lake up to a vista point. Not so many animals here though.
Dinner and briefing. Tonight's lecture is about food-chains
- with the Galapagos Hawk as the highest link and without any
kind of enemies here. We see ½ hour video about Galapagos.
We wake up to a cloudy day, and a half cold bay outside our window. It is the James bay of Santiago. There are two other 1. Class boats here. We have a hike along the lava pools where there are fur seals. The formations are very beautiful, and the water rises and flushes out somewhere else. Again it is the sea lions which get too much of the attention. Rosie finds small scorpions under the flat rocks - they are not bigger than 3 cm. We also see different species of seabirds, Sally lightfoot crabs, storm petrels (they are walking on the water!), lava herons, and a yellow crown night heron which doesn't make any attention to us. After the walk, it is time for snorkelling. I'm glad that many from our boat likes to swim, so we are always quite a few who go swimming. It is the best so far. I have bought a one-time underwater camera, and take a picture of the yellow-black Moorish Idol, and the water is quite clear. I am surprised by a big male sea lion (and they are HUGE) which rushes up on the beach right between me and another tourist. A bit later there is a smaller female which comes right up to me and blows bubbles in my head, but it only stays for about half a minute. But I love it.
We sail slowly past 'the Priest', which is a rock formation of such a person (seen from a certain angle). Here at the north-west coast, the landscape is actually quite interesting, and one could even say almost pretty (which most of the other places not are), and we are all on the top of the deck to watch. Lunch while we are sailing to the small island of Bartolomé on the east side of Santiago. It is a bit windy, but now the sun shining from a clear sky. We get to the most photographed place in the Galapagos, the pinnacle rock, which actually is just a part of a collapsed crater. A big male sea lion is guarding the landing place, and we have to land another place. The wind is dry and hot, and we have a 1¼ hour round trip to a view point (where the picture you always see is taken from). We don't see many animals on this track, but pass many lava formations which are like a moon landscape.
We sail to a beach next to the pinnacle where we swim with sea lions (Silke said it was the highlight of her trip). Silke and I play with two females under the water for 5-7 minutes - which is just indescribable. One of them has caught a shell-animal of some kind, which it tries to break on the cliffs at the bottom. There is also tons of fish and schools of fish. A lot of pictures are taken with my underwater camera (and a couple of them comes out very nicely!). Most of the people from the boat are out swimming, though not for long because of the cold water. Silke is in the water for an hour, and don't want to leave her new friends. Our guide is worried about her, but she finally comes up. We cross to another beach where some see a white tipped reef shark. It is very windy on this side, and there are waves. Today's snack when we return is a fried banana-thing which tastes great. Every day when we return, the cook is awaiting us with a snack - nice touch. Beans, bacon, rice and meat for dinner, and flambée .
A lecture about the deep currents influence of the
sea life, and the briefing for tomorrow. A video about the nature
of Ecuador, which lasts an hour and leaves several people sleeping.
Breakfast at 7 a.m. Not the best nights sleep - I had been half awake for an hour during the middle of the night where there was high waves while crossing north through open sea to Genovesa. It was the same for several of the other passengers. We are now in the middle of the Genovesa bay, and there is only one other ship here. The bay is bigger than I thought, and actually part of a big crater. Just after landing, we see the twintail gulls. They have a red ring around their eyes which they use to attract the fish at nights - smart! They almost swim right into their mouth. There are lots of red footed boobies around in the bushes where they wrap their red feet around the branches. Also many frigate birds - nesting. You pass right by their chicks in all stages of their youth. We are lucky and see a pumped-up male frigate bird - the males have a red chest which they can inflate in half an hour. It is 50 meters away though - it is not the mating season (on this island). A nice touch is also the cacti on this island. They don't have prickles since there are no land iguanas on this island. We see large beak ground finches, Galapagos doves, and several pools with lots of coral fish - e.g. a rainbow wrasse which is blue, yellow and red - very colourful! Lava gulls and some see a reef shark (I missed it again!) from a vista. It is half clouded and quite windy, but during the morning it clears up partly. We are 6-7 who go swimming - we want to see the sharks - but the water is too murky to see anything, and don't really want a shark to turn up right before us without being able to see it. The water is 22.6 degrees here because of the warm Panama current, so the swim is nice.
For lunch we have spaghetti, meatballs and grapefruit for desert. Then relaxing on the deck until 3 p.m. This place is called the Darwin bay, and the beach: Playa Darwin. Actually, everything is called Darwin something, so we have Darwin finch, Darwin Island, Darwin Volcano, the Darwin station, etc., etc. Very un-imaginative. During the siesta, the Tropic birds starts flying from the cliffs. One of them is on the cover of the TSK (a great picture). They are snow-white and have two 30 cm. long tail feathers, and a red beak. They are very gracefully in flight. Our next landing is at the Prince Phillips Steps, where we ascent up the cut out steps to about 15 meters about the sea. There are tons of masked boobies which incubate their eggs by wrapping their feet around the eggs on the ground - which means that the male can take turns as well. There are red footed boobies in all the trees, and I also spot small ground finches or the Vampire finch which sucks blood from the red footed boobies while they are incubating their eggs, and can't move. It is pretty windy, and the landscape is quite rough, and we are looking for the short-eared owls in the lava tubes. We are unlucky, and we don't see any. There are also bunches of the local sort of marine iguanas, which don't eat the cacti. It is totally black, and rather small (30-40 cm). There are lots of whistling sounds in the air. It can only be compared with the kids trying to learn to whistle outside my window in my block at home.
We snorkel from the steps for half an hour; the water is great - 22.5 degrees, and there is a good visibility near the rocks. Since it goes down very steeply, almost vertically, you can only be a couple of meters from the rocks. I make a team with Silke, and we quickly see a spotted eagle ray which is more than one meter over the shoulders. We also see a lot of fish - we look some of them up when we get back to the boat (it has a small library): A 80 cm bumphead parrotfish, which has a big bump in its head, and black lipstick. king anglefish and yellow tailed surgeonfish, a 30 cm guineafowl puffer (black with white spots), just to mention a few. No sharks though. Silke is surprised by a sea lion which swims fast past us, right under us - she thought it was a shark :-)
Appetisers and dinner at 6.45 p.m. We have soup,
fish with mushrooms, gravy and crepes for desert. At the briefing
we are told that we are going to have a landing at 6.30 a.m. -
and Rosie is going to wake us up. Volfgang says to Rosie: "We
should be waked us with a kiss", to which Rosie replies quickly
that she will ask one of the kitchen staff to do it, which caused
laughter. We see a 30 minutes video of an Amazon Indian tribe.
Up at 6 a.m. (and no kiss) and some of our party have their last landing here at 6.30. Isla Seymour is a flat island with low vegetation. We have just landed when we see the magnificent frigate birds (they are a bit different from the other frigate birds we have already seen). Many of the males have inflated pouches - big, red, and lined up in top of the bushes. Then they bash their wings and sound their trumpet when a female flies by. They have a new partner every year. Only the penguins and the albatrosses chooses partners for life. Of other species, there is mostly lava lizards (in the bushes), sea lions (of course) and blue footed boobies.
Breakfast - today's subject: milk, and why Europeans drink a litre of milk a day since they don't need that much calcium. Then good bye to the 5 day old new friends. One of Rolf's sons (he lives on Santa Cruz) also gets on board. Silke thinks people wrote too boring things in the guest book. The only funny one is: "How come the appetiser man never smiles". When they leave, he do smile and talk a lot, and Silke tells him to read the guest book :-)
The rest of us get an hour at the beach, and it is the first time Susanne (Switzerland) tries to snorkel, and of course she loves it and it is difficult to get her out of the water again. We are only 5 left: Susanne and Markus (Switzerland), Silke (Germany), Mario (Mr. Chile) and me. The beach is nice, but the water is only partly clear, and only a single sea lion plays with us.
During lunch we sail to the South Plaza. It is very windy, but high sunshine. 1½ hour to get there. The Plazas are quite level. The Captain makes Silke nervous: 'he never sleeps!', she complains. He is quite a nice man - in the retirement-age. He dines with us, and talk with us, mostly in an incomprehensible German or Spanish :-). They have some books aboard, and several pictures of the cave on Floreana where he was born, and also of him and the Wittmer family as a child. Funny to read all the dramas which took place on these islands many year ago, and witness a piece of history. 3 other ships also arrive, of which 2 are quite small. We haven't seen many of these since we have been on the remote islands until now, where they can't reach. Our boat sails 12 knots and the small ones only 6-8 knots.
Just as soon as we are on land, we see the land iguanas. They are more yellow/brown and much larger than the sea iguanas we have seen. Rosie tells us that they have just found some albino iguanas which are mix between the land and the sea iguanas! They are sterile though, but have never been seen before. The landscape is very beautiful here with many tall cacti (they have hard prickles since the iguanas eat them) and red ground vegetation. There are big sea lion colonies, and on the cliffs (15-20 meters up) to the south-east, all the rejected males (who have lost the fights) recover to be able to take up the fight again. Or as Rosie says: They have a little peace and quiet away from the females and children. Both young and old bulls enjoy the windy cliffs. Along the cliff ledge there are dozens of the beautiful tropic birds (those with the 30 cm tail), but they are impossible to take pictures of. There are also sons of boobies and swallowtail gulls. We look for the cactus finch, but they are all small beaked and ground finches, though Silke and Mario claim they have seen one. We also see a 1 metre tall great blue heron, Audubon's sheerwater, marine iguanas, lava lizards. Everywhere you turn, you almost step on an animal. We go snorkelling for 20 minutes from our boat close to the North Plaza (Susanne, Silke and I), and the water is so clear you can see the bottom 20 meters down. Not so many beautiful fish (though big schools of some kind of uninteresting fish). There are some sea lions which play with us. Unfortunately no sharks here either. It is good with a hot shower afterwards.
Today at the speech (before dinner), Rosie tells about the different climatic zones of vegetation on the volcanoes, and the animal life in these. We are going to Española (Hood) and Floreana, which is a surprise to me, since they didn't mention this when I bought the trip - so a great surprise! Española is the third (with Fernandina and Genovesa) in the lot which are the most interesting and far out islands.
During dinner, the waiter calls us into the living room. Here is a small sea lion looking at us with big eyes. It has entered the boat from the back, crawled up along the boat, and entered the room. It makes us all laugh, and it has a difficult time figuring out why it can't get out through the glass part of the door.
Subjects for dinner: Mother Theresa, Doctors without
Frontiers (Mario is going to work for them next year), Trans-Siberian
Railway, independent travelling and Venezuela.
Breakfast at 6.45. 4 other boats are anchored up together with us. Subjects at the morning table: Sale (in Switzerland, they can have sales all year round), Christmas shops in USA. Landing at 7.30, and again there are animals everywhere: Sea lions, blue footed boobies, lava lizards, Hood mockingbird (they would sit on our hands and legs). Rosie explained that they were not interested in us, but in the flies which always accompanies human beings, and in the summer some humans spill drinking water (I'm not sure I'll buy that story). Rosie often says that this and this animal is 'welcome of flash'. I finally understand that she actually says they are very 'well camouflaged' :-) We also see the courtship display of the blue footed booby - they alternate lift their feet, and raise their wings. We stop every 2 meters to look at something. We get to a blow hole, where the water is blown 25 metres up in the air every time the water comes in. Impressing. Rosie finds 2 nests with Tropic birds, one of them has a chick. They are very admirable, and we get very close. Rosie even takes a picture (only the second one the whole trip! - the first one was of a fur seal on a ledge). Further on we see our first waved albatross in her nest. It has a wingspan of 2 meters and 40 cm. There are 12.000 pairs, and this island is the only place in the world where they nest (there are other species of albatross which nests other places). It spends most of its life on the sea. They have a take-off site here, 100 meters from their nesting grounds, which also means we can only get close to one - the rest have moved away from the path. We do see one waddle which is quite amusing. We see a chick (the size of a turkey), which hides in the bushes close to the path. It is not pretty. I think they will close this part of the island for visitors soon, since the birds feel quite exposed.
Just before returning, we see a Galapagos hawk in a bush 5 meters away. It is quite big - the book states that they are usually 50 cm tall with a 122 cm wingspan, and also that there are only 100 couples of this endemic species.
We leave at 10.20 a.m. for Floreana, and have a cup of coffee on the deck. The weather is clouded. There are quite big waves while we are sailing - and during lunch! There is also time for a siesta, and we are at the Devil's Crown at 2 p.m. The Devil's Crown is a small crater which looks like a shark mouth opening upwards, a couple of hundred meters from the coast which is supposed to be the best place for diving in the Galapagos. We take the dinghy to there. I'm hoping finally to see sharks, but no... Rosie swims first, and the rest of us (except Markus) follows her around the crater. There is good visibility - maybe 20 meters or more. Almost around, you can take a dive down, and through a tunnel and end up inside the crater. It is easy, and there is only about 4 meters of swimming, and not more than 2 meters down. Quite a lot of fish, and I enjoy it. Again, the water is only 19 degrees, so after 15-20 minutes we are freezing, and have to get up. Back on the boat to put on some more clothes before the landing on Floreana - Punta Cormorant. The beach is half green of Olivine crystals. The 'usual' sea lions are on the beach. There are different plants here, e.g. trees with yellow flowers, which is a bit unusual. No flamingos in the lagoon, but the lagoon was all pink of the stuff flamingos eat. A funny fact is that they are white the first year, and turn pink when eating this. We walk to another beach which is all white, but it is not sand which makes it white, but dead white corral which has been grated for thousands of years. That is amazing. From the beach we see hundreds of rays 3-10 meters out in the sea - and more sea turtles - and finally (!!) a white-tipped reef-shark - which we see several times cruising along the beach. It is not so big, only 1½-2 meters long, but we can see it quite clearly.
We sail an hour (no stop in Post office Bay) to Black Beach where 60 people live. Strange to see houses again. We walk to the Wittmer-family hotel, and 'see' Floreana (Rolf's sister). She and her daughter serve cookies for us, while some shop a few souvenirs. We are so lucky to talk to the now 92 year old legend: Mrs. Wittmer. It is an exciting and funny experience - she is almost deaf, and half senile, but very energetic. She talks a lot in Spanish and German about the potato harvest, lobsters, oranges, Jeltsin who is OK, but drinks too much, Kohl who is too fat - at the same time as she browses the new pile of magazines her son Rolf brought for her, and sometimes she looks at the paper with questions which Rosie directs her attention to once in a while. Mario translates to English when she speaks Spanish, and Silke to English when she speaks German, and Rosie from Spanish and German to English, German and Spanish - Babylon! But quite entertaining, but also a bit comical. Rosie tells us afterwards that we are very lucky, Mrs. Wittmer only speaks to tourists maybe once or twice a year!
For dinner we have a great spinach, and sirloin of
beef with rice. We see a marine movie from the Tip Top II, but
it was pretty amateurish with rock music (which Rosie didn't like
:-), and that two divers get married under water at the end tells
Breakfast at 7. Subjects for breakfast: 1-800 numbers (just introduced in Switzerland), banks and home-banking.
We are anchored in Puerto Ayora (The town on Galapagos), and we can see all kinds of ships around us. We are left at the harbour from where we ride on the back of a pickup-truck on 'the' road up through all the different vegetation zones, and we are quickly in the Garua which is the wet fog that arises from the cold sea currents meeting the hot air. It is a bit difficult to have glasses here since they get wet all the time. Mr. Chile misses the ordinary chickens, so we teases him when we see some: Look! The Galapagos ground chicken with medium size beak! The craters, called Los Gemelos are full (not literally) with finches - we see ground finches, tree finches and vegetarian finches. We also get close to the red vermillion flycatcher. But it is mostly all kinds of different introduced plants and trees. We backtrack a bit to the Rancho Mariposa (I think) - there are a few ranches with tortoises. We are hardly off the truck before we see the first Giant Tortoise hiding in the tall grass, and we take too many pictures. They are about a meter tall. During the next 45 minutes we see 31 - Wow! I had expected to see two or three, but they are spread out on the fields. It is very impressing to see them 'in the wild'. They grunt a few times if you get too close to them, and they don't move at all. We wade through the fields, and also see vermillion flycatchers, cattle egret, finches (hundreds!), horses mating (several pictures taken by other group members :-), a whimbrel, Galapagos ducks.
Free coffee (well, we have just paid 6.000 s./1.85$ in entrance fee), and the fog dissolves, so we can see all the way to the sea. The island suddenly shrinks to a much smaller place when you get the overview. We are back in Puerto Ayora at 11.20 a.m. and have lunch at 12. Subjects: Guyaquil-Riobamba train, Indian Himalayan, train in Peru in 5600 metres.
At 2 p.m. we are sailed to the Charles Darwin Research station which is situated in beautiful cacti surroundings. Lots of lava lizards and finches around. We see the 4 fences with giant tortoises from all the different islands (there is a sub-specie from each island), but it is not so impressive to see them in captivity. There are also some cages where the eggs hatch and they can grow bigger without having enemies around. When they are 2 years old, they are put back on the islands, and don't have to worry about rats and goats. In the centre we see a slide-show, but nothing special. Lonesome George (the only one of its kind from the Pinta island) could not be seen in its fence - only the two concubines.
We have a couple of hours 'off' afterwards, so we look for T-shirts. Many places have an 'artist' copying some of them. The bank has just closed at 4 p.m., but they say they accept MasterCard, so I stop worrying about my money situation. A hotel (Angemayer) mentioned in the TSK to cost 4$ now costs 63$ ! That is quite an increase, but it do look nice :-) The town seems very tranquila and quiet, where nobody seems to be in a hurry. To rent a bike costs 20.000 s./6.15$ for a full day.
Around the harbour we see a lot of the newly discovered sub-species of the finches: the Darwin Tourist Finch, which has adapted to the tourists - they even sit on them and eats from them.
Back at the Tip Top III, we have a good-bye drink and the briefing for tomorrow. Dinner: French fries, fried fish and mixed salad. The Swiss are so kind to pay for red wine. Cake for desert. Subjects: Death penalty (the subject was raised after Silke showed us her electric-shock machine she wears for protection), Pelé, the Olympics, Soccer, travel plans, guns in homes, Carnivals - Mario has been in Rio and Markus is the director of the Carnival in Bern).
Talk and relaxing with a rum and coke (kindly donated
by the English-Israeli-American couple). Rosie asks on the captains
behalf if we could leave the ship here, and take the bus the next
morning. I'm going to stay here for a couple of more days, so
I don't care so much, but the others would rather like the boat
to sail around the island. In this way, we can also have a landing
in the morning first. Silke complains a bit about all the proposals
she has had today from the different crew-members. Rosie says
that this has been a great group - we have been willing to try
things - she says that sometimes she has to swim around the Devil's
Crown alone because the tourists sometimes change their mind in
the last minute.
Up at 6, but we are a bit delayed, so we are not in the dinghy until 7.20. We sail to the Black Turtle Cove, which is a mangrove. In the trees are many magnificent frigate birds, and there are common egrets, brown noddis on the rocks. The water is very clear, and we quickly spot the first sea turtles in the water - and soon after white tipped reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and sting rays. It is an amazing place - all the time someone in the boat whispers: Look! A X-something! And everybody looks. We see a ray jumping like a flying fish, 3 jumps above the water - to fish. Great sight. The rays are very graceful in the water. We also see a few sting rays, which are big, black ones. One is 1½ meter wide! We stay a couple of places for a total of 1½ hours (mas o menos) and see maybe 50 white tipped sharks, and at least as many rays and sea-turtles. Finally I get to see my sharks, though I can't swim with them... And it is so quiet in the mangroves. We paddle without using the motor on the boat.
On the table we have a chilli-sauce named 'snob'. We have had several laughs about this during the trip (I think James was the first to bring it to our notice) - it has the same meaning in English, German and Danish and I just looked it up: and in Spanish too :-) Also in the steering cabin is a hand-written note in Spanish: (translated) No fishing for lobsters etc. in the presence of tourists :-)
After breakfast, the others are sailed to the harbour on Baltra, and I am given a ride back to Puerto Ayora on the south side of Santa Cruz. The captain has actually spend a lot of energy and time on the 5 of us by sailing all around the island, where we could easily have taken the bus (but we would have missed the sharks then!). They are going to have a major cleaning of the ship, so the next bunch of tourists are not going to arrive until Monday. I sit on the top deck in the sunshine for the next 2 hours, reading. It is windy, and on the south side, it gets very clouded and rather big waves.
I am put ashore, and say thank you for the ride.
All the way back here, I have thought about the fact that these
days have been some of the best in my life; they have been so
intense, and I have practically not been able to find any faults
with the trip, the boat or the service. Rosie (the guide) is probably
the best guide I have had, and a walking encyclopaedia - and very
active; she snorkelled with us and had very interesting briefings
and talks. And she was never impatient when we were observing
the boobies or sea lions for 10 minutes, which she had seen a
million times (she has been a guide for 10 years). She has also
tried working on the smaller boats, which she would not recommend
- normally there are only the captain, a cook and a sailor beside
the guide, which means the guide has to do a lot of the boat work
I walk to 'Gloria', which you would have to ask for
since there are no signs on the road, and it is not the best I
have had for 15.000 s./4.62$, but there is private bath/toilet.
Walk to the supermarket, and have an expensive pizza (21.000 s./6.46$
on the "4 Linternas"). Am too tired to go the Cinema,
so go to bed at 8.30 p.m.
The TSK has a 'checklist' of animals from Galapagos, and I have almost a full house. I have missed a couple of the sea birds, the owls, a couple of finches (out of 13!), Geckos, the snake, the bats, the rats, the whales and dolphins - and the hammer head shark. Some of the animals were seen almost daily, including the pelicans, blue footed boobies, frigate birds, mocking birds, yellow warbler, finches, marine iguanas, lava lizards and sea lions.
Up at 8.15 - 12 hours of sleep! Guess I don't have a fixed itinerary today. I take breakfast at the Iguana (a popular travellers place) and go to the Pacifico Bank. There may be 100 people waiting here, but I get my 1 million sucres in half an hour with my MasterCard. I was almost out of money, so it is a relief.
I rent a bike for the day (20.000 s./6.15$). Most people ride bikes here. Lucky for me the Mountain Bike is invented. My bike is not the best (gear and pedals), but OK.
I take a ride back to the Charles Darwin centre in hope of seeing Lonesome George. In the corral which is open, the Giant Tortoises are quite lively. I get a couple of good close-ups, and after a while they are fed, and another good photo opportunities. Lonesome George is in a corral next to the open corral, and this time he is out. He is a bit shy, and pull back its head, but after standing still and quiet for a time, he extents out his head to reconnoitre. It is a special feeling to see an animal which is the last of its kind. They are going to do artificial insemination with his sperm, so there is a chance the Pinta-Giant Tortoise will survive. I also get a picture of two Española tortoises mating. On this island there are only artificial hatched tortoises, but their parents are all from there - there are 15 in captivity here.
There is a small beach close by (within the area of the station). I watch a whimbrel eating a crab for some time. I have lunch in town, and start riding towards Bellavista at 12.30 a.m. It takes about an hour, and the weather is warm, but clouded. Bellavista has a nice church and a small town square. Many of the houses have flowers all over.
Non-chronological note 1: On Floreana we saw the 'Parkinson bushes'. A bit amusing since they have small parts attached to their branches which shakes.
Non-chronological note 2: James told us that he saw a sign at a hooker-bar in Quito saying: "Hot Grils" :-) [Did you ever get to take a picture later on, James?]
The road continues on as a dirt road northwards ("arriba!"), and it is pretty hard, even with my mountain bike. I pass all the transition zones of vegetation, and the changes are rather drastic. Finally I have to leave my bike (with a note saying that I'll pick up the bike later, so please don't touch!) and continue on foot on a more and more muddy path. A few places I am a bit confused of which path to take to the Media Luna, and where the rest are leading. I reach the Media Luna after about 75 minutes from Bellavista. Have to go around to find a clearing. The crescent moon crater (=Media Luna) is full of 1½-2 meter tall plants which I'm probably told by Rosie what are called, but I have chosen to focus on the fauna-information. I find a place with a good outlook to Bellavista (in 650 m altitude), Puerto Ayora and the sea. I enjoy it for ½ hour. It only takes another half hour to get back to Bellavista; after getting to my bike, I have to brake all the way down. After a coke, yet another half hour back to town.
I have now decided which T-shirt to buy. It is one with a shark which starts on the front and goes all the way around to the back. Cute. I buy another one with an eagle ray. Same price as in Quito when you buy two (30.000 s./9.23$ per piece). I still think it is a bit expensive.
Back at the guest-house I 'enjoy' a (cold!) shower, and a glass of red wine with nachos and a bit of reading. I return the bike. They seem to be surprised that I come in and tell I'm returning it. It also took some time in the morning to get them to understand my question about whether they had a lock for the bike - which they didn't have. Actually, I haven't seen any bikes here on the island with a lock. But still, wouldn't people think of stealing from a tourist?
Have spaghetti with Aji, Ajo and tomato sauce (Garlic and chilli). Go to the cinema, but they have just changed the hand-written poster, so now it isn't El Protector (Swartzenegger) - I had been looking forward to a cheap laugh - but something about "Passion" and "Anal", adults only. I give it a miss.
The place I'm staying is actually OK and clean, but
not very fancy. Even the bathroom. The owner is nice and I have
good talks with him. His favourite expression is "Caramba!"
The big travel day. Breakfast at the bus-stop next to the harbour (next to the church). There are busses (as many as needed) between 8 and 8.30 a.m. It costs 7.000 s./2.15$ to Baltra. Now it is paved until Santa Rosa, and the last 5 kilometres to the ferry, and the rest is under construction. In 1997 the trip across the island could probably be shortened by half an hour. The "Ferry" is basically a raft with a motor. Costs another 2.000 s./0.62$, and for the last trip with bus across Baltra to the airport I got a ticket from the Captain. From the quay it goes up quite steeply the first part, and the bus comes to a stop a couple of times and almost rolls back - over the cliff...
At the airport: coffee and I read a couple of Poe
stories until departure at 11.30 a.m. A 40 minutes stopover in
Pictures from my latest travel on Ecuador and Galapagos 1996
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