Hi hi! I've put updating our blog off for way too long, so you're about to receive a little background, a smattering of pictures, and hopefully, if I can restrain myself, a lot of short little explanatory captions to go with.... As you can see, I'm not so good at minimizing the verbage. However! I will try since I'm 3 months behind.
So, Ecuador. If memory serves, we arrived in Quito, Ecuador in the beginning of May after a fun- and adventure-filled two weeks in Costa Rica. We were definitely ready to be in one spot for a bit and brush up on our Spanish, since everyone in Costa Rica spoke English and we didn't practice much there. Quito is a huge city and has a horrible reputation as far as safety goes, especially for tourists. It is also home to "old" Quito, a world heritage site with the obligatory set of old buildings, churches and old squares. We actually didn't take many pictures in either new or old Quito because we were a little hesitant to take our cameras due to the theft factor. Here's what we did get from the Basilica in old town, a seven story church, where we got to climb steel ladders AFTER climbing up the seven stories. La Virgen of Quito (the big, white lady on the hill)
We also got a picture of our first hanging piece of meat on our way to a local marker, but don't worry, there'll be more!
So that's Quito. Albeit, not much in the way of pictures, but we didn't get our cameras stolen! While in Quito, we decided we needed to make an unplanned pitstop back in Portland to be with Tara's family. Since we didn't know if we'd make it back to South Amercia, we also decided to make our way to the Galapagos because, really, how could we go to Ecuador and not see the Galapagos? AND it was the best decision ever! We took a five day cruise and slept on the boat while we traveled between islands at night, which was an adventure in and of itself, given how rough the ocean was that week. Nevertheless, we made it to several islands over the five days and saw some truly amazing landscapes, animals and sunsets.
Day 1: We met and had lunch on the boat in Puerto Ayora before re-landing ashore and visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center and some big land tortoises, including good ol' Lonesome George, the last surviving giant Galapagos tortoise! Although, they finally got him to mate and there may be more of him soon. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/22/lonesome-george-galapagos-tortoise-father Here's the big guy, all 120 years of him. Right?!?! No wonder he's a little slow. And here's Tara with another type of land tortoise. Of course, we were most entertained by the big boys (and they are both boys) trying to work it out.
On our way back to the port to catch the dinghy to the boat, we got to watch a fisherman cleaning and slicing fish and selling it on the spot, IF he was lucky enough to keep it away from his little sea lion friend. Man, he was adorable (the sea lion) and was just like a dog, begging for the good stuff.
Needless to say, our first day was fantastic, and really, just a glimpse of what was to come the rest of the week!
Day 2: After a rocking, and I mean rocking night (I almost got dumped out of bed a couple of times due to rough seas), we arrived at Island Plazas, our first stop just on the other side of Santa Cruz Island, a little island called Plaza Sur. We took our dinghy out to the island and were met by hundreds of the reddest crabs I've ever seen and the friendliest sea lions I've ever met. The sea lions were especially cute when snuggling. The island itself was completely unexpected - a combination of old cacti, low brush and high, high cliffs on the other side of the narrow island. We also saw THE coolest land iguanas on Plaza Sur and he let us get super close! We also saw a lot of baby sea lion skeletons, as some of the little guys don't make it if their moms die or goe away. Sad, I know, but as a mom said to her kids, it is the circle of life on the Galapagos and you gotta see some skeletons along with all the good stuff! Tara made the first blue-footed booby sighting on Plaza Sur, but he was hiding on a cliff below, so you can only see his blue toes!
From Plaza Sur Island, we headed southeast to Santa Fe Island where we did our first bit of snorkeling! On the way there, we were followed by frigates, the big black sea birds with the red throat that blows up. They took advantage of the updraft off the front of the boat and just hung out above us, barely lifting a feather. I only got pooped on once. After about 2 hours, we got to Santa Fe and got ready to snorkel. Of course, since we were on an adventure and we purchased the special action adventure high risk travel health insurance, I felt that I just had to jump from the 3rd floor of the boat, along with the other highly intelligent folks on our trip. I love, LOVE swimming with sea lions! Tara wasn't such a huge fan, but I thought it was pretty cool to watch them swim straight at me, then swoooop by within inches of my nose before flipping around, diving down to the bottom of the ocean and coming right back for more. Really, SO cool! We also got to see our first sea turtle, which let us just swim right along with it, without a care in the world.
After snorkeling, we had a snack and a bit of a break before taking a small boat to land and hike around Santa Fe. Santa Fe was our guide's favorite island, and I can see why. Besides being loaded with sea lions, it has some of the oldest and tallest Prickly Pear or Opuntia Cacti. As well as some really beautiful brown pelicans nesting just above the cove. We also saw a Galapagos finch, and land iguanas too!
Day 3: After another rocky night, we landed between Floreana Island and the "Devil's Crown", jagged rocky remains surrounded by an immense coral reef, perfect for snorkeling. Floreana, I believe, was the first island in the Galapagos to be inhabited, but I didn't take notes, and it's been too long since we were there to remember all the details. Something scandalous about lovers, affairs and possible murders. What I do know is that Floreana is where you can find, and see, the Galapagos Flamingo. From the flamingo lagoon, we headed over the top of the small island to a beach where sea turtles lay their eggs. The beach was just simply the most beautiful beach I've ever seen, complete with green sand. The green is a little hard to see, but it really looked green when we were there!
Following the flamingos and amazing beach, we headed back to the boat for more snorkeling around the Devil's Crown. The sea was a little rough (and cold!) by that point, so we didn't last long, but we did make our first shark spotting. It was little and pretty far away, but still freaked me out. Don't like the sharks too much... From snorkeling, we got back on the boat for lunch and were accompanied by a new guest, craftily sculpted by our kitchen gurus. Next, we went to Post Office Bay, also part of Floreana. Post Office Bay is a bay, with a beach and a mail barrel. Yes, a barrel. The idea is this: you bring a postcard or piece of mail onto the island with you, but without postage. Once you get to the barrel, you sort through the mail that's there and pick out items you think you can reasonably deliver once you return from whence you came. And the you drop your stuff into the barrel to see if it'll get delivered to you someday. Happy to say, Tara and I are already got ours and delivered the ones we picked up. It's lots of fun! These are little balls the crabs make and spit out once they pick all the little critters and nutrients out of the sand they need. Love it! After sorting through the mail, we headed to a lava tube, which is exactly what it sounds like. A really, big tube/tunnel that eventually drains to the ocean. It was really dark. Of course, when there's soccer, there's Tara. Unfortunately, the only shot I got was of a shot she didn't block (I was out snorkeling with more sea turtles), but her team won and the Perrys were there to cheer her on! Love me some Perrys!
Day 4: The next morning, we went to Espanola Island, the best birding island on the trip. Not only does the island have a amazing population of birds, it also has the clearest water! We were, of course, SO excited to get to see some blue-footed boobies up close and personal, and even caught one doing their famous mating dance! The waved albatross was my favorite animal of the trip - I mean, look at her! She's amazing. The waved albatross is one of the smaller albatrosses around, but she still stood mid-thigh high. How in the world they keep their big ol' butts airborne is beyond me. I mean, she can hardly keep her butt off the ground when walking!
Here is one of the Tara next to the token blow hole that was about 150 feet below us.
Between that side of Espanola and where we spent the afternoon (snorkeling and playing on another crazy beautiful beach - wait, it's coming), we got to see four Orcas! They showed up about half way to our next destination and swam and jumped and showed off for at least half an hour. Tara didn't want to miss the experience, so just held her camera up to the side and snapped away while she watched and she just happened to get the shot of the baby completely of the water. Apparently, it's really rare to see Orcas that time of year, so we got really lucky.
We also got lucky when didn't get eaten by the 6-foot white tipped reef shark we saw on our next snorkeling adventure. Our guide, being the kind man he is, swam to the bottom of the rock the shark was chillin' under and grabbed its tail so it would swim out and we could see it. Most of the people in our group got closer. Not us! They're not supposed to be dangerous, but we were out and out. The rest of our last afternoon out in the middle of the ocean was spent on a long span of white beach. Tara and I took a walk, then I got to play with a baby sea lion!
Day 5: Our last morning was fairly uneventful, just a bit of time for lunch and museum/nature center tour. Here I am, waiting to be shuttled off to the airport to return to Quito. And that means, that's that for Ecuador. There is a Part II, however, it doesn't take place until after our Peruvian adventures (which I hope to get to by next week)! Wish me luck! Thanks for hanging in to the end - hope you enjoyed it!
L & T