Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Mindo: Our Last Day in Ecuador

On our last full day in Ecuador. We took the 25 cent bus to the Secret Garden Hostel which has special prices with approved taxis for a private tour to Mindo.  The town of Mindo is a couple hours north of Quito and in a cloud forest. The countryside was very very lush and green.

Closer to Mindo, the road became very snakelike as we drove up and down through the valleys for the last hour.

Our taxi driver/guide, Hugo spoke some English and was really good. His day rate was $100 US.

Once we got to the tourist office in Mindo, they asked what we wanted to do. We chose the butterfly & hummingbird centre, waterfalls and orchid gardens. John asked me if I wanted to do zip lining. I guess I was taking too long to think about it so he went ahead and bought tickets for that as well. We paid all our entrance fees on top of the taxi. Once in Mindo we also paid for one of their 4x4 pick-up trucks to take us between sites as the roads are too rough for the taxi. Entrance fees and the pick-up truck came out to $48 US each.

Our first stop was the butterfly and hummingbird centre. Lush green vegetation, flowers and the air filled with colourful, gorgeous butterflies. The big blue ones were my favourite.

In the gardens, many blue and green, iridescent hummingbirds glimmered in the sun as they ate at the feeders. We could hear their wings vibrate like little motors.

Next was the zip-line. I was very nervous when we got to the zip-lines. I do not do heights well. It was like they read my mind when they asked me if I wanted to go to the bathroom before being harnessed up. 

Three guys came with us. They were real hams, joking around. Two of them went first and waited for us on the other side. 

I was not thinking kindly thoughts towards John as we stood on the first platform. I turned on the video mode of my phone, crossed my legs and leaned back as they instructed. It sure was high above the forest canopy. Then I forgot about everything except screaming and dropping a few four letter words as I was pushed out into space. I was relieved when I landed in one piece on the other side - I had done it! 

John says the valley was echoing with the sounds of me swearing as I soared across.

When John landed, he told me that we had nine more zip lines to do. Yikes!!! I thought there was only one.

The last guy followed John and we were onto the next.

One of the guys followed and videotaped me. That time I did land properly and slid backwards, running into the videotaping guy behind me and we dangled over the abyss. It took all three of the guys to pull us back in. It seems like this has happened before.

I was much calmer for the remaining ones, only having my nerves spike when they attached John and I together.

At one point they asked me if I liked surprises. I said yes thinking that there was some gorgeous scenery after the next one. Nope, the surprise was that they moved the wires so that I bounced up and down that whole stretch of the zip line. Much screaming ensued. In my defence, John was yelping a bit when they bounced him. They guys were all chuckling during the bouncing incident.

They say you should do something that scares you every day. This was my thing. It wasn’t so bad but I won’t be doing it on a daily basis

From the zip-line it was a 5 km drive to the waterfalls. To access the waterfalls you take a tarabita basically a basket hanging from a cable that is strung across the valley below. Once on the other side there are trails to take you to the falls which are really more a set of rapids. We enjoyed the walk through the  humid cloud forest but our trail was a fairly steep hike down and then back up again. 

After the falls we had lunch and then to the orchid garden. A guide showed us the many orchids on display- some of the flowers are so small you need a magnifying glass to see them. The garden also had a hummingbird feeder area where we watched again these amazing little birds buzzing around us like flies. 

By now it was 5pm and time to head back to Quito.  We had a close-up view of the clouds as the mist descended into the valley as we drove out of the Mindo area.

We spent the evening packing (yuck), checking in for our flights and finishing off the Malbec.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The La Mariscal Area of Quito

Our Airbnb apartment is on the 18th floor with great views of the city. It was cool and grey this morning when we got up.

We were missing Galápagos so we hit the streets looking for boobies....this was all we found.

We are very close to Plaza Foch which is the heart of the party area in La Mariscal. 

After a huge breakfast at Juan Valdez Cafe we went to Swissotel to meet up with a walking tour of the La Floresta barrio (neighbourhood).

This free walking tour was put on by Quito Walking Tours and focused on the extensive street art/graffiti in La Floresta. Our guide Martin was a thirty year old art graduate who grew up in Quito. His English was excellent. There were only four of us on this tour today; the other couple were from a place called Toronto - small world.

We loved this tour because it offered us a look into the local culture and society. Street art and graffiti are a big thing in Quito and South America. I didn’t realize how it has its own culture until today. It was really interesting.

Martin also gave us an inside look into the general feelings and concerns of the local people. We got to tour some of the local artists homes and one of the local organic chocolate outlets. I am truly glad that we had this tour and were given some insight.

We next grabbed a cab and went to the Teleferico (cable car) which runs up the side of the Pichincha volcano that overlooks Quito and is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. It took us up to the Cruz Loma lookout at a height of 4,100 metres (13,450 feet). The views were amazing.  It was so much cooler up there than down below in Quito. The top is often in cloud and although today wasn’t very sunny at least the clouds were still above us. 

Once back at the bottom we cabbed it back to Plaza Foch, we chose a restaurant for the evening, walked through an artisan area and headed back to our apartment. 

We popped into the grocery store below our apartment because Gisela (our host) said that thats where the local people buy their chocolate. Well we bought even more chocolate than the amounts we had purchased from the outlet....what can I say, I’m an addict and when you are near some of the world’s best organic chocolate....

At this point I was beyond exhausted from walking all day so we bought a roasted chicken, veggies, a bottle of Argentinian Malbec and called it a night.

Checking the news tonight we were very saddened to hear the news about the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. 

From Galápagos to Quito

John checked the time when the rooster started crowing...4:15am. Others soon chimed in and in the distance I could hear the sea lions playing back up.

Today is a travel day as we head back to Quito. Packing up to leave is not my favourite part of a trip. We left our luggage behind the front desk of Casa de Jiemy and headed to breakfast.

Casa de Jiemy was my least favourite of our accomodations for this trip.There was nothing wrong with it, it was clean and well sized however there was no place in our room to hang our wet clothes, you also couldn’t adjust the water temperature in the shower...only on or off. When we checked out, they also added to our nightly rate $10 per night for air conditioning which we didn’t know about in advance. It wasn’t a bad hostel, but I would probably look for something else if staying again in San Cristobal.

It was Sunday morning. On our way to breakfast we passed a church service going on near the dock. There were a large number of police officers at the service. The fact the they were all holding bulletins gave me the impression that they were probably there to enjoy the service and not to subdue a rowdy crowd.

We went back to Muyu for our final Galápagos breakfast. As usual the atmosphere was great. I used all my senses to imprint this gorgeous, relaxing moment in my memory.

The sea lions also seemed to be in a Sunday frame of mind. Some young ones rolled and jumped in the waves while a larger older one lay on his back letting the waves push him closer, then further from shore.

Boobie birds dived into the water while one flew over to a rock and preened his feathers...he preened so much, I’m surprised he had any feathers left.

After breakfast, I grabbed an ice cream and we walked around the waterfront watching the animals till the very last second....ok, I did run into a souvenir shop to buy a Boobie bird water bottle. However John and I both held back from buying hats or t-shirt’s that might seem out of place in Canada (ie. the “I Love Boobies” t-shirt)

The airport was a five minute cab ride from the hostel. Going through security the x-ray caught that I had accidentally left my travel scissors in my carry-on and so they were confiscated.

The flight was non-eventful. I spent the time going through cookbooks on my iPad.

The plane had a short stopover again at Guayaquil before continuing o Quito. It was a lot cooler in Quito. We grabbed a cab from the airport to our last hotel - Hotel Masaya- where we picked up one piece of luggage we’d stored there and then headed to our Airbnb apartment which is in the newer more modern part of the city known as La Mariscal.

We met up with our host Gisela who gave us the keys and a rundown about the apartment. Then it was out to dinner, we took the bus a few blocks to Plaza Foch also known as Gringo Town because of all the tourists who stay nearby. The bus fare was 25 cents. A nice young man in his twenties offered me a seat on the bus. I was quite tickled until John told me that he probably thought I was an elderly lady. 

We went to a fine dining Equatorian restaurant called Achiote near Plaza Foch. We had a mashed potato and cheese appetizer with a choice of  either a hot sauce or a tahini sauce. I had the guinea pig again (only 1/4 portion this time which was quite good) and some local wine (not quite as good). John had pulled pork and a gin and tonic.

After dinner the restaurant grabbed us a cab and we headed back to our apartment. The apartment is on the 18th floor with beautiful views of Quito with the mountains in the background. 

At nighttime John claims that In my attempts at Spanish I have been wishing everyone a happy evening of snacks by saying “Buenas Nachos” the equivalent of “good nachos” instead of “Buenas Noches” which is “Goodnight”. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Our Last Full Day in Galápagos

Our last full day in the Galápagos.

Last night John said I was moaning and yelling in my sleep. I had a nightmare that I was being attacked by boobies. John says he would welcome such dreams.

After checking on our friends at the sea lion beach, we headed to our favourite “atmosphere” breakfast restaurant. 

We noticed one huge sea lion had spread himself across the threshold to the entrance of the Ecuadorian Armada Headquarters. Let’s hope there’s no fire because the people inside would never get out.

There were lots of sea lions on the beach in front of us. The females and pups have a real sense of play. We also watched blue footed boobies dive head first into the water in search of breakfast.

We noticed that we see just as many if not more animals in populated areas as in the more isolated areas.

After breakfast we grabbed a cab to take us to the highlands. It’s amazing how quickly the weather changed from hot and sunny to cool and drizzly within minutes as we drove up in altitude.

Our first stop was El Junco Lagoon which is the Galápagos’ only permanent fresh water lake. When we climbed up to the volcanic caldera lake, it was clear. Then within a minute or two, the clouds totally rolled in and the lake disappeared from view. Then within a few minutes it was clear again.

Our next stop was La Galapaguera Tortoise Centre. There was a marked difference between the Santa Cruz tortoises and the San Cristobal ones. Tortoises start to breed when they are 15-20 years old. If a male tortoise cannot find an appropriate female he may try to breed with another male or an attractive looking boulder.

Our final stop was Puerto Chino Beach on the other side of the island. It was a beautiful white sand beach. We walked up the rocks beside the beach. From there I could look down into the clear, turquoise waters and see the big fish and rays swimming around.

We then drove back to  our hostel in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno where we changed into our swimming gear. My bathing suit, bathing shorts and rash guard shirt had dried on my body the last time I went snorkelling and I had not washed out the salt water. Now when I put them on, I noticed that I was smelt like a sea lion...not pleasant.

We stopped for lunch at the outdoor restaurant on Mann Beach with the friendly but forgetful waitress. Being the weekend, the place was packed with locals. For $5 each, John and I had the lunch special; lemonade, chicken soup, rice, fried plantains and pork (me) and fish (John). They were both delicious.

We then walked through Lovers Beach where all the shady spots were taken up by lovers and marine iguanas and headed to the bay where we had swam with sea lions. One sea lion was sleeping across the steps that we had to take to get into the water so everyone just stepped over his head. As we snorkelled a few sea lions were swimming around with everyone.

Refreshed, we headed back to the hostel to shower and change before sunset. It was the best sunset of the whole vacation. Totally gorgeous.

I tried the local Galápagos beer called “Endemic” (as it’s found only in the Galápagos). It was really good...with a different taste.

Susan, a lady we met from Michigan, sat with us on the dock as we watched the sea lions swimming. One sea lion was swimming on his side so that one flipper was sticking straight out of the water making him look like a shark. John and I figured he was trying to scare his buddies...there is always one practical joker in every crowd. He did his Jaws impression for about 20 minutes occasionally being joined by a buddy who did the same manoeuvre.

Susan and us continued to chat after dark on our bench at the end of the dock. We heard a dragging behind us, so turned around and saw a large sea lion propel himself to a few feet away from us, plunk himself down and emit a huge, large fart. That’s how we learned that sea lions fart. Sea lions continued to promenade past our bench so close that if you put your arm out you’d touch them. 

A water taxi landed at one of the docks and had a real challenge getting the sea lions, who loudly groaned and complained, to move so they could disembark.

Finally leaving the dock, I came close to buying myself a Blue Footed Boobie T-shirt. It was more tasteful than the “I love boobies” T-shirt’s that are sold everywhere.

We had one last supper at Lucky’s before heading in for the night.

Another wonderful day.

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Day in San Cristobal

I haven’t seen them but if the loud sunrise crowing is any indication, there sure are a lot of roosters on this island. In the distance I could also hear the sea lions and closer to home a pretty violent dog fight. Good Morning San Cristobal!

After a big breakfast at Lucky’s we began our exploration of the other side of Puerto Baquerzo Moreno.

Most people’s dogs and cats just seem to roam free here. Their collars attest to the fact that they do belong to someone.

At breakfast I watched a scruffy dog approach a cat on the street. The cat arched his back and the dog continued to bother it. Next thing you know, the cat goes all Tasmanian devil and chases the pooch way down the street.

We grabbed a cab to La Loberia beach (which means Sea Lion). The beach was gorgeous and almost deserted except for the pelicans, lava lizards, sea lions, crabs, frigate birds and lots and lots of other birds. The air space was shared by dragon flies, huge black bees, yellow butterflies and small blue moths. There were also a few marine iguanas, but not in the same numbers as on Santa Cruz or Isabela.

The water seemed a bit too rough for me so John and I pulled out our beach mat and laid under a big tree. We watched dozens of birds above us...wondering which of us would be pooped on first. Finches, yellow warblers and a larger bird with a very pretty song were all in attendance above our heads.

A small cruise ship tour group stopped to look at our virtuoso. The guide informed us that it was a mockingbird.

It was so peaceful lying in the shade, under that tree, watching the birds, listening to the waves and the odd sea lion. I could have easily stayed all day but the siren call of a sea lion swim beckoned me onwards.

After stopping back at the hostel to grab some money, we went to our favourite tour company. Unfortunately, most of the tour companies are closed mid day, so we went to the sea lion cove.

Sitting near the water, the black lava rock came alive as dozens of black baby Sally Lightfoot crabs dashed to get out of my path. The older red crabs with blue bellies were very cool.

The water was a bit rough and we only saw one or two sea lions so we hung out and enjoyed the scenery.

The main sea lion that was there seemed rather antisocial. It was funny to watch him avoid the five people in the bay. Unbeknownst to them, he would swim within a metre or two of them without being noticed.

We returned to Mann Beach and the restaurant with the good food but waitress with the bad memory. She did remember us from yesterday and we are now on first name basis.

We even got our food and delicious natural juice (strawberry for me, mango for John) within twenty minutes.

Back in town, John and I tried to book our Punta Pitt day trip only to find that they don’t run on Saturdays. Lesson learned; we should have booked it when we arrived. 

John went back to the hostel while I did a bit of souvenir shopping...a much better experience when done without John.

After showering we headed down to the port for sunset, then watched a dance group practicing various ethnic dances and finally checked out the action at the sea lion beach.

As I mentioned before...these guys have no boundaries. We found some bedding down in and on top of boats. Another was even sleeping between the letters of the San Cristobal sign. And of course, their beach was very loud.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Oh those Sea Lions

After yesterday’s busy day (and rough sea), today we stayed on land and explored the town and its beaches.

The main sea lion beach in town is just down the road from our hostel so first thing in the morning we spent some time watching the sea lions. I felt bad when I saw a really skinny pup wandering the beach and soulfully calling for mama.

We stopped for breakfast at a shoreside restaurant called Muyu Galápagos. This restaurant is a not for profit organization that funds both social and environmental programs. The food was delicious, beautifully presented and they played relaxing Sunday morning type music which was perfect for watching the herons, crabs and sea lions. Sometimes it’s those laid back moments that are so fabulous.

We next headed to the Galápagos Interpretation Centre. This was really well done. It not only talked of the animals but also the creation of the islands, the social history and the challenges facing the islands. This is a free museum. The volunteer working at the entrance was from Toronto with dual citizenship between Canada and Ecuador.

After the Interpretation Centre we took a beautiful trail through trees, bushes and cacti to Frigate Bird Hill. There were great views of the island and Kicker Rock in the distance. We watched the frigate birds ride the air currents.

Below us we saw a group of cruise ship passengers snorkelling at Tijeretas Bay with sea lions also swimming around. We decided to check it out and by the time we got there both the passengers and sea lions were gone. 

We decided to go snorkelling anyway in the hope that the sea lions would return. I wished that I had brought my water shoes because the entry point was rather rocky. The water was a little rough when we got in.

John and I snorkelled a bit. I found this gorgeous rock formation with bright orange coral and hundreds of little orange fish swimming around it. John took the adventure camera to take some underwater pictures of me. He told me to get in-front of the rock, which I did. Then a wave came and knocked my foot against the rock, cutting my heel.

Since there were no sea lions we decided to go back to shore. John got out first but when I tried to get out the waves swept me past the exit area. I would swim forward then was swept past again. Finally John got my hand and pulled me out.

As we were getting ready to leave several sea lions returned. John and I jumped back in the water and swam around with them for just under an hour. It was fabulous. They were swimming right up close dashing under and around us. I was even brushed against a few times. We got amazing video footage. It was like they were playing with us. Two of the sea lions were either playing or fighting, nipping at each other and rolling around and around together. I want to change our plans and go back to swim with them again.

We next checked out another Charles Darwin statue then went down to Lovers Beach (Playa Punta Carola) where we watched the surfers and the marine iguanas swimming. Very cool.

We walked to Playa Mann and decided to have a late lunch at a little restaurant at the beach. We ordered and then sat with another couple Tim and Tate who are staying at our hostel. They are travelling the world for a year.  The friendly manager of the restaurant seemed to suffer some memory issues- she forgot that we ordered food and drink, when we reminded her John’s soup arrived but not his mango juice which took three more reminders before appearing - but it was worth it- a beer stein full of thick and delicious mango juice. My meal was out-sourced to another restaurant somewhere because she had run out of empanadas. Over an hour later, she brought me mine. But It was a nice place to sit and watch all the beach life so I was fine.

We went back to our place, cleaned ourselves up and went out to watch the sunset.

We went to the sea lion beach to have our sunset beer with our stinky friends. We watched all of their melodramas. It’s amazing that any of them get any sleep.

Further down the boardwalk we watched a group of young people do a dance rehearsal outside on a square. Then we went for dinner at Luckys again. This restaurant serves great local food at really good prices. I wasn’t too hungry because I had lunch so late so I had a delicious cheese soup with potatoes ($2) and John had the daily special; cheese soup, rice, cooked veggies and fresh fish ($4).

We decided to check out the sea lion beach to see what they do at night. Other people were there, standing on the ledge doing the same thing.

The beach was more packed than in daytime. I guess they all come out of the water to sleep. But it didn’t seem like anyone was getting any sleep. They were all grunting, belching, bleating, arguing and crawling over each other.

Suddenly a sea lion comes racing along the ledge where people are standing. There was no stopping him, people were jumping off the ledge like dominos. He wasn’t even that big a sea lion.

These beasts have no sense of boundaries. Be it boats, steps, benches, docks or even doorsteps. They are going to go where they please.

It was a wonderful day.

Swimming with Sharks and Sea Lions

I found out from three separate sources that it wasn’t albatross viewing season so we decided to forgo going to Espanola Island and do the 360 tour around San Cristobal which circles the island (ie. 360 degrees).

This tour is a long one so we were at the  Galápagos Eco Fishing tour office at 7:00am. There were nine of us on this tour; a young Swiss couple, a German couple and three guys who spoke Spanish. The guide had his ten year old son with him.

Our first stop was Kicker Rock which is a massive rock formation in the middle of nowhere. John said he has never swam in water so deep. It seemed to go down forever. No one wore life jackets.

It was awesome. Here we were swimming with sharks and a number of sea lions. It was so cool having the sea lions swim under and around us. I think I got some good video.

We all stayed with the guide. The current was a bit strong and I had a bit of trouble keeping up sometimes-  I was tired after that snorkel.

The boat next went over to Witches Hill which is a rock formation not too far from Kicker Rock. We got some great pictures of Kicker Rock through the tunnel at Witches Hill. It is called Witches Hill because the top looks like the profile of a witches face.

Heading to our next stop we found our boat surrounded by a large school of dolphins. They were jumping all around us. 

We stopped at another beach for a bit of snorkelling. I snorkelled and John walked around the beach. He said a bird came out of nowhere and flew directly towards his head. If he hadn’t ducked, the beak would have been firmly implanted in his forehead. 

Continuing around the island, we stopped at Punta Pitt for some fishing. I was quite relieved when no fish were caught. I know it’s hypocritical that I like eating fish, I just don’t want to see them killed.

As we rounded the island, the sea got rough...really really rough. It felt like we were often airborne. Everyone was looking a bit green. The Swiss couple was especially looking bad. The man ended up getting sick over the side of the boat.

Then we stoped in a sheltered bay for lunch. We all ate a bit but no one seemed particularly famished.

Going ashore, the guide walked us around the area and then took us to a snorkel spot that was filled with sea turtles. John must have done something to piss off the animal gods because while snorkelling a jellyfish stung him in the forehead. No one else was stung, just John. Within a half an hour the stinging sensation had gone away. 

Most of the passengers had taken a Gravol and many fell asleep for the very rough two hour ride back to the harbour where we started.

Despite the rough waters on the one side of the island, this was a excellent tour. I never felt rushed and our guide was knowledgable and entertaining. You could tell he loved what he did. I would strongly recommend Galápagos Eco Fishing Tours.

We ended our evening having a beer and watching the sunset with the sea lions.

I wasn’t in the mood for anymore seafood so John and I went to the grocery mart and picked up pasta and sauce to cook back at the hostel. Unfortunately, what I thought was sauce turned out to be ketchup. Most of our dinner went into the garbage. Thank goodness we weren’t too hungry to begin with.