Sunday, March 31, 2019

Santa Cruz, Galápagos

We left our hostel at 5:30am for our 9:30am flight to Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos. It took about 40 minutes to reach the airport. We were told to go early because lineups for extra luggage checks to Galápagos are long due to them checking for banned food, plant and animal products to this protected area.

We flew through the lineup and when we went to our airline booth they asked if we wanted our flights changed from the 9:30am flight to the 7:00am flight. Yes Please!

We moved quickly through security and almost immediately boarded the plane. We were seated near the front beside one of the exits so lots of legroom.

After about 30 minutes, our flight landed in Guayaquil, people got off, the cleaners cleaned and people got on.
Unfortunately a very loud talking man was sitting kitty cross from us. He did not shut up the whole flight. He seemed to have a long winded opinion about everything. The lady beside me and I agreed that we were both happy not to be sitting with him. I wish I hadn’t buried my ear plugs so deep in my backpack.

Upon exiting the plane on the tarmac we spotted our first animal, an iguana, on the short walk into the airport terminal.

I could feel the heat as soon as I got off the plane.

In addition to paying a $20 US transit fee to travel to the Galápagos you also must pay $100 US each upon arriving. This money goes to help pay the costs of protecting the islands.
We had to wait for our luggage while the sniffing dog checked for contraband products. They are rightfully protective of this precious environment and its inhabitants.

The airline broke one of the handles off our suitcase. I didn’t want to waste time complaining. I was there to see animals.

The land around the airport was dry and scrubby. Perfect iguana habitat. John and I wondered how they kept the iguanas from wandering onto the runway.

The airport is on the island of Baltra so to get to Santa Cruz you need to pay $5 each for a bus that takes you to a ferry which costs $1 US each and then once on the island of Santa Cruz it’s $25 US for a taxi into town. While disembarking the ferry I noticed a small sea lion playing in the water. There was also puffer fish along with other fish.

Our cab driver drove us (about 40 minutes) into the town of Puerto Ayora. As we drive from the north side to the south side of the island we noticed that there was much more vegetation in the south.

Our accomodations, Hostel Espana checked us in early. There was a small swimming pool and fountain in the courtyard and many sitting areas for people to use the internet which is a bit hit or miss in the Galápagos.

We went for a walk in the hot afternoon sun. It was Sunday so a lot of places were closed. The water in the bay was a vibrant tuquoisey-teal colour. We walked on a boardwalk and an adorable brown pelican had no problem sharing the view with me. Poor guy looked like someone had taken a chunk out of his head...loser in a pelican fight?

We slowly walked (for me it was more like dragging) ourselves over to the Charles Darwin Station, passing a picturesque cemetery along the way. I saw lots of lizards. We did the tortoise walk at the Station and saw many tortoises from baby’s to young adults that were under protection until they were released back into he wild. 

One little guy was walking and fell over onto his side. He kept wiggling his little legs to right himself, would tire out and then try again. I was getting ready to find someone to go in and flip him back when he finally managed to on his own.

We learned all about Lonesome George the last Pinzon tortoise, Darwin’s finches, Galápagos conservation efforts and much more. 

We made our way back into the port, checked out the bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs and looked to the sky where we saw a few blue footed boobies and frigate birds.

After looking into a few different cruise tours, we went back to our hostel to get out of the sun and figure out our supper plans.

At sunset we bought a couple drinks and settled at the dock to watch the view. We watched the frigates and brown penguins dive headfirst into the water for their supper.

Some small iguanas soaked up the day’s warmth from a cement wall.

But the magic was really coming from the water. After sunset, the water at the bottom of the dock was lit up, allowing us to see many white tipped sharks, schools of stingrays, a sea turtle and a sea lion. Just hints of the wonders to come over the next couple of weeks.

We ended the night with a delicious supper of lobster (me) and shrimp (John). Although it looked yummy, John and I didn’t eat our salads because it was probably washed in tap water.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Market Day at Oltavalo

I am a bit concerned because a couple days ago John and I both sent a bag of clothes out with the laundry service (very reasonable at $5 per bag). John’s came back yesterday and mine didn’t...apparently the drier broke down so mine was in another drier but should be back later today. My fingers are crossed.

We boarded the organized bus tour to Otavalo at 6:30am. Otavalo is a town that hosts an indigenous market. Artisans, craftsmen, merchants and farmers from all over the area come to sell their wares every Saturday at this market.

There were ten people on the tour...five were from Canada. It is a fun group, however John and our bus driver are the only males. John doesn’t seem to mind.

Our first stop was at another point on the equator. Here a guide from  Quitsato spoke to us about how the indigenous people knew where the equator ran long before the scientists. It was really interesting, especially when he explained how the way we depict the world in maps compared to how the earth actually spins with the poles on the sides. 

Ecuador’s main exports are petroleum, shrimp, bananas, cocoa and roses. A dozen gorgeous roses cost $1 US dollar. The bus passed a large number of greenhouses and the heavenly scent surrounded us for a short time. Mmmmm.

Our next stop was a lovely bakery/restaurant that made biscochos, which is a type of delicious biscuit from the town of Cayambe. 

We saw wood burning ovens filled with baking biscochos and then off course bought some which we dipped in dulce de leche which was pure heaven. They didn’t say, but I am sure it was a low calorie treat.

While we munched, a small band played in the restaurant.

Back on the bus, we travelled to our next stop which was San Pablo Lake. The view was good and would have been even better without the clouds.

A Kichwa woman and boy from Otavalo  joined us on the bus and explained all the parts of their local dress then sang a few songs in her native language. 

We arrived in Otavalo and the highlight of the day, the market. The weather had really heated up and I stripped down to my t-shirt.

Jackie, our guide showed us our meeting point and then we were let loose to explore this exciting and vibrant market.

It was a feast for the senses; so many  colours, sounds and delicious smells.

I was immediately drawn to the alpaca blankets. The baby alpaca wool blankets were so soft and the adult wool ones were thicker and super warm. I couldn’t help myself, I bought one of each...and lots of alpaca socks.

Every manner of merchandise seemed to be sold in the market from traditional handicrafts to local fresh produce to household necessities and even a few designer knock offs. I especially got a chuckle out of the deliberately misspelled “Calvin Clein” underwear.

The sound of chattering people, children, the odd dog and music filled the air. The music changed everywhere we moved; some booths played traditional music but I also heard Queen, Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson. Alas, no Coldplay.

Delicious smells of roasting meats came from the alley of food stalls. We could watch people making customer’s meals. There were also areas of herbs and spices, grains and vegetables, lots and lots of fruit and vegetables.

The best part of the market was people watching. The alleys of stalls seemed endless and the place was packed with just as many if not more locals than tourists doing their shopping.

This Saturday market was also a chance for the locals to catch up as I saw many merchants happily chatting away with each other. Many of the booths were family affairs. Young and old, men and women, locals and tourists; this was the place to be on a sunny Saturday.

An hour and a half passed in a flash and we boarded the carrying  a lot more bags than planned. Sometimes it’s just too hard to show restraint.

We stopped for lunch in Cotacachi and then checked out many leather shops and their beautiful square.

Our final stop was to the Cotacachi National Reserve where we checked out the view of the beautiful lake within the crater of an ancient volcano.

We had all kinds of weather: rain, sun and overcast skies, even a rainbow as we made our way back to Quito.

I am so glad we did this tour with

Ecuador Treasure at . Our guide Jackie was great, she explained things well, answered a lot of questions, adjusted to the group’s needs and had very good English. This tour was well worth the price.

We leave for the Galápagos at 4am tomorrow morning. Don’t be surprised if I don’t post as frequently. I’ve been told that WIFI in Galápagos is minimal to non-existent.

John and I are going to try and leave some of our baggage at our hostel in order to make travelling around the islands easier.

Besides my one little beef about the tourist costs of water and tea at Masaya Hostel, I do recommend it; it’s location is very central, right in the old town and steps to La Ronda, the staff are friendly and helpful and the building is beautiful. It feels more like a high end hotel.

Relief! My clothes were waiting for me, all clean and folded when we got back to Masaya Hostel. Even better, they said that we could leave our luggage with them free of charge while we are in the Galápagos.

We spent the evening repacking our bags and feasted on leftovers (including the guinea pig), which we heated in the hostel kitchen. This hostel is definitely the best of both worlds.

Friday, March 29, 2019

In and Around Quito

I was feeling well enough to do some light sightseeing today.

We had breakfast at our hostel. I must confess I prefer the breakfast at our first hostel. It’s funny, but although Carpedm is half the price, it has a better breakfast and doesn’t charge you $2 US for the tea. The other thing is that Masaya sells bottles of water for $1.50 when just outside the entrance, the bakery is selling the same water for 50 cents. It’s a small thing, but I hate it when there is a “dumb tourist” price. 

We first checked out the Casa Del Alabado Museum. I enjoyed all the ancient Ecuadorian artwork.

Rendition of me having digestive issues

We next walked to the National Museum of Ecuador. This large but free museum had a real eclectic mix of artifacts, artwork and modern pieces. They also had some fun interactive art displays.

They had an interesting sign in their washroom.

We walked back to the old town through some attractive parks and past some interesting buildings.

We had lunch at the Mercato. Ecuador is known for their tasty soups. With my recent digestive experience top of mind, I had the potato soup which did not disappoint. John had a mixed plate with lots of veggies, egg and sausage.

The market also has a flower market component. Ecuador is known for its beautiful roses. You can buy two dozen for $2 US. At that price I would expect John to buy me flowers twice a week!

Some of the streets were soooo steep. 

We stopped at a church attached to a convent on the way back to our hotel. There sure are a lot of religious buildings here.

In the evening, we walked around the old town. I love to see the buildings lit up.

We made our way to La Ronda (a street known for great restaurants and night life). Many restaurants and bars were filled with loud music. Fortunately, the restaurant that was recommended on Trip Advisor was quieter. Restaurante Los Geranios was a lovely restaurant with interesting decor and a great view of the Winged Mary.

We ordered just one guinea pig between the two of us. We were really glad that we didn’t order two because there was a lot of meat on this thing. At $35 US, guinea pig was the most expensive thing on the menu. 

Our waiter, Irving was really good. He brought our guinea pig out whole so that we could take pictures, then took it back to the kitchen to have it cut up. He brought it back to us and explained how to eat it. He also gave us plastic gloves because you eat it with your fingers and it  is quite greasy and messy.

It tasted like chicken with a bit of a difference. As mentioned, it was greasy. You eat both the skin and the meat. The head and little feet were somewhat distracting but It was good though I found it rather heavy. The two of us were unable to finish the guinea  pig. I was glad we tried it.