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Published: September 5th 2017
The panamericana cuts through deep canyons and crosses high passes going from Colombia to Ecuador. We head straight to the capital Quito where we arrive just after the Festival of Lights has started, meaning the city centre is shut and the streets are full with thousands of people admiring the beautiful colourful light installations projected on the antique buildings. We get our taxi through a road block to drop us as close as possible to our hostel in the city centre.
We spend the weekend walking around both the historical centre and the more modern part of town. Quito is a beautiful, lively city and feels very friendly and safe, unlike many capitals in this part of the world. We enjoy the Festival of Lights every evening and we end up in a small bar where we try to dance some salsa. We get to meet a friendly bunch of locals, Colombians and Venezolanos and Judith is soon asked to dance with some of the latinos. The next few days we attend private language classes because we still feel our speaking of the Spanish language needs a little boost.
From Quito we go to Riobamba, a city in the
mountains and close to the Chimborazo volcano. The summit of the Chimborazo is, because of its position close to the equator and the oval form of our planet, the point on earth closest to the sun and furthest away from the centre of the earth. We decided to climb to the highest refuge which is above 5000 meter altitude. It was a great hike, although at a point putting one foot before the other became extremely heavy and just breathing became a challenge. On the way we saw lots of vicuñas and the views from this high up were impressive. We made it to the refuge and to 5100 meters before we called it a day.
From Riobamba we took a bus to Guayaquil, again through spectacular landscapes, starting with mountains, volcanoes and canyons and ending with plains with banana and cacao plantations when we came closer to the coast. Guayaquil has modernised and improved immensely the past decade and we spent a pleasant afternoon and evening at the waterfront terraces and restaurants at the malecón.
While we were travelling in Colombia we discussed the option to visit the Galapagos. We heard from travellers and read about the
possibilities on the web of a DIY trip to this Animal Planet also known as One of the Most Expensive Tourist Places on Earth. We decided to go for it, we booked flights and sorted out rather affordable accommodations on three of the islands.
Guayaquil was our steppingstone to the Galápagos Islands and with an early departure and one hour time difference we arrived early at Baltra Island and airport. After a short bus ride, a quick boat transfer across a channel to Santa Cruz Island and a one hour bus ride we checked in at a great hostel with a very friendly Marcelo explaining us all about the island, where to go and what to do.
We spent four days exploring Santa Cruz, where sharks swim around the pier at the harbour and sea lions are everywhere, occupying boardwalks, benches and beaches. We visited a Giant tortoise breeding center, where both little fellas and more than 100 years olds live. But also on a walk in the highlands of the island we saw the large tortoises everywhere in the field and on the paths. We walked through mangrove forests and cactuses to a beautiful large beach and
a lagoon where we while snorkeling saw a huge shark and some big sea turtles. We spent a day on a small beach where marine iguanas were swimming and eating the algae.
Next we took a ferry speedboat to Isabella Island, a bigger island but with less inhabitants. The main (only) village, and our hostel as well, are built on raw lava blocks and old lava flows. Here we went to a small lagoon for snorkeling and we had our first encounter with sea lions underwater. One of the most extraordinary experiences we have had at Galapagos was swimming with young adult sealions. It's just incredible how they interact with us, look at us, play with us, entertain us, blow bubbles at us, approach us and only at the last moment dive sideways to prevent a head on collision. This is what makes nature and wildlife both magical and beautiful and this is how interaction with animals should be, without one being scared of the other, without one trying to harm the other. Amazing....
Also at Isabella we walked some trails and encountered many giant tortoises on the way, we saw flamingos at the ponds and large black
marine iguanas at the black lava close to the water. With a kayak we paddled to some small rocky islands where we went snorkeling with sea turtles which did not mind our presence at all.
After three days at Isabella we returned to Santa Cruz from where we went for a day scuba diving around Seymour and Mosqueros. The first dive it took quite a while of swimming over a sandy stretch at the bottom of the ocean before we saw our first hammerhead shark, and then another, and then ... there were five or six hammerheads and Galapagos sharks circling around us, giving us a perfect view of these beautiful creatures. Especially the big sharks were really cool to see and swim with. After the diving we went snorkeling with some sea lions.
From Santa Cruz we took another boat to San Cristobal Island. We loved this place as the town was nice, the beaches close by and there were many many sea lions and a lot of birds. There were some beautiful lagoons where we could go snorkeling with sea lions and where we could see the blue footed boobies and pelicans dive in the water
to catch their fish. We went for another day of scuba diving to Kicker Rock, a huge erect volcanic rock with great drop offs underwater. The water was very cold and the visibility was pretty poor making these dives not the best dives ever, but sighting the beautiful Galapagos sharks and swimming with many big sea turtles very close to us made up for the cold murky water.
Having spent 15 days and nights at the Galápagos Islands this very special experience came to an end and after walking between the blue footed boobies, the pelicans and the sea lions with their young onesband taking the last pictures we walked to the small airport to catch our plane back to mainland Ecuador and then onwards to Peru.
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