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Published: November 9th 2010
This is the only ninth day and it feels like we've crammed in a lifetime of experiences already. This is the first chance we've had to sit down and think about the blog.
Firstly, this is a diary for us so may have more detail than anyone else is interested in. Please feel free to skim or just look at the photos. Sat 30 to Sun 31 Oct - Quito, Ecuador
Arrived in Quito after a 20 hour journey feeling pretty tired. Just as we were coming into Quito the plane suddenly dropped altitude twice as though it was falling out of the sky. Everyone (all the females) screamed and it was pretty damn scary. We landed to a round of applause, phew.
Quito sits high in the Andes amongst dramatic mist covered peaks (elevation 2850m). As soon as we came out of the airport you could feel the affects of the high altitude - shortness of breath and light-headedness.
It was Halloween weekend and we went around the corner from our hotel to Plaza Foch - a Square with trendy bars and restaurants. All the bar staff were dressed up in gruesome fancy dress. Cocktails
came with dry ice so they were steaming like witches' brews.
Quito is a beautifully set city packed with historical monuments and architectural treasures. The next day we explored the 'Old Town', a UNESCO World Heritage site, at the centre of which is a large square - Plaza Grande. There's a cathedral, ornate churches and there's a statue on the hill overlooking the city called the Virgin of Quito. It was a holiday weekend and there were lots of street processions with dancers in colourful traditional dress.
We found Quito impressive and the surrounding mountains make it even more spectacular. Mon 1 to Thur 4 Nov - Galapagos Islands
An early start, 0630, to catch the flight from Quito to the Galapagos Islands. Not sure what we expected, there's about 18 islands, 4 of which are inhabited with a population of about 30,000 and there are 3 airports.
There were 14 others on our GAP Adventures boat. Our trip took us to San Cristobal, Espanola, Floreana and Santa Cruz islands. San Cristobal:
Flew in from Quito via Guayaquil and then transferred to the boat then sailed that afternoon to a beach. There were sea
lions everywhere just lazing around and we all posed for many photos. Went snorkelling, the water was freezing, wet suits were donned but it was still really cold! Swam with a sea turtle, it's an incredible feeling floating above a sea turtle that is about a metre long! I (Ken) spent a long time watching that turtle. Sailed overnight to the next island. Espanola:
0630 start. We went by large dinghies to Punta Suarez for a two mile walk along a rocky trail. We saw sea lions, Marine Iguanas, mocking birds, Darwin finches, yellow warblers, Galapagos hawks and doves, Blue Footed Boobies (tee hee), Nazca Boobies (fnarr fnarr), pelicans, lava lizards, crabs and a 'blow hole'. We walked through an Albatross nesting colony which was full of big fluffy chicks about two foot high. They looked like something out of Sesame Street.
What's amazing is the fearlessness of the animals. You are so close to them, within touching distance, and they just try their best to ignore you. We almost witnessed the birth of a baby sea lion but missed it by about 30 minutes or so - the guide pointed out the placenta and the stains in
In the afternoon we took the dinghies to Gardner Bay - a beautiful long white coral beach with sea lions lazing in the sun along the whole stretch of beach. It was absolutely amazing; words cannot describe it. Sailed overnight to the next island. Floreana:
0630 start again! Went to Post Office Bay in the morning. In 1793 British whalers established the Post Office Barrel (it is just a barrel!) to send letters to and from England. Today tourists can place postcards, without stamps, in the barrel to anywhere in the world and at the same time pick up cards to personally deliver. We took a card for Warrington in Cheshire and posted a few, one of which was to home so we'll see how long it takes to get there (apparently its a lot quicker than the postal service in Ecuador)!
We then went snorkelling (when we say 'we' it really means Ken .. Bernie was crap at snorkelling). It was a beautiful white sandy beach where sea turtles were feeding. Visibility was poor but there were turtles. Also went by boat to a sunken, volcanic crater, Devil's Crown, for snorkelling. The currents were
really strong and the volcanic rock very sharp. It actually felt like we could have been in danger but the guide, and crew in dinghies, kept close by and they took us out of the water earlier than planned.
After lunch went to Cormorant Bay and saw more sea lions and birds then walked to another gorgeous beach - the sand felt like deep-pile carpet underfoot. Here there were hundreds of stingrays in the surf but, even though Ken stood for ages with them washing against his feet, he was unable to get a decent photograph as the sand was continually being stirred up by the waves.
That evening we sailed to our final destination. We went to the top deck to look at the stars which were spectacular. Santa Cruz:
0520 start ! … zzz … Visited the Charles Darwin Research Station situated in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.
This is the only place where tourists are able to see giant tortoises up close. There is also a rearing house in which hatchlings and young tortoises are nurtured until they can be released, at about four years of age, to their home islands. Nearly
2000 young tortoises have been released so far.
Lonesome George is the last of his species and is estimated to be anywhere between 100 and 150 years old. They are trying to mate him with a female of another subspecies, but apparently he's not that
interested (not surprised at his age).
Bus and a ferry to Baltra airport for the flight back to Quito. Fri 5 Nov - Quito
Made an early start as this was our last full day in Quito. In the morning got a taxi to the TeleferiQo, a cable car that goes up Pichincha volcano to a height of 4,050 metres. You really feel the high altitude - dizziness and breathlessness. You can continue to walk up to the summit - a 2.5 hour trek. Needless to say, walking around 200 metres was enough for us! There were spectacular views of Quito and other snow-capped volcanoes.
Went on to the Old Town and had hoped to go into the Cathedral but it was closed, so just had lunch in San Francisco Plaza.
In the afternoon, we took a private tour (just us two) to IntiNan, a museum at the Equator about
23 km outside Quito. The museum had ancient Andean artifacts including a shrunken head, At the Equator line they had the usual tourist attractions - water flowing out of a sink clockwise or anti-clockwide depending on whether it was North or South of the line. We had the solar clock explained to us, attempted to balance an egg on a nail (?) and failed miserably (didn't get the certificate), and had to try to walk with eyes closed along the line. There was replica of an ancient drinking house. Ecuadorians eat guinea pigs and there were cute little guinea pigs in a pen in this hut (just like the ones we have as pets at home). When we spotted the baby guinea pigs, the guide licked her lips and said “Mmmm ,,, guinea nuggets”. At the end of the tour, we got our passports stamped.
Next on the itinerary is a tour “Avenue of the Volcanoes” when we see more of Ecuador, but this will follow. Its been hectic so far with lots of early starts so its been difficult to find the time to get this blog started … but we're getting there.
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