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Published: August 2nd 2019
Swimming with Sea Lions, Islas Palomino
Greetings from Ecuador! This is my country number 80 – yay! Quite a significant number really! And as I believe I mentioned in a previous blog entry, if you don’t count the three little countries in the north-east of the continent, this completes my visit of every country in South America!! It is great to be in a new country again, as although I explored new parts of Peru, it didn’t count as another country for me due to my previous visit. It’s hard to believe that although this is quite an epic trip for me, it only adds one country to my list. Still, the Travellers’ Century Club counts the Galapagos Islands as a separate territory to Ecuador, so my total with them will be at 94 – not long until my provisional member status becomes full member status!
So I believe I last wrote having just finished my epic adventure in the Amazon jungle. On Monday morning I flew back to Lima, and checked in to another stunner of a hotel. This was the Seamen’s Club Hotel in an area called La Punta, in the separate municipal area of Callao, next door to Lima. After
staying four nights in Lima Central, I was looking for a different experience of the city for my two nights this time, and I certainly got it in La Punta. Callao is in fact a very dodgy city, and my guidebook warns against travelling and staying there – indeed, anyone I mentioned my staying there to told me to be careful. However, my research told me that the small peninsula which juts out about a mile into the Pacific Ocean to the north-west of Lima-Callao is really quite well-to-do and safe – and it certainly was just that! The Seamen’s Club Hotel was a world within itself, a boutique hotel housed in a restored old seaport mansion, with a very nautical and colonial theme, and a plethora statues of the Greek sea god Neptune throughout. Callao is actually situated upon the site where the Spanish built their first port in South America in 1537, to enrich its nascent colony there and to export the gold and silver they found. As a result, it also attracted a number of pirates, as well as the British, Sir Francis Drake, whom the Peruvians, along with most Spanish speaking countries, class as a “pirate”
View from the Lighthouse
Cerro Santa Ana, Guayaquil
– I’ve grown up with him being much of a British hero, so if I’m honest I find it quite irritating when he is referred to as a “pirate”. And as a result of its attraction to pirates, and the British, the Spanish also built one of their largest forts in Latin America there, the Fortaleza del Real Felipe, completed in 1774, to protect the port and colony. I found my stay in La Punta, Callao, both fascinating and truly rewarding, with not another international tourist in site – I feel I had the place to myself, along with many Peruvian tourists who were seemingly there for Peru’s independence day, celebrated on the 28th
July, and many days around.
For the second time on this trip, there was no pre-booked taxi waiting for me at the airport, but I found it very simple to book a professional and efficient service using the Green Taxi company situated in the airport terminal building. The taxi ride took me through some pretty rough-looking neighbourhoods of Callao, before depositing me at one of the most elegant, even extravagant, buildings I’ve ever stayed in – the Seamen’s Club Hotel. The welcome was
Me and a New-Found Ecuadorian Friend
Lighthouse, Cerro Santa Ana, Guayaquil
highly cordial, from mainly Venezuelan staff – indeed, I have come across many Venezuelans during my time in Peru, the very sorry result of such an incompetent and disastrous “socialist” government in Venezuela, as over two million have fled the chaotic country over recent years. Venezuelan Marco showed me to my room, which was every bit as extravagant and exuberant as the hotel itself, a huge room with hard wood floorboards, furniture galore, and a huge bed which was wider than it was long. What is more, I even had a huge, private balcony, directly overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the port of Callao – although it wasn’t a pretty view, it was fascinating, busy, noisy with boat and ship calls, and truly seductive for me as I just love port cities for some reason. I had the feeling that my stay there would be wonderful – it was!
After unpacking and a short rest, I took a walk around La Punta peninsula itself. Whilst, as mentioned, Callao is quite dodgy and dangerous, this part of it felt very safe, and there were policemen or security guards on every street corner. I walked along the malecons (promenades) of both
the south and north coasts of the peninsula, the south being desolate, deserted and windswept, with incredible views towards Lima and Miraflores further to the south. The north was much more touristy, and was filled with happy Peruvian families on a pebbly beach with crashing waves, flying kites, sailing small boats on the sea, and tossing pebbles into the water. It was a very happy walk, filled with happy people and families there to celebrate the festivities. I even happened upon a plethora of local craft stalls, filled with fantastic souvenirs of handmade local goods, at very reasonable prices – it was a souvenir-collectors dream, and I must have bought about five different things there to add to my souvenir collection so far. After this, I was ready to call it an evening, so returned to my hotel, had a delicious dinner in its onsite restaurant, and succumbed to the enormous bed with soft, soft sheets waiting to give me a good night’s sleep – they fulfilled their task graciously.
Tuesday morning I awoke with a bit of nervousness and trepidation, but the day in fact turned out to be one of the most amazing days I’ve ever had
on my travels – there have really been quite a number of these days on this trip so far…! A big thank you to fellow travel blogger Alan for this one – his recent blog for Lima was the inspiration for me here (thank you Alan!). I had booked myself onto a boat ride to the nearby Isla San Lorenzo and Islas Palomino for a “swimming with sea lions” experience! I was nervous as I do have a bit of a fear of swimming in the open ocean, I think I’ve watched too many “Jaws” films. But I thought I’d face this fear, as I feel that to truly gain the Galapagos experience, where I’ll be off to very shortly, I should be able to be comfortable swimming and snorkelling in open waters. I am glad I did it, as although it was exhilarating, I didn’t find it too scary in the end. We were a group of about 20, and meeting at a nearby pier not far from my hotel, we took a speedboat across the sea towards a huge island in the distance, the Isla San Lorenzo. Upon reaching its shores, the sea became very very choppy, and
it really was a roller coaster of a ride, past the island, and towards a very small pair of islands in the distance, Islas Palomino. A bit like Islas Ballestas, the islands and islets we sailed past were full of birdlife, mainly the red-legged cormorant, and we also saw a very small group of Humboldt penguins – fantastic! But the real draw are the two Islas Palomino themselves, being home to around 8000 sea lions. These were staggering numbers considering the tiny size of the two islands, and on one of them, the whole western shore and cliff was just full to the brim with the beautiful creatures and their honking noises, all the way to the top, about 30 metres above the surging ocean below. It was here that we changed into our wetsuits and lifejackets, the water being about 15 degrees centigrade there, and jumped into the waters not far from the shore. The next 15 minutes were just amazing, exhilarating, and so beautiful! We were told to stay in a group, form a line, and lie on our backs with our feet pointing towards the sea lions, presumably so as not to be a threat to them.
We occasionally got to within merely a few metres of the beautiful creatures, depending how the rolling ocean waves tossed us and the sea lions, a select few of which seemed to have jumped off their island perches and formed a small group watching us watching them – it was incredible! They seemed very friendly and playful, and I was so pleased to have faced my fear to have done this – amazing! I do indeed feel more confident about swimming and snorkelling in the Galapagos now.
After returning to port, I bade farewell to my fellow travellers, in particular a very nice British Airways pilot called Roger, who had flown in the previous night and was doing some sightseeing before flying back to London the following evening, the same route which took me here and will hopefully take me back again. I then explored the nearby Fortaleza del Real Felipe, joining a Spanish-speaking tour group, and learning more about the history of the port area and the Spanish-built fort, followed by a delightful walk around nearby Monumental Callao. This is a small, rejuvenated enclave of the dilapidated city of Callao, home to a number of artists, cool studios,
and brightly painted walls filled with street art. The place had rather a bohemian vibe to it and was fun to explore, although a number of the old buildings were literally falling apart – I hope they get to restore more of them before the place actually turns into a pile of rubble…
Following this, a final delicious dinner and evening in my gem of a hotel back in La Punta.
Yesterday morning I had booked a taxi at 7.30am to take me back once more to Lima Airport for my flight to here, Guayaquil, Ecuador. I’ve not had much luck with booked taxis during my time here if I’m honest, and this one simply didn’t show up (again!). I ended up hailing a really old piece of junk off the street, with a friendly taxi driver who at least was an official one this time. He took me through the backstreets of Callao at one point, presumably to avoid the traffic on the main roads, but unfortunately we got stuck in this awful place where the police had taken over the traffic lights. It seems that due to the Panamerican Games 2019 which are currently taking place
Seamen's Club Hotel
View from my balcony
in Lima, they have done this to ensure the smooth flow of traffic on the main roads, particularly for the athletes going to and from the stadia. The police had stopped our road for about 15 minutes though, and towards the end of this time I was getting quite worried as I was already running a bit late for my plane anyway. Eventually the police let us through, my heart beating as I was worried they would stop us before we made it past them – fortunately they didn’t, and we went steaming ahead to the airport, and I managed to check in still with plenty of time – phew!
The flight to Guayaquil was fantastic - I flew Avianca, a Colombian airline, and if anyone is considering an airline to fly within or to/from Latin America, I couldn’t recommend them more. This is the second time I’ve flown with them, the first being in Colombia in 2010, and I was not disappointed. The seats, even on the short two-hour flight, have individual in-flight entertainment, and there’s also a small meal served. It was also rather underbooked, and I had the whole back row of three seats to myself
Seamen's Club Hotel
View from my balcony
– wonderful! After a bit of turbulence, which I really don’t like, we landed safely in Guayaquil Airport, making Ecuador, as mentioned, my 80th
country – yay!
I checked in once more to an amazing, plush, upmarket four-star hotel in the centre of town, for a bit of a splurge and a treat mid-trip, and am spending two nights here before heading to the Galapagos Islands tomorrow. I have really enjoyed my time also here in Guayaquil, which like La Punta and Callao back in Peru, I feel as an international tourist, I once more have to myself – I have come across very few other travellers here. This is perfect for me, as I really enjoy seeing a place in a country which is authentic and real, off-the-beaten tourist track, and Guayaquil seems just that.
I checked into the Hotel Palace Guayaquil, with a huge room on the top-floor, complete with all the mod-cons of a luxury hotel, including a bidet in the bathroom (ah, I miss my Japanese toilets from last year’s travels…!). I overlook a main road of the city, but can hardly hear a peep from the noise and traffic outside, as the soundproofing
is so good. After checking in and a short rest, I set out to explore the streets of Guayaquil.
For my first explorations of the city, I aimed to see the real city itself, away from the more famous riverside Malecon 2000 which I’d set aside for today. Firstly I took in the nearby Parque Bolivar, famous for its resident and tame land iguanas, simply outstretched and relaxing as people walk by and carry on with their everyday business – a very unusual site! After this, I headed north first, and then west along the city’s main thoroughfare, the Avenida 9 de Octubre, through the Parque del Centenario filled with workers and families enjoying a respite from the city chaos, and onwards further west to a lovely little riverside walk called the Malecon del Salado, not as famous as its better known counterpart the Malecon 2000 on the city’s east side. Here were lovely open spaces and walks along the Salado river estuary on the west side of the city centre, including a beautiful fountain where I took some nice photos just as the sun was setting. I walked back to my hotel through a very local neighbourhood towards
the south of the city centre, noting that at first glance, Ecuador seems slightly less developed and more chaotic than Peru, with its street sellers and hawkers shouting their wares all about you and to all passers-by, and ended up back in time for dinner and a luxurious, duvet-filled and air-conditioned four-star night’s sleep. Bliss!
Today I continued my explorations of Guayaquil, centred around the city’s more famous and more touristy (though again only of a national nature, no international tourists in sight) Malecon 2000, flanking the eastern end of the city centre and along the right bank of the city’s main waterway, the River Guayas, as it flows southwards to empty into the Pacific Ocean. Guayaquil (pronounced gwa-ya-keel) is incidentally Ecuador’s largest city, at 2.3 million people, and its economic capital, whilst Quito, although the actual capital of the country, is a bit smaller at only 1.6 million people. To understand the country, I felt it important to see both cities. The Malecon 2000 was just beautiful, beautifully situated along the bank of the river, and with lovely open spaces, filled with people and families enjoying themselves. Today has been a bit hotter than yesterday, as the sun
La Punta, Callao
has been out for most of the day, and in the tropical climate unaffected by the cold ocean currents as Lima is, it has been a bit hot and sticky. Still, I managed to walk most of the Malecon, took a ride on La Perla, the largest ferris wheel in South America at 57 metres high, with awesome views over the city and river, visited the small pre-Hispanic exhibition at the Museo Antropologico y de Arte Contemporaneo (MAAC), and finally walked up the 444 steps of nearby Cerro Santa Ana, through the old and beautiful Spanish colonial district of Las Penas, filled with attractive, winding alleyways and quaint, colourful houses. The sweaty, hard-slog of a climb was worth it for even more stunning views over the city to the south, and also to the north – a 360 degree panoramic view in fact, particularly from the top of the lighthouse at the top.
After this I enjoyed lunch back in the Malecon 2000 at a local KFC - fried chicken with an Ecuadorian twist of rice and beans – delicious, and just as tasty I’d say as KFC in the USA, before heading back to my hotel for a
late afternoon and evening of four-star luxury once more, writing up this travel blog entry before dinner. Heck, if you’re gonna splash out on a hotel in this way, you’re going to want to spend more time in here than just sleeping hours – I feel I’m getting my money’s worth!
And thus endeth four days of off-the-beaten track Peruvian and Ecuadorian explorations. I feel I have gotten to know some fascinating sides to both Lima and Guayaquil by choosing to stay in the places I have done. And I also think I did well with my hotel choices. Tomorrow I fly once more, this time westwards, 600 miles across the Pacific Ocean, to the famed and fabled islands of the Galapagos. Gosh, I’m so excited about this one! I spend eight nights there in total, four on the island of Santa Cruz, and four on San Cristobal. I aim to make the main towns of each, Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, respectively, my two bases during my time there, from where I plan to do day trips to explore a variety of different places throughout these amazing islands. As if my trip hasn’t been stunning and incredible
so far, I have a feeling it may become even more so over these coming few days.
I have read that Internet connection is not too strong in the Galapagos, but hopefully I should be able to write up my next one in a few days’ time from Puerto Ayora, on the island of Santa Cruz. If the worst comes to the worst in terms of Internet connection, then I’m back in Guayaquil again for one more night on 10th
August, and for more four-star luxury bliss at the Hotel Palace Guayaquil, where at least I should be able to write up an entry if I haven’t been able to do so beforehand.
Until then, thank you very much for reading, and all the best for now.
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