Hola! Escuela de Espanol en Quito!

Our first day at school and Hubs and I were excited! Our teacher, Janed, was softly spoken, super nice and had a wide happy smile.  Hubs and I were both happy.  Learning Spanish was great fun.  In some respects it was easy because the grammar is so similar to Italian.  But in other respects, knowing Italian kept confusing me and I kept speaking Ital-Spanish!  Annoying!

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After class, I signed up for salsa lessons – included in the price of the tuition – while Hubs opted to relax at home (our posh digs).  The salsa lesson was small – just myself and another student at the school called Kyle, and two teachers.  Memories of doing salsa lessons with my friend Claire Taylor came flooding back, and surprisingly, once we got started, I just fell into the rhythm of the steps and knew what I was doing.  Kyle struggled a little bit – the skinny white American was not really the rhythmic type!  An hour of moving my butt and I had worked up quite a sweat.  It was fun!  I think I’m going to carry on and go salsa dancing regularly when I get home. 

Salsa class finished at 7pm and it had just gotten dark.  The school was only four or five blocks from our posh new hotel, but I heeded the advice given to me.  Kyle offered to walk me back to the main square, Plaza Foch, and I took him up on his offer.  During the walk home I decided he was a knob – one of these awkward loner types that don’t have many friends…and there’s a reason for that. He’s a knob.  Anyway, I was thankful that I had a knob to walk with since it was dark.  Once we got to Plaza Foch I said thanks, bye, and walked promptly away.  I couldn’t bring myself to invite him to dinner or for a drink or anything.

Wednesday after class was a cooking lesson at the school.  The menu was typically Ecuadorian, and not that exciting…so Hubs and I tried to bail, but they had already bought all the ingredients so we had to stay.  We dashed back to our posh new digs and went back just to eat. We left the preparation to Larry the fun American, Kyle the knob, and the teachers.  Hubs thought the lunch of chorizo, potato patties, salad and beetroot was disgusting.  I didn’t mind it actually.

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Wednesday night Hubs and I went to Roy McCools Irish bar near our hotel for a quiz night.  What a disaster.  This is why I hate quiz nights. I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent woman, yet I suck at quizzes and always come away feeling stoopid.  We didn’t stay the whole the quiz – it was getting late, we were losing badly, and I wanted to get a good night’s sleep.  So we left.   I can’t believe we got the question wrong – which is the longest river in the world.  We said the Amazon, but it’s not, it’s the Nile.  We KNEW that but got it wrong anyway!!  We also got the question wrong – which is the driest continent – we said Africa…  Stoopid Aussies!  It’s AUSTRALIA!!  How could we get that wrong??!

Thursday was day 3 of Spanish lessons and Hubs and I were advancing quickly.  We were onto irregular verbs and it is hard!  But we are getting there.  It was a joy to see our teacher Janed each morning, so whilst it was tough, she made it enjoyable and we had heaps of laughs along the way. 

After class the school took us on an excursion on a cable car up a huge mountain in Quito.  We were so high up that the air felt considerably thinner and it was muy freo!  Really cold!! We caught a local bus there, and that in itself was an adventure and dirt cheap at US 25 cents!  After a hike that should have been easy but the altitude made it tough, we went into the visitor’s centre and Hubs and I indulged on some ‘pure oxygen’.  I have heard of oxygen bars in NYC and heard that you can get a feeling of euphoria from it.  It was crap – really crap. A waste of $5! 

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Thursday night was an organised night excursion of Quito taken by Vinicio, the founder of the school.  It was fantastic!  There was the young cute 19 yo German, Hano, Larry the larger than life 50-something American (great fun and a friend of dorothy’s), Hubs, myself, and Kyle the knob.  We went to the Penicillio – the hill top with the statue of Mary as an angel that overlooks and protects the city.  We then went to Rotanda, the strip of bars and restaurants in the old town.  Vinicio took us to a great local Ecuadorian place that serves only empanadas, bbq chicken, and this hot mulled wine alcoholic drink.  We had a great night chair-bopping to Ecuadorian indigenous musicians, eating delicious food and sampling a new, strange, yet more-ish warm alcoholic drink.  We decided to all put in extra to pay for Vinicio and the bill cost us US$4 each. How CHEAP.  A great night!

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Friday was Hubs’ last day of class.  She was opting out of Monday to have a day in the city.  I loved learning spanish so much that I didn’t want to miss an opportunity!    I started the lesson with a little cry after describing my family to Janed in Spanish. I got really sad and started missing everyone and the tears just fell!  Oh dear.  We helped our awesome teacher Janed to set up a facebook page and teach her how to use it.  She is not that great with computers, and it was the least we could do to help her. She taught us so much about Ecuadorian culture and of course speaking Spanish.

After class we went on an excursion to the Guysamin gallery, a famous Ecuadorian artist who died about 10 years ago. His style is unique, easily distinguishable, and very emotional.  It was good to see.

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Friday night was our school night out. We went to a special Ecuadorian Indigenous Bar that was tiny and packed!!  We had dinner there and a couple of drinks before we all decided that it was too busy and we should try somewhere else.  There were a couple of slimy locals that us girls didn’t like so much so it was a good time to leave.  Vinicio then took us to a tourist tacky night club that played ok music for the first half hour, then it turned crap.  It was 10.30pm and I was not going to get a hang over or overly tired for a crap touristy night club.  Larry, Hubs and I left, thank GOD. 

Saturday we went to the bus station for 7am and caught a local bus to Otavalo, about 2 hours away from Quito.  Otavalo has three famous markets on Saturdays – an animal market, a produce fruit and veg market, and a handicraft market.  The markets were huge – just gigantic.  The animal market was an eye opener.  Pens of guinea pigs for sale – they eat them in South America (called Cuy on menus – watch out).  Heaps of cows, chickens, sheep, some goats, and too many squealing pigs.  Those poor pigs – they knew what they were in for – you could hear it in their traumatic squeals.  I would really rather not have to hear that sound again – it’s upsetting.  But it wont’ stop me eating pork!

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The handicraft markets were great. I loved it!!  I bought myself (another) hat, a straw coloured panama hat that I love. I also got some scarves, some jumpers for Susie’s kids, and a few other nick nacks.  It was terrific. 

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After three hours of shopping it was time to eat. We had a delicious Ecuadorian lunch of soup with potato, cheese and avocado, chicken with rice (standard fare) and jelly for dessert.   It was time for a hike and we walked for an hour through the interesting and picturesque countryside.  The last part of the hike was a bit hairy – a narrow path on the edge of a cliff and the wind was blowing a gale. Larry was nervous but did it anyway and we came out at the top of a beautiful waterfall. WOW. So lovely!! 

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After waterfall-gazing and tree hugging, we caught the bus back into town for some delicious non-creamy gelato – ice gelato.  Just what I needed after that big walk.

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We were so tired when we finally got back into Quito at 9.30pm.  Hubs and I went straight to bed. 

Sunday I had a day off – and Hubs went with the school on another trip ‘tubing’ down a river.  I needed a day to do washing, and I really wanted to go to the centre of the world and the equator.  I took the easy route to Midad el Mundo, the centre of the world, and paid for a taxi.  The 50 minute trip also turned into a Spanish lesson with el taxi driver – so that was a bonus!  The museum there was kind of fun and we were shown some experiments of what happens when you go to the north side of the equator and the south side.  The gravity is different – stronger on the north than the south. Weird.  

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Monday was my last day of school and I was oh so sad to be finishing up. Hubs and I both really started to enjoy Quito and didn’t really want to leave.  After the first few days we were no longer frightened of the city and were getting into the groove of it. The Yanapuma School certainly helped.  Besides the knob, the other students were fun and we both loved loud Larry!  He as great company and had such a happy disposition.  He might meet us in Argentina and do the wine region with us – oh I hope so!! Hubs only drinks coke and pina coladas, and she is not into wine, so it would be good to have a fellow wino with us! We’ll see, it’s probably a long shot.

Hubs did splash out and bought herself a beautiful soft llama wool jumper for A$120.   Bargain for that quality. I wish I had room – I wanted one too!!

Quito, and Ecuador as a country, are a sensational place to visit. I only wish we had more time to dedicate to this country of high altitudes, friendly people, tasty chicken, and awesome markets.   I am especially going to miss my Spanish school.  Gracias por todo!!  Hasta Luega!  Adios amigos!!

Quito – not off to the best start…

After the gorgeous Galapagos Islands, Hubs and I travelled to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  We arrived late in the afternoon and had a booking at the Sierra Madre Hotel in the Mariscal district (the lively district).  After an early dinner in Plaza Foch, we were tucked up in our room, reading and watching TV by 7.30pm.  Everyone had told us, including the trusty Lonely Planet, that Quito was a dangerous city at night.   We were advised not to walk around with handbags and never to walk around after dark – even short distances – taxis in Quito are cheap and we were told to take taxis everywhere.  As an example, a taxi from the airport to our hotel was US$6.

We were both in the mood for an early night and not in the mood for tackling a big dangerous city.  I was sleeping quite soundly when I heard a really loud crash.  I woke up, and asked Hubs what happened.  Her mattress was sagging to the floor with her bum in it and her legs up in the air – “My bed just broke!!!”.   Oh my God – at 3am getting up to fix a broken bed is no fun.  She was holding up the mattress and I was trying to place the slats that had slipped out back across the bed frame.  I failed – the bed frame was warped, so the slats didn’t reach across properly.  As I was attempting to be a good mate and help Hubs out, a slat slipped off the bed frame and landed straight onto her foot.  OUCH!  Hubba said something like ‘Holy FARK that hurt!!!’ Watching it happen made me wince in pain… poor Hubs. I felt terrible for her – and she understood that was a total accident. 

Hubs picked up the phone and almost shrieked down the receiver that her bed was broken and could someone come to our room to fix it NOW.  The poor night porter didn’t have a hope of fixing the bed, so he offered to put Hubs into another room, the room next door.   Hubs used the toilet in that room and it began to over flow.  Oh dear.  By this time is was about 3.15am.  So he moved her to another room, a room without a window.  When the night porter left Hubs in her third room which was box-like, she snuck into a big unoccupied room next door that also had a window and slept there.

The next morning, I was feeling shattered.  After Hubs moved out to another room, the neighbourhood dogs decided to have a barking competition that went on for 45 minutes – at 3.30am!!  GRRRR!  My ear plugs did nothing to drown out that sound.  I finally fell asleep at 5.45am.  Around 9.30am, I had a great shower and made the most of it taking forever to wash my hair, scrub my face, etc.   An hour or so later, Hubs stumbles back into our room (with her broken bed still broken) complaining that her shower was a trickle and was totally crap.  And that was the final straw.  We were checking out that day and nothing – not even the offer of a half price room (making it US$30 per night) was going to sway Hubs to stay. 

We made the mistake (according to my bank balance) the night before going into a boutique hotel in Plaza Foch called Nu House Hotel www.nuhousehotels.com and had a look at a room, just to compare.  It was lovely, new, posh, perfect.  And it was expensive, no doubt about it.  At US$95 per night (discounted from US$120 per night), it was likely to be the most expensive room in Quito.  But we didn’t care.  We had money and we were not going to ruin our holiday by staying in an under par budget hotel to save a couple of hundred bucks.  That’s where Hubs wanted to stay and of course the hotel was so lovely, I couldn’t disagree.  I mean, we each had fluffy white robes and a huge flat screen TV and the room was huge.  Also there was lovely posh bathroom products which I just love!!

On our way to check into our luxurious new digs, we stopped at the Yanapuma Spanish School   http://www.yanapumaspanish.org on Calle 20 Dicembre, to check out doing Spanish lessons.  It was perfect.  One to one lessons at US$7 per hour.   Hubs and I decided to share a teacher and do it together and it was $5.50 per hour each.  We were booked in for the next four mornings (4 hours each session) and both really excited about it.

We spent the afternoon walking around the “old town” and visited the San Francisco Monastery, the oldest Monastery in Quito, and the impressive La Campania cathedral – every inch of the walls and cathedral high ceilings was covered in gold.  WOW wow wow.  It was a little over whelming, but totally beautiful.

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We loved coming home to our “Nu House” – we both had a double bed each – now lovely!! 

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Gorgeous Galapagos Days 6 and 7

Day six:

Day six was a big day – we had in store for us two snorkelling sessions and an island visit to Rabida. 

The morning snorkelling session was not really worth a mention, except that I lost a diamond earring mum bought me for Christmas.  GUTTED!!!  I was so upset. The visibility was low, the water was not freezing freezing cold, but cold enough for me, and it wasn’t teaming with life.  A big school of small sharks, and other big school of fish, few star fish, blah blah.  I didn’t stay in the water for too long – after copping one flipper too many in the head, I decided I’d had enough of being in the water and not seeing anything new.  I was also upset at losing an earring that I just wanted to be out.  [Sorry Mum! I should have taken them off… boo hoo :(…]

Our island visit of Rabida was cool – we saw two hawks close up. Totally amazing how close we can get to them and they are not scared by us.  I thought that was super cool.

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There were heaps of sea loins on the beach, but amazingly, there was a mother sea lion starting to give birth.  We watched her try to give birth for 20 minutes or so, then went for a walk and returned an hour later.  Upon return, it was apparent that she was having a breach birth and her waters hadn’t broken.  She looked in pain, exhausted, and had stopped pushing.    Our guide and the guide of another group there, said that she would die if she didn’t push the baby out, and it was most likely that the baby sea loin was already dead.  Oh how sad!  They went about assisting her to get the breach baby sea loin out. It was one of the most traumatic things I have ever witnessed.  This poor female sea loin was simply exhausted, but still trying to attack Washington who had hold her unborn calf by the back flippers and was trying to pull it out.  The other guide was trying to distract her and the poor mother sea loin seemed so tired and confused.

Oh my God it was a gruesome sight.  I felt so so so sad for the sea loin.  Finally, after huge tugging efforts by Washington, the baby calf was out and slumped on the beach, seemingly lifeless.  The mother sea loin turned back to her newborn, looked at it, sniffed it, shoved it with her snout, and it didn’t move.  That look on the mother’s face will be etched in my mind forever – the poor mother!  I swear she looked distressed.  It brought me to tears, I couldn’t hold it in any more.  It was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. 

The lifeless baby seal was a little too close to the shore line, the water almost reaching its little body, so Washington dragged it by the back of the neck up the sand.  Then a miracle!! The chest of the little fella heaved!  Not once! Not twice! But over and over again.  The baby was alive!!  A miracle!! 

But sadly, the baby probably won’t live – the way it works in the sea lion world is that a female will have a calf, and she will feed that calf milk for two and a half years.  In order for her to keep producing milk and keep feeding her calf, she needs to get pregnant every year.  The eldest calf always kills the new born – it is one of the cruel ways Mother Nature works. 

It was a traumatic thing to witness for both Hubs and myself.

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Back on the boat for  quick rest and then we went snorkelling for the second time in a day.  This time we went off the coast of the island Santiago – joy! The water was warmer, the visibility better, and there were heaps of fish!  We saw marine iguanas under the water feeding on algae, penguins swimming, and loads of fish – a huge school of yellow tailed sergeant fish that I swam along with for a while.  Yeah, it was a great snorkelling session.

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We then went to Chinese Hat Island and saw naturally formed lava tunnels, dramatic coast line, and some mighty waves!   The lava formations were pretty cool, given they are about 300,000 years old – you can still see the ripples in the lava where it set. 

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We did a dingy trip around one side of the island and saw penguins! Cute black and white penguins!

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Back on board for dinner – which was a disgrace – cold spaghetti with no sauce, served with some green beans and some chicken cooked in a gravy kind of sauce.  Everyone complained – and the Italians on board were mortified that someone could mutilate their national dish to such a huge degree.  Yep, it was gross.

More dominoes after dinner, Hubs and I played on a team, taking it in turns (both of us were getting a bit over dominoes i think)…

Day seven:

We woke up at Bartolome Island.  We went to a lovely beach that had reddish sand and saw a couple of ghost crabs – the funny looking crabs with the eyes sticking up above their shell.  They feature in Finding Nemo at the end of the film when Nemo is going through the drain pipe  after he escapes from the dentist surgery.  Anyways…

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As we were walking along the lovely beach, I noticed some sand being flicked further along the beach in the sand dunes. I asked Washington if it was a turtle nesting and he got very excited when he realised it was!  Yey!  We went over and sat and watched this big sea turtle cover over her eggs (or a fake hole – which is what they do as a decoy for predators).  Sea Turtles will lay up to 1000 eggs, and only one baby from those 1000 eggs will survive to be a grown sea turtle.  The eggs get eaten by nasty pirates of the Galapagos, the frigate birds, the baby turtles also get eaten by hawks, frigates, and other predators.  Once in the ocean, the baby turtles get eaten by sharks and boobies.

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After that excitement, we headed back to the boat, had a quick turnaround and headed out snorkelling.  I have to admit, I secretly dreaded snorkelling – ONLY because it was usually cold and I hate to be cold!  This time however, it was only cold initially when you first jump in the water.  We snorkelled around the pinnacle rock on Bartolome Island and the first thing I saw was a shark.  Not again.   I don’t enjoy seeing sharks in the water. I don’t care if they say they are harmless…they don’t look harmless and I for one was not hanging around to see how friendly it was.  So off I swam, ahead of the group. I swam amongst a massive school of yellow tailed silver fish (sergeant fish I think) – some of the fish were almost touching me.  There were heaps of other colourful fish around and a few ginormous parrot fish.   The biggest parrot fish I have ever seen.  I also briefly saw a penguin (told you it was cold!) but it swam too fast for me to keep up with it.  Zippy little things they are.

After an hour snorkelling, we sat on the beach, enjoying the warmth of the sun.  It was bliss.   Back to the boat for lunch before sailing to the other side of Santa Cruz island to go to Black Turtle Cove.   The cove is full of mangroves and it was tricky for the crew to manoeuvre the dingys.  We saw heaps of turtles, funny that, eagle rays, other rays, and more sharks (this time from the safety of the dingy).   It was pleasant in the mangrove. 

Back to the boat for dinner.  Before we got to dinner we found two envelopes in our rooms marked “tips for crew” and “tips for guide”.  That left a bad taste in our mouths – as a group we had already decided to tip them both as a group – but to be asked for a tip is a bit off.  After dinner Washington did the briefing for our activities for the next day (our last morning), and then called in the crew, all in their spiffy white uniforms.  He then proceeded to give a speech about how the 10 per cent service tax charged does not go to him or the crew, but to the Government and suggested we tip them between 5 and 10 per cent of what the tour cost.  YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING!!!    Our tour cost A$2200 and there was no way I was leaving a tip for $220, not even A$100.  How rude!!!  We all agreed to put in between US$10 and $20 per person as a tip – we all thought that was fair enough.  And that is a group of mixed nationalities – Italians, Germans, English, and us Aussies. 

Like I said, as a group we had decided a few days earlier what to tip the crew and Washington.  Italiano Sandro made the tip presentation to Washington and I then had to stand up and explain to him that the tip he just received was from all of us as a group and that we had decided several days ago to leave a tip as a group.  Washington looked pissed off and almost angry.   It was strange and awkward.

It was unfortunate that the night ended so awkwardly with Washington rude and presumptuous speech and the weird moment when we gave them our tip. Given we had to be up at 5.30am the next day, no one stayed up late to socialise.

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Our last day, Day 8:

Up at the crack of dawn and off we went to North Seymour island, one of the most inhabited islands for bird life.  We saw some baby sea loins, so cute, and loads of nesting blue footed boobies. We saw a boobie dance – where they lift one of their webbed blue feet up in the air at a time to attract the females.  There were heaps of frigate birds too with their red chin sacks inflated – their way of attracting females. 

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The terrain was rough and full of white bird poo everywhere – this is a way that the birds mark their territories.  Still, seeing so many birds nesting and baby birds was cool. It still amazes me how the animals are not afraid of humans.  They just sit there as we wander past and don’t even flinch.

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Back to the boat for breakfast and to pack the last of our things.  At 8am we we heading back to Batras island – the airport island – where we got dropped off more than 3 hours before our flight – bloody incredible. What the F were we supposed to do for more than 3 hours at that tiny little airport with nothing in it and about 8 souvenir shops out the front.  Urgh!  Frustratingly annoying. 

Sadly, we said our good byes to our new friends from the cruise, particularly the Germans Tim and Susan, and Team England who all made our trip so much more fun.  Great people that I’ll miss.  I hope all goes well for them in their future travels and lives.

Next stop, Quito!

 

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Gorgeous Galapagos – Days 4 and 5

Day four:

Floreana Island.   First thing in the morning at 7.30am, we were in the dingies and heading to the brown-green beach of Floreana. The beach was just as it is called, brown gluggy sand with mangrove trees edging it… nothing special to look at.  The resident sea loins didn’t mind the colour of the sand, and in fact, they were quite territorial there, growling at people if they got too close as they were passing.  Quite funny really!

We walked to the other side of the tiny island to the green beach where there is green lava crystals in the sand called olivine.  Olivine has been used to make jewellery and it is a semi precious stone, quite beautiful.  There are little specks of green olivine all through the sand.

As we arrived onto the olivine beach, a turtle nesting area, there was a teeny tiny baby turtle just hatched and making its way towards the ocean.  How CUTE!  We all stood in awe, then started cheering the little fella on – come on little turtle, you can do it! Up above was a nasty frigate bird circling – it had spotted baby turtle. Uh-ooo.  Not good – they eat baby turtles for breakfast, in fact, those nasty flying critters eat everything and steal food off each other and other animals! 

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Our guide Washington gave the mean Italian woman we have nicknamed “DT” (Demon Tourist) instructions to pick up the baby and put in her pocket.  We would release the baby into the ocean once we were back on the boat, so as to save it from the nasty overhead frigate bird.

There were more sea iguanas on the beach, everywhere in fact, and loads of sea loins.  We walked around the a swampy lagoon which is a nesting area for flamingos.  It was hard to spot the nests, the cone like mounds of dirt.  There weren’t any flamingos in sight, oh well.

Back to the boat for part two of the Galapagos documentary, a siesta, lunch, then sailing to the next stop.  We released the baby turtle into the ocean – and as it was swimming away, a nasty frigate bird swooped down and ate him up. Mew!  The poor little fella didn’t have a hope… we tried to save him, but his fate was to be breakfast…

The next stop was still Floreana, around the other side to Post Office Bay.  This bay very famous as it has several post boxes there that the old sailors used to leave letters to loved ones – the next sailors to come past would take out all letters address to their next destination and deliver them.  So we all sent ourselves post cards – mine is addressed to Dianne Zorbaletto – and let’s just see if it ever makes it home…

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The sun was out so we sat on the beach enjoying some warm weather while all the crew from our boat Yolita II and other cruisers crews played a soccer game.  We all felt a little bit dumped – like we were only spending two hours at that ordinary beach so the guys could all play soccer.  The swimming was bad because there were sharp rocks, the snorkelling had next to no visibility so that was no good, and I got stung by a wasp on my left index finger. Meeeeeeew!  It really REALLY hurt.  I almost cried – agonising. 

Back to the boat for some dinner and then we were heading into town – yay!  A town!! 

Santa Cruz has a population of 14,000 and it really only has one street and that street has an all important internet cafe and loads of tourist shops selling the usual tourist tack – t-shirts, souvenirs, and the like. 

After checking emails and getting a facebook fix, we headed to The Rock restaurant where we met up with Etay and Hilan, the Israeli couple who just left the boat (only did four day cruise) and are staying on in Santa Cruz for a few days before heading back to Quito.

It was fun!  We had our Germans Susan and Tim, the Israelis, and Team England joined us too.  Team England is the name we have given to the English family Matthew, Beryl and their three children – Alex (17), Tom (16) and Pippa (almost 12).  Matthew is an English diplomat and they have lived all over the world – the most recent being Indonesia. 

This is the night that I had my first ever South American cocktail, a piscoe sour, and it was delicious! It tasted a bit like a sour worm lollie – and I like those!  Yum!  Even Hubs had a cocktail, a banana colada that she said was delicious.

Back on the boat, Hubs and I looked at the stars for a few minutes then hit the hay.

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Day five:

Today we were going to see giant tortoises, firstly at the Charles Darwin Centre on Santa Cruz, and then in the wild.  No snorkelling today (secret yay! sooo cold!)

[MUM in case I forget to tell you – you might want to bring a rashie with you to wear under your wetsuit to keep you a bit warmer when snorkelling]

The Charles Darwin Centre was quite interesting.  It has a tortoise breeding program, trying to increase the number of tortoises in the Galapagos.  Tortoises were eaten by man for many years when the islands were first discovered, in the 1500s or so.  The breeding program releases the tortoises back into the wild once the tortoises are old enough to survive on their own, about four years of age.

We saw Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his breed in survival and he is about 200 years old.  They have tried to get him to mate with females of other tortoise species, but no luck.  And now he’s just not interested in mating at all. 

Did you know that female tortoises mate with up to 20 different males during mating season and can “do it” for three days straight without a break? 

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We saw loads of tortoises at the Charles Darwin Centre from 200 year olds to three month old.  We also watched a short doco on what the Charles Darwin Centre is doing from a conservation perspective for the Galapagos Islands.   It was very inspiring and moved Hubs and I to donate a small amount.

We walked into Santa Cruz town and shopped for souvenirs before being brought back on the boat for lunch.  After lunch, a delicious lunch of fresh fish – not tuna but I forget the name of it  – it was so good I asked Pedro the Chef for another piece – we went back to the island and caught a bus to an organic coffee farm.

Marina, the lovely old Ecuardorian lady who owns the farm, showed us around, including showing us the biggest tree on Santa Cruz island.  We saw coffee beans in their red berry raw state, dried coffee beans, and finally roasted coffee beans. We tried the coffee beans and they were yummy to munch on!  Drinking the coffee was nice too – very smooth, but no made the Italian way, so a bit watery.  But still nice.

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The fun Italian couple on board, Sandro and Marianna (Brocco) bought some coffee and exchanged details for Sandro to potentially ship some coffee to his cafe outside of Roma. 

Next the bus took us to a small lagoon near some farm land that had heaps of tortoises grazing around it. When the weather is dry, like the season we are in now, the tortoises have to go up the mountain to the green lush areas for food as there is no food around the coast.   WOW, seeing this big ancient animals in their natural habitat was fantastic!  A couple of them were scared and would ‘pull their heads in’ when we got too close, but heaps of them were quite unafraid of us and kept about their business while we watched on.  It was awesome to see.

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After our adventures with the tortoises, we went to the lava tunnel, a naturally formed tunned about 800 metres long made from, you guessed it, lava.   It was like walking through a huge long cave.  At times we had to crouch down because the opening was not tall enough for us to walk under.  It was very cool.  At the other end we emerged to lush greenness all around us and a lone cafe. 

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Our guide Washington had a beer and chatting to some of his mates there, leaving us to just kind of hang around.  Team England asked each of us if we wanted to go back and spend more time with the tortoises.  Everyone thought that was a good idea, better than hanging around watching Washington drink with his mates.  Washington didn’t like that idea very much, it threw all his plans (whatever they were) into disarray.  Oh well, too bad!  We were paying good money for this trip and consensus was to go back to the tortoises as the first 20 minutes we had there didn’t quite seem long enough.  We are never going to see tortoises in the wild like this again (unless we come back to Galapagos).  There was a bit of hoo-haahing around and Washington was talking loudly into his mobile phone but eventually, we got our own way.  Good on you Team England and especially Alex who demonstrated assertiveness and initiated the change of itinerary.  It was worth it.

Back to Santa Cruz town for half an hour to buys the last souvenirs then back to the boat for dinner followed by dominoes.

Gorgeous Galapagos – Day 2 and 3

Day two:

The 300 decibel sound of the anchor being lifted up and the engines starting at 4.30am woke me up, and I tried my best to get back to sleep, an effort in vain.  Sigh! 

Our wake up call was hilarious!  Washington’s voice, our guide, boomed over the PA: “Wake up and Get up pleeease, Buon Giorno Italiani!  Good morning English people, blah blah blah in Hebrew (for the Israelis), Buenos dias!  Wake up and get up pleeeasee…” he even had background music playing!  This went on for ten minutes!  I was giggling hard – I was up before the wake up call (couldn’t sleep) and out of the room, and what was making me laugh was the thought of Hubs lying in bed listening to Washington say all that – for ages!  Mornings are not Hubs’ favourite part of the day!!  Hee heee!!

Up early to a delicious breakfast of fresh mango, watermelon, freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, ham and cheese, and cereals.  Best of all, there was fresh milk for our tea!  We then went to  La Plaza island.  Firstly we were in the dingy along North Plaza where we saw heaps of sea lions playing in the water and they were following our boat, playing. It was so cool!

We then had a ‘dry landing’ (straight from dingy onto a make-shift pier) to South Plaza.  The landscape of this island is something else. Cactus trees and red coloured ground covering among black lava rocks made a stunning setting.  We saw so many land Iguanas – both males with their yellow necks, and the smaller charcoal coloured females.  The males protect their territory which is usually two or three cactus trees.  The cactus trees hold water, so during the dry season, the females come looking for water, and when they find it at the cactus tree, the males jump on them and mate.  Bloody men luring women in like that!  Magnificent creatures that live to over 100 years old.

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We also saw a bachelor colony of sea lions – this is their oasis, where the men come after they are tired of being the dominate male always protecting their territory.  They hang out at South Plaza for maybe a year, or more, build up their strength again, and go back to become the dominate male, which takes a lot of energy. We saw heaps of cute baby sea loins too – oh my God I wanted to take one home! So sweet and gorgeous.  And they are so playful in the water, it’s great to watch. 

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We spent about two hours at South Plaza – and it was mesmerizing.  As Hubs said, if going to the Galapagos is the only thing we did this trip, it would have been worth it.  This place is special and am humbled for having the opportunity to come here.   It really is a once in a lifetime unforgettable trip.

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Hubs and I  are both on natural highs and we are loving it loving it loving it. It nice to see her always smiling – for no reason except for “LOOK WHERE WE ARE!!!”.   Damn sight better than having her argue in Arabic over someone ripping us off A$5.  Happy happy travellers.

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After a lunch of fresh tuna, potatoes, rice and salad with a poached pear for dessert, we sailed to another spot and went snorkelling.  Some people say I’m a bit crazy, but after jumping in that FREEZING water to go snorkelling, I can now confirm that I am officially mad.  You’d have to be to go snorkelling in water that is about 15 degrees!  We had long wetsuits on too and it was still farking cold!! 

There were white tipped sharks in this snorkelling spot – seeing any kind of shark when in the ocean is not my idea of a good time. The visibility was terrible – the water was so murky…so when you see a shark it is right in front of you!  We also saw huge eagle rays – like the school teacher on ‘Finding Nemo’!  At first, seeing the eagle rays freaked me out – they have huge huge HUGE stinger on their tail. All I kept thinking is:  this is how Steve Irwin died.  In murky water, seeing one of those when it is merely one metre away from you, was a little daunting.

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We all climbed back onto the boat with blue lips, shivering, only a few minutes away from certain hypothermia, and went to the next dive spot. I had to laugh and laugh hard at Hubs climbing back into the dingy – she got her legs in the wrong way around and was having such a hard time getting a leg over – looking a like an unco – hilarious! 

The second dive spot had excellent visibility and we saw thousands of fish – a huge school of them swimming altogether, as well as  angel fish and parrot fish, and eagle rays.  WOW!  It was still ridiculously cold, stupidly cold, suicidally cold, but the fish were amazing!  Back into the dingy and to a third dive spot. I was not that keen to get back in – I mean, the temperature of the water was just stupid.  But Washington our guide said just five minutes in the water, so I jumped in and again, I was amazed by all the beautiful fish and the number of them. The schools of fish were huge!

Back on board Yolita II  and straight into a hot shower – aaaahhhh – my blood began to circulate again.  Later we found out that the Galapagos Islands are experiencing a phenomenon called La Nina, the opposite to El Nino, and are experiencing the coldest weather in 25 years!  OMG!  I mean, I don’t swim in the ocean in Perth until the end of January, when it’s heated up to about 24 degrees!  It’s sooo cold in the water, that first jump in takes your breath away!  The sea temperature is currently between 14 and 16 degrees.  It can be as warm as 30 degrees during El Nino.  Damn! 

I walked past the kitchen to see Pedro and to see what he was whizzing up in the kitchen. After all, eating is important!  He has something white in the blender and I asked him what it was.  He got a spoon and moved it to my mouth, motioning me to taste it.  I tried to slide my finger across the spoon, but he was having none of it.  Again he put the spoon to my mouth and I gingerly tasted it and then screamed “Oh YUCK!! YUCK YUCK YUCK!!!!!!” spitting out the tiny bit of raw hot garlic I had tasted.  So gross!  The guys in the kitchen, Naldo and cheeky Pedro were in fits of laughter!  Cheeky buggers!!

We spent some time teaching our new onboard friends Hilan, Etay (both from Israel) and Tim and Susan (both from Germany) how to play dominoes and played dominoes until the briefing before dinner. 

After a nice dinner, we watched part one of a documentary about the Galapagos Islands – it was very interesting.  The Galapagos Islands basically sit on the equator and experience only wet and dry season.  We are in dry season now – and a good time to be here to see mating, nesting, and baby birds and baby seals.   But not good for sea temperatures!  The islands are also on a volcanic hot spot – which is how the islands were created, and continue to be created.  Each year, the island move about 30 feet, which is phenomenal!  Some islands “die” and others are created as the volcano explodes and the molten lava creates a new island.  For example, the island of Espagnol is a dying island.  This is the island where 30,000 albatrosses come to nest, so I hate to think what may happen to them when that island finally sinks. 

English Naturalist Charles Darwin created his theory on evolution, a theory that changed history and the way we think about how humans came to be, after visiting the Galapagos Islands in 1534 AD.  Pretty amazing.

Day three:

Today the wake up call was even earlier at 6.00am.  I slept really well for the first few hours, then the sound of the anchor going down woke me and I tossed and turned for hours after that.  So I was up before the wake up call, and miraculously, so was Hubs.

Another good breakfast, then off to Espagnol island for a ‘dry’ landing.  We saw heaps of sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and the amazing albatross and baby albatross.  Some people were saying that baby albatrosses are ugly – but I disagree!  They are balls of brown scruffy fluff and I think they look cute in an emu kind of way.  I like them!

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The weather was not so kind – cloudy and windy.  But that didn’t matter too much, it just made the cliff lined coast look more dramatic.  We saw a huge blow hole which was just near the ‘albatross airport’, the cliff where the albatrosses fly off from.  They are big heavy birds and with the wind currents, they can’t take off from the ground, but rather need to run off a cliff to start flying.

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We stood and watched the waves crash against the cliff and the blow hole where the water would shoot directly up in a fierce spray about 25 metres, making a loud ‘whooshing’ noise.  It was cool.

Hubs screamed out, “oh no!! I’ve been excremented!!” – she had stepped on some sea loin poop and was wearing open toe shoes….groooooosssssss.  She was so grossed out!  It dried before she got a chance to get near the water to wash it off her toes!  Poor Hubs!  Ha hahahaha!

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We then watched part two of the interesting Galapagos documentary on the boat, then had a siesta.  Hubs and I siesta’d for too long and missed the group going out snorkelling!  We woke up just as the dingys were leaving.  We got our wetsuits on in record time and one dingy came back for us and took us to meet the group.

WHY are we jumping in this crazy cold water again??  Good question!  Because we wanted to see more eagle rays, see baby seals swimming with us and play with us, see star fish, and massive schools of fish. Yeah, it was pretty amazing.   Because it’s so cold, we don’t stay in the water very long, thankfully!  Back in the dingy and off to snorkelling spot number two where we saw more of the same.  Then onto the third snorkelling spot where we saw sharks!!  Three white tipped reef sharks!!  AAARRRGGGHHHH. i don’t care what kind of sharks they are, I didn’t want to see any in the water when I’m in it!  As soon as i saw the sharks, I turned around and started swimming the other way.  I’d seen them, now I was getting out of there. 

We snorkelled around a little rock island and over the other side of the island from where we started the swim was a warm current.  Yeeeeeesssss!  It was so nice to feel water that was not ice-cold for once!  It didn’t last long unfortunately and the current was gone…

In the afternoon we went to a beautiful beach called Garden Beach.  The weather was grey and the we only saw the sun for short bursts, so it wasn’t sun baking weather.  Hubs and I didn’t fancy getting wet and cold again snorkelling – so we just enjoyed the beach with the others from the boat and some resident sea lions.  It was nice. The sand was white and fine and oh-so-soft.  Beautiful.

Back on the boat for some dominoes, where I kicked butt again :) and our briefing and dinner.

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Gorgeous Galapagos Islands – Day 1

Up early and we both got indigestion we scoffed breakfast down so fast.  The Royal Radisson provided such a lovely breakfast spread it was a terrible shame we only had 15 minutes in which to eat before our Galapagos tour agent was picking us up.   No freshly cooked omelettes for us this morning :(

Flying over the Galapagos Islands was breath-taking and it made both Hubs and I totally excited for what we had in store over the next eight days.  White sandy beaches, crystal clear aquamarine coloured water – from the air it looked spectacular.

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From our boat, Yolita II, the view was more than impressive.  As we were embarking onto Yolita II, we saw about five sea lions, bright red crabs, and loads of birds.  COOOLLL!!  Yolita II is a lovely boat. Our twin room is pretty big for a boat and there are only 16 paying passengers.  The bathroom is a normal size, we have air conditioning, and storage space.  Since we are on the boat for eight days, we both decided to unpack our back packs.  Yay!  Something little like that can make me so happy!

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We seem to have a good bunch of people on the boat.  There are two young 20-something couples backpacking.  Susan and Tim are from Hamburg in Germany, and a couple from Israel, Etay and Hilan.  All four of them speak perfect English and have already spent a considerable amount of time in South America – I reckon we can get heaps of good tips from them!  There are also five Italians onboard, a family of five from the UK, and one lone Ecuardorian girl who does not speak English or Italian, only Spanish.  She looks nice and I feel sorry for her because no one except the crew can communicate with her.   The crew all seem pretty cool too. 

Our first island visit on day one was Santa Cruz Island, Bachus Beach.  We had a ‘wet landing’ (have to get your feet wet when getting out of the dingy), and immediately we saw blue-footed boobies (bird), and an iguana.  We went for a short walk to a lagoon and saw three beautiful flamingos. There were hundreds of frigates flying around, we saw brown necked pelicans, tiny yellow finches, and some other tiny finches.

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I should point out that the beach we were on, Bachus Beach, was post card material – simply stunning.  The air and the water are both so clean, white soft sand, it felt so pure and I felt privileged to be there.   The guides are very strict about where we can walk – which is a good thing as they are making huge efforts to  protect this magical place.  Not like the Red Sea in Egypt where most of the coral is grey and dead.

Hubs went in for swim, crazy girl – the water was cold, but she assured me it ‘was beautiful once you are in’.  Whatever. I didn’t fancy getting wet so I just lay on the beach, enjoying the sun and the beautiful pristine surrounds. 

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We had a couple of spare hours back on the boat – again I found a sunny spot and spent some time reading and relaxing, as did everyone.

We had a quick game of dominoes before dinner between Hubs and I, and by the time the dinner bell was called, I was in the lead.  The game no doubt will be continued.

Dinner was pretty nice – palm heart and avocado salad followed by chicken, potatoes, salad and rice, and for desert we had a delicious cooked banana in cinnamon – yuuum!  Lunch I might add was pretty good too.  I think we are going to eat well this cruise!  After dinner, Washington our guide, gave us a presentation of what we would be seeing and the islands we would be visiting in the next week.  We are in for a treat and I am just so EXCITED!!  I am also excited that Mum and Dad will be coming to the Galapagos Islands in a few months – they are going to love it.

Early night to bed, our wake up call the next day is at 6.45am.  When Hubs discovered this, she shouted, “hey, someone tell the captain we’re on holidays!!”  ha hahah!  She is not a morning person, not at all!

Holaaaa South Americaaaaaa! Vamos!

Sometimes I feel as if I’m too old for this travel lark.  Travelling for 18 hours straight was how we got from Barcelona to Quito, between flights, delays, time at Madrid airport – God I’m so sick of that airport.   Our flight to Quito was delayed by 1 hour and 20 mins.  So Hubs and I decided to get a bite to eat while we waited.  We didn’t realise that they decided to change the delay to one hour only, bringing the departure time forward.  That never happens!! Little did we know.  We sauntered up to the departure gate, a little perplexed as to why there was no one there, just to be told by the snotty nosed stewardess that we were the last passengers and that she had to radio to the pilot to check that we could still be let on the plane.

WHAT?!!  We were shocked~!  How could this be the case?  I explained to snot-nose that because the flight was delayed, we went and grabbed some lunch, that’s all. Anyway, after a very nervous wait, the pilot radioed back and gave permission to let us on the flight.  PHEW!  That was a close call!  We got on the plane to the sounds of ‘tuts tuts’ from some holier-than-thou business class passengers.  As it turned out, stupid Madrid airport only had one runway operating, so we were stuck on the tarmac and our take off delayed by about an hour!!

I had the worst seat.  Number 2 in a row of four, with an active noisy 3-year old behind me, who thought it was fun to kick the chair in front of her.  GRRRR.   I had to ask her Spanish parents twice to please stop.  A couple of times I was almost asleep, then ‘bang!’ from behind.  I could have locked that kid in the toilet for the duration of the flight and not felt guilty about it I was so mad!

It was endurance travel to say the least. The flight from Madrid to Quito took 12 hours.  12 HOURS!! In the worst seat on the plane.  Thankfully I had a little Ecuardorian man next to me who did not encroach on my space at all.  At least that was one good thing.  Arriving at the airport was funny – there were huge crowds at Quito airport – whole families there to welcome home loved ones. It was really nice!  Everyone we came across – the taxi booking girl, the taxi driver, and hotel staff all seemed really nice and friendly. 

My first impression of Quito, from the seat of a cab, is that it’s a nice clean city.  The buildings looked in good shape, houses looked very liveable by our standards, and the roads were in good condition.  Quito was in better shape and any Egyptian city we went too! 

We had booked ourselves into the Royal Radisson Hotel in Quito for one night.  Thank the Lord we had a nice hotel with fabulous beds and soft linen.  Aaaaahhh.  We checked into our hotel about 7pm, and I was showered, in bed and snoozing by 8pm. We were both spent.  Our tour agent was picking us up at 6.45am the next day to take us to the airport to catch a flight to the Galapagos Islands and getting some sleep was the most important thing.

I love posh hotels and the Royal Radisson delivered just what I needed.