3 – 12 October
We spent our last day at the hotel packing and organizing our hotel in Ecuador. Anna rang to let us know that they had successfully loaded their VW camper and invited us to join them downtown for a drink. We apologized but we still had lot to do and needed to be up and about early the following morning, so we had to refuse. We will get to meet these people sometime I am sure!!
The day came when we were finally leaving Panama, sadly without our Toyota but she’ll catch up with us soon. At the Airport we bumped into John and Lesley and we had a final coffee together before we went our separate ways. Who knows when our paths may cross again, but I feel sure that they will.
Copa airlines flight was on time and when we arrived we went down to pick up our luggage. This was the first difference, once we collected your bags from the belt, we had to present them to a security guard who was checking the tags against the baggage tickets! Never happened to us before. JC said it was to ensure that no one walked off with someone else’s luggage. It seems that that may have been true, as John and Lesley have since told us that their baggage had been rifled through on its way to Columbia!
Ecuador looks different, feels different and certainly costs less – our cab from the airport was only $5 and that included an English speaking taxi driver who pointed out all of the sights of Guayaquil on our route. We headed for the Continental Hotel – recommended to us by our good mates Rosie and Carlton, who had stayed there earlier on this year. Good choice Rosie – I’m looking forward to my free cocktails and some different food tonight!
The food was excellent and the cocktails went down very well, all served up by very polite young men wearing bow ties in a comfortable restaurant - lots of veggies for me and seafood for JC. Total cost for the meal and drinks was just eighteen pounds!!
Guayaquil has a reputation for not being too safe, but the downtown area of our hotel was fine. After breakfast we joined the local families on their Sunday promenade along the Malecon. This is a long long stretch along the bank of the river with gardens, boardwalk, monuments, cafes, restaurants and a yacht club. It is fenced off from the road, no traffic and lots of tourist police wandering about keeping an eye on things! The weather is definitely cooler here and not humid. It was great to see so many young families all enjoying a day out together. The gardens were beautiful, lots of exotic plants, colourful succulents and cacti. Sorry gardeners don’t know their names! We spent a very pleasant couple of hours watching the fish and the people.
Later we walked back to the hotel and joined yet more people at the Park Seminario. Overlooked by a beautiful Cathedral, this park is better known as Iguana Park and the place is full of them, in the trees, in the grounds and sharing space around the small lake with turtles. Apparently many many years ago the park was on the outer edge of the city and to the west was just savannah, the Iguana habitat and they didn’t leave when the city started to expand! They are definitely entertaining, although there was extreme danger of being bombed by some rather nasty smelly stuff if you stood under the trees!
As ever, JC had to try out some local dish and this time it was cow’s hoof soup! A local delicacy – although I did ask him not to tell me what was in it as I ate my cheese sandwich! The waiter was well impressed that he was having a go, especially when he stirred some of the very HOT “aji” or salsa into it!!
The next morning was taken up with a visit to our shipping agents MSL de Ecuador. Fun started when we got to the street and the taxi driver couldn’t find the office. Not surprised – they have a strange numbering system here and it was actually in a residential location. However, our man was determined not to be beaten and kept cruising around, asking people until eventually we spotted the flag on the roof of the villa!
Rosanna and Xavier went through the paperwork requirements and the routine with us – very very slowly as they did not speak a lot of English and you all know about my Spanish – it was a great learning curve. I had a headache when I came out. Hopefully the vessel should arrive Friday, Xavier will submit the paperwork Monday morning and then will pick us both up to go to the port on Monday afternoon and if we are lucky we could have the Toyota back by latest Wednesday “O’jalla” as the Spanish say. On advice given to us in Panama we had all of the correct paperwork and Xavier was impressed when he saw our Carnet de Passage – this will be the first time we have used this document on this trip! What no one had warned us about though was a fairly large refundable guarantee that we had to pay up front to Maersk shipping. Fortunately JC was armed with plenty of “folding” in his money belt so we did not have to make a return journey. Feeling fairly confident that we had all understood each other (fingers crossed) we took a hair raising taxi drive back to the hotel – not our original driver. This one was determined to drive at speed into any space he could find, piping his horn and waving his arms as he went along. The pointer on the petrol gauge was swinging backwards and forwards frantically from FULL to EMPTY – now you have some, now you don’t! We were very pleased to arrive back at the hotel in one piece.
Well, once again we had a week to kill before the importation process started so, with the assistance of Walter from our hotel, we have managed to book a trip to the Galapagos and leave on Wednesday, returning to Guayaquil on Saturday using a small travel company called Spring Travel. Pablo and Victoria have been very helpful, even coming to the hotel to take us to their offices to make the reservations. When we tried to pay with Credit Card, Pablo advised us not to as in Ecuador there is an additional 10% added as bank charges, for the pleasure of doing so. Not having enough cash with us we arranged that Pablo come to the hotel the following morning and collect the large cash sum from us. So after surreptitiously handing over a brown envelope in the foyer, we spent another day wandering around Guayaquil, where we were treated to a fine display by the military and the coastguard who appeared to be doing some sort of joint exercise down by the river, we are packing our bags again and getting on our second flight in less than a week. It is a pity that there are so many unsafe places in the city. We have found it very restricting and are looking forward to being able to move around more freely when we leave it. The Galapagos Islands, like Grand Canyon, are definitely on my “bucket list” so I am really looking forward to the trip and, hopefully, when we get back we will finally get to meet Chad and Anna who have just arrived in Guayaquil waiting for their VW camper to catch up with them.
We didn't like to get to close to the military maneouvres!!!!
Great surprise, as we came back from our evening stroll at Iguana Park, we met Anna and Chad. It was fantastic to finally meet them – a young and enthusiastic couple who are travelling the world. Like us they are frustrated at not having their vehicle and “things” around them – it does become your home despite being on four wheels! Also like us they are frustrated at how difficult it is to find out what paperwork is actually required in each country. Unlike us, they do not have a Carnet de Passage and so seem to be facing the payment of a large bond here in Ecuador before they can import their vehicle. The bond should, of course, be refunded when they leave but no one has yet been able to tell them how this process will work. It will be interesting to learn how they got on when we get back.
Leaving a couple of bags with Walter at the Hotel, we set off to meet Victoria at the airport. She led us through the various checks that have to be made on your luggage, not only for security but also to protect the environment of the Galapagos National Park. After a 1.5 hour flight we landed on the island of Baltra. The runway is so short, it feels like you are going to land on water before the planes pulls up sharply at the very end of it and does a U turn heading back to the terminal! I bet it concentrates the pilot’s mind a bit. Our guide Claudia, originally from Munich, was there to meet us and after a short bus ride we took a ferry to Santa Cruz island before another bus trip to Puerto Ayora, our final destination.
After checking into the Red Booby Hotel, Claudia whisked us off for a late lunch and a tour of the Charles Darwin centre, where she told us all about their work there propagating the various species of tortoises. Eggs, like billiard balls, are collected and incubated until they hatch. We saw young ones in their pens. They stay at the centre for 4 – 5 years before being released back into the wild. We saw examples of all of the different species of tortoises which vary dependent upon which island they are indigenous to and what kind of vegetation they eat. Tortoises live for 140 – 150 years. Sadly we didn’t see “Lonesome George” you may have read about him recently – he is very old and the only one left of a particular breed. At the centre they have been searching for a mate for him for years and even offered a large reward around the world. Females came and went but without success, until a few months ago the park rangers found a nest of eggs in his coral. The eggs are now in incubation – this takes around 4 months I think and if it is successful they should hatch around Christmas time. Believe me there will be celebrations in the Galapagos and around the world if it works!!! We guessed he must have been having a rest after all of his hard work.
Sadly today JC not feeling too good – wonders if it is something he ate although we are very careful. He was up and down all night and just wanted to be back home in Brandesburton with a bowl of tomato soup and his own bed! The first time he has been home sick but he did say he would have paid anything to be transported there that day. So I left him there with plenty of water and went off with Claudia to visit the beautiful Tortuga Bay – everyone here says it is the best bay in the world and I think you would have to go a long way to better it. After a 45 minute walk through the National Park we came out onto the fabulous stretch of white coral sand which seemed to stretch for miles around the turquoise ocean. Not hotels, no bars just the beautiful environment and the wonderful abundant wildlife. Today we saw hundreds of marine Iguanas – they are black because they live on the lava rock. Surprisingly they don’t have webbed feet but apparently they use their tails to swim. In between swimming and eating they huddle together in big groups in the sunshine, with the old ones mostly sleeping and the young playing and climbing all over each other. They appear to have white heads but Claudia explained to me that this is salt which, once extracted from their food, they spit out. If they are facing into the wind, the salt blows onto their heads and dries there. As well as the “iggies” we saw big red crabs – amazing colour against the black lava, herons, wimbrells, sandpipers, warblers, Darwin finches and, my favourite, the blue foot booby. His feet match my blue shoes! We were also lucky enough to watch a marine tortoise swimming before having a swim ourselves in this fabulous place, where the wildlife is more at home than the humans and not frightened by us at all.
After checking on JC, who was still sleeping, we had lunch and had a chat with Sarah Darling, an English woman – no relation to Alastair she is pleased to say – who is an artist and has a fabulous gallery here. With its colourful exterior, glass mosaics and round windows, it certainly stands out amongst the other shops along the front. Apparently the BBC were here recently interviewing Europeans who lived on the islands, Sarah and Claudia included - so CMC you will have to watch out for the programme which should be shown sometime in November. Then we were off again, this time upto the highlands to see dome tortoises which are indigenous to Santa Cruz island. In the wild it was amazing to see them, grazing, sleeping and cooling off in the mud. There were lots of them – mostly males as the females go to the lowlands to lay their eggs. From here we went to see some underground lava tubes, formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when the hot lava flowed underground, forming what look like man made tunnels and the double crater which we had passed on the way in on the bus. There are still live volcanoes on Galapagos islands, athough not on Santa Cruz. I had a fantastic day today, only sorry that JC had missed it. Let’s hope he is feeling better tomorrow. It was a pleasure to be there with Claudia who, although not a naturalist, is very knowledgeable about the animals, the birds, the vegetation and the island history. Her love of everything here is almost tangible! Tomorrow, we are booked on a boat trip and Claudia will not be with us so we said our goodbyes and confirmed all of the arrangements for our new guide the following day.
Although feeling better JC still not feeling up to a boat trip, particularly as it would not have a loo but at least he had some breakfast! Our new guide was supposed to arrive at 0840 to take us to the boat which was scheduled to leave at 0900. By 0900 she had not arrived – then in the distance we spotted a small Ecuadorian woman hurrying towards us. Clearly agitated and not speaking any English we gathered that she had been to the wrong hotel. Obviously when we said goodbye to Claudia we said goodbye to German efficiency! Leaving JC behind we scurried down to the port where I was bundled onto, what I thought, was the only boat left to take me. I say this as we were 20 minutes late and that Claudia had told me there would be an English speaking guide on board when in fact all other passengers were Ecuadorian and the guide only spoke Spanish! Hey ho – it was good practice for me. Just as well JC didn’t come it was a very small boat and their was a large swell on the ocean which left us bobbing up and down like a cork – not a good thing when you have a dodgy tummy!
Today I saw sea lions, more sea iguanas, pelicans, manta ray, sharks and frigate birds. The late start meant that I got back later than expected and poor old JC had spent all morning just sitting at the port, but he had enjoyed watching the antics of the crabs, iggies and sea lions around the area and watching the small cargo boats coming in and out of the harbor. Everything here is handball – even a load of re-bar. Can’t imagine Hull dockers liking this much. When the fishing boats come in the small harbour is covered in pelicans and the odd sea lion clamouring for the scraps. On our way back to the hotel for a shower before dinner we spotted our first Christmas tree in a shop window – now we know we have been away for a long time.
Good news today – the Toyota has arrived so we had a few drinks to celebrate. Claudia spotted JC in the bar and joined us and with live music playing along the sea front and great food at The Rock, we enjoyed our last night in the Galapagos. Although we will be sorry to leave – well I will at least – JCs memories will not be so good, we are happy to be going back, getting the vehicle and getting on the road again.
After the mix up with the boat trip our Ecuadorian lady got it right today, well almost – this time she was half an hour early! We were at the airport by 10am when our flight didn’t leave until 1245. With time to kill we sat at the small café watching the planes come and go into what has to be an airport with one of the best view in the world. Galapagos is certainly a very, very unique place – we even had an “iggie” come to wave us off. I hope that the commitment of the Government and their people continue to protect and respect these wonderful islands. Arrived back in Guayaquil at 3pm and returned to the Hotel Continental where we will wait with baited breath for Monday and the arrival of our “home”.
Thanks for your message JD – good to know someone still reading!!!! Hope you all like the extras pictures this week.