Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
Bus to Lima (Royal Class ;-) ) 11th-12th April 2004 Lima. Empty due to Easter festivities elsewhere in the country. Probably the best time to visit! Next: Goodbye Peru! Hello Ecuador! ... flight to Guayaquil. 13th-21st April Now it was time to follow in Charles Darwin´s footsteps, so we escaped Guayaquil for the peace and tranquility of the Galapagos Islands, just one and a half hours away by plane (OK, so Darwin took a boat!). Then we decided that maybe Darwin had it right, so found ourselves a smart boat ("Floreana", not "Beagle" since "Beagle" is now a very small research vessel about 20 feet long!) for 6 days & nights. Our route took us past red, white, black, and green sand beaches (though there wasn´t much green sand) and all kinds of creatures with sub-species unique to each island (not just finches). For those interested, our route was via the following islands: Rabida, Santiago, Bartolome, Baltra, North Seymour, Santa Fe, Espanola, Floreana, Santa Cruz. All the islands are of volcanic origin (the western islands are the youngest with still-active volcanoes). The vegetation is generally sparce with an abundance of cacti, some of which even grow into trees! So, what did we see? Birds with blue feet (blue-footed boobies - also known as the bird that can´t whistle - but certainly tries!); big lizards that dive into the water for food (marine iguanas); overgrown tortoises (galapagos (giant) tortoises), and penguins... at the equator?!!! ...and some more ordinary creatures: land iguanas, lava lizards, sealions, fur seals, bright red crabs, pelicans, albatrosses, and some magnificent frigate birds treating us as a taxi and soaring off the lift produced by our boat. Most of the animals had little fear of man, so came extremely close. We snorkelled and dived, and saw no end of sharks (white-tip, galapagos, hammerhead (one!)), rays (eagle, sting, golden cow-nosed, manta-type), turtles (green/black), seahorses, batfish, loads of other fish, sealions and last, but not least, chocolate-chip starfish! The sealions were great fun, playful and came incredibly close - sometimes a little unnerving underwater! 22nd-28th April Went to Isabela island (2 hours by twin-engined speedboat) for the world´s most tedious walk to see the 2nd biggest volcanic crater in the world - take a horse if you get the choice. Amidst this hectic schedule we still found time for a few hours relaxing on some beautiful beaches. Finally, we caught a flight back to Guayaquil to see what mainland Ecuador was all about, and jumped on a bus to Cuenca.
29th-30th April Explored Cuenca and decided to leave as soon as possible due to too much and too noisy traffic (compared to Galapagos!). Being centre of panama hat production, we inspected a couple of hat-making places with expensive panama hats, before hot-footing it to Sigsig where, rumour had it, the hats would be just as good and cheaper. Nice little place in the mountains, with almost all the indigenous women in the village/town making hats whilst walking along the street! Found the local run-down factory selling lower quality hats for more money so returned to Cuenca, "cap in hand". Bought lots (4) of fine panama hats! 1st-3rd May Went to Banos for volcano-viewing (Tungurahua volcano) and took mountain bikes to see some nice waterfalls. Good road (mostly downhill), not too much dust. Couldn´t see why people raved about Banos itself, but surroundings were nice. 4th-7th May Headed to Quito (foiling locals attempts to relieve us of the contents of our bags on the bus), where there was an interesting and well-presented archeological museum. Had numerous discussions (thanks to Susana´s Spanish!) with taxi drivers over the cost of a trip, but later discovered the locals get the same treatment! Given the fame of nearby Otavalo´s market, we went to have a look (once the bus had stopped going round in circles in a vain attempt to pick up more passengers). And bought stuff. Foiled more locals´ attempts to rob the contents of our bags on buses. Had a look at a nearby crater lake from an extinct volcano (see pic) Cuicocha. 8th-11th May Escaped the clutches of Ecuadorian mainland with all our possessions, except a couple of films probably when being hand-checked at the airport.