““All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
Day 102 & 103 – Travel Day (Baños to Quito) & Quito, Ecuador
Reeling from a second sleepless night, (our hostel room was next to a screaming baby!), we got up a bit late and wandered around a bit before leaving for Quito, 3 hours away. Our last major adventure in Baños was to try the Cuy (Guinea Pig) that we have seen roasting in the center of town. While I don’t mind trying new things, I was still weirded out by seeing the rat-like bodies with massive teeth. But, we decided it was necessary and sat down to a plate of the rodent. It actually was alright, not much meat on the bones and the consensus is it tastes like pork. Jon is a bigger fan than me, I’m stuck with the mental images!
After lunch we left and had a pretty standard bus ride into Quito. Our hostel, the Secret Garden had an amazing view of the city from the roof and so we could plan our route for tomorrow. The only odd thing, the hostel bar didnt serve any alcohol because it was a Sunday! Apparently that’s the law all over Ecuador, but they only stick to it in Quito because the police enforce it. Phooey.
The next morning we went into Quito’s Old Town (Centro Historico). We were told to get there early as it seems Quito only has sunshine from 10am-12pm and then you get heavy rain showers. I did capture some amazing cloud shots as we wandered, and we kept looking at the threatening dark overhead.
But the Old Town is lovely, with completely restored old buildings and just a really relaxed feel. We walked through the Centro Cultural Metropolitano to see a photo exhibit of 2011 around the world (some shocking pics!) and to the Cathedral and the Palacio Del Gubierno, where there was a small protest. Thankfully, this is not La Paz, and it was quiet and peaceful!
From the Old Town, we walked to the ‘New Town’ or El Mariscal. It’s not a great place for sightseeing, but it’s the shopping and tour agency center in Quito, and has the best bars and restaurants. As we had time, I decided to *finally* get a haircut, and Jon went to to see a huge park nearby. Poor thing, as I sat in the hairdressers, there was a massive storm, with lightning and thunder and he got drenched!! So, one of us salon fresh, and the other sporting the wet rat look, we went to dinner and got some drinks to stop the chill, and headed back to the hostel to relax!
Day 100 & 101 – Travel Day (Guyaquil to Baños) & Baños, Ecuador
We left Guyaquil and it’s ridiculous humidity aiming for the really chilled town of Baños, about seven hours away. It was a pretty uneventful trip until we got to Ambato, where our so-called ‘direct’ bus decided it wasn’t and we & our stuff had to jump from a moving bus. After some serious Spanish arguing, we finally got the steward to take us to our ‘connecting’ bus with another company. He assured us we didnt have to pay as we’d bought the ticket to Baños, but twenty minutes down the road, we had another arguement in Spanish! We made it in the end but whew!
We got there too late to do much exploring but as we walked we came across something roasting on a barbeque. Getting closer, I nearly had a heart attack as it looked like rats with big teeth!! We asked the woman working there and she said it was Guinea Pig or Cuye in Spanish. Seriously, they look disgusting! Before seeing them in that state, I was considering trying one, but now I’m not sure. I just keep picturing rats.. Eww!!
The next day we wandered through the town, which is a holiday destination for Ecuadorians, due to it’s thermal baths and lovely location. It’s a really charming little valley, surrounded by mountains. We’d had enough hot springs but decided to take the Chiva bus to see the seven local waterfalls. Imagine our excitement when we found out it was a Party Bus!! Brightly painted, with flashing lights and pumping speakers. Woot Woot!
Our first stop was to see the ‘Face of Jesus’, which is a natural rock carving in a cliff face. Pretty cool, even though I’m not sure of the Jesus part… Oh and our driver was obviously insane as we were flying down the road, with no doors! We even drove through a small waterfall which drenched the bus. Mental.
The highlights of our trip were two of the waterfalls – Manto de La Novia and Pailon del Diablo. We took the world’s weirdest cable car (powered by a guy sitting behind a truck chassis, and moving us with the gas and brake pedal!) to La Novia, and were able to climb close enough to get into the spray! The waterfall had once been just one, but erosion and the force of the water split into two a few years ago.
Pailon del Diablo was fantastic. It was a tremendously strong waterfall with a beautiful lagoon above the walls and a raging river below. There was a trail that let you get right behind it as it thundered over the edge! Now, the trek *to* the fall was interesting enough – crossing a very shaky bridge, then traversing jungle with only a rope to guide you down muddy banks and slippery rocks. We were laughing at the lack of Health and Safety, but then we saw the way we had to go *up*!! For some reason we couldnt go back the way we came and the only way out was to climb scaffolding up over 100 feet/30m!!! Triangular scaffolding and you go straight up the middle! Luckily, Jon and I are in decent shape, and though I hate heights (bar for circus), I could manage without looking down. But there are definitely some people that couldn’t handle that! That’s when we stopped laughing about the lack of Health & Safety and started thinking they were all just crazy!
The other great part about the party bus was we were the only foreign tourists on there and we got ‘adopted’ by two Ecuadorian girls, Marcia and Alexandra. They were really cool, and I got to practice my Spanish with them all day and translate for Jon. Really nice to meet Ecuadorians (they are from Ambato), and chat about life here.
We enjoyed Baños but time is ticking so tomorrow it’s Quito time!
Day 99– Aboard the Darwin, Seymour Island, Galapagos Day 7 & Guyaquil, Ecuador
Today was our last day in the Galapagos, and we were woken at 5:45 for one final expedition before the boat took us directly to the airport on Baltra Island (nice service, eh?). We were on board the dingy by 6:30 and it was time to finally see the birds of the Galapagos.
Now, normally, we are not really ‘bird people’, but we’d heard so much about these Blue Footed Boobys (seriously, every shop has hats and t-shirts with ‘I Love Boobys’ on them….) and Frigate Birds with massive red inflatable sacks on them that I did really want to see them. Well, Seymour Island is definitely the place for it! Even as we landed on the beach there were dozens of birds wheeling through the air. It was really cool to see with the sunrise and the massive clouds above them.
When we got to the beach, and started into the trees, they were just everywhere! Most of them were perched on branches, just relaxing in the sun, and starting their mating rituals. Some were flying and landing next to potential mates, and loads of frigate birds were puffing themselves up. To explain, males are all black with a scarlet throat pouch which is inflated like a balloon in the breeding season. Sounds wierd, and looks wierd! The ballon can be huge, like over a foot long when inflated!
We found a load of boobys near the water, and it’s true, they do actually have bright blue feet! Apparently, the females mate with the males that have the darkest blue feet, and as soon as they do, their feet go back to light blue. That way the females can see who hasn’t been with another woman recently. LOL, would be interesting if that worked with more species! We didn’t get to see them do their famous booby mating dance but we did see them doing some sort of dance where they lift one foot and hold it, then tip to the other side and lift that foot. Funny.
And for me the highlight was coming across a baby sea lion pup alone on the rocks. We got so close to him, and he was so cute, looking at us curiously and twisting round to show his neck like the adults do. With their huge eyes they show so much expression – almost like little dogs. Can I take him home??
And finally it was time to head to the airport and back to Guyaquil. It was tough to leave the Galapagos. While it wasnt what I had expected, the wildlife was simply amazing, and I’d definitely recommend going to anyone.
Back in Guyaquil, we managed to find ourselves a replacement camera (although I dont think we’ll be testing it’s waterproofness anytime soon), and check out a bit of the downtown and the Malicon 2000, their boardwalk. Guyaquil is just a massive city, and to me didnt have a whole lot going for it as a tourist attraction. I’d head there only as a passing through point to Montanitos or the Galapagos..
Day 98– Aboard the Darwin, Bartolome Island/Santiago, Galapagos Day 6
An early morning, but today our first stop is the volcanic island of Bartoleme. It’s not typical, either as there is no main cone like you would picture. Instead the magma came up and was channeled to a number of weak spots (they called them parasite cones) and so you can see lava flows in lots of different places on the island. It’s really stark compared to the other places we’ve been. There is barely any vegetation, just a bit of scrub and a cactus or two. It’s one of the few places without much wildlife as well. Except for the a blue footed booby (more on that tomorrow) and a pelican when we landed, we only a few small lava lizards on the island.
The one thing it does have though, is a great viewpoint. Walking up 365 steps in the 35/90+ degree heat and 100% humidity wasn’t much fun, but it was worth it. You can actually see 10 islands from the top!
After that, it was back to the boat for a snorkel. This was probably our best snorkel experience after Kicker Rock because we we saw so much. We got amazingly lucky again, and we were able to see three sea lions in the water. They tend to stay by the rocks, so as you go by they sometimes slip in the water and they next thing you know they are about 4 feet away. One even came near me and looked me straight in the eye before doing a flip and swimming off. It was just so cool. The other great thing was we saw Galapagos Penguins! Now Jon is totally over penguins from our Antarctica trip, but I’m still excited to see them, and these were so small and cute! One even jumped in the water to come take a better look at us. I could see him bobbing on the water, and his little legs moving underneath. I will say while it’s great to see the animals in the wild, being able to be in the water with them just takes it to another level, because it’s their territory, not ours. It just seems really special.
And then it was back to Santiago and Sullivan Bay. While we had seen lava flows earlier, that was nothing compared to this. Apparently there was a major eruption here in 1896, but it looks like it could have been this year. It’s an amazing landscape, just totally barren black lava, which looks like hardened liquid (go figure). And again, no wildlife. It was cool to wander all over the lava – it seemed like being someplace like the moon, just bare as far as you can see. Oh and hot!!! I tried putting my foot on it and could only keep it for a moment, but I’m pretty sure that’s down to the sun and not any residual magma.
In one spot there was a hole made by a gas bubble and they let us climb in it so here is our comedy photo!
And to finish off the day, when we got back to the boat, there were huge Galapagos sharks swimming around the boat. Ray and Baldor even managed to get in the water with them before they swam off. They were at least 2 meters long! I managed to get one shot that turned out. Hmm, I say I was disappointed to not have swam with them, but really? I’m not so sure!
Thanks so much to Laura and Ray for the underwater and lava pictures!