Category: Ecuador

Galapagos Cruise: Day 1&2 – Santa Cruz and Genovesa Island

By , December 1, 2010 3:06 am
Baby Frigatebird

Baby Frigatebird

Many of the islands in the Galapagos can only be explored by taking a cruise. We decided to go with Yate Floreana, an economic cruise line that goes to Genovesa Island in addition to the western and central islands. We met our group at the Baltra airport and from there, we boarded our home for the next 8 days. The boat was small and the cabins were tiny, but we knew that at the time of booking. There was a total of 16 passengers onboard and a large group of them were biology students. They were studying abroad and part of their curriculum is to go to the Galapagos; how cool is that.

MuiMui-Tortuga

MuiMui-Tortuga

Day 1 – The first day was essentially a half-day. After having lunch on the ship, we explored the Santa Cruz Highlands. Here we found large tortoises grazing on the grasslands. I was impressed how fast they could move. Next we found ourselves walking inside a lava tube that was large enough for us to traverse a good part of it. It started to get dark fast so we made a quick visit to the nearby Twin Craters and called it a day.

Tortoises In Santa Cruz Highlands

Tortoises In Santa Cruz Highlands

Inside A Lava Tube

Inside A Lava Tube

Day 2 – We took a seasickness patch for the first night and it helped with the overnight bumpy ride to Genovesa Island. In the morning after having breakfast, we did a wet landing onto the beach in Darwin Bay.  We were surrounded by bare trees and exotic birds. It was very important for us to stay on the walking path, as there were bird nests scattered all over the grounds, in the trees, and perched on the rocks. Boris and I chose this island specifically because we wanted to see lots of birds, but we couldn’t believe how many species there were in this one area and how close we were to them. My favorites birds on this island included the super fuzzy babies and the red-footed boobies.

Baby Nazca Booby

Baby Nazca Booby

Baby Booby Learning To Fly

Baby Booby Learning To Fly

Time For Feeding

Time For Feeding

Red-Footed Booby

Red-Footed Booby

Just when I put my camera down, one pelican was feeding another and it was such a bizarre scene. It looked as if the pelican was going to swallow the other.

Pelican Feeding Another

Pelican Feeding Another

Before we knew it, it was time to get off the island and go snorkeling. I was feeling a little sick so I opted out and of course I missed out on an incredible school of rays. Luckily Boris and the other shipmates captured the moment for me.

Thanks Kelly For The Photo Of Rays!

Thanks Kelly For The Photo Of Rays!

After lunch, we headed to El Barranco (a.k.a. Prince Phillip’s Steps), which is another part of Genovesa Island. Again, there were massive amounts of birds hanging out in their natural environment. The Nazca boobies (or Masked boobies) were making so much noise with the females quacking and the males whistling at each other. When the day couldn’t be any better, our guide was relentless about looking for a Galapagos owl. I badly wanted to see one and when our guide finally found one, my heart stopped beating. Staring right at us and well camouflaged against the brownish-orange volcanic rocks was a short-eared owl resting by its hole. Twenty pictures later, I still did not want to leave.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl

Nazca Booby

Nazca Booby

Tropic Bird

Tropic Bird

If you are a bird lover, Genovesa Island is worth the long boat ride and the money. With each snapshot we took, it was sad to realize we were never going to see these birds anywhere else.

More to come …

Me & Frenchie At El Barranco

Me & Frenchie At El Barranco

Group Shot

Group Shot

Lava Heron

Lava Heron

Swallow-tailed Gulls With An Egg

Swallow-tailed Gulls With An Egg

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Galapagos: Santa Cruz By Land

By , November 12, 2010 5:00 am
A Finch At Puerto Ayora

A Finch At Puerto Ayora

We returned to Santa Cruz Island to spend two more days on land before our cruise.

Sea Lion Sleeping

Sea Lion Sleeping

During the lunch hour, we toured the Charles Darwin Research Station, which does a lot of work to help preserve the Galapagos ecosystems. There is a large breeding center where we saw the remaining species of tortoises in the Galapagos. I was at awe when we saw Lonesome George, the last known tortoise of his kind. They don’t know his exact age but he is between 60-90 years old, over 40 inches long, and about 194 pounds! We picked a great time to visit the center as we were by ourselves most of the time and there were no tour groups around. They do wonderful work at the center and it is great that the public can visit it for free. Just please don’t touch the animals!

Lonesome George

Lonesome George

Look At The Size Of This Monster

Look At The Size Of This Monster

Land Iguana

Land Iguana

Don't Let Age Fool You

Don't Let Age Fool You

On our second day, we walked to Tortuga Bay, which is well known for its pristine white sand beach. We stayed for over two hours and our visit left us speechless. It wasn’t only because of the gorgeous views but just being in a natural environment where Blue-footed Boobies and pelicans are flying over us, large marine iguanas are resting on the beach, and having the freedom to roam. If we had packed a lunch, I could have stayed an entire day at this spot.

Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay

Marine Iguanas Waking Up

Marine Iguanas Waking Up

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

Keep reading next week for details on our 8-day cruise!

Sleeping One-Eyed Blue-Footed Booby

Sleeping One-Eyed Blue-Footed Booby

Large Marine Iguana

Large Marine Iguana

Galapagos Pelican

Galapagos Pelican

Lava Lizard

Lava Lizard

A Lava Channel In The Bay

A Lava Channel In The Bay

HUGE Cactus

HUGE Cactus

Kids Happy To Be Out Of School

Kids Happy To Be Out Of School

What We Paid: USD Euros
– Private Double Room at Espana:
Fan, private bathroom, wifi, friendly staff
25 17.50
– Breakfast 4 2.50
– Lunch 5 3.50
– Dinner 9 6

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Ecuador: First Days In Galapagos On Isabela Island

By , November 11, 2010 5:00 am
Iguanas Everywhere

Iguanas Everywhere

When we were initially planning for our world tour, we both wanted to see the Galapagos badly, but when considering how much it costs, it was always a warm subject between us.  So when my birthday came around, my knight in shining armor told me we were going to the Galapagos but I didn’t believe it until we took flight.

On Our Flight To The Galapagos

On Our Flight To The Galapagos

We heard taking a cruise was a must-do, but we also wanted to also experience Galapagos by land, so we planned for 4 days by ourselves followed by an 8 day cruise.  As we flew to the Galapagos, we got an extraordinary air view of the Cotopaxi Volcano.  We soon landed in Baltra in the open terminal and the weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold.  After a short ride, first by bus and then by ferry to the main island, we then shared a taxi with another couple to Puerto Ayora.  A 30-minute ride later, we were all friends and stuck together for the next couple of days.

Amazing Air View

Amazing Air View

For our first meal, we decided to get off the gringo strip and followed the local traffic to Cevicheria El Pulpo.  As we looked around, everyone was having soup so we opted for the same. I am not a big seafood person but this sopa marinera (mixed seafood soup) was excellent.  We sat for over an hour talking to this local guy at our table and he ended up buying us beer.

Lunch And Drinks At Cevicheria El Pulpo

Lunch And Drinks At Cevicheria El Pulpo

Mixed Seafood Soup

Mixed Seafood Soup

For Isabela Island, we got a great deal on a package we just couldn’t refuse.  To get there, we took a water taxi for 3.5 hours and it end up being one of the worst boat rides ever.  The water was very choppy and our driver was completely insane, driving like he wanted to crash into each wave. There was a pregnant woman onboard and after an hour, she was hovering over the side of the boat.  We were all very happy to be finally off the boat and to be on land again.

When the shuttle dropped us off at our hotel, we were extremely confused.  It looked more luxurious than the pictures shown to us by the agency. The four of us just kept quiet and made our way to the welcoming snacks.  Afterwards, we toured a lagoon and saw pink flamingos chomping away at the shrimp in the water.

Pink Flamingo

Pink Flamingo

The next morning, we got up very early for a 6-hour hike to our first volcano.  The morning started off misty, which was very nice, compared to the beating sun we had for the rest of the day.  Our first stop was Sierra Negra Volcano (Black Mountain) whose last eruption was back in October 22, 2005.  The magma chamber is constantly filled with new magma so more eruptions are expected in the future.

Caldera Of Sierra Negra

Caldera Of Sierra Negra

After lunch, we were walking over a large lava field crunching our way for two hours. It felt as if we were walking on the moon, but with random large cactus plants in the background.  It was very interesting to see the variation of colors from the new and old lava. We took a break at a scenic viewpoint where we could see the other volcanoes on Isabela Island from afar: Ecuador, Wolf, Darwin, and Alcedo.  We could also make out the seahorse shape of the island.

Random Cactus Plants

Random Cactus Plants

HUGE Lava Tunnel

HUGE Lava Tunnel

Lava, Lava, Lava!

Lava, Lava, Lava!

After our wonderful hike, we took a small boat to the Islote Tintoreras (Tintorera Islands).  On the lava island, there is a natural canal where the white tip reef sharks, called tintoreras, rest on the bottom of the shallow waters.  While on land, any movement we made would result in hundreds of black marine iguanas scrambling around.  They were well camouflaged against the black rocks that I wonder if any tourist has stepped on one by accident.

White Tip Reef Sharks

White Tip Reef Sharks

Marine Iguanas

Marine Iguanas

Back on the boat, we saw sea lions sunbathing, a group of Galapagos penguins hanging out on the rocks, and then our first Blue-footed Booby!  We made our final stop of the day to snorkel.  I was hesitant at first because it was freezing cold. I put on my wet suit and plunged into the water.  Soon enough, I had one of the most amazing first experiences swimming with GIANT sea turtles.  There were three around us and they were just chilling in the water and would slowly swim up for air and come back down with no care that we were nearby.  Luckily I had on a life jacket because they would get very close to me and it was no joke how big they were.

Galapagos Penguin

Galapagos Penguin

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby

Our trip on Isabela Island was truly amazing.  We saw so many animals that I wasn’t sure that we needed to go on a cruise anymore.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

What We Paid: USD eRate 0.7
Euro eRate
– Flight From Quito To Galapagos On Icaro Aero (Partners With LAN) 150 105
– Quito Airport Fee 10 7
– Entrance Fee To Galapagos 100 70
– Water Ferry From Baltra To Santa Cruz Island 0.80 0.55
– Taxi To Puerto Ayora 2.50 1.75
– Lunch (Sopa Marinera) At Puerto Ayora 4.50 3.15
– Tour Package For Isabela Island
Includes Water Taxi, Lodging, Meals, Daily Excursion
137.50 96.25
– Entrance Fee To Isabela Island 5 3.50

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Ecuador: Baños’ Thermal Baths To Quilotoa’s Deep Crater

By , November 10, 2010 5:00 am
Water-Filled Crater

Water-Filled Crater

After toughing it out at the Amazon for four days, we went straight to Baños, a town known for its thermal baths. There are three pools at different temperatures: temperate at 97 degrees, hot at 104 degrees, and cold at 61 degrees. We didn’t go near the cold pool. We mainly stayed at the temperate pool and when daring enough, we dipped into the hot pool from time to time.

Baños' Thermal Baths

Baños' Thermal Baths

Super Hot Water!

Super Hot Water!

After a night’s rest, we were ready to explore the villages in the Quilotoa Loop.  When we arrived in cold Quilotoa, we just wanted to head back to something warmer again, so we only stayed one night.

Upon our first sight of Lake Quilotoa, the water-filled crater, we were easily impressed. The lake is 2 miles wide and 820 feet deep. With the blue skies, white clouds, and snow-capped mountains in the distance, it was fun to photograph along our hike down. While it took us only 20 minutes to go down to the lake, it took us double the time to come back up, mainly due to the high altitude.

Me & Frenchie

Me & Frenchie

It was extremely cold when we finished hiking, so we went straight to our guesthouse and warmed ourselves around the chimney in the common room. During dinner, the staff started a fire in our room so right after we finished our dinner and tea, our room was at the perfect temperature. We were so cozy, we felt asleep right away. After a few hours, it got cold again because we forgot to put more wood in. :(

Our Cozy Room

Our Cozy Room

The next day, we caught the early morning bus to Saquisilí for its Thursday market. The market was held in several plazas, split up by product. One plaza had mainly shoes, another had animals (for consumption), and the one we enjoyed most was the artisan market. We had a nice time shopping and taking a chance on lunch.

Time To Bargain At The Artisan Market

Time To Bargain At The Artisan Market

Animals For Consumption

Animals For Consumption

Local Having Soup

Local Having Soup

Popcorn Is Perfect With Soup!

Popcorn Is Perfect With Soup!

View Of Cotopaxi From Bus

View Of Cotopaxi From Bus

What We Paid: USD eRate 0.7
Euro eRate
Banos
– Bus From Lago Agrio To Banos: 11 hours 11 7.70
– Private Double Room with Private Bath 4 2.80
– Breakfast 2 1.40
– Lunch 2.50 1.75
– Dinner 4 2.80
– Thermal Bath 2 1.40
Quilotoa
– Bus From Banos To Latacunga: 2 hours 2 1.40
– Bus From Latacunga To Quilotoa: 3 hours 2 1.40
– Private Double Room with Private Bath 7 4.90
– Entrance Fee Into Town 2 1.40
Saquisilí
– Bus From Quilotoa To Latacunga: 3 hours 2 1.40
– Bus From Latacunga To Saquisilí: 30 minutes 0.30 0.20

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Ecuador: The Oriente

By , November 9, 2010 5:00 am
Frenchie & Me In The Amazon

Frenchie & Me In The Amazon

We compacted what we needed for four days into our small packs and headed for the Ecuadorean Amazon, locally known as the Oriente. The trip involved an overnight bus from Quito to Lago Agrio, an oil town with not much happening besides being the gateway to the rainforest. After meeting the rest of our tour group at a hotel, we all jumped into a shuttle and drove for 2.5 hours to the river. We broke here for lunch but it was not very appetizing as we had a group of boney dogs drooling at us while we ate. For dessert, we tried this fruit called granadilla (type of passion fruit). It was interesting as it was mainly seeds with each seed in it’s own gooey pouch. It felt like eating a brain. Shortly after, we went in our canoe and rode for 3.5 hours to our lodge.

Granadilla Passion Fruit

Granadilla Passion Fruit

HUGE Colorful Parrot In Cocoa Tree

HUGE Colorful Parrot In Cocoa Tree

As we followed the wooden pathway into Nicky Lodge, I was very happy with our accommodations. There were 6 wooden cabins with hammocks on the front porch. Right after dropping off our stuff, we changed into swimsuits and jumped into the water. It felt great but I admit I was nervous about the possibility of caimans being in the water. Luckily, we were only attacked by sun flies.

Nicky Lodge

Nicky Lodge

We had a total of 10 people in our group and it was quite international. There were several activities each day to keep us busy. Every morning started early with a cruise on the river, the afternoon required hiking through the jungle, and nighttime was left to explore nocturnal living. When we were not being active, we crashed in our hammocks, waiting for food, hoping it was super yummy quinoa soup or chocolate cake.

Going Home To Prepare Yuca

Going Home To Prepare Yuca

About To Taste A Coconut Worm

About To Taste A Coconut Worm

I'm Queen Of The Jungle!

I'm Queen Of The Jungle!

Nappy Time

Nappy Time

For the most part, the animals were hard to spot right away and many times, they were far away from us. Luckily with my new eyes (Lasik, see our previous post), I was able to spot many of them. The toucans were wonderful to see as they flew over us. There were many types of monkeys and our guide could tell just by looking at the tail. There was even a white owl camouflaged on the white birch tree. When we found movement in the water, it turned out to be pink dolphins coming up for air. Our favorite moment was when we saw the tiniest monkey in the world, a marmoset. It was so small and adorable. At night, we saw a tarantula, scorpion spider, more spiders, and tons of bats. Too bad we never saw a tapir, just its footprint in the mud.

Trying To Get A BIG Tarantula Out Of Its Hole

Trying To Get A BIG Tarantula Out Of Its Hole

Caiman

Caiman

MuiMui Petting A Marmoset

MuiMui Petting A Marmoset

What I didn’t expect from our trip in the primary jungle was staying up late hours playing cards with spoons! With Doro screaming “monkey shit”, Boris and Michele fighting over the same spoon every time, Patrick always smiling, and me pounding the table, there was great chemistry among us. Maybe it was the alcohol, but there was definitely something special about being in the jungle.

We MISS YOU GUYS!

We MISS YOU GUYS!

Massive Tree

Massive Tree

Monkey With A Fro

Monkey With A Fro

Baby Anaconda

Baby Anaconda

White Owl Sleeping

White Owl Sleeping

Leaf Bug

Leaf Bug

Scorpion Spider

Scorpion Spider

Gecko Inviting Itself In Our Bathroom

Gecko Inviting Itself In Our Bathroom

What We Paid: USD eRate 0.7
Euro eRate
– Cuyabeno Amazon 4 Days, 3 Nights Tour 220 154
– Night Bus From Quito To Lago Agrio: 7 hours 8 5.5

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

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