A Travellerspoint blog

Galapagos Doesn't Disappoint

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View South America and Cuba on Fletchers's travel map.

A couple of years ago, in my bid to convince Sean we should travel to South America with our kids, I bought him the BBC Galapagos Islands DVDs for his birthday. As a family we have watched thses DVDs many times and when we decided to do the trip, we talked about meeting Lonesome George, the last remaining Giant Tortoise from the Island of Pinta. For centuries sailors caught and ate tortoises as they travelled past the Galapagos Islands and many of the species have died out. Attempts to mate Lonesome George with similar species have been unsuccessful. Sadly Lonesome George died in June before we were able to meet him.
The Galapagos Islands are to an Athiest the equivelant to Mecca for a Muslim, or a Palpal Sermon at the Vatican for a Catholic. They are the birth place of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Darwin discovered species specific to each of the islands, adapted based on the particular food source. Hence on islands where there is abundant food on land the iguanas remained land-based, but when the island had no food on land they adapted to become marine iguanas, capable of swimming underwater for long periods. Tortoises also adapted the shape of their shell and the length of their neck in order to reach food. Darwin's main focus was on studying the various species of finches. We have seen an abundance of these birds since we have been here and it is quite amazing to see what Darwin must have seen and to realise the significance of this. This is kind of the holy grail for us.
From before we even set foot on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands the wildlife has entertained us. Daisy spotted a seal on the boat ramp as we aproached from the ferry after flying into Baltra Island. (You fly to one island, which has nothing but an airport, then catch a bus to the ferry, then ferry across a channel to another island, then catch a bus or a taxi to the town 40km away - quite a palaver after 2 flights to get there!). Once we arrived at our hotel we headed straight to a waterfront cafe for lunch and across the road some fishermen were bringing in their haul, fish and lobster. Brodin and Daisy were not the only intrigued observers. A couple of pelicans and a seal came to have a look too. The seal made a real attempt to steal some dinner but when he realised none was coming his way he took off into the water and disappeared beneath the boats. A pelican had more luck.
The animals are so friendly as they have not been harmed by humans and have very few natural predators on the islands.
A walk around the bay and we discover yet more wildlife, a red crab or two and a few marine iguanas sunning themselves. The Charles Darwin Research Station did not disappoint after a fairly long trudge up a dirt road. Giant tortoises everywhere! Poor Daisy kept asking where Lonesome George was, dispite having it explained many times that he died. We had hoped to see him preserved on display but no such luck. We did find his old pen.
Day two began with a tour of Santa Cruz's top tourist spots. The lava tubes, tunnels underground created by lava, awfully muddy and wet inside but kind of fun. There were no bats in this one thank goodness!
A private farm where Giant Tortoises roam freely. The mud is created by all the tourists rather than the tortoises. It was amazing to watch how slowly they do move. The hare would have to sleep for a century to lose the race against these creatures! Some were quite happy to be approached and others hissed if you got within their comfort zone.
Then we visited the twin volcanic craters of Santa Cruz. These enormous craters are quite spectacular and one lies on each side of the road.
Driving through the island there are fruit trees growing wild everywhere, as well as some farms of them. Papaya, avocado, bananas, mango, vanilla, orange and coffee. Everything here grows as if on steroids. It is clearly the perfect environment for them.
We are really impressed with Ecuador's conservation attempts. Customs into Galapagos was quite strict and a DVD telling us what we were not allowed to do was played at the airport whilst we awaited our baggage. No touching the wildlife, no feeding them, no flushing toilet paper, recycle bins are everywhere and take your rubbish with you. There is very little rubbish around which is a notable difference between Galapagos and the rest of South America. You must have a guide to do most things and this is a way of ensuring tourists respect the rules. Pretty much any local will act as a guide, but they don't all speak English. Our taxi driver and the daughter of the travel agent acted as our 'guides' and spoke very little English, but we were happy as the kids didn't care for a commentry and we have read most of it in the travel guide already. As it was just us on the tour we didn't have to endure other people's topics of interest and we were able to complete the tour in good time. And it'skind of fun getting by in Spanglish.
After lunch we walked 6kms to Tortuga Bay with high hopes of flamingos and turtles however none were to be found, but we did literally stumble across these crazy little marine iguanas.
One was walking along the path towards us and we stopped, unsure how to continue. I said "desculpe, Senor Iguana" and he just stared at us. So I explained to the kids that he didn't seem to understand Spanish so I would try in English and said "excuse me, Mr Iguana" and he very kindly and prompty moved off the path!!! The kids thought this was ABSOLUTE proof that iguanas understand English! Tortuga Bay is an absolutely stunning beach with powdery white sand and surf on one side with a still lake-like cove on the other side where we did some not-so amazing snorkelling. We had read that the water this time of year is freezing due to the Homboldt current, but actually it was a lot warmer than Wellington water ever is, and would compete with the Coromandel Penninsular that we swim in each Summer. I guess cold at the equater is not the same as cold at 42 below.....
The kids coped remarkably well with the 6km walk, despite not seeing the turtles they had been promised, but returned to the hotel with blisters and sand chaffing. But still smiling. They are such amazing little troopers. I have aways said I can take them anywhere, and now I actually know that to be true!
Daisy has said she is not missing daycare but she wonders if they miss her. Brodin has been talking a lot about what he wants to show his class when he gets home. I think he may be starting to miss his friends, but not once have either of the kids asked when we are going home.

Posted by Fletchers 08:00 Archived in Ecuador Comments (5)

Brodin's Update

Bus Tour, Quito, Equador

24th September 2012

We are in QUITO in EQUADOR. We went on a bus and it had no roof. It was sunny.

We went on a 2nd double decker bus and we saw an angel and it looked like it was standing on a bull. It was a museum. On top was a spike that is for lightning. Lightning always goes for the highest point.

It rained. We caught a taxi to take us home.

(P.S. Brodin wonders why we don't walk sideways or upside down on the other side of the world. He knows gravity pulls us down but still wonders why. Any ideas Room 13 of Wilford School?)


Posted by Fletchers 07:34 Comments (1)

The Colour Turquoise

Flavour of Quito

My whole life I have wondered what would possess somebody to paint their house turquoise. When I see it, I merely assume there was a really good special on that colour paint and they were on a very strict budget. Today I saw turquoise houses and could finally see the merits. Among a city full of concrete grey houses, the bright turquoise, orange and yellow houses break the monotony yet, without the sea of grey surrounding them they would look so garish. They compliment each other perfectly, creating an interesting panorama of the city.
The historical centre of Quito was the first world heritage site. The beautiful old buildings are immaculately maintained.
The city has a real bustle and vibe with lots of people, some dressed modernly, others more traditionally and others a mix of both.
Street hawkers call out to try and tempt passersby with their wares, such as coco leaves - I was tempted but didn't really know what it was much less what to do with it; clearly it is a local thing...
THe kids really enjoyed sitting at the top of the double decker bus on the city tour and coped remarkably well with us doing the tourist thing, even posing for a few photographs! It's always been a struggle in the past but they are becoming quite obliging. It may be because they have their own camera and now they appreciate others posing for them. Daisy has started bending her knee and curling around apparatus as if she is a professional model - I don't where she gets this from. DSCN4925.jpg
Despite Chile being an apparenty wealthier country than Ecuador, it certainly seems that the living standard of the people is higher here in Quito, and I do not just mean the beautiful neighbourhood we are staying in. However today we were comparing incomes and the minimum wage here is about US$300 per month. Less than a hundred dollars a week! Living is cheaper than in New Zealand with petrol at only 50c per litre and fruit and vegetables are extremely good value, but still, I imagine it is hard to survive on this. The average wage here is about US$500 per month. I can tell you, we are very glad of the low US dollar at the moment with this being Ecuador's currency. It also helps with those of us who are mathematically challenged when trying to calculate the conversion, as 20% extra is typically easily extimated!
Next on the agenda is a day at an Ecuadorian school for the kids and then off to the Galapagos Islands!

Posted by Fletchers 05:14 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Otavalo, Ecuador

the following is a selection of my fav pics from a day spent in Otavalo and surrounding towns. Otavalo is about 2 hrs drive from Quito. Many thanks to our fantastic hosts Jose and Valeria who drove us there and became our tour guides in all things Ecuadorian. We are very lucky!


Posted by Fletchers 18:15 Comments (1)

Ecuador From the Air

Flying over Ecuador was incredibly interesting. As we approached Guayaquill, the largest city, which is on the coast, you can see a spaghetti bowl of rivers opening to the sea. They squirm all through the city and into the surrounding farmland. Despite this the city is an array of perfect square blocks, as far as the eye can see there is row upon row of square blocks of housing and buildings. On the outskirts of the city are these complexes of townhouses encircling a massive swimming pool and several tennis courts. There appeared to be dozens of these complexes. Along the edge of the rivers were enormous mansions - the river didn't look best clean though so I am not sure that if I had money this would be my choice of real estate!
Leaving sea level at Guayaquill on our third and final flight of the day, we head to the Capital Quito. Flying above Ecuador you can see the intensive horticulture and the effective use of the rivers to guide water around the farms which was quite impressive. The view eventually disappeared beneath the clouds. Ten minutes later I glance out the window to see hills seemingly 100 meters below me, above the clouds! Next minute a couple of wing lengths away is a double-coned volcanoe, with dirty snow on one peak and pink/orange stuff on the other. I can only assume this is an active volcano. I can see how easy it would be to fly into the Andes, if you weren't careful. You don't expect a mountain to be so darn high and to emerge from the clouds like that.
Quito is situated at nearly 3000 meters above sea level. You don't really fathom how high this is until you walk up the stairs to your third floor accommodation and nearly pass out. Or until you are driving through the hills and you see clouds below you. We also saw nice fat fluffy clouds just a few meters above us. You could almost reach out and touch them.
Quito is essentially on an Andean plateau, but it has stretched so far it now covers the steep slopes all around the plateau as well. It is incedible to see what these people do with hills. There is no such thing as unproductive land. They build where most people would not conceive of building and they grow crops where no tractor could plough. These brown rocky mountains are covered in a patchwork of cropping.
The people. Seriously, Ecuador is the land of the beautiful people! Inside and out it seems. My dear husband who normally is so subtle has been caught turning his head several times! Which is not surprising as these beautiful women dressed in fitted suits with plunging necklines, miniskirts and 4 inch heels, walk by, swinging their hips. If you like that kind of thing, I guess...... The men too, seem to take good care of themselves. We were picked up from the airport by our hosts, friends of friends of my parents, who we have been emailing over the last few months. Valeria and Jose have opened their home, a beautiful 4 bedroom apartment, to our family of four from New Zealand and made us so welcome.
Their two boys aged 3 and 5 have been so accepting of these strange kiwi kids who don't understand them. But again, they have a lot of fun without much verbal communication. Joaquin is a pretty skilled footballer and is also skilled in convincing others to play with him. It seems football breaks down a lot of barriers. I think a lot could be acheived in this world if the leaders all got together on a field some time and kicked a ball around.
Today we went to the Otavalo market which is the biggest market in South America. The colours were phenomenal. Lambton Quay could do with some Ecuadorian injection! Just what to bring home is the big question!
It is interesting to see many local people walking home from the markets with their wares dressed in full traditional outfits, kitted out in many layers appearing to be dressed for winter despite it being about 22 degrees.
The people are so friendly and actually most have at least some rudimentary English. They are very patient of our poor Spanish and so far we have had no problems - in Chile Sean kept receiving instant coffee in the cafes whilst i got espresso (apparently they don't really do espresso with milk in Chile), but here we have had better luck.
Ecuador, or at least Quito appears to be more influenced by the United States than Chile. Apparently about 30-40% of Ecuador's income comes from their people working overseas, mostly in the USA or Spain, and sending money home. With the global economic crisis this income has reduced significantly. There are half built houses everywhere which have been stopped due to the income stream stopping.
Family working overseas send money home when they can and it is used to fund the next part of the building process. Some of the houses are multiple stories high with only the ground floor completed and others are just concrete block shells. Those that are completed range from simple to elaborate but a lot are very gaudy and over the top. Valeria explained that they have some money now but sadly no taste.

Posted by Fletchers 08:26 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

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