Galapagos Cruising

16 Nov

This morning we took a two-hour speed boat ride from Isabela to Santa Cruz Island and are now at the Finch Bay Eco Hotel, which, like our last two locations, is perched right on the edge of the ocean.

Despite calm seas, the boat ride was a bumpy one, with plenty of jolts to bounce you out of your seat. We spotted lots of sea turtles coming up for air and even a couple dolphins.

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We’re relaxing by the pool until noon, when we’ll take a water taxi to town for lunch then go on a hike to see lava tunnels and local wildlife.

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Galavanting in the Galapagos

15 Nov

After a six-hour hike up a volcano and onto the rim of the caldera, I can barely muster the energy for this post. But I don’t want to skip anything, so I actually need to start back at 6:30 am yesterday morning – that was when we convened for breakfast, then headed to the airport for our quick flight from San Cristobal Island to Isabela Island, where I’m writing this from now.

Our little group was boarding the plane (a tiny little 8-passenger prop jet from, I’m guessing, the 1960s), and one of the guys asked me if I wanted to be the co-pilot, so of course I said yes. As a tourist, my co-pilot duties involved nothing more than sitting up front beside the pilot and taking photos. I was a bit nervous taking off, because I’d never been in such a tiny plane. And our pilot looked like he was on his maiden voyage. He probably couldn’t even grow a moustache. The kid was young and that didn’t instill much confidence. Regardless, we all crammed ourselves into the plane and he got us off the ground.

We flew above a thick layer of cloud for about 40 minutes before descending on our destination. Mid-flight we flew about 100 feet away from another tiny little plane that was bobbing up and down, surely frightening its passengers. Our flight was smooth in comparison. Landing, however, was kind of scary: from the front seat it looks like you’re going to bury the nose of the plane into the tarmac as you land.

Once we dumped everything at our hotel, we went straight to the water for some amazing snorkeling. We swam alongside lots of giant sea turtles, saw a couple sting rays, and found lots of other colourful treasures on the sea floor. At one point a sea lion was going straight for me under water and all I could do was float there as he swam around and at me. They’re incredibly playful in the water and innocuous for the most part, but they apparently bite too, so you don’t want to get too intimate with them.

Following snorkeling, we went for a walk through some of the incredible lava-rock landscape, checking out all of the iguanas sunning themselves. The males are beginning to change colour into bright oranges and reds in preparation for mating, so it was quite the sight. They look like little godzillas with smiles.

Along our walk, we arrived at a channel of water that contained nearly 100 sharks waiting for the water levels to rise so they could swim out again. About 100 sharks and one lost sea turtle who didn’t seem pleased with his predicament.

After lunch in town, we geared up for a bike ride to the wall of tears, which stands about 10 metres high and was built by prisoners as busy work – it’s stacked lava rocks in the middle of nowhere. The National Park built stairs up the side of the wall and above it, high enough that we could watch the sun set after we arrived there. But sunset equals darkness, so we really had to motor home through hills and sand and some rough terrain. I was unlucky enough to pop a tire about 15 minutes away from our hotel, but after a couple hours of biking, I didn’t mind. As soon as we got back to the hotel, sweaty and tired, I jumped straight in the pool, clothing and all.

This morning we hiked up Sierra Negra, the second largest active volcano in the world. It felt like being on a different planet when we were walking through the vast fields of purely volcanic rock and lava tunnels. And the view: only pictures will do it justice.

Upon returning home post-hike and post-lunch, there was nothing left to do but jump in the ocean then relax in the hotel pool and rooftop jacuzzi. Yes, tough
life here on the Galapagos.

Last night we went to a little beach bar down the road after dinner, but tonight, I’ll be lucky if I can crawl into bed without falling asleep first.

Iguana Crossing

15 Nov

We arrived yesterday morning on Isabela Island around 8:00 am, and while there’s too much to write about for now, I can at least share a photo of our incredible hotel.

On the way over here I got to be the co-pilot on our little 8-passenger plane, but more on that later.

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Day One in the Galapagos

14 Nov

We spent our first afternoon in the Galapagos dining al fresco at our hotel, wandering through the dry forest, visiting the Darwin Centre and snorkeling in a small bay with a couple laid back turtles.

The sea lions here are hysterical. They’re ubiquitous, raucous, smelly and their favourite past times include sleeping in places you need to sit or walk, lying around barking or fighting each other. We were lucky enough to see a 2-day-old baby sea lion hanging out among the juvenile male sea lions, who nearly trampled the little guy in one of their many wrestling matches. The baby tried his best to hop around, but mostly stayed in one spot crying and craning his neck looking for his mom.

The following day, we were out on the ocean in our kayaks by 8:30 am, heading North along the coast of San Cristobal Island. We saw an array of birds along the coast and were privy to the mating ritual of two sea turtles, who probably didn’t appreciate us surrounding them in our kayaks as they did the nasty.

After kayaking, we didn’t hit the shore, but boarded a boat that took us up an inlet to a great snorkeling spot where we swam with sea turtles, sea lions, and saw tons of amazing sea life, like angel fish, sting rays and one disgruntled octopus. We boarded our boat for lunch and sped over to a secluded beach (aside from many sleeping sea lions…they’re literally everywhere). We got pretty intimate with a marine iguana that was sunning himself on the shore. He looked like a mini dinosaur and I’m not sure that he moved even an inch the whole time we were there. Our guide said they like to soak up the sun, get nice and hot, then head back toward water. In that way, we’re kind of similar – because after exploring the beach, soaking up the sun, we hopped back on the boat and went to our next snorkeling spot: Kicker Rock. Kicker Rock is two enormous rock formations, called tufts, that shoot straight up out of the water. Between them is where we were headed to snorkel.

It was there that we all entered the water with mild trepidation, knowing that there could be sharks below. And there were. Lots of them. But when the first person yelled, “Shark!” I was surprisingly calm, as were the rest of our group members. As we passed through the narrow channel that bisects the towering rocks that shoot straight up out of the water, several sharks circled below us. One of our two guides, Pedro, was slapping the water to pretend he was an injured seal, getting the sharks’ attention and coaxing them to come investigate us. It felt very National Geographic. Once we saw the second one, Luc went diving underwater towards it to get a better shot and ended up getting a pretty sweet video, which I’ll try to figure out how to post on here. I’m planning on writing about our swim with the sharks for a BCBusiness travel story, so I don’t want to use all my material, but it was a pretty amazing experience.

That evening we wandered the quaint boardwalk outside our hotel in San Cristobal and had a couple drinks with the four other people from our tour group. Tomorrow morning we board an eight-passenger plane for Santa Cruz Island, the biggest of the Galapagos Islands.

On Top of the World in Quito

11 Nov

We arrived in Quito yesterday afternoon, feeling completely exhausted from our four-flight journey. After exploring the area around our hostel and grabbing a bite to eat (using our rather pathetic knowledge of the Spanish language), we napped for a while, which turned into an extended nap, which became sleeping through to the next morning. The benefit was waking refreshed and jet lag-free.

A few things we noticed immediately: dogs are either fully dressed in sweaters and boots, or they’re tiny adorable puppies being hawked on street corners. Any other kind of dog does not exist, to really generalize canine culture in Quito.

The locals like to play it fast and loose when it comes to crossing the streets and walking into fast-moving traffic. Having been hit by a car only a few months ago, this puts me on edge slightly. Another traffic observation: the crosswalk signs play a loud, upbeat tune and look like they’re doing the running man. And this makes me very happy.

First thing this morning we headed to La Teleferiqo, a gondola that takes you up Pichincha Volcano, 13,000 feet above sea level and gives you a breathless, bird’s eye view of Quito. It was incredible to see the immediate change in weather when we arrived at the top: the temperature obviously dropped, and there were massive hoards of fog moving along the mountainside, slowly engulfing you, then quickly evaporating. We read so much about altitude sickness and were warned not to ascend Teleferiqo until we had acclimatized to Quito for a couple days, but we had no issues, even after climbing to a small peak after the gondola ride.

Later that afternoon, back in the city, we spent our requisite tourist time of non-religious reverie in a local church, Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco. It was by far one of the most ornate, gold-encrusted interiors I’ve ever seen. We overheard a guide telling her lemmings that beneath the church floorboards lies an extensive graveyard: “Yes, very scary,” she said, probably making the kid in the group cry. Also beneath the church, a little cave-like pub that was the perfect spot to escape the late-afternoon showers. It seems to stay warm (~19C) and sunny/cloudy for the most part, then breaks into showers that increase with intensity, ending up in full rain by about 4 or 5 pm. Yes, from two days here, I have mastered the weather patterns. If this were Twitter, I would hashtag that sentence with “ignorant.”

Since Quito isn’t the safest place as night, we retire to our hostel by the time it’s dark out. Tomorrow morning we head to the Galapagos at 8 am, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
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Destination Detour

10 Nov

It’s an unsettling feeling to hear the inflight crew welcome you to Guatemala when you knew damn well your plane was flying direct to Costa Rica. Turns out, they pulled a WestJet on us: online it’s advertised as a direct flight, but you actually touch down in another city to let some people off and bring more people on.

The geography of Guatemala is incredible and maybe even worth the surprise layover. The verdant landscape is divided with steep crevasses and hemmed in by what I suspect are volcanoes. We approached the airport above a blanket of clouds with only the volcano tips poking through, making whatever elevation we were flying at seem paltry in comparison.
Still an annoying detour, but a beautiful one.

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LAX = LAME

10 Nov

I’ve never been to an airport that did such a poor job of reflecting the culture of its city. There seems to be such a huge disparity between the shambles at LAX and the shiny lights of Los Angeles. Airports are a place of transition, but you still spend a hefty amount of time browsing in their stores, dining in their bars and waiting in their lines. Come on, LA, up your game already. This place is even worse than the last time I was here nine years ago.

Oh yeah – I’m going to South America for three weeks and will finally be blogging again!