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Quito and The Galapágos

all seasons in one day 15 °C

Quito is great. Where Santiago feels trapped between Europe and South America, Quito was more like I expected South America to be. Quito is at quite high altitude (2800m) and at 0' 00' latitude, and the city is very rugged in the way it has been formed in and around the mountains with narrow streets, where the delineation between footpath and road is often hard to tell given how close the buses run to the footpath.

I took the hop-on hop-off bus from the hotel into the colonial part of town, jumping off at the Basilica, before continuing on foot to the town square. The cobbled narrow streets are great to just wander and get a feel for local life in Quito. There are a lot of (mostly) women selling fruit, nuts, some kind of cream desert they serve in a cone, and often dressed in traditional clothing. Business men and women wander the city in polyester suits that must be terribly uncomfortable in the heat.

After a coffee made by a lovely gentleman just off the Main Street, I jumped back on the bus and took the ride up to the top of Cerro Panecillo where the statue of the Virgin de Quito stands over looking the city. The views were spectacular and gives an idea as to the sprawl of the city among the mountains.

The next morning was an early start (departed the hotel with our group at 4:30am) to get our flight to Baltra Island in the Galapagos. As I've discovered, time is a fluid concept in South America, and our flight was an hour late leaving, no explanation provided.

From Baltra we had a short ferry ride to Santa Cruz island, where we went for lunch (excellent BBQ chicken and beef at a local ranch) and got up close with some Giant Tortoises. We then explored a lava cave briefly, before having time for a couple of beers in the village before joining our boat, the Daphne, which would be home for the next three nights.

The first island stop was Floreana, where we went for a short walk along the island and then a snorkel in off the beach. There was a lot of fish (as you would expect) in the water around the rocks, but the best part was the sea turtles which were awesome to swim so close with. The afternoon was more snorkeling, this time floating on the strong current through and then around the 'Devils Crown', again with more fish and some of the group saw some rays and a shark. Unfortunately I missed both of these, but the snorkeling was still great.

That night we sailed to Espanola island. The morning we did a walk along the volcanic rocks of the island, coming across countless birds, sea iguanas and sea lions. The wildlife is very tame and not spooked by humans, to the point where the whole place is like being in some kind of giant zoo where the animals are so easy to come by, and you have to be careful not to step on any of the iguanas that sleep along the path. It is breeding season for a lot of the wildlife here, so we got to see baby sea lions, albatross chicks and a Blue Footed Booby chick as well. The highlight of the walk was the sea cliffs and blow hole, but then seeing orcas feed off the coast line also. Simply amazing.

After lunch we moved to a Gardners Bay for some more snorkelling, this time with sea lions, and as we were leaving more orcas were feeding just near where we were moored, so we got a closer look at these awesome animals in their natural environment. Finally we spent some time in the afternoon at the beach hanging out with more sea lions, in an area that is still pretty much untouched by humans, with only footprints to show we had been there.

The final morning we had an early snorkel activity around 'Kicker Rock', where we were promised this is the best spot in the Galápagos to spot sharks, which are mostly reef sharks, but also the hammerhead sharks hang out here too. Jumping in the water at 6:15, I was no longer half asleep, and now trying to spot some sharks. Whilst I did manage to see one decent size shark, it passed a few metres below me and visibility wasn't great, so I wasn't able to snap a photo. However, there were some very playful sea lions that swam with us. One in particular kept coming really close to me and jumping in and around where I was, which was so much fun seeing him cruise in and around, somersault and stare me straight in the eye. The best! Something I will remember for a long time.

Whilst the wildlife and scenery were simply amazing, and the photos and certainly my words cannot do it justice, one the most remarkable thing for me about the Galapagos was the landscape and vegetation, or lack thereof. I had pictured lush green islands, yet the majority of the islands we visited were almost arid type landscapes with dead looking trees and bushes, that at times looked like some kind of waste land. When the rain hits, we are told these trees will again come to life, but for now it was dry and desolate with the exception of the higher points on Santa Cruz, where it was jungle like in the misty rain.

Departing the Daphne on San Cristobal island, we had an hour to wander the village before heading for our departure flight back to Quito. Or so we thought. Our flight was delayed by five hours, which we now had to fill in. This isn't easy in a village you can wander in less than an hour, and when just about every shop closes between 1-3/4 for afternoon siesta. As luck had it, there was a fiesta on in the highlands that day. So following our lunch, we jumped into a cab (all 9 of us: 4 in front and 5 in the back of the ute) and headed up to the fiesta. This was great, hanging out with locals watching a futbol game, a horse show, a cow milking contest, drinking beer and Candelaso (a sweet cinnamon hot drink) and eating BBQ meat. Simply awesome, if not a little bit random. This is what travel is about for me, the best adventures are the unplanned ones.

Been sufficiently entertained for the afternoon, we finally got our flight back to Quito, arriving late in the evening. After a few hours sleep, I am now en route to Lima to start the Peruvian leg of my journey.

Adios amigos.

Posted by j0ne5y 11:18 Archived in Ecuador

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