The Galapagos and Ecuadorian Amazon

My trip to the Galapagos and Ecuador started with a flight from Vancouver to Quito via Houston. I met my friend Carol in Houston and we landed in Quito at 1:30 in the morning. We had pre- booked a transfer to our hotel which I highly recommend rather than trying to find a cab in the early morning. Quito airport at 2 in the morning is a scary place. After a good sleep we met the rest of our tour group for a pre-trip briefing and the following morning left  for the airport. One tip – book yourself into the recommended tour hotel before your trip. The pre-trip briefing is there, as well as the bus pick up, plus you get to meet and identify your fellow shipmates. This helped a lot once we landed in the airport on Baltra in the Galapagos which was a zoo. Also when your trip liason officer gives you a button or some other identifying symbol put it on. It is the only way your tour guide will find you in the airport.

Landing on Baltra   View from plane – harbour at Baltra

We then transferred to our ship and headed out to Santa Cruz island to visit the Mangrove Swamps of Tortuga Negra. It was our first introduction to the Galapagos on a beautiful evening. Sea turtle mating season was in full swing, we also saw sharks,  herons, pelicans, rays, marine iguana and lots of sally lightfoot crabs. The boats drifted through and past the mangroves – we saw white tipped sharks and rays in the shallows.

Our ship the MV San Jose   Boarding the ship  MV San Jose

In mangrove swamp area   Mangrove Swamp area on Santa Cruz  Pelican

Pelican  Mating Sea Turtles  Returning to MV San Jose

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Sleeping on the boat was interesting. It traveled at night. generally pulling up the anchor at 1 am and dropping it at 4 am or so. As we were in a cabin at the front of the boat we heard every link go rattling down the side of the boat 🙂 On day two we landed at Puerto Egas beach on the west side of Santiago island. Santiago Island was one of Darwin’s stops. Puerto Egas is named after Dario Egas who owned a salt mine on the island which was at that time the only producer of salt in the country.We walked inland across the island to a beach covered with fur seals, sea lions, and marine iguana. The beach was a long flat lava rock type landscape with tidal pools. During the walk to the beach we saw lava lizards, Galapagos doves,  and finches – mainly ground finches. In the late morning  we snorkelled with the sea turtles off the island.

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In the afternoon we travelled to Rabida island – a small island south of Santiago- for a inland walk and a snorkel. Amazing red colour every where – wonderful cacti and cactus finches! During the snorkelling saw marine iguanas feeding underwater 🙂

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The next morning we were woken up at dawn to visit a sea turtle nesting area on Isla Bartolemew. Beautiful dawn sky. We landed on a beach right by Pinnacle Rock. A famous Galapagos land mark.

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A quick boat ride from the beach landed us on Isla Bartolemew and a hike up a very long board walk (114 meters and hundreds of steps)  to the most famous view in the Galapagos.

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Snorkelling and a fantastic trek across  the 100 year old Santiago lava fields at Sullivan Bay followed.

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After the walk the ship pulled up anchor and headed for Santa Cruz and the town of Puerto Ayora. The town was a pretty one with cobble streets and lots of colourful shops and buildings.We were looking forward to doing some shopping particularly for wine. Another tip – take your alcohol on board the boat with you. Alcohol sold on board the boats is outrageously expensive.

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The morning of day 4 we were in the harbour of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. We went ashore in the morning and visited the fish market in the town. The fishermen had just brought in tuna and we bought one to send back to the boat where the chef made sashimi for us as a pre-lunch treat. The fish market was a mix of pelicans, seals and customers. Everyone ate well 🙂

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A walk through the town was fascinating. We walked up the main street to the Darwin Research Station where Lonesome George lived. Saw the tortoise breeding program and got a feel for the town.

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Busy day. After lunch we got on a bus and headed up into the highlands to a private reserve with tortoises. We stopped along the way at a lava tube, visited the cloud forest and a pit crater (sinkhole) at the top of the island surrounded by scalesia forest.  We got right up close to the tortoises which was very cool. Most of them were over 100 years old.

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Day 5 found us at Kicker Rock off San Cristobal island. the remains of an old volcano it was a stunning site in the early morning. 100’s of Nazca and blue footed boobies, frigate birds and sea turtles. This is one of the premier dive sites in the Galapagos.

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Cerro Brujo beach on San Cristobal was awesome. Lots of finches and lava lizards, crabs, iguanas, boobies, pelicans, gorgeous sand, dune plants, lava gulls (only 400 left in the world), yellow warbler. We walked along the beach for several hours and then had a swim. Tip- wear sandals with good rubber soles if you plan to take photos and want to scramble up on the lava rocks.

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In the afternoon we visited the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and the Galapagos Interpretation Centre which opened out into miles of boardwalk through volcanic arid areas and the coast, leading up Frigate Bird hill. Vegetation interesting – heat did us in eventually – we caught a cab back to town and a water taxi to the boat.

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Day 6 began at Espanola Island (the most southern of the Islands) with a landing at Gardner Bay. Sea Lions, hood mocking birds, yellow warblers, cactus and ground finches, diving blue footed boobies, lava lizards, hermit crabs were everywhere.

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The afternoon was my favourite time of the trip. After a wet landing at Punta Suarez on the western end of the island, we walked to the other side of the island to spectacular cliffs with amazing bird life. Courtship rituals of waved albatross couples and blue footed boobies surrounded us. Nazca boobies tended and fed chicks, Galapagos hawks, red billed tropic birds, gulls, marine iguanas were everywhere.

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Our 7th day started on Isla Santa Maria with a wet landing at Post Office Bay and the Floreana Barrel post office drop. We spent a lovely lazy morning on the beach after posting our cards into the barrel. The rains are late this year so everything was very dry. A few plants were taking a chance by blooming early. This was the island that a group of Norwegians tried to colonize and failed miserably. Some of the remnants of their buildings still apparent.  A German Baroness and her entourage also tried to set up shop here. There are still about 100 people living on the island – they are decendants of the Witt family. I wish I was more of a botanist – some very interesting plants – similar to cotton and passion fruit.

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In the afternoon we went snorkelling along the Devil’s Crown just off shore. The current was strong and it was rough. We got carried quickly along the rock face. The rocks dropped off quickly but was good quality snorkelling. Carol was visited by a hammerhead shark which I thankfully missed 🙂 In the late afternoon we walked across the island looking for pink flamingos – no luck unfortunately. Did see some gorgeous yellow warblers and sea turtles on the beach.

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Our final morning in the Galapagos was on north Seymour island a small island just across a channel from Baltra. We left the boat at dawn and walked around the island on a rocky trail that took us through colonies of frigate birds, seals, sea lions, boobies, swallowtailed gulls and iguanas. It was a remarkable walk that ended with a boat ride out to visit a huge feeding flock of sea birds.

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Mainland Ecuador – Quito and Otavalo

We had 2 days in Ecuador before flying to Cocoa to start our trip down the Rio Napo to our jungle lodge. The first dayb we spent on a city tour, the second we hired a car and driver and travelled across the equator to Otavalo to visit the market. Gorgeous scenery – some interesting textiles but I got the feeling you had to get out into some of the villages to see the really nice weaving.

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Amazon

The following day we flew to Coca a oil town on the Rio Napa. Humidity was staggering, town horrible, interesting boat ride down to the lodge where we were booked in. We off loaded at a jetty, walked in about a mile through the jungle and then took a canoe across a black water lagoon to the lodge. The lodge is totally off the grid. Interesting place.

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The jungle was not what I had expected. It came alive at night – mainly frogs – millions of them. One we called the car alarm frog – that’s what he sounded like – and he called all night long……. We had walks during the day and jungle night walks, as well as canoe rides and walks on suspended viewing platforms. Our trip lasted 3 days – the lodge was not female visitor friendly at all- and I would not recommend it to any solo female travellers – but it was an experience to be in the jungle canopy and paddle along the Amazon blackwater channels.

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