Wednesday, February 24, 2016

To Cotopaxi

After our hot and extremely humid days at sea, these two mountain people were excited to get to Cotopaxi National Park. We flew back from the Galápagos Islands to land at about 6:30 p.m. in Quito. Rather than waste a night in Quito, we hired an expensive ($65) taxi ride directly from the airport to the Secret Garden Hostal near Cotopaxi National Park, a two hour drive. The road, the only one to the national park, impressed me as absolutely terrible.  Rather than pavement, the road was surfaced with flatish volcanic cobbles. I guess there are plenty of them around, but wow, how bumpy and hard on vehicular suspension.  Anyway, by the time we arrived at the Hostal it was nine p.m. The semi-manager Victor showed us in through the the main living room, where Burk, one of the volunteers (volunteers are travelers who work a little in exchange for free room and board) was giving a type of concert with his acoustic guitar while 15 or so guests were singing along to songs by Neil Young and Indigo Girls. Between the remoteness of the Hostal, the music, and the dreadlocks and/or lack of bras on the 20-something guests, we felt we had stumbled into a hippy commune.  As we signed into the Hostal register, it was clear that the typical guest was much younger than us; of the 40 or so names on the pages we could see, there were exactly 3 over age 35. But Victor made us feel at home and the cook even whipped us up some veggie fajitas, followed by tres leches cake for dessert. We had to chose which activity we wanted to do the following day: horseback riding, bike riding and trout fishing in the park, or hiking up the mountain behind us.  We chose the big hike, although I had extreme trepidation about A. being able to keep up with the 20ish year olds, and B. testing my new knee with a big hike 2 months after surgery.  Victor showed us to our cabin and we settled in for a fitful night of sleeping at 11,300 feet elevation with the windows open and a small fire in the wood stove. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Land ho Galápagos

After our 4 nights on the boat, we were looking forward to a night in a nice hotel in the main town of the Galápagos archipelago, Puerto Ayora.
The first order of business on dry land was a double espresso. The coffee on the boat was the worst coffee we had ever had. I am Not exaggerating one bean. 
Best coffee in a week!
  The official end to our trip was for our guide Alfonzo to take us through the Charles Darwin Research Center. What we didn't know when we booked the tour was the the center is under major reconstruction so there are only four things to see.  1. Galápagos land tortoises
Galápagos land tortoise, so named for the likeness of their shell to a Spanish riding saddle.
The shell has a high area for the tortoise's neck because they have to reach high to find food.
  2. Galápagos iguanas 
There were three Galápagos iguanas in separate cages right next to each other. They keep them separated to promote the mating colors for the tourists. We all thought that was very mean.
  3. Some hybrid tortoises that are infertile but that do it all the time anyway.
Hybrid turtles
Hybrid turtle sex. The eggs produced from this three hour mating session will be destroyed by the biologists at the center because they are not viable, since their parents are hybrids.
 4. Finches
Ground finch, one of the 9 or more species of finches that Charles Darwin observed on his 1835 voyage as a naturalist on the HMS Beagle. The differences in beak shape and food getting behavior led Darwin to begin to think that animals adapt to their environment, instead of being created by God exactly as he saw Them. This thought was the beginning of his theory of evolution that he would publish 15 years later along with Wallace, who had independently developed the same theory.
  After the somewhat lame CDRS, we said goodbye to our shipmates and guide and found our way to La Fortelaza de Haro.  
Our unique, air conditioned room at La Fortelaza de Haro
Tile work on the floor of our room.
Stairs in our room leading to...
The subterranean TV lounge
  After the first shower in 5 days and a dip the glorious pool,  
The perfect pool at La Fortelaza de Haro. Our room is the round one with two windows behind the pool. 
  we met up with shipmates Rae and Marie and shared a cab to El Chato Ranch to see land tortoises in a much more natural setting. 
Ok, so this one isn't natural, but the shell demonstrates the size of some of these turtles. They can weight up to 180 kg.
Turtles like to wallow in the mud to keep parasites off them.
The turtles seemed curious about us.
We haven't seen much of Jean Luc Picard on this trip, but he has been having all the adventure he wants, including encounters with turtles. He wanted to get closer, but the rules say you can only get as close as 6.3 feet. 
A particularly large turtle.
  For our $3.50 entrance fee we were also allowed access to three lava tubes, one of which went under the small visitor center.   
Entrance to one of the tubes.
In the lava tube
It's a good thing I was wearing my glow in the dark t-shirt.
  As if those lava tubes weren't enough, we want to the Tunnel of Love, the second longest lava tube on South America at 2250 meters (about a mile and a half) long.  You can only walk through 1000m (about 2/3 of a mile), but even that was a very long way in the very dark, very large cavern. 
us and the Danes
Drew and Lucy in the Tunnel of Love
Back to town for a beer and odd pizza
  Because of the rotten sleep on our last night on the boat, we were both exhausted so we napped back at the hotel before walking to the street where all the restaurants set up tables in the street. 
Street dinner in Puerto Ayora.
   For our last island meal we bypassed the whole fish on a plate and opted for "tacos". 
Vegetarian "taco"
  The next morning we enjoyed a good breakfast with a table full of Americans and then I calculated that I had just enough time to walk to Tortuga Bay Beach. I sort of miscalculated, so I ended up jogging a little on my newly operated knee and only getting to swim for 15 minutes,   
Tortuga Bay beach
      But I managed to snap some pictures of the gaggle of marine iguanas on the beach 
Marine iguanas
What is a pile of marine iguanas called?
Swimming marine iguana
I purposely overexposed this picture so I could see the detail of the iguana's skin. 
  And a pair of cool birds I don't think we had seen before.     
They had long red beaks
    From there, it was back to the hotel to clean up quickly for our ride to the airport with a quick 15 minute stop at the Twin Craters  
Volcanic craters on Santa Cruz island
  Next stop, Cotopaxi.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Best of Galapagos Boat Trip

I took a whole lot of pictures during our 6 days on the Galápagos Islands. Just ask Drew. I intend to do more detailed posts of each day some day, but I wanted to put up a few of the highlights of our The 5 day boat trip we took to the Galápagos Islands.

 We lived on a small, old wooden boat for 5 days and 4 nights.  There were 9 clients and 5 crew members.  This allowed us to get to more remote places, but it was not a luxury boat in any sense of the word.

My favorite activities were the hikes, but snorkeling was also good. The water was refreshingly cool compared to the hot humid conditions on land and boat. Drew took all the underwater pictures with his GoPro.

Kicker Rock, our first activity upon boarding the boat.  No instructions, no safety talk, just jump on in to the choppy sea.
Sea turtle

Drew hiking on Santa Fe island

Santa Fe land iguana

Sea lions are very curious

Unfortunately, their curiosity gets them in trouble.  This pup was hanging around the landing spot at one of the visitor sites.  She/he looked skinny and sick, and was likely to die because some human had touched it, or so the guide said. 

Galapagos land iguana

Blue footed boobie!  I really wanted to see these birds. They did not disappoint.

Blue heron

Pink flamingo

Male Galapagos land iguana, in orange mating colors, pursuing a female.

Our boat and a couple of volcanic islands in the distance

Magnificent frigate birds rode our bow air waves a lot

underwater selfie

Swimming with sea turtles

Black tipped shark sleeping on the bottom. At one location, I counted about 8 swimming within 20 feet of us.

We saw a lot of fishes, turtles, and sharks, but no rays. 
By the end of the trip, I could flip off the boat with the best of them. No small feat for this land-locked girl.

So those are some of the best animal pictures I took. After 5 days, we were both ready to be off the boat.