We recently undertook one of our most ambitious trips to date to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary and to mark off one of our biggest Bucket List places in the world to visit: Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands!!!Friday, May 15, 2015 - Along with our friends, Wayne, Chris and Tarryn, we flew American Airlines from Nashville to Miami and then connected on a 4-hour flight to Quito, Ecuador, that landed late in the evening for our first time ever being on the continent of South America.
This was also our first time flying directly over Cuba (photo above) thanks to the recent trade embargo and restrictions with them being lifted. Passing through immigration in Quito and the 45-minute ride from their beautiful, new airport to the NU Boutique Hotel downtown went smooth, and we were happy to crash (after a couple of complimentary drinks in the Q Bar next door) after a long day of travel.
|Wayne's view from his room at The NU Hotel was much better than ours, so I stole this picture from him to show what a pretty, mountain-ringed city Quito is and what nice weather we had on Day 1 there. Thanks, buddy.|
|Our first stop on our tour from Quito was an overlook of the extinct(?) Pululahua Volcano crater. To know and see that people are living and farming in a former volcano crater is pretty amazing (and ballsy on their account).|
|The originally-thought (and much more grand) center of the Earth indicator is in a beautiful park surrounded by the neighboring mountains just down the street from the corrected site.|
|After returning back to town, we walked to an artisanal microbrewery a few blocks from our hotel called Abysmo for dinner and some very good libations. This would be the last good beer we would see (and drink) for a while!|
The famous wildlife of The Galapagos was ready and willing right of the gate. There were sea lions all over the port when we arrived just lounging, barking and swimming in the harbor like no one was around. Thousands of clattering red and black crabs covered the rocks and sand around the bay also. Sea birds of several different kinds wheeled in the skies as well.
|Our first glimpse of the Galapagos Islands from the plane window. Note the wonderful LACK of development|
|Greetings from Galapagos Islands. Our plans for the day...NOTHING! - sincerely, the sea lions|
|Our first official "activity" on this trip was snorkeling in a lovely cove near town. I grabbed this cool rainbow pic right after getting out of the water. A beautiful start to this trip.|
|My first dinner on the islands was a whole scorpion fish with salad, potatoes, rice and beans. It was outstanding.|
|We got some private beach time after our snorkeling and we had our first close-up encounters with marine iguanas. The black speck in the middle there on the beach is the first one we spotted from the boat.|
|The "crowded" port at Floreana Island.|
Wednesday, May 20 - Today was another sweltering, albeit shorter, "Dorito-ride" over to the much larger Isabela Island and the port town of Puerto Villamil which happens to the be hometown of our guide, Fabricio. I bowed out of the afternoon volcano hike due to some tummy troubles (no comment on that), but Ashlee went and said it was a nice, albeit, quite strenuous trek. I rested a bit and took a nice sunny walk down to the beach in town, so it wasn't a total loss for me either. My "troubles" cleared up pretty quick as it seemed to be just a 24-hour bug of some sort.
Thursday, May 21 - I was able to join Ashlee and the rest of the group this morning for a bike ride from the nearby highlands back down toward town with two great stops along the way:
|Bike Stop # 1 was a flamingo lagoon. These beautiful birds are just another star-attraction in this amazing natural zoo.|
|Bike Stop # 2 was our second tortoise breeding center. This is the 2- to 8-year-old class out for their morning strolls.|
We also spied a few Galapagos penguins from the boat before snorkeling at Los Tuneles, They are the second smallest penguin in the world and the only one found north of the equator.
The ride back from Los Tuneles was memorable as well. While the fishing boats we took were smaller and more open than the "Dorito" they were also VERY OPEN and our last 20 minutes into the harbor were in a driving rainstorm. We were soaked from head to toe. Let's just say that boating in The Galapagos is always an adventure!!
Friday, May 22 - We took our last long boat ride over to the more-modern Santa Cruz Island in some of the choppiest ocean so far, We were relieved to arrive (even if it was raining) and to say GOODBYE TO THE "DORITO" FOREVER!!
There was an afternoon activity to a farm to see some giant tortoises in the wild (yeah, but still on a farm) and check out some lava tubes (ho-hum). We passed. The rain continued to pour and the location was up in the mountains where even more rain was guaranteed. We opted to dry off in our room and take a much-needed nap. Reports back were that only two tortoises were seen and the rain was almost non-stop, so we feel like we didn't miss much.
Saturday, May 23 - The weather improved greatly the next morning and we were ready for the day. It started with a LONG walk to the ocean from our hotel to Tortuga Bay for some sight-seeing and kayaking in the mangroves nearby.
|The trail to Tortuga Bay was long (and surprisingly busy) based on the distance. We estimated that we walked over 11 miles today with this round trip and another trek to the Darwin Center at the far end of town and back.|
|The long walk was worth it. Tortuga Bay is amazingly beautiful and the strong waves are constantly roaring.|
|While kayaking we got fairly close to this large frigate bird. He never ballooned out his bright red throat for us as they are famous for during breeding season, but it was really cool to see him up this close.|
|The man. The legend.|
After lunch we visited the famous albeit-now, rather-quiet, Darwin Center whose authority and purpose have mostly now been swallowed up by the Ecuador National Park offices in Quito, leaving the large complex almost like a ghost town. Evidently, the government felt this complex was making too much money as a non-profit organization and they wanted their fingers in the pie, clearly forgetting that the name "Darwin" brought most of the notoriety (and tourism dollars) to these islands long before anything or anyone else did.
There was more tortoise breeding going on here as this was the home of the famous Lonesome George until his passing a couple years ago (RIP, big guy). He was the last of his kind and there is hope a few of the females still here might have some of his "love-juice" within them which they can amazingly store in their bodies for later use for up to five years...wow!! We also got to see a rather rare yellow land iguana, the long-lost cousin of the famous marine iguana.
We spent the rest of the day shopping and relaxing in the rather-modern town of Puerto Ayora, We closed out the day at the Bongo Bar where I had a cool Cuba Libre (rum and Coke). We had a final dinner as a group tonight at a local place picked out by our great guide, Fabricio.
|This is a closed-off street in Santa Cruz where tables are set up in the road flanked by restaurants on both sides. It's basically the best "food-court" you will ever go to eat at with tons of fresh seafood waiting to be ordered and cooked.|
|That afternoon back in Quito we took a $5 cab ridge (what a deal) and visited the Old Town area that includes the amazing Gold Church (left - no photos allowed inside where all the gold is).|
|What a beautiful, vibrant city this is! Although it does seem to have its share of poverty and slums as well. High atop El Panecillo Hill in downtown is the Virgen de Quito (Quito's Madonna)|
|The Ecuadorian people seem to be a happy lot who take pleasure in the simple things in life. A humble street show drew this large crowd in a square in front of the presidential palace and seemed to delight everyone greatly.|
|Twitter photo by Martin Díaz Zúñiga|
The entire trip was a great adventure that we will never forget and the bonus of making great new friends including Ben, Darcy and Casey from Australia, Joe and L.A. from Pennsylvania, and Rachel from Toronto, just adds to the value of this amazing experience.
A special salute to Ashlee for enduring this already-tough trip with one of the worst cases of poison ivy that I have ever seen. She was a trooper throughout. So much so, I even forgot at times she was suffering through it. Anyone that says women aren't tough can stick it where the sun don't shine!!