Ça y est: le moment est arrivé, nous sommes finalement le 12 mars, ou peut-être devrais-je dire déjà?
À vrai dire ces 10 derniers jours sont passés très vite: ce n'est qu'il y a 10 jours que j'ai enfin décidé de mon itinéraire définitif pour ces 84 prochains jours, ou du moins de ma destination d'arrivée et de celle de départ en retour (rien n'est encore définitif pour le reste). Après avoir dû renoncer à mon premier itinéraire qui devait me conduire du Vénézuéla au Brésil dû à la situation actuelle de ce premier pays, je me suis décidée pour un périple de la moitié Nord de ce beau continent que j'ai tellement rêvé de connaître depuis toute petite et l'idée est donc de parcourir l'Equateur puis passer par le Pérou, la Bolivie, longer la côte brésilienne du Sud au Nord et enfin, rejoindre la Colombie!
En décrivant l'itinéraire je me demande si ce n'est pas un peu trop ambitieux comme route en si peu de temps -il y a tant à voir dans chacun de ces pays que je sais je ne pourrai qu'effleurer la culture- mais je pense alors à Jules Verne et son tour du monde en 80 jours. En 80 jour on peut ne rien faire comme on peut profiter de chaque instant et en faire une aventure inoubliable, voilà ce que je compte en faire!
Affaire à suivre...
Le vol de Bruxelles à Madrid s'est très bien passé, aucune turbulence à signaler et nous sommes même arrivés avec de l'avance sur l'heure prévue.
Aucun souci pour me déplacer à la terminale 4S, j'attends maintenant une vingtaine de minutes à ce que la porte d'embarquement soit annoncée 😊
¡Ya llegue a Quito! Despues de un largo vuelo de 11h30 entre Madrid y Quito en el que me dio tiempo a ver 3 peliculas y ademas de eso charlar y reir un buen rato con mi vecino de fila, llegue a destino, hora local 6pm, para mi las 00.00
Al poco rato de pasar por los controles de seguridad (bastante rapidos y sin queja que dar) enseguida reconozco a Lourdes, la mama de Lia acompañada de su perrita tal y como me la habia descrito su hija, unos dias antes despues de haberla conocido en Bruselas de pura casualidad por las cosas que hace el destino.
¡Y que suerte! Encantadora, enseguida nos lanzamos en una charla politico-socio-existencialista interesantisima. En unos minutos que pasan volando llegamos a la casita preciosa donde nos espera una manada de gatitos y enseguida Lourdes me hace sentir como en casa, faltan palabras para expresar la gratitud y lo afortunada que me siento por poder compartir momentos como estos.
¡Buenas noches mundo!
So much history, so much architecture, so much randomness and so much laughter, that's the best I can do to describe my first day exploring this beautiful city, all I know is I am going to need a few more to get to see it properly. But today was only a starter and not too bad for a first day to be honest, I am quite happy with all I got to see in a day.
First off, as I got dropped off in the city centre it felt a bit overwhelming, loads of traffic and crowds so I just decided to walk a bit away from that rush and there, in a corner of a quieter street a museum caught my eye: it was not listed on my guidebook but what a beautiful finding! I am talking about the casa museo Sucre, a must-see!! I just went in and two young students let me in very kindly, free entry and offering a guided tour even though it was only me. I learned so much about the history of the mariscal Sucre, great friend of Simon Bolivar and first president of Bolivia. The place was just full of history and lovely, excellent tour very well explained, what a great start to my day!
Next, keeping up with the visits I went on to learn about the iglesia de la compañia de Jesus, same here, excellent tour, started as an individual tour but then gathered quite a nice group of two friends and a family. This is probably the most baroque church I have ever seen, gold everywhere, hard to imagine it like that so full of excess while people were forced to convert and believe in a church that supposedly was promoting vow of poverty..
After that I tried see the presidential palace but was put off by the long queue and decided to leave it for another day, visiting the Catedral primada de quito. Again, private tour extremely well explained with so many details illustrating the syncretism found in catholic churches from the colonial era imbued with indigenous traditions. In this cathedral are also found the supposed remainings of Sucre, after his body was identified many years after his suspicious assassination. I had to rush a little bit this one as Edison, a friend of Lourdes had agreed to pick me up around 3.30pm.
And then, the randomness began: I really got to experience the local day to day life hoping between shops looking for a small piece of leather as he needed to fix a part of his car's seats. On the way back home he also stopped for me to quickly visit the third and last church of the day: la basilica del voto nacional. Another impressive piece of architecture: apparently the biggest basilica in South America with 140m in length and inspired in Notre Dame de Paris, from the middle one can see on a heart shaped window la virgen del Panecillo that looks on the city. From there again, got a quick tour of the city by car and again, somehow I found myself caught up in a local district council sort of meeting on a new reform of the system of participation, extremely random as you must be thinking but another story for the memories.
After that, I finally make it home for a quick dinner with Lourdes full of laughter sharing the stories of the day before heading to Edison's house as he insisted I meet his daughter who is studying French, English and Chinese to practice the two first ones a bit with her, again a different experience but great exchange. Finally I am dropped back home and found some time to share this here before getting some rest for another day full of adventures tomorrow 😉
Wow! It feels good to be alive!!
Today, I was switching hosts (temporally) to stay near the South of Quito at an easier reach from a few epic places on my checklist, namely Baños and Cotopaxi.
And so, wonderful Lourdes and I take the road early morning to drop me off at the Choclo where Marcia, Lorena, Emilia and Faustino are waiting for me. Somehow a bit sad to say bye to Lourdes for the next two days as I know I will miss our evening banter but I promise to keep in touch as much as possible (I failed quite dramatically since I spent almost the entire day disconnected, having to draft this offline).
Marcia and Emilia quit us as the little one is not feeling too good and so Lorena, Faustino and I embark for our day trip to Baños. Lorena turns out to be a great and speedy driver and we reach our destination in a record time by 11am. We take several stops on the way to take pictures of the scenery, grab some snacks (tamales) and refuel.
We are finally welcomed by huge Hollywood style letters saying "Baños les saluda". There, a stand catches our attention: there is a zip line that allows you to cross the river from one side of the valley to the other. I don't think about it twice and before we know it Faustino and I find ourselves hanging in flying mode above the river with amazing views on the small waterfall! We then got another chance to get a better glimpse of it as we chose to do the way back on the small cabin. Lorena on the other hand, was impossible to convince and decided to watch us from the earth.
What an amazing start to the day!
We then got the chance to have a walk along the cliff and observe some faces in the rocks which appeared as a result of the construction of the path. After that, we get back on the car to keep up with the extreme experiences and head to the "cabaña del arbol" with its iconic swing on the edge of a cliff facing a volcano. The place has been quite exploited and you can actually find a series of other activities. Of course, I decide to go on all of them, regretting it quickly with the last activity which looked easy but was the one that made me sweat the most: walking in equilibrium on a tree above a pond, luckily for me, I manage to get through it completely dry!
Around 2.30pm, we make it back to the village of Baños for some lunch after a quick visit to the main church, which again, follows the baroque style full of details of the churches I visited yesterday.
Another long drive back of approx. 3h and several small naps later, we are back to the Selva Alegre and Lorena proposes to go to the shopping mall in town to walk around and grab some dinner like proper locals. And so, that is me again doing the most random stuff to finish off the day like a local.
We made it alive!!
Today was Cotopaxi day: I was joined again by Lorena and Faustino to go up the famous volcano that had its last volcanic activity only a year ago, the second highest active volcano in the world. Although, I got to hear some of the craziest rumours about its last eruption: there is apparently a conspirational theory that is now emerging that says the government had sent some army planes to bomb the volcano and wake it up to stop some indigenous people on their protest march to Quito...
So, after a home made breakfast by lovely Mariana and a quick visit from Emilia (who is feeling a lot better than yesterday) and Marcia, we brace ourselves for the cold and take the road towards Cotopaxi. Again, Lorena displays her abilities getting us safely through the difficult road still damaged by the recent volcanic activity. We reach the Northern entrance to the park and there, we learn from the local ranger that I am technically not allowed in without an official guide for safety reasons but nice enough, he lets us in this time. The roads gets harder and harder and we even pass some 'crazy gringos' carrying their bike as it becomes almost impossible to ride. Soon, we start to see white patches of snow which quickly fully cover the ground and it is time to leave the car behind and continue on our feet.
The ascension begins. I didn't see it coming but conditions have worsen since we took the road and visibility barely reaches 5m ahead, we are surrounded by blizzard, almost as we were walking in the clouds, probably the highest I have been so far in my life (not on a plane). This means we have no idea how far we are from the refugio. To make things worse, the guides from the other groups ascending at the same time as us don't seem to have a better idea: it is the first time they take this path, usually getting there from the other side. We need to take a few stops to catch our breath as it is becoming increasingly difficult to breathe, I feel like I am bleeding from the mouth and the pressure is triggering a headache. We see a few people throwing up and still no sight of the refugio. I have no idea how long we have been walking but it feels like the target is nowhere near. Lorena threatens to turn back a few times but we wait for her and try to encourage her despite our own incertitude. Almost when I was wondering if we would ever get there, the guide I asked if he knew how far we were but had no idea and estimated another half an hour shouts at me that we are there!!
What a feeling, we did it!! The conditions are so poor today, it is as far as we are allowed to go (to be perfectly honest I am quite happy with it this time, the perfect excuse not to go further as I doubt we would have been able to do so without any incident). I am told we had been walking for approximately 2h!! It actually felt shorter than that. At the refugio, we warm ourselves up with a delicious Ecuatorian hot chocolate and some snack before heading back down. I even get the time to learn a few words in quechua blethering with the staff. Big deception of the day though: I left my passport in the car and there is the chance to get it stamped for the Cotopaxi, why?!!! Note to self: always carry your passport when climbing iconic places, it can be a nice addition to the hardly stamped European passport 😉
The way down is a lot quicker as we take the straight route down and the legs run by themselves, I get some great tips for visiting the Galapagos from one of the guides that kind of abandoned his group to blether with us (arguing the dangerous part is the climb up, once they have managed it, all that can happen is a broken leg). And so, we ride through the hell road again to make it home for a well-deserved lunch.
As we get back, we are welcomed by Emilia, Marcia and Mariana and a delicious homemade almuerzo. We then head to the park to have a walk with the little Emilia who seems to be recovering pretty well from her cold. We then all get some rest until it gets dark enough to go to La Ronda for some epic dinner accompanied by a karaoke session, great times as it is becoming usual in Ecuador!
It was great to be reunited again with Lourdes in Tumbaco and share with her all my adventures from the past two days down South.
We had quite a relaxed day getting to hang around Quito like locals and feel the current atmosphere with regards to the upcoming election.
We started the morning with an early succulent lunch at the Arrecife restaurant, getting to taste some great dishes from the coast such as ceviche and arroz marinero. We then had a stroll around the Santa Clara food market where we met some opposition supporters marching around to campaign for Lasso, the leader of the opposition facing Lenin in the second round of the presidential elections.
After that, we went to surprise Carmen and Marco, Lourdes' nephews at their school as they were being picked up by their grandma, the amazing Susana. As the weather rapidly changed from the morning sunshine to a heavy rainfall (and I had made the terrible choice of wearing shorts, looking like a proper foreigner) we headed back home, stopping first by Guapulo, a nice area of Quito I had actually been to very randomly as well on Monday.
In the evening, I got to meet Hugo, Lia's dad (who works at the Catholic University of Quito as the dean of the faculty of exact sciences) as we went for dinner with Lourdes at a mexican restaurant.
Today I met up with Manuel, an old friend from Edinburgh that had been doing a masters degree in Science Communication at the University of Edinburgh.
I finally got to use the public transport and see how buses and taxis work here (surprisingly safe and reliable). Again, I saw first hand how the upcoming election is the hot topic for conversation currently with people using traffic queues to offer stickers backing the opposition leader to cars blocked in the jam.
I also got to taste the local market food and walk around the touristy mariscal district. And to keep up with the random experiences, we attended a seminar on the perception of feminism among indigenous and black communities at the FLACSO.
After that, we went to the natural sciences museum in plaza la Carolina since Manuel needed to measure some birds skins and I got to learn about birds from Ecuador -the third country with the biggest variety of bird species in the world!
Finally, when I got back home I was welcomed by Lourdes, Carmen and Marco for a family dinner cooked by the amazing Susana and getting to taste a new traditional dish (delicious, like everything I have been eating so far): locro.
Perfect end of yet another great day!
Saturday is the day to go to Otavalo.
If you are looking for handmade souvenirs and crafts Otavalo market should have what you are looking for. On Saturday, the market is the biggest although you might find stalls all week round.
Since it is the weekend and children don't go to school, I was extremely happy to be joined by Carmen and Marco, as well as Lourdes and Susana. What a pair of travel buddies, the best company I could have asked for!
We started the day stopping at Cayambe for some famous bizcochos and hot chocolate after a quick stop at the equinox as we passed the Ecuador (I can finally tick that box!! Although there will be more tomorrow about it).
We then made it to Otavalo where I practiced my bargaining skills learning from the best: Lourdes and Susana. We were also delighted with beautiful music from different artists that were animating the market, a very nice atmosphere!
Again, Ecuador's unpredictable weather stroke just as we were done shopping and we found refuge in a lovely traditional food restaurant where we had some almuerzo and also got some ice cream and fruit salad after lunch.
Before heading home, we stopped by the lake Yawar Kucha in Ibarra which literally means 'blood lake' since the legend says that the lake turned red after a battle where many indigenous people lost their lives.
Keeping up with the excellent culinary experience, we stopped on the way back home for a fritada for dinner, again, de-li-cious
An unforgettable day made so by the perfect company!!
Today was the day I finally got to tick the equator off my bucket list after a failed attempt last summer when I was in Uganda.
Again, the day was brighten by the beautiful company of Lourdes, Susana and my two little primos Marco and Carmen 😀
We started off by a quick visit to the mercado del arenal in Tumbaco which takes place every Sunday and where you can find nearly every food you want -dead or alive. We then stopped for lunch to eat some delicious empanadas.
Next, we went to the Pululahua crater to enjoy the unique scenery of this very special place where, again, we were very lucky with the weather!
Then, we had the time of our life at the Mitad del mundo visitor centre. We got to play with eggs (putting them in equilibrium on the line of the equator), water (observing the currents going both ways on different sides of the equator), at the museum of chocolate and the planetarium.
To sum up, an amazing day again, in great company and very lucky with the weather, what else can I ask for?
After a busy weekend, I had a more relaxed day today, getting to feel more and more like a local.
I am seriously starting to think I am a magnet for evangelists since today I met the third one on my way who also tried to convert me, unsuccessfully. It seems like this church is becoming increasingly popular in South America. The famous evangelist of the day today was Jesus, a handyman Lourdes recommended me to drive me to town.
I got to see a very local market of San Roque, quite a different experience from everything I have seen so far: an extremely busy and dirty market with an area dedicated to furniture and another area dedicated to food but the sanitary conditions there are the poorest I had seen so far.
After that, we went to see the views from the Panecillo (a 200m high hill at 3016m above sea level) and visited the museum inside the beautiful statue of the virgen de Quito. The sight is just breathtaking: Quito is such a huge city compared to anything else we have in Europe!
We then went back to the city centre for another failed attempt at visiting the Presidential Palace but instead we just ended up watching and intervening in some fuelled political debate in the plaza mayor between supporters and opponents of the president discussing the upcoming election since we couldn't afford to queue to get in due to the pico y placa law which forbids cars with the plaque number that we had to circulate in Quito between 4pm and 7.30pm. The popular debate however, was also halted by the rain that took us all by surprise after a sunny morning.
On our way back home we could appreciate how violent the storm was: there was lightening, landslides and hail! I was quite glad to get home and have some great time with Lourdes exchanging songs and singing.
Aaaand, I also spent some time getting ready for tomorrow as I will be flying somewhere super exciting!! Stay tuned for the news! 😉
Today was the big departure day for my adventure to the Galapagos. I was due to fly at 10.40am from Quito and arrive in San Cristobal for 1.10pm. However, since things don't always follow the plan, the flight was delayed from Quito and only left by 12.15pm, Latam airlines was quite nice about it though and quickly provided us all with a snack.
The flight to Guayaquil was pretty quick: just the time for a nap and one hour later, there we were! This huge city was nothing like what I expected: although those who were going to the Galapagos didn't even leave the plane, the feeling I got from it from the aerial view was very special. Guayaquil seems so different from Quito, so flat and almost built on the water, very stratified as if it was a recent city with straight streets. It would certainly take at least three weeks to properly get to know it!
Almost one hour after landing in Guayaquil the same plane was flying us to San Cristobal. It must have taken about three hours. The feeling I got as soon as I was getting out of the plane reminded me of that heavy and warm humidity I felt the first time I went to the Caribbean back in 2012 on my trip to Cuba. All of a sudden I was almost struggling to breath, which never happened to me in Quito, despite the altitude! My luggage took quite a while to come out but once I had everything with me, I took a taxi to the centre if town.
Immediately, I found my self trapped in my most feared tourist trap: as soon as the driver saw I had almost no plan and nothing booked yet he drove me to a hostel, went to the reception before me and became quite insisting, also offering to drive me around the island for 3h for $60... Everything I usually try to avoid when traveling. But, as usual, I didn't let that ruin my trip and just politely told the girl at the reception I would look around first and maybe come back. When the taxi driver saw me leaving the hostel with all my belongings (yes, he was waiting in his car to see if he would get his percentage) he looked confused, but I couldn't care less.
The main malecon avenue is wayyy too touristy for me, not my thing at all, I was almost thinking I should have stick with my original plan of going to Puerto Lopez instead but as I found some wifi connexion I was so happy to know I was not alone: as usual, my dad been looking for hostels for me and sent me a selection of them. I then went to the office of tourism to ask for directions but they were just useless, referring me to the ultra touristy avenue. They did give me a map though and I eventually found my way to the Posada Terito where the owners Teresa and Marco quickly gave me a room to stay. It is a lovely place still in the heart of the town but a bit further from the tourist traps.
After a much needed shower as I was dripping in sweat I went back to the malecon to see the sunset and meet the lovely ses lions napping on the rocks and benches. My next challenge was to find a local restaurant: it took a while after walking for a couple of hours along the malecon where I enquired in a few dive centres about their day trips, behind the pizza, burger and sushi places, back near the area of my hotel, I found a local place to eat my alnuerzo.
To sum up, although most of the day was spent in planes and airports, I am so happy I made it here (despite the initial ultra touristy anxiety), the few hours I spent out and about with the crabs, sea lions and pelicans were just surreal. I am looking forward to see what my next days on this island will look like!
Due to the delay of the flight yesterday, I couldn't dive today so instead, I decided to explore the island by land.
I walked towards the centro de interpretación which was highly recommended. Little did I know that more than just a museum it was also the starting point of a few walking trails leading to different beaches. Not knowing about the distances but excited by the idea of swimming in the Pacific ocean for the first time in my life, after signing in at the entrance at 8.50am, I followed the first path to Playa Punta Carola. After a short and easy walk on a wooden path, I was there: facing the Pacific ocean on a small quiet beach with only three other visitors. A few minutes later, I was in the water swimming away next to sea lions and iguanas. What a wonderful sensation! The water from the Pacific tasted saltier than the Atlantic I thought and was also warmer.
After that, I walked the whole length of the beach until reaching its lighthouse which I was looking forward to climb to enjoy the panoramic view it offers but I had to quickly give up on the idea as I saw two sea lions napping on its steps. I then decided to keep walking towards the next stop, Las tijeretas.
Again, this one also consisted of an easy wooden trail with some more elevation that leads to a beautiful mirador. What followed after that point was the 'wrong decision time': at that mirador another indicator was leading to a hiking trail. And, for those who know me, me being me, I didn't think twice and kept going that way wearing my flip-flops I had put on with the intention of just going to a museum. For those who are reading this: don't do that, never engage on a hiking trail wearing flip-flops!!! (most of you will probably be thinking, of course! But I wish I had had that common sense before it was too late!).
So, with my flip-flops, without any food or drink with me (I was planning on buying some after a short visit to the museum), I followed the arrows and started walking the hiking path which consisted on finding a way through mud or volcanic rocks most of the time. After one of my flip-flops getting stuck in the mud broke apart, I started to think this might not have been the best idea. But I didn't know how far I was from the target, so just assumed I had to be too close to give up now.
If I thought climbing the Cotopaxi was an achievement, running a half marathon, walking the camino, etc. I think probably none of those compares to this: I rarely remember being that exhausted and having to use such a mental strength to keep myself walking.
Finally, after a few incidents of flip-flops breaking apart, in sticky mud, on wobbly rocks, I made it to what looked like the Playa Baquerizo. Again, I dropped my backpack under a three and headed to the water. However, waves were a lot more violent this time: impossible to swim in them.. not even sea lions were found chilling in that water. I had a short break there feeling the waves hit me and trying to find a continuation or alternative way back but soon realised the terrible situation I was in: the only way back was the way I came in...
Extremely thirsty and exhausted, I used all the energy I had left to get myself back and about 1h30 later, I was finally back in one piece melting and almost wishing the predicted rain had happened. But in the end I had made it, challenged myself and been rewarded by unique views the trail offered. It was already 2.30pm and I was starving so I headed back to the hotel stopping by a shop first and took a much needed shower.
I had a rest and before having dinner, went by different dive centres to see if they had spaces left to go diving to el leon dormido, which is THE place to spot sharks on a dive. Unfortunately most of them were fully booked for tomorrow by now so I booked a spot for Friday with Chalo Tours and extended my accommodation on the island one more night. For tomorrow, I will thus continue exploring the island by land but on two wheels most probably 😉
What is becoming like a pattern in my trip happened again today: last minute change of plans.
As I was heading to the rental shop to hire a bike and cycle to the upper side if the island, I found out it had actually been raining so bad yesterday that part of the route was impracticable. I ended up in a tour shop on the malecón and a lady was telling me how bad the route was: she had been doing it the day before and wouldn't recommend it the owner quickly came by and tried to sell me a snorkeling tour to el leon dormido which I had planned to go diving to tomorrow. Not surd how he did but contemplating the few options left I just decided to go: I didn't want to be told tomorrow today was the lucky day and that I had missed the hammerhead sharks.
I thus quickly ran back to my hotel, got changed, stopped by the rental shop to let then know I wouldn't do it today and stopped by the dive shop I had been to last night to pay my spot for tomorrow.
And so unexpectedly again, a few minutes later I was on board of a small boat along with a lovely couple from Manta, the coast of mainland Ecuador, our guide, the captain and the boat handler: a small private snorkeling tour.
We had a first stop on a coastal beach where we were the only visitors and had a tour on the sand being taught about different species of mangroves and wildlife as well as history of recent events that shaped the biodiversity on the beach by our guide Alejandro. We then proceeded on to doing some snorkeling and getting used to breathing with the mask and snorkel, especially for Mery who didn't know how to swim. We quickly spotted turtles, sea lions, ray and fishes. It was magical to be so close to these animals I am not used to see apart from on tv.
After about 40mins snorkeling, we got back to our boat and headed to the famous lein dormido or kicker rock (depending on the point of view). We learned about the different birds leaving on these volcanic rocks and soon after that, got back in the water for more spectacular snorkeling: after just a few minutes we spotted a group of black tailed sharks, turtles and colorful fishes! Towards the end though, I started feeling a bit dizzy: when snorkeling, you feel the movement of the waves a lot more that deeper underwater when diving.
As we returned to the boat, we were served some rice and chicken but I couldn't eat much of it, I was almost feeling sea sick.. However, that didn't stop me from blethering and I took the opportunity of the interval between the swims to drop the hot topic of the moment to hear the opinion of the people here. It quickly became a heated debate, very unequal with only one supporter if Lenin and the rest supporting Lasso. But always in a fun and relaxed atmosphere I tried to ask some neutral questions to balance the debate and we all took it with good humour.
Finally, it was time for our third and last swim again in the same area between the rocks. You cannot imagine my happiness when after a good 15 minutes swimming around I spotted my first hammerhead shark ever!! My day was complete! Despite the dizziness still persisting I kept swimming and looking for more wonderful creatures: we spotted some more turtles and black tip sharks and... later on, a second hammerhead shark!! Amazing day!
After that, we then headed back to the pier, I lied my head as the sea sickness had gone worse and I threw up the little food I had tasted earlier but still I was going home with a 'buen sabor de boca' having made one of my dreams come true: seeing hammerhead sharks!
Back in the office, the owner told us to come back later with a usb stick to collect the pictures the guide had been taking and I walked out with Mery and her husband who were looking for a place to get dinner later and I mentioned the lovely local place I had found near my hotel a few days ago. I showed it to them and they invited me to join them later so I could meet their lovely sons one ano four years old.
After some rest, as agreed I headed to the tour shop by 7pm for the pictures. A few minutes later I met Mery again who introduced me to her adorable little boys as well as her friend they were visiting and her two daughters. The children instantly made me their friends and we went for dinner all together, nice change from my two first nights in Galápagos. I then promised the children I would join them play at the park and somehow ended up in a really nice municipal park playing with them and other local children.
A perfect day with new friends to remember! 😀
I did not realise it when I woke up that morning but today would be my last day in San Cristóbal.
I was looking forward to finally go diving with Chalo Tours at kicker rock and hopefully see the hammerhead sharks from closer. I got up early in the morning to fuel on some consistent breakfast before the scheduled meeting at the dive shop by 8.30am.
Once there, I met another Chilean couple, Carlos and Daniela who were completing today their Open Water Diving Certification and who would be the only other two divers along with the divemaster. A nice and small group. Another american solo traveler, Alan from Minnesota was also there but he would be snorkeling.
At the pier, we were joined by two other groups of four: a family with two young children and another family with older children (very typical obnoxious american tourists just to illustrate the kind: one of them had a towel of a one hundred dollars bill). Today, the catamaran was a lot larger than the small boat from yestarday and there was plenty of space. For the staff, it consisted of the captain, the marinero, the nature guide and the divemaster.
We started off with a walk along Puerto Grande, a small coastal beach on the way to Leon dormido where we got some explanations on the consequences of the last two hurricanes that affected the island and where we were also invited to do some snorkeling if we wanted to. I soon realised visibility today was not great. I was then told to do a quick check dive to verify all the equipment was in order.
And finally we headed to the famous kicker rock or Leon dormido for two dives separated by our lunch time where we were served some great fish with rice but again, I started to feel sick as I began to eat and could not finish the food. As expected, the visibility was not good at all which made me feel lucky I had gone snorkeling the day before. Despite that, we still managed to see black tip sharks, loads of turtles feeding, a school of fish and an eagle ray! Not bad at all.
After the dives, I joined my new friends from yesterday at Playa de Mann to see the sunset as they were coming back from Punta Carola where they had seen beautiful turtles, sea lions and iguanas. Andrea even invited me to go to her home to share dinner with them as Walter and Merry were flying back to Manta the next morning. A lovely farewell surrounded by kind hearts. That is also when I realised I was settling in my comfort zone in San Cristóbal and it was time for me too to leave the island. Andrea gave me precious tips and recommendations which helped me decide my next destination would be Isabela, rather than Santa Cruz.
After a loud night due to a campaign party organised by Lenin Moreno's team right next to my hotel, I woke up very early to pack and head to the harbour by 6.30am in the hope to find a ticket to Santa Cruz for 7am.
Big stress as I got there and was told the morning tickets were sold out and my only option was to either stay one more day on the island or take the 3pm boat. But luckily, I managed to get one of the two last tickets another man was still selling.
As I was waiting for my boat, I bumped into Daniela and Carlos from yesterday's dive who were heading to Santa Cruz to fly back home from Baltra. Daniela was super helpful once she heard I was planning on heading to Isabela and immediately saved my number to send me the contact phones for the tours that they used as well as giving me advice on Santa Cruz for the transit.
The boat ride was hectic to say the least, it is incredible how many people and how much luggage they manage to fit in those tiny boats that transit between the islands! After about two hours and another taxi boat, I was in Santa Cruz where I bought my ticket for the same afternoon to Isabela at the agency Daniela had told me about where they also kindly let me leave my backpack until 1.30pm when I was supposed to start queuing for the 2pm boat.
I tried make the most of the couple of hours I had on the island despite how busy and touristy it felt, reminding me of Arecife in Lanzarote. I had lunch where I quickly managed to get in touch with the headquarters (dad at home) to help me find a place to stay in Isabela and then walked to the Darwin Foundation which also had a 'centro de interpretación' to visit and soon it was time to head back to the harbour for the second transit of the day.
The boat ride from Santa Cruz to Isabela was very similar to the one from San Cristóbal to Santa Cruz and I spent most of the journey asleep. Once I arrived, no signs of the pick up team from the hotel my dad had booked so I started walking and jumped into a taxi bus that drove me to Paraiso Isabela.
Apparently they had not checked their emails. But I was quickly given a room and took a much needed shower after confirming to my worried family that I had reached my destination safe and sound.
In the evening, I walked around looking for tour companies to book my activities for the next day but what I found was closed shops everywhere. (I was told the next day it was due to a party organised by the opposition candidate this time, Lasso). Thus, I ended up coming back to the hotel see if they could contact anyone to sort me out for tomorrow.
I have no idea who I spoke to or which company but I was booked to go see the volcanos the next day, pick up at 6.45am.
I must be cursed or something but the very musical political campaign seems to be following me: last night (I found out later) the party in the neighbourhood was organised by Lasso's team. Different island, same story again: right next to my hotel loud music all night. This is something I will definitely remember Ecuador for: the only place where I have ever seen a presidential campaign 'a ritmo de reggaetón'.
6.45am I am ready waiting outside the hotel for the pick up to the volcanoes trek but no one around. I started to think it had all been a scam: I had actually not been given any ticket or proof of payment for the trip, didn't even have a name for the company or phone number. Luckily at 7am someone from the hotel arrived and kindly phoned up the people to know what was going on. They were just coming at the 'ecuatorian time', 7.15am.
On the pick up I met Shawn, a Chinese traveler who had been working in Quito for almost a year, Alexander, a Russian tourist and finally another girl from New Zealand who was on a 6 months journey through South and Central America after taking a redundancy.
At the start of the trek, the group was made even bigger with another two cars and the final group was of 11 plus the guide. Among them there was an Italian couple, two Dutch solo travelers, a girl from South Africa and a mother and a daughter. Three of us were Spanish speakers but everyone was fluent in English so the guide decided to stick to his very broken English only.
We walked for about 5h in total including some stops to take pictures and for lunch but the spectacular views were worth the effort: after about 40minutes into the walk we arrived to Sierra negra, the second biggest crater of an active volcano in the world! The echo was amazing. We then walked for another hour and a half approximately to reach the volcan chiquito and from there, faced the Northern part of the island of which we could distinguish the other volcanos and isla Fernanda.
The way back was also enjoyable: some of us shared stories and tips on traveling the other islands or neighbouring countries since a few were on a longer journey across the continent.
Back in town, I was pretty exhausted and after doing some laundry, embarked on the mission to book a space in one of the activities the island has to offer, after consulting with my fellow travelers I decided to do the snorkeling in Tuneles, a very special place made of tunnels of lava where sharks, turtles and rays can be spotted.
It took quite a walk and negotiation skills to get a reasonable price for the right activity but in the end I managed and was pretty happy with it: the tour was scheduled for 11am and I would probably rent a bike in the morning to go to the wall of tears.
Finally, as I was walking around the central square, I saw a restaurant that I remember Daniela had recommended me and decided to stop there for dinner. As I was starting to eat, Alexander, the Russian guy from the tour in the morning saw me and joined me for dinner, telling me about the 51 countries he has already visited and sharing tips about Ecuador.
Another great day with wonderful people and landscapes!
What a complete day!
Today was a busy day as I planned on doing two different excursions: since my snorkel tour was not starting until 11am, I rented a bike in the morning to see the wall of tears first. I had been told at the hotel that the excursion was supposed to take about 4h but since the bike shop didn't open until 8am, I would have to attempt to do it in half the time, challenge accepted!
I am definitely cursed regarding the noise at night and this time, even though I tried to go to bed early for the busy day coming up, it was an american school group staying in my corridor that woke me up and didn't let me sleep enough.
So, a bit late on my schedule, at 8.30am I was renting the bike, it looked like the day was good and sunny. On my way I happened to bump into Carlos in the same shop, the famous dive guide Daniela had told me about in San Cristobal for the diving at isla tortuga and which I had been trying to contact unsuccessfully. He there told me a group might be going out tomorrow but needed confirmation.
I thus took the road to the muro de las lagrimas a nice and easy ride of approximately 8km from the centre of town. In 26mins I reached the place (not stoppong at the intermediary sights such as the turtle nesting site, a mirador etc. Worried I wouldn't make it on time). To welcome me was a big slow tortoise at the entrance of the site. As I got up the wall, I met Samantha and her mum, from Guayaquil who had been walking there since 7am. We took some pictures and talked a little bit, they were quite surprised I was traveling like this by myself and there was another mirador further up which they asked me if I was going to climb. I managed to convince Samantha to do it too since the views had to be stunning but the mum decided to stay there keeping an eye in their belongings as she was a bit more tired. Guess what, as expected, it was well worth it, the views on the bay were amazing, the walk wasn't too hard and definitely worth the effort! Finally, it was time for me to head back to the hotel for a quick shower and to get ready for the snorkeling trip to Tuneles.
The boat for tuneles was quite full: we were two couples from Ecuador, another one from Argentina, a girl from Chile, a girl from Germany, a girl from the island but who was living abroad and I, 10 in total, plus the guide, sailor and boat driver.
Tuneles is probably the most iconic landscape of the island: it consists of bridges made of lava that come out of the water and where one can find turtles, sharks, sea horses as well as blue footed boobies nesting on the actual bridges. We managed to spot quite a lot of marine life including a group of silver rays, turtles, white tip sharks and a sea horse, although I felt like we were probably too many and some times almost disturbing the turtles that were just going on about their day.
On my way back, I was happy to learn that my spot for the diving tomorrow at isla tortuga had been secured and we would be only three divers, meeting at the dive centre was scheduled for 8am 😀
At 8am 'galapagos time' (rather like 8.20am) we were heading to our boat for the day. At the dive center, I met Dave and Marcel, from South Africa and Switzerland respectively and both highly experienced divers with 100+ dives on the counter. It was great to finally be in a group with roughly equally skilled people, which should hopefully allow for a longer dive than the one from kicker rock.
We were also joined by group of three snorkelers, a dad and his two sons from Ecuador as well as the sailor and Harry, the captain. After a boat ride of after 30mins, we were at our famous site of isla tortuga for which, again quite an exercise of imagination was required to see the turtle shape. It was in reality a sunken crater from which we could see some of the highest edges forming a circular shape.
I was really looking forward to see hammerheads, hopefully from closer this time and Dave was really hoping for manta rays. Well, none of us was disappointed: from our first immersion we spotted hammerheards, turtles, two manta rays, black tip sharks, white tip sharks, and plenty of colorful fishes! We had a lunch break but again, the sea sickness came back after a good day yesterday and I decided to leave lunch for later to prevent any incidents. We had a great interval time commenting on the amazing dive we had had and time went by quickly: it was soon time for our next immersion.
Wow. This one was even greater than the first one, seeing countless hammerhead sharks including a big group of a dozen of them, getting quite close, a huge manta ray coming twice to us, turtles, black tip sharks and white tip sharks. I couldn't ask for more. The hammerheads I had come for had visited us peacefully two meters away from us. Since the club's camera was broken, I was the official reporter of the dive and kept swimming after the sharks, at the end we all barely had any oxygen left in out tanks but our lungs were full of excitement: an unforgettable dive approved by a South African, a Swiss and a Spanish, we all agreed it was probably the best dive of our lives! To make it even more special, getting back to the pier we even spotted a couple of penguins playing around the boat!!
Dave and Marcel were heading back to Santa Cruz on the same afternoon and so we were back just on time by around 2pm. For the rest of the day, I had asked Lisbeth from the tour agency if she had any recommendation of anything else that was left for me to explore on the island for a couple of hours and she told me about la Cueva de Sucre.
Carlos the divemaster agreed to show me around and so at 3pm 'galapagos time' (more like 3.30pm we drove there. As we were on our way I just found out the 20 years old driver had just started driving when buying his car two weeks ago and didn't even own a license! (Only possible in Isabela I was told). Luckily we made it there safe and sound and walked 400m inside a cave on the higher part of the island. Then, we also stopped by a mirador del mango to see the town from above and for beautiful views on the sierra negra.
Definitely a day to remember with great sights underwater as well as on land! The best way I could have spent my last day on this beautiful island!
Early morning again: today I woke up at 4.30am to pack everything and get to the pier by 5.30am to take the ferry back to Santa Cruz at 6am. The sun was still rising by the time I got there, a wonderful last sight of the island to remember.
The 2h boat ride went smoothly thanks to the fact that the sun was not out yet for most of the time. But as soon as I got to Santa Cruz the heat was stronger than ever and with all my belongings with me I was melting. I went for some breakfast and then left my backpack at the agency I had left it last time. It was very nice of them to let me drop off by bags there while I tried to enjoy this island quickly.
When on Isabela, people had recommended me to try get a boat taxi to las Grietas and enjoy a swim there if I had time. And that is what I did. What a great decision! After a short boat ride to a small island, and a short 10mins walk, I was at another piece of paradise: between walls of rocks, a small swimming pool had formed with almost still water since the salt there is filtered by the rock. I enjoyed a calm swim when it was still quiet as I arrived with a local guide and a tourist from Ukraine, barely ten other people were already there. The water was fresh and delicious after the suffocating heat. As soon as I was was done swimming, the crowed arrived as a few tours came, perfect timing.
I then headed back to Santa Cruz on the taxi boat and had an early almuerzo before walking the streets of this touristy island one last time as I waited for 12.30 to get a taxi to the airport. I tried see if I could find fellow travelers to share a taxi with since after 8am the buses don't run anymore but the mission was unsuccessful and I just gave up heading back to the agency where the staff encouraged me to at least try get the tariff down to $20, there is quite a way from the town to the airport in Santa Cruz since this one is on a different island: Baltra.
After a great chat about current politics in Ecuador and Spain with the driver that made the ride go by quickly, I still had another boat and a bus to take in order to get to the famous airport. Finally, by 1.30pm I was there, great timing to check in and wait in the well conditioned waiting area of the small airport.
And so, at 3pm on the clock, I was taking off for a direct flight to Quito, marking the end of my adventure in the Galapagos islands and what an adventure!
Looking forward to being reunited Lourdes and my adopted family from Quito again and to see what will happen next in the mainland😀
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