Quilitoa Lagoon, Ecuador
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Week 33 - Galapagos Islands
Written by Tina Sibley in August 2019

The fifth leg of my journey takes me to the Galapagos Islands, some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and straddling the Equator!  Another paradise on Earth!

These islands are very special indeed and have captured a very large piece of my heart! 

Monday 12th August

The only place I got to see today was the inside of the hospital at San Cristobal. 
I began vomiting at about 1am ish and then went into a full blown bilious attack, continually vomiting every 15-20 minutes until 10am. I spent the day in bed, totally unable to join in with the day’s activities, which included a visit to the Island’s Interpretation centre and more snorkelling. 

By 6pm I was seriously dehydrated as I had been unable to drink any fluids and was very weak and still nauseous. The following day we were going by boat (5.5 hrs) to our next location, so I needed to be up to the journey and it wasn’t looking good. The reps decided I needed to go to hospital to be put onto a drip, so I was taken by cab at about 7pm.  

The care I received was exemplary and way above what I would have expected. ❤️

First of all – our lovely guide, CheChe was wonderful. He looked after me so well, practically carrying me to the taxi which took me to the hospital and then holding my hand, patting it and comforting me while we waited for me to be seen. Then he stayed with me the entire time I was in the hospital – about 6 hours!
I was seen really quickly – there didn’t seem to be anyone else there! I was taken care of by a male nurse and a female doctor who didn’t speak any English but the tone of their voice and the way they looked at me and treated me oozed with compassion. They were so gentle and I felt so safe. Also, CheChe translated for me the whole time.

The administration was taken care of quickly and easily – they took my insurance details and that was that – I didn’t have to pay a penny myself.
I was put on a drip and given some drug or other as well as saline – whatever they injected in, it was very cold! Then they decided I needed a cold shower because I had a high temperature – that wasn’t very pleasant!
However, the fluids did their job and by midnight, I was feeling much better so by 1am I was back at the hostel.

Afterwards, the concern from my fellow travellers was heart-warming and CheChe and the other guide Giovanni, both made it a priority to keep on checking on me to ensure I was OK. I felt like a total VIP!

Although I was feeling like a pile of poo, there were some very sweet and special moments connecting with others that I will treasure and only got to experience because I was ill.

Tuesday 13th August

An early start this morning – up at 6am to pack and be ready for the boat rides. I was no longer feeling nauseous and thankfully had no trouble on the boat. The first boat ride was 3.5 hours long and we saw loads of dolphins swimming along in our wake and jumping out of the water.

Then we stopped at Isla Floreana where the others went snorkelling while I elected to rest up in a hammock as I was still feeling a bit weak and pathetic – and my tummy had started cramping up a bit. (Andrea, one of the reps who acted as my translator in the hospital told me she had had really bad diahorea the past three days and I was afraid she might have passed it onto me)
Once the others came back, we had lunch. Soup and then I just had some plain rice with about 2 bites of chicken. Dessert was chocolate cake with coffee ice cream. I had about 3 bites before my tummy rumbling and cramps became too much and sure enough the squits had decided to visit me.

After lunch, we had some free time, so I went for a little wander and visited the playa negra (black beach) and then returned to my hammock.

Then it was time for the next boat ride – just under 2 hours this time to Isla Isabella. On the way, we spotted hump-back whales a mother and her baby – and they even swam under our boat. We also saw the Galapagos penguin and more pelicans.

We got to our hostel, had a nice shower and had our briefing for tomorrow – a full day coming up. Then we went to explore the town and most went for dinner, but I didn’t think food was a good idea, so I passed and came back to the hostel.
I’m still not feeling too great and only hope that I can join in fully with tomorrow’s activities.

Wednesday 14th August

Isla Isabela

We were picked up this morning at 7.45 and taken to the pier area. I was feeling much better, although still a little shaky and tender around the tummy area. But determined to join in with everything that today had to offer.

We first went on a short walk through the mangroves to a lovely beach cove and then went to the pier for the boat where we were entertained by a couple of sealions playing and chasing each other. We went on a boat ride around the bay where we saw the famous Galapagos penguins. The penguins are strictly monogamous and there are 42 couples, a total of 84 penguins on Isla Isabella. If one of the couples dies, the surviving penguin doesn’t take another mate, but will die shortly afterwards.

We then crossed the bay and went on a walk over the lava rocks where we saw many more iguanas, another lagoon and then viewed shark alley. There were lots of white tipped reef sharks just basking in the water and the highlight was watching a young sea lion chasing one of them down the alley.

Then we went to our snorkelling area for the day. We snorkelled off some rocks in a sheltered lagoon area and then swam further out through a channel towards the open ocean. The snorkelling was absolutely wonderful.

We saw all manner of sea urchins, especially nasty black spiky sea urchins that we were warned not to step on! We saw different types of starfish – blue starfish, that were a vibrant purple-blue colour, chocolate chip starfish that literally looked just like chocolate chip cookies, and big fat starfish that I can’t remember the name of – pan something or other.

We saw so many different types of fish, but the highlight were shoals of sturgeon fish with blue bodies and yellow tails. We also got close to iguanas swimming through the water heading back to land.

We saw a shark, sea cucumbers and so much more that I can barely remember everything.

The highlight for me though was a swim with two of the sea turtles. I had two swimming just below me – only about 6-9 inches, one just on either side of me, so we were swimming in synchronisation in a little triangle together for a short while before they dived back down again. It was a truly beautiful experience that I will never forget.

After the snorkel, we were brought back to our hostel, where we had free time from around noon until 3pm for the afternoon’s activities.

Caroline and I went for a walk around the beach and square and then had lunch at Cesar’s where I had a nice plain potato soup. I was feeling much, much better and so far so good with food staying in me! Then we met up with Liz and Shaukia and had a drink – blackberry juice for me.

For the afternoon, we went to the giant tortoise breeding centre, where we learned about the programme for saving the giant tortoises. The introduction of other animals to the Galapagos Islands, such as goats, rats, dogs and insects had almost caused their extinction but the breeding programme is saving them. The tortoises live to 150 years old so the people hatching and raising them won’t get to see them grow old. They are in incubation pods until they’re 4 years old, then put into enclosures from 5 until 7 years old. At some point after that, they get released back into the wild.

After the tortoise breeding centre, we went for a walk through the wetlands where our eyes feasted on the sight of beautiful flamingos. They were a stunning peachy colour with black in their wing tips. We learned more about the plant life and how the eco system works and why conservation is so important in the Islands.

Then it was free time – a walk along the beach, back to the hostel for a shower and out for an evening meal. I’m happy to say that I was finally felling much more like myself and able to join in with the evening meal, although stuck to rice and vegetables.

A fabulous day! I’m feeling truly blessed and grateful for such wonderful experiences.

Thursday 15th August

Sierra Negra Volcano

Breakfast was at 6.30 today and we were on the bus at 7am to begin our day at Sierra Negra.

It was about a 45 minute drive and as we drove, we passed through very different regions. To begin with, the lowlands were quite barren with lots of old lava flows. These were very dangerous as they had chasms beneath them and people had fallen victim of collapses where they fell through large crevasses that had opened up. The ground was deemed way to unsafe to build on, and wasn’t fertile enough to grow crops, so the only thing we saw was a solar panel farm.

Then, as we climbed, we hit the fertile region, where we saw many different types of trees and crops. Banana trees, mango trees, papaya trees and so many more. The air was more humid and it was still warm. It’s said that the soil is so fertile, if you stick your fingers in the soil you would have leaves coming out of your ears!
Then we climbed more and it became very misty, with low hanging cloud and drizzle.

We got off the bus in this eerie mist and began our 16km trek. After about 3km, the mist began to clear and we found that we had reached the top of the large crater. The very large crater – in fact the 2nd largest active crater in the world! The largest crater in the world is Yellowstone and while the next largest crater in size is the Ngorugoru crater in Tasmania, it’s not active, so the Sierra Negra on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands claims the spot for 2nd largest active crater. And it was huge! 13km x 11km in an elliptical shape.

Looking down on the crater was spectacular and we learned about the different kinds of volcanos and how they’re formed – the typical cone is from a single explosion that shoots the ash, lava and magma straight up and it falls straight back down, whereas these large, wide volcanos have multiple, cinder explosions and lava that flows in many different directions. In the Sierra Negra crater, you could see the different eruptions – particularly the latest two in 2015 and 2018.
Then we walked around the rim of the crater and as we walked, we came out of the mist and into the sun. We continued trekking over the lava flows and lava tunnels and it was like walking on the moon – only black. The minerals made some of the rocks shine like blue stones, while some of the rocks were red with iron. The scarred landscape was rugged and breath-taking and the new lava crunched like glass beneath our feet.

We walked to the far side of the volcano, where the view over a large lake below was spectacular and then, after a short rest, we made our way back, stopping briefly to eat our lunch at a picnic area. I absolutely loved today’s hike – so different and interesting.

I’m staggered by how the locals take the volcano with its multiple and recent eruptions in their stride. They don’t seem to have any fear and it’s all part of their way of life.

When we got back to the hostel, we had some time to shower, chill out and pack before going out for dinner. Dinner was at a lovely restaurant called ‘The Booby Trap’ and it was nice to eat a proper meal rather than soup and rice for the first time since I was ill. And I had a cocktail too – without any repercussions! Happy Days!

Friday 16th August

Santa Cruz!

What a fabulous day! Up early again and picked up at 7am to go to the bay where we went kayaking. This was wonderful – as we kayaked about the bay, we were joined by pelicans and very playful sea lions. Penguins also swam across our path and turtles floated on by. It was great fun and so special to share the space with such wonderful wildlife.

Then as we were changing, one of the reps, Giovani, was playing salsa music on his phone, so I ended up having a lovely salsa dance with him on the beach, with the sand between my toes and the bay as a backdrop. Brilliant!

Then we were taken to the pier where we loaded our luggage onto the water taxi and shuttled to our speedboat. And it was bye-bye to Isla Isabela. Isabela was really a great Island experience.

Our next destination was Santa Cruz, which is the principal Island of the Galapagos Islands and the most inhabited. The boat ride to Santa Cruz was about 2 hours and this time it was my turn to sit on the top deck. It was freezing! But a great place to ride! Sadly, we didn’t see any dolphins or whales, but I did get to watch an albatross serenely coasting on the thermals next to us for a while. It was beautiful to watch.

When we landed at Santa Cruz, we were taken to our hotel to drop off our luggage and then had a tour of the town. We passed a great fish market, where about 10 pelicans were trying to get their beaks on the fresh fish and lobsters. Then we were taken for lunch - the restaurant had a great view over the harbour and lunch was very tasty, a typical Ecuadorian menu of chicken broth and then pasta with rice and vegetables.

After lunch, we checked into our hotel rooms and then met at 2.30 for the afternoon’s activity – a hike to Tortuga Bay.

The hike to Tortuga Bay was around 3.5km through wonderful mangroves and ancient cactus trees. When we got to Tortuga Bay, we walked another 1km along a gorgeous beach with turquoise waves. The sand was the softest I’ve ever walked on – like walking on talcum powder. The shoes were off and the sand felt gorgeous – and a paddle was compulsory!

We crossed over onto another section of beach, passing iguanas along the way and came to a beautiful bay with calm, flat waters and more rich mangroves. It was time to don the swimming gear and go into the water for a swim – although I was the only one to go swimming. We walked to the far end of the beach and saw adult black tipped reef sharks – we were so close to them and literally got within a couple of feet of them.

Then I swam some more and had the pleasure of swimming with a baby shark in the shallows! The water and the location were heavenly.

After walking back to town, and tasting the local ice-cream, which was delicious, it was time to get ready for the evening. We first went to the pier to see more sharks and then walked through the street restaurant area, where all manner of fish and lobsters were on display. We settled on a great restaurant and were entertained by a native American Indian looking guy playing a single pipe/flute. He was brilliant.

There was a real street party atmosphere through the town with a live band playing in the street close to our hotel. Our party went in different directions, some going off in search of bars, some going to the hotel for an early night and one of the girls, Shaukia and I went to a bar next to the band so we could watch them.

They played salsa in the bar and I ended up having a dance with one of the waiters! 😊

We poked our nose into a club, but it was dead so we went back to continue watching the band playing. The locals were dancing and having a grand time – the atmosphere was vibrant and happy and it was a fabulous end to a wonderful day.

Saturday  17th August

National Park and Giant Tortoises!

We had a lie-in this morning as we weren’t picked up until 9am! 😊

We were taken by bus up into the highlands to the national park where we again saw all kinds of vegetation – banana trees, pineapple trees, avocado trees, passion fruit trees, coffee, sugar cane and many more – way too many to mention.

We stopped at the Giant Tortoise centre and looked at the exhibitions before going for a walk around the park. We even got a chance to try out a tortoise shell for size! There were giant tortoises literally everywhere! All sizes – from very small, only around 10 years old to very large – around 130 years old.
We learned that if we moved very slowly, we could get very close to them and they remained happy, but if we moved too fast, they would retreat into their shell and make a hissing sound.

We saw a couple of male tortoises having a fight. It was so very tame! They simply extend their necks and stretch out towards each other and the one that went the highest was the winner, while the one that backed down was the loser!

After walking around and taking lots of photographs, we walked to a local farm where we learned about how they make the sugar cane using old, traditional methods. We even helped – some of us pushed the bar, while one fed the sugar cane through the machine that stripped and crushed the juice from the cane. Then we saw how they use the juice as raw juice, and also how they turned the juice into molasses and also into pure alcohol. We saw the distilling process and how the alcohol reached up to 85% alcohol.

We saw special hybrid trees which were orange-lemon trees – they look like oranges and taste like lemons. They used this juice to add to the sugar cane juice.
We tasted the raw cane juice on its own and it was lovely but once the orange-lemon juice was added, it was totally delicious. We also then sampled it with the alcohol as well – also very nice but very potent!

Then we were shown how they make the coffee, by stripping off three outside layers from the coffee berry to get the bean, how the beans are toasted and then ground. We got to bite into a coffee berry straight from the tree and then drank the coffee the traditional way, black with molasses and alcohol. It was delicious!
Then it was time to get the bus back to the hotel before having the afternoon free.

First we went to a fabulous coffee bar – 1835 coffee bar, which was a project where they educate local farmers in coffee making so they produce quality, organic coffee for supply to the local cafes. We had amazing coffee and I had a yummy passion fruit cheesecake.

Then we walked to the Charles Darwin centre and learned more about his research. We also learned about Lonesome George, the last of a particular breed of Giant tortoises. The breeding centres tried everything to find him a suitable mate so they could save the species, but to no avail. A similar breed was more fortunate – a tortoise called Diego produced 800 ancestors! We also saw a rare land iguana.

Afterwards, we walked along a boardwalk through some mangroves, which were beautiful, then it was time to go back to the hotel, pack for our next journey tomorrow and have our final dinner together as a group. We lose some of our companions tomorrow, more on Monday and probably gain some new companions on Monday for our Peruvian adventures.

I will be very sorry to leave the Galapagos Islands. Life here is more simple, but the Islanders seem very, very happy – particularly those on Santa Cruz. They are fiercely proud of their home, their culture, their conservation and their wildlife and are passionate about showing it off and educating the tourists who visit.

Sunday 17th August

A sad farewell to the Galapagos Islands.

This morning, we were picked up bright and early, at 6.30 am for the bus ride to the airport. We said a sad farewell to our fabulous Intrepid leader, Cheche who had looked after us brilliantly during our time on the Islands. A local from Santa Cruz, Cheche had an incredible amount of knowledge and passion for the Islands, which he installed into us. He also looked after me admirably when I was sick. 
Then we were back in Quito, where we were welcomed with a drink at the hotel, collected our things we had left stored at the hotel and briefed on the following day. 

A quick shower, out for our last meal as a group and then time for bed for some ridiculously early starts. (My room-mate had to get up at 2am to be picked up at 3am!)

Health Overview

My health took a dive at the beginning of the week, but I recovered fairly well.  And surprisingly, they told me at the hospital that my blood pressure was fine.  My main problem was that my digestive system had taken a bit of a hammering and I went from one extreme to the other - from not keeping anything in my system, to being bunged up!!  Either way, not very comfortable :-O 

Preparation This Week 

Obviously, no preparation at the start of the week, but a great hike on Thursday.  And generally just being active pretty much from early morning until bedtime. 

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