Riding towards Guayaquil to get our flight to the Galapagos saw our first real problem with the AT. Every 3 miles the bike would sigh and roll to a stop. A mystery. OK, so it was over 30 degrees and I know I get weary in hot weather, but we could measure the distance exactly and quite frankly, the old bike should be able to do more than that! With over 100 miles before we reached the airport and the stress levels rising, the bike limped along at under 40mph, with some nifty coasting behind lorries along the dual carriageway.
Arriving at the hostel was one huge relief, with several bonuses of it being a) next door to the chocolate factory and b) storage and secure parking for the bike for just $1 a day whilst we were away. Huzzah to Hotel Rio Guayas!
Arriving in 34 degree heat on the uninhabited Baltra Island was an experience quite unlike any other so far, with stark trees rising up from the baked earth adding to the slight otherworldly vibes we were getting from this amazing archipelago.
We were both re-reading Voyage of the Beagle for the trip but it didn't quite prepare us for the malarkey of fixing a last minute tour of the islands. Remember caveat emptor and NEVER leave your passport as "security" for wetsuit hire! With the islands running on cash only principles, handing over $$$ seemed quite worrying, especially when we turned up 2 days to board the catamaran, to be greeted with the word "problema". With a sinking heart and lighter wallet, we were promised a "better" tour leaving in a few more days time.
This gave us extra days to explore Santa Cruz, the Darwin Centre (where we checked out the stuffed Lonesome George, symbol of Galapagos), the giant tortoise breeding centre, various beautiful beaches and Isabela Island, ticking off as many endemic species as possible, including several Darwin Finches, the flightless cormorant, mockingbirds and the magnificent poseurs that are the marine iguanas.
We'd spent one morning in the Tamé office changing our flights home so when we arrive and hear the word "problema" again, the sinking feeling really sunk low. We were then promised a night and day on San Cristobal island plus a tour, which prompted many worrying shivers down the spines of hoteliers and boat owners alike when we mentioned what had been happening but all came good in the end.
The joyous upshots of all these shenanigans was seeing different islands, more amazing wildlife than you can cope with and meeting a couple of fellow Brits now living in Lima, who (foolishly!) invited us to stay if we were passing.
We finally got our tour on the catamaran Solitario Jorge - a fantastic 5 days of walking, snorkling and diving with an excellent park guide who really knew his stuff. Some favourite animals? Galapagos Penguins and sharks, manta rays, gloriously coloured fish and the charismatic (and smelly) sea lions flumped over every surface.
Was it worth spanking 2 months of our travelling budget in 2 weeks? Of course! To see the birds and animals that helped inspire Darwin and the world shattering theory of evolution was a humbling experience. To see the damage caused over the past 200 years by humans and introduced animals was the huge downside and one that will stay with us and our consciences.
Next instalment: yes, we really did spend 2 months in tiny Ecuador, hanging with an ex-student and the Guayaquil Symphony Orchestra before entering into deepest, darkest Peru.
Photos as usual on Imogen Burman-Mitchell's Facebook page.