So after an extremely busy 10 days at home for both of us we've made it to South America and things haven't been any less busy since we've got here.
We flew into Quito, Ecuador and as we were in the taxi from the airport approaching our hostel, the taxi driver locked all the doors as it wasn't safe and we began to wonder what sort of area we were staying in. We did a bit of research and managed to scare ourselves a bit as lots of reviews were saying how unsafe Quito is and how you WILL get robbed. In our opinion this couldn't be further from the truth. We left with all our belongings and not one sign of trouble, police are everywhere and as long as you don't show off your valuables or stay out late at night you really can enjoy the city.
We stayed in the Old Town which is really picturesque. Quito is 2,800m (9,350 feet) above sea level and so some people when flying straight there suffer from altitude sickness however we were absolutely fine! We did a hop-on hop-off bus tour where we went up to El Panecillo where there is a 45 metre tall aluminium statue inspired by ´Virgen de Quito´ and you could get some great views of the whole city. We then went up in a cable car to 4,050 metres to get even better views of the city and have a walk about however it soon clouded over and the city was nowhere to be seen!
The following day we went to the equator. We took the local bus and for nearly two hours of travel it cost the equivalent of less than 30p each! The bus drops you off near Mitad Del Mundo which is the monument that they thought they were building on the line of the equator and so there is a little museum there as well. However once GPS was invented and used they found out that they´d actually misjudged it, the equator was a few metres away and so another company set up the Intinan Museum. This was actually way better, we got a tour around and he talked to us about some old Ecuadorian traditions as well us showing us the different experiments on the equator line such as the water going down the sink. He had a sink which he filled with water and then put a few little leaves in so we could see more clearly. Put the sink on the equator line, the leaves go straight down, move it a couple of metres to the South and they go anti-clockwise, a couple of metres the North and they clockwise. It was amazing to see how much it changed in such a small distance!
We then moved on to Banos which is a small town, again in the middle of the mountains, which is becoming more popular with tourists as there are lots of adventure activities that you can do. We went on a hike one day up one of the surrounding mountains aiming for what we thought would be a small village called Runtun where we´d be able to get some lunch or a snack at least. After 3 and a half hours of walking in pretty warm weather there was absolutely nothing there so had to walk a long way back down before getting anything!
Next we moved to Guayaquil where we just stayed the night as this is where we would be flying to the Galapagos Islands from the next day. The Galapagos Islands are 575 miles west off the cost of Ecuador and were formed from volcanoes so have never been attached to mainland, therefore all the animals that you see there have made their own way across the ocean, whether it be on bits of wood or aboard a ship or flying.
We first stayed on the island called Isabela. This is the largest of the islands however has only the third largest human settlement. The town where we stayed on the south of the island is called Puerto Villamil. There wasn't much too it and none of the roads are paved, just sandy tracks. The place where we stayed was perfect. Right on the end of the row of buildings, on the beach where there was hardly anyone on it. We spent a few of our afternoons just relaxing in the hammocks looking over the sea which were thankfully in the shade as it got really warm!
The first day we were there we went on a bike ride to the Wall of Tears which is a large wall made from lava rocks, a penal colony hosted prisoners who were forced to build the wall stone by stone and it took the lives of thousands during its construction. There were lots of beaches to stop at on the way, all with nobody on them, just marine iguanas relaxing in the sun and lots of pelicans dive bombing into the sea to catch some fish! It was extremely warm so a cold shower was well needed when we got back!
That evening we had a couple of drinks in the hostel bar (this was where most people seemed to come in the evening as there wasn't really anywhere else) and then we walked into town to get some food. As we reached the central square there was a police van with its lights flashing driving round and saying something over the speaker phone. It was in Spanish and we had no idea what he was saying so we asked someone close by as it didn't sound good and they said that there was a tsunami coming and so we had to evacuate. We ran back to the hotel, still not really knowing what was going on, where the woman who ran the place confirmed that there is a tsunami warning and that we should grab our things and trucks will take us up into the highlands. So we got into our room, frantically packed up our things wondering whether we´d see the things we left behind again and then walked quickly back into town where we jumped in the first bus that we saw. It set off up the volcano but seemed to be moving pretty slowly and at this point as we didn't really know what was going on we were pretty scared!
We were the first lot of people to be dropped off at this open air arena which was lit up by big floodlights, and so hence lots of moths! We got out, still unsure what was happening and were seeing other buses going further up the volcano. We got talking to some Americans who were on a group tour and they were able to tell us that there had been an earthquake in Chile and so there may be a tsunami here. They also said that we were high enough up the volcano so there was no chance that it would get us if it came. The locals were all obviously well prepared as lots of them starting setting up their tents for the night, I was pretty jealous! This was at 8pm and the tsunami was supposed to come at about 11pm. 11pm came and went and no sign of the tsunami but we weren't allowed back down until 1am so that they knew it was safe.
1am came and a Spanish guy came over to us and said ít´s finished, let´s go´, and we followed him over to our transport for the way back down. Not quite as comfy as the way up. We clambered up into the back of a big truck which is normally used for carrying sand about. The driver had forgotten that he was carrying people as he was trying to turn around but wasn't being particularly gentle on the brakes! Sam had the side to hold on to but somehow I was stuck in the middle with my big backpack on clinging onto Sam hoping not to fall. Eventually at 1.45am we made it back to our nice dry room with no sign of any tsunami, phew!
On Sam´s birthday we went on a boat trip to some of the lava tunnels where we got to go snorkeling and it was absolutely amazing. We saw so many giant turtles and they weren't bothered by us in the slightest. We also saw some rays, seahorses, penguins and even sharks!! By the time I realised there were sharks I already had my head stuck in one of the caves and was staring right at them. The guy that took us snorkeling didn't speak too much English so wasn't always easy to tell what he was saying!
Back on the boat we were lucky to see two huuuge manta rays. We then got off and had a little walk over the tunnels. The water was so clear that we saw many more turtles and there were three blue footed boobys standing there posing for their photos! We went for a really nice meal in the evening, all the food had been pretty poor on the island so is tasted even better than it probably was!
On Isabela we also visited the Tortoise Sanctuary where they help take care of the young tortoises. In the past the giant tortoises nearly became extinct due to humans killing them for food and from other introduced animals such as dogs, rats etc killing them. The baby tortoises can´t survive in the wild so when eggs are laid the volunteers go around the island and collect them and bring them here until they are a few years old and are big enough so that nothing will be able to harm them. There were tortoises of many sizes here and I could have spent ages watching them!
We then moved to the island called Santa Cruz where the main town Puerto Ayora is. We had a nice little room with a small kitchenette so we were able to just cook ourselves some pasta each night to save a bit of money! There was a great ice cream place here which was our treat for each day! There wasn't as much to see/do on this island without spending lots of money however one day we decided to scuba diving. There´s not many people who get to go scuba diving in the Galapagos so we just had to give it a go and I´m so glad we did! It took a bit of getting used to again but we again got to see turtles, rays, sharks (which were swimming about this time so a bit more scary!!), big schools of fish and loads of sea lions. The sea lions were so playful and interested in us, some of them would swim towards you with quite a bit of speed then leave it just to the last second to dodge out of the way! It was an absolutely amazing experience.
One day we took a walk to Tortuga bay which is meant to be one of the most beautiful beaches on the islands and it didn't disappoint. It was quite busy as we went on a Sunday so all the locals had gone as well but the sand was so white, the sea so blue, it was just awesome. We also went to the Charles Darwin Research Centre which we found a little bit disappointing as there wasn't too much information on display but still another chance to see lots of tortoises! One of my favourite things to do in Puerto Ayora was to watch the fishermen bring in the fish, they´d gut them and chop them up ready to sell but would be surrounded by big pelicans and sea lions fighting to get any bits of scrap that they can!
Even though the Galapagos was a bit above our budget, it was an incredible place to go to and experience, wildlife everywhere you look and all so relatively tame, they weren't scared of humans at all. We will definitely be going back in the future!!
So after we left the Galapagos we went back to Guayaquil for another night and then had a 30 hour bus journey to Lima, Peru. We paid 15 dollars extra to go in the first class bit and it was well worth it! We both had a good nights sleep in the comfy chairs and the journey didn't drag with so many films to watch! After a disappointing morning seeing Sheffield United lose to Hull in the FA Cup, I´ve already recovered realising that if they made it to the final and won the FA Cup I´d miss that and it would probably never happen again so why not save it until next year when I can be there! There´s now less than two weeks until we start the Inca Trail so time to get planning where we´re going to go first!