So where was I? Oh yes we had done a mammoth bus ride to Lima. Now we had to do an even longer one to cross the border into Ecuador. Our destination was Guayaquil. It's the largest city in Ecuador with over 2 million inhabitants but not the capital, at least not yet. That honour goes to Quito.
The trip didn't start well. We asked the hostel to phone a taxi. After 10 minutes the receptionist said 'It's fathers' day our taxi isn't working'. So off we went into the street, bags on our backs. Fortunately every other car is a taxi so it didn't take long to get to the bus station. Unlike arriving at the bus station, leaving was really easy. We checked our bags in and went for a beer.
It was a nice bus. Still disappointed we had not been able to get the downstairs Cama seats; we went upstairs and settled for the journey. As luck would have it the bus was only half full. The food was ok unlike the movies which were relentless s***!! The volume was low and sat by the window I could only see half the screen. Which is worse? A quiet film in English with Spanish sub titles or a quiet film in dubbed Spanish with English sub titles?
The big thing to remember about a 25 hour bus trip here is it's non-stop. So no leg stretches or motorway service stations. The only time this baby stops is for a quick driver change or a passenger pick up.
Anyway about 9pm a young lad appeared in one of the empty seats near to us. After 30 years in the job I can spot someone on drugs blindfolded from 400 yards with my head under water. Normally I might have told him to F*** off somewhere else but he was 6'3" and muscular. Time to watch and wait I think. He lay across two seats did pull ups off the hand rail and laughed stupidly at the film. It was a film about a mixed martial artist getting kicked about so not really funny.
Eventually he wrapped a couple of blankets around himself like Lawrence of Arabia and went to sleep. Of course by 2am he was awake again with the munchies. New people got on the bus and he moved away. We settled down to sleep.
Next morning we arrived at the Ecuador border. Now it's one thing to be stoned on a night bus but quite a different thing to be stoned at a South American border post. No need to worry about our friend anymore. Two nice men with a pump action shot gun and an Uzi sub machine pistol wanted to be his friend. One spare seat on the bus.
The first place we came to in Ecuador is known as 'The banana capital of the world'. It was mile after mile of banana plantations.
A little stiff from the journey and running on adrenalin we arrived in Guayaquil. Off the bus in a taxi and off to the hotel. By now we have a system and it works fine. Jill guards the small bags I get the big ones and we're off.
The hotel room was nice. Only problem was noise. It's a busy city where the car horn is like breathing, you have to do it every 3 seconds or die. Double glazing would solve it but clearly that is too easy.
Guayaquil was nice. A big city with a mix of old buildings and tower blocks. It had a lovely long waterfront complex with bars etc. Having said that it was a w*** to find somewhere to eat in the evening. It was KFC and Pizza hut or hotel restaurants. All that said we had a good few days relaxing there.
Our main reason for coming to Ecuador was to visit the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin obviously made them famous. It's a bit of a pilgrimage for me. After all if it hadn't have been for Darwin we might still think we were created by some old beardy bloke in the sky. How stupid would you feel if you still thought that?
There are two main places to arrange a Galapagos tour. One is Quito and the other Guayaquil. You can pitch up on the islands but generally the best boats are gone especially at this time of the year. We had been in e mail contact with a company for some time looking at options. They only had an office in Quito. The Ecuadorian bank system is not great. Cash is King and anything else is complicated. Anyway our hotel did tours and was keen to help. Initially we said 'No' and went to some agents in the city. They gave us a better price than the company in Quito for the same cruise.
We had more or less decided and were on our way to the agent when our hotel man chased us down the street. He basically said he could do the same cruise on the same boat for less than anyone. Seems he was right.
Paying was a new experience. We all went to the bank. We did 4 paper cash point withdrawals. At least Jill did. As usual Santander are a bunch of tossers and rejected all my cards. I am going to kick their arse when I get home.
Ok so Jill did the money bit. Then we went to a cashier who gave us a huge wad of $20 dollar notes. We then had to walk back to the hotel carrying all of this before our man would take it. What does he know I thought? On the plus side there is a Police officer or security guard about every 20 yards with a machine gun or shot gun so as long as you don't get killed in the crossfire it's fairly safe.
Money paid, cruise booked. Next day it was off to the airport and one and a half hours later we are in the Galapagos Islands. Sooooo excited. We have a nice room at a hostel. We have two days until we meet our boat so tomorrow we are going to the Charles Darwin research centre then some hiking on the island.
It's the next day and our first port of call is the Darwin research centre. A strange place. A ramshackle collection of buildings. In many ways not at all scientific looking but in others a very natural place for a natural history research centre. There were no staff present it being Saturday, but we were able to walk freely around. It clearly deals with a lot more than we could see, but its primary function is to breed giant tortoise. Not so many years ago there were only 15 of these amazing animals left. They had been ravaged by wild dogs and cats. The dogs have now been removed from the islands and the cats are being controlled. Thanks to the breeding programme there are now several thousand giant tortoises. They are huge and can live to two hundred years old. The eggs are collected shortly after they are laid and incubated. The sex depends on the temperature of the incubator. Shortages of girls just turn the temperature up. The most famous resident is 'Lonesome George' he is very old and was the last tortoise on one of the islands. Unfortunately despite extensive DNA testing he is the last of his family line. When he dies, that strain will be gone forever. Giant tortoises are amazing. A true relic of the past, but with hopefully a secure future.
In the afternoon we walked to Turtle beach. This is where the sea turtles come on to land to lay eggs. I'm sure you've seen it on documentaries. The beach is huge with great surf. A we walked along we saw herons, crabs and then marine iguanas. Unbelievable. The islands are volcanic and there is black rock everywhere. The iguanas are black too. Coincidence? I think not. Little wonder Darwin came to his conclusions. It's only day one on the islands and we've seen some amazing sights. Tomorrow it's on board ship to explore some of the other islands. I can't wait.
Rafael the hotel owner drove us back to the airport. It was a 40 minute drive, followed by a river crossing then a bus back to the terminal. We were to meet the rest of our boat passengers who were coming in on a flight from Quito. We had been there about 30 minutes when Ephrain who was to be our guide/naturalist arrived and met us. 20 minutes later and the others arrived. We had been expecting 14 others to make up the party. The boat has 8 double berths. However there were only 5 people. It seems we are it. Result. Our companions are 5 Americans. Two couples travelling together and a lady on her own. They are a few years older than us but seem nice people.
It doesn't take long to get to the boat, the Angelito, and get our stuff in the cabin. Lunch and a welcome drink and we are soon under way. We took the ships dinghy to a beach and had an explore seeing marine iguanas and crabs. Lots of different birds too. Then we had a swim and some snorkelling. Not really my thing but Jill loved it.
When we arrived back at the boat there was hot chocolate and snacks waiting for us. I sense we are going to be fed well. We had time in the afternoon to relax. Dinner in the evening and we were introduced to the captain and crew. There are 8 of them to look after 7 of us !! This boat is a 4 level motor cruiser. It's very well kitted and comfortable. Dinner was lovely.
We anchored overnight. 5.30am and the engines fire up. We sail for an hour before mooring for breakfast. More food !! After breakfast we went to a sea lion colony on a small island. Amazing. It was like being in a wildlife documentary. We were able to walk amongst them while they stretched out on the sand. The little ones would curiously waddle over and look at us. Every now and again a male would bark a warning. We were able to watch them playing in the surf. As we looked out to sea a school of dolphins swam the length of the beach feeding on the fish. Great to watch.
Back to the boat for drinks and nibbles. Next it was an opportunity to go snorkelling in open water. I sat this out as I'm not a good swimmer and not good with a snorkel. Jill went and came back with a beaming face. As well as countless different fish she had seen a white tipped reef shark swim about 10 feet below her. Fortunately they are harmless. Time for lunch. I'll be a fat knacker by the end of the week.
After lunch we took the dinghy to another beach and went hiking inland. Along the way we found some land iguanas, pelicans and blue footed boobies. The Galapagos is a collection of large and small islands. 97% of the land mass is a national park and heavily controlled. It is full of fascinating wildlife.
Dinner was fantastic. Livingstone (I Know) the chef is a genius.
We are now sailing through the night to get to the far side of Isabella island. Tomorrow we hope to see turtles and maybe whales and dolphins. Animals don't always read the script, but fingers crossed.
Breakfast was huge. Afterwards it was in the dinghy to land then a 3 hour hike. Along the way we went to Darwin lake and had a great view of Darwin volcano. There are lots of volcanoes and nearly all are still active. The last big eruption was 2009. On the hike we saw lots of birds plus land iguanas. Bigger than their marine cousins. Back to the boat for juice and nibbles.
Later in the morning it was snorkelling time. This time I went along in the dinghy. Jill was loving it. This time she swam with sea turtles. I was a bit jealous but did see one off the boat. We also saw Galapagos penguins. The only ones that lives this far north. Back to the boat for another huge lunch.
Galapago is Spanish for saddle. The islands have big populations of saddleback tortoises and this was why the Spanish sailors called them the Galapagos islands.
This afternoon we went to San Fernandina island. First off we saw herons and sea lions. As we walked on we came across massive colonies of marine iguanas basking on the rocks. They are so ugly they are beautiful . Collectively they smell a bit but are fascinating. They are harmless which is good but a hundred of them in one place is the stuff of nightmares. If you make them uneasy they spit salt water. It is a real sight to see them all facing the sun to warm their blood. I think they are great and could have photographed them all day. The white crust on the heads is where the salt water dries and leaves a salt deposit behind.
We moved on a little further and found sea turtles in shallow water feeding along the bottom. They are big but move so easily in the water. They were close enough to touch but touching is a no no. Again I thought my camera would melt. This is proving to be worth every penny. Jill gets to swim with exotic sea life and I get to take photos of amazing animals. Back to the boat for dinner. Livingstone excels himself again.
Tomorrow we are on the lookout for whales. Ephrain also hopes we can snorkel off the beach and see sea turtles. I think I will give that a go.
While waiting for breakfast the boat was visited by a couple of Eagle rays and a school of dolphins. Like all the sea life they are so fast and graceful in the water. After breakfast we took the dinghy ashore and went looking for Giant tortoises in the wild. We weren't disappointed. Fabulous creatures. Big and slow but suited to their environment. As you move passed them they pull their heads in a give out a loud hiss.
On the beach I stood in the surf and was entertained by a penguin swimming along near my feet chasing small fish. Jill was snorkelling with sea lions and turtles. So many she kept bumping in to them. Back for lunch. Fab again. How does this man do it?
After lunch we took the dinghy into the mangroves. First we went to the sea turtle resting area. After feeding they come into the mangroves and rest on the sea bed. One breath can last up to 18 hours if they lay still. It was odd to float over them and see them all on the bottom just a few feet below. As we moved through the mangroves we found a sea lion in a tree. When the tide is high they climb on to the mangroves and shuffle their way into the branches to rest. When the tide goes out they find themselves marooned up the tree and have to wait for the tide to rise again.
Further in and we saw a stingray then found a group of seven eagle rays. Again, masters of their domain. Perfectly shaped to skim the bottom with a 3 metre tail behind them. As we left the mangroves we saw striped herons and then blue footed boobies.
Tomorrow we are looking again for whales and white toothed sharks.
We went to an area of the island which had been hit by a volcano eruption. We walked across endless lava fields. It really is a surreal landscape. Periodically we would come across small lagoons of brackish water. These are fed from the sea by underground tunnels and by rain water. Fish swim through the tunnels and feed in the lagoons. We saw flamingos, mullets and someone even saw a shark. Unfortunately it disappeared before I could film it. We continued across the lava and one of our group spotted a snake disappearing into a hole. There are only four types of snakes on the islands. All are quite small and are constrictors so non-venomous. They feed mostly on lizards.
Back on the boat we had a long sail around the tip of the island. Out in open ocean it got quite rough. Having a shower in a small cubicle when it tips at about 30 degrees is a challenge !!
We left the boat and went ashore to climb a volcano. It was a long muddy path through jungle. The mist was closing in and it was quite eerie. When we reached the summit it was a familiar tale. It was so misty we couldn't see much. A bit disappointing but them's the breaks as they say.
This evening we had a five hour sail to reach another island for morning. We set off around 8pm so it was dark. We headed into open ocean again and it was rough. The boat felt like it was being tossed every way. Die hards that we are Jill and I decided to sit on deck and enjoy a bottle of red. It was a bit like trying it on a fairground waltzer. Our chairs were sliding all over the deck. Fun though.
Bedtime was no easier. I had the top bunk tonight. Getting up the ladder was fun. Once in bed it was like sleeping in a tumble drier. I was rolling all over the place and with no guard rail I was nervous about ending on the cabin floor. I got out at one point and just as my foot hit the floor the boat yawed violently. Thank goodness for soft luggage as I hurled across the cabin in the dark. In the end we both slept pretty well.
Our last full day. We started with a short hike on one of the very small islands and saw stingrays in the surf up close to the beach feeding. Each of the sites we visit has something a little different. After that we returned to the boat before Jill and some of the others went snorkelling. Unfortunately the wind got up a bit and so did the surf. Jill and one of the other ladies got banged against the rocks and both have some cuts and bruises. Not the best end to the snorkelling adventures. Both are ok but were shaken by the ordeal.
Our last island landing was to a small beach. On the beach is an old barrel which is used as an unofficial post box. In the past it was a proper place for boats to leave post etc and others would collect it and pass it on. Today tourists like us leave cards there. The idea is you look and see if there are any addressed near to you and hand deliver them. We took three. One for Jakarta, one for Mumbai and one for Kingston upon Thames !!!. We'll see if ours ever arrive home.
Up early for a last look at Daphne Major and Daphne Minor. They are the top of two extinct volcanoes. No one is allowed on them anymore so we watched the bird life from deck.
All too soon we were docking at Baltra Island to disembark at the end of our cruise. Time to say goodbye to the guys in the crew and Ephrain our guide. They had all been fantastic. It was a once in a lifetime trip for us and their job. They never once made us feel like they were going through the motions.
At the airport we said goodbye to our American cousins. Brenda summed it up when she said to everyone 'thanks for being tolerable'. We had all got on and as far as I know no one had got on any bodies nerves.
To sum up the Galapagos Islands had delivered all we had hoped for and more. Long may they be preserved for the unique wildlife that inhabits them.
Finally a sad note. We had gone to see Lonesome George at the Darwin centre on the Saturday morning. Later that day he unfortunately died. It seems it was natural causes and nothing to do with us. His death spelt the end of his family line. It may also prove to be the end of some of the souvenir shops who trade on his fame. A reminder of how fragile some species are.