In 2011 when I confirmed that my very first photo tour would be happening in Peru in February 2012, I said to myself, “If you are going all the way to Peru, you must go to the Galapagos Islands. It is so close. And, what if you never get back to South America?”
And so began my love affair with South America.
At that time, I really wasn’t sure if I would ever go back to South America or not. Four years later, with two Peru: Through the Lens Photo Tours complete, two trips to Argentina (one consisting of four months in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires) and visits to Uruguay and Chile … well, let’s just say I love South America.
I flew to Quito, Ecuador and then off to Baltra Island of the Galapagos Archipelago where I would do an independent tour with Bamba Experience. It was their first year operating in the Galapagos, so there were a few glitches, but nothing could dull the amazing beauty of these incredible islands and the locals who went out of their way to assist me in every way they could.
I visited Santa Cruz and Floreana islands. Someday, I’ll return to visit more of the islands, but, being on a tight budget, a short amount of time and wanting a land-based itinerary, my options were limited. None-the-less, I’m glad to have the amazing memories that I do from one of my favourite places in all of my travels.
Is the Galapagos Islands on your travel bucket list? What’s stopping you?
Send me a message, let’s chat about all of the great options for an amazing, educational and life changing experience for you alone, with your friends or family. I’d love to help make this dream come true for you! Drop me a message.
One year ago today I was on my way for a three week adventure that would change my life significantly. I traveled to Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and all over Peru. I had no idea what an impact each of these places would have on me for the rest of my life.
I arrived in the Galapagos Islands, embarking on an independent land-based tour to see the mystical, magical creatures that call this beautiful and unique place, home.
I had struggles, adventures, laughs (many laughs), great food, fantastic photos, broken camera equipment and life affirming moments while I was there. All of this in just five days. It was truly amazing.
I dreamed of visiting the Galapagos Islands, but I never dreamed I would love it so much.
Now, I dare you to dream.
I will be hosting a free travel talk about the Galapagos islands on Wednesday, February 20th at The Adventure Travel Company – 5552 Kaye Street, Halifax, NS from 7 – 8pm. I invite you to join me while I take your imagination to the islands via beautiful photos, personal experiences and give you lots of information on how you can get there too!
Please RSVP as space is limited and The Galapagos Islands is an in-demand destination!
Homestays – Luqina Chico & Ccaccaccollo
Lake Titicaca Boat Tour – Lake Titicaca
Rowed a boat made of reeds – Uros Islands
Volunteer Family Photographs – Ccaccaccollo
Incan Ruins – Machu Picchu, Pisac, Ollantaytambo
Hot Springs – Aguas Calientes
Train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu & return to Cusco
Ate local delicacy – guinea pig
Old town Warsaw night tour – Warsaw
Packaging and delivering wishes to terminally ill children – Southern Poland
Majdanek Concentration Camp – Majdanek
Berlin Zoo – Berlin
Bradenburg Gate – Berlin
Checkpoint Charlie – Berlin
Train from Berlin to Warsaw
Rapelling & Snorkeling in cenotes – Mayan Riviera
Zip lining – Mayan Riviera
Tulum Ruins – Mayan Riviera
Snorkeling with sea turtles and sting rays – Mayan Riviera
Coco Bongo – Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza Ruins
Learned to surf – Sayulita (2015)
Bayou swamp tour – New Orleans, LA
St. Pierre & Miquelon
Zodiac boat tour – St. Pierre
Wild horses – Miquelon
Catamaran & snorkeling – Varadero
Swimming with Dolphins – Varadero
Cable car & Rain forest Zip lining – Arenal
Leatherback turtles laying eggs – Tamarindo
Black sand beaches
Masaya (active) Volcano tour – Masaya
Granada Islets boat tour – Granada
Sea do tour & snorkeling – Dockyard
5 day cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines – Boston to St. Georges
Turkey Hot Air Ballooning over Cappadocia at sunrise
Learning (trying) to make pottery
Horseback riding through Cappadocia at sunset
Visited Troy / Gallipoli and Anzac
Visited Aya Sofia / Blue Mosque / Galata Tower
Belize Swimming with sharks and rays
Listening to spoken word poetry from our local guide in the jungle
Jungle horseback riding
Thailand Snorkeling off Koh Phi Phi Islands
Travel from Malaysia to Thailand overland (train / bus)
The Philippines Learned to dive Visited the chocolate hills
Saw Tarsier monkeys
Learned about sand bubbler crabs
Snorkeling at _______________
Visited El Nido – Island hopping / snorkelling
Tried a bite of crocodile
Argentina Visited Iguazu Falls
Street Art Tour
Chile Felt an earthquake while at dinner
Montenegro Visited the islands with the church / museum
Greece Treno Sto Rouf Dinner Theatre
Street Art Tour
Croatia Hiking through abandoned villages
Vietnam Visited Halong Bay
Learning (trying) to make pottery
Agent orange museum ??
I learned very quickly about safety while in a cab! On my first full day in Quito, Ecuador, I had walked from my hotel in the new part of the city to the Old Town. You can read my post here about one scary little incident I had along the way. After my lovely tour of the beautiful churches in Old Town, I started my walk back out of town. Um, No. That wasn’t going to happen! Just in case you aren’t aware, Quito is in the mountains at about 8000ft. On my first day there, the several kms of walking up and down crazy hills was not my best idea! (although I’m glad I did it!). When I left Old town, about half way up my first hill, I saw a cab … walked over while he was stuck in traffic and sputtered breathlessly ‘Cuantros a teleferico?’ Meaning – ‘How much to go to the cable car?’
I honestly don’t remember the amount at this point, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I wasn’t in a negotiating mood, I just needed to sit down and catch my breath! So, as long as I had enough money to cover the trip there and the trip back to my hotel, I was good!
I jumped in the back seat of the taxi and tried to catch my breath. We had moved about 100 meters when the cab driver started speaking to me in Spanish. I had no idea what he was trying to tell me. At first I just assumed he was being friendly and trying to make conversation. Then he turned around and locked the back door on the driver’s side and motioned for me to do the same.
I remember at the time not really realizing why it was so important to lock my door, but I did it anyway. Was he just taking extra precautions? What could possibly happen? Was someone really going to try to get into the cab while I was in it?
This was the first time when it really sunk in that it wasn’t a particularly safe place and that it was so very different than home in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It wasn’t so much the area that I was in right at that moment, so much as the area that we would drive through to get to the Teleferico.
It is one thing to wander into a seemingly fine area to be told you need to leave immediately, but it is another thing to be in a moving vehicle, with a local, and have to worry about thugs just opening the doors and stealing you, or your valuables. I’d like to think that the car could speed away and the thug would roll down the nasty hill that I couldn’t bear to walk up any further, but I guess that doesn’t happen if you are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic!
I had already been warned and warned and warned again about safety in Quito, especially as a young, blonde girl, traveling alone … but when a cab driver makes you lock your door, it really sinks in!
I wasn’t really scared at the time, just thankful that he told me to lock my door. We didn’t have any incidents. No one came pounding on the car or trying to open the doors when we were at stop lights, but knowing that my door was locked was a little extra protection between me and the big bad world out there.
We did drive through a few sketchy areas that day. This was more so outside the city once we entered the residential areas. Every city has areas that are the ‘slums’ of that particular city. For us, in Halifax, we have a few questionable areas such as Highfield Park and Gottingen Street. If you have ever felt unsafe in one of those two areas in Halifax then you might rattle to the breaking point with fear in some of the areas that I traveled through. Let me say, very thankfully, that I was in the back seat of a taxi with the doors locked!
During the wait for my flight from Quito, Ecuador to The Galapagos Islands to board, I was speaking with a couple from Alabama. Unfortunately, the came all the way through to the gate and were turned back because they needed to pay more money. What had happened is that they bought their ticket to the Galapagos online for a great price. In the end, they got a ticket at the Ecuadorian price, not the foreigner price. Their only option was to pay an additional $350 to get the correct ticket. The man didn’t seem to mind the additional price, just the hassle. They had to leave the gated area and go back through security to buy their new tickets. Problem there was that there were a lot of tourists in the exact same situation. Many of them were angry and refusing to pay. I can understand this, as it is hard to really understand why locals should pay less than tourists. Can you imagine if Air Canada decided to charge International travelers more than Canadian citizens? There would be an uproar over that I’m sure!
In the end, the husband and wife had to go through security three times.
The first time, and then found out about the ticket problem.
The second time with the correct ticket just to find out that their baggage was all incorrectly ticketed. The third time, they made it through and I saw them on (and off) the plane, so I know they made it to the islands in the end!
This is one good reason why it is great to use a travel agent to book your flights. Did you know that most of the time (not always), if you find a deal online, your travel agent can often get that same rate for you? At least, that has been my experience!
I do quite a bit of flight research on the internet, but when it comes to booking, I almost always use an agent. It just helps make sure that you know everything. They are the experts … the companies on the internet don’t do things such as check to see if you are Ecuadorian before selling you an Ecuadorian priced ticket to the Galapagos!
I use two really fantastic travel agencies, depending on the type of travel I am planning. Rose at The Adventure Travel Company in Halifax has been fantastic to work with. Very knowledgeable, helpful, friendly. My entire South American adventure has been coordinated through The Adventure Travel Company, who then has made connections with the other tour companies that I’m using. As their name suggests, they mostly deal with Adventure travel as opposed to resort/all inclusive travel. They CAN help with that and they certainly can book you a flight anywhere you need to go for business or pleasure, but Adventure truly is their specialty.
For resort travel, and destination wedding clients who choose to go to an all inclusive resort, I love working with Jeannie from Limetime Travel / Club Cay. She’s booked my own resort trip to Mexico in 2011 and is working with one of my destination wedding couples coming up this April in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. She’s all around pretty super too. She’s more of a resort vacation travel company and she’s from the Bahamas, so she specializes in the Bahamas!
I am more than happy to recommend working with either of these companies, depending on your travel plans. I just suggest not trying to do it ALL on your own because sometimes the headaches in a far-away country are just not worth it.
Our flights had been set back by about an hour, so I was later than expected getting in to Quito. I think it must have been a 6:00pm touch down and then I quickly found my cab driver who had a sign with my name on it. We walked for a bit to the taxi and then inched our way into mucho traffico.
The driving in Quito is a little insane. Cars drive so close together that I can’t believe they aren’t scratched. Two lanes become four lanes, turning lanes become straight lanes … rules are obviously meant to be broken here. It took close to 30 minutes to get to the hotel through rush hour traffic.
I dropped my bags and headed straight out for supper at Hunter’s Restaurant on the corner of my street. Hunter’s is very Americanized. They had American 80’s music playing, English menus for tourists and some of the staff spoke English. I ordered myself some chicken fajitas with guacemole and was very happy I did. They were super tasty.
Then, back to the hotel to reorganize my packing, shower, find my necessary paperwork and talk to a few folks back home on skype.
Phew! Busy night. Worst part was that I had to be awake at 4am to catch my 7am flight. UG!
I arrived at the airport in The Galapagos Islands, stepped off the plane into sunshine and 27 degrees. I was instantly sweating, but didn’t mind one bit! We walked from the plane to the airport where there are signs to break arrivals into three groups. 1 – for people who live in the Galapagos, 2 – for nationals, people from Ecuador, 3 – Foreigners. It was quite funny to look at the three areas, it felt a little like segregation. I know they do this specifically because of the tourist cards and park entrance fees that you have to pay, but it was still funny to see 75 white people in one line and then two lines with 15 Ecuadorian’s in the other lines.
Thanks to Deanna, I was well prepared for when I landed. She had purchased my tourist ticket for me, and then advised that I fill it out on the plane. SO MANY tourists either didn’t have a tourist card, or they hadn’t yet filled it out. The sucky part was that I was ready to mosey on through, but I was at the back of the line, waiting for each person to be told the same thing … you need a tourist card filled out. Maybe they should make a fourth line – one for people who are supposed to have a tourist card but don’t.
Once I got to the front of the line, I had no problems as my tourist card was all ready for the officials. I paid my $100 park entry fee and went to collect my baggage. And then the real fun began!
Outside of the baggage area there were three men standing with signs waiting for specific tourists. None of the signs said Shari Tucker. I knew pretty quickly that something wasn’t quite right. However, I looked around the rest of the small airport to see if I could spot a sign with my name, an information booth or anyone who had either a Bamba Experience shirt on, or a Bamba logo on their sign. No luck.
I approached the men with signs, as I was one of the last people to leave the baggage area and yet three of them were still standing there. None of them spoke English. One of them had a sign that said Hotel Crossman x 1. This man tried to help me, but really didn’t understand English. I think I told him ‘agencia Bamba Experience’ but he didn’t know what that meant. I got my paperwork out and showed him, but all of my papers are written in English, for me to understand! This lovely man wanted to help and really wanted me to be the one for Hotel Crossman!
I tried to explain that I didn’t know what hotel I was staying at. Rose, at the Adventure Travel Company had been trying to reach Bamba the week before I left to get the name of my hotel in Galapagos, but hadn’t had any luck. I wasn’t particularly worried about it, because I assumed they would have signs with my name and all would be good. Not the case!
I finally found the emergency phone number Cristian (my first driver in Quito) had provided me with. I gave it to the man with the Hotel Crossman sign and he called. When he started talking to someone, I figured it would all get sorted out. Phew! Um, no, not the case. The Emergency number was for a Quito office and they advised him that because I was in the Galapagos they couldn’t help him. Now, I’m not sure that it was said quite like that, but in the end, the emergency number didn’t help any. Of course, most travel companies are closed on Sunday.
Next thing I knew, this guy was telling me to come quickly and get on a big tour bus. I hesitated and wondered if I should stay at the airport, but he seemed like he was trying to help me and I thought if worst came to worst, he would just take me into Puerto Ayora and we could hopefully sort it out there. I figured the tour bus transportation option was better than being left at the airport alone!
The bus took us about five minutes away along a narrow, bumpy road, down a steep and curvy road to a small ferry dock. We all piled off the bus (luggage all in tow) and he put my ruck sack ON TOP of the ferry. Really? Luggage on top of a boat, unsecured? It seemed odd, but it wasn’t raining and the crossing was only five minutes long.
I had already tweeted for help from my travel company at home and to Bamba Experience, but afterwards realized that none of them were open because it is Sunday.
I decided to be even more resourceful and go searching for someone who was bilingual – Spanish and English. I picked out the ‘whitest’ people I could find nearby and lucky me, they ‘hablo Anglais’. I explained my situation to them and asked if they could explain it all to the man who was trying to help me. They were fantastic and communicated back and forth fluently. It was then I found out that the man was planning to take me into Puerta Ayora to get further information and help get it sorted out. The problem was, if I went with him, he and I weren’t able to communicate because he didn’t speak English and my Spanish is WAY too basic for a problem like this.
We all got on the ferry and continued the conversation. The ferry crossing was $0.80. A fee I wasn’t prepared for. It was a tiny amount, but I had to go searching to find money.
After much more conversation and translation, my new friends, Tanya and Victor ended up coming with me and the man who may or may not be the guide that I needed. Tanya and Victor could have taken the bus into Puerta Ayora for something cheap like $1 or $2 per person. However, because I knew I was going to struggle with communicating, I offered to pay their fare if they’d like to travel with me and this ‘guide’.
In the end, they said they wanted to help me and yes, they would come along. I’m truly glad they did. The guide told them stories, history and facts in Spanish and Tanya translated most of them for me. Had I been alone, I never would have gotten any of this knowledge.
The guide then told us that he was supposed to do a couple of tours with the person he picked up before going back to the hotel. These tours were both along the way and if we didn’t do them now, we might not have the chance to. Oddly, the were tours that I had heard of, but they were not listed on my itinerary with Bamba Experience at all. So, then I started wondering more if he was the correct person that was supposed to pick me up.
Tanya and Victor were up for stopping at a couple of points along the way, so we did!
First stop – Los Gemelos which are huge sink holes that (from the translation I got) were caused by huge gas bubbles that burst and created the holes. We also saw a couple of different bird species.
Second stop – The lava tunnels. A tunnel that is 800 meters long and ranges in height from crawl spaces of about 1 foot in height to about the height of a house … except it is a tunnel underground.
Upon pulling into the ‘parking lot’, I ‘oooooo’d’ with excitement. There was a big turtle just hanging out right there having a little snack of grass.
Our guide left us at the entrance of the tunnel with his assistant (Patricio) to fumble our way through the tunnel. Conditions were damp and dark with uneven footing and a little slippery.
There were two tight spots where you had to get low and crawl through. Both of these crawl spaces were only about two meters long, so not incredibly difficult or scary, but very wet and dirty! My hands, knees and pants were covered in slimy mud. Not really a big deal as I was wearing the same pants I had worn the past two days! I’m backpacking you know! Now I have enough items that are dirty that I need to do laundry!
The tunnel was interesting to see, but not a ‘must do’ on a trip to the Galapagos.
Third stop – Rancho Primicia – an area where huge turtles roam around the grounds at their leisure and you can roam around freely with them. They suggest you stay back by two meters and that you approach from behind or from the side. If you stand directly in front of them, they may feel threatened. Did you know that turtles hiss and grunt when they are scared? Then they retreat into their shells.
Luckily, these turtles aren’t all that afraid of humans. If you do approach them from the front, they may grunt and hiss and duck their head for a minute, but it is short lived and then they are back to staring you down …. Or eating their grass lunch.
One of the coolest things that I saw here was a little yellow finch who was particularly attracted to one of the turtles I was photographing. Check out the finch sitting on the turtle shell!
I also got some great photos of the turtles. Something so interesting about these creatures that look pre-historic and who carry their homes on their back.
We also had a little ‘touristy’ fun here.
On the way out, our guide caught a glimpse of some fresh picked bananas hanging from a hook. He walked up and grabbed a few and then offered them to us as a snack. I’m not a huge fan of bananas, although I love banana flavor! This banana tasted great, although that might also have been because I didn’t get a chance for breakfast this morning. I figured it was safe to eat as I peeled it myself! I’m not sick yet … Thank you Dukoral and knock on wood.
After all of this, we finally made our way into Puerto Ayora where the man took me to Hotel Crossman and they were expecting me. In the end, it was the gentleman at the airport that was supposed to pick me up, but there was a lot of confusion because I hadn’t been given the name of my hotel and of course our language barrier.
I did as I said I would and paid for Tanya and Victor’s part of the ride into town. I didn’t have to pay for my own as it was included, after we figured out that I was the right person. They certainly didn’t expect me to pay their entire fare in, but they were super to help me out, take time out of their day to come with me and then Tanya also acted as translator for most of the history and interesting things that the man pointed out in Spanish. All in all, even though my costs were ‘all included’, paying $30 to have Victor and Tanya along was money well spent.
I barely got checked in to the hotel, dropped my bags off and my driver was rushing me to come with him so he could take me to get my lunch. He dropped me off at La Chocolate Restaurante.
Not exactly sure what I ate here as the waitress dropped my food off and then never came back to check on me. I think it was mashed potatoes with cheese, maybe pork? As the meat and then a cold rice and broccoli salad.
Early this morning, my transfer driver from ATC (Andean Travel Company) was waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel. He was there early. I was ready slightly early, so off to the airport we went. I forgot to get his name, but he was lovely. He didn’t speak any English, but he was very patient with me and my broken Spanish.
He even stopped the van a couple of times in the middle of the road for me to take a quick photo through the window with my cell phone! Ha ha! And here you thought I was a fancy photographer! Although it was cloudy today, there was no fog, so I could see how stunningly beautiful this huge city is.
The city of Quito is 45 miles long and has approximately 2.5 million people (I think). It is built in the valley between mountains, with one of the mountains being a volcano. There are houses in the valley, but then they climb up the sides of the mountain as well. It is jam packed with buildings, most of which look poor to us from Canada / US.
I was thrilled once again with Bamba Experience, as they had someone waiting at the airport to help me navigate around the airport. It is a tiny airport, only five gates and three airlines, but I’m so glad she was there. Her name was Deanna. She was friendly, spoke great English and explained every step to me. I’m sure I would have been lost without her, as come to find out many tourists were.
As soon as you enter the airport, they immediately scan your bags through security. She explained, mostly to check for items that are not to be imported to the Galapagos (plants, pestisides, meat, nuts and seeds). She then took my passport and $10 to get a tourist card to go to and return from the Galapagos. I knew that this was necessary, but I would never have known it had to be done at the airport, or where! I was very glad she was there to take care of it.
She then led me to the line for check in. Behind me in line, there was a couple from Alabama. They told me this was their third time to the Galapagos and that they always have done land based tours instead of yachts. They also warned me that the boat ride (a panga) to Isabela Island is three hours of open, very rough water. I think I’m glad I didn’t pre-book that trip! Even though I don’t know these folks, I think I’ll take their word for it and stick with the closer islands in my five days here.
After I was checked in, Deanna pointed me toward a different security, the one where they check your laptop and luggage and screen you for metal. She then went on her way. I headed to Gate #5 and looked out to see beautiful snow capped mountains not to far in the distance. I hadn’t yet seen any because of the heavy fog yesterday. Beautiful!
I had been disappointed yesterday with the amount of fog in Quito. I wasn’t able to get fantastic pictures of the city … or even really see the city because the fog was so heavy! Today, when we took off from Quito toward Guayquil for our brief stopover, it was heavenly!
The scene at first was of crowded houses in the city surrounded by beautiful towering mountains. I wasn’t able to take any photos because they ask you to turn your cameras off during take off.
Within about five minutes, we were above two layers of broken clouds. Below and in the distance you could see beautiful snow capped mountains. My point and shoot pictures don’t really do the scenery justice, but it was breathtaking! You could also see how the peaks of the snow caps sat amongst the clouds. My photos didn’t capture that very well, but I assure you it was beautiful! Check out a few of these ‘snaps’.
45 minutes later, we were descending into Guayaquil, Ecuador for a brief stopover. It is a totally different landscape here. There are fields as far as the eye can see, but today they were more like ponds, lined with trees. It was kind of the same as flying over the prairies and seeing the ‘quilt’ of fields. Except in Guayaquil, the fields were flooded. Or at least I’m assuming they were flooded as it is rainy season here.
Aside from the flooding, there was a beautiful large river running through the city and then another massive city, but this one is built on flat land instead of the valley beside a volcano!
During our stop in Guayaquil, the plane refueled and they asked us to turn off all electronics and to undo our seatbelts. Hmmm … What’s that all about? Anyone know? My guess was so if we needed to evacuate quickly we could, but I don’t really think that’s it.
The next leg of the flight from Guayaquil to Baltra Island, Galapagos was smooth flying! A beautiful flight with sunshine, big puffy clouds and lots and lots of ocean. On approach to the Galapagos I took these couple of photos of my first view of the islands! Pretty.
I should also quickly mention that I flew with LAN airlines. They had the most beautiful airline hostesses, who were all perfectly dressed in red jackets. I think they even had matching lipstick. It seems funny to notice, but it was hard not to. They were so well put together that it made an impression. They were extremely polite and helpful and all spoken excellent English (with a Spanish accent of course). I really enjoyed my flights with them!
Last night, I was late getting to sleep in Quito. I decided it would be a good idea to shower that night and pack my bags so I wouldn’t have to get up so early in the morning. I also decided to only take one carry on the next day (my camera gear) and to not take the travel pillow and snacks as carry on because it was only a total of four hours in transit.
So, I packed everything away and lo and behold, I was able to fit everything I needed to in my checked baggage (ie huge travel backpack). I went to bed at midnight and felt pretty good about my packing job.
This morning, I woke up at 6:45am and got dressed in the clothes I had laid out the night before. Ooooops … I didn’t leave any deodorant out. Now, if I was smart, I would have my ‘necessities packed at the top for easy access, but instead, I packed for comfort. This means that the heaviest items go low in your pack and close to the centre of your back. The heaviest item I have with me is my toiletries because they are all liquid. Commence unpacking to reach my deodorant. Worst part is, I brought two sticks of deodorant with me and packed them BOTH in my toiletry bag last night without thinking! I won’t make that mistake again. It has also made me think about rearranging my toiletry items with necessities in a smaller bag at the top of my backpack for easy access. This, I will do when I leave the Galapagos Islands on Thursday.
Despite having to repack my bag this morning, I was very happy to only have to lug two bags around instead of three today. Carrying extra weight in the pack on my back is a lot easier to deal with than carrying my ruck sack, my heavy camera gear AND a third bag. Overall, happy with my decision to condense to two bags for shorter flights. I’m sure on my way home from Lima to Halifax I’ll be once again traveling with two carry ons. One, likely stuffed with alpaca scarves. So soft, warm and touchable!
I was standing outside the Basilica del Voto Nacional taking pictures. Oddly enough, the bottom section of this church, outside is converted into small stores. A man from one of the stores approached me. When I said ‘No, Gracias. No hablad espanol.’ he started speaking to me in English. Pretty good English actually. He came up and gave me a couple of post cards to take for souvenirs. When I tried to get away, he told me $5 – It’s for the church. Well, honestly, I doubt that $5 was for the church, but maybe, afterall, he was working out of a small store built into the church. I took two post cards and gave him $2. I made a big mistake at this point though and that was to let him see that I had a $20 bill.
When I tried to walk away, he brought me back in by offering me a tour of the old town and the churches. He was free right now and he could show me everything. I could hire him for 30 minutes or 1 hour, or longer. He was a very nice, clean cut man with fairly good English and very friendly. Even though he was obviously trying to make money, I did not at any time feel threatened by him. He told me $20 for a one hour tour and promised to take me to La Compania, which is the church that I most wanted to see. Looking back on it, I decided that he asked for $20 because he previously saw it in my hand … and I didn’t bargain with him at that point .. shame on me!
$20 for one hour is a huge amount of money for someone working in Ecuador! I wasn’t really thinking of that at the time though. And, really, I had originally planed to spend $80 on a different type of tour in Quito today, but unfortunately that fell through.
So, Joseph and I went on our merry way. He joked about the fact that I’d like the tour because it is all downhill. Not sure how I was supposed to get back out of that valley without climbing the hill later though!
We wound through very narrow streets with room for 1.5 cars, but two were somehow fitting. The sidewalks were only wide enough for one person, or a mom and child. Joseph pointed out all kinds of architectural features of the beautiful old buildings such as the lamps that used to burn candles outside of many of the homes, and that all of the balconies on the homes were unique. I took photos along the way, but with sidewalks being so small, it was hard to stop for long to get the ‘perfect’ picture.
We visited two local ‘squares’ or central areas surrounded by important buildings. The first was the National Theatre area, the second was surrounded by the President’s residence, the government buildings and a church. Being with a guide was nice at this point as he kept me safe from speeding traffic on small streets, helped keep street vendors from harassing me and constantly kept an eye out for suspicious folk. The more crowded the area, the more pick pocketing is likely to happen. These central areas are swarming with locals and tourists, many who are Ecuadorian and a few from other areas. I certainly stand out like a sore thumb with my blond hair and pale skin!
Another benefit of being with a guide is that he knows the right people. He simply asks for permission to enter private residences or other buildings that you might normally pay for, and he gets us in with no trouble.
Then there’s the President’s Residence. It is beautiful, no question. We couldn’t go inside, but we did skip in front of a line of about 30 people waiting to go on the balcony and into the one corridor that you were allowed to view. He also insisted I have my photo taken with the guards. Just like in Halifax at Citadel hill, they stand very still, rarely speak and don’t smile.
One of my favorite parts of this tour (although there were many), was the museum that we stopped at which had historic photos of the city. Most of the photos were taken between 1880 and 1905. They were beautiful, large format film photographs of the most important buildings and areas of the city at that time. It was amazing to recognize the areas and see how they had changed. Many of the images were made prior to a devastating earthquake that damaged a lot of the old buildings. I wasn’t allowed to take photos here either, but I quickly snapped one on automatic, from the hip and this is what I got.
Next stop, the library and school next to La Compania, which was the church I most wanted to see. Joseph said he had a surprise for me. Three flights of stairs later, (heart pounding, shortness of breath …), I see these three beautiful sites:
Then we headed back down stairs (no problem!) and over to the very historic, La Compania. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside which is incredibly disappointing. I cannot even begin to describe the incredible architecture, delicate hand-carved everything, and all, plated in gold. The WHOLE inside of the church shines beautiful gold. Here is the one measly photo that I ‘snuck’.
Outside, after La Compania, Joseph pointed out a few other nearby sites and asked if I’d like to continue the tour, or not. Knowing that my price had likely already doubled, I said no. He did in fact ask for $40 instead of $20. We ended at $27 as I told him I needed money for taxi’s and the teleferico (next post – coming soon).