Shari and the seals

Feb 13, 2012

Shari with seals in the Galapagos Islands
Shari with seals in the Galapagos Islands

I did a bay tour this morning and it included snorkeling with the seals. This is not like ‘swimming with the dolphins’ in Cuba where you stand on a ledge and the trained dolphins come up to you and do tricks. This is swimming in the ocean with real seals who are not trained, who are not afraid, who are not in captivity. They are just curious and want to play!

We were told that it is ok if a seal comes close to us or even touches us, but we should not try to touch them as they bite if they feel threatened.

I really can’t begin to explain how amazing it is to be so close to these large, friendly, curious animals. I saw many different types of beautiful fish including parrot fish. Unfortunately I couldn’t hold my underwater camera steady enough to get any good photos of them. However, one of the tour guides took a liking to me, took my camera and started taking pictures of me with the seals. I’m so happy that he did!

I knew once or twice how close the seals were to me, but until I saw the photos I really had no idea. Most of the time they are swimming right beside you, two feet away and you don’t even know they are there. Well, unless they pop up for air beside you and bark. That’ll scare ya!

Shari with seals in the Galapagos Islands
Shari with seals in the Galapagos Islands
Shari with seals in the Galapagos Islands
Shari with seals in the Galapagos Islands
Shari snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands
Shari snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands
Shari snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands
Shari snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands

Food

Feb 13, 2012

As part of my Budget Galapagos tour with Bamba Experience, they have included all of my meals on the islands for me. It has been a bit confusing to figure out how this works because I don’t speak Spanish, but I think we have it all sorted out now.

This morning a lady came for me at 8am to tell me that breakfast would be downstairs and someone was picking me up at 9am for my tour. At 8:30am, I strolled downstairs to get breakfast. They cooked me scrambled eggs (quite yummy), a roll with jam, some kind of fresh fruit juice, tea, a small slice of processed meat and cheese. The processed meat tasted like salami to me, but it looked like ham. Not sure what it was. I tried the cheese and it was delicious, but I have issues with dairy, and they recommend not eating a lot of dairy because the milk isn’t processed the same as it is back home. So, I tasted it, enjoyed it and then decided not to each the whole chunk of cheese.

For lunch, my driver of the afternoon (Darwin) and my own personal tour guide (Mariana) ate with me. All of my included meals are taken care of at a little place called Le Chocolate Restaurante. All of the meals there have been lovely so far. At lunch, it was nice to have Mariana as she told me what I was eating! I had tamarindo juice (sweet, but a little bit gritty from seeds I think … I hope!), lentil and beef soup (very yummy) and the main dish was tuna and rice. I’m not a big fan of fish, but decided I would try it. It was good and didn’t taste like fish at all. There was so much there that I couldn’t eat it though!

Tonight, for supper, the ladies from the hotel came up to my room and told me I could go for supper at the Chocolate Restaurant. I didn’t realize that they meant I needed to go right then. A few minutes later another staff member came up and in broken English said ‘Let’s go.’ … she was taking me to the restaurant. I thought she was going anyway and was just going to take me with her, but no, she stopped a truck, we got in and he drove us to the restaurant. I got out and expected her to come with me, although I was fine to go alone. She didn’t get out. I guess she was just getting me a drive there so I wouldn’t get lost.

I had a choice for supper between battered shrimp, spaghetti and fish. I decided to try the shrimp and it was super tasty. The batter was light and flaky, the shrimp fresh and plump. On the side there was a mixture of potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Here in the Galapagos, the potatoes they serve are slightly yellow. They are dry, but very tasty. I didn’t add anything to the meal … no salt, no pepper, no butter. It was good just the way it was.

So, now I know that breakfast is from 7am-8:15am, lunch is from 1 – 2:15pm and supper is from 7pm-8pm. Now that I have that all figured out, I can go to The Chocolate Restaurant on my own anytime during those hours. This makes life much easier over the next couple of days. Oooops! Guess I was late for breakfast, lunch and supper today. I’ll try to do better tomorrow. No wonder they were knocking on my door telling me to go have supper! I just didn’t know they meant immediately.

I look forward to sharing my next meals with you from afar!

Lifejacket Complication

Feb 13, 2012

What happens in the Galapagos stays in the Galapagos … right? Nah, this is too funny not to blog about.

I’m a pretty strong swimmer as I used to be a lifeguard. I’m not always 100% confident in open water though. I know that I can swim and I’m not going to drown, but when snorkeling I like to enjoy what I’m seeing instead of worrying about treading water, so I often wear a lifejacket.

Today, my lifejacket was too large. Although the boats have enough lifejackets for everyone, they aren’t always the right size, so you take what you can get, knowing that it will help you float.

When Armando started taking photos of me with the seals, I was constantly hauling down on the lifejacket. It is no fun when it is constantly up under your chin and around your ears. Besides, how is he going to get a nice picture of me if I’m all hidden? You know that’s what its all about right?

So, after pulling down on it many times, Armando came over to me and motioned that he could help me. I said ok. Remember, we are a bit too far away from the boat to swim back, climb on and fix the lifejacket, so he was going to help me in the water.

Ooops. Where’d he go? Ooops! Um I found him down there … Yup … down THERE. He was underwater trying to loosen the leg straps of the lifejacket. I could feel his hands on my legs, gently pushing me one way or another. Then once the straps were loosened, now was the task of getting it fastened. I’m not joking … While Armando was down there fumbling around, I actually laughed out loud at how ridiculous this was. Some strange man was down there trying to put a belt between my legs and get it fastened. I won’t lie … a couple of times he touched my woohoo. Now don’t get me wrong, there was nothing sexual about this, just a Scuba diving instructor trying to help me out and make me more comfortable so that I could enjoy the snorkeling, but WOW, who knew that I’d be letting someone do that while I was away on vacation!

Needless to say, the strap helped keep the lifejacket in place and it was much more comfortable for the rest of the swim. I was able to enjoy the marine life and stop fiddling with my jacket.

Armando also sang us a little song on the way to one of our other spots. I took video of it, but can’t seem to access it. If I can, I’ll upload it someday.

Armando Boat Captain and Lifejacket fixer extraordinaire
Armando Boat Captain and Lifejacket fixer extraordinaire

Snorkelling with Sea Lions on Santa Cruz Island

Feb 13, 2012

My second day in the Galapagos I had the extrodinary experience to snorkel with the Sea Lions. We took a 20-30 minute boat ride and then got off to go snorkeling. Before hoping in, they advised us that the sea lions would be very curious and would want to play with us. They may swim right for us and then turn at the last minute, or they may swim so close they are touching us. They warned of the importance of not trying to touch them. If the sea lion touches us, it was ok, but if we were to try to touch them, they may bite.

I was swimming around with my lifejacket and snorkel gear looking at all of the fish when all of a sudden I can see a large shadow only a few feet away. I immediately came up for air. Ha ha when you get scared when you are snorkeling, isn’t your first reaction to get your head out of the water? Kind of like if you can’t see what’s down there you’ll be ok! Then the sea lion brought his head out of the water and barked and back down he goes.

I put my head back in and watched several of them play, swim, glide through the water within feet of me. I was in complete amazement.

Next thing I knew there was a tap on my shoulder. The captain of our boat, Armando was asking if he could take my underwater camera and take photos of me with the sea lions. I let him go to it because I wasn’t taking many pictures anyway. He captured some really great shots showing just how close the seals were to me.

Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos
Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos
Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos
Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos
Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos
Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos

Most of the time I was snorkeling, he spent time taking photos of me and the seals. It was really great because I wouldn’t have captured this otherwise. I also asked him to take a couple of photos of my new friends Tanya and Victor. They weren’t on the same boat as me for this tour, but we were snorkeling in the same place.

Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos
Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos

So, below the water there were probably 10 or so sea lions to play with and many fish, including parrot fish. Above the water, on the rocks you could see marine iguanas, pelicans, sea lions and crabs.

Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos
Sea lions Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos

After about an hour of snorkeling, we climbed back on the boat. I was on a complete high. It is almost like the animals of the Galapagos are people. They get so close to you, you can play with them and communicate without words. These were wild sea lions, not in captivity, not trained.

I’ve been swimming with dolphins in Cuba, but that didn’t even compare. When ‘swimming’ with the dolphins it consisted of standing on a platform where dolphins were trained to do tricks. You’d bend over at the appropriate time and then the dolphin would give you a kiss on the cheek and pose for a photo. Very ‘touristy’, very contrived and just simply not the same as swimming with wild animals who are just simply curious about you even though you don’t have food to bribe them with.

Charles Darwin Station

Feb 13, 2012

When I arrived back at the hotel, one of the staff told me that I’d be picked up for my next tour in 30 minutes, which would have been 1:30. I quickly went upstairs, changed and got ready for my next adventure even though I wasn’t sure what it was. I was ready at 1:30, sat down and waited for my next driver.

After a few minutes, the hotel staff came over and asked me to come with him into the office. He had pulled up Google translate and had typed in Spanish and it automatically translated it to English, that my driver would be there at 3pm. Phew! I could actually go relax for a bit. And, I now knew about Google Translate which would be my new best friend!

At 3pm, I headed back down and I met with my driver, Darwin and my own personal tour guide, Mariana who the hotel had arranged just for me to take me to The Charles Darwin Station.

All of us, Darwin, Mariana, Nandrea (from the hotel) and myself all went to El Chocolate Restaurante for lunch. Then Darwin drove us to the Charles Darwin Station and Mariana and I walked in (about 1 – 1.5 kms).

Mariana was super sweet and spoke almost perfect English. I had a great chat with her about all kinds of things and felt like I could ask her any questions at all that I wanted to. Apparently she used to work for the hotel, but hasn’t for quite awhile as she’s been working on home renovations. Today, the hotel had called her in as they needed her help – this was to help me as she could be an English speaking guide at Charles Darwin Station.

We walked slowly around the station in the rain and she explained all about the four different types of turtle shells, about the predators and about how different turtles are from different islands, so when they breed them, they don’t mix them … in order to keep the species from changing.

Charles Darwin Station
Charles Darwin Station

Mariana took me to each of the different turtle ‘cages’ and explained the type of turtle, their age and what type of shell they had, as well as what island they were from. The baby turtles were really cute!

Charles Darwin Station
Charles Darwin Station

Next up we stopped to see some land iguanas, but they were being shy and hiding from the rain. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of them.

We then went to see larger turtles. These guys were so close to the fence that I was able to get great shots of them. Look, they are holding hands! Isn’t that sweet?Ok, really, it is two male turtles and I think they were just to lazy to move out of each others way, but it made for cute photos.

Charles Darwin Station
Charles Darwin Station

Last, but not least was Lonesome George. Lonesome George is over 100 years old and is the only remaining turtle of his species still alive. He is from Pinta island, but has been living in captivity for quite some time.

They have paired him with two females who are the closest to his species, however in the last few years, no reproduction has been successful.

Charles Darwin Station
Charles Darwin Station
Charles Darwin Station
Charles Darwin Station

On my way out, I stopped by the tourist store. I found some great t-shirts and other trinkets, but convinced myself not to pay the over priced tourist rate when I could find things much cheaper in the community of Santa Cruz.

The bay tour … continued

Feb 13, 2012

The company I traveled with was Chamacuss Tours. The two guides were really fantastic – Edilberto and Armando.

Edilberto spoke good English and was great at explaining where we were going, what we would see and why it was important.

Our first stop was for snorkeling with the sea lions. Then we took a short boat ride to Playa de los Perros. Upon arrival we were greeted by friendly sea lions waving to us.

Galapagos Islands Seal
Galapagos Islands Seal

Here we saw unique wildlife (such as cactus) and an area where sharks go to rest and sleep. Unfortunately, there weren’t any there that day.

Cactus, Galapagos Islands
Cactus, Galapagos Islands
Cactus, Galapagos Islands
Cactus, Galapagos Islands

We got back on the boat for our snack which consisted of pop and crackers, but it was just enough to keep us going.

Next stop was Grieta de los Tintoreras.

Here we had the decision of either going for a walk which was a little bit difficult with the end being a beautiful place to snorkel and cool off, or we could go directly to the beach.

Of course, I’ve seen many beaches before, so despite the sizzling heat, I chose to head off to the snorkeling area. By this time of day (11am-12pm) the heat is nearly unbearable. A 15-20 minute walk on stepping stones, rocks and a few hills nearly killed me. There is no shade from the heat, only more heat, more rocks and more difficult terrain.

At the end, we came to an opening in the rocks with beautiful turquoise water. My body temperature was climbing by the second and it was a little bit like finding an oasis in the dessert!

Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands

We precariously climbed up and down over huge bolders to get to a spot where we could shed our clothes. I set my backpack down, took my shoes and socks off. Sunglasses and hat on top of my backpack and I was ready to go! Then one of the other girls in my group put her shoes near my bag and nudged it a little. Just enough for my sunglasses to go tumbling down behind these huge boulders. I figured they were lost forever. She felt really bad, but I immediately told her not to worry as they weren’t expensive. I then proceeded to even more precariously ‘slide’ into the water. The water was shockingly cold, but most likely because my body temperature was so high. Once I was in, I was a very happy girl. If there is a word that is better than refreshing, that’s what I was. It was absolutely phenomenal. I also heard that the snorkeling was interesting, but I hadn’t bothered to take my snorkeling gear from the boat. I was quite happy just to swim to the other end of the water, turn around and come back. I stuck around, treading water for a bit so that I could soak in all of the coolness that my body could take, then I delicately climbed up the rocks back to my gear.

I was glad to be one of the first ones out of the water because it gave me a little extra room to get dried off and put clothes back on. Then, I looked for my sunglasses. Lo and behold, I found them! I laid down on a rock and stretched as far as I could. With the very tips of my fingers I was able to reach them. YAY! I went to put them on my face and SNAP one of the arms immediately snapped off, not repairable. Oh well … they weren’t expensive.

I took a few photos of the interesting rocks near this swimming hole and then made my way back toward the beach over the rough rocky terrain in the sweltering heat.

Rocks in the Galapagos Islands
Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

On my way back I also took a few photos of a water area that I would call a lagoon or maybe a lake. Only problem was, it didn’t smell very pretty. However, I held my breath and took some beautiful photos.

Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands

The beach was nice, but really not any nicer than anywhere else. I also knew that I wouldn’t be there for long as the rest of the group was only 5-10 minutes behind me. I snapped a few photos, but didn’t go swimming here.

We walked about five minutes back to the dock where Edilberto had to call for Armando to come get us. I think on the time we were on this island, Armando worked as a water taxi taking a few people back and forth between the small island areas. We probably waited for about 20 minutes or so. A few people got bored, so they took another water taxi home, but I waited and I’m glad I did. While we were there waiting I got some great photos of crabs, saw marine iguanas and golden rays (they are stingrays that have a yellowish gold color under the tip of their fin). The rays were particularly beautiful swimming in the water fairly close to us. There were two of them and they stayed together the entire time I could see them.

crab, Galapagos Islands
crab, Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands, Gecko
Galapagos Islands, Gecko
Galapagos Islands, bird
Galapagos Islands, bird
Galapagos Islands, Marine Iguana
Galapagos Islands, Marine Iguana
Galapagos Islands, Golden Rays
Galapagos Islands, Golden Rays

Finally, Armando came back for us and we climbed aboard for our last short boat trip back to the main dock in Santa Cruz. Along the way I saw a bird on a rock and I loudly exclaimed ‘Is that a booby?’ I think everyone had a little chuckle at my expense. Edilberto politely told me ‘Yes, it is a blue footed booby’. So, Armando steered us in that direction where I got this photo.

Blue footed booby, Galapagos Islands
Blue footed booby, Galapagos Islands

Back on shore I thanked the guides, gave them each a hug and headed back to my hotel. Phew! What an exhilarating and absolutely fantastic day! And, it wasn’t over yet!

Cash on hand

This is going to be a really short post, but it will expand as I travel! Really, it is mostly just a note to self to say that I’m starting out with $545 US Cash + $20 Canadian Cash. I’m a little uncomfortable with carrying this amount of actual cash, but I’ll be careful to separate it into different bags while I travel in case one gets lost or stolen. And, I suspect a good chunk of it will be gone in the first week with my visit to The Galapagos Islands. It’s expensive there and I still want to book a couple of excursions that I haven’t arranged yet.

While I am away for three weeks, I will have to pay for about half of my meals, a couple of tours in the Galapagos Islands, tips for my tour guides, taxis or buses and any gifts or souvenirs that I want to bring back.

Every couple of days, I hope to update this post with my spending so that I’ll have a good idea of where my money went when I get home! As well as keeping track for the next time I travel to Peru or Ecuador. You never know where my next photo adventure tour will be!

Feb 10th – $10.50
$2 – almonds at Starbucks
$.50c – pay phone to call my sister to bring me my cell phone
$8 – Supper at Houston Airport

Feb 11th – $65
$0 – Breakfast (included at my Hostal Villa Nancy)
$2 – Postcards
$26 – Guide to help me navigate the streets to get to the churches of Old town. I paid him way too much, but I’m still glad I hired him. He showed me spots I definitely wouldn’t have looked at on my own. And, he kept me safe.
$1.50 – entry to La Compania – really amazing church that I wasn’t allowed to take any photos of inside
$5 – Taxi to Teleferiquo
$8.50 – Teleferiquo admission
$5 – Cafe Lazo & Cheese Empanadas
$3 – Taxi to Hotel
$14.72 – Supper at Hunter’s – Locre de Queso, ham and cheese panini, bottle of water (sin gas)

Feb 12th – $146.80
$10 – Tourist card for Galapagos Islands – MUST KEEP IT TO RETURN TO ECUADOR!
$100 – Galapagos National Park Entrance Fee
$0.80 – Ferry from Baltra to Santa Cruz
$30 – for transportation for my lovely new friends who helped translate for me
$4-$6 – Drinks – bottled water, pop, nestea

Feb 13th – $2
$2 – four bottles of water

Feb 14th – $45
$40 deposit of $80 boat ride, lunch, snorkeling – Floreana Island – booked for Feb 15
$3 – snorkeling gear
$2 – pop

Feb 15th – $45 – $30 refund, only $15 spent
$40 remainder of Foreana Island boat tour
$3 laundry
$2 drinks
-$30 – refund from Bamba for the first day of travel when I paid for two English speaking people to travel with me.

Feb 16th – $18.50
$2 tip to Darwin for driving me one day and helping me at the ferry to the airport today.
$4 drinks
$12.50 ish – supper in Quito at Hunter’s Restaurant – VISA

Feb 17th – 21st – Puno / Lake Titicaca – $295 Soles = $125 US
$140 US changed into $333.90 Soles of which I have $65 Soles left.
Food & Water: $195
Tips: $20 for Lake Titicaca guide, $5 Boat Captain, $3 TukTuk
Reed Boat Ride: $5 – Uros Islands
Hat: $20 – bought at homestay
Two necklaces: $40 – bought at Uros Islands
Market Food for Homestay: $15