Galapagos Islands Photo Essay

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.

Want to read more about my travels to the Galapagos Islands?
Check out these past blogs:
Floreana Island – Dolphins
Lifejacket Complication
Fresh Fish Feast
Swimming with the sea lions

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.

Galapagos Islands – Dare to Dream

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!

Fresh Fish Market – Photo Essay

Puerta Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

I was wandering along the waterfront one afternoon in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos and came across the fresh fish market. I’m passionate about photographing people in their environment, working … what better place than a fish market? The fisherman had come in off the boats not long before and they were preparing fresh fish for locals; first come, first served. As with any subject, I started photographing from the front and then started to wander around to different vantage points. I’m so glad that I did because some of my favourite shots are the ones from behind the fish counter.

Bumper Car Thoughts

How to make a Decision – Part 4

Oh I can feel the energy! Loud music, the smell of cotton candy and popcorn, children laughing, adults acting like children and the hum of electric bumper cars …

I excitedly choose a little red car in the middle of the bumper car pack, wait for the horn and then I start off slowly with a childish giggle thinking I can sneak past my friend before she bumps me. I test the gas peddle and my car does a little jerky-hop forward.

Now, STEP ON IT!

Ok, don’t get too excited, they don’t really move that fast, but I’ve managed to slip past my friend without her making contact. Now is my time to spin around and make my move!

Then with a jerk, my head is tossed to the left as a stranger blindsides me from the right and I hear him chuckle with excitement for his clever hit.

As I refocus my vision, I remember to step on the gas before I become stuck in the middle and forever battered by a constant stream of bumper cars waiting to attack my faithful little red car from every angle. Are those thoughts (er .. I mean … um … cars) ever going to have room to move again, or are they forever stuck in this grid-lock, surrounded by strangers waiting to attack … and then chuckle nonchalantly  about it?

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness …. I’m going away to study Spanish! EEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!

Wait a second … where is it that I’m going? oh right, I don’t know yet!

When I initially started thinking about learning Spanish in 2009, I had wanted to return to Nicaragua. I spent very little time there, but I felt such a big connection to the places that I visited.

But wait, then I traveled to Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands in February 2012 … and I decided that I wanted to go back to the Galapagos (in August 2012) to study. My best friend was invited to a wedding in Ecuador and I’d be able to visit with her before heading over to the islands. Then, while I there I could do some volunteer work, take lots of photos and see more of the islands that I had a chance to in my first five day visit.

But wait again! The Galapagos Islands are so far away and crazy expensive to get to! Not to mention that it is expensive to live there. And, well, it is a very small area. Will I get bored there for an extended period of time?

Maybe I should study Spanish in Quito, Ecuador? I knew a couple who had just studied for four weeks there before joining in on my Peru Through the Lens Photo Tour. They had loved it and both studies and living in Ecuador are dirt cheap. Oh wait … I didn’t feel safe in Quito, it was high altitude and well, it really just wasn’t my favourite place. So, cheap or not, that’s not really where I want to be!

Hmmmmmm …. there are so many Spanish speaking countries and I really would love to see them all. How am I ever going to decide? I can’t research them all, that would take too long!

What about the Dominican Republic? I had just returned from a beautiful week in Punta Cana where I was photographing a destination wedding. I had a couple of great local experiences, but felt like I didn’t really see much of the country because I was mainly on the resort. Let’s think about this option.

When I really began to contemplate the option of returning to the Dominican Republic to study, it just seemed to fit. It was cheaper to get flights to the Dominican than all the way to the Galapagos Islands. It was relatively safe for tourists, beautiful, sunny, beaches, Spanish culture, dancing, good food …. sounds good so far!

I revved up that little red bumper car engine and was poised to stomp on the gas and force my way out of the grid lock, but then hesitation …

I dug a little deeper in my thoughts … Although I had made the decision to go study Spanish for myself, I couldn’t totally ignore the part of me that found it easier to justify this ‘vacation’ if it had some business benefits.

Learning Spanish is something that I wanted to do because I was interested, but it was an extra bonus that it would also help me when I’m doing Photo Tours in South America. Were there other benefits to be found from the possibility of studying in the Dominican Republic? Why, yes, yes there are! The reason that I was in the Dominican Republic to begin with was to photograph a destination wedding. At our resort alone there were 3-4 weddings per day, seven days a week. Multiply that by however many resorts there are in Punta Cana … well, that means there’s something crazy like 150+ weddings PER WEEK just in this one area. Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could capitalize on this. Maybe I could arrange to photograph some weddings while I am in Dominican Republic learning Spanish, if that’s where I decide to go.

hmmmm … or maybe not.

Do I really want to be working or is this trip just about figuring me out? Well, maybe I could compromise and shoot one or two weddings to cover the costs of my trip. That’s not too much of a sacrifice! Oh no, there’s a hitch in that too … if I want to go this summer, that is slow season for weddings in Dominican. Not to mention that it is the nicest time of year in Nova Scotia and my main market for destination weddings would be couples from Nova Scotia. Geeze, I sure am glad I’m thinking about all of this!

Maybe the answer is that I don’t photograph any weddings while I am there, but I do some research to see if I can work with some of the resorts. And, regardless of when I do destination weddings, at least the Dominican has a high market for it. If I were to go to the Galapagos Islands, the number of destination weddings would be much fewer.

Did I just make a decision? Nah, I couldn’t have. But wait … maybe I did? What about all of the other countries that I could study in? Belize, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras … and the list goes on … It’s a big world out there, how do I choose just one location?

Look at that green bumper car … the driver is a maniac! He’s relentless! He has no shame, no compassion and takes a good hit on anyone he can, even if they aren’t moving. That’s not very sportsman like is it? Wait, he’s aiming straight for me on my one open side, as I’m grid-locked in everywhere else. I’m not going to let him beat my while I’m down! I’ll show him … GAS!!!

After several days of debating with myself and giving myself justification from a business standpoint I said ‘Enough is enough! Just pick a place and go with it!’. So, I did just that. Based on my previous experience in Dominican, the cost of getting there, the distance and the opportunities to expand my business there, I decided to just go for it.

With the wind dancing in my hair, a childish grin on my face and lots of driving practice, I starred back that the guy in the blue bumper car, I braced myself, put the peddle to the metal and hit him so hard, straight on, that it took his breath away.

Wait a second … it took my breath away too … all of a sudden I’m free of grid-lock. I gasped for air and then realized that there is plenty of it there to enjoy, I just needed to break free, attack head on and keep moving forward.

Gas!

The Taxi Chronicles – Part 2

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!

Slow and Steady – except when in transit

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed over my past week of South American travels is the pace of life. Originally I noticed how slow people walked in Quito, Ecuador. They just seemed to meander or wander around. No one is ever in a rush when on foot.

There is a whole lot of traffic though, and that is a different story! Both in Quito, Ecuador and Lima, Peru, the music of blaring horns reaches your ears and startles you regularly. People beep to say hi, they beep if they are mad, they beeb to let you know they are coming up behind you, they beep if you haven’t moved fast enough, they beep and yell with road rage. It is a constant stream of little beeps.

And, you don’t have to search for cab drivers here, they are more than happy to track you down … by beeping of course! If you are walking down the street and a taxi driver sees you he will beep to try to make eye contact and you can nod yes or no. It makes it really easy to get a taxi! Then you just have to negotiate your price before you get in so there’s no surprise at the end.

Once again, walking through Lima today I was reminded of just how slow paced life is here. People aren’t rushing to get past you. They aren’t stepping on your feet or weaving in and out of people on the streets. No one is getting annoyed at the slow walkers in front of them, everyone just kind of minds their own business and strolls along.

It really is a beautiful reminder to slow our minds down, be aware of what’s around us and stop rushing to get everything done. I definitely feel the difference. I’m not stressed here, despite all of the mishaps I’ve had, I feel alive and happy. I’m not on a specific schedule, no deadlines, but yet, I’m still here working.

Slow and steady …

Now, when you are in a vehicle, that all goes to hell. There is mucho traffico here. With 10 million people in the city of Lima, there are a lot of cars on the road all of the time. Rush hour traffic last night was still happening at 8pm. Drivers are like mad men pushing their way into crowded streets, inching past cars parked on the sides of the roads, making two lane streets into three .. and all at a nice little pace! It can really be quite terrifying.

Even though slow and steady is the way of life when you are on foot, as soon as you take that step off of the side walk, you are all of a sudden in transit. That means you’d better move as fast as the cars or else they will run you over!

It is totally different here than even in New York city. At least in New York it is often the pedestrian’s fault for not paying attention to walk lights, but here in Lima, it is like pedestrians have no rights.

You just wait and wait for traffic to pass you by until there is a really clear bee-line for the other side of the road. Take a deep breath and jump off that sidewalk … don’t trip, just get to the other side!

Floreana Island – the boat ride

Feb 15, 2012

I got up really early on Wednesday morning (Feb 15) to head out to the tour I had booked the day before. Destination Floreana Island in search of penguins! Floreana is the shortest distance to travel to possibly see penguins. The other islands, Isabela, Santiago and Bartolome are all further either by land first and then boat, or just a longer boat ride. Being scared of getting sea sick, I decided to take the shortest route.

Just before 8am, I popped my gravol and put all kinds of positive thoughts through my head. Had a little chat with myself “You will not get sea sick. Think of other things. Concentrate on all the awesome adventures you’ve had. Think of your friends. Wonder what they are doing right now. Don’t get sea sick. Oh that was awful in St. Pierre when I was so horribly ill on the ferry. I don’t want that to happen again. Wait, supposed to be thinking positive here … Oh what a beautiful day!”

By 8:15 we were on the boat … crammed on the boat I might say. There were 16 of us on the tour, which was capacity for this boat, Mitzzy Juli. Our official guide that day was Marco. He spoke some English, but not a lot. Enough to get by but not really enough for me to understand all of the history that he was explaining.

As we headed out into the bay, one of the deck hands asked (and motioned) to see if I wanted to go somewhere. I thought that he was motioning to the small area inside, maybe because I had told Marco I was concerned about sea sickness. I said no because I’d much rather be in the fresh air than in an in-closed space. THEN as 2 or 3 other people headed to the edge of the boat and climbed up a ladder, I understood that he was asking if I wanted to go sit upstairs. Of course I wanted to sit upstairs! But, I had missed my chance. Upstairs was a small bench directly behind the captain of the boat, Raul. There was only room for 2-3 and now it was full. Boo me.

So, I sat and enjoyed the shade and fresh breeze from the water, not to mention the spectacular views as we bounced our way out to sea. The waters are warm and calm this time of year. Now, it is still open ocean, but overall, mostly a mildly rocky ride. Nothing like my horrendous experience on the ferry from St. Pierre & Miquelon!

The boat ride is about 1.5 hours. I couldn’t use my big camera on the boat as it makes me sea sick to look through it, so I took a few shots with my point and shoot.

View of Santa Cruz en route to Floreana Island
View of Santa Cruz en route to Floreana Island

After we got going, like a lot of people, I think the boat lulled me to sleep. It wasn’t a very good sleep as my head was bouncing around, but a little siesta none-the-less.

About 30 minutes from Floreana you could really begin to get a feel for the look and size of the island. It happens to also be the island that you see in the distance of this beautiful photo taken from Tortuga Bay.

view of Floreana Island from Tortuga Bay
view of Floreana Island from Tortuga Bay

Here it is closer up.

Floreana Island, Galapagos
Floreana Island, Galapagos

On arrival at Floreana our boat couldn’t go all the way in, so they tied it off to a floating thing a short distance from shore. The floating thing also had three sea lions (lobo marino) basking in the hot hot hot sun.

Sea Lions, Floreana Island
Sea Lions, Floreana Island

The Captain whistled loudly and a water taxi headed our way. This is standard in Galapagos. There are water taxis everywhere and you (or your captain) just whistle loudly to get their attention then they’ll come get you.

The water taxi pulled up along side our boat and we piled out single file. This is easy enough for me, but several passengers who were older or who had mobility issues had a really hard time transferring from one boat to the other. The waves would rock the boats … sometimes bringing them closer, sometimes separating them. No question it is dangerous, but I honestly doubt there are many accidents. The guides and deck hands are there to tell you when to step and hold your hand.

Once at the dock, we climbed off the water taxi on to a stair case having the same issues as before with the boat rocking to and from the dock. I’ve done this quite a few times and I feel that I’m pretty aware overall, so it didn’t bother me, but a few people were really scared.

We all got to land safely and headed out for our next little adventure … the highlands.

Leaving Quito

Feb 12, 2012

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.

Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador

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’.

Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane
Mountains near Quito, Ecuador from plane

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.

First view of Galapagos Islands from plane
First view of Galapagos Islands from plane
First view of Galapagos Islands from plane
First view of Galapagos Islands from plane

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!

Old town Quito

Feb 11, 2012

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.

Photo of Balconies of Quito
Balconies of Quito

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.

Shari at President's Residence, Quito, Ecuador
Shari at President's Residence, Quito, Ecuador

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.

Photographic history of Quito
Photographic history of Quito

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:

Church tower wtih Quito in background
Church tower wtih Quito in background
Angel on panicillo in Quito
Angel on panicillo in Quito
Praying statues Quito Ecuador
Praying statues Quito Ecuador

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’.

La Compania, Quito, Ecuador
La Compania, Quito, Ecuador

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).

Exploring on my own – The Trek to Old Town

Feb 11, 2012

I woke up this morning at 7:30am feeling pretty good. I took a hot shower, with cold flashes, used the in-room hair dryer and then headed down for breakfast around 8:30am. There wasn’t a lot out for options when I go there as in was wrapping up. A few cold cut meats, yogurt, juice, milk, toast and watermelon. I sat down with a couple of slices of toast, a piece of watermelon and the lovely ladies made me some scrambled eggs which were pretty good.

After breakfast I headed back to my room to pack up for my one and only full day in Quito. I didn’t have any tours booked, so I was on my own, for better or worse! Because I’ve read and heard so much about crime here, mainly pick pocketing, I decided to pack light.

I took one camera and two lenses (24-70 & 70-200). I packed in a regular backpack, not a camera gear backpack. I took a photocopy of my passport with me and left the real thing in the hotel safe. I also decided to take a minimal amount of money. This was suggested in case I was to get robbed. At least I would only lose what was on me, not everything.

I struck out on a walk from the mariscal district or ‘new town’ to the ‘old town’ district. I had my map in hand and camera around my neck. By walk, I really mean hike and it isn’t just a few blocks. The first part of my trek, yes, let’s call it a trek, was downhill, so no major issues. Traffic signals and cross walks operate much the same as they do in Canada, but people aren’t quite as courteous, so you do have to be very careful.

I walked for an hour and a half. Normally that would be 10 kms. I was a little slower because of the altitude though, so probably still 8kms. It wasn’t all down hill! It’s kind of like the story your grandfather told you about having to walk uphill both ways to get to school. Somehow, no matter where you turn, you are walking up a hill! I would complain about walking small hills on a regular basis, well these aren’t small hills and on top of that, lack of oxygen from altitude, it was grueling! However, I didn’t complain (only because I was by myself, so no one was listening.)

I took a couple of wrong turns, ending up not quite where I wanted to be, but yet not really lost either. I made my way past McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King to a park where there was a market. I was very surprised that the locals at the market didn’t hound me. A few of them tried to get me to look more closely at things, but when I said ‘no’, they left me alone. I must say that I can’t wait to bring home some beautiful Alpaca scarves. They are soooooo soft and warm!

Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador
As I was leaving the park, I saw my first view of the houses grouped on the side of the mountain. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but Quito is really an amazing and unique city.

After walking through the park where the market was, I headed down another not-quite-right street, but still not lost … heading in the right direction! I needed a break after walking up yet another hill. I saw a small monument/fountain, so I took a couple of photos, caught my breath and then sat down on a bench in the small park area to have a drink of water.

The unsafe park
The unsafe park

Just as I stood up to leave, a lady came over to me speaking urgently in Spanish. Now, of course I don’t understand Spanish very well, but she was wagging her finger and very clearly telling me that it wasn’t safe for me to be in this area. PANIC! When a local comes and tells you it isn’t safe, you et a move on. Why I chose to move on UP THE STAIRS instead of down the stairs, I don’t know. I got to the top of the stairs and needed another break!

All along this trek I saw regular police cars passing by, a few security guards at stores and lots of people who looked at me like they might just run at me.

About a block from the area that I was steered away from, on top of another hill, was the beautiful Basilica del Voto National with construction dating back to 1892.

Basilica del Voto Nacional Quito Ecuador
Basilica del Voto Nacional Quito Ecuador

My next post will be about my tour of Old Town. Coming soon!