Finally to the Galapagos! We met in the hotel lobby at 6:00AM and were out the door by 6:20 to the aeropuerto for our flight to San Cristobal. The flight was uneventful and filled with westerners headed to the islands. We did make a stop… Somewhere… To let people off and other people on and to refuel. And the most exciting thing was during refueling, when the flight attendant told Liz she needed to unbuckle her seatbelt while the refueling was happening. I’m sure there’s a logical reason for that.
San Cristobal, Galapagos
In San Cristobal we met Pablo, our guide for the next 7 days, who took us to out hotel to unpack and change. Then we went for a brief walkabout around the shoreline. Here we saw our first of many sea lions and crabs. the sun was brutally strong and the weather hot. Neither of these things are complaints, since one can’t really complain about the Galapagos.
Lazy Sea Lion
Lunch was at a local spot with a starter of a hot vegetable soup – surprisingly tasty on such a hot day – and locally caught fish.
Mountain Bike Trip
Our afternoon excursion was a mountain bike ride from the top of a hilly area and down to the beach. We started at the top of the hill at a small church, where Pablo gave us our first taste of his story-telling skills. He explained the difference between species types:
1) Transported – brought onto the islands by settlers. Like guava or passion fruit
2) Native – came to the island by their own natural way. Can often be found on other locations as well (such as the mainland)
3) Indigenous – came to the island as “native” but evolved into a species specific to living on the island.
It was interesting to hear that guava and passion fruit – two fruits we associate with islands and the tropics – actually have a negative impact on the environment. They take over the native vegetation and grow over it, essentially smothering the local plants.
After our talk and a few pics of the view, we got on our mountain bikes and spent the rest of the day cruising around San Cristobal. I forgot how much I love mountain biking. I have a road bike in the city which is a lot of fun, but there’s nothing like riding over bumps with a mountain bike. It was great. Made me think of the cycle safari I did in Botswana in 2006. So spectacular. What also made me think of Botswana is poor Fany, who hit a patch of gravel, skid, and flew off her bike – almost exactly the way I did in Botswana. She was as proud of her war wounds as I was of mine; maybe prouder since hers were much more expansive.
After an hour we parked our bikes at a beach way and spent time on a nice afternoon walk along the shore where we saw our first marine iguana and a number of sea lions.
Pablo is a plethora of information about the flowers, the birds, the sea lions, and the Galapagos in general. He tells us everything and then tells us more, and as we wander around he also asks if we have questions he can answer. We’re going to learn a lot on this trip – and I love that.
Despite our lengthy trip to the beach, our hotel was a short ride around a few corners. We showered and rested and then changed for a group dinner of chicken, fish, and what seemed to be the most delicious beer ever.
We tried to stay awake for as long as we could, but Liz and I were both asleep. By 9:30.
I met my friend Liz in 2004 during a memoir writing class. Since then, we’ve bonded about families, boys, running, books, relationships, cupcakes, and life. Liz has become a wonderful friend and as hungry for adventure as I am. This is our Galapagos Adventure.
We flew in separately the day and night before and reuned in our hotel room in Quito – the Hotel Sierra Madre. We live 12 blocks apart in New York City but I hadn’t seen her since February because of our work travels. Funny that we had to go to a different continent to see each other.
We had a day in Quito to explore before meeting our Active SA tour group for dinner. So we decided a leisurely sightseeing day was on order. After sleeping in just a bit (hooray vacation!) we walked into the Mariscal district for brunch at the Magic Bean restaurant; a nice place with “proper” breakfast. They played country music and the waiters had Shel Silverstein quotes on their t shirts. Not really a “local” place, but it hit the spot.
Liz and I hailed a taxi to the Capilla del Hombre, a modern art museum on the outskirts of Quito (or at least the outskirts of our map). It was a gorgeous space; cavernous and stark but somehow still warm. The exhibit was entirely full of Eucadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín whose paintings were a mixture of misery and happiness – depending on the painting. And the space allowed for the huge size of the paintings. Some reminded me of Picasso’s La Guernica with their length and coloring. But different. Photos weren’t allowed, but here are some other pictures of Guayasamín’s work:
We also walked up the hill to what appeared to be a private residence but was really a showcase for some sculptures and a few old cars. Odd, but it made for some fun pictures.
Next stop was into Quito’s old town. We wandered around the Basillica and took pics, the wandered onto the Plaza Grande.
Soon the altitude (10K ft) had kicked and made us especially exhausted, so we caught taxis back to Mariscal and ate lunch at a sandwich shop. the. Back to the room for a “siesta”. I figured I’d take a quick 20 minute power nap, and next thing I knew it was 3 hours later. One more time: yay vacation!
In the lobby we met Nick, our Kiwi Active South America contact who gave us our briefing and would get us to the airport the next day. We also met the rest of the group:
Amanda – a Brit who lives in New Zealand and who works for active SA but is on holiday in SA for the next 3 months
Lina – a Kiwi who works with and is friends with Amanda. They’re traveling together.
Rahana – a filmmaker from the UK
Trish – a math”s” (that’s pural) teacher from the UK
Jocelyn (aka Fany) – a sunny and smart 16 yr old from Ireland but who was born in France
Paola – Jocelyn’s father’s work colleague who suggested to Jocelyn that they go to the Galapagos together
Sara – A well-traveled German who’s spent many years in Hong Kong
Gail and Dennis – a retired couple from Los Angeles
For dinner we ate at Estacion, a restaurant in the Mariscal that offers Ecuadorian cuisine. It was a great dinner and a nice way to get to know the group. I had the chicken stew, which of course had a local name but I have no idea what it was. The amusing part of the evening was that our restaurant was located right across the street from a bar called The Dirty Sanchez. This, of course, is where Liz checked us in on Facebook.
After dinner we were back at the hotel to repack our belongings into our official matching SA Aventures bags and to leave our extra luggage at the hotel. Then to sleep. I was surprisingly tired for someone who took a 3 hour nap earlier that afternoon.
We got a late start and didn’t rally for breakfast until 9:00 am (we’ll blame that on the boys last night). Ji constantly attempted to order her omelette “sin queso” but it’s not so “sin” as much as “con”. We packed up our room so we could move for a late checkout and then went out for a day of fun. (more…)
Trip to the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo
Our morning plans were to visit the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo early, before the bus crowds arrived. So we arranged for what we thought was a car to take us to the volcano, though the car was actually a van filled with 8 other people. It also didn’t arrive at 8:30 but more like 9:15. This was a little unfortunate since we wouldn’t have the mud to ourselves.
When the van arrived we got in, met two men named Gene and Robert, and realized it was not a private taxi ride. Then we picked a family of 4 from Orlando. Then we got a Brazillian. And then Michael from Del Ray beach. Apparently there are lots of Floridians because there are direct flights between Cartagena from Miami. But what wasn’t a private taxi ride turned out to be very fortuitous since we all enjoyed one another and Ji and I hit it off with our new friends Gene and Robert. Lilliana, our guide, summarized how the volcano mud-time works: we’d pay 1000 pesos each for a mud massage, a camera, and the mud-washing ladies. If we didn’t want any of those services then all we had to do was say “no thank you”. But we’d read up about the experience and knew we wanted to “go with the flow” – pun intended hah-hah.
Volcan de Lodo El Totumo
At the volcano there were two other buses already there, which was a bummer but a small price to pay. We stripped down to only our bathing suits and cameras. The Volcano is an unimpressive ant hit with rickety stairs that you climb steps up to to top and find that the hole is packed with bodies.
To get into the big vat of mud, you climb in backwards and they tell you “just lie back”. You immediately float. Gene went in first, then Heidi, then Ji, and Robert stayed out to take photos. The mud pit is organized into a massage area and a loitering area. We were guided on our backs to the massage area where we acclimated to this crazy buoyancy. When we decided against the massage, they pushed us immediately to the loitering area. It was amazing how buoyant we were. Attempts to stand were thwarted by the thick, dense mud. Lots of limbs around – which helped us bond even faster with Gene.
Gene, pre head-dunk
Gene, post head-dunk
Gene and Heidi, laughing hilariously. Robert said, “Heidi you are ALL BOOB.”
Ji and Me
Gene, Ji and Heidi – Mud Buds
Eventually we taunted/bullied Robert into coming in, which wasn’t hard because he had that “I should go in” look on his face. What followed was more mud buddy fun and accidental groping. We got to know each other very well and very quickly, prompting lots of jokes like “Whose leg is that?” or “Is that a potato in your pants?”. The mud was gritty, charcoal grey color and very thick. It was also room temp (not warm). We decided that since there was no bottom it “went down to the center of the earth”.
Ji, Robert, Heidi, Gene, and rabbit ears
When it was time to get out we sat in the mud on line for the squeegee, which was really a man running his hands down you to clean you off. This sounds disturbing, but was actually a non-event. We carefully walked down the stairs backwards since we were still slippery with mud.
We followed the path down path to a “lagoon”, which sounds exotic but wasn’t. The ladies ushered us in, pushed us gently but firmly into a sitting position and bucketed water over our heads. The water was basically dirty swamp water, but at least it wasn’t mud. They urged us to take off our suits and washed them off (also not a disturbing thing since we were all submerged and no one could see). I bullied Robert into taking his off too. Then, because it was getting crowded, they urged us to get dressed and get out of the water. No loitering for these people.
Path to the lagoon
Man washing in the lagoon
Muddy kid getting in for a washing
Ji and Heidi with a coconut
Decor and the hill
Gene, Ji, Robert, and Heidi – cleaning up our acts
The bus ride to lunch was filled with laughter and teasing since by now we were best “Mud Buds” with Gene and Robert. Like when Ji, out of nowhere, suddenly Ji wacked Gene on his shoulder. Though she claimed it was a bug, Gene was convinced it was some Korean thing. No need for propriety when you’ve been groping each other in the mud. The Orlando gamily in the back row laughed hysterically at us.
For lunch we went to small village fifteen minutes from the old city at a tourist lunch by the water. We all ordered fish except Robert, who had chicken, and for some reason we felt the need to name each plate.
Ji and Ivan
Gene and Fred
Robert and Foghorn Leghorn
My fish, Stuart, mangled.
A woman came around selling a coconut dessert. We tried it but all decided it was too sweet and a tad too smokey.
Back at the hotel we showered and showered and showered. Ji says she showered but apparently didn’t use shampoo since her hair was still turned her hands black. We waited for a while for Marelvy to take us to her husband’s art studio but she didn’t come. Instead we went to the Plaza where his studio was located. Still no luck. We waited for bit and then opted to do a little shopping in a store called Kia. The dresses were more expensive than we remembered from the night before, but Ji found a lovely blue dress with an orange stretchy belt. I bought a necklace and some gifts for nieces. Then it was back to hotel for siesta.
Gene and Robert had invited us to dinner that night and said they’d pick us up at 7:15. At 7:10 our front desk called “your friends are here”. Ji and I raced down the stairs to meet them in the lobby.
No Gene and Robert.
We looked in the library. Still no Gene and Robert. We looked at each other, we looked around, and then we opened the door to outside. There – in a horse-drawn carriage – were our muddy (now clean) knights in shining armor. We were beside ourselves. I’ve never been in a horse-drawn carriage. We took a quick drive around the town and then the driver dropped us at the Tcherassi Hotel and Spa so we could have drinks at Aquabar and dinner at Vera.
Robert and our carriage driver
At Aquabar, we sat over pool next to living plant wall with chirping frogs and running water. We tried practically every drink while we had the time.
Tree in Aquabar
Running water wall
Robert and Gene
Gene and Joe in the candlelight
Dancing in the Rain
We all rallied to go to local dance spot outside the city walls that Robert and Gene knew about. It was a bar with an open courtyard – as many of the establishments in Cartagena have – and we had drinks in the open are. The bar was playing videos on the walls and so dancing ensued. Our new group of friends all liked cheesy pop dance tunes, especially Lady Gaga. Eventually raindrops started to come down and Joe dove for cover. The rest of us continued to dance and the rain got harder and harder. That’s when Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold” came on and the rain got very heavy. Gene and Robert ducked under the roof and this is how Ji and I found ourselves in the middle of the courtyard – all alone – and dancing like loons in the pouring rain. We were drenched but had so much fun. We hung out for another hour so and then called it night at 1:30AM. Rock stars.
Happy Thanksgiving Day!
To celebrate Thanksgiving, we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel, during which Ji drank too much coffee and therefore had to pee every 5 minutes for the rest of the day. (That was an exaggeration, obviously) (more…)
We finally, on Day 3, we discovered the omelet station at the Tamaca Beach Hotel. It was SO much better than runny eggs.
Trip to Tayrona
To get to Tayrona National Park, we had planned to take a taxi to the public market to catch bus to Tayrona. But we wisely reconsidered when presented with the option of a private taxi to Tayrona. Incidentally, this was the third time we’d asked about the option and prices, but the price – while always consistent – was also significantly more than the taxi-to-bus-to-park option. But then we met Luis, the charming Colombian grandfather who offered to take us all the way there. And the taxi was so comfortable. So we paid for the luxury of *not* taking a bus. Luis took us to Olympics Groceries for some provisions then to his house so he could get some money. We briefly met Rosa, his sweet wife of 39 years. Together they have 5 kids and 2 grandkids.
We got up at the crack of dawn, had breakfast, and caught a taxi to Tagonga where we landed at 7:30 on the nose. Johann at the Aquantis Dive Center was expecting us, and set us up in the video room so Ji could watch her “Discover Scuba” video. This would be her first time diving and she was looking forward to giving it a try. I sat with her and read my book as we both fended off the mosquitos that were breeding in the room. Then she took her exam and nailed a solid 100%. (We’re so proud) (more…)
Morning trip to the Airport
We gave ourselves a leisurely morning and slept in then had breakfast at the hotel. The taxi we caught was the epitome of efficiency and got us to the airport in speedy time, which was great because the checkout process took longer than expected and we were running late. The line for checkin was madness, but we got one of the airline employees to put us in the rushed line since were late. Security was a breeze, so when all was said and done we got from our hotel door to the airplane in one hour fifteen minutes. Despite the body odor on the plane it was a really pleasant trip. The people next to me vacated their seats in favor of an exit row, so I had an entire row to myself.
Ji and I arrived in Bogota late the night before (after being upgraded to First Class – woot woot!), and went straight to our hotel and to sleep. But today was going to be an exciting day – a Bogota Bike Tour.
We started our day in the charming outdoor breakfast space in the hotel, and though the eggs were a little questionable the rest of the food was delicious.