Tag Archives: Galápagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands.

Standard

The plane touched down on the runway of one of the main Islands called Isla Baltra.  The airport was built by the US army and airforce during World War 2.   It was a beautiful day, sunny but it was a dry heat and good for walking.  We left the airport which is situated very close to the Pacific Ocean and walked down to the harbour where we were picking up our boat to visit five islands over a period of five days.  Because the Galapagos is a National Park and an area of conservation, only so many parties of human beings are allowed to tramp around each day so you have to book well in advance or you will be disappointed.   Although there are 15 main islands in the geographical area and 3 smaller ones, the islands we were to visit were:  Hispaniola, Darwin, Espanola, Floreana and Santa Cruz.  Each island had something spectacular to offer us and I had to pinch myself to believe I was really there.

The weather in the Galapagos is often drizzly however, there is not sufficient rain to produce many lakes or drinking water.  As a result the land is extremely arid which is one of the reasons why not many people have chosen to settle there.  The most common form of vegetation you will see is the prickly pear which grows in abundance but is threatened because it comprises the main diet of sea lizards, or iguanas.  More of that later. . .

The first thing you notice as you approach the islands are lots and lots of boulders, or at least that is what they look like from a distance but as you draw closer you realise they are seals.  Hundreds of them litter the shores and they are pretty indifferent to humans.  We are not allowed to touch, especially the babies as their mothers reject them once they smell human being on them.  This doesn`t stop some irresponsible people from stroking them so we encountered a number of tiny seal corpses as we were travelling which made us angry and sad.

Seal pooh is incredibly smelly by the way, so visitors are made to remove their shoes before boarding boats to try and keep down the pungent odour of rotting fish.

I made the mistake of swimming with some seals one day.   I was on my own as my companion The Australian had gone out with our party snorkelling which I didn`t fancy.  The sea was quite cold and choppy that day with strong currents so I didn`t have the confidence to snorkel.  After a few minutes of playing around in the water I heard a roar of rage as a bull seal who was about the size of half a grown elephant, came lumbering along the beach towards the ocean to shoo me away from his harem.  Fortunately I could move faster than him on land so scrambling out of the sea, I scarpered pretty sharpish!  Just imagine being on your own, on a white beach, surrounded by seals and no humans, it was absolutely one of the most magical moments of my life.  I will never forget it.

The boat was made of wood which is no longer allowed now as in the harbours, wood is considered a fire hazard.  The chef was apallingly bad serving us fish soup which was bland and had the consistency of snot, it was vile and made me sick.  The nights were the worst, we had a tiny cabin below deck with a very small port hole and as we sped along to the next island, we dipped and dove over the waves and all I could see was a wall of ocean towering above us.  I was quite convinced I was going to die but slept anyway thinking, “Well, it`s out of my hands that`s for sure!”

It didn`t matter in the morning though for the islands offer you something so amazing you soon forget the nights.   Pelicans bob around on the sea waiting for a catch.  One morning I saw a manta ray swimming in slow motion through the ocean.  It was enormous, it would have stretched the length of two rooms of my house and it was absolutely stunning to see something so elegant and so beautiful, in real life.  I saw lots of turtles moseying along in the waves without a care in the world.  I saw cormorants and was amused to notice how they put the brakes on in mid air, prior to landing, you have to see it to understand how funny it is.  When they do land, their colours are so gorgeous, beige bodies, pale blue heads and very bright primrose eyes.  Beautiful.  I saw scores of bright pink flamingo standing on one leg in a lake, hundreds of Galapagos penguins, everywhere on the rocks and beaches.  I saw tiny hooded mockingbirds, totally unafraid to try and steal water from bottles in your back pack which you have to hide or they dive bomb you to get their beaks into it.  I saw spitting iguanas who do so, usually in your direction to rid their bodies of accumulated sea salt.  They pile up at the bottom of prickly pears until there are enough of them to knock a tree down which they then eat.  I saw the famous Darwin giant tortoises, reaching the height of my waist, you could easily use them as small dining tables on moving legs they are wonderful.  The breeding programme has been so successful after they were nearly wiped out in the last century, it`s a problem now knowing how to feed them all.

I didn`t want to go, it was my great privilege to visit the islands.  None of the animals or birdlife show any fear of humans whatsoever and I do so hope it remains that way.  On our way back to the airport to leave I noticed a rubbish truck driving along the main road.  Written along the sides were:  “Donated by the European Union,” and I thought well at least we know some of the dosh is being put to good use!

Advertisements

Travelling to Ecuador.

Standard

In 2005 I arranged six weeks off work to travel to Miami to meet a friend.   The Australian (as I refer to him,) had planned a back packing trek across South America and I was joining him for some of the journey.   As a child I often dreamed of visiting far off places so I was very excited as part of the trip was to visit Peru and Machu Picchu one of those magical places so remote from me and my childhood, I didn`t imagine that in real life I would ever get to see it.

I have to say Miami airport is one of the most hostile airports I have ever transited through with steely faced security guards, armed with guns, hustling the queues.  I waited for nearly two hours to get my eyes and finger tips scanned and it was pretty miserable but never mind, I was on my way to Ecuador.  I finally got through to the transit lounge and spotted The Australian already waiting for me, looking every bit the old hippy with a red bandeau round his head, his long beard plaited and sun specs that hid his eyes giving him an air of mystery which I know he liked to cultivate.

When we arrived in Ecaudor it was still only afternoon so we had plenty of time to explore.  The capital city Quito, is split into the old town and the new town and we stayed in the new town because Lonely Planet told us that the old town could be a bit dodgy for newcomers.  Quito is very pretty with wonderful, white and imposing European style architecture everywhere, strongly influenced by 300 years of Spanish colonisation.  Independence from Spain came to Ecuador in 1820.

It was quite modern in lots of ways with plenty of interesting shops to mill around and lots of decent places to eat, the main diet being fish soup, fish or meat, most notably guinea pig although I didn`t try that, it made me think of my guinea pig Buttercup and I simply couldn`t do it.

When you start to explore in South America, one of the first things you notice is the wiring.  It`s horrendous, outside in the streets and on the walls, there are so many telephone wires and other bits and pieces of electrical wiring it adorns the buildings hanging down in festoons like complicated spiders` webs.  The showers often don`t work or if you try to get them to work you risk being electrocuted so it`s easier just to take a cold one.  The other thing is the noise of car horns.  It is incessant and you have to get used to it because it will go on right through the night without abating and all through the day.

We arrived at a time of fiesta although having said that, much of South America parties a lot of the time mainly because of celebrations relating to Roman Catholicism.  While I was travelling I witnessed some fantastic street parties and parades.

We walked out one evening to find somewhere to eat and came into a square where, set up in the centre was a huge construction a bit like the Whicker Man.  There were hundreds of people and children gathered in a tight circle around it, a brass band playing to one side of the square so we stopped to see what would happen.  A man lit the base of the construction and it soon became evident that the whole thing was one massive firework display which would never have got through health and safety in the UK.  It was pretty scary as rockets and bangers fired off in rapid succession and crackerjacks shot along the ground into the screaming crowd.  So we scarpered and went for a meal.  It was dark when we came out and we became lost for a brief time.  That was scary too as we were definitely being followed through the labyrinth of alley ways by a man who may have intended to steal from us but happily we found our way quickly back to the main square and the little hotel where we had a room.

The following day we went to explore the old town.  We found a shop where we could book tickets to visit the Galapagos Islands.  I didn`t have ebough money to do this but while in England, I had generally kept an eye on The Australian`s aged pa until he peacefully passed away. It was a pleasure, I loved the old fellow and so the ticket for the Galapagos was purchased for me as a thank you.  I was absolutely thrilled.  Just over one hour`s flight to some of the most fascinating islands in the world.  We travelled to the largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil on our way to the Galapagos and took in more ancient history relating to when the region became part of the Inca Empire in the 1400`s.

It was with huge anticipation I boarded the plane and with some fascination also as I observed two of the most beautiful black women coming on board.  I had watched them sashaying along the path to the plane, hips swinging, shiny black hair bouncing around their shoulders, perfect makeup, glossy red lipstick, dressed in teeny tiny black mini skirts, skin tight white blouses and wearing very high black patent leather heels.  Carrying themselves before them so to speak, I was pretty sure they were visiting the islands to (ahem) explore the wild life…..  just not the kind of wild life I was about to discover!