A Travellerspoint blog

Bizarre wildlife and fantastic snorkelling - where?

The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

sunny
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The Galapagos. Research beforehand inferred that your expectations heavily affect your experience of the islands and I’m inclined to agree. It’s no safari with big cats and other large mammals but there are some uniquely quirky creatures, stunning beaches and fantastic snorkelling (and diving) opportunities. Where else in the world can you swim with penguins – unless you want to freeze to death – or laugh at the strange sounds of the Blue Footed Boobie?

Courting blue footed boobies

Courting blue footed boobies


Penguins next to a beach, a bizarre sight

Penguins next to a beach, a bizarre sight

We booked our cruise very last minute, the day before in fact. It was extremely monetarily beneficial doing this and I’d recommend going last minute to anyone. We flew to Baltras Island from Quito very early the following day and were on board our boat, Nemo II, a first class catamaran, by midday. (11am Galapagos time, they’re an hour behind the mainland.)

Our boat with Kicker Rock behind

Our boat with Kicker Rock behind


Sunset from the boat

Sunset from the boat

It almost felt like we shouldn’t be there given that we’d been backpacking and staying in hostels and cheap hotels for the last 4 months or so. Luckily our boat wasn’t full of old American couples like many others we encountered. There were two couples in their late twenties and another in their thirties plus a family of three. Totaling eleven – one less than maximum capacity – the boat didn’t feel crowded despite its small appearance from the outside.

Our island itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Sunday - Baltras and Santa Cruz (north)
Day 2: Monday - Santa Cruz (south) - Saw a hammerhead shark at Kicker Rock!
Day 3: Tuesday - Lobos Island and San Cristobal
Day 4: Wednesday - Española
Day 5: Thursday - Floreana
Day 6: Friday - Santa Fe
Day 7: Saturday - Chinese Hat and Bartolomé - Where the penguins live!
Day 8: Sunday - Baltras

On day one we visited Baltras beach, so named due to the pier that broke off from Baltras island and washed up here on the north of Santa Cruz island. There were lots of crabs, a couple of flamingoes in a lagoon, a heron and our first blue footed boobie sitting on a rock near the sea. We couldn’t really get a good look at the famous Galapagos bird but there’d be more to come. It was our first chance to snorkel here and I was already impressed by the sea life despite the shallow depth and proximity to the beach. At one point I got a huge shock as I saw a 1.5-2m tiger snake eel! I was not expecting it and I’ve never seen one before so for a split second I panicked thinking it was a snake. They do look quite snake-like with only a small top fin.

The shell of a lobster left behind as it grew too big for it

The shell of a lobster left behind as it grew too big for it


A flamingo and its reflection in the rippling water

A flamingo and its reflection in the rippling water


A night heron

A night heron

Back on the boat I went straight inside to have a shower just as the boat started out into the ocean – BIG mistake. I don’t normally feel seasick but it was inevitable after that. Several people suffered on that first navigation.
This blog entry could easily become three or four and bore you with an account of every island and every sea lion, iguana and bird we saw each day but I think you’d probably prefer to see all the photos instead. I may have gone a bit overboard with uploading pictures but I've tried to narrow it down for this entry - there's even more in the gallery!

Our first giant tortoise

Our first giant tortoise


Their feet are prehistoric looking

Their feet are prehistoric looking


Hanging out in the sun

Hanging out in the sun


Lava heron

Lava heron


Baby giant tortoises

Baby giant tortoises


Standing tall and looking snooty

Standing tall and looking snooty

It's been a long day

It's been a long day


Lava lizard

Lava lizard


Colourful marine iguana

Colourful marine iguana


Iguana trail in the sand

Iguana trail in the sand


Chris caught a pelican fishing behind me

Chris caught a pelican fishing behind me


A male frigate bird puffing his chest out

A male frigate bird puffing his chest out


A brightly coloured Sally Lightfoot Crab

A brightly coloured Sally Lightfoot Crab


A Great Blue Heron

A Great Blue Heron


He was a big fella

He was a big fella


Galapagos snake sliding away (from left to right)

Galapagos snake sliding away (from left to right)


Frigate bird overhead

Frigate bird overhead


Nesting ground

Nesting ground


Cute and fluffy, a baby Masked Boobie

Cute and fluffy, a baby Masked Boobie

Courting albatrosses, someone's being a third wheel

Courting albatrosses, someone's being a third wheel

We could see hundreds more bobbing up and down on the water out to sea, waiting to come in. They mate for life and come back every year to this spot to reunite with their partner and breed.

He/she looks so prehistoric

He/she looks so prehistoric


The Galapagos pigeon! (Well dove actually but it looks like a pigeon.)

The Galapagos pigeon! (Well dove actually but it looks like a pigeon.)


Some flamingoes in a huge crater island we could only look into from the boat

Some flamingoes in a huge crater island we could only look into from the boat


Taking a nap

Taking a nap


Geyser/blow hole

Geyser/blow hole


The rainbow afterwards

The rainbow afterwards

The post box beach

The post box beach


There's an beach called Post Office Bay where some American style post boxes stand just back from the beach. You put your postcards in the box and in return pick out someone elses' who's addressed it to a person who lives near you or in a country you're headed to next. The idea is an many as possible get hand delivered. I only managed to write a few before we anchored but I heard they all got home :)

Looking down from one of the volcanoes

Looking down from one of the volcanoes

Underwater crater

Underwater crater


The sky looked beautiful at sunset

The sky looked beautiful at sunset

Sadly I can’t show you photos of the underwater world. I really wish I’d taken a waterproof cover for my small camera. Some of the others on the boat had them and they got some great shots. Every day we went snorkelling at least once if not twice and each time we saw something different or at least in a different way. It was by far the highlight of the trip for both of us.

On our second day we snorkelled out in the ocean by a huge rock called Kicker Rock along its wall face and I saw several turtles, thousands of fish and so many sharks, mostly Galapagos sharks and some reef sharks. I even saw a hammerhead shark but I was so excited I looked around to tell someone else and by the time I looked back it was just disappearing into the blue beyond.

Another day Chris and I saw a huge shark, around 3m long. It swam right towards us before changing direction a few metres away which was a bit scary. I couldn’t get over how many sharks we saw. We saw lots of rays as well – sting rays, southern rays and even manta rays jumping out of the water while we were navigating from one island to another. On one navigation I saw a huge tail fin crash back into the water but I don’t know for certain if it was a whale or just a really big fish.

A group of rays swam under the dingy

A group of rays swam under the dingy

On a couple of days we got to swim with sea lions. They’re really playful underwater, sometimes even with you grabbing your flippers and doing somersaults around us. At one point I was watching some younger ones play and then a huge bull sea lion came past me only a couple of inches away, just to let us know he was keeping an eye on us!

There were three in the bed and the little one said roll over, roll over…

There were three in the bed and the little one said roll over, roll over…


This little one was wondering around looking for his mother

This little one was wondering around looking for his mother

Scratching an itch

Scratching an itch


Sleeping sandly

Sleeping sandly


Lounging on the beach

Lounging on the beach

The penguins were also amazing to see; they’re so speedy underwater and much more graceful than on land. There’s nowhere else in the world you can snorkel with them. One girl swam underneath one as it surfaced and it nearly pooed on her head!

The butler

The butler


At least someone in South America knows how to form a line

At least someone in South America knows how to form a line


More penguins!

More penguins!

I saw three or four more snake eels, a couple of different types. I like the fish and animals that look nothing like the others – eels, stone fish (so called as they are well camouflaged against the rocks), box fish, octopus, star fish (there were huge, brightly coloured ones littered everywhere). My favourite has to be turtles though. There’s just something about them, the way they glide through the water with a simple swoosh of their feet/flippers(?). We saw so many by the end but I never tired of them.

Turtles near the shore

Turtles near the shore

Anyway… I think you get the idea that I loved the underwater world!

At the end of our cruise we returned to Santa Cruz Island and stayed in the town of Puerto Ayora for a few days before flying home. I was going to do some diving but since the snorkelling had been so good I decided to save my money. We visited the beach, where baby sharks brush your legs while you’re paddling(!); a giant lava tunnel; and the fish market again, watching the audacious pelicans and sea lions try to steal a meal.

Cheeky pelicans and a sea lion at the fish market

Cheeky pelicans and a sea lion at the fish market

Yum, fish guts, don't they look tasty!

Yum, fish guts, don't they look tasty!


Inside a huge lava tunnel

Inside a huge lava tunnel


It was several kilometres long but we walked a section of it about 1km.
Tiny lizard in the hostel

Tiny lizard in the hostel

We also found a great ice cream shop, essential for any Chris and Emma destination :)

The Galapagos is AMAZING – YOU HAVE TO GO!!! We got our trip for about half the original price because we booked last minute so it is doable for a “reasonable” price. If you want any more information or tips, just ask.

Posted by ew5827 09:41 Archived in Ecuador Tagged beaches animals birds boats volcano Comments (0)

Semana Santa

Quito, Ecuador


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One of the best things about travelling is meeting people and one of the best things about meeting people are recommendations of places to visit, hostels to stay and things to do. Some of our greatest experiences have been thanks to the tips and information we’ve received from other people. Of course there are also some recommendations that turn out to be complete disasters, “What were they thinking?” moments but that’s all part of the fun of travelling.

One such piece of advice was to spend Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Quito, in a hostel on Plaza de San Fransisco. We chose a different hostel to the one recommended but this one had a roof terrace that overlooked the plaza, which was perfect for watching the elaborate Easter procession on Good Friday. It really made our stay in Quito unique visiting during Holy Week; there was a really good atmosphere that week and I think celebrations elsewhere wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

The city continues up the surrounding hills

The city continues up the surrounding hills

The angel over the city

The angel over the city

We arrived on the Tuesday and didn’t have much of the day left except to get our bearings in the Old Town. On Wednesday when we went for a more extensive walk around the historical area we came across the cathedral filling up with people. I’d read previously about an important Roman Catholic service that takes place on the Wednesday of Holy Week in Quito cathedral but thought nothing more of it until then. The service is called “Ceremonia de Reseña o Vísperas” or “The Dragging of the Robes” and is only allowed in three churches in the world –Seville (where it originated), Lima (as Seville’s historical underling in South America), and Quito (who answered to Lima).

The cathedral was packed

The cathedral was packed

I went into the cathedral for a closer look and the service hadn’t started yet so I decided to stand by a pillar at the back and watch. The cathedral filled up to the hilt with many people crammed around me. Looking around, the cathedral was an impressive building in itself. Then the bishops and priests took their places and a speaker began the service from the ornate lectern.

The clergy gather at the front

The clergy gather at the front

As part of the service the bishops processed around the cathedral followed by the Archbishop under a cloth tent held up by altar boys. The bishops were dressed all in black, representing the darkness caused by the sin of man, and the Archbishop was in purple, the colour of penance. The Archbishop carried an ornate gold cross, said to include fragments of the real cross, and the tent above him represented the protection of the Church from evil. Leading the Archbishop’s group was a large black flag with a red cross on it, red for the blood of Christ.

One of the black bishops

One of the black bishops

The Archbishop as he passed

The Archbishop as he passed

After the procession, during a hymn the Archbishop waved the flag over the altar, symbolising the body of Christ, then over the bishops as they knelt on the ground creating a circle of darkness. As the Archbishop finished, hitting the flag to the ground three times, the bishops rose, signifying the resurrection of Jesus.

The waving of the flag

The waving of the flag

The cross was held up

The cross was held up

Throughout the service everyone had their cameras out taking pictures of everything that was going on. It was interesting how much of an attraction the service was rather than just a service, if that makes sense. Most of the people there didn’t seem to be there simply for the worship but more for the spectacle.

Without a doubt though, Quito’s people are highly religious. As I said on Good Friday there was a procession through the streets with hundreds of people taking part and even more were there to watch. Many people in the procession were dressed in purple robes with pointed hooded hats (as locals protest they were pre the ku klux klan) and others were dressed as Jesus carrying crosses. There were marching bands and speakers with music all the way around.

Part of the procession

Part of the procession

The purple robed men

The purple robed men

Someone dressed as Jesus

Someone dressed as Jesus

The women dressed in purple

The women dressed in purple

We were on the streets for a while and trying to get back to the hotel was near impossible. By the time we got up to the roof of our hotel El Gran Poder was coming out of San Francisco church and making his procession, finishing the line. People were throwing confetti and flowers at the “float” as it went by and the army/police were holding the line behind it as best they could as people pushed to file in behind it and follow its path around the city.

Out comes El Gran Poder

Out comes El Gran Poder

50 year celebration balloons released

50 year celebration balloons released

In contrast to all the Semana Santa celebrations in the Old Town, when we came back to Quito a week or so later we decided to stay in Mariscal, in the New Town. Full of bars and restaurants, young hostels and tour agencies it’s a lot more modern but without the character of the Old Town. It was fun place to hang out for a few days but not somewhere I’d stay a while.

So where were we in between our visits to Quito…..the Galapagos Islands!!!

Posted by ew5827 09:41 Archived in Ecuador Tagged churches buildings Comments (0)

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