Category Archives: Peru 2014

Trip to Peru and Ecaudor

Hello, Ecuador

We arrived at the beautiful new Quito, Ecuador airport last night.  Driving into Quito, it was apparent that Quito is a more modern city than Lima.  In 2013 Quito was named the most interesting city to visit in South America.

It was great to meet our trip leader, Daniel, and get an orientation to our trip.  Daniel is a fifth generation Galapagos resident whose family has lived in Galapagos for 120 years.  Ten years ago Ecuador passed a law that only people born on Galapagos could lead tours on Galapagos.

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There is so much to love about Ecuador.  It is beautiful and eco-sensitive.  Unlike in Peru where we were given plastic bottles of water every day, here we are encouraged to refill our reusable water bottles.   Ecuador is the most bio-diverse country per unit in the world and in 2008 was the first country to adopt the legally defensible Rights of Nature, which are eco-system rights.  With flowers being its fourth largest export (after oil, bananas and shrimp), we see beautiful bouquets everywhere.

Our day started with a visit to the hear the Sinamune Disabled Children’s Orchestra perform.  Students may begin the program when they are nine and continue until they graduate or are still progressing.  I don’t think any of us were prepared for the quality and exuberance of the concert.  Although it was Sunday and school was not in session, parents brought their children to the school so they could perform for us.  The dancers and musicians charmed us with their talent, spirit and joy.  The orchestra has performed at the Vatican, and some of the students have become professional musicians.

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Driving through Quito we saw bikers, runners and walkers enjoying the main  roads that are closed to traffic on Sundays from 8AM-2PM.  The Sunday bike road covers thirty two miles of Quito’s thirty-five mile length.   From Quito’s highest point, we were able to look out over the expansive city.

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We took a walking tour of Quito’s historic district.  A definite highlight for me was a stop at a chocolate shop where we learned how chocolate is grown and produced.  Only five percent of all chocolate in the world is “fine” chocolate, and Ecuador produces sixty percent of that five percent.

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Other highlights of the walking tour included visits to a number of plazas where people gathered on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy outdoor mass and performances and a stroll on the La Ronda, a historic narrow street.  At Independence Plaza we saw a monument to the people who signed the first South American petition to Spain asking for independence in 1810.  A year after the petition was signed and sent to Spain, Spanish soldiers came and murdered every person whose name was on the petition.  There was not one family in Quito who did not lose someone.

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We had lunch at Casa Gangotena the sixth best hotel in the world according to Trip Advisor.  The hotel had been a private home until the family evacuated the home after a fire.  Our Quito guide, Fatima, delighted us with information about her country.  She told us about Ecuador’s national park that is the wildest place in the world and is now threatened by the oil industry.  Oil has been found under the park, and there is conflict about park preservation versus oil production.  We also learned about two native tribes of wild people still living in Ecuador.  One tribe will let people visit if they bring Coca-cola.

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Early tomorrow morning we leave for the Galapagos and another new adventure.

 

 

Galapagos – Day 1

We left Quito at 4:30 AM to fly to Baltra, our first stop in the Galapagos. I immediately knew I was in a special place when I saw a sign in the airport that asked “Do you know why we are the first ecological airport?” Galapagos is a group of sixteen main islands and other smaller ones for a total of sixty-three islands about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The population of Galapagos is about 25,000 people who are allowed to live on only four of the islands. The Galapagos National Park strictly controls how many people can visit each island each day.

From the airport, we took a bus to the dock, got in a panga (an inflatable boat) and rode a short distance to Archipel II, the sixteen passenger ship that would be our home for the next four days.

After lunch and some time to get settled, we headed out for our first island exploration to North Seymore. Our guide had told us some of the wildlife we might see. Before we even landed, we saw a beautiful male frigate bird with his bright red throat fully expanded on the side of a cliff. Our panga driver maneuvered close to the cliff, and the frigate bird seemed to pose for us. Because there are more male frigates than females, the males are showing their bright red throats year round in the hopes of attracting a mate.

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Our first landing was a “dry landing” which means we go from the panga to dry land. On North Seymore we got off on a steep rocky incline and climbed about five steps to get to flat land. Our guide directed us to follow him and stay on the path as he led us around the island. The very next bird we saw was the famous blue-footed boobie. These lovely birds with their light aqua feet are only found in the Galapagos.

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Hiking around the brown, rocky island we also saw sea lions, land iguanas, and red-footed boobies. After feeling so excited to see our first preening frigate bird, we rounded a corner and found a large expanse of preening male, female and juvenile frigate birds. It was especially interesting to see a mother feeding her young frigate bird.

Returning to our boat, we were greeted with ice cold fruit drinks by the crew. Then it was off to our first snorkle. The snorkeling was great, and my wet suit kept me nice and warm. When I looked at our schedule I had been a little worried about getting bored at night because there didn’t seem to be anything to do. Our guide assured us that after dinner we would probably be ready for bed. He was so right.

Galapagos – Day 2

During the night our boat traveled to a new island and we awoke to this beautiful view of Pinnacle Rock on the island of Bartolome.

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Before breakfast we had a visit from a sea lion on the lower deck of the boat. Although we were delighted, the crew quickly got it off the boat because sea lions can make a big mess and, as our guide put it, “their perfume is strong.”

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After breakfast we got in the pangas and headed to Bartolome Island. This island is such a popular hiking destination that the park service installed a wooden walk way up the dark lava sand hillside. Before we could get off the panga, one of the crew had to encourage a sea lion who was sunning on the landing to move out of our way. Sea lions are everywhere around here. They get on boats, park benches, rest areas, stairs, boat landings.

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As we started up the walkway, our guide pointed out a little crater to the right that formed a small pool at low tide. From the top of the hike, we had a beautiful view of the trail and the crater pool.

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We had our first wet landing today when we took a panga to a lovely beach and hiked to the other side of the island. Along the walk we saw turtle nests and a Galapagos hawk. Then we hiked back and did some snorkeling. After lunch we did another snorkel around some big rocks. We were excited to spot a Galápagos penguin, the smallest of the penguins.

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Our last hike of the day was to James Island where we walked on basaltic lava. Unlike the brown lava soil of our morning walk, this was shiny black. Because the lava was only 120 years old, it was still wavy and rough. It was easy to imagine the molten lava pouring down the hill.

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Before dinner our guide talked with us about some of the current issues in the Galapagos. Although Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its official currency in 2000, the Galapagos had been using the US dollar since the 1940s when a US air base was stationed there. Better pay in the Galapagos lured many mainland Ecuadorians to the islands for employment. In order to preserve their islands and their employment, the people of Galapagos worked with the director of the Galapagos National Park to pass a law that only those people born or living in the Galapagos prior to 1998 could be permanent workers. I had read about some of these issues before I came, but it was so interesting to listen to someone who was living it.

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Galapagos – Day 3

During the night our ship moved to a new location and today we embarked on Isabella, the largest island, and visited the Village of Puerto Villamil. Our first hike was to the Wall of Tears, a stone wall left from the time of the penal colony Ecuador established on the island. The prisoners were forced to carry the heavy stones to build the wall, and many of them died in the process. One of the more brutal tales of the penal colony period recalls how the police would set prisoners free, and then after a few hours or days hunt them.

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We had our last snorkle today. Although the water was not as clear and I didn’t see as many beautiful fish, I had five sea lion encounters. They swam right under me, and one returned to check us out. It was the highlight of my snorkeling adventures here.

This afternoon we went to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center where they work to breed and safely rear tortoises until they are big enough to survive in their natural environment. We saw tortoises mating, eggs ready to hatch, newly hatched tortoises and tortoises at all stages of growth up to being ready to be released at about age eight. Giant tortoises don’t reach sexual maturity until they are twenty-five and often live to be one hundred and fifty. The center can determine the sex of the baby tortoises by how much they warm the eggs.

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After that we hiked to a flamingo area and saw about six flamingos. Then we hiked to the beach to see the marine iguanas crossing the road to the sunny rocks to warm themselves.

Last day on the Galapagos

Lots of exciting adventures filled our last full day in the Galapagos. Last night our ship traveled for about five hours through a rain storm and busy ocean to get to Santa Cruz island so we were ready to disembark in the morning for Puerto Ayora, the largest city in the Galapagos. I think I can now safely say that I do not get sea sick. When we awoke it was still raining, and we were preparing to get out our rain gear, but right before breakfast, the sun came out and a huge rainbow appeared.

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We said good-bye to our amazing crew and got in the pangas for the last time. Our first stop was the Darwin Research Center and Tortoise Breeding Center where turtles and tortoises from the various islands are kept in captivity and cared for until they are two or three years old and then are released. Contrary to most of the vegetation we had seen on the other islands, the southern part of Santa Cruz island was lush and jungle-like. It was delightful to have time to stroll through the little pathways and the town.

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It was exciting to be where Charles Darwin had conducted some of his most important research. Our guide told us that Darwin got sea sick easily and was happy to be off his ship and in Galapagos conducting his research. His observation of the thirteen different types of finches in Galapagos and how they adapted to their environment contributed to the development of his theory of evolution. Because of their role in the development of Darwin’s theory, they are referred to as Darwin’s finches.

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Tortoise eggs and baby tortoises have many predators, and through the work of the various tortoise care centers, Galapagos is working hard to increase the number of tortoises. After visiting two centers to see tortoises in captivity, it was exciting to go to an area where we could see tortoises in the wild. After donning rubber boots, we hiked a loop that took us by a large number of tortoises. We were lucky to be able to see so many tortoises because we were there at the end of the mating season and the rain the night before drew them to the puddles along the side of the path. Tortoises can go a year without eating or drinking anything, so I think they were all taking advantage of the readily available water.

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Our last stop was at a coffee and sugar cane farm. The farmer uses the syrup from the sugar cane to make brown sugar and a special rum. We were able to taste both his wonderful coffee and a drink made with his special rum.  Like everything grown in Galapagos, the coffee is organic. When we left, the farmer’s son thanked us for buying their products and helping to support their family business.

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I will be sad to say good-bye to the Galapagos when we fly back to Quito. It is a most enchanted place of wildlife, natural beauty and dedication to conservation. Our guide told us that ten years ago Galapagos looked to Costa Rica as a model of conservation. Now Costa Rica is learning from Galapagos.

Good-bye, South America

Bus, boat, bus, plane, bus – that is how we traveled from Galapagos back to Quito, Ecuador for the last day of this amazing adventure. First stop was the Inaquito produce market in Quito. Filled with the bounty of the region,  two worship sites-one for Baby Jesus and one for the Virgin Mary and men playing a traditional Ecuadorian card game. It was a colorful and fragrant way to begin our final day. While trying to find some hot sauce to bring Paul, I was inspired to get creative with the little Spanish I knew. Remembering that the name of the town of Aguas Calientes meant hot water, I pantomimed shaking a bottle and said calientes. The women at the market stall all started laughing, and I thought my pronunciation must be pretty bad. Later that evening our guide told me that calientes had two meanings, and I had said something like “I was hot.” No wonder they were laughing. I did later find the hot sauce.

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We made a quick stop for ice cream. The shop makes each ice cream flavor by hand daily in a copper pot set in a larger pot of salt. In addition to chocolate, vanilla and coconut, they had flavors made from the tropical fruit of the area. I had coconut and taxo, which is like passion fruit.

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The equator runs through Ecuador, and our next stop was the Inti Nan Museum right on the equator. Inti Nan is the Quechua phrase for “Path of the Sun”, and we saw replicas of indigenous sun temples, displays of reptiles and fish of the area, and artifacts of previous eras. As we entered the museum a man in native dress was performing one of the traditional dances.

I even got to dance with him.

A line and marker in the museum indicate the exact spot for the equator, and we were able to have our picture taken with a foot in each hemisphere.

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Our last stop was the Mindalae Museum for a tour and farewell dinner. Our final Ecuadorian treat was a glass of canelazo, a hot spiced cinnamon rum drink before dinner. Our guide told us that the Ecuadorians drink canelazo at special family gatherings. It was delicious.

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With mixed feelings I boarded the plane to come home. I missed my husband and was looking forward to seeing family and friends, but I was sad to leave the two beautiful countries of Ecuador and Peru. Each was unique, but they both shared astounding natural beauty, cultural joy, strong historical roots, spirituality, friendly and gracious people and the amazing ability to share their country with visitors. I look forward to a return trip someday.