A Travellerspoint blog

Spanglish Round Two on the Coast of Ecuador

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Following 8 glorious days cruising around the Galapagos we returned to the classroom for one final week of Spanish lessons. However, having had enough of Quito and its less than friendly vibe we booked in with Language School to visit the coast and a sleepy little fishing village called Puerto Lopez.

Our adventure started by having to get ourselves from Guayquial to Puerto Lopez via 2 buses and no locals to hold our hand, we were truly now on a South American adventure. Our first bus dropped us off in Libertard near the shore and nowhere near a bus terminal. Looking slightly lost and a bit edgy a girl from our bus took pity on us and since she was going past the bus terminal in her taxi offered to give us a lift and then pointed us to the bus we needed. I guess that part about not having a local to help wasn’t entirely correct.

Our second bus was our first real local bus experience it was filled with little old Spanish ladies, slightly smelly unwashed men and mothers with noisy children. No more reclining seats, no more air conditioning just stale air, humidity and sweat not quite what I was after with a mother of all headaches and our painkillers out of reach.
Careering through local towns that were nothing more than a collection of little shacks we were starting to wonder what awaited us at our final destination. As the hours rolled on the sun fell away, disappearing into the ocean taking with it the last remnants of light and any possibility that we’d be able to work out what town we were in on our own accord.

Just as we were starting to fear a never ending bus ride the crest of the hill brought a welcoming sight. The horizon was lit up by a thousand dancing lights, Puerto Lopez was 5 minutes away.

Having found our hostel with not too much hassle and at least one of us getting a decent night’s sleep we left town early the next morning to find our accommodation and school for the next 5 days.

Alandaluz is an eco lodge set 20 minutes out of Puerto Lopez on the beach. The lodge provided beautiful huts complete with beds and hammocks and the all important mosquito net. The lodge was almost completely self sustaining with ecological sewage systems, solar cells and their veggie and fruit patch. While the electricity was rationed, only coming on after 6pm each night they more than made up for this by stuffing with the cooking. We gorged ourselves on organic breakfasts and 3 course lunch and dinners.

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Our teacher Hipatia had come all the way from Quito for the week. While we were slightly taken aback by this at first we quickly realized she saw this week as more of a holiday than work having left her eldest daughter to care for her younger.

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Over the next 5 days our Spanish came on in leaps and bounds. We had only paid for 16 hours of direct lessons. However, having Hipatia’s company and all 3 meals and during our extracurricular activities meant that we speaking Spanish at least 12 hours a day.

Aside from formal Spanish lessons our week on the coast included extracurricular activities under the guise of Winston, the local tour guide!

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We had booked the coast for a session of sun, surf and relaxation. Unfortunately the weather did not present us with optimum opportunities to explore the surrounding coast line. Luckily we had Winston, who knew where to go where the clouds refused to move.

Our first afternoon was spent visiting a local community and the world’s largest bamboo church, now I don’t know about you but I know what my highlight was bring on the bamboo church!

Tuesday we went for a walk through the nearby rainforest and were shown different plants for survival and most importantly keeping the mosquitos away. Halfway through our trek we encountered some hard working ants. We were quite literally mesmerized by their endeavors as they slowly broke up this giant leaf while fighting off Godzilla sized ants!

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Thursday we finally got the call from Winston, Playa de los Frailes was cloud free and ready to be checked out. The National Park Beach is a glorious stretch of white sand and we had it all to ourselves. After firstly investigating the sea life in the rock pools Winston took us snorkeling. The snorkeling in the Galapoagos was amazing and hard to beat so we weren’t expecting much. However the types of fish were completely different to anything we’d seen before. We were eve lucky enough to witness a giant parrot fish take another fish for lunch, leaving only the bag tail hanging out of its mouth.

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Friday was our last day in Puerto Lopez and our final opportunity to visit Isla de Plata. A nearby island known among backpackers as a poor man’s Galapagos. To thank Hipatia for her time and patience over the past week we paid for her ticket to Isla de Plata, while the$35 wasn’t much money to us, it prices out the local Ecuadorians who on average earn only $200 a month.

Our boat to the island left from the shore which required us to walk through the hoards of fishermen, with their boats and their catch. It certainly gave us a new meaning of fresh fish as the sharks, manta rays, tuna and a vast array of local fish we don’t know the name of were gutted and deboned right here on the beach, the scraps being left for the circling vultures.

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Isla de Plata was a bird lovers paradise, while it didn’t offer much in other life forms the population of the Blue and Red Footed Boobies exceeded anything we’d seen on the Galapagos and provided me with the opportunity to get that ultimate photo of the boobies with their blue feet. It is safe to say that we now have more photos of boobies than we’ll ever need I think I need to let my biggest critic loose in Hannah and have her delete a few but you never know when you’re going to want a particular angle of a boobie!!

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That night we caught the night bus back to Quito arriving 2 hours early at the horrible time of 4:30am. We experienced our first attempted robbery with the whole tomato sauce distraction but the VB’s were too cleaver and lived to fight another day! 2 days until we join our organized tour.

Posted by The VBs 10.12.2009 14:44 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Natures Paradise

The Galapagos

sunny 30 °C
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The Galapagos Islands were once a fabled land to a small child, a child who did not know exactly where they were, only that they were apparently truly special. Fast forward through years of study, wider reading and travel to various places that both small children and adults dream of - it is only now that we truly understand the magic that is the Galapagos. It doesn't matter what ones belief is we challenge anyone to come to this place to leave not feeling blessed. We have had the privilege of witnessing nature at its most inspiring and most heart wrenching. The pictures taken and the words that come from the tips of my fingers do no justice to the experiences we have had over the past 8 days.

Leaving Quito behind early one Sunday morning, our arrival into the Island of Batra was straight forward. During the transfer to our boat, Millennium, we were pleasantly surprised to find the group to be of a mixed age. Grabbing a last minute deal on a first class catamaran we were slightly concerned that we were going to be travelling with an older stuffier group of people (no offence to any parents or grandparents reading this!) The magic started the moment we arrived at the dock, while waiting for the runner to collect us and take us out to the Millenium, we found a baby Marine Iguana on the nearby rocks alongside the famous Galapagos crab that is fire red in colour and whose name currently escapes us. At the same time a Pelican was cruising centimetres above the bay no doubt looking for his next feed.

Following an introduction by our guide, greeting and meeting the other passengers who were already on the boat and having our first of seven 3 course lunches we returned to shore for our visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Darwin is a man who is either deeply respected or heavily scorned, depending on view points and which side of the fence you stand on. The Darwin Research Centre, however, while named after the man who gave birth to the idea of evolution barely touches on the subject, at least not within the tourist viewing areas anyway. The main purpose that we could ascertain during our visit was to educate people on the impacts of foreign animals and plants as well as provide a breeding program for the endangered species of the Galapagos Islands. A visit to the research centre provided opportunities to photograph baby tortoises, iguanas and to get up close and in one boat members case a little too personal with the giant tortoise when they accidently stood on ones nose.

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The Galapagos Island tours vary in length from either 4 or 8 days with members of the tours changing over on Thursday's and Sundays. Arriving on Sunday we joined people on the boat who been there since Thursday. When it came to photographing the wild life in the Charles Darwin Centre it was perfectly clear who feel into what category. The people who arrived that day (including us) went absolutely gaga at the fact that we could stand, sit, and kneel within 1m of these beautifully wrinkly creatures. The others however took the obligatory picture, but didn't feel the need to snap the couple of thousand we all took because earlier that day they'd been experiencing them in the wild.

We had been waking up at 7am for the past 3 weeks and this will be continuing through this week as we are on the coast for our third week of Spanish School. However, waking up at 7am during our time in the Galapagos no longer felt like an arduous task. This I think was due to the realisation that the trip had begun and that we were most definitely in the Galapagos. This was reinforced on Day 2 when we pulled back our curtain to find the boat nestled in Santa Fe Bay. A trip out to our private balcony allowed us to witness two sea lions playing together, jumping out of the water in unison.

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Having left behind the main Island of Santa Cruz, Santa Fe was our first real taste of the Galapagos. As the runners pulled into the bay we were greeted by a colony of Sea Lions, our first of an infinite number of encounters that we had with these beautifully doe eyed animals. Mothers were feeding their babies, the babies that weren't feeding were exploring the shore line and the dominant male was making himself heard as he paddled close to the shore. Our time on Santa Fe was spent getting acquainted with the endemic species of land Iguanas living inland. Hannah had the fright of her life when one took off across her path in pursuit of a male who apparently entered the invisible boundary of his territory.

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Our highlight of Day two was definitely the afternoon snorkelling session. In the hour that we were in the water we were lucky enough to swim with a mother sea lion and her baby, a giant manta ray and a white tipped shark. Well, I saw the shark; Hannah was thankfully oblivious. I don’t think my hand would have survived the vice like grip she would have exerted had she been aware of its presence.

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After 8 days of staring into the doe eyed faces of hundreds of sea lions you could be forgiven for not getting excited about yet another encounter. However on Day 3 this feeling was the furthurest thing from our minds as we disembarked on Rabida Island to check out the view, snorkel and watch the islands colony of Sea Lions. Rabida is the Galapagos’s only red beach due to the heavy presence of iron ore. The earthy red brought back memories of the Agean Coast line in Turkey at sunset and made for a beautiful backdrop against which to take photos of the islands inhabitants. One little fella driven to curiosity by his hunger came all the way up to my feet, inspecting my big toe in the hope that it would turn out to be something edible.

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Our luck in the water continued as we had ocean floor seats to a sea lion using a blow fish as a beach ball and this was the followed up by a penguin on a sugar rush. Both events were caught on video by a member of our cruise and I’ve uploaded them herehttp://www.4shared.com/file/156849914/9dd22afd/Penguin.html? and here http://www.4shared.com/file/156866714/b5ef44c1/Sea_Lion_and_Blow_Fish_Best_Part_2.html? if anyone would like to see them.

It was during our time at James Bay that we witnessed both sides of nature. Mother Nature is a beautiful and giving entity, without her the world would be devoid of majestic beings. However a world can only survive if it is balanced, tipping the scales in either direction drives populations to extinction and it is here on the Galapagos that Mother Nature’s balancing act is most evident. We felt such an infinite degree of sadness when we found a baby sea lion close to death. Its skin was loose and its fur completely dry, it had been over a day since it ventured into the water. The only action it could muster was to call out for its mother intermittently. Our guide informed us that if its mother didn’t return within the next 24 hours it would die and that only 15-20% of new sea lions survive their first year. They typically pass away because their mother failed to return in time with food or even worse their mother was attacked and killed while looking for food.

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This Island also gave witness to hundreds of marine iguanas returning to the shore line after feeding on the green algae nearby. They basked in large groups sharing each other’s body heats whilst soaking up the last rays of the sun before the chilly evening set in. Upon taking up their basking position their only movement was the occasional raise of their head to clear their sinuses of the salt from their early afternoon swim and algae feast. Having witnessed these creatures up close one can understand how it was possible for someone to dream up the idea of Godzilla. They certainly aren’t the prettiest Galapagos inhabitants.

The rest of the week continued in much of the same vein. However it was on the final two days that we had our encounters with my favourite of the Galapagos creatures. This took part whilst having another snorkelling adventure (what a hard life!!) It was this day that we swam with 6 or 7 Sea Turtles. These majestic streamlined creatures were hypnotic to watch. Their patchwork of colours across both skin and shell glistened as the morning sun cut through the crystal clear water. Like most of the Galapagos animal they very rarely paid attention to our presence. It was only when one swam directly above them that their instincts kicked in that we were able to witness their graceful movements. Whilst graceful and seemingly slow, our mask and flippers was no match for the speed that they generated. In fact a friend was taking a picture of me with one, when it took off and dove between my legs.

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Our last day started off ridiculously early (5am!!) as we were off to witness Giant Tortoises in the wild before catching our flight to the mainland. We happened upon a group of approximately 12 Tortoises grazing in a pond. Hannah was absolutely mesmerised whilst watching them try and manoeuvre around each other. She describes it as ‘watching natures slow moving dodgem cars.’ It took one Tortoise 10minutes to leave the pond and then eventually slowly wander off in search of shade. They are also interesting as they have an incredible amount of gas and air within their shells and hiss/creak when they move their enormous bodies.

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Hoping on the aeroplane we had a mixture of happiness and sadness. Happiness at the fact that I was glad to finally be off the bumpy boat and sadness because we were leaving behind one of our best trips ever!

Posted by The VBs 22.11.2009 13:57 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

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