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Trip Report Trip Report: Ecuador w/ Galapagos

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This trip report covers the first of two weeks in Ecuador in mid-April to the beginning of May, including Guayaquil, and a 4 night cruise in the Galapagos. I'll cover the Otavalo area, Cotopaxi area, and Quito in the next report. Our trip also went on to Peru, including the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco, the Amazon (Puerto Maldonado) and Lima, which will be covered in a separate trip report. Other than the cruise portion and Guayaquil/Galapagos flight, it was all arranged by me, with the help of advice from this Forum and many guide books & magazine articles. We flew American from Miami directly to Guayaquil, using frequent flyer miles

Three days before we were to depart, I received an email from Klein Tours, an Ecuadorian travel agency who arranged our 4 night Galapagos cruise, informing us that our cruise aboard the Coral I was being cancelled due to " National Park regulations" and that we could be re-accommodated aboard their other larger ship, The Legend, which left a day later. To make up for this, they would pay for our extra night in Guayaquil and upgrade us to a balcony suite on the cruise, with a bottle of champagne. I was quite upset with the change, because I wanted the experience of a smaller ship (the Coral I was about 36 pax) and the Legend was about 100 pax, altho we had 70 aboard. I do think they cancelled the Coral I because only 12 people were booked. The change also meant I had to delete Cuenca from my itinerary due to flight scheduling, and we spent 3 rather than 2 nights in Guayaquil, which is 2 nights too much, and one extra night in Otavalo. I was able to cancel my hotel in Cuenca, Mansion Alcazar, without penalty.

I did appreciate that Klein did make amends....however, my overall experience was not up to my expectations....it took a long time for them to respond to questions, they didn't send any formal documentation regarding the cruise or the Galapagos flights, or offer much information about what to expect, bring, etc. I felt I had to drag everything out of them. Everything did work out, however, if you require some hand holding to feel comfortable, they don't provide it.

In Guayaquil, a hot & humid seaport town, we stayed at the Hilton Colon, which despite my aversion to American business style, high rise hotels, was a very pleasant experience and felt like an escape from the rest of Guayaquil. The breakfast buffet was excellent, and they have a nice atrium bar, with an excellent pisco sour welcome drink, and easy airport shuttle. However, it's about a 20 min, $4-$5 taxi ride into the city with busy traffic and fumes when you want to see "the sights", which aren't many. Interesting, everyone warns about getting into unmarked taxis, yet at the Hllton Colon, the doorman often hailed one of these. I guess he probably knows who the good ones are.

First day we spent time in the Tame office, getting our flight to/from Cuenca cancelled, which you have to do in person to get refund...but we did get one within a month on our credit card. Then, walked up and down Malecon 2000, a pleasant park-like esplanade along the very brown Guayaquil river, anchored by a large art museum , the MAAC. Had a very typical Ecuadorian lunch at La Canoa, which is heavy on the starches. Walked into Parque de las Iguanas, which was our first experience with these large, docile lizards just walking around a small city park in front of a cathedral. It was cloudy and not too hot & humid, but we ducked into an interesting, small museum, Nahim Isais, which featured archeological items and religious art. That night, we had an excellent, atmospheric dinner at Lo Nuestro, an authentic Ecuadorian food restaurant. Got back to the hotel and were surprised by all the ouzi-toting, camouflage- wearing security personnel in the lobby and outside. Seems they were protecting the Argentinian soccer team, Boca Jr.s, in town for a game.

Next day, headed back to town and started in the colorful Barrio Las Penas, and walked up the 466 steps to the top of Cerro Santa Ana, with it's great views. Had read that there were many restaurants along the way, but didn't see any that I cared to eat at. By the way, it seemed like we were the only tourists here. When we were in museums, we were often the only people there. That held true when we toured the large Museum of Archeology & Contemporary Art (MAAC), which was a welcome respite from the hot, humid & sunny day.

We ended the day with sitting on the top of a double-decker bus tour....the worst bus tour we were ever on. Again, we were the only guests, sitting on top with the metal seats so hot we had to ask for something to sit on...they gave us sheets of paper. ..and the prerecorded tour began...but for some reason, the police had cordoned off the main street along the Malecon 2000, so instead we inched thru busy downtown street traffic, with the fumes and the honking, etc. We finally made our way out of the city, drove past the white mauseleum type cemetary, and past their targeted site....an American- style huge indoor shopping mall! The most interesting sight to us was watching someone buy an ice cream from a convenience -type shop....but the bars extend over the front and you have to hand your money in and they hand you the ice cream. Next, a guy bought one cigarette, and a lighter was extended on a chain so he could light it. So anyway, by now we'd had it and wanted off. We were relieved to find we were riding past the Hilton and aborted the tour. That night, another excellent Italian meal at Trattoria de Enrico. We were ready to leave for the Galapagos.

Galapagos: As I said earlier, Klein Tours didn't send any final documents, or information about airport departure taxes, etc. I was just told..."It'll be OK...just go to the Aerogal counter in the Guayaquil airport." When I asked what time to be there, was told 8am . So, went to the counter and told had to wait for the Klein Tours rep to arrive...which was about 8:45am. She got our Ingala $10 cards, put our checked baggage thru security screening, and gave us our boarding passes, after many minutes of chatting with the airline counter personnel, who seemed to be waiting for something because they weren't taking care of any passengers. We thought we'd have an overweight charge for our carryons, but they didn't weigh us. Aerogal let us wait in their lounge and someone came and got us for our flight.

Flight was mostly full coming from Quito, filled with passengers "of a certain age" wearing Legend stickers , and took 1 1/2 hrs to land in Baltra. The Legend crew gathered us up, put us on shuttle busses, and we took our first panga ride to the ship.

Once on board, we checked out our upgraded Balcony suite on the top Moon deck, which would have cost an extra $1400 for both of us. We were very happy to have a balcony, but the rest of the cabin was pretty basic, but clean. This is definitely not a luxury type ship, but then again, we originally wanted the smaller, casual yacht. Twin beds, that we requested they combine, a small desk and small sofa, small closet with fridge & safe deposit, small shower, flush toilet & sink...first of many places where you have to put the toilet paper in the wastebasket, not the toilet.

We headed down to the dining room and were escorted to our table, where we were to eat every meal with the same other couple. While we enjoyed the other couple, who had to be the youngest people on the ship, we didn't like the inflexibility of it and the fact you really don't meet other people this way. The dining room wasn't very inviting...you couldn't really see out of any of the windows. Wish we could have eaten outside more. They just offered one evening BBQ meal outside on the pool deck, but we were again assigned seats. Wine was well-priced, but you also had to pay for soft drinks. For lunch, we were served a heavy, dinner type menu, but it was very good and featured lots of great seafood. We could eat all the fruits & vegetables and drink the water they poured, because they used filtered water. In the bathroom, you had to use bottled water, which was readily available.

About 3pm, we had our first shore excursion and met our 13 fellow "Boobies". The Legend divided up the passengers into four panga groups, and we took turns on who went first and came back first. Our group consisted of me and my husband (Americans), a singe Japanese guy, and the rest were from Finland, who all spoke English (when spoken too....they were a rather taciturn group who didn't even speak to each other much) So, between the one set couple at meals, and our twice daily excursions with extremely reserved "Boobies", if wasn't a very sociable cruise. However, it was OK because the main emphasis was listening to our excellent guide "Jose", and I wouldn't have wanted people making a lot of small talk while he was educating us on the flora & fauna.

So, we set off for our first island "Bartoleme" with a wet landing (wore water shoes) on a beautiful black sand beach...viewing small penguins as we landed. We snorkeled first just off scenic Pinnacle Rock, which was a little cold at first but quickly warmed up. It was the end of April, so didn't need a wetsuit. Didn't see much other than some pretty angel fish and a yellow-tailed sturgeon. We wore rash guard shirts, which I'd highly recommend, both for warmth and to protect your skin from coral scratches.

Afterwards, we somewhat dried off and then hiked to the top of Bartolome, a somewhat treacherous climb over lava. Gorgeous views opened up over the narrow isthmus where Pinnacle Rock is located. The sun was setting as we took our panga ride back to the ship, where a little snack always awaited us as we reboarded. We always had too little time to shower and prepare for dinner & our next day's debriefing...often just a half hour. Dinner was always an hors d'oerve, then excellent soup, a choice of entree and dessert, with wine costing $5 a glass. Dinner selections were made at lunch.

Morning drill: At 6:45, soft music would begin coming out of our room's speakers & the sweet voice of Kyra, our lovely & capable cruise director, would welcome us to a new day and a new island. (We'd set our alarms for 6:30a) Then, breakfast started at 7a and we'd start disembarking at 8am.

This morning, Isabela Island and a wet landing at Urvina (sometimes spelled Urbina) Bay. This wet landing was much rougher than usual. They had already collected our life jackets, when a huge wave crashed over the panga, soaking us. Not good. One guy had his digital 35 mm camera around his neck and it got all wet. I was glad I still had mine in a ziplock back. They handed out the life jackets again and we crash landed. This excursion involved a hike to see where 4 miles of coastline had suddenly uplifted in 1954 to form a new coastline. Saw our first marine iguanas, salt-crusted, gray, pre-historic looking creatures, and the only land iguanas, more colorfully yellow and gold. We had the chance to snorkel in the bay afterward, but I passed because the waves were still rough and I didn't want to be dashed on the rocks. My husband went but didn't see too much. Back on the boat by 11 or 11:30a for a noon lunch.

In mid-afternoon, we went across the bay to Fernandina Island, to Punta Espinoza. This was my most favorite site for it's beautiful setting. We walked across the two types of lava ...aa and pahoehoe, interspersed with yellow fuzzy cacti, and saw a multitude of marine iguanas, sea lions, and red sally light-foot crabs. We saw a male flightless cormorant carrying a sprig of seaweed to the female on her nest ...hoping she would accept his offering, and thus him. And, we saw white billowing smoke coming from the south end of the island....Mt. Cumbre had started erupting two weeks ago and then quieted down...but it was fuming again today. So, at dinner we heard that the captain (who we rarely saw and never met) had decided to alter course and cruise around the south end of the island so we could watch the eruption at night. We crowded on our meal companions' balcony (since ours was on the other side of the ship) and safely watched the spectacle from there. It looked like a large spurting red fountain spewing white bits of rock with slivers of red cascading down the sides into the sea...quite exciting. We watched for over an hour and then headed to bed, after watching sea lions frolicking in the waves below our balcony.

I've been taking a mild sleeping pill so the rocking doesn't keep me awake. One night the rocking was so intense a framed picture fell off the wall. I also wear the scopaline ear patch so have no problem with seasickness.

Next am, Santiago Island (James Bay) at Puerto Egas. Another wet landing on a dark sand beach. Hiked over lava again and saw fur seal grottos with sleeping seals, tide pools and more crabs, more snorkeling but not very exciting.

After lunch, took an optional snorkeling excursion off the deep waters of Rabida Island. That was the best snorkeling we did. Sea lions shot by us, several sea turtles swam by and saw a marine iguana feeding on the bottom. Lola was our guide and we saw many more kinds of colorful fish...parrotfish, angelfish, sturgeon, etc. Had to quickly shower and get ready for our third excursion of the day.

We had a dry landing on very red, volcanic Rabida island. Saw many sea lions on the beach...hiked to the top for a beautiful view with diving blue-footed boobies and soaring frigate birds. The cacti on this island are much larger with trunks like trees and no spines. Also, a lot of palo santo trees, which look ghostly white. From here, we took another panga ride around the island so we could see blue-footed boobies on the rocks up close. Also saw oyster catchers, pelicans and a yellow-crested night heron. Fun, but the panga ride lasted way too long. We were tired after two hikes and two snorkels, and wanted to get back for a shower. Only had 20 min. to get ready, which for me, is barely enough. That night, there was the obligatory silly cruise event, with some of the passengers coerced into playing in a skit. But the dancing afterwards was fun.

Santa Cruz was the next day's stop and we actually landed on a dock this time in Puerto Arroya, the main town. We walked to the Charles Darwin Research station, and saw the giant Galapagos tortoises. You could walk right among them, even while a couple were engaging in turtle sex and emitting all kinds of turtle noises. At least something has the time & energy for sex on this trip! Note: Honeymooners beware!
After the research station, we had an hour or so free time to check out the shops in town.
After lunch, we came back to Santa Cruz and board a bus for a 45 min. ride up to the Highlands, where it was delightfully cool. First, we walked through a GIANT lava tube...like being in a cave. Then, went to a private farm where the giant tortoises roam in the wild. These weren't as tame as the ones in the sanctuary. Stopped and had an orange Fanta at the little bar there, which turned out to be a mistake. When, I got back down to town, I realized my little coin purse was missing, which had my primary credit card (the one that doesn't charge a foreign money conversion charge), about $300 in traveler's checks and some cash. I immediately checked out the bus...not there...and realized it must have slipped out of my pocket when I sat down. Told Jose but he said they were gone for the day and nothing he could do. I was very upset about losing the credit card at the beginning our our 3 1/2 week trip, and we were flying out the next morning to the mainland.

But, we told Kyra, our cruise director, and to make a long story short, the young bartender had turned it in, and although we flew out of a different island, someone showed up just before our plane left with the coin purse. i gave the cash in it to the bartender for being so honest...and it really made an impression on us, knowing how poor these people are. And, I was very appreciative of the effort the Legend staff went through to get this back.

The final morning, a beach swim was scheduled...but we skipped it to pack and take it easy on the boat a little bit.

Next stop: Otavalo....on a separate trip report.

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