animalia, aventura, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, happy happy, natural wonder, South America

big tick on the bucket list

Bec / 17/05/2013

One of the criteria I used to start shaping my bucket list was the four elements – earth, air, fire and water. I’ve hiked on glaciers for the water element, looked into the mouth of the vocal and fiery Mt Yasur volcano for fire, air I plan to cover with space flight, or at the very least a hot air balloon ride over somewhere spectacular and for earth, I thought the islands of the Galapagos archipelago would be perfect with their relatively young age, variety of landscape and plethora of flora and fauna. JP and I spent eight days on three islands with a great group of people on Intrepid’s Active Galapagos tour.

The first day with local guide David was wet with patches of sunshine…nah, actually just mostly wet. We tried the local bus, walked through the streets to the Basilica adorned with gargoyles of dolphins, tortoises, iguanas, sea lions plus other natural world elements to honour all that makes Ecuador great. A climb to the top tower up steep metal grate steps with no safety net gave the braver ones of us a birds eye view over the city in both directions. It was helpful for grasping the fact Quito is about 55km long and only 8-15 km wide, planted in the foothills between the eastern and western Andes. The top tower was crowned with condors and graffiti scrawled in correction fluid read “hakuna matata”. So then I had that song in my head. Thanks.

Continuing in the rain we got to the Plaza de Independencia and then onto Calle la Rhonda – the oldest street in Quito and site of the strangest dinner I’ve had. Jugs of canelazo – warm juice spiked with a sugar cane alcohol. It was intense so I stuck to the unspiked version. This was accompanied by a platter sized slab of deep fried batter with a little cheese pocket, sprinkled with sugar. They called it an empanada but I prefer the kinds with carne, pollo, jamon y queso or even chocolate. It certainly didn’t do anything to offset the strength of the canelazo!

The Galapagos section of our tour started on San Cristobal Island with a walk and talk through the interpretation centre explaining a lot of the geology, environmental influences and human mysteries shaping the colourful history of the islands including water currents, volcanos, a self-proclaimed baroness, missing persons, jilted lovers, bucaneers, militaries, prisoners, Charles Darwin, free postage, wannabe feudal lords, murder and mass tourism. Only three of these things are still prevalent today.

A walk along the waterfront to our lunch stop was often interrupted by trying not to get within four feet of a sunbathing sea lion. It is a good idea not to sit on the benches by the water unless you really want to smell that bad. They own the place and like to populate the attractive esplanade without any thought for the snap-happy tourists. And as they’re sea lions, not seals, they can climb onto picnic benches, use the slide originally built for children, take up all the room on steps down to boat pontoons and generally do a better job of occupying a public space than anti-corporationalists on Wall St.

To get the heartilage pumping (I’m stealing your vocab, Shawn), we took a drive up to the highlands of San Cristobal, took in views out over the water, visited a new-but-built-to-look-old church with a hole in the roof to gather breeze and light but not rain and then jumped on seen-better-days mountain bikes and took off back to the lowlands. Along the way we stopped in El Progresso, a small township with a big thumping stereo in the diner and a viewpoint near the remains of the house formally home to the town’s murdered founder. That’s all true if I was listening correctly, but best to google it if you want the full story.

We continued down, down, up a little, down again and out to La Loberia, a beach with big waves pounding over rocks, a small population of iguanas, several birds and more lounging sea lions and a beach where you can swim if you fancy the cold, rough water. Back on our bikes we congratulated ourselves on not falling off by being denied a beer on the walk home due to it being a Sunday. Perhaps that’s why the beers are so big – they need to make up for a day of sobriety each week. The sunset was gorgeous as the ball of gold dropped into the ocean and pink infused the sky.


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