Monday, 27 December 2010

Ecuador pt II

So, another night bus. This time back to Quito and for some unknown reason it was two hours quicker than going the other way. Consequently, we arrived back in good ol' Quito at 4am in a dodgy area of town where we got a cab to our - thankfully prebooked - hostel in the 'old town' district. We very tentively rang the bell.
We were greeted by a nice Eucadorian lady who showed us our room where we crashed out until the some hours later. Slightly wiped out we decided to venture out for brunch to a recommended cafe. we found it in the old part of town,it looked very nice indeed, always nice to go into a restaurent past a guard with a gun! Anyway we got a seat, we ordered, we waited... and then we nearly got robbed. Literally, a gang of 3 plus the armed guard we're working on us; anyway to cut a long story short, it was the last time Tim would be leaving his iPod and wallet on a restaurant table.

So, not a great welcome back to Quito from our most enjoyable time in Manta; but nothing like being dragged back to reality. By this stage we only had a few days left in Ecuador before we headed off to Peru and with our Lonely Planet bible in hand we had things to do, places to go, people to see... so we booked out of our hostel for a night and headed off to Otavalo where we had heard the markets were amazing. They weren't wrong.
Up early, we got the bus to the bus station to get our ticket, a bargain of $4 each, boarding the bus, we checked with the driver that it went to Otavalo (we didn't trust anything by this stage), he confirmed it did. So we boarded... and waited... in true Ecuador fashion the bus wasn't moving until it was full to bursting with at least 1 chicken on board... as you travel along people jump onto the bus selling all sorts of goodies: "mandarins, mandarins, mandarins...", "chocklo, chocklo, chocklo...", "chewing gum,chewing gum,chewing gum...". Even slimming pills and pens (the latter even having his own microphone, mini amp and demonstration samples. It was always fun to see what you're not going to be tempted to buy. So, travelling along the ticket man takes our tickets and rather inevitably informs us we are on the wrong bus and yes this does go to Otovalo but our ticket is for another company. After a long debate of us standing our ground refusing to pay for the ticket again (first 20 minutes spent pretending we didn't understand), feeling like we were being so ripped off, we eventually backed down when we we're told if we didn't pay we would be thrown off the bus (literally in the middle of nowhere and on a very precarious cliff road), we thought we'd cough up another $4 each, only to be informed that "our" bus was in front of the bus we were on. Note to self:- never belive a bus driver. He doesn't care where you are going as long as you are on board and can get money off you...gringo mistake #1.

Anyway, we eventually got to Otavalo and found a hostel, had a nice meal went to bed ready for an early morning as the animal market kicks off at sunrise.

So, up bright and early, walking through the streets following people taking their pigs to market. It was such an awesome combination of sight, sound... and smell.

We sat on a grassy knol watching the locals come and go, with all sorts of beasties. after taking lots of pictures and myself being photographed a couple of times too, (blonde!) we walked around the market.
We'd been warned about the apparent animal cruelty in the place and to a certain extent you have to park the British mentality for a while and remember that this is how these people live. So seeing baskets of Guinnea Pigs being sold by the sack-load, I'd like to think for pets but i think we know they were destined to become BBQ-cuy.

We also saw some lovely pigs, Tim spotted a big feller, we decided not to haggle for him in case we ended up with a huge pig, in hind-sight we could of taken it on the bus back to Quito, no worries. But no, we carried on walking round looking at cages of chicks and ducklings, then we came along a pen of puppies then kittens; I like to think that these were pets destined for good homes, but who knows?

After the animal-market we headed into the centre of town for breakfast. We'd been advised to try an amazing pie shop in the town square; alas it remained closed. We couldn't quite bring ourselves to try the ambiguous contents of the big pots in the market so instead ended up in a 'nice' cafe (by which I mean it was almost european and served delights other than dry bread and jam). When we walked in, it was like being greeted by old friends, very "old" friends, we had a round of applause then an old man asked Tim if he could have his photo taken with me! Not wanting to offend the locals we agreed and i'd like to think made his day.

After that fun, we headed to the fruit and veg market. The colours we're beautiful, and the women and children so friendly.
I was on a mission to get a lovely blanket, and with so many to chose from, haggling was going well (Tim realised the secret of haggling is to not want the item too much, so he haggled for the blanket).
Once we had invested in our new blanket it was time to checkout of the hostel and get a bus back to Quito.
Walking back to the bus station it was strange to see so many "gringos" had arrived on the buses from the larger towns, it made us glad that we had come the night before and got up early and experienced the markets without too many tourists (erm, like us).

Back in Quito we headed out for our evening meal which we'd found a couple of nights earlier. It was a local place where only locals go (actually full of police). It was like walking into someones front room with a kitchen in it, we looked around to see what other people were eating and decided on two balls of somethings: one meat, one cheese. Then we had some skewers of chicken, veg and rice, so nice to experience the food and it was good, very cheap and thankfully didn't make us ill.

Our final thing to do in Ecuador was to head to the equator line the Midad del Mundo. Another bus ride on a dull day (this time without drama), we got to the site which was nice if a tad touristy; there was dancing and singing going on in the centre, we did the obligitory photo straddling the equator-line (which isn't actually the equator line).
Predictably, it was heaving with herds of people all wanting the same photo, with all this going on we decided to check emails and get some food,
"I'm an auntie... again!"
and we're so glad we did as this is where we found out we had become aunty katy & uncle tim to new little Benjamin David White... we're still smiling:-) So this made our day so much better than it was. A very memorable day for us.

So for the final time getting on a bus to Quito, before getting our plane out to Lima the following morning, we had enjoyed Ecuador, our first taste of South America, we didn't enjoy the feeling of constantly being on your guard, and not trusting anyone and the feeling that we we're always about to be ripped off. But as we travel more we'll become alot more street wise on our journey. Next stop Peru.

Sunday, 19 December 2010


26/09/10 - 13/10/10

With the amazing Galapagos trip freshly behind us, we had just a day back in Quito before our next new experience… just enough time to catch-up on laundry (for me, travelling is a constant battle to maintain sufficient levels of clean underwear). That same night we embarked on our first marathon South American bus journey… eight hours, taking us from the capitol to the coast all for just US$10. Our destination was Santa Marianita beach where we’d planned our third HelpX(.net) stint (and our last in the Americas).

HelpX is a bit like Mission Impossible (but without the cool gadgets); you have no idea what you are getting into. Luckily for us, our first two HelpXes were amazing and our best experiences in Canada (thank you; you know who you are). This time all we knew was that we had to get to a beach and meet someone called Linda Flierl Hooks (I know, obviously a secret agent name). Nothing self-destructed – phew!

Back to the bus and Unfortunately my digestive system chose this very point to ‘backfire’ (if you see what I mean). This also taught me my first lesson in South American travel: toilets on long-haul buses (or indeed any public ‘banos’) do not have toilet-paper (it’s a bonus just to have them open). Thankfully Katy was already aware of this fact. Also very thankfully she did not have the same stomach upset as me, so I depleted her supply of bathroom supplies whilst being thrown about the tiny cubicle. Did I mention the door had no lock?

Arrived at 6:30am in manta as scheduled, very bleary after not much sleep (partially for the above reasons but also due to the state of the Ecuadorian road system). This is the main town in the area from where we had to navigate to Santa Marianita. It was a bewildering place for us gringos (I’m sure I heard someone use the words carnes & fresco). We were just two blocks away from the sea-front but this was no tourist destination; the streets were dirty and buildings drab but even at this time in the morning the place was thriving with people walking around trying to sell freshly landed fish.

For a while we stood on a street corner with various people trying help us or rob us; I gestured that we were going to go to the café to mull over our options. It didn’t take too long as we didn’t have any. We were going to have to call Linda despite the early hour to come and rescue us. Frustratingly we couldn’t find a working phone (frustrating because almost every street had telephone ‘cabinas’ but none were open at that time of day). Eventually – and obviously with us looking helpless - an elderly but elegant lady named Maria came to our aid. With a complete lack of verbal communication between us, she took us to a ‘collectivo’ and organized for it to take us where we needed to be then waited until we were safely on our way… lovely little lady!

So, Collectivo’s are fun… white pick-up trucks that have a vague route plan but stop and start as required for people, 1 dollar per person wherever you’re going. Frequent stops along the way saw people clambering in and out of the back of the van… we had the luxury of seats. We tried to explain ‘donkey den’ (the place we were heading to) but for reasons which later became clear he had never heard of it. Anyway we were dropped off at the beach and walked along a deserted and windy seafront beach thinking this can’t be right, but it was! Linda was in the front garden and frankly not what we expected (we didn’t know what we expected, but it wasn’t that). Exact age unknown but over 65, she is an American ex-pat living here the last five years. She introduced us to another HelpX’er, Karl from Edinburgh (but living in south America for several months now) who had built an amazing garden at the front of the house which was his pride and joy. We later met Jazzy from Olympia, Washington (a place we’d driven through on our way to Seattle) and Denis from Ecuador: Linda’s unofficial translator and sorter-outer. Who would also help us try and understand and speak a little Spanglish.

The place was amazing: huge and right on the beach. But no time for that right now; we were going to get some rest but Linda announced they were all off to “… a gringo brunch at Mr Frogs”. Whilst I didn’t really understand what that involved, I knew it must include food! At first we declined (being newbies, but also very tired) but hunger got the better of us so we were whisked straight out again, all piling into Lindas MPV which is relatively new but seems like its seen its fair share of military action. With all seven seats filled beyond the imagination of Chevrolet’s designers we bounced and crashed along the dusty tracks and bumpy roads. All a bit hair-raising but we subsequently learned to relax. A little.

Got to Mr Frogs – another very nice place on a cliff face above the beach. Wooden framed and very open-plan (ie, no walls) containing chunky wooden tables and chairs on a stone-paved floor. This opens out to a balcony/patio area directly overlooking the ocean and with the sun beating-down the sea breeze provided that deceptive cooling effect which sees you burnt to a frazzle in the time it takes you to drink your coffee. To the right were some small cabins and a series of hammocks under a canopy of palm-leaves… HelpX is a hard life! The gringo brunch happens here every Sunday and for that time the place becomes a tiny piece of North America… unashamedly full of ex-pats talking American English.
With relief we sat next to Jazzy and she gave us the background to her and to this place while we consumed the breakfast buffet. She was lovely and the food was good.

A couple of hours later and back to base. Linda insisted we have a sleep and this time we didn’t resist.

When we awoke we had a full tour of the place. Downstairs was two very fancy self-contained apartments; big, spacious and well appointed. Upstairs a mixture of dorm type rooms mainly full of HelpXers, Linda and CATS… eight of them scampering everywhere.

At the front, a garden and a café area (both in development). In front of this there was a sandy & rocky road and then… beach! Huge crashing waves right on our doorstep. Apart from our next door neighbor – a kite-surfing school of similar size to Linda’s property – there was virtually no development along the beach… bliss!

Day 2 saw the start of our HelpX duties. But first, breakfast on the balcony, watching a whale and two whale-calves ducking in and out of the water as they passed… amazing! As Linda had to spend the day somewhere else, we were left to our own devices with the advice that ‘there’s always plenty to do’. Such a big place and right on the edge of a windy beach, she was right. Karl pointed toward the cat-litter trays; he’d been staying there for a while and I get the impression he’d never quite had the nerve to tackle them himself… am I right Karl?! Karl had his own pet project of the front garden which had been transformed over previous weeks from a sandy wasteland. In the meantime Katy had gone for her first South American run along the beach and came back happily announcing that she’d watched a baby turtle risking life and limb to get from its nest to the beach.

So our next few days were filled with various tidying jobs and trying to understand how the place worked. Then we got really lucky; we’d initially been staying in Linda’s room but as she was back and being a couple she thought we’d want some of our own space so she let us stay in one of the apartments downstairs… can’t really describe just how good that was for us, it was just like having our very own - very spacious - apartment!

But our new found apartment life was set to be short-lived, as a couple of days later Denis showed us to our new intended home… the Guard Room.

Personal security is a bit of an issue in Ecuador. There is a constant under-current of concern. Our beach was very quiet during the week and we were well outside of town but our stretch of road had its own guard. And so, when Linda had her place built she included a separate out-building as a guard-house but this proved to be unnecessary so the plan was to convert it to living quarters for HelpXers (ie,us).

So our new job was to get the room habitable. For some reason it was deemed that I would be best placed to do the plastering of the walls (despite having never done it before). Provided with bags of plaster I made a start… Spanish plaster… Spanish instructions. It all seemed to go ok but mixing with a stick took forever. Karl’s spark of inspiration arrived moments later: the electric food whisk from upstairs. With plaster mixed, the learning curve was quick; after the first few dollops landed on the floor some started clinging to the wall and looked pretty smooth.

This was good work for me… learning a new skill, iPod plugged in, days pass quickly and at the end feel like I’ve earned my beer… did I forget to mention the free beer?! I thought I’d misheard when the free beer fridge was first mentioned but sure enough, a full size domestic fridge full and free to access whenever you want! Linda was a very considerate and kind host and no one took excessive advantage of this which was nice. Originally she said the deal was that we had to buy our own food but we worked hard while we were there so she offered to buy our food too. I like to think that it worked out well for everyone.

The beach was like a ghost town during the week but at the weekends it was transformed. All the locals would come down to swim, relax, drink and kitesurf. The change was amazing. Because of this influx beach 'restaurants' also popped-up.

These were makeshift kitchens under wind-breakers which served grilled fish, ceviche, rice and salad... typically all the things that would normally turn my nose up at. But not any more! I ate all of it including shrimps / prawns for the first time and the whole lot was great. So fresh and so tasty... its taken a while but i'm converted!

On 30th September, Ecuador was temporarily in turmoil when police and army revolted protested over proposed changes to pay conditions. I found out fairly late in the day as I was in my little guard house; when I came outside I found everyone watching the TV which was showing gunfire and the president under siege in the hospital… crazy! There was genuine concern as the country seems to rely on a strong (if corrupt) police presence. It was during this that a new person arrived at the hostel, Laetitia (Letty) from France - with a guitar… I feared the worst.

Ecuador was pretty much back to normal by the following day and with plastering nearly finished (and I have to say not looking too bad!) I mentioned that I had also done some tiling before and before I knew it I had my next piece of work planned for me.

In the meantime, a couple had arrived to stop in the apartment adjacent to us for the next few weeks. Laurie (Bear) and Owen (Chief) were from Saskatoon, Canada and were here for a bit of r&r. Very laid back and very nice people to meet (as is everybody from Canada, of course). Always happy and always happy to sit and chat over a beer or three.

Over the next few days we painted the newly plastered walls and prepared for tiling. We also took some time off as the weather had improved a lot; we hit the sea and the sea hit us back! Short but big dumping waves… great for body surfing but get it wrong and they pummeled and tumbled you into the sand. Great fun.

All too soon, Jazzy had to leave. But she was heading to work in the Galapagos for a few weeks so wasn’t too upset. L&O put together a brilliant leaving BBQ in the café area and on this day I saw my first real life scorpion on the garden steps!

Spent the next few days alternating between tiling all day and taking the day off. During these times I was lucky to have the company of Katy and Letty who – despite being French (!) was really very nice and the three of us spent a lot of time together; I tried to pass on my tiling skills (such as they are), Karl came in but it became quite expensive in broken tiles ;o)
When we worked, we worked hard... way over that requested by Linda, but we also took time out to go to Monte Christo to buy ourselves lovely colourful hammocks (with the romantic notion of using them on a boat-trip down the Amazon some time).

With a patch of good weather which lasted for several days, we ended-up spending alot of time playing in the sea, avoiding the kite-surfers like Aldrin or walking along the beach watching the ghost-crabs scuttling along then diving for their hole when you got too close, usually accompanied by the dogs (our first time on the beach they all came down and guarded our towels whilst we went swimming.

Denis divided his time between our place and teaching Spanish. He too was a lovely guy and did his best to kick-start our Spanish, together with Karl but it was uphill work. In my spare time Letty also tried to teach me guitar (I’d never played any musical instrument)… I think spanish is easier. Both these things are very much work-in-progress for me but I would love to carry them on when we return to the UK.

One morning during breakfast we saw a whale with a cub very close to shore. Two guys from the kite-surf school swam and canoed out to see them (yes, they were that close), but the whales were faster than the men. Also, a new guy – Alex from Colorado - arrived today much to the surprise of everyone, including Linda. But he was welcomed in like all us waifs and strays and he seems like a nice guy. Another few days later, Liz from San Francisco turned up too… a real melting-pot!
And before we knew it 2½ weeks had passed and with all our jobs completed we decided it was time for us to move on. We never did stay in the guard room but hope it became a nice home for HelpXers.

Laurie & Owen were kind enough to throw us another BBQ – thank you sooo much guys, it was such a pleasure to meet you.

Everybody was so nice, it was very difficult to leave and we could easily have stayed another month, but there was still so much of South America to see and the clock seriously ticking. Linda, Laurie and Letty took us to the dodgy bus station and that was the end of our Manta adventure.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Go Go Galapagos

(and not a beagle in sight)

Well, this is different!

Our first impression of South America was VERY LOUD! People yelling in a language we didn't understand, taxi horns honking trying to get you on-board... all before we'd even left the airport. It was one hell of a culture shock. But we had our Lonely planet in hand and knew what we had to do: get cab, find hostel. As we sat in the back seats - our bags squeezed into the boot - we were whisked away into the crazy traffic, I took the plan of not looking out of the window as i had decided that "this is how we were going to die" (an often used phrase for us in South America). Honestly, I'm so glad we don't have Jeremy and were not driving in Quito... it would've been messy! But twenty minutes later and having cheated death once more we were dropped off at our hostel in Quito New Town, a swiss stylee abode, with a proper bed and bathroom. Kind of.

We went to get food then headed back for our an early night having not slept much on the plane. What we found out through out the night is that we seem to have the room next had to the Poliza car impound with a resultant array of car alarams that would be going off at 15 minute intervals throughout the night, just to make sure you never really get to sleep. They just don't care here; they will set the alarm off opening the car and just leave it going while they search for that rather nifty cassette tape of latin pop circa 1978. So blearly awake we have our first taste of South American (SA) breakfast... a basic breakfast of jam & bread (you should know their bread is not good... taste is generally ok but they choose not to serve it to gringos until it has the consistency of a dry bath sponge). But nevermind; with breakfast over it was time to go and collect our tickets for the biggie... the Galapagos Islands from the Happy Gringo.

Now then, this trip has been so long coming... it was the first thing to be marked on our world`map in the lounge back in Ruislip, it is definately a once in a life time thing to do (for us at least), and thankfully we had booked and paid for it when we were still working, so for the next 8 days we were on holiday, without having to organise anything or worry about where we going to sleep or what we were going to eat: a real treat. With tickets in hand, we headed off to explore Quito,we were staying in the modern area where all the shops, bars and restuarants are, it's very aimed at tourists but as we are it was a good introduction to South America. We ate in a very nice restaurant very cheaply, not quite sure what we had, but that's the fun about eating in a new country. i think it was chicken.

Next morning, 5am and wide awake (mixture of excitement and car alarms) showered and ready to go... another death ride to the airport, survived that, checked in and then tried for a breakfast, Tim got some eggs and dried bread i thought i had struck the jack pot when i saw muesli and fresh fruit with yogurt, it's not what you think. museli was some weird sweet coated mini sugar puffs and the yogurt was a sweet pink water substance, fresh fruit, apple piece and banana, so not all bad. Through to departures and we sat waiting, wondering which people in the small departures lounge will be on our boat? We eventually boarded and promptly fell asleep, waking just to eat then land in Santa Cruz, Baltra Island where our new home, the Golandrina would be waiting for us.

Day 1
We had been given ID stickers so we could be picked out by our guide at the Airport, and it worked a treat we were flagged down by a small man in a Galapagos t-shirt. We were ushered into our group which thankfully seemed like a nice bunch of people.
We all got on our transfer bus and headed to the harbour where we had our first animal in counter, a huge sealion, which we thought was a sculpture until he started getting vocal and waddeling towards us and then there a pelican and our first marine iguana... WE HADN'T EVEN MADE IT TO THE BOAT!!!

We had to be herded by Fabrizzio (Fabi), our guide with the promise of more exciting animals and birds along the rest of our journey we got onboard the dingys, with our life jackets on we bounced towards our new home for the next 8 days. After a quick meet n greet with captain and crew we were shown to our cabin which - as predicted - was compact and indeed bijou. Like one of Pavlov's best, we had been told when the bell rings on the boat we all had to meet in the eating area... bell rang and off we went off to meet our fellow passengers (salivating ever so slightly). We met Michelle a lovely Aussie who had left he partner Richard in Quito to do a Spanish course, Paul a very tall Canadian with some very big photogrpahy epquipment (3rd time to the Islands), Saskia & Mike a lovely dutch couple who spoke very good english, 2 Danish girls both called Steine and 3 Czech girls who were already onboard.
We had lunch which was delicious, tuna steak, vegetables, and a banana for desert, i'm a happy bunny :) after lunch we all went up on deck for a fitting for our snorkels and fins for snorkelling later. we sailed to Santa Cruz Island where we got in the dingys and were left on a beautiful white sand beach, we had a walk around seeing light footed crabs who hide as soon as they detect a movement in the sand, very quick little beasties, loads of Friget birds, who have big red bulbous glands that they puff up to impress the ladies, and so many pelicans hanging around a fishing boat, and more Marine Iguanas who like Tim's shadow are a nice place to stay. Fabi our guide is very good, he speaks excellent english and knows and awful lot about the Islands, well it is his job! We walked to a lagoon on the other side of the island and came across 2 beautiful pink flamingos, back to the beach, flippers and snorkels on, it was a bit chilly but we saw some great fish. back to the beach warmed up then back on board for a very welcom cup of hot chocolat to warm up. Showered in a very small space then up on deck to chat with our new friends and watch the sunset before the bell rang for dinner. Day one almost justified the cost on its own... amazing day!

Every evening would be the same, the bell would ring and we would be shown the agenda for the following day so we knew what we had to do and when, then we would have an amazing meal followed by Pauls footage of the day on his video camera then we'd chat, read books or throw up depending on how choppy the sea was and long our journey to the next island would take. It was such an exciting adventure to wake up every morning at a different island.

Our second day would be a Genovesa Island, by 8.30am we were all bushed from our exciting first day and retired to our cabins ready for a fun packed adventure the following day. What we did experince is that when the boat is actually moving our cabin is right by the engine room and it's pretty unbelievably loud down below deck.

Day 2
Isle Genovesa
Awoken by the bell for breakfast; feed and on the dingys to explore our next island.
We cruised around looking at the Fur seas on the rocks and the sea lions (that stay on the beaches), we docked and walked up Prince Philips Steps where we were greeted by Nazcar Boobies and Red Footed Boobies.
We walked along the cliff spotting a super Short Eared Owl, who looked like he was sporting a lovely pair a fluffy brown slacks. Being perfectly camouflaged, they are quite are to find so we lucked out on that little feller.

Back to the boat and all change into our wet suits, deeper water was chilly. All covered up and snorkels on we went out in the dingy's where we dropped into some very choppy water but what we saw was amazing with in minutes of floating around we spotted a hammer head shark which Tim managed to get briefly on his video camera as he swam below us, we followed him for sometime through amazing coloured schoals of fish.
Back to the dingys after an hour or so in the water i had a shock when i touched the rope on the dingy that was covered in jelly fish and got a handful and sting, not quite as bad as Vendula (one of the Czech girls) who wasn't sporting a wetsuit (because she was so sore from sunburn - DOH!!) and got stung all over poor thing. So we were greeted by the crew and lots of bottles of vineger, like i said i only had a hand to worry about poor Ventuala was doused in it like a bag of chips.

After another lovely lunch and little Siesta with ear plugs we were at a new Island, Darwin Island, back in the dingys we had a lovely walk along the beach where there were 4 sea lions just chilling out, they are know as the golden retirever of the the Galapagos island, and they are lovely. It very hard for me not to go up to them and stroke them, but we have to keep the wildlife wild and two metres away - hrmphh.
Back on board, agenda, food, film followed by one hell of a night, all hell broke out when we started moving it was quite a rough crossing and as i lay on the floor of our cabin trying to think away the nauseaus felling i was having while Tim had already gone up on deck where he would spend the night not fighting the nauseau feeling...needless to say the following morning the crew were doing alot of washing down of the boat! i believe everyone was ill in the night, but thankfully that is the only really long crossing we have to do.

Day 3
Bertolome Island - Santa Cruz Island
Bell rang, breakfast, everyone looked very rough, we all joked about our evenings adventure, needless to say breakfast went largely uneaten. We headed off to our new island on the dingys. We got onto Bartolme Island and walked up the 135 long wooden steps up the volcanic ash mountain, a nice work out first thing, well i thought so anyway. Unfortuantley my memeroy card on my camera decided it would die on me, thankfully i had been backing up all my pictures onto Tosh, so only lost a couple from the morning and thankfully Paul had a spare 2GB card that he gave me, thank you so very much again paul, very much appreciated and you know that if there are any pics of mine you want let me know! We were also lucky enough to get some of Paul's - frankly amazing - photos... the beauty of DSLRs!! From the top of the Mountian you had a great view of the surrounding islands that we would also get to soon. On our way back to the Golandrina we saw our first galapagos penguin, such a funny little thing, watching us from the rocks.

Back to the boat wet suited up, and back in the sea, warmer than yesterday but still with a chill, we saw giant star fish that was such a vivid red and orange colour and so big, schoals of parrot fish, it was like swiming through finding Nemo, then we were joined by 2 sea lions who wanted to play with us and chew our fins, i sneaked a stroke of them, well they came to me! so very lovely but then on our way back to the boat Fabrisco spotted 3 white tipped sharks in a deep cave, we had to dive down to see then which was quite a deep breathe moment, i dove down and was greeted by 6 eyes stairing at me, through the darkness.... awesome.

After luch we headed to Santa Cruz Island and Black Turtle Cove and the Mangroves, we spotted our first Blue Footed Booby who was very cool, we we're all back in the dingy slowly creeping into the mangroves so as not to scare the wild life, and what a sight we floated quietly through some bamboo reeds into an opening and there were four giant turtles gracefully swimming around and just being. i think they were playing with us as they would hide under the boats then float back up to surface and then disappear again. Tim got some underwater footage from the boat, they seemed to like the little red light his camera has on it. We then moved round to see 5 white tip sharks hiding under a tree branch in the water. Back to the boat, to watch the sunset and have dinner. Life is good.

Day 4
Islas Plaza - Sanat Cruz Island

Bell rang at 5.30am, thankfully there was no sailing last night so we had a good night sleep, we got on to the Island before breakfast when is was still dark, head torches were a necessity (thank you White juniors), we were greeted by so many sea lions, big Alpha males, mummies and babies, one looked very fresh indeed. Some beautiful fauna with such vivid colours and lots of cactus trees in various sizes plus a fair few iguana.

Back to the boat for breakfast and to say a farewell to most of our new friends as they would leave today and we would be sharing our small space with a new group of people. We arrived at the main Island which was our time to explore, unfortunatley is have hammering it down with rain so a small town with not a lot going on didn't take too long to explore. it was mainly full of tourist shops. We all met up later at the Darwin Centre where we got to see all the tortoises that are being bred and put back on to their correct Islands, we also got to hang out with some BIG ones, including Lonesome George, who is the last surviving tortoise from Pinta Island and although they have tried to breed from i believe he is firing blanks, well he is apparently over 170 years old! It was so cool to see these giant beasts but it would of been nicer to of been able to view them in their true enviroment not in captivity. We got to see some giant Land Iguanaza who had some great colours on them.

We later headed down to the beach which was a good walk away from the harbour and the sun was trying so hard to come out, we had been promised the most amazing beach of white sand and blue sea, and walking laong the wooded walk way we weren't dissapointed, it was lovely, would of been even nicer if the sun had actually come out, i ws so excited it had been the first long strip of sand that was inhabited by sea lions of animals for a few days, off came the flip flops, i rolled up my trousers and started running backwards and forwards a long the shore line, so very very lovely, felt so good to be able to stretch my legs after being on a boat for 4 days, I also got very wet.

Sadly we had to say a goodbye to Michelle and the Steine's and go and meet our new people. When we got back to the boat we moved rooms, Tim and i had managed to secure a room upstairs away from the engine, ready for a quieter night sleep. After we had showered we were greeted by our new shipmates. And it was... different! The original ship-mates were a cross section from several different countries but the new ones were almost all Dutch for some reason! This in itself is not a bad thing but it is natural that they will tend to communicate almost entirely in Dutch which limited communication with the rest of the group. Thankfully there were some lovely young people, a young man named Pim and 2 young ladies Pauline and Iniga, 2 lovely Austian youngsters Martina and Lucas also a Brit, Emma Jones (.org)!

Day 5
The HIghlands- Santa Fe Island - Santa Cruz

We headed up to the wet highlands early walking through fog to get there, when the fog decided to pass we were greeted by some spectacular views, and some amazing greenery and volcanic craters in the earth. Lots of Galapagos finches and doves also flying around. We sailed on Santa Fe Island where we had another snorkelling session joined by a group of sea lions once more (who would've thought you could get used to sealions?) and also a turtle who swam with us, Tim has some great footage i dove down for a closer look of him. It was a great to be able to swim with these beautiful beasts we've been so lucky. We spent more time on Santa Fe island where the beach was filled with sea lions, the big Alpha males were making some impressive belching and grunting noises. Lots of families of sea lions... once again i had to edit the photos.

Day 6
Espanola Island - Punta Saravez Island

Today we got to view the most wonderful blue footed boobies, doing thier singing and dancing of their courtship. such a funny little dance. lots of squawking, clicking and flapping of wings and stomping of their little blue feet. Again we have far too many photos. The Boobies also shared their island with many an albatross and their ugly babies. These are huge birds that quite frankly scared me. As we salied along later that afternoon we were guided by lots of dolphins, swimming alongside the boat and showing us the way. It was awesome to have them so close jumping out of the water we all sat at the front of the boat (that'll be the Bow, that's for you dad) and watched them mesmerized by their swift moves.

Day 7
Flloreana Island

Today's Island is half volcanic rock/sand the other side is a beautful white. We saw some great stingrays in the shallows, tim nearly trod on one (Paul did!). After a lovely walk around the very quite island, dodging the odd sea lion sleeping in our path. We later headed to the Whalers Post Office, which is a wooden barrel that was initially set up in the 1930's by a British Whaling ships captain who would leave letters and parcels that would then be taken by other ships going in that directions, how cool is that? The idea is that you get it hand delivered, it'll be nice to know if you get any postcards to see if this actualaly works, so if you have recieve a postcard from us with a random UK stamp on it or if it just arrived through your letter box then it works...

After the postcards we headed down into the depths of the Island, again head torches were needed, i had decided not to go into the deep dark wet watery hole, Tim decided he would with his camera. It was quite ery watching as the lights faded away and the voices fell silent waiting for then to return, thankfully a while later the soggy boy arrived back smiley and sodden.
Excitedly i had another run up and down the beach while tim has a final beach snorkel, he managed to stand on a turtle as he was walking backwards with his flippers on, very funny to see, probably not a funny for the turtle but he did hang around and swam with Tim for a while after the incident. We had a final night sail so Tim and i took a magic tablet each and hoped for a less choppy nights sleep.

Day 8
North Seymor Island

We now officially have our sea legs, we slept very well being rocked from side to side, the others didn't fare as well. It was a 5.30am wake up onto the Island just as dawn was rising, a lovely sight. We saw the Magnificent friggat birds with thier puffed up red necks to impress the ladies, and my what an impressive sight! We saw some huge yellow and red Land Iguanas that just wait outside the Boobies nesting area waiting for the parents to leave so they eat the babies, they must eat quite a few as they were huge! Back to the boat for our final breakfast and a good bye to the crew.

This truly was one of the most amazing places we have ever seen, and we feel so honoured to of been able to view these Islands and their inhabitants. Honestly start saving now it so worth it, or you could just look at all our photos instead and make belive that you have been there too!

Enjoy x