Ecuador 

We left Lima with Cruz del Sur for the long (approx 30 hr) bus to Quito. It started off well with our conductor being a Latin spit for Rob Brydon. It was freaky, they could have been brothers. Anyway this was one of the best journeys we had, it had working entertainment and we got food (2 snacks, 2 lunches and dinner).

We arrived into a dark and wet Quito, there was quite a wait for a taxi so we grabbed one with another traveller who was travelling on her own, saved some money but also made sure she got into her accommodation ok. We were staying very close to the centre at the Hotel Juana de Arco, it was a great location and quite quiet too if a little cold. We were back up at 2,850 m but the altitude was not an issue this time thankfully, it did get cold at night though. Quito is also the highest capital city in the world and the closest to the equator.. We didn’t have time to do it but you can go to the equator and have your photo taken- a gimmick by all accounts as the actual equator line is in the temple beside it, would have been a cool photo though. There is also a famous weekend market there which is amazing apparently. Anyway back to Quito, the room was weird, the bathrooms were tiny but the wifi was amazing.

The following day we explored Quito…

We also popped by the Mercado central but there was not much going on there so bought some fruit, it did look cheap for food though but we didn’t eat there. In general Quito had some impressive colonial buildings.

The following day we were due to go to the Galapagos, the flight and accommodation was booked but we realised we had an additional form to fill out to pre register for travel, and the website was a bit of a nightmare but we managed to get it done. Bit stressful though.  In addition we moved everything that was made from wood or was a bit heavy and left that in the hotel as we were worried they may have been taken off us during the baggage scan at the airport. We were now ready to head off to Isla Baltra!

The following morning we had a few hours to kill before we had to go to the airport. So we went hunting breakfast and supplies (as everything has to be flown into the islands, it’s very, very expensive to buy snacks and things there). I had a relatively normal breakfast but Gav had Deco de chivo- a goat stew.

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Once we got everything we grabbed a taxi to the airport. Its miles away, and seemed to take forever if it had been on the moon it would have been closer. En-route there were people frantically waving flags in the pissing rain to try get people to stop for food. A bit shocking the first time we saw it as it looked like there was an accident or something. So $25 lighter we arrived!

At the airport we had to pay the $20 fee for our “visa” before having our bags scanned for banned items, checked in etc. and got on to the almost empty flight (Avianca are the cheapest FYI). Unfortunately we were stuck behind a really annoying family who kept fidgeting, moving around and worst of all farting the whole way. Plus the mother seemed incredulous when she was told she couldn’t bring her bag of apples and oranges to the islands. Clearly hadn’t done any research at all there, but anyway after two hours  we touched down on Baltra. On arrival we had to first pay the National Park Fee-another $100 entry fee (we got a passport stamp though).

Now the fun began.

We were staying on Isla Santa Cruz (it was the cheapest one to stay at plus everyone had to get to Puerto Ayora to get connections to other islands). To get there, after another bag scan, we were loaded onto a free bus to the ferry. Then onto the ferry ($1 each), this was a bit of a nightmare-tourists are very rude- and then there was the expensive option of a taxi or from this point, the cheaper option (which we got) was the bus ($2 each-much more reasonable). When we arrived into Puerto Ayora and found our hotel (thanks again to Maps.me) we got hit with another surprise of an added tax. In addition it had been increased by the government as a result of the earthquake so that wasn’t a nice surprise. We had a good chat about that with the owner.. I’ll say no more on that.

Anyway when we had freshened up we headed out to explore…..

For our meagre budget, the Galapagos wasn’t the best place for us it was extremely expensive (UK/US) prices so we ended up having dinner from a cart the first evening (until we worked out where the locals went)- Gav went for a sort of blood sausage, I had a banana/plantain and pork ball. They weren’t great I have to say.

The following morning we decided to check out the Darwin centre, on the way we stopped off at the fish market, which is an excellent place stop for a while with lots of hilarious activity including a demanding sea lion who ended up over reaching on a discarded fish and slid off the pier.

At the Darwin centre there were many examples of endemic plants, as well as being covered with birds. I haven’t attempted to identify the finches as they are very, very similar.

At the centre we read about the efforts to biologically control the invasive mealy bug population by the introduction of a carefully researched Australian ladybird species as a predator.

We also read about the problems with a parasitic fly and finches. The larvae feed on the chicks causing many of them to perish. In an effort to increase the population, the team at the centre remove mangrove finch eggs from the nests and raise them at the centre. This encourages the parents to have a second brood to hopefully increase the propulation of these critically endagered birds.

After the centre we heading home to chill out for a bit and once the sun had eased (I actually got burnt in the morning with factor 50 on) we walked out to the free lava tunnels. These were the smallest on the island but easy to get to. The tunnels are formed lava when the outer layer of flowing lava cools and hardens allowing the molten core to continue to flow eventually (provided the walls are thick enough) leading to the formation of a tunnel. It was really cool.

The following day we hired some snorkeling gear and fins and walked to Tortuga Bay. Which as it turns out its excellent for swimming (as its warm, sheltered and shallow) but absolutely shite for snorkeling as the visibility is very poor plus the snorkel broke almost straight away.

After two long days out in the searing sun, the following day we gave our skins a bit of a break and organised diving, for that was the reason we were here really. After much research we decided to go with Scuba Iguana as they were the best reviewed (on Trip Advisor). Unfortunately the best dive site we could reach from Isla Santa Cruz was a reverse entry one, Gordon Rocks, and as I hadn’t dived for a while I didn’t want to risk it as I probably wouldn’t be able to descend at anything other than a snail’s pace. In the end we signed up to do two dives at beginners sites- Bartolome and Cousins Rock.

[Aside: As a comparison for prices per dive  from our trip (no of dives each):

Diving in Koh Tao:~$30 (Crystal Dive price guide)

Diving in the Perhentian Islands: $22 (2)

Diving in Kota Kinabalu: $21 (3-Gav only)

Diving at Sipadan:$52 (6-but including accommodation)

Diving in Flores: $34 (9)

Diving in the Galapagos: $90 (2)]

Other than that we wandered about some of the other local Puerto Ayora sites and to the market for some cheap grub (honestly the price of food were US prices- that for a week would have crippled us), we ate at the market a lot.

The following day we went diving with Scuba Iguana. We expected to have a leisurely sail around to the dive sites but instead we were loaded into taxis and headed off back to the channel next to Baltra.

Then we had nice leisurely boat trip to the dive sites..

As we arrived at Bartolome, cruising past the famous Pinnacle Rock to our dive drop off point. It was very choppy and the captain lined us up so the boat rocked from side to side rather than front to back giving the boat a horrible (and rather dangerous) roll so both Gav and I, rather unusually, felt really sick. We were the most experienced on the boat, with quite a few people on their first dives since their certification.

We kitted up (full wet suit with hood and boots), fins and weight belt and were instructed to sit on the edge of the boat, with no buoyancy device on, plus if we fell out of the boat we would have to pay $20 per weight we would have to shed (we had eight each, not something we could afford to do, but drowning was not an option either). Anyway once you were on the edge clinging for dear life they put the BCD and tank on you. This resulted in the tank pulling the BCD down, so it was difficult to tighten properly. Luckily we knew what it should have felt like so we made sure they were correct. Normally we sit in the boat while all our kit is being put on and fins and mask are last so at least you are safe in the boat if you get unbalanced. Once everything was on they had us all roll in at once, again not something we had done before, we normally did one at a time each side.

Anyway we got in the water and started to descend-or everyone else disappeared into the darkness as I sat like a cork on the surface. My hood filled like a balloon, poor Gav had reached the bottom and with such poor viability (see the video below) he was panicking slightly as he couldn’t find me.  The divemaster came back up, told me to put my hood back so that it was around my neck and gave me two extra weights and then finally I got down and we continued to dive. The visibility was terrible though, the earthquake had been felt throughout Ecuador and had caused a lot of upset to the sea floor.

During our surface interval we saw some sea lions and some fur seals…no penguins though sadly. Dive two was much better though at nearby Cousins Rock but I did nearly fall in before I had all my kit on due to the boat roll.

After the fist dive one of the other divers was sitting on the boat feeling quite poorly, we later found out she had whacked her head on the tank when she rolled in for the first dive. She was lucky she didn’t do more damage than a headache (we saw that family the next day and she was ok).

The way back we got out lunch was very rough so we finished just in time I think. Poor Gav ended up not having a lunch as he was feeling dodgy.Then it was back to the harbour and a taxi back to the dive shop for the debrief. We took it easy that evening, mostly because we both were still feeling a bit nauseous.

The following day we headed out to the  Giant Tortoise Reserve – Rancho Primicias. To avoid the $15 taxi fee we got the bus to Santa Rosa and then walked the 4 km to the reserve (we were thankful for the overcast weather).

On our last full day in the Galapagos we took a water taxi across the bay to Las Grietas – a giant crack formed as the lava cooled producing a fresh water area for swimming. Unfortunately we managed to hit it just as a massive tour group showed up so we abandoned the swim in favour of going back to Tortuga bay.

That evening we headed back to market for dinner so nothing new there.

The following morning we had a few hours to kill to get to the airport so we went for a wander before loading into a taxi to get us to the ferry. Annoyingly we left far, far too early so we ended up having to hang around the airport for ages (there is nowhere decent to eat their either) but anyway a few hours later we were on the plane and on the way back to Quito and to our hostel for the night.

The following morning we were leaving for our final backpacking country, Colombia! After a quick breakfast and some snacks for the journey we got a taxi to Terminal Terrestre de Carcelén. We got caught by a guy from Tulcan Turismo express and the price for the tickets (inc. passenger tax) was in the region we expected (less than $7 each) and we were escorted to an empty bus where we had to sit for 15 mins before everyone else arrived. One thing we did learn about Ecuadorians was that they are experts at timekeeping, literally two seconds before the bus was leaving everyone arrived and it went from an empty bus to packed full!

Due to the size of the seats, Gav was in crippling agony for the whole journey but for me I was constantly entertained by the plethora of things for sale as people popped on and off the buses at junctions or stops. There were amongst others: ice-cream, frittatas, pastries, soft drinks, crisps, apples (seven in a bag), fruit, bean salads and something else we weren’t sure of.  But after five hours we were definitely glad to get off, if nothing else then to use the toilet! We arrived at Tulcan at 3.30 pm, a quick toilet break and we were at the border by taxi by 3.45 pm, stamped out and ready for our last country of South America, the beautiful Colombia!

[Its worth mentioning that if we hadn’t planned to go to the Galapagos we would have gone pretty much straight through Ecuador, the protectionist economy there has made it insanely expensive in comparison to Peru or Colombia which we could easily have spent even more time in.]

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