Thursday, November 30, 2006

Plaza sur

Today I joined a tour to Islas Plaza (63$ incl.lunch). More specifically to the southern one of the two islands. Together with sixteen other tourists and two guides, we first drove for almost an hour across Santa Cruz, passing through several vegetation zones, then boarded the Santa Fe II, a small boat, for the cross-over to Plaza sur, a 90' sail. Along the way, frigates suddenly start flying close besides the boat. The reason's soon clear: at the stern, the cook is cleaning some fish for lunch.

 Frigate
As we approach our landing place, we are greeted by barking Galapagos sea-lions. Dominant males each cruising their stretch of shore, keeping an eye on their harem. Females sunbathing among the big rocks, feeding their young. Puppies waiting for their mommy to return. Plaza sur is indeed home to a whole colony of sea-lions. And I can get real close to some.

 Sea-lion
Besides these, on the surface, very lazy animals, there're also plenty of land & marine iguanas and several kinds of sea-gulls nesting on the steep cliff-side of the island.

 Land iguana
Note that day-trips like this one are not the best way to see the Galapagos. Unless you don't mind spending most of your precious time in transportation to & from the various islands. But, if like me you've got a few days to acclimatize before the real show, then of course it's an option.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Santa Cruz: Tortuga bay

It's a 45' hot walk from the hotel to Tortuga bay, along a paved path cutting through dense scrubs and cactus trees. There's a great beach there with some surf. As I approach some black lava rocks, my eyes suddenly focus on something that moved. And it's not alone. Perfectly blending in with the rocks are at least a dozen marine iguanas, absorbing the sun's heat. I'd say the bigger ones are about 75cm.

 Marine iguana
Later on, walking along the beach, I notice more of them lazing in the sand. 15' later I come to a protected lagoon, where it's possible to swim around without being pulled down by the dangerous under-tow. The sun's burning by now. Good thing I put on some sunscreen and brought a bottle of water.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Santa Cruz: Puerto Ayora

Sea level. Plenty of oxygen in the air. And with a temperature of about 25°C, it's a nice bit warmer too. To get down here from Quito took me almost 7 hours by SUV, plane, bus, mini-ferry, bus and taxi. I'm not sure they knew I was coming at Hotel Silberstein, but I got a room anyway. From the hotel it's only a short walk to the Charles Darwin station, where I saw some pretty ugly giant tortoises and some very cool golden land iguanas, frigate birds gliding in the sky high above and pelicans flying by just above the cactusses.

The cost of living seems to be surprisingly low here. For only 3$ I had an almuerzo in "Rincon del Alma", a small family run place. Nothing fancy, just honest home-made filling food for hungry travelers. And pretty good value, considering I got a glass of almond milk, a bean-potato-cheese soup, rice with fried platane and meat stew and a flan as desert. 1/2l of water costs 35cents. 1/2l Gatorade 1$. Internet 2$/hr. Ecuador uses US dollars as currency.

Puerto Ayora is the main town on Santa Cruz, the second largest island of the Galapagos.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Quito

After a 28 hour journey by car, 2 trains, 2 planes and SUV I find myself in Quito, capital of Ecuador, a small country on the north-west coast of South-America. Located on the eastern slopes of the Pichincha, a 4794m high active strato-volcano in the Andes mountains, Quito, with an elevation of 2808m, is the second highest city on this planet. (Tip: To avoid altitude sickness, it's recommended to drink a lot.)


I arrived here yesterday evening, the plane litterally landing in the middle of the city, narrowly streched out over 50km between the mountain flanks.

I'm only here in transit though, a short stop-over before continuing my journey tomorrow morning, to the Enchanted Islands...

Curious about what a guy like me does when having a resting day? At 6:30 I enjoyed a nice buffet style breakfast, while the clouds drifted over the city and planes started coming in. At 8:30, in order to loosen up my travel-cramped muscles, I did 50' of fitness in the hotel's gym, followed by a warm relaxing bath and cooling rest. Then, at 10:30, to get at least a sense of the city and its people, I chartered a taxi for a private city tour. Pepe, the cab-driver, driving me by the most interesting places while giving me some background info every now and then. En EspaƱol. Two hours, 25$. That's about as much culture as I can take in a jet-lagged day :o) Back at Hotel Quito, I then had a decent, though at 15$ rather pricey, buffet style lunch. Followed by some blogging (3$/hr). At 16:00 I got a 50' massage to relax some more. Having been warned several times to be very careful outside, and there not really being anything nearby that looks like a nice place to eat, I decide to call room-service around 19:00... Bad choice. Must have been the worst burger in my life :o( Wake-up call tomorrow is at 5:30, so a night in town is out of the question. Not really a problem as there's a 6 hour time difference with Europe, and at 20:00 I'm about falling over.