A Travellerspoint blog

Change of Plans

Life-Threatening Moments

overcast 27 °C

We returned to Quito after thoroughly enjoying our Galapagos tour, ready for a rest and also sick and tired of traveling. It was rather strange actually. We were both completely fed up with the tourists we were meeting and we were both dreading continuing our travels through Ecuador and into Peru. You see, Peru is a gringo hotspot because it’s where the infamous Machu Picchu is found. There are zillions of tours that travel throughout Peru and we had encountered many tourists who told us of the inflated prices and infestation of tourists found in cities such as Cuzco (the start off point for many Machu Picchu tours). As it was, we couldn’t walk more than two blocks in Quito without running into other tourists.

Luckily we were staying in a lovely hostel where we could rest and take our time deciding what we wanted to do next. That’s when it came to us: Our decision. We looked into our hearts and listened to our guts and realized we didn’t care if we traveled more in South America – especially in Peru. More important than that, we realized we were missing Tango and wanted to return to Buenos Aires to dance. However, we ARE loving the warmer weather found in this part of the continent (Buenos Aires is in the midst of their winter) and we had read that Ecuador could be a good and cheap place to study Spanish. With that, we booked a flight to return to Buenos Aires on the 5th of August from Lima, Peru and we researched Spanish schools found on the coast of Ecuador. A last minute decision brought us to Manta (pop. 230,000) for a little over three weeks.

Before we continue with our current events, let us tell you what felt like a life-threatening moment. We woke up one morning in Quito and Jorge kept rubbing his neck. He kept repeating, “I need to take a pill.” K said, “Stop rubbing it. It’ll be fine.” K was thinking about Ecuador and the weather and said, “Isn’t it strange how it’s the dry season, but it’s completely cloudy every day?” Jorge didn’t understand so K repeated again. When Jorge still didn’t understand what K was saying, K got really worried. The worry intensified when Jorge was still rubbing his neck, but kept saying, “My leg hurts.” He looked very confused and wasn’t speaking properly or with ease. At this point, K started crying and became extremely worried. She went downstairs, crying, to ask the hostel owner for help. He called a taxi to take us to the hospital.

We were very fortunate that we did not have to wait to see a doctor in emergency (completely unheard of eh?!). The doctor performed many simple tests to check his motor skills and then decided to give Jorge an I.V. drip to replenish his fluids, plus a pain killer for the neck ache that was becoming an intense headache, and a head scan/x-ray.

We spent over 5 hours at the hospital (the bag for an I.V. drip takes a couple of hours to empty) and were very happy to find out Jorge was fine and ready to go home. Nothing was found on the scan and Jorge was no longer having problems thinking and speaking. The doctor was fantastic and we were very happy that we were able to understand and communicate a little in Spanish or else this would have been an even more terrifying experience than it already was. It’s possible that Jorge’s symptoms were a predecessor to a migraine (which never came), related to the altitude (2800m above sea level), or related to being somewhat dehydrated. Whatever it was, it was extremely frightening for K (Jorge claims he wasn’t scared at all, but was more upset by how upset it was making K). K has never felt such raw thoughtless emotion in her life and she still has difficulty thinking about all of it without beginning to cry all over again.

After that experience, we only felt more certain that our decision for the rest of our travels was the right one. So here we are in Manta taking Spanish lessons for three weeks. We have four hours of lessons per day, five days a week, from 1.30pm to 5.30pm that we take together (this is considered a group class and ends up costing us $4USD less per hour). Most people take 1-on-1 classes, but we like this format since we can bounce things off each other and be more entertained. We were provided with a (slightly) furnished apartment one block away from the school that we share with one American guy. The apartment is very roomy and airy, we have our own bathroom in our bedroom (with hot water), a decent kitchen area, and a huge balcony. The main negatives are that our bathroom stinks (what else is new in South America?!) and it’s a very loud area (every car driving by sounds like a huge truck). However, we really like it and we especially love that there is tons of space to dance Tango.

Every day, we ATTEMPT to wake up at 9.30am, enjoy a slow filling breakfast, and have the option to walk 20 minutes to the beach, spend about an hour there, walk back, get showered/dressed, and head to class. After class, we can go eat dinner or go buy groceries. After that, there’s nothing much to do in this ghost-town (nor is it safe to be out at night) so we relax and watch one or many of the TV shows/movies that a friend/co-worker was so kind to copy over unto our computer (you rock K.S.!).

The weather is perfect here. It’s actually really hard to believe we’re at the equator because it isn’t boiling hot. Every day is basically the same: 27 degrees, with very little humidity, and cloudy. The sun may come out for a bit in the afternoon, but never lasts all day. This means we can wear summer clothes all day but never get sweaty. It’s the first time in K’s life she hasn’t been cold at any point in a day! It’s awesome!

Manta is a sprawled out city that feels like a ghost-town. It’s not pretty at all, there are more closed-down stores than open ones, and the only saving grace for us is the really big and wide beach (there’s also an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool we want to check out). On our first full day here, we were almost mugged in broad daylight. We were on our way to see the beach and started to walk down a quieter side street. We noticed two guys who obviously knew each other, nod to one another, and split apart. One of them began to walk quickly to get ahead of us while the other stayed behind us. We immediately crossed the street and they both began to follow us across. At that moment, we both spun on our heels and walked the five meters back to the main road. Jorge even noticed the front guy start to pull something out of his pocket (a knife?). This was definitely one of those situations we feel very thankful that we were able to avoid. This was the most threatening situation we’ve been in (far more so than the two guys who were trying to open/take K’s backpack from under her seat on the bus here from Quito), plus this time Jorge had his camera equipment with him. One of he main reasons we were able to avoid it so well was thanks to an American we met in our hostel in Quito. He had told us about being mugged in that exact way in Chicago.

We hope we’ll be able to keep all our things safe in our apartment. We trust our roommate (we think), but we definitely do not trust his judgment. Our second night here he went out and brought home a local one-night stand. We trust no one here and we know that the majority are opportunistic thieves (like the guy at the store last night who decided to jip us 10 cents in change for the popsicles we bought). We talked to our roommate and told him he simply can’t be bringing locals and people we don’t know to our apartment (it’s our request, but it’s actually a stated rule for living in the apartment). He apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again… and if it does, we’ll go straight to the school director and we think he’ll be kicked out immediately.

We’ll be here until the 30th of July when we’ll head to Guayaquil for 2 or 3 nights. From there, we’ll take a direct bus to Lima (our LAST bus ride – 24 hours), spend 2 nights there and then fly to Buenos Aires!!!

Posted by moveimove 11:21 Archived in Ecuador Tagged events Comments (0)

The Galapagos Islands

10-Day Tour

overcast 23 °C

Day 1 - Quito

After spending most of our traveling time in hostels, we were treated to a REAL hotel the first day of GAP tour. So real in fact, that we didn’t want to leave the room! A huge king-size bed with nice blankets and fluffy pillows, a lovely bathroom, a TV with multi-channels, and the room was warm! We did manage to get out and buy some junk food and we ate at the food stalls by the grocery store. The food was excellent, fresh, spicy and local.

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Day 2 – Baltra/Santa Cruz

We had the best, included, buffet breakfast at the hotel and (almost) happily woke up at 5am in order to fully enjoy it. Our group of 15 had to be ready and checked-out by 7am in order to catch our flight to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands. From the airport, we took a bus, a ferry, and another bus to get us to the dingy that would bring us to our tour boat. The bus trip across the island actually took us from desert through lush green hills to coastal warmth.

Our boat turned out to be far more impressive than we were lead to believe on the website. It was a lot bigger and a lot prettier. We also scored with our pre-assigned cabin. We got the best one on the middle deck at the front. It was the biggest cabin that had a window AND a double bed (plus a bunk on top)!

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Unfortunately, K found out that sea-sickness would be an issue. We came prepared and after feeling quite nauseous on the boat, K popped a pill after our first land excursion. Thankfully she did because the traveling at night was extremely rocky. In fact, it was so rocky that there we numerous frightful awakenings when it felt like the boat may actually tip over.

Our first land excursion took us to see huge land tortoises and giant lava tunnels (imagine caves). Both were incredible sites, but we were itching for more.

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Day 3 - Floreana

We had breakfast at 7am and we were out on the dingy by 8am. By dingy we saw frigates, pelicans, sea lions, sea turtles, little tiny penguins, and land iguanas.

The island was beautiful although very desert like with colours of silver and shades of brown. The mangrove plants by the shore add the only real green to be seen, but create a magnificent contrast along with the blue of the ocean.

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We returned to the boat and drove to another section of the island where we were taken by dinghy to snorkel by one of the islets/big rocks. We were a little nervous at first because the water was extremely choppy and it was very deep. However, all went well (snorkeling = floating effortlessly in the water) and it was absolutely incredible! There were tons of colourful fish of all different sizes and the visibility was great. The coolest part was snorkeling within inches of the sea lions. We could have pinched their noses!
To top it off, within minutes of returning to our boat and taking off, we were treated to dolphins swimming alongside us! They were only a few feet away from us and they were having fun being pushed by the water off the front of the boat.

We then had lunch at noon and siesta time for two hours after which we went to land again for a walk across the island. We saw a few flamingos in the distance and once we reached the other side, we were able to walk into the water and come within inches of many small stingrays. There was also one lone crane on the beach who stood by while everyone took photos.

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We were able to snorkel from the beach and saw some sea turtles (we followed one as he came up for air) and there was one particularly playful and attention seeking sea lion who got closer and closer to us. We were waiting for him to finally nip us – that’s how close he was getting! He actually showed his teeth inches from Jorge’s face… hopefully all in fun??

Dinner was at 7pm and upon returning to our cabin, K realized she was going to have to take another seasick pill. We actually videotaped Jorge tap dancing around the cabin as the boat flung him from side to side (Dad, you would have been green!).

Day 4 - Espanola

Breakfast was at 7:15am and we were off to land at 8:15am where there was a 1.5km long white beach with dozens of sea lions napping on the shore. There were also many mocking birds that seemed to prefer running than flying. Like most of the animals here, they came within inches of you. We saw one golden head iguana that was about a foot long and a couple tiny ones.

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We were able to snorkel from the beach to the big rock in the distance. The visibility was quite bad and there wasn’t nearly as many fish as the day before. However, we did get to see three white-tip reef sharks hiding under the rocks. Two of them came out for a swim and were over 4-feet long!

After lunch and siesta, we were off to another part of the island for 2.5 hours of hiking. Here we saw many Waved Albatrosses. These are such ancient looking birds that look completely ridiculous trying to walk. Yet they usually choose to walk instead of flying. We were lucky enough to see their mating calls and dance – very amusing! We also saw a Galapagos Hawk, a Heron, some Galapagos Sea Gulls, and we saw a natural blowhole.

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Day 5 – Baltra/North Seymour

Early in the morning we took a dinghy ride through the mangroves. This wasn’t particularly exciting. We didn’t see too much wildlife to make it worth inhaling all the boat motor exhaust. We did see some turtles and we vaguely saw some sharks.

After returning to the boat, we ate breakfast and returned to the port in order to drop off and pick up passengers (some people only chose to do a 5 day tour). In the afternoon, we went to North Seymour Island and this island was the most incredible with regards to wildlife. This is where we saw the most birds in close proximity. We saw Frigates mating. The males blow up the little red sack under their beak to show off. We saw many Blue-Footed Boobies – also mating. Their mating dance is soooooo cute. The female, as usual, ignores the male. The male proceeds to do this very difficult move whereby he lifts one foot at a time. Yep, that’s it. He also spreads both his wings while lowering his head. Both the male and female make this really interesting bird call that sounds like a not-quite-whistle.

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At some point this day, we snorkeled and saw a humongous (Spotted?) Eagle Ray swim by. Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t very good, so it wasn’t as clear of a sighting as we would have liked. We also got to hold star fish in a variety of colours.

Day 6 – Rabida/Puerto Egas on Santiago

In the morning we walked around red beach Rabida where we saw land hermits and beautiful landscape. We viewed the lagoon where Flamingos USED TO be, but there aren’t any these days. Afterwards, we snorkeled and didn’t see anything new – yes, our expectations just got higher and higher.

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In the afternoon, we had lovely sunny weather to visit Puerto Egas/James Bay where Darwin spent his time researching the island and its animals. We saw many Marine Iguanas and finished our day with snorkeling off the black sand beach. Jorge snorkeled without K. this time and enjoyed swimming along with some turtles.

Day 7 – Sombrero Chino/Bartolome

We spent the morning investigating the lava island of Sombrero Chino. There were some interesting lava tubes here as well as many dead animal carcasses. On a second trip off the boat, we hiked up to the small summit off Bartolome. The view was the most spectacular we would see. The view included a double-sided beach directly below with a volcanic tower rising only slightly out of the water next to it.

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In the afternoon, we returned to the double-sided golden beach where we walked over sand dunes to the shark side. Within two steps into the water, you could see about a dozen white-tip reef sharks resting. It was pretty incredible.

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Back on the non-shark side, we snorkeled again. This was finally our chance to see and swim with a few of the little penguins!! One little guy swam right up to K’s face in a flash and then slowly turned around while hovering/snorkeling. K couldn’t resist and touched the little guy’s foot with her index finger. Little guy was gone in a flash after that :o)

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Day 8 – South Plaza/Santa Fe

Although we saw two islands, we can’t seem to remember which was which. Both islands gave us the opportunity to see Land Iguanas (and hybrids – a mix of land and marine iguanas seen on South Plaza Island) eating prickly pears from the cactus. We also saw some Pelicans with their nesting babies.

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We chose not to snorkel this day, but we did manage to find the courage to jump off the top of our boat into the water. Plus we also saw a “school” of about a dozen Eagle Rays swimming by.

Day 9 – Santa Cruz to Quito

Finally our last day had arrived. We were itching to get back on dry land especially after having to deal with the travel and anchor location of that night. We were up earlier than normal to eat and leave for land. Our last activity involved a visit to the Darwin Centre to see baby tortoises and some of the older ones as well.

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Our flight ended up being delayed by a couple hours. This meant we were denied a couple hours of enjoying our awesome hotel (included in the tour)! For dinner we ordered in a pizza that either did or didn’t make sick in the middle of the night. We actually think it had more to do with food eaten on the boat or the altitude of Quito (2800m above sea level).

In Conclusion

The food left a lot to the imagination and was definitely gringo-oriented. On top of that, food ran out and that was absolutely unacceptable (buffet style!?), especially after the way we were fed on our Lost City trek (where donkeys and two people were carrying the food). We’ve never been on this kind of organized tour… and we’ll never be on one again. Although the people were nice, they are also the kind of people who see the world, but never try to know the world. During our 10 day tour, we barely heard any Spanish and we didn’t eat any local food. We both got sick two times each (along with others at different times) due to the food and this speaks volumes about asking people to cook foods that are not typical of their culture. On top of that, tours herd you like animals and give you no chance to interact with the culture you’re in… and they charge you twice the price of doing it on your own!?

The weather was warm (25 degrees) but cool and the water was the coldest we’ve ever snorkeled in. Luckily, we were able to rent wetsuits for the week.

The Galapagos Island tour was really amazing and is now tied with our Lost City trek as the highlight of our year in South America. However, we can’t help but feel that the Galapagos Islands are a little bit over-hyped. There are many, many animals, but not nearly as many as you have been lead to believe. The landscapes are beautiful but become repetitive and are not particularly jaw-dropping. Being on a boat, however nice, sucks! Yet it is the only real way to see the islands. This is one of those things often left unsaid: Most people will suffer from seasickness and it is not pleasant. A week later, seeing a boat still brings on feelings of nausea in us. Finally, we have no regrets spending the ridiculous amount of money we spent to go on this tour, however, the cost of these tours truly is the perfect representation of how gringos are f**ked over financially in South America. (Don’t even get us started on the topic of the $120USD tip each of the 16 passengers are “suggested” to leave for the 9 person crew for an 8-day tour… in a country where we have been told the “average” monthly salary is $150USD!?)

OK, but to end on a positive note: It WAS amazing.

Posted by moveimove 11:29 Archived in Ecuador Tagged events Comments (0)

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