We’ve wrapped up our time in the Galapagos and headed onward from that magical place. I was going to just briefly talk about our last couple of relaxing days, but then I reread Bob’s last entry where he was supposed to talk about our volcano hike but instead seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing $7 dinners instead. (Not that I also didn’t appreciate the $7 dinners.)
Our hike was a guided tour of the Sierra Negra volcano (the largest on this island at 1200 meters) and the nearby, much smaller Volcan Chico. It was a fascinating glimpse into the dramatic variations in ecosystems here. As we hiked up to the Sierra Negra crater, everything was shrouded in mist. We were surrounded by greenery — mostly guabana and guava trees. Eventually we could see that the land seemed to just end on our left, and thus assumed we had reached the crater — but we could see nothing but white.
After reaching the top, we started down the other side — and immediately, we were in another world. The mist vanished, the sun shone down, and stretching for miles ahead of us in all directions were fields of lava rocks, interspersed with fumaroles, lava tubes, craters where lava tubes had collapsed, and the occasional cactus. We were able to see lava that had existed for 15,000 years, alongside lava from the last major eruption in 1979. It was an otherworldly landscape.
Crater of Sierra Negra
When we made the return trek, we had another surprise waiting for us — the mist on the mountaintop had cleared, and we were able to see across the Sierra Negra crater — the second largest in the world. I think our guide said it was 10 km in diameter. The steeply sloping sides were covered with greenery, and the bottom was black lava rock. It almost looked like cliffs dropping into the sea. By the time we got back down to the beginning of the trail, we were back in the mist.
This trip entailed almost 10 miles of walking, but it wasn’t too steep and the kids handled it fine. Unfortunately, disappointment awaited back in town. Every day we’ve been passing a place that sells milkshakes, and it’s had a sign saying it was closed until Monday. We took this to mean that it would be open the day of our hike, and that we could reward ourselves with milkshakes afterwards. Alas, apparently they meant closed through Monday. As a consolation prize I allowed them to get double-scoop ice cream cones. (We’ve been getting ice cream pretty much every day and calling it “lunch”, but usually I hold firm to the single scoop. We went back Tuesday for milk shakes and they were delicious.)
Priscilla and Sandra at La Jungla Hostal — highly recommended!
Tuesday was our last full day on Isabela. We rented snorkels and headed down to a little cove by the dock where you can enjoy world-class snorkeling right from shore. At first we didn’t see too much other than some colorful fish, but eventually we were rewarded by the arrival of a sea lion. If anyone out there maintains a bucket list, I would suggest adding “snorkel with sea lions” to it. Unlike the other sea creatures, the sea lions here are friendly and playful. They literally swim circles around you, flipping and diving, clearly mocking you for your inferior swimming skills. Sometimes one will dart right at you, coming within inches of your mask before jerking back and veering off to the side. You can almost here them shouting “boo!” and snickering as you fall back in alarm. This one swam with us for 10 or 15 minutes of sheer delight.
In the evening we enjoyed our last $7 dinner, accompanied by two other guests at our hotel — Jeremy from New Zealand and Isabel from Germany. We’ve discovered that one of the $7 restaurants seems to be a cut above the others, and greatly enjoyed our dinner of cream of carrot soup, fish/shrimp/chicken with rice, passion fruit juice, and some kind of delicious cake.
Our boat back to Santa Cruz wasn’t until 3pm on Wednesday, and Sandra kindly let us stay in our room until then — so we rented body boards for the kids and enjoyed a final morning on our beautiful beach. We had plenty of time to make our way to the dock, and this time our boat actually left on time! On the other hand, it was 2 people over the posted capacity, so conditions were rather cramped. (The way they handle boat passengers here is very amusing to me. Clearly they don’t want any clueless tourists ending up in the wrong place, so when you check in they give you a large laminated placard with the name of your boat that you wear around your neck. So essentially we’re labeled like pieces of luggage. I like the system, though, as it gives a bit of confidence that if you’re going the wrong way someone will notice.)
Labeled for the “Gabi”
After a pleasant dinner and an uneventful night back in Puerto Ayora, we headed back to the airport this morning to embark on the last leg of our trip — 5 days in Quito, Ecuador. Our delayed-travel curse definitely seems to be broken, as we were taxing down the runway 15 minutes before our flight was even scheduled to depart. The first leg, to Guayaquil, was amazingly smooth.
The hop from Guayaquil to Quito was another matter. The former is at sea level, and the latter at 3000 meters elevation, in the middle of the Andes. As we approached Quito, it wasn’t so much that the plane descended as that the
Snow-capped mountain as seen from the airport parking lot
land rose up to meet us. And suddenly the plane was rocking with turbulence in heavy winds. Finally, as we struggled with nausea, we approached the runway — only to have the plane pull back up at that last minute. At this point some of the more dramatic passengers on the plane began to wail and pray. Fortunately, on the second pass the wind apparently died down and we landed uneventfully.
On our ramblings tonight we found a parking lot full of food trucks. We enjoyed some fresh-made Homer Simpson mini-doughnuts.
Now we’re ensconced in an absolutely amazing 3-bedroom apartment I rented on airbnb. We’re on the 10th floor with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the park and the city beyond. From the rooftop deck, we can see almost the whole city, which is in the shape of a bowl inside the mountains. Our host, who picked us up at the airport, was incredibly helpful. So far, we aren’t suffering too much from the altitude. We can’t wait to explore tomorrow.
This is what $90/night gets you in Quito.