A Journey through the Andes, Amazon and Galapagos Islands

Thursday, July 23, 2015

God is our Co-Pilot

Our friend, neighbor and American Airlines pilot, Dave, greeted us at the gate in Guayaquil. He was looking all dapper and professional and told us he would be flying us home!!! It was a crazy thrill to be on Dave's 767. (With a first class upgrade, too!) Our usual outings consist of Dave at the helm of his boat.

While touring the city, we said a prayer in the Guayaquil cathedral on Wednesday. We thanked God for all of our blessings on this 18 day journey. The support at home from our family, friends and amazing neighbors reduced the worry of being gone so long.

The trip was challenging, sometimes strenuous and very foreign in so many ways. We are safe, healthy and little wiser.

A fairytale ending indeed!

Thanks for following along.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

El Capitan Bar: First Night and Last Night

We are so predictable! Our amazing journey through Ecuador started and ended at the same bar in Guayaquil. We enjoyed a passion fruit cocktail before the 8pm shuttle for a red-eye to Miami.

A Last Tour in the Cloud Forest

Our amazing tour guide for the week, Daniel Sanchez, escorted us on our final tour around Santa Cruz. We stopped in the Cloud Forest for a beautiful vista and photo shoot before heading to the airport.

Our flight to Guayaquil was packed and we had a real third-world experience with humans, up close and personal.

Back in the lap of luxury at the Oro Verde hotel, 10 remaining travelers met for martinis and dinner in the lobby. A quiet, still and comfy king size bed was a real treat!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

One Casualty of the Trip

Excuse all the typos, it's rather difficult to proof read my blog entries. One small crack developed into a major problem after another drop.

Santa Cruz

Our group of 13 tourists, now all good friends, wait for the final panga trip to shore.

A Day in Civilization

The end of our adventure is drawing near. After an all-night sail, the Beagle anchored in Puerto Villamil, a small port on the southeast tip of Isabela. The group boarded an open-air bus and toured the first sights of human life in the Galápagos Islands while in route to Centro De Crianza (Tortoise Breeding Center).

A nice walking path, leading to the beach front, meandered around wildlife and graceful flamingos. It was fun to see hotels, restaurants and waterfront homes.

It didn't take us long to find an Internet cafe. Everyone buried their heads in personal devices and caught up with life over a coke or beer.

Back on the Beagle, the sails were raised for an afternoon journey to our final destination: Santa Cruz. We had an especially lovely white-tablecloth dinner and champagne as we reminisced about an amazing week of exploration and friendship.

Punta Moreno

The final snorkeling adventure of the trip was Sunday afternoon in Punta Moreno. The water was severe clear and chilly. We saw all of our usual friends in the water with an emphasis on big 'ol turtles. It was so pleasant. Some people saw seahorses and Port Jackson sharks, too.

After the snorkel, a group went hiking on shore over a strenuous lava rock climb. I decided to chill on the yacht with a group of beer-drinking-lazy-bones friends. It's been a busy and challenging trip.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Fun Day

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It was a fun morning in the mangroves off of Elizabeth Bay on the panga.

Here is a Galápagos penguin.

Spotted Eagle Ray

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Sea Turtle Swimming

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Dolphins Everywhere

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Blue-Footed Boobies Feeding Frenzy

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Urbina Bay

The Beagle cruised down the western coast of Isabela and anchored in Urbina Bay. We took the panga for a wet landing on the beach in search of land iguana and turtles. It was probably the hottest day of the week and the animals were hard to find.

Yellow jacket bees and wasps were everywhere. It was hard for me to keep it together when a swarm was nearby. I got stung on my baby finger and it hurt like hell. I had no interest in the hunt for creatures among the distracting bees.

After a quick swim, with turtle and penguin sightings, we were back on the Beagle and enjoyed fruity cocktails, wine, dinner and lots of laughs while cruising to Elizabeth Bay.

Punta Espinosa

Located on the youngest island in the Galapagos, Fernandina, Punta Espinosa is covered in rough lava and is host to the largest marine iguana population. We had a challenging hike after breakfast and have seen enough iguana to last a lifetime.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lake Darwin and Tagus Cove

Isabela

The crew pulled up anchor just before 6am. After a calm and restful night, most of the group was on deck for sunrise whale watching. We cruised over to a dramatic cove, Punta Vicente Roca, where we enjoyed the marine life from a morning panga ride along the rocky shore wall. We saw our first penguin of the trip.

We then suited up for a snorkel and shared the spot with giant sea turtles, sea lions, flightless cormorants and all sorts of beautiful fish. It was a magical morning.

As we cruised south on Isabela's northwest coast, the group on deck spotted an orca whale followed by another thrill, a sperm whale! So exciting.

We anchored at Tagus Cove and some of us took kayaks for a spin before our hike to Darwin Lake. It was good to stretch our legs and climb past the scenic vistas. The graffiti left by generations of pirates and whalers was unsightly but curious, with the oldest scribble dating back to 1836.

After a spaghetti dinner, we did some Southern Hemisphere star gazing before falling fast asleep. What an amazing day!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Crossing the Equator

The boat crossed the Equator four times on our cruise. We were sleeping for two crossings and celebrated the other two in the bridge of the Beagle. It felt like midnight at Times Square on NYE. We will spend the remainder of this trip in the Southern Hemisphere.

Santiago

It was another rough night at sea. The Beagle cruised from Genovesa to Santiago during the night and left us all sleepless. After breakfast, we took the panga to shore for a hike round the island. The black sand and lava formations were dramatic. Pools and underwater caverns were mesmerizing. Lots of wildlife.

After lunch on the boat we retuned to the shores of Santiago for snorkeling. The water wasn't as clear as Genovesa, but a beautiful variety of fish provided great entertainment.

The captain raised the sails on the Beagle for the first time and we spent the afternoon cruising over to Isabela Island. Back in the Southern Hemisphere, we had a lazy day of sailing.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Snorkeling Near Genovesa

The afternoon snorkel in Genovesa was spectacular. We saw all kinds of beautiful fish. The water was so clear and the panga stayed very close to us as we meandered along the shoreline, heads bobbing in the water while sea lions and seals frolicked above.

Genovesa

It was a loud and wavy first night on the Beagle as we cruised into the northern hemisphere. The breakfast bell rang at 7am and we all surfaced from our cabins feeling a little groggy. We were in the panga at 7:45am heading over to Genovesa, aka Tower Island.

There were so many birds! We were delighted to see plenty of red-footed boobies. We saw eggs, babies, juveniles, moms and dads. So cute. The creatures showed no fear of humans and allowed us to get up close and personal.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Baltra to Santa Cruz

Our plane touched down on Baltra just before noon. Customs and immigration was no major factor in our transition to the Islands. After a five minute bus ride, we boarded a panga and bounced our way over to the anchored Beagle.

The crew provided a warm welcome and a thorough logistical briefing of boat life. The six couples settled into their private cabins, changed clothes and gear for island exploration then enjoyed a light fish stew while cruising.

A wet landing put us on the most populated island of the Galapagos, Santa Cruz. We were immediately greeted by blue-footed boobies, a variety of fearless crabs, iguana and one beautiful, sun-bathing flamingo. We walked the beach in awe as our guide spoke.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The People of the Amazonian Sani Community

The people we have had the pleasure to meet on this journey will be forever in our hearts. We are departing for our sail boat, the "Beagle" named for Charles Darwin's boat in the famed Galapagos findings. Internet may be scarce in the islands, but hopefully I will be posting again soon.

Monday, July 13, 2015

We Made It!

Three nights in the jungle! The scariest part of this whole adventure was getting in bed for the night. Day four in the rainforest and we are all safe and sound. One woman in the group, Frances, slipped on the wet walkway and threw her shoulder out, but she'll be fine.

The group was allowed to sleep in today as we are having a late breakfast followed an excursion into the village for lunch.

We are packing for a late afternoon departure back to Quito for the night and to collect our checked bags at the hotel. We were only allowed one small bag for the jungle trip.

Then off to the Galápagos Islands we go!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Essential Oils and the Jungle

My new found fascination with the curative properties of essential oils was validated in the jungle on Sunday.

Our group went on an expedition to visit the village shaman. The kind old man, learning his craft from previous generations in his family, spoke of the resources available from indigenous plants to treat and often cure disease in his village.

The more I learn about plants and their inherent gifts, the more I am convinced that the essence extracted can provide a powerful remedy.

I packed a little first aid kit for this trip including some useful and multi-purpose oils. Even my most doubting husband has a new-found respect for plant-based therapeutic options.

While most of the group is using the very dangerous bug repellent, deet, in the jungle, I'm using a naturally derived blend of essential oils with seemingly the same success.

Pioneering Patty

Scared-of-a-mouse, Patty, totally rallied to become a fearless rainforest trailblazer on Saturday. The pioneering woman conquered her fear of heights by climbing up to the canopy and taking in the sights from the treetops.

We were both a little reluctant to go on a night hike in the jungle, but somehow we decided that together we can do this; and we did!

In the canoe, the stars above were simply majestic. A caiman hiding in the weeds, with glowing eyes peering out at us, scared the heck out of us as he bolted away from the approaching canoe. With hearts pounding, we entered the jungle with our husbands and two guides. It was pretty cool. We still haven't seen an anaconda, but we did see a tarantula, among other creepy crawlers.

A life-changing trip for all!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Birds, Bugs, Monkeys and Turtles

We started our day for a 5:30am breakfast call. The coffee is fabulous and so is the food. On to the canoe for another day of adventure. Our group of 13 people have been divided into two groups for ease in travel and keeping the noise down in anticipation of animal sightings.

After a muddy hike in the forest, we came upon a gigantic tree parallel to a scaffolding-like structure with 204 stairs leading to the canopy of the rainforest.

Climbing with binoculars and cameras, we were all excited to be right where we were.

Three independent enthusiasts had been on the platform since 4:00am. They had scopes and mad skills for spotting. We saw some beautiful creatures, including amazing flora.

Freaked out in the Jungle

Our friend Patty is in a minor state of panic after our first day in the rainforest. She's having trouble keeping it together and fear Is getting the best of her. Her cabin didn't have hot water so she wanted to shower in our bathroom. After I told her about the mouse I saw in my shower she left our cabin near tears.

It was a terror filled day hiking near our lodge, beautiful sunset and fun hearing other stories, including piranha fishing success from some teens.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Welcome to SaniLodge

It was smooth traveling this morning to coca. Quito looked beautiful from the air. The Napa River was bustling with activity for the first half of the motor canoe journey. Then it became more remote and we started feeling like we were in the Rainforest. After the paddle canoe and hike, we were greeted with a passion fruit punch and a terrific lunch.

Quito and the Amazon

It was so nice to be able to sleep in an extra hour this morning. Two more couples in our group arrived and we had a happy reunion with old friends, Patty and Mike from NJ and soon to be new friends, Kathy and Bill from Evanston, IL. Jim Heck, our tour guide also arrived at our hotel in Quito, the NH Collection a Royal Hotel. We all toured old town Quito, had a couple of nice meals and got our briefing for the next leg of the trip: the jungle.

We are departing at 5:45am for Coca. Then we have a three hour motorized canoe ride on the Napa River followed by a 15 minute walk on a path through the jungle to the Yacu River and a short trip by paddle canoe to the Sani Lodge. Whoa. Jim said pack light and be prepared to be wet all the time.