While visiting Santa Cruz, we knew we wanted to take a day trip or two. North Seymour had not been on our list of possible day trips (I can’t for the life of me remember why we had discarded the idea of going there), but when it ended up making the most sense to go there (you know, schedules and cost and availability), away we went. And, you know what? It was so worth it!
When we decided to go to the Galapagos, and once I stopped jumping up and down yelling “we are going to the Galapagos,” our first decision was which islands to visit. (The cruise or land question had already been answered, as there was no way we were going to shell out the big bucks for a fancy cruise). We ultimately decided to stay six nights each on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal.
We decided to visit Santa Cruz first, as it is the most developed and was the island we imagined we would like the least. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that airfare to Santa Cruz and out of San Cristobal was cheaper than airfare to San Cristobal and out of Santa Cruz. Every penny counts when you are trying to figure out how to visit the Galapagos on the cheap….
Getting to Santa Cruz is a bit of an ordeal. If you are starting from Quito, you first have to buy a $20/person transit card at the Quito airport. Then, you have to have your luggage checked for contraband. You aren’t allowed to bring things like fruit or seeds onto the islands, as they don’t want any invasive species coming over from elsewhere. And, technically, you aren’t allowed to bring single use plastic onto the islands, although all of my liquids were in Ziploc bags and they didn’t bat an eye at that. Only after doing those two things can you check in for your flight. Next, you fly to Guayaquil. Don’t worry, you don’t get off the plane there – they just refuel and take on passengers. We loved that we were told over and over that we couldn’t use anything electronic while the plane was refueling, while the flight attendants all had cell phones in their hands. Oh, and if you do this flight, make sure your seats are the same for both legs….our seats initially were not the same and the nice check-in agent fixed it for us, but we saw others moving seats during the layover. Anyway, from Guayaquil, you fly to Baltra, former home of a US military base and now the main airport for getting into the Galapagos. If you are lucky like us, you just might spot your first iguana while walking from the plane to the terminal.
But you aren’t done yet…. Nope…. Not even close. Next up you have to go through some sort of customs procedure and pay $100 per person for the privilege of setting foot on the Galapagos islands. Then, you wait while a dog sniffs your bags for contraband. Once the dog gives the all clear, you make your way to a bus. The bus costs $5/person and takes you about 10 minutes away to a ferry landing. The next step is to get on the ferry – don’t worry, someone else unloads your bags from the bus and puts them on the ferry. The ferry costs $1/person and takes all of about 5 minutes. Oddly, most people put life jackets on for the short trip. We did not. We were wearing our Quito clothes (Quito was cold) and couldn’t manage the thought of one more layer. Finally, you are on Santa Cruz. But you still aren’t done. Nope, once you collect your bags after the boat guys deposit them on shore, you have a choice — $5/person for a bus to town or $25 for a taxi (a pick-up truck) to town. We chose the bus and it was fine – air conditioned and reasonably comfortable. Whew! We were tired before we had even arrived at our hotel…
I’m not sure what we were expecting of Santa Cruz, but we weren’t expecting what we found. Puerto Aroya (the main town on Santa Cruz) is tourist central. There are stores and bars and restaurants and even an ATM or two. The main town reminded me a tiny little bit of a small version of Key West, with even more inflated prices and fewer drunks. The highlands of the island are green, but the lowlands are a weird desert landscape filled with cacti and volcanic rock. That said, within two hours of arriving in Puerto Aroya, we had managed to see sea lions, pelicans, land iguanas, water iguanas, frigate birds, Darwin finches, and even a lone blue footed boobie (most of them while sitting at a waterfront bar/restaurant). Impressive! Talk about starting things off right.
If you visit Santa Cruz, the one thing you must do is visit one of the tortoise preserves. We chose to visit Rancho Primicias because we read it was less touristy than El Chato. You can take a tour there, but we just hired one of the pick-up truck taxis to take us. It was $40 for round trip fare (which seems a bit outrageous but we had read it could be up to $50 so I guess we did ok), and the driver will also take you to the lava tunnels if you like (we passed on those and the driver seemed quite surprised). The ranch is basically just some rolling fields with small ponds. The tortoises are free to come and go as they like, and tourists are free to walk anywhere they like, so long as they stay two meters away from the tortoises. We did find that the tortoises were easy to startle and if you made noise they would withdraw into their shell, but they would come out again within seconds if you stood still. We also learned that Galapagos tortoises make a sound that sounds an awful lot like a cow mooing. And, that they will fight over prime spots in the mud. We visited Rancho Primicias in early March and saw probably 40 tortoises. Apparently, most of the tortoises are further up in the highlands at that time of year, because it is just too hot for them, and our taxi driver was very apologetic that there weren’t hundreds of tortoises. But, we were pretty happy with 40.
Another fun thing to do is to visit Las Grietas. To get there, you first take a water taxi across the bay. It is less than $1 and takes just a few minutes. Then, you walk on a very hot path to Las Grietas, which is a crack in volcanic rock filled with brackish water and a few very large fish. We both did a bit of snorkeling there. The water was cold, but refreshing. Be aware that there are no facilities at Las Grietas, although at about the midway of the path there are a couple of restaurants where you can buy water. We snorkeled one at a time so one of us could look after our things, which is not the most enjoyable way to spend the day, but it was alright for a short trip. Especially given that, other than the water taxi, the experience was completely free.
We also really enjoyed visiting the fish market. It is small, with just a handful of people gutting fish. But, the sea lions and the pelicans and the frigate birds have learned that they will get the guts. Most of them wait more or less patiently for their treats, but we saw birds swoop in and steal guts, we saw a sea lion steal an entire fish (no, he didn’t get to keep it), and we saw pelicans literally fighting over fish entrails and reaching into each other’s beaks in an attempt to steal smelly fish guts. It is certainly a fun spot to visit as you are walking by and is also a completely free way to spend some time. In fact, we stopped to watch the scene every single day we were on Santa Cruz.
Now, for some sacrilege. Everyone will tell you that you have to visit the Charles Darwin Research Center and tortoise breeding center. You know what? You don’t have to visit. If you have time, it is fine, but neither of us thought it was anything special. The Research Center didn’t have much information. The breeding center, while obviously doing good work, is basically just like a zoo and the tortoises are fairly far away. If you do go, make sure to check out the beach full of marine iguanas. They look just like rocks.
* In light of the Covid-19 situation, we are no longer traveling. This post reflects pre-pandemic travel. We are sheltering in place and hope you are doing the same. Stay safe.
So….for the first time since 2018 we are having small regrets about being homeless by choice. Yes, we’ve moved yet again. In the middle of a pandemic. My parents are snow birds and it was time for them to fly (well, technically they drove, but birds don’t drive) back to Wisconsin. While they would have let us stay at their house and would have been happy to have us (well, at least for a week or so until they got sick of the house constantly smelling like garlic at dinner time), we thought it was best for everyone if we moved on.
So, where to start? This trip to Colombia was not nearly as magical as our trip in 2015. Part of that is due to the fact that Robert arrived sick and, just about the time he started feeling better, I came down with something. So, our first two weeks were spent with one or the other of us battling an illness.
Many people think of Colombian food as meat and starch, and there is quite a bit of that to be found. But, we happen to really like the food in Colombia (especially the street food). So, what foods do you have to try? Well, let us tell you….(these are in alphabetical order).
Aguardiente: Aguardiente is the local alcohol. It is generally anise-flavored and doesn’t have a ton of alcohol in it (generally, under 30%). I didn’t care for it, but Robert enjoyed a shot now and then. No photo though. We had intended to get one when we returned to Colombia after our visit to Ecuador but that obviously isn’t happening now.
My favorite thing about Minca was the birds. (In case you are wondering, Robert’s favorite thing about Minca was visiting the organic coffee farm.) Colombia has the highest diversity of birds in the world. In fact, there are over 1900 species of birds found in Colombia, equivalent to 20% of the birds found in the entire world. Crazy, right?
So….when we last wrote about Covid-19, we thought we were going to hunker down in Ecuador to ride out the Covid-19 storm. We had a large, safe and comfortable apartment and the rent was affordable. We had figured out how to order groceries and have them delivered (maybe…our delivery was initially scheduled for March 24 but got pushed to April 2 so we will never know). Ecuador was taking the virus seriously. They had locked down the country. They weren’t even letting their own citizens return (the first known case of Covid-19 was brought in by a citizen who had returned from Europe). The mayor of Guayaquil had actually ordered vehicles out onto a runway to prevent planes from landing (not the wisest decision, as the planes were supposed to evacuate foreigners back to Europe). Everyone was under a curfew (4 pm to 5 am in Guayaquil,, which has now changed to 2 pm to 5 am everywhere in the country). Nobody was allowed to leave their homes except to get groceries and go to the pharmacy and bank. Even then, only one person per family could leave at a time, and cars could only be driven every other day depending on which number your plate ended in (even the taxis were bound by this rule). Groceries were limiting the number of people allowed to enter at any one time (and moving to a system that only allowed each person to enter two particular days a week depending on the last number of their identity document). Mobile internet providers had been ordered to increase speed (yes, increase). Visa requirements had been waived (both for people inside the country and those outside of it) until 30 days after the crisis ended so tourists would not be overstaying their visas and those trying to get residency wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Food was being delivered to at least some poor people. The government had assured the populace that certain services like electricity and internet would not be disconnected and nobody would be evicted even if bills were not paid during the emergency. The military was getting involved to ensure compliance with the various lock down rules. And, the word was that health care workers would actually come to your home to evaluate you if you thought you had the virus. (No, I’m not joking.) We watched how little was being done to flatten the curve in the US, how many Americans were “preparing” by buying guns and ammo, and thought “hmm…we are safer in Ecuador.”
When we first read about Minca, it sounded like a wonderland. The blogs we read used words like “paradise” and “idyllic” and “picturesque” and “lush” with “cool mountain breezes.” It was “the real Colombia,” or so we read. Lies, all of them, lies.
So, wow, this is one strange year, right? Things were going along just fine and then “boom” the entire world changed almost overnight. At least for us it did. We were having a grand old time in the Galapagos Islands (I’ve included some photos now because it may be awhile until I get to those posts) when we got an email late on a Saturday night from the U.S. State Department saying that Ecuador was closing its borders in 24 hours for tourists and 48 hours for citizens. We frantically jumped on our devices to try to get flights off of the islands and to Guayaquil on the mainland and then out of Ecuador (even though we weren’t sure that was the safest course of action). And, then, we watched as website after website refused to load or crashed just as we thought it was going to load. Gotta love the internet in the Galapagos. Not. We were finally able to determine that we could get a flight off the islands on Monday (only a day earlier than planned) but it would cost about $600 per person. That was expensive enough that we couldn’t bring ourselves to pull the trigger immediately. Big mistake. When we looked again, the tickets were long gone.
Hey! Get your head out of the gutter (I’m talking to you dad)….this post is about the famous door knockers of Cartagena.
Cartagena is yet another UNESCO world heritage site. I don’t think the doors or the door knockers were included in the UNESCO listing, but perhaps they should have been.