part 1 | part 2 | part 3
Day 0 - June 10: SEA to LAX to PTY
since my flight out wasn't until 6:30pm, i took my luggage to work with me & bossed until 3pm. aj was kind enough to truck my suitcase uphill to the light rail, & i made it to seatac without incident. that was the last smooth travel i'd experience getting to ecuador, though - the flight out of seattle was delayed an hour thanks to LAX air traffic; LAX was slammed & i had to stand forty minutes waiting for a boarding pass (which i then had to bully out of some highly incompetent woman at copa air) (& don't miss that they were filming a fucking reality show at my gate, so i had to deal with about thirty particularly gross-smelling backpackers with huge cameras & obnoxious attitudes); once i finally got on the copa flight to panama, we had to deboard thanks to a position light that needed maintenance; we boarded again an hour after THAT, which i knew would cause me to miss my connection to quito. yay!
on the upside, i caught a lovely shot of mount rainier out the window, had a terrific dinner i'd brought with me (leftovers from paseo, mmmm) & the flights were generally smooth. though i had an aisle seat on the overnight flight to panama, i was able to catch some sleep.
Day 1 - June 11: PTY to UIO to Quito
Arrive at any time.
so the transit aspect of the trip hadn't been great, but the worst part by far were the two hours of terror where copa in panama were telling me that alaska air didn't send my bag, & it was probably left in los angeles. this was despite my very careful questioning that alaska would indeed send it through & i only had to make sure in panama that it was with me. i was not looking forward to having no clothes, no toiletries, no camera, no sunblock... plus i'd be late into quito due to missing the connection, so i didn't know if i'd have time to shop to replace everything before leaving for the cruise! fortunately, copa was flat wrong, & they found my bag & it was fine. also fortunate was that they run six flights a day from panama to quito, so i ended up only an hour late overall.
& being only an hour late, i was still able to make it to my ecuadorian tattoo appointment. ^_^ i took a cab from the airport ($26USD, & ecuador recently changed to adopt the united states dollar as their currency, so that was easy) & checked in at my hotel, then took another taxi for three bucks to numen tattoo studio. much like argentina, many of the streets were named after important dates - 10 de agosto, 6 de diciembre.
the tattoo experience was pretty normal, as i've come to find in most countries. my artist, david, tried hard, but i can always spot the cross-contamination at tattoo studios. X) the needles & other important parts were all fresh, though, & they even offered me a disposable hospital gown which i politely declined. (i'm not shy about being in panties in a tattoo studio.) david kind of attacked the piece - rougher with my leg than most have been, but within tolerance - & it was finished quickly. i paid & wandered a bit before grabbing another cab back to the hotel (& spotting comic sans here, too. sigh). this was the first GMT addition that definitely missed the mark on the handwriting, but i don't care - grammy's writing varied enough that it matches well enough in the grand scheme.
the cab passed a bank that i misread as being named "this fucking bank" - "pinche" basically means "fucking", & the bank was named "pichincha"... but i learned later that's the name of the stratovolcano the town's built on. there was also a shop that said "pinchos y cafés", but apparently "pinchos" is "snacks". it was all much less shocking than i thought, haha. i strolled around the neighborhood for a few hours - general shopping, bought a mango juice & an organic dark chocolate bar with cherries - & then met my roommate, janet. she's a 60yo aussie with gorgeous white hair & an affinity for shit-giving, so we got along swimmingly. shortly after, we met the rest of our group at a trip briefing - six ladies from wales, other aussies, some brits, a few from the US & canada, & one dude from spain; 19 of us total - then janet & i went to dinner.
the corvina encocada i ordered was lovely, but oversized - a huge slab of sea bass in coconut sauce with a giant pile of rice & some sadly bland fried plantains. i had a guanábana juice with it that was pretty good too, but i'm a sucker for guanábana anywhere i go. janet & i were both fairly well exhausted, & we had an early start the next morning, so we went back to the room & fell asleep around 9.
Day 2 - June 12: Quito/Mosquera Island
Fly to Baltra. Meet the guide and transfer to the boat.
With plenty of room to move about, and the best passenger-to-guide ratio in our fleet, the Monserrat is value incarnate. Comfortable cabins and common areas, roomy outdoor spaces, and a naturalist guide for every ten travellers make for a top-notch blend of comfort, service, and (on the top deck) sun worship.
In the afternoon, sail to Mosquera Island and walk along the beach and observe the vast sea lion colonies.
we woke at 3:30am to get breakfast at 4 - the tiny empanadas & tiny tamales were tasty, but i couldn't really eat that early & after all that sea bass the night before, so i mostly just drank the VERY interesting beet/cucumber/carrot juice they put out. we were shuttled to the airport at 4:30 & boarded at 6:30 with only a slight delay at the runway. they handed out saran-wrapped muffins on the flight, then salmon salad sandwiches on tiny baguettes that were much better than airline food.
the airport was small & reminded me of hawaii - open air & breezy. we took a bus to the dock where i spotted some tiny crabs, then we boarded our yacht, the monserrat, via zodiac. these zodiacs were a pale imitation of the zodiacs i rode in antarctica - white instead of black, lighter by far in weight, & they seemed, by comparison, like pool toys. i commented that it felt like someone had inflated them by mouth.
we were greeted on the boat with starfruit juice, then had lunch - a nice snapper ceviche, done correctly, followed by chicken with saffron rice & a cucumber/red cabbage/heart of palm salad, & then watermelon & pineapple to finish up. yep, i was once again very pleased by the food. ^_^
i lazed around a bit while we traveled from baltra island - i read & spontaneously napped in the lounge - & at 3pm headed by zodiac to mosquera island. it was a wet landing, so i had to carefully navigate the stones in my sandals, but once there i was soooo happy: right off the bat, i spotted my first marine iguanas, laying black with salty white faces on the black lava rocks at the shore. i individually photographed each one i saw as they side-eyed me in that oh-so lizard-like way. i also quickly found some lava lizards, males & females both, & went nuts photographing them. HELO SMOL FRIENDS. & there was a huge whale skeleton, bleached white from the sun - surprisingly untouched, just sitting there; sea lion skulls were about, too.
the sea lions were everywhere, & MUCH more docile than in antarctica. i photographed & videoed them swimming, playing, & making horrendous sounds, & even got to see baby sea lions nursing. we saw pelicans & other sea birds, & one persistent little gold darwin's ground finch, & a ton of white-tipped reef sharks out circling in the water. Prattles & his wife, Amazon Settler, here from canada on a belated honeymoon, kept walking the razor line between amusing & annoying, but they were good people despite the fact that Prattles was taking all his photography with an ipad.
we stayed ashore for about an hour, then zodiac'd back to have watermelon juice & snacks (tiny savory pastry with plantains in them) on the sundeck. i read my book & swapped rejoinders with Molly Weasley while the sun went down.
before dinner, we had a safety briefing, then did a margarita cheers (just a fantastic limeade for me thanks) while meeting the rest of the crew. we headed to the galley & were treated to a delicious & smooth vegetable soup (served with popcorn?!); prawns in cream sauce, grilled peppers & zucchini, & roasted rosemary yukon golds (exactly how i like to eat normally); & a strange chocolate jello for dessert that wasn't half bad, but wasn't half good either. i left most of mine & instead ate some of the ecudorian 60% chocolate cherry bar i bought in quito (A+).
janet turned in early while i caught up on documentation. overnight we were set to sail six hours to isabela island, & i slept well.
marine iguana, sea lions, white tipped reef sharks, darwin's ground finch
music: sean nelson, "make good choices"
Day 3 - June 13: Isla Isabela/Puerto Villamil
Take a panga across the bay to "Tintoreras" Shark Alley to observe the white-tipped reef sharks found swimming in the channels between the rocks. Get a close-up view of pelicans, frigatebirds, and diving blue-footed boobies. Watch for manta rays and rare Galápagos penguins.
Arrive at Puerto Villamil, home to the small community that lives on Isabela Island. Hike to the rim of the 10km (6 mi) wide crater of the Sierra Negra volcano, which has the largest basaltic caldera in the Galápagos. Trek across the moon-like landscape of the lava fields and fumaroles, and enjoy spectacular views looking north toward Fernandina and the rest of Isabela Island. The volcano last erupted in October 2005, making it the most recent eruption of the Galápagos.
Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre Visit
Walk through the town's wetlands to visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre. Pass basking iguanas and flamingos, and head into the forest to see the gentle giants in their natural habitat at this reserve. With the giant tortoise on its way to extinction in the late 1950s, this program was established to protect these noble creatures.
before breakfast, we started with a zodiac over to isabela island, & spotted a few galápagos penguins! i've now seen five kinds of penguins - little in australia; chinstrap, gentoo, & adélie in antarctica; & now these. guys, i don't even like penguins all that much, but somehow i keep going where they are. anyhow, they were fluffy & cute & did all the same penguiny things as the other penguins i've met. heh.
isabela island was covered in lichen, & our guide said that's proof of a good ecosystem, as lichen (a fungus & an algae living in symbiosis) is picky. we got to see white-tipped reef sharks swimming in a little channel, & the ballsiest sea lion swimming among them. we watched tons of marina iguanas sneeze salt, & spotted baby iguanas clinging to the edge of the channel with all the sharks. the frigatebirds were rad & very sexually dimorphic - the males had big flappy red throats to the females' white heads. we came back to the boat for breakfast: a tasty frittata, awesome fresh pineapple, toast, cereal, & what we think was papaya juice but had literally no flavor. i watched a sea turtle hang out near our ship & storm petrels cruised about while i ate.
the sierra negra hike was considered "medium" difficulty, but it was about the extent of what i could do. we had an open-air bus ride for an hour, through town & country, & got dropped off for our hike. i smelled mint, & was shown the one tiny place where silver mint grew, heh. it was a pretty steep climb & very rocky, which kept it interesting... but 2.4km at a 20-40 degree angle is too much for lishes. :) i took some panoramas at the top, of course, but was more impressed by the giant black bumblebees & wasps buzzing around. on the drive back down, we came across three horses & a mule hanging out by the road. they were potentially wild, but at least one had brands, so who knows. they were adorable, anyhow.
back on the boat, we were greeted with fresh lemonade & plantain fries, then headed straight to a lunch of chicken soup; beef bourguignon, beet & cucumber salad, & chilled rotini with parmesan; & a nice bread pudding with walnuts. i returned to the room to have a rinse & read for a while. i skipped the snorkeling at 2pm, as i'd done it twice in hawaii, & really didn't like it either time. (it's nice to see all the things, but i'm not a fan of being in water, & the exertion of swimming with the coordination of not drowning takes the joy out of it for me. i skipped the option in australia at the great barrier reef, too, & didn't regret it.) so i read & lounged while the others splashed about, & that was lovely. (i found out later the water was murky & low visibility anyhow.)
after everyone dried off, we went out for our afternoon excursion. on the zodiac, we spotted an eagle ray, then drove a few minutes on the same open-air bus to see wild flamingos. they're SO ridiculous! a few minutes more took us to the giant tortoise breeding center. it was cool to see them tiny (a few years old) & across the way were torts over a hundred; it was especially cool since this is the only place in the world to see them, as they're not given as gifts to zoos or for any other purpose, & if one is found anywhere else, it's recollected & brought home. we'd each had to pay a $100 fee to the national park service at the airport, & were told here that $75 of that hundred goes straight to giant tortoise conservation, so we all had a direct hand in repopulating the remaining ten species (of fourteen originally) of the giants. (later on the zodiac back, Prattles commented that he now has a position on tort reform. i sadfaced so hard.)
we had about forty minutes to wander the little town, & i did so with janet. i didn't bother buying any souvenirs, but i found a blueberry aloe drink that i loved, & bought a kinder egg specifically because they're actually illegal in the states. (i tend to buy them whenever i see them on my travels - the chocolate is very good, but also i like to generally support things that kill children. :D ) we wandered down to the beach where i spotted yet more marine iguanas - so happy i've found so very many of them! - & then it was back to the pier.
when i got there, Amazon Settler had just dropped her sunglasses over the railing, & Fluffy was trying to goad one of our guides, Generally Sexier Guide, into diving into the water to get them. eventually, Fluffy succeeded, & Generally Sexier Guide stripped off his hat, neck gaiter, shirt, & shoes, to hoots & hollers from our party. he retrieved the glasses & was quite a good sport about everyone having something to say about the situation (& especially me).
back on board, we were given what i was told was tomato juice, but i'm pretty sure it was tomato with cantaloupe - delicious - & offered some little fried dough balls with a spicy honey sauce. yum! dinner followed after the briefing for the next day, & was a super clean spinach soup; chicken with prune sauce, a baked creamed potatoes thing, & pickled watermelon & red cabbage - they're getting more adventurous with the menu, & everything was awesome. for dessert, they brought out a birthday cake for MacFlirty, Molly Weasley's irish-born boyfriend of twelve years, who turned sixty-six that day. he was great fun & the two of them told stories of MacFlirty's havoc-wreaking adventures long after i begged off to shower & unwind.
the shower was wonderful - the lower cabins didn't have much of a view, but they had more hot water & better water pressure. once again we were set to sail overnight, 32-35 nautical miles over five hours to sombrero chino, or chinese hat island.
white-tipped reef sharks, sea lions, frigatebirds
music: pavement, "silence kit"
flamingo, baby & adult giant tortoises, marine iguana
music: alice donut, "lost in place"