Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Till We Meet Again

Well, what can I say? my big South America adventure has come to an end and it's time to pack my bags and move on. It's been quite an unforgettable adventure and I am happy I got to experience it. There is a lot I will miss but I will be back again to make more memories and experience new adventures.

I will miss.....

Speaking Spanish all the time - I really do love the language and I will miss hearing it everywhere I go. I suppose all is not lost because I will still continue speaking Spanish a lot given that my fiancé is a Spanish speaker and that's the language we use to communicate.

The People - I have really met incredible people during my stay in South America and that has been one of the main highlights of my travels. If I wrote about all of them I will end up going on and on so I will keep it short by saying, I really appreciate those I met that left a very positive impression on me.

My Barrio - I really like the neighborhood we live in, it's very chill, safe and family oriented. I will miss the hilly main road that always makes me feel like I am getting in a good work out whenever I am walking around the neighborhood running errands. I will miss the noise of kids who get off school at noon for their lunch break making the neighborhood look and sound so vibrant with all their chatter.


The Fruits - The abundance of fruits here will make any fruit lover like me very happy because there are so many different kinds of fruits which I have had the pleasure of sampling. We don't even buy fruit juice because we always make our own juice from some of the fruits available and I have become quite the fruit shake maker always experimenting with different fruits to get different flavors.


My Favorite Dog - One of our neighbors has this really sweet, friendly and very chill dog. The dog likes greeting everyone and when you leave your door open when he's been let out to play, he will walk in and calmly sit next to you or just lay down on the floor waiting to be petted. Speaking of the dog, I have a weird story for you guys. One night when we were fast asleep the TV which is located in our bedroom suddenly turned on by itself. The remote was nowhere near the bed so its not like one of us accidentally lay on it and turned on the TV. To say I was freaked out is an understatement, my fiancé on the other hand was not even fazed even when it happened a second time on a different day. I was convinced we had a ghost in the house and I was freaked out, he thought it was just an electrical glitch or something since he had previously opened the socket to fix something. I had this bright idea to test my ghost theory by having the friendly dog visit our house and if he got unusually scared then for sure it would mean there was a ghost in our apartment. The fiancé thought it was hilarious but he humored me, I was actually pretty serious about it. Haven't you heard about animals with their intuition? anyway, I carried out my plan and the dog never acted scared or anything. He was very comfortable hanging around our apartment as usual so I finally had to agree with my fiancé that it must have been an electrical glitch after all phew!

PS: When I was in Galapagos the TV turned on by itself one night, I was so scared I couldn't go back to sleep. Thankfully the next day I got a different room but I was still so paranoid that I never got a good night's sleep. What's up with that??!!



Salsa Classes - I had taken a break from salsa for a while before taking it up again after I got done with my Spanish classes. I ended up taking classes from Academia Salsa & Merengue (Directed by Silvia Garcia) the school is located on the corner of Mariscal Foch and Amazonas. I would highly recommend the school to anyone visiting Quito and is interested in dancing. My instructor Piedra was the best!


There is a lot more I will miss but I will stop here because there is packing to be done and a lot of other stuff.

That's it folks, I hope you have enjoyed following me on my journey because I have enjoyed writing this blog. There is only so long I can live off my savings so it's time to get a job and start seeing the figures on my bank account going up instead of down. I will take a break from writing on here as I focus on other things. This doesn't mean I will forget you because I will definitely be back so this is not goodbye but its more like, until we meet again.




Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cost Breakdown For My Galapagos Trip

A trip to the Galapagos isn't the most cheapest but there are ways you can manage to cut costs depending on how you want to tour the various islands and how long you want to stay. Without further ado here goes my cost breakdown:

Tour Expenses - Since Galapagos was meant to be my birthday treat, I wanted to have a stress free trip and have someone else plan the itinerary for me as I followed along enjoying the ride. Having worked at a travel agency here in Quito, I was fortunate enough to get a discount of $100 so I ended up paying $400 for a tour that normally costs $500 (better than nothing right)? the tour price included: excursions, 3 meals a day, hotel stay, transfer in and out of the airport and a guide. I chose the cheapest tour which lasted 4 days and 3 nights, perfect length of time for me because I didn't want and I couldn't afford to be gone for too long. 

I opted for a land tour meaning I would be staying in a hotel and only taking boats to whichever island I was to visit. The other option was to take a boat tour meaning I would be staying on a boat and only stepping on land for any excursions included in the itinerary. Let's just stay staying on a boat for majority of the time wasn't my cup of tea, I wanted the flexibility of being on land so that I could do my own thing and go wherever I wanted during my free time. 

NOTE: The boat tours are more pricey, the cheapest is about $600 but the advantage of these tours is that you get to visit more islands. For my tour I only got to visit two islands, Santa Cruz and Isabela which happens to be the largest island.

Flight Prices - Everyone including the owner of the travel agency I worked at in Quito told me that flights to the islands are usually pricey and $400 would be the cheapest price I would get. I went online and true to what I had heard, most flights were charging $400 and upward between Quito and Galapagos. I had even checked the Prices from Guayaquil to Galapagos but they were not any cheaper (Guayaquil is closer to Galapagos) I almost gave up hope until I came across a flight for $275 through expedia.

The map below gives you an idea of how far the islands are from mainland Ecuador.

Photo courtesy of google

Island Expenses - I had to pay $20 for a transit card at the airport in Quito, without this transit card you can not be checked in. At the airport in Galapagos I had to pay an entry fee of $100 which is mandatory for everyone, of course its cheaper for countries that have certain relations with Ecuador. When I visited Isabela island I had to pay an entry fee of $5 as a foreigner (nationals pay $2).

Total Price - Minus personal expenses I spent $800 and this price included: Tour, flight, transit card and entry fees. My personal expenses were not much and only added up to about $20 

Lessons Learned

There are two airports at the Galapagos so you can fly either to Baltra which is the main airport or San Cristobal. Most flights do fly to Baltra and from Baltra you can take a boat to the island of Santa Cruz which is the main starting point for a lot of tours and has more accommodation options.

Photo courtesy of google

Galapagos is an one hour behind continental time in Ecuador so be sure to adjust your watch.

Contrary to what I had thought before, you can actually do Galapagos on your own without any tours. Santa Cruz has many accommodation options and serves as the main base for a lot of tourists. Once you book your hostel/hotel in Santa Cruz, you can take day trips to explore other islands by yourself and return in the evening.

From talking to some tour guides I found out that there are four islands that you can visit by yourself without a tour guide: Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana and I believe San Cristobal. You would need a guide for the others because they are protected islands. If you decide to visit one of the four islands by yourself then you would pay about $25 for a boat ride, I believe the price varies depending on how far the islands are. 

Had I known what I know now I would have loved to visit a couple more islands. 

If you don't want to do the islands by yourself you can buy tours in Santa Cruz, each tour costs between $100 - $130 depending on how far the island is, these prices can really add up if you are visiting various islands so that's why it's better to buy a packaged tour. I found out packaged tours are cheaper to buy in the Galapagos because you are buying directly from the tour companies.

Bottom Line -  I think it all depends on how much you are willing or able to spend, how long you want to visit and of course good planning. Take into account that yes you can do Galapagos on your own but some expenses do add up so its always good to compare different options and see the cost that each option bears. 







Friday, March 20, 2015

Beautiful Surprise

I got back to Quito yesterday and the change of weather was really noticeable. It's cold and rainy here in Quito but I am not complaining since the heat in Galapagos was just too much for me so strange as it may sound, it feels refreshing experiencing cooler weather. Enough about this weather talk because I am sure that's not the beautiful surprise you want to hear, right?

So what is this beautiful surprise I am about to share? well, I will keep it short and sweet. I got home yesterday from my trip feeling tired, sunburned and ready for a long shower only to be greeted with a beautiful surprise, my boyfriend proposed to me. Of course the answer was yes, I am engaged ya'll!!! I have to say the way he set everything up was so romantic that I can't stop smiling just thinking of all the details that were involved.


That's it folks, this is a short post so I will stop here because I can't think of anything else to add on to it other than, love is a beautiful thing.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Exploring Santa Cruz

Today I had another tour but this one was focused on Santa Cruz island where I am currently staying at. Early in the morning we headed to a private finca where we got to see tortoises living in their natural habitat, the guide instructed us to make sure we had socks on or carry them with us if we had sandals because we would later on need them. I really didn't know what to expect but as soon as we got to the finca I understood what he meant. Turns out we had to wear boots to protect our feet from the elements and since these boots are available to the public, socks do indeed come in handy! unfortunately I chose to wear shorts not anticipating flies and ants so I ended up getting several bites on my legs. 

The finca was really pretty and the area looked so lush with green vegetation everywhere, the guide was telling us that since the area is situated in the highlands, they get more rain and its easier to practice farming. Despite the sun not being too hot, it was really humid and I was sweating buckets! I am not kidding you when I say that sweat was actually dripping from my face and I looked like a hot mess to say the least, a dripping hot mess.

We got to see tortoises in their natural habitat which was pretty cool and some of them where not shy because they are used to humans so you could feed them while not touching or getting too close to them. Apparently they are very sensitive so if you have sunscreen or cream on your skin and touch them, they could get sick from the chemicals. 

We toured around the area and even got to enter some caves that were created by volcanic activities which was pretty cool. Speaking of cool, inside the caves the air was very fresh and the temperature was cool which felt good after coming from the humidity outside. The caves were not so extensive but it was still interesting checking them out.






Look how green everything is, it was very beautiful and the picture doesn't really do the scenery justice.



Later on in the afternoon I got to visit Tortuga Bay which is a beach that has the softest sand I have ever experienced. Walking on the sand felt so good and folks were telling me that it never gets hot even when the sun is out in full force so you can comfortably walk without feeling any heat from the sand. Getting to the beach was quite a walk but when I got there it was all worth it plus I did get some exercise in so all that walking wasn't so bad.

I walked up and down the beach and hang out just enjoying the scenery, it was very tranquil and there were not too many people around. This one couple from Argentina struck a conversation with me and  they ended up keeping me company. Speaking of Argentinians, I have encountered so many during my trips and the couple was even telling me than in all of South America, Argentinians tend to travel more as backpackers so you will run into them a lot. For them its very common to take some time off work to travel for extended periods of time.

Below is a picture of the long walking trail to Tortuga Bay, who can complain about having to walk for almost an hour on this trail? it's very pretty.



Iguanas just chilling on the beach without a care in the world.





It started raining on my walk back to the main part of town from Tortuga Bay but I couldn't resist taking a couple of pictures.



That's it folks, today was more laid back which was fine by me considering how active yesterday was. This is my last full day in Galapagos before heading back to Quito tomorrow, it's been fun although my skin is now paying for it thanks to the intense sun exposure but it was all worth it.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Argentinians have a distinct accent that's just different, they use the shh sound a lot which I think sounds kind of cute. Here are a couple of examples to give you an idea of what I am talking about, they pronounce plaza as plasha and subir (to go up) as shubir.

Did you know you can determine the sex of baby tortoises? how do you do this? by the temperature that the eggs get incubated. To get females the eggs have to be incubated at 26 degrees celsius and to get males the eggs have to be incubated at 28 degrees celsius.

Chatting with tour guides will usually teach you some interesting things. I was chatting with the tour guide who took us to the finca to see tortoises and he was telling me that the residency requirement to live in Galapagos came into effect in 1998. Prior to that anyone could land on the island and live without restrictions but to conserve the islands the government decided to restrict population thus introducing residency requirements. All the people who lived on the island prior to 1998 were automatically given residency and anyone coming in after that time could not automatically become a resident of the island and they were limited to the amount of time they could stay on the island. This included Ecuadorians as well.

Apparently the government gave the residents land for free prior to 1998 when residency requirements came into practice so everyone has land and everyone has a job so you will never see beggars on the streets or worry about being robbed. Most people work in the tourism industry which brings in good money plus a lot of them have converted their land into income generating ventures.

Since my hotel room is situated across from the sea, I get to sleep to the sound of waves every night. Today I was moved to another room which doesn't face the sea but the upgrade makes up for it. The room is huge! you should see the bathroom also, it has too much space. Its a very cute room and even the TV is clearer, not that it matters since I haven't really spent a lot of my time in the room.







Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Year Older In Galapagos

Aaah! so today is my special day because it just happens to be my birthday. I can't believe that I am in my mid thirties! I am celebrating my 35th birthday today and when I think about it, I have 5 more years before I turn 40. I remember being in my twenties and thinking turning 30 was so old, honestly I don't feel any different from how I felt in my twenties. I remember one of my former Spanish teachers being so surprised when I told her I will be turning 35 this year, she exclaimed, "you are turning 35? you don't even have wrinkles!" my reply to her was, "but I am too young for wrinkles." Seriously, isn't 35 too young for wrinkles? I certainly think so.

Today I wanted to do something special so I had arranged to go on a tour of Isabela island which happens to be the largest island in the Galapagos. Isabela is situated 2 hours from Santa Cruz where I am staying so our tour group had to leave really early in the morning because it was a full day tour. We left at 7 in the morning and I was surprised by the number of tours that were taking place at that hour, I guess they all start in the morning so as to take advantage of a full day.

From Santa Cruz we took water taxis that were transferring tourists to their main boats which would take them to Isabela. I can only imagine how much those guys who work on the boats make because there were so many tourists.


Our tour group was quickly situated in our boat and it was snooze time for me. At first the boat ride was really uncomfortable for me because the waves that we were hitting were giving me a funny sensation in my stomach, but I had taken a motion sickness pill prior to boarding so that helped me not throw up. The crew in the boat even had plastic bags handy just in case anyone felt like throwing up. After a while I got accustomed to the motion of the boat and had a pretty good nap actually.

We arrived at Isabela island without any incidence and the guide explained to us that we would spend the whole day exploring the island and visiting the main attractions before heading back to Santa Cruz. At Isabela we had to pay an entry fee which was $5 for foreigners and $2 for Ecuadorians. 

The first thing that was noticeable at Isabela were the number of seals around. There were many seals just chilling on the beach and on the various benches around, they were not scared of people so you could take however many pictures you wanted of them. We were warned not to touch them or get too close because even though they are super chill and not aggressive, if you get too close to them they could lunge at you. Young kids especially are the most vulnerable so parents had to be very careful and ensure that their kids didn't get too close to the seals. They were super cute though and I thought it was really sweet that they had freedom to move around and no one messed with them. Apart from the seals there were also many Iguanas which we were told were also not aggressive. They did look scary though but the guide was explaining to us that they are very docile despite their intimidating looks.










Two penguins that seemed to be playing with each other, they were so cute!


We ventured further into the island where we saw flamingos and visited a tortoise breeding center. As I had mentioned before, there are aggressive efforts aimed at increasing the tortoise population on the various islands in the hope that they will be restored to the same population that existed before humans landed on Galapagos. Those darn humans, right? 



We learned an interesting fact about flamingos and their relation to the flamenco dance from Spain. Turns out that flamingos stamp their feet on the ground underneath water so that the organisms around can float to the surface to be eaten, they stamp their feet moving in circles. How is this related to the flamenco dance? the Spanish observed these movements thus the flamenco dance came to be. That's what the guide told us so I am going by his words, it does make sense though if you observe the flamenco dance and the movements of the flamingos.

We continued exploring the island and learning new things which was really interesting. Later on in the afternoon after lunch we got an hour extra to lounge by the beach and relax, with the oppressive heat I was only too happy to find a spot under a tree and chill, watching the activities around me. After the free hour was up we headed to the dock where we took the boat back to Santa Cruz. 

That's it folks, it was a long day of learning and exploring and I did enjoy it even though the heat did a number on me. My day was well spent and I am glad I chose to spend my birthday in Galapagos. I had a nice quiet dinner of one and treated myself to the sweetest cocktail on the menu in a bar nearby before calling it a night. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

PS: Internet sucks on the island and its a struggle writing this blog, see how dedicated I am at keeping you folks posted?





Monday, March 16, 2015

Galapagos It Is

For my birthday I ended up choosing Galapagos over Salar de Uyunni in Bolivia because it worked out better logistically and my interest was leaning more toward Galapagos. Flight prices to Bolivia were crazy high and although it is possible to head over to Bolivia from Ecuador by bus, I just didn't feel like undertaking the long journey, I am so over long bus rides. Anyway, enough of the unnecessary explanations I am here to write about my first day in Galapagos so let's do this.

Heading to Galapagos felt like traveling to another country, at the airport all tourists heading to the islands had to pay $20 for a transit card (I believe that's the name) to Galapagos before check in. At the airport in Galapagos I had to part with $100 just to get out of the airport and set foot on the island. This is a mandatory fee that everyone has to pay and I believe it goes toward conserving the Islands, the fee varies depending on the country you are from. I met some Argentinians who told me they are required to pay only $50. 

Landing in Galapagos I noticed how hot and slightly humid it was plus the surrounding area around the airport was so dry it looked like some heavy duty drought was in process, I am not kidding you. There were cactus plants here and there, the grass was so brown to the point where it almost looked grey and there might have even been a couple of tumble weeds that blew across the road heading out of the airport. Okay, I exaggerate about the tumble weed but you get my drift and maybe the pictures below will give you an idea of what I am talking about.


The airport is situated in Baltra island and from there I had to take a shuttle bus to a dock where everyone was waiting to board a boat that would transfer us to the main island of Santa Cruz, where most people start out before heading off to whichever islands they want to tour. The boat ride was pretty short and we were in Santa Cruz within 10 minutes. From Santa Cruz I took a taxi which would drop me to the main part of the island where all the action is.


The taxi driver was pretty cool and we had a good chat as he told me a bit of history about the islands, and I got to learn some interesting new stuff. As we headed away from the airport the vegetation changed so dramatically and all over a sudden there was green everywhere and the land looked so fertile that it was hard to imagine only a few minutes back we had been in a totally different terrain. I even spotted the fattest cows ever just munching away at the abundant grass and my first thought was, "huh? I land in the Galapagos expecting to see the most exotic animals and instead the first animals I see are cows??! what next? chickens? goats?" The taxi driver was just chuckling at my astonishment.

I finally got to my hotel which turned out better than I had expected and I can't complain at all! check out my temporary digs on the island.

The view from my balcony

Entrance to my room

I had a tour later on in the afternoon so I took a nap before then because I had woken up really early to catch my flight and the heat just did me in. 

In the afternoon I met with a tour guide who would take us to the Charles Darwin Research Center and explain to us the history of the islands and the species of animals to be found around. There was a couple from Argentina so it was a really small group. We walked around the main part of the Island and I managed to take a few pictures despite the drizzle that developed and seemed to last for hours.










So what I learned about the Galapagos islands is that hundreds of years ago the islands were not inhabited by anyone but animals. A lot of pirates actually used to dock here to hide, rest, fix their boats or replenish their resources like food. The Spanish who landed here killed a lot of tortoises for food and highly diminished the population of the animals in the various islands they landed on, they were never interested in settling here because they were in search of gold and other treasures that the Galapagos didn't have. Right now there are various breeding projects aimed at increasing the number of tortoises on the islands.

Contrary to what I thought, people actually do live on the islands of Galapagos and they even practice farming. I had always assumed that no one is allowed to live there so that the animals on the islands can be protected but look how wrong I was. To live on the island you actually do need a resident permit even if you are Ecuadorian. The people whose families moved here years ago are residents so they can live off and on the islands without any issues. It's actually funny when you hear the islanders talking about Ecuador like its a totally different country, maybe the fact that its not physically linked to Ecuador makes it appear so.

That's it folks, my first day in the Galapagos has gone pretty well actually minus the heat, It is HOT over here and humid although the humidity is not too overwhelming. At night it feels really good to walk around because its cooler. People here are super cool and there is definitely a shortage of sleazy men which makes it awesome! no one disturbs you while walking around and its very safe, the locals have been telling me that safety is one of the big pluses of living here so that makes me feel so much better.