Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I can honestly say I have never considered myself a very adventurous person.  My ideal vacation was always just a sunny beach somewhere.  When someone would say something about the Galapagos Islands or Machu Picchu I may have thought that it sounded cool or interesting but really never had much of a desire to visit either place.  To me, they are both that kind of thing  other people do.  However, in just a 4 month period I had the opportunity to visit both of these places.  I will admit Peace Corps has changed me.  I have realized there is more out there then just sunny beaches and clear blue water, and why let other people have all the fun when I can do it too. 
So when I went home to visit in December my parents and I decided that the next big adventure we would take would be to visit the Galapagos Islands.  All I had known about the Galapagos was Charles Darwin and lots of animals.  On travel and nature shows it always seemed like a neat place.  So I was looking forward to the visit.
At the end of July I took a bus from Piura to Guayaquil.  Not a very pleasant trip, it is overnight and you have to go through customs on both the Peru and Ecuador sides of the border.  And as you can imagine in the middle of the night there are not many people working, so I stood in long slow lines, half asleep. Then my lucky bus was chosen at two random points to have the bags inspected as well.  So that means a total of 4 times I had to get off the bus in the middle of the night.  However, when I reached the city of Guayaquil I was excited to get over to the Marriott where we had booked a room months in advance.  I could not wait for a hot shower and a nice comfy bed to begin my week away from Chipillico and latrine building. 
Later that night I went to the airport to welcome my Mom and Dad to Ecuador.  Although it had only been 7 months since the last time I had seen them, I was very anxious to spend a week with them.  There is just something about being with my parents that makes me feel normal again and I can put Peru far behind me for the few days that I am with them.  Plus, I was looking forward to just the time with the 3 of us.
We spent one night in Ecuador and then flew to Baltra Island, one of the 13 islands that make up the Galapagos, the following morning.  The Galapagos Islands are about 700 miles off the coast of Ecuador; you even gain an hour changing time zones.  There is a lot of research that is done and breeding of species and maintain different ecosystems in the Galapagos islands, therefore when we checked our bags at the airport there were special locks put on them as to not bring in any unwanted food or items that could mess up what they have going on.  Towards the end of the flight the flight attendants all came out and opened the baggage hold above our heads and started spraying an insecticide.  It was kind of funny, because if you were on a plane in the United States and someone started spraying a “harmless” insecticide on a flight people would be freaking out.  Just seems like something you shouldn’t do in an enclosed space so far up in the sky! 
We arrived at a very small airport, and waited for a bus to take us to ferry where we would then take a van to travel to the island of Santa Cruz where our hotel was.  It seemed eerie at first.  I had expected everything to be tropical and flourishing with life.  However, the first island was very desolate and desert like.  However, when we reached the marina to get on the ferry, there was a seal waiting at the bottom of the steps as we got onto the boat.  The was our first encounter with an animal, and it was so surprising how tame and unphased the animal was by human presence.  You could get as close as you possibly wanted and it wouldn’t even flinch!  Little did we know there was so much more to come.  The ferry was a quick ride over incredibly clear blue pristine water.  From there we took a small bus to the hotel.  Along the way we passed “Los Gemelos”, (the twins) they are side by side volcano craters.  They are inactive and lie on the part of Santa Cruz island that is considered the highlands.  In this area it has a drearier look, lots of clouds and some misty rain, but the vegetation in this area was much greener, and you could find that many of the natives who inhabit the islands have their fields in the highlands.  We came down in the small town of Santa Cruz, a neat little area of many colorful homes.  Our hotel was amongst this.  Our hotel which had sort of a Hansel and Gretel look was very charming.  As we explored it seemed that most of the hotels were very similar, there were not large chain hotels, more of small boutique hotels, each with their own unique look. 
Our hotel was only a few blocks from the main strip of Santa Cruz, where on one end you could find Charles Darwin research center and on the other a Marina where seals were there to meet you all day long and you could find boats and water taxi’s to other parts of the island or other islands all together. 
We spent our first afternoon trying to get a lay of the land.  We were so surprised to come across the fish market where seals and pelicans hung around all day long waiting for the fishermen to come in and hopefully get a chance at the catch of the day.  I tried getting a little to o close to one of the seals who turned and looked at me and barked!  Just like a dog!  The seals are so full of personality, each time we would encounter one it was either they paid you no attention and you could get close enough to touch them, or at other times, they would follow you and almost even pose until you snapped pictures of them. 
The other exciting and yet also surprising animal we encountered were iguanas.  The most interesting part was when you came up to an iguana on a sidewalk or path they would have no intention of moving for you, you would have to make sure you got of their way.  So unlike the behavior you typically see out of this creature when they scurry out of your way faster than you can blink.  We saw iguanas everywhere we went.  So many that by the end of the week we were sick of them! 
At the Charles Darwin center you can also find one of the islands biggest attractions, their gigantic turtles.  This center is famous for the turtle named Lonesome George, who we missed by only one month, he died at the end of June, at the age of 150 years old!!!!  There was a small little plaque in his memory.
Our first full day on the island we decided to trek out to an area called Tortuga Bay.  It was a few hour walk from the hotel to the beach.  One thing about the islands is that it’s all natural; there are no stairs or handicap passageways.  You have to be able bodied to do everything or otherwise you just can’t.  So we took this long trail out to the beach.  The park ranger told me that the beach water was rough but once we had reached the beach to walk another 15 minutes and we would encounter an area to swim.  As we walked along the pristine beach of beautiful clear blue water, I saw a very large iguana coming out of the water onto the beach.  I was so excited and yelled for my Dad with his better camera lens to come and check it out.  The one thing I hadn’t realized watching this iguana come onto the beach was that there were tons of iguanas already lying there.  I had dismissed them on first glass as logs or sticks, but nope, they were all iguanas lying there sunning themselves.  We took tons of pictures.  Since the island is made up of rocks formed from lava from the volcanoes that created the islands, the iguanas would also climb up onto the rocks to sun themselves, and they match the color of the rocks so you would just see areas with tons of heads popped up over the rocks. It was really cool!  Once the fascination of the iguanas wore off, I looked behind us and realized through some bushes there was this bay –like area with calm water where people were swimming.  We had brought our bathing suits; however, there was no place to change.  For me this was no big deal, after bathing in creeks and rivers for almost two years, changing in bushes is no big deal.  But I helped my parents out with holding up towels.  The sand was so white and almost like a powder.  Since it is winter in Ecuador the water was a little chilly, but actually refreshing and just beautiful.  As we sat in the water, pelicans would pass overhead and land in the water.  Although I have visited a few Caribbean islands and Mexico, I have never seen water so incredibly blue and clean, you almost feel like you personally are discovering this place for the first time, it seems so untouched. 
The next day we decided to explore the highlands of the island.  This meant going and seeing turtles in their natural habitat and exploring lava tunnels.  Instead of paying some guide to take us, we just got in a taxi (which are all trucks), and we told him where to take us.  We went to what seemed like a farm, lots of open grassy land with cows grazing and look for turtles.  First we had to change out of our sandals and but on boots.  That was a fun experience.  Then we went turtle hunting.  We found about 3 female turtles, which are the smaller of the sex. However, in my opinion still huge.  When we got close they would hiss and growl.  And recoil into their shell as much as they could, since they are so huge isn’t much.  We got some great pictures before heading over to the lava tunnels.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the lava tunnels but my Dad was excited to see them.  The taxi just sort of dropped us at this hole in the ground and pointed to this house up on a hill and said we would come out there.  Being a little too trusting we went for it.   We went down into this hole, and there was a rope and small lights that would guide our way we were told.  All I kept thinking is that in Peru, this when you would get robbed!  We followed the tunnel that had been cut from this lava from the ancient volcanoes.  It was so neat, and there were parts you would have to crawl or duck to get through.  Who can say that they walked through tunnels that were cut by lava!  It had a real creepy vibe though; there was no one or any animals or anything in these dark tunnels.  As we were told the tunnels ended at the house on the hill, where we climbed out only to see a beautiful view of the coast and its blue waters, and a neighboring island.  We changed back into our sandals and headed back to the hotel. 
The next day we had looked over the map of Santa Cruz Island a few times and realized there wasn’t much else to see then what we had already seen.  So we decided we would do an excursion where we would take a 2 hour boat ride over to Isabela Island, the largest of all the islands, it also was home to the 2nd largest town and really the 2nd inhabitated area between all the islands, Santa Cruz being the first.  To be honest, we signed up, but really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.  At the office they had shown us pretty pictures of the excursion and the boat.   But it was not completely accurate.  I don’t anything could really have been prepared for what that boat ride was really going to be like.  When you get out onto the open Pacific between the islands, it’s no joke.  It is the reason Dramamine was invented!  The waves are enormous, and the small boat we were on didn’t seem made for that kind of ocean.  It was a stomach turning two hours.  There were 15 of us together on this excursion, and when you looked around you would seen everyone with their eyes closed hanging onto something in the case the boat would jump, which it did a lot, to help soften the blow.  Occasionally they would make us move around shifting the weight so that the boat would not jump as much, at one point landing more than half of us comfortably on one side of the boat.   It was a relief to all of us to reach the other island, however, a little bit sad at the same time knowing we would have to go back that afternoon the same way we came.  On isabela island we went first to visit flamingos in a Laguna, then we went to a research/ breeding center of turtles, where we saw many many turtles of all ages that were being breed and raised to be released back into their natural habitat.  And interesting fact was that a threat to the turtle population is actually the locals killing the turtles and eating their meat.  I was surprised to hear that, it just seemed like most everyone on the island was sensibilized to the animals having been raised in such a famous and unique place.  We also saw more iguanas, and took a small boat ride out to an area called the Tintorerias.  Where we saw penguins, the famous blue footed booby bird.  Also sharks and seals.  I really loved the penguins they were so cute.  We couldn’t get that close to them to any really great pictures.  But we were lucky when we came back into the marina, there was one swimming around below the pier.  They are so incredibly fast.  We also saw a few more as we were sitting on the beach, they almost looked like ducks from far away but then you can see the difference when they dive and how fast they move. 
We also got a lunch with our excursion, it reminded me of what is called “menu” in Peru.  It is a lunch that a restaurant decides in advance that is going to prepare for the day in a large amount and it is generally cheaper then ordering something out of the menu.  It typically comes with a soup, then a main plate, and a drink, and with luck in the islands a dessert. It was like eating in Peru, there was first a fish soup, then a chicken dish with rice and banana chips, and desert was a bowl of bananas and whipped cream.  I thought it was delicious, especially since the last month or so there had been problems in my house in Chipillico and I was being served fried eggs at every meal!  Actually all the food was delicious in the Galapagos.  I even got quesadillas one day, which I love!
We were so pleasantly surprised with prices of everything.  On my previous trip to Machu Picchu I was so disappointed at the price gouging and the complete taking advantage of the tourist situation.  I had just assumed the Galapagos would be worse because Ecuador is a little more developed then Peru and when you are typically trapped on an island they take advantage of the tourists.  Not in this case at all.  Ecuador uses dollars and everything was reasonably priced and cheaper than you would find in the United States, and pretty good.  We only went to one restaurant where we were disappointed in the pizza, but I have found through traveling that other countries are just discovering pizza and haven’t quite got it right yet. 
The last full day we discovered there was a part of Santa Cruz we had missed, we asked and found we would have to take a water taxi to the part of the island.  The trail said it would take us to “Las Grietas”, I didn’t know what this word meant, but now know it means crack or crevasse.  .  We followed a trail, passing a beach and other Laguna’s.  It was a very uncomfortable trail made of lava rocks; it wasn’t smooth and was difficult to walk.  Like I wrote previously, there is no trying to make anything any easier, you just sort of have to deal with it as it is.  We reached what was my FAVORITE part of the trip, a little cavern of crystal clear blue water.  We climbed down into it, and found a place to change between some rocks and my Dad and I climbed over very slippery and kind of dangerous rocks to get in the water as my Mom took pictures.  We arrived just as a family with their guide was leaving.  They said the water was about 30 feet deep.  Just standing there looking down you could see the bottom.  My Dad and I swam from one end to the other, where I climbed over some rocks and saw that there was another pool of water, and opened up into other caverns.  It was so cool!  It would have been a great place to snorkel, because as we were leaving I climbed up over rocks to look at it from above and there were some large fish swimming around that we couldn’t see while we were swimming.  I just love when you find something like that!
Before we knew it vacation was over and we were heading back to spend one last night in Guayaquil, as my Mom had put it, it was a vacation where you almost need another vacation to relax from this one.  It was true, it was a nonstop adventure.  Typically a vacation like that wouldn’t interest me, but where else in the world can you just being standing there and a wild bird comes and sits on your hand….in the Galapagos it happened! 

We spent one last day in Guayaquil before my parents flew home that night and I took my bus back to Piura.  We found a semi-touristy area, and climbed a big hill which was also a neighborhood and there was a church up top and a look out to see the entire city.  But none of that was really anything comparable to where we had just come from. 
It was difficult to say goodbye to my parents as always.  This time more than ever I just wanted to hop on the plane with them and go home.  My time is so close to ending in Peru that I am ready to go back to the states. Leaving them meant I was going back to my reality in Chipillico, a reality that I am ready to come to an end.   I feel like my job is done here, and I have done all that I feel that I could to contribute to Chipillico.  I am ready for the next chapter, which is already looking exciting; I can’t believe I will be coming home to go shopping for my wedding dress and to finally hold my beautiful new niece Emma!  That seems so surreal! 
One thing is I am so grateful for these two years of unbelievable experiences!  I am so lucky to be able to check off Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands on my list of “been there and done that! 

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