Late last year, Leila and I returned from a magical trip exploring the Galapagos Islands and the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. We’ve always heard how special it is to see the Galapagos Islands, but always wondered if the hype was deserved – it is.
First crossing of the equator – The flight down started at a reasonable 9:00am, but we didn’t arrive at the new Quito airport until almost midnight. The 75 minute ride into Quito, 9200 feet and 1,500 feet higher than the airport took us on roads that would make any two lane road in the Rockies seem like a “piece of cake.” At 2:30 in the morning, we finally got into our hotel room at 1.5 degrees south of the equator.
We added an extra day to our trip, so we could sleep in the next day. Woke up to some great views of the city and the Andes from our hotel room.
The rest of the first day was spent getting used to the attitude and exploring the city, including a pleasant lunch outdoors while enjoying the “forever spring” weather of Quito.
Second Crossing of the equator – Feeling much more refreshed on the second day, we signed up for a tour to the famous local craft market in Otavalo, Ecuador, 70 miles north of Quito. We went back down the two-lane road that bounced us around coming from the airport. All was fine until our tour bus broke down about an hour out of Quito. At five miles an hour we finally made it to the next town 20 minutes later and exited the bus for what we thought would be a long wait for a replacement bus.
But our ingenious guide flagged down a local bus – they are all quite colorful – and paid our fare so we could continue our journey
At the next stop, a traveling salesman hopped on the bus and harangued the captive audience for at least 10 minutes about the amazing health benefits of his “coca balm”, which of course he would sell for a mere one dollar per 1 oz container. His sales were brisk, including a number of people in our tour. I wondered if we would get stopped at US customs for smuggling in illegal drugs.
Our replacement bus caught up with us at a scenic lookout where we got more views of the Andes and the local livestock.
We finally reached the primary destination of the day, the Otavalo craft market – 0.25 degrees north of the equator, where you can buy every kind of garment and other textile made from alpaca fur.
Needless to say, we satisfied all of our holiday shopping requirements on the trip.
Third Crossing of the Equator – On the way back to Quito, we stopped as what is claimed to be “The first and only monument on the Real Equator.”
At noon on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun shines directly down a yellow cylinder on to a mirror at the bottom.
The next day we took the 2 hour flight to the Galapagos Islands, where we bonded on a 98-foot Athala II catamaran for the next eight days with 14 other travelers from the US, Canada and France.
The first afternoon proved what we had always heard – the animals have no fear of humans. You can swim among the sea turtles and walk within feet – sometime inches – of the other animals and they just ignore you or give you curious looks. We walked among hundreds of sea lions and their babies.
Even at night the full moon allowed us to watch the sea lions.
The next day was the first of seven days with opportunities to snorkel and swim among the sea turtles
Fourth Crossing of the Equator – We ultimately headed to the west side of the largest island (Isabella) where we saw more sea lions, plus hundreds of marine iguanas – where you definitely needed to watch where you walk as the iguanas look like rocks – and certainly don’t want to move for a few humans to get by.
Everywhere there were also hundreds of Sally Lightfoot crabs
Other reptiles were also easy to find on the islands, including the land iquana and the lava lizard.
Besides seeing an abundance of animals, the hikes on the islands showed how water deprived the islands are and gave you time to reflect that you could be walking in the exact spot that Charles Darwin walked in 1831.
Fifth Crossing of the Equator – We headed back to the main town (Puerto Arroyo) at 0.75 degrees south latitude, were we spent a night sleeping on land, so that we could walk among the many tortoises – the iconic animal of the islands
A walk past the local fish market provided a juxtaposition between humans and pelicans vying for recently caught tuna.
Sixth crossing of the Equator – We headed north to the island of Marchena (at 0.25 degrees North) where we saw the largest collections of birds. During our eight days among the islands, we saw thousands of birds. Below is just a small sample of what we saw.
Seventh Crossing of the equator – Finally we returned to Baltra, where we got one last look at the nearby islands
And then boarded our flight for the 3 ½ trip back to Quito where the land below our feet seemingly continued to sway back and forth – finally ended once we got home. We had one more day to see the historic section of Quito – now an World Heritage Site – before our 18 hour flight home and eighth crossing of the equator.