Galapagos Overview

Well, where to begin?  What an amazing place, what an amazing experience.

Isla Santiago from Bartolome

Isla Santiago from Bartolome

The main airport for the Galapagos is on the small island of Baltra which is on the north side of Isla Santa Cruz.  They are separated by a relatively narrow channel.  After you arrive in the airport, you will be taken by bus to the dock for a crossing to Santa Cruz.  The boat we had booked for our 8 day tour was the Floreana, which is also the name of one of the islands.  This boat was anchored in the channel so rather than cross to Santa Cruz we were taken onto the boat.  The Floreana accommodates 16 passengers in 8 cabins and we had a full boat.  Interestingly, Valerie and I were the only representatives from the US.  There were two couples from Switzerland (not related); a woman, her father and her son from Denmark; a single man from Denmark (friends with the family); a couple and a single guy from the UK (unrelated); a young girl from Germany; a young girl from Austrailia; and a young guy from Brazil.

Ninety-seven percent of the land mass of all of the Galapagos islands are part of the Galapagos National Park.  The people who owned land prior to the formation of the national park were allowed to stay.  The national park provides for the protection of the land and the wildlife.  The guides who work on the tour boats are employed by the national park to introduce visitors to the many natural wonders of the islands and the surrounding waters. Continue reading

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Spanish Lessons and Leaving Canoa

Dinner at Sundown Inn

Dinner at Sundown Inn

On Sunday, January 16, we’ll be leaving Canoa.  However, we won’t be going very far.  We’re relocating for a brief visit in Bahia de Caraquez.  This is a nice town that sits out on a point at the intersection of the Pacific Ocean and Rio Chone.  This river separates Bahia from San Vicente.  These towns are only about 4 or 5 miles south of the Sundown Inn.  Bahia has some nice high rise apartments and condos with terrific views of the ocean and coastline.  Some people we met at the Sundown have taken an apartment in Bahia for the next month.  We’ll be staying at the Hostal Coco Bongo in Bahia for a couple of days before heading back to Quito to prepare for our flight out to the Galapagos on the 20th.

We’ve enjoyed our visit to Canoa and the Sundown Inn.  Along with some of the other guests here, our catch phrase for the past few days has been, “it’s good to be the king”, a line delivered by Mel Brooks in “History of the World – Part 1”.  It fits.  Life here is pretty simple and easy.  The ocean, sun, food, beer, etc.  It’s all here and it’s convenient and inexpensive.

As for the Spanish lessons, we participated in lessons here at the Sundown for 5 days, 4 hours per day.  Our instructor was Maria Elana, the wife of the on-site manager, Juan Carlos.  They use a very structured curriculum, one apparently used throughout Ecuador.  There is a grammar book that addresses all aspects of the language:  pronouns, gender, verb forms (regular and irregular), conjugation, sentence structure, etc. and an exercise book to reinforce the grammar lessons.  Now those of you who may have had extensive Spanish language instruction (Paige) are probably saying, “Right, so what’s your point”.  Well my point is that our expectations were for something more along the line of survival Spanish or traveller’s Spanish.  Something to help us get by until we could develop a more extensive vocabulary over time.  The lessons we had were useful but we’ll keep looking.  At this point I wouldn’t say that we have significantly expanded our language skills.

Baby Nicholas

Baby Nicholas

The daily sessions were split into 2 parts, 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon.  The afternoon sessions were 3:00pm to 5:00pm.  These sessions were held in the dining area.  Maria Elana has a 9 year old daughter, Lindsey, and a 1 year old son, Nicholas.  There was someone looking after Nicholas but they were also in the dining area.  Often, Lindsey was also there and sometimes with her friend.  In addition, the cook would be there preparing dinner.  So, generally we had to compete with a squealing 1 year old, the little girls, the cook and Maria Elana keeping track of everyone.  Challenging.

Next article we’ll put up some photos of Bahia.

Sundown Inn and Canoa

At the equator, the sun rises and sets at about the same time every day and in just about tA Beautiful Sunsethe same spot every day, year round.  The Sundown Inn sits on the beach which faces directly west so we have the sunset straight out from the terrace attached to our room.  The beach is a very gradual slope into the water and the water temp is very comfortable, not the freezing Pacific we’re used to in So Cal.

The Sundown Inn is a small family owned and operated enterprise about a 20 minute walk south of Canoa.  The on-site family consists of Juan Carlos, his wife Maria Elena, their 2 children and the watch dog Marley.  They offer the option of having 2 meals on site each day for $6 per person per day.  The breakfast and dinner are varied and very tasty.  This pretty much takes care of our food for the day except for a small snack mid-day.  The guests can store food and drink on site in the refrigerator and use the kitchen as well.  I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that for our room and 2 meals per day we pay $22.50.  Seriously.  We’re encountering lots of nice fellow travellers here in various stages of their own extended visits to Ecuador and other parts of South America.

You can imagine that 50 or 60 years ago, there were little towns on the California coast like Canoa.  It’s less than 10,000 people with mostly dirt streets.  The street that runs along the beach is lined with open air restaurants and bars on the side opposite the beach and with a series of small thatched roof huts on the beach side which offer dining and drinking on the sand.  It’s the kind of beach experience you can’t get in the US anymore due to safety, health, environmental, liability and any of a dozen more regulations and zoning restrictions.  Yesterday at one of these huts, Valerie and I shared a large bowl of Sopa Marinera, a rich soup with lots of shrimp, fish, clams and crab.  It was delish.  During the week, Canoa is low key and pretty quite.  On the weekend and holidays, the buses arrive with Ecuadorians and other travellers looking for fruity drinks and a fun beach getaway.  The activity and music gets cranked up a few notches.

We were at one of the enterprises across the street from the beach, the Surf Shak, when a man rode up on a pony.  He dismounted and went in to the bar for something, came back out, got on his pony and rode away.  This is Canoa.

We’ve uploaded some photos from our week at the Sundown Inn and Canoa.  We’ll be here for another week.

Trip to Canoa

Reina del Camino is the predominant bus line for routes to the coast near Canoa.  A few days before we got to Quito, one of their buses on another route ran off the road and several passengers were killed.  They had apparently severely overloaded the bus.  The government transit authority suspended their license temporarily.  We were told that other bus lines would likely be taking over some of their routes.  Coactur is one of the bus lines we were told to check with.

Quitumbe Bus Terminal, Quito

We got up early to get to the bus terminal not knowing what we would find for departure times.  The bus terminal in south Quito, Quitumbe, is fairly new and very modern.  We began wandering the various bus line booths looking for options.  The Coactur booth was unmanned at that time so we went to have a small breakfast.  We sat at a table near the escalator and were entertained by watching the reactions of people who had apparently never seen an escalator before.

We kept watching for departures listed for the area where we wanted to go but any we saw were for the Reina del Camino line.  I guess they had not bothered to remove those departures from the schedule.

Once we found someone at the Coactur booth, I said I wanted to got to either San Vicente or Bahia de Caraquez, the cities closest to Canoa.  He indicated that we should take their bus to Portoviejo that departed at 1:30pm.  This gave us about 4 hours to wait but it seemed our best option.

When it came time to board we went to the bus and as we handed over our luggage, I told the luggage handler that we wanted to get to either San Vicente or Bahia.  I finally understood that he was telling us that we would get to Portoviejo and then need to take another bus to Bahia.  Since everything was being transacted in Spanish I had missed this aspect of the route.  I had assumed that this bus would pass though Bahia on the way to Portoviejo, which is about 2 hours further south of Bahia.  I then asked how long to get to Portoviejo, 7 hours, he said.

So, at almost 9:00pm, we pulled into the bus station in Portoviejo, not knowing what we would find regarding another bus to Bahia.  By the way, I would not recommend putting the Portoviejo bus station on your to do list for a visit to Ecuador.  It’s not for the faint of heart, especially at 9:00pm.  In fact, the guide book says that there is really nothing notable about Portoviejo.  We found the Coactur booth and after waiting through several chaotic exchanges between customers and the ticket sellers, one of the other customers began helping me to get some information about departures to either Bahia or San Vicente, again everything is in Spanish.  At first it seemed that there were none, then seemingly there was great surprise and excitement and arm waving telling me to step around to the other side of the booth where they could sell me a ticket to Bahia for a bus leaving at 9:30pm.  In fact, there was such a bus and it left more or less on time at 9:50pm.

At just before midnight, after everyone else on the bus had gotten off at other stops, we arrived in Bahia and were dropped off, alone on the sidewalk of a deserted street.  I asked the driver about getting to Canoa, he indicated we should go to a nearby gas station to get a taxi, he thought it would be about $10 for the taxi to Canoa.

When we crossed the street a couple of taxis came by and we hailed the first one.  This was a very tiny car, never did identify the make and the driver took up most of the available space.  I asked to get to Canoa and he said the cost would be $15.  I wasn’t about to argue with him at midnight on a deserted street.

The hotel we wanted is about 1 mile south of Canoa so I told him the name but I didn’t have the impression he was familiar with it so I tried to look for any sign of the hotel, not wanting to miss it.  We crossed the new bridge that connects Bahia to San Vicente, then on to Canoa.  Before this bridge was completed, we would have needed to take a ferry which didn’t run that late at night.  After about 20 minutes of dark, near deserted road, I saw the sign for Sundown Inn and pointed it out to the driver.  We pulled into the driveway and everything was dark.  There was a dachshund “guard dog” barking so we know it was inhabited.  The driver honked the horn and eventually someone came out and greeted us.  He recognized my name as being expected and showed us directly to a room and said that we would talk the next day about the details.

More about Canoa and the Sundown Inn later.