Ecuador - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 403 (213)

On board NEMO I

Friday 15th April (2005)

I was feeling much better this morning. Between the Amoeba parasite tablets and the Cipro, I was thankfully getting on top of whatever the problem was. I still had some diarrhoea but I was at least able to eat a bit and also to participate in the day’s activities. I even managed to eat some breakfast of fried eggs, bread and fruit juice. There was also some sort of frankfurter and vegetable mix but I didn’t much fancy the look of it.

We discussed the possibility of everyone eating out this evening but there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for it. Sandy and I had a real hankering for a fresh, rotisserie chicken so we may explore that option later. The cook was apparently going to be making chips for dinner so that’ll also be something to look forward to too.

The NEMO I was just one of a couple of dozen cruise boats docked at Puerto Ayora this morning. It was perhaps fortuitous that we were unable to secure a guide for that trip into the highlands just before we started the cruise a few days ago. It turns out that this is included in our itinerary after all and would be the first part of today’s activities. The panga ferried us all the short distance to the now very busy and bustling Puerto Ayora dock where a refreshingly air-conditioned bus was already waiting for us. We sat in blissful comfort as we made our way inland whilst Juan Carlos gave us a running commentary of the different vegetation zones and pointed out the continuing changes in the landscape. A half hour later and we were let out at the site of a couple of enormous sinkholes. There were a couple of them that we saw and each was cylindrical in shape, about a hundred metres deep and about twice that in diameter. The sinkholes were impressive but we spent most of the time trying to get some good shots of the large numbers of Darwin finches that were flying around. There are a dozen or more species here around the Galapagos Islands and I’ve been trying to get a good shot of as many of them as I can. As we were walking from one sinkhole to the next, the whole, single file, row of us stopped to try to get a closer look at one particular finch that was perched in the branches just ahead. Now, in every group of people there’s always one that stands out by not following the rules and we have one such person in our group too. He brazenly walked down the line and straight through the path ahead of us, thus scaring away all the birds, including the one we were gingerly trying to approach. He was blissfully unaware of the damage that he had just caused and seems to somehow thrive on going against the grain and not following the rules such as sticking with the group or whatever. Juan Carlos was so upset that we all doubled back and got back on the bus again. We had to wait for our misfit to realise that he was alone and return back to the bus before we could continue with our highlands tour.

The real reason that we had come up into the highlands was not the geology but the giant Galapagos tortoises that roam around. Much like the wildebeest of the Serengeti, these unlikely looking giants spend near enough the entire year on the move. They spend about six months migrating down towards the lowlands in search of water and then another six months migrating towards the higher ground again. Even though they are very large and very slow, we still, unbelievably, had to take a tracker with us to assist in finding them. He quickly found a male and a female sitting blissfully in the middle of a small swamp up to their necks in water and thick mud. Juan Carlos had already told us all about the different species and how to recognise them during last night’s briefing. We walked around for nearly an hour trying to find as many as we could and managed to find an additional three loners following the first two. None of these subsequent finds were sitting in water so we were able to get some very nice close up photos of them.

As we moved through the thick vegetation, Juan Carlos plucked a few fruit from the various trees and we tried some of them. I think they were guavas. They were round and about the size of a lemon with lots of jelly covered pips inside that had a very distinct flavour to them. They were quite delicious but had a very sharp and intense taste indeed.

There were toilet facilities at the end of our tortoise trek and we were able to sit and partake in some refreshments for about half an hour – not on the toilets of course. The Darwin finches were fluttering about all around us in great numbers again but what kept us most amused was Juan Carlos trying to ride on of the horses that were standing nearby. He managed to gallop up and down for a while on one of them bareback but later learned that it was completely wild.

There was one other geological feature in the highlands that we went to see and this turned out to be a rather large lava tube. As they go, this was quite a sizeable one that you could have driven a bus through and was a good couple of hundred metres in length. These tunnels in the earth were formed as a result of molten lava flowing through them during past geological activities. We’ve seen them before but nowhere near as large as this one.

Juan Carlos doing his best to sing over the coach’s intercom system provided the entertainment for our half hour ride back into town. He did his best to get everyone to try to sing something and about half the group was brave enough to give it a bash. Back aboard NEMO I, lunch was served and everybody was able to rest for an hour or so to recover from the day’s excursions. I took the opportunity to catch up on some backlogged journal writing. Juan Carlos took the panga into town to run a couple of errands and I gave him a bag full of our laundry to take with him to drop off to get cleaned.

Our second excursion for the day was to be to the Charles Darwin Research Institute. This facility works in cooperation with the Galapagos Islands National Park but is funded from grants from such institutions as UNESCO and the WWF, whereas the national park gets its funding from the park entrance fees that each and every visitor here has to pay upon arrival. We already visited the research station before the cruise started but thought we’d learn more with the air of our naturalist guide taking us around all the sites. Indeed we did get to see a little more this time compared to what we saw the previous time but with a couple of very large ships in port today, the place was just teeming with visitors and it was crowded to the point that it was less enjoyable. Still, we did get to see all the giant tortoises again, including Lonesome George, the very last remaining of his species from one of the individual islands. There’s one book and souvenir shop within the research station grounds and the station receives proceeds from every sale it makes so I picked up a Galapagos Islands wildlife identification book there – after first getting Juan Carlos to confirm it to be the best book to buy on the subject.

I lent Juan Carlos some more money this afternoon. We’re thinking that the total of US$110 (€84,61) that I’ve now lent him will simply be our tip to him. We’ve now nearly exhausted our US Dollar cash supply and so we’ll probably use some of our Pounds Sterling to use by way of a tip for the captain and his crew.

After our guided walk around the facility, we were allowed another hour and a half of free time but seeing as we’d already seen everything twice now, Sandy and I decided to make our way back into town to get a water taxi back to our boat. It was now mid-afternoon and the blistering heat was very hard work. We had to sit down for a few minutes on the way there. Fortunately, we were able to flag down a taxi for the remainder of the journey. I used the spare time back aboard NEMO I to catch up some more on my backlogged journal entries. These are the last few remaining entries that I will commit to this journal and I can feel the urge to want to leave it at just writing up the notes, safe in the knowledge that I can complete everything once in Florida. Deep down, however, I know that it will be much better to get things down whilst everything is still fresh in my mind and I keep telling myself to push on ahead for that final stretch.

The panga arrived just as I was finishing up with the last journal entry and Juan Carlos joined me to head back into town to see about finding a rotisserie chicken for dinner. We’d seen at least a couple of places that sold them on the way back from our coach trip into the highlands and we were both very much looking forward to a decent meal of our favourite food this evening. We found the place that we had earlier seen and there were plenty of fresh and pretty much cooked chickens rotating on the spit outside the restaurant. They looked absolutely delicious and so I had the woman prepare a couple of birds to take back with us. She cut them and wrapped them in foil for us and handed them over in a plastic bag. You could have knocked me down with a feather, however, when she told us that they were US$15 (€11,54) each! At that point, though, my drooling lust for a fresh rotisserie chicken was stronger than my budget reflexes and so I reluctantly handed over the money. Ordinarily I would have put up much more of a fight and might have tried to haggle for a while but I wanted that chicken and I wanted it now!

After collecting the now ready and dried laundry, we wasted no time in making our way back to the NEMO I. Unfortunately, the fact that Juan Carlos knows just about every last man, woman and child living in Puerto Ayora meant that he had to stop and chat with several dozen people along the way. The chicken was still very hot by the time we made in back, though, and the regular ship’s dinner was just about being served by the time we arrived so we managed to sit with the entire group anyway. Sandy, myself and Juan Carlos feasted on the succulent chicken and I offered the last half portion of bird to the captain, for which he seemed very grateful. We absolutely gorged ourselves and were completely sated by the end of the meal. With another successful slideshow viewing of our day’s photographic endeavours, it was a perfect ending to the day and we both hobbled into bed absolutely stuffed.