Ecuador - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 406 (216)


Monday 18th April (2005)

With our outbound flight from the Galapagos Islands already scheduled for later this afternoon, this morning’s brief panga ride would sadly mark the termination of our Galapagos Islands cruise. Many passengers were still very tired from yesterday evening’s festivities and the mood around the deck was sombre. It wasn’t openly discussed but it seemed clear that everyone had had a really great time on-board and consequently were sorry to be bringing this fantastic odyssey to a close. I for one could stay here for longer and am already thinking about possibly returning again. People often ask me which was my favourite country and I always tell them that if I had to choose a single country to return to, this would be either South Africa or Tanzania – both for the wildlife viewing. The next time I’m asked this question, it will definitely be a three horse race with the Galapagos Islands now in the mix too.

The panga ride this morning preceded breakfast and there was just a hint of a chill in the still morning air. Knowing full well that the clouds would clear and the mercury would rise, everyone was still exposing most of their skin. Juan Carlos and one other crewmember went with us to explore the nearby Black Turtle Cove. It is an inland series of secluded waterways, channels and lagoons where the banks are lined with endless rows of mangroves. Turtles, shark and a whole host of other marine dwelling creatures come to this place to mate, lay eggs or give birth. The mangrove roots that grow down through the water and into the mud provide a safe haven for the young fish against predators. This nursery is one of those extremely critical features of the overall eco system that, if disturbed, would cause drastic knock-on effects for the natural food chain. Fishing and development here is strictly prohibited. We saw several small schools of different kinds of rays, plenty of birds, lots of turtles popping their heads out of the water from time to time and even quite a few immature shark. We trundled very slowly around the lagoons, looking for movement in the waters around us. At one point, we stumbled into a sleeping group of six small white-tipped shark just twenty centimetres beneath the surface of the water.

It was a successful morning’s panga ride overall and well worth the effort to get up early for. Back aboard the NEMO I, we all finished off what packing we each had left to do and pottered around a bit. People were exchanging last minute contact details with each other and just about everybody extended an invitation to just about everybody else to stay with them whenever the opportunity arose.

The captain had steered us back the short distance over to where it all started at the dock in Baltra and moored up to refuel the vessel. Those sea lions that we first saw lazing under the jetty were still there but what piqued my interest straight away was what looked like a flock of brown noddies in an apparent feeding frenzy just at the surface of the water. A school of larger fish were chasing after a larger school of smaller fish that were jumping at the surface to try to escape. The smaller fish were thus being preyed upon from both beneath as well as above the surface of the water.

As we disembarked for the very last time, everybody shook the captain’s hand and once again thanked the entire crew for their efforts. It was a great cruise and everybody was sad to be leaving the boat. For another couple and us, it was a doubly sad moment as the termination of this Galapagos Islands cruise also signifies the termination of our overall trip.

For all the sadness that we were leaving, everyone was in a jolly mood and it was laughs a minute as Juan Carlos accompanied us all to the airport. We were booked on the later of the two morning flights with TAME and he helped us at the ticket counter to see about changing to the earlier flight. This would give us more time in Quito to sort out our accommodation for the night. It was mayhem at the airport but Juan Carlos did his best to make sure that we were all well looked after. He summonsed one of the national park workers to check our bags before departure. Apparently, they choose a couple of bags at random from each departing group of people to perform an inspection. Neither of our backpacks was chosen so we were free to go and change our flight tickets. It was all a bit confusing initially but after the check-in staff learned that Sandy was pregnant, they seemed to want confirmation of that fact and we had to go digging in our day-packs for the obstetrician reports we had from the scan in Melbourne. Even after seeing this, they still weren’t happy and insisted that Sandy be seen by a doctor who could then confirm that she was fit to fly. We’ve never encountered this anywhere else before but each and every country has its own little eccentricities so we just went with the flow. A young female medic in a small building just behind the check-in desks was on hand to ask Sandy a few questions and to provide the certificate of travel that the airlines wanted. We had to pay US$10 (€7,70) for the privilege but we’d at least be allowed onto the flight. The medic also suggested that this certificate would be useful for when we leave Quito just in case the airlines there made the same fuss. At the very least, we learned that Sandy’s blood pressure was very low. Given that she has had high blood pressure in the past, knowing that it is apparently under control was good to know.

The time finally came for us to pass through into the departure hall and we said our final goodbyes to both Juan Carlos and all the other passengers that were also departing this morning. The same couple that had just finished their overall trip were also going to be spending the night in Quito tonight and we agreed to meet each other for dinner at TGI Friday’s for our last Latin America meal.

Our plane was quite full and there was a six-year-old little Spanish-speaking girl that was travelling on her own in the seat next to me. I did my best to amuse her throughout the flight but verbal communications at least was difficult. She seemed to really enjoy listening to some Disney music through my headphones connected to my laptop. We stopped briefly at Guyaquil to let a few passengers off and on and then pushed on into Quito. Just as soon as we landed, it became readily apparent that we were once again at high altitude and we were both finding it hard work to suck the very thin air from time to time.

This being the very last night of the trip, Sandy wanted to splurge on a really nice hotel so I sat her down to wait for the luggage belt to start moving whilst I meandered over to the International arrivals terminal, where there is an information booth manned by a couple of nice young women. I chatted with them when we first arrived here in Quito too. Just across the street from the TGI Friday’s restaurant that we were to be eating at tonight is a very plush looking Sheraton hotel so I asked them if they could call the hotel on my behalf. I spoke to a very nice young lady at the hotel’s reception desk and asked about a room. I told her that my wife was pregnant (that often seems to help lately) and she offered me a nice room for US$100 (€76,92). Now, Sandy’s instructions were to ignore the cost and to just go ahead and book a really nice room. I guess my haggling and negotiation urges are just simply too dominant now, as I immediately started to haggle with the girl. I knocked her down to US$80 (€61,54) and then finally her boss down to US$70 (€53,85). We’d still have to the pay the 22% tax but I figured the savings would at least pay for our evening meal. Job done! As an added bonus, they sent over a complimentary shuttle to collect us. This Four Points Sheraton turned out to be a five-star hotel – fitting for the last night of our trip, I thought.

The room was gorgeous and just about as good as a hotel room can be. It even had an Internet connection that I could plug into the laptop. After flopping onto the bed, I spent some time doing some last little categorisation chores from our Galapagos Islands photo library. After all was said and done, we managed to retain just under two thousand shots altogether.

We met the other couple at the restaurant later on in the evening and enjoyed a wonderful time exchanging travel anecdotes with each other. By the end of the huge meal, we were all completely sated and barely able to keep our eyes open. Sandy and I arrived back at the hotel completely exhausted – not just from today but also from travelling in general.