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Doing the Galapagos Islands on the Cheap

Another Sisyphean task

sunny 26 °C
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The main reason I had come to Guayaquil was as a stop on the way to the Galapagos Islands. To come all this way and not visit them seemed insane to me, but I have limited money and everyone was telling me how expensive the place is. But as ever, I persisted.

I had found a nice cheap flight for £170 and a room in someone's house for £7 a night. Great start! All this came crashing down around me at the airport.

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That way lies Asia

The process to visit the Galapagos is a bit convoluted. I first went to the counter, to be told I had to do the check in on one of the online machines. This was annoying, as it wouldn't let me do the online check in the night before, so why now? Once this was done, I then had to go get my back checked for banned items. You aren't allowed any non processed food stuffs as they're worried about damaging the eco system. Fair enough. Coffee was allowed though, so I was good. I then had to go pay for some travel card thing, which was another $20 and I was good to go.

But when I went to drop of my rucksack at the counter, I was told that I had bought an 'Ecuadorian flight ticket' and I would have to pay another $130!! I was pretty steamed at this point and if my plane ticket had been refundable I'd have likely cut off my nose to spite my face and told them to stick it up their arses. Fortunately after a couple of conversations with friends and family, saner heads prevailed and I paid up and got on the plane. I didn't buy a coffee in the airport. That will show them!

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They really love Paul Bettany here! - Only one person I know will get that joke

So 185 years, 9 months and 27 days after Charles Darwin arrived in The Beagle, I arrived on a jet plane that landed about a mile from where he did. Darwin thought the island a deserted and isolated place when he initially arrived and my first impressions were pretty similar, but I soon changed my mind (as did he) as I started to explore the island.

For starters, as has been the way in most places I've been this trip, everyone is really nice. The family who own the house where I'm staying are lovely and despite little English being spoken and my continually crap Spanish, we seem to be communicating fine. The room was great, pretty basic, like most of the island, and terrible wifi, but you know, it's a small island in the Pacific Ocean 500 miles away from anywhere, it's a bit of a miracle they have wifi and phone service at all really! The phone service isn't really that bad either, I'm using it right now to uploads the pics on here because the wifi isn't cutting it.

Anyway, after dumping my stuff, I soon took a walk down to the beach to see if I could see any wildlife around. I was in for a bit of a shock.

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Loads of animals everywhere!

The wildlife here is everywhere and I've only seen 5% of it. From the multitudes of birds, big and small, to the lizards everywhere, you can't walk 100 meters without spotting something, but when I got to the water and visited the closest beach to where I'm staying, I found it filled with sea lions, scores of them! Now you hear people talking about how the animals here don't view humans as predators so don't care about you, but their absolute ambivalence towards you is amazing really. They really could care less about you unless you go near their babies or they want to play with you.

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I'm like Attenborough

And there are very few rules as to being around them. You're told to keep 6 feet away and not to touch them, that's about it and not always possible as they'll come right up to you whenever they please. You're supposed to walk away, but no one does, the result is some lovely close up pics of hundreds of (mostly sleeping) sea lions as I went from beach to beach. I also saw loads of marine iguanas, another of the animals I really wanted to see. All I need do now is pay a taxi to take me to the top of the island to where the giant tortoises live and I'll have seen the three land animals on my tick list!

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Ahhh

The price of things isn't too bad for the most part either, considering everything that's being sold has been shipped over 500 miles to get here. I've found the food is pretty reasonable, especially if you go to one of the many little restaurants that are just really extensions of people's houses, but I had a huge burrito at a restaurant in town for just eight dollars, so that wasn't too bad. I did see a normal sized bottle of Jack Daniels in a supermarket for $80 though!!!

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It was a big old burrito!

I'm mostly just walking / hiking around. This morning I woke up and went swimming in the ocean with the sea lions. I'd call it a once in a lifetime experience if I didn't expect to wake up and do it again tomorrow! It really was amazing sharing the water with them as they checked me out, swimming around me and then showing off some leaping out the water. I've taken some video, so hopefully I can do something with that.

Over the next few days I want to do a couple of scuba dives and also take a tour up to the volcano and down to the tortoises, other than that I just want to discover as much of the island as I can and maybe try out the three for $10 mohitos I saw at the beach!

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Posted by cblanc102 14:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged landscapes beaches animals birds planes boats islands water diving flying hiking beach travel volcano drink hostels island scuba plane beauty flights trails coffee journey south_america galapagos ecuador solo problems solo_travel Comments (1)

Breathless


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In most new towns when I'm travelling, I like to take a long walk around, try and get my bearings. Google maps is a massive liar and all too soon space and distance tend to blur away if you have no idea where you're going some of the time. I'd been on Lonely Planet and found lots of places of interest in Quito, which I added to Google Maps as places of interest and with that I set off in the general direction of Quito's Old Town district.

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There were two churches where the insides were almost completely gold!

It's pretty cold here compared to where I've been, even though the weather has been a lot better (no rain!), but that's to be expected as Quito stands at 2850m above seal level, that's almost 10,000 feet! My bed here has 4 blankets, it's pretty toasty. However, as I set out yesterday morning the weather was perfect, sunny, temperature in the high teens, ending up around 21 /22 in the afternoon.

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The first church I came to was stunning!

As I walked along though, I soon found myself in trouble. It was very hard to breathe! I have been higher than this before, I climbed to almost 4000m in Nepal, but I guess we did that over three days, rather than just landing there one day. I was definitely feeling it. Headaches and breathlessness, two symptoms of altitude sickness. On top of that I hadn't eaten much as I got in late the night before because of the airplane antics (see last blog) but I carried on regardless.

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The Main Square in Quito's Old District

Quito is a beautiful city, filled with some amazing churches, monuments, parks and surrounded by volcanoes. It's hard to take a crappy photo, but as you'll see I tried! It's very friendly too, pretty cheap and they serve fantastic coffee! It's also extraordinarily hilly! Some of the streets I had to climb were really difficult, it must have been quite the sight for the locals to see me huffing and puffing up the hills. I somehow managed to make it back in time to see England smash the Ukraine though, so all was good, come on you Lions!!! (and thank God for decent WiFi and a VPN)

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Stupidly hilly streets

In the evening I tried to plan my next few weeks. One of the things that I have found to be a lot harder this trip is the decision making process. Everything seemed more straightforward in Thailand, maybe because I had been planning that trip for a year, whereas this trip was very much a last minute thing, but deciding where to go next has really been an issue, as it was last night where my initial plans were scuppered after discovering that one place was miles away from where I actually wanted to visit and the other town was in fact a den of iniquity filled with loggers, oil drillers and apparently tons of crime.

I finally found the website of a married American couple who have taken a year off to honeymoon hiking the Americas. This website has become my new travel Bible and within an hour of reading it, I had booked my next three weeks where I will end up in the Galapagos Islands! A dream come true for me as I've wanted to go there for years. I'm very excited! I've also got a much better idea about how to get into Peru and do Machu Picchu in a great way (more on that another time)

Now if only the Government would sort their minds out about the stupid traffic light thing, I could actually plan all the rest of the trip down to when and how I can go home!

Today I hiked higher than I've ever been, to almost 4700m! I had help with a cable car in the middle, but still walked 4km. 300m uphill to get there, then another 4km up 750m from the top of the cable car. The views were incredible, but like all exercise, it wasn't worth it of course. At least the altitude sickness was less of a bother today.

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A view from the top

I then travelled North on the bus to the 'Middle of the World'. A monument celebrating the equator where you can stand either side of the North / South divide...... Apart from the fact that when GPS was invented, they discovered that the actual line was about 200m away. Good try though!

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North and South. Or Not

The buses here are crazy, just 30p for a 1hr, 30km ride, they fill up with people straight away and overfill way past the limit. Just when you think it's not possible to fit anyone else on the bus, they let a few more on. On top of this there's been a person on every ride asking for money. Usually, they tell a little story and sell something like a snack, I saw one busload of people applaud a guy's story on the bus to Panama City, but on one bus today there were three or four beggars ranging from children to agitated drunks. It wasn't great.

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Some old bloke up a volcano

I'll be braving the buses again tomorrow as I head for Banos where I hope to try my first ever white water rafting!

Again, come on you England! I hope the new place has decent WiFi!!

Posted by cblanc102 05:01 Archived in Ecuador Tagged landscapes mountains churches skylines people hiking travel volcano bus hostels holiday weather beauty coffee journey south_america ecuador quarantine problems Comments (0)

Terror in the Skies!

Well... mild worry


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I arrived at my hostel in Quito tonight at 10pm, some 3 hours after I was supposed to have arrived. How did this happen? Well let me tell you.

Most other parts of the travel were fine. I left Colon this morning, grabbed a bus to Panama city where I got the Metro train as close to the airport as I could, for some reason, neither of Panama City's two metro lines actually stop at the airport! I had to get the train, then jump in a minibus for a dollar to the airport.

The airport was great, only really two things of note. Firstly, the vaccinations worked a charm. Instead of paying out for a PCR test now twice, I have only had to show my vaccination details, saving me at least £100 - £150. Great.

Secondly, Panama City is the only airport I've been to where they don't sell cigarettes in the duty free! These weren't for me, I don't smoke (more on that in 10 days), but I was looking to see how much they were for friends. Nope, none at all that I could find. I looked online and apparently they don't sell them there!

Anyway, on to the flight, nice little 90 min trip. All was good until at about 300 ft the pilot decides that it's not safe to land. This is now the third time this has happened to me in three years! First in Istanbul where the pilot pulled up ten feet from the ground and then in 'Sarf'end a couple of years back where we had to loop round as he arrived at the landing strip too fast.

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Beautiful Ecuador

This time was pretty scary though. Ecuador is stunning from above, low clouds over volcanoes and mountains, deep cracks in the ground where earthquakes have pulled the country apart. It looks amazing, but when you want to land on a runway 3000 meters up in the mountains, it can get a bit hairy!

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Out the window photography

We flew around for about 30 mins after that, when the pilot told us that we were being diverted to Guayaquil, a town some 250 miles SE. This much to the annoyance of the old boy sat 2 seats away from me. We landed there fine, refueled, waited for some news or idea if we'd be staying there the night or going back. After a while apparently the wind died down and we flew back, landing in the dark with no issues at all.

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I don't know what part of my body is in this cack handed shot!

It wasn't the scariest flight I've ever been on, I'll give that to the Istanbul flight, but it was up there! Any safe landing is a good one, but three near missed in three years I could do without!

Oh P.S! Quito is bloody cold!! Back to jeans tomorrow!

Posted by cblanc102 04:35 Archived in Ecuador Tagged landscapes mountains night flying travel hostels panama aeroplane plane beauty flights journey ecuador vaccination solo_travel covid coronovirus Comments (2)

Big Turnaround

again....


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This will be pretty short, but have loads of photos!
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A nice part of Panama City!

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Hanging at the Panama Canal, truly o World Wonder

I haven't been enjoying Panama. Boquete was lovely, but I couldn't stay there forever and travelling in Panama was just driving me crazy for some reason. It felt like every decision I made was the wrong one. And this is how I found myself in Colon, apparently Panama's most dangerous city.
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Colon is a shit hole, probably where it gets it's name (it's not)

I could only stay in my hotel in Panama City for two nights, so I thought, 'Why not head up to the Caribbean for a few days?' BIG mistake. I am at the Caribbean, but in a port city that makes Mos Eisley look like Athens, makes Dartford look like Shangri La.

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At least the Panama Canal is near by

I pretty much lost it. I didn't even feel safe walking around and I've walked around some dodgy places, slums, darkened Mumbai alleys at night, Dartford. Here felt worse. I wanted out. Now.

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This is a working prison! It's like sonething out of a horror movie!

I had a flight in 19 days time out of the country that couldn't be changed because I saved £70 on a flight, but after a couple of phone conversations I just thought sod it and booked a flight out to Ecuador. I lost £180 but I'll save half that by being in the much cheaper country for the extra time.

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Animals checking me out in Panama City park

So I'm getting ready to leave now for my bus back to Panama City, then off to the airport. It does feel a bit like giving up and it was a knee jerk reaction to being in such a craphole of a city, but I'm happy with the decision. At least I had enough time to see the Panama Canal. One of the trip bucket list entries and well worth being here for.

Now on to Quito and the Southern Hemisphere!

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Goodbye Panama - I give you a 5/10, but that's not enough

Posted by cblanc102 13:47 Archived in Panama Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises lakes bridges buildings skylines animals night monkeys rainforest hiking travel bus beauty journey central_america solo solo_travel Comments (0)

Water - fools


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Just so you know, I've been writing this (or not) for three days, so when I talk about yesterday, I'm actually talking about Saturday 26th June. I have been a mixture of tired, travelling and lazy. Apologies

So yesterday was the craziest of days yet.

I had decided to hike to a series of waterfalls with one of the women from my hostel, Anita and we were ready to set off at about 9:30. A couple also staying at the hostel offered us a lift to the start as it was a long way past the bus stop to the waterfalls. Unfortunately we accepted.

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Some cute little Panamanian girls we met that just live in these stone houses with no windows

The couple are born again Christians. I have no idea to which particular denomination they belong (I suspect none), but their beliefs also include:

The Earth is flat
The moon, sun, stars are all made up, put there by Christ as a test or something, I don't know why he's being an arse about it.
So no moon landing or any other space stuff.
The outline of a bird that can be seen from above in some mountain range is what's left over from an actual 150 mile long bird from the past
Basically, all conspiracies that you have heard of are real and anything that randomly resembles anything else is actually that.

This was ok I guess when you could walk away, but when we were stuck in a car with them, there was no escaping the idiocy. When we stopped to take a look at an interesting rock face, we were told that all rocks, apart from volcanic rocks, are the leftover muscles of giants - The Devils Tower in Wyoming is the ankle of a giant. The Giant's Causeway? More giants. It's interesting that the only rock that isn't giants is the one that you see formed in front of you... Although how they explain tectonic plate shifts I don't know, probably more giants.

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No rock, remains of a giant, or some other insane ramblings

We eventually escaped and started our walk, but this nonsense went on all week, with them trying to convert new arrivals and trying to convince me that lunar eclipses and horizons aren't real. They failed in all of it.

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The first waterfall, where we escaped

Anyway, back to the walk. After losing Mr and Mrs Munchhausen at the first waterfall we continued up through the rain forest climbing up and over rocks, up ropes and across rivers, there were three more waterfalls, all more impressive than the last, they were truly beautiful and well worth the effort, although as you could guess by now if you've been reading my blogs, it's usually around this point where it starts raining hard and this was no different.

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Waterfall no 2

The walk to the waterfalls had been mostly uphill, so getting back was a little easier, although it was a lot slippier and we both fell a few times. We were absolutely soaked though as we left with a good couple of hours walk along the road ahead of us. Anita suggested that we ask a guy who had walked in front of us if we could get a ride into town, she's Polish, apparently it's a thing. Before we had a chance though, he offered us a ride! We just had to wait for the other two people he'd offered a free ride to!

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Waterfall 3, the weather is getting worse!

What a gent! His name was Frank, a Cuban who had moved to Panama a decade ago and apparently just gave people rides? On the way to town, he surprised us again by pulling into a coffee house and buying us all coffee! It doesn't get much better than this!

Or so we thought until he invited us all to his house for dinner! It was incredible and crazy.. We'd met the guy an hour before and here we were contemplating going to his house for dinner. We were fairly sure this would be some kind of Murder House, but I was bored of cooking my own pasta every night, so I accepted. After a quick stop to buy a huge piece of meat, and another to let us change our wet clothes, we arrived at Franks house and just WOW. It was huge! After we were shown around the place and his two enormous gardens we chatted and drank, got to know each other and finally ate what tasted a lot like perfect beef and hopefully not the remains of the people invited there before.

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The final waterfall from the front and back! Aren't you lucky!!

It was a fantastic night. One that I can only imagine happening while travelling and even then very rarely. You'd rarely even hear of someone giving strangers a lift in the rain, let alone buying them coffee or inviting them into their home! But six people from five different countries with varying levels of English and Spanish spent the evening laughing and singing and dancing like we'd all known each other for years. I'll never forget it.

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First getting to know each other in the coffee house

Finally, today is day 40 of this trip. on day 40 of the last attempt, I arrived back in Gravesend beaten by the stupid virus, so every day from today is officially the longest I have travelled for. I very much doubt I'll be out here for a full 6 months, it just seems too long and the price of flights back to Costa Rica from Peru are about the same as a flight back to the UK, so I suspect I'll return to the UK from there, travel conditions permitting, so I think I'm around a third of the way through the trip, but who knows at this point!! If the last week has shown me anything, it's that anything can happen.

Posted by cblanc102 04:48 Archived in Panama Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains bridges buildings people parties trees night food rain rainforest hiking travel drink hostels jungle holiday panama weather beauty friendship coffee central_america problems solo_travel Comments (0)

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