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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water

This post is sponsored by Kevin and Lisa!*


View Central America 2021 on cblanc102's travel map.

Yes, I've been waiting forever to use a Jaws (2) tagline for my blog....

So while I made a big deal about 'Doing the Galapagos on the cheap', there were some things I really wanted to do or see.

Firstly, I wanted to see several animals. Sea lions, marine iguanas, giant tortoises and Darwin's finches. I would also have loved to have gone scuba diving, having passed my advance PADI course last year. It was very expensive though. Very fortunately, I have some lovely friends who gave me some money for Christmas / Birthday last year (Thank you so much Kevin and Lisa!! XX) that I was able to use to do just that. Go diving in the Galapagos!

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These plants are like tiny Chinese lanterns, amazing!

I had looked around and decided that I wanted to go to a place called Kicker Rock. It was the place where they said there was the best chance to see hammerhead sharks. I needed no more convincing! I found a place that I liked the look of, went and spoke to them, checked out their equipment (VERY important! All Scuba companies are not the same!) and booked my spot for the next day, which would consist of two dives and an afternoon at a beach in the NW of the Island.

I arrived the next morning, very excited and raring to go. I met my dive partners. An older German guy who works as a photographer and was also once a German Navy Seal!! and a young Israeli guy, fresh out of national service and now travelling the world. We went over our diving plan, signals etc and got our equipment. After a quick dip to check it all out, the boat sped off to Kicker Rock and we were ready to go!

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A pretty happy Chris!

I've only ever dived in Thailand, across eight or nine sites off the island of Koh Tao, but apart from the advance dives (a 30 meter dive with almost zero visibility, a night dive and a shipwreck dive) they were all fairly similar. Teaming with life, great visibility. How did these dives compare? There seemed to be a lot less variety of life, but what they had was amazing!

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You know that thing where you're 20 meters under the surface of the ocean and you look around to see ten hammerhead sharks swim by? No? Well I do now! I have no photos (I'll get some from the pro photographer!) but I took videos with my fake GoPro and made a video, so here's the link!

https://youtu.be/A3V39iV_k58

It was amazing! I saw about 12 or 13 hammerheads in all, 2 black tip sharks, loads and loads of turtles and a sea lion. It was two of the best dives I've done. It really ignited my love of diving too. I love being underwater and I hope to dive again somewhere this trip!

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Oh yeah! There were loads of dolphins too!

The next day I went on a highlands tour. It was arranged by the ladies who owned the house I was staying at. Basically it's a tour run by all the taxi drivers on the island, usually about four hours long and costing around $50 - $60.

At this point, I should mention the taxis on San Cristobal. At least 50% of the vehicles on the road were taxis, these big pick up trucks that drive around honking at anyone walking on the road. It's a marvel that the island survived the pandemic as far as tourism money is concerned as so much of the island's economy rests on it. At one point the island was pretty much running on a barter system. Thankfully Ecuador has a really successful vaccination program running right now!

So my driver came and picked me up and we headed to our three destinations: A lagoon in a volcano, a giant tortoise sanctuary and a beach on the North of the island. We headed first to the volcano, only for the weather to turn suddenly and the visibility was so bad we decided to come back later. Off to the sanctuary!

There's no animal I identify more with the Galapagos than the giant tortoise. I could go on about this for a while, but the differences between these gentle giants across the islands were one of the things that helped nudge Darwin to his Theory of Evolution (which I read again on the flight to the Galapagos! lol). I couldn't wait to see them.

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I can't help it. I see these and have the Baby Elephant song in my head. Wrong animal, I know! I can't help it! Now you have the Baby elephant song in your head too. No? Don't know the song? Google it, I'll wait. Now you have it in your head. Forever

The sanctuary has two parts. An area where you walk around in the hope you'll see some tortoises and a breeding centre filled with tiny baby giants (is that a triple oxymoron?). Often I've been to these places where you walk around for ages trying to spot anything at all, but not here. The tortoises were everywhere!

Only a few of them were big enough for a saddle, but riding the big ones was.... I'm joking!! Don't try to ride the giant tortoises!!

They'll likely bite you I think. I doubt that'll feel great.

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He'll bite you. He'll mess you up

After an hour or so of watching these ancient animals, some well over a hundred years old, we went down to the beach. Not much to see here really. Very nice beach, but no better than the beaches back where I was staying and far more crowded than some along the island, but a nice walk nonetheless. Time to head back to the volcano.

Oh the bloody volcano. Still no visibility, I went anyway. Got wet, saw little, got bloody muddy, walked back down. I'm sure it's lovely when you can see it. Great, thanks.

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Great

I'd now seen and done everything I needed to see and do. Had it been 'on the cheap'? Well. Considering you need to fly to Ecuador to get where I started, then pay for a £170 flight to get to the island, then another £90 because you're not Ecuadorian, then another £70 Galapagos tax to help the ecology, maybe it can't be done on the cheap. Add to that the £150 I did in tours and you're already at £500 odd.

But when I was there, I mostly cooked my own food, did a lot of hiking and things that were free, I had an amazing time, swam with sea lions, dived with sharks and hand fed giant tortoises. I almost saw a volcano lagoon.

I think it was well worth the price.

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  • This post was of course, not sponsored by anyone, although Kev and Lisa helped pay for the diving! If any of you are interested in using your

hard earned money to pay for me to live out my dreams, it's more than welcome! I've never tried lobster! Chuck me £20 and I'll do that! Another £20 and I'll zip line! I could try any number of things, we could make a game of it, although there's likely a limit, I'll not have sex with anything weird or wear an 'I love Dartford'* T-shirt for cash. there's not enough money in the world for that.

Or I guess you could just spend that money on doing something fun for yourself! But probably giving it to me is a better idea

  • Also, one of my posts here has hit 1000 views! Far more friends than I have on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere really, so maybe I should cut out all the local references for readers who have no idea what I'm going on about. Or it's my responsibility to help hundreds of people around the world realise what a hole Dartford is and help them avoid it.

Posted by cblanc102 05:18 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains lakes beaches animals birds boats turtles islands water padi diving wildlife hiking travel hostels island dolphins scuba sharks underwater beauty trails galapagos solo solo_travel hammerheads Comments (0)

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)

Literal highs and lows

The Andes are a pain in the arsies


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So it must have been longer than I thought since my last blog post as I was talking about day 48 then and I've now passed 50.


The journey so far

Banos continued to be a great time as I travelled into the Amazon jungle, another tick off the old bucket list, although I hope to go even deeper into there when I visit Peru in a few weeks. The trip was great, although it started off a bit ropey as we went down a river in a boat cut out of a log that had no real business being on the water. As always, like an idiot, I had my wallet on me, so was more worried than I needed to be about falling in as we hit rocks, got stuck in the middle of the river and generally bobbed and swayed like the uncontrolled log we were.

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We were lucky not to drown! Luck and the fact the water was about 2 foot deep

Miraculously, we managed to stay afloat and dryish and proceeded an hour further into the jungle to visit the Huaorani tribe in their village. It was pretty touristy, with native dances and demonstrations. We drank some drink, I have no idea what it was, but was told by my guide that before the coronavirus it was made with spit rather than water. Chalk on up to the virus!

We then hiked up through the jungle to a waterfall. After some much tougher hikes, this was a breeze! I'm pretty pleased with my generally improving fitness! At the top everybody jumped into the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. I say everyone, it was everyone apart from the guides and me! It was raining and the water was bloody cold! I did the swimming in the waterfall pool thing in Costa Rica, where it was 35 degrees. I'll give this a miss cheers!

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All good things must come to an end though and the next day was my day to travel to Guayaquil. It was a 5.5 hour journey, but I've had worse. Or so I thought! Pretty much the entire journey apart from the last hour was just slaloming down through the Andes mountains. It was terrible. I couldn't read a book, watch a movie or anything because as soon as I looked away from the road I felt sick. I'm usually fine, but this was really hard. I tried to sleep a bit and I could listen to music or a podcast, but I had to keep my eyes on the road the whole time. Fortunately the Ecuadorian landscape is stunning! But it was small consolation to me as the journey went on for 7 hours straight.

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Guayaquil Cemetery is pretty bloody incredible!

Guayaquil is going to be a bit of a rest for me, I don't have anything much planned. Today was spent walking around, getting to know the place, with a stop at a square filled with meter long iguanas! It was crazy seeing them all just walking around the park. They didn't care about the people there at all, and the park was filled with them. I hadn't realised how many there actually were until I narrowly avoided being hit by a stream of lizard piss and looked up to see the trees filled with them too! There must have been a hundred there!

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Iguanas and turtles and Koi oh my!

Tomorrow is for the football (It's coming home!) and then Monday will likely just be getting ready for the Galapagos, so I may be away a few days, but I thought as I've passed day 50, in fact now day 52, I'd update with some stats:

I have travelled a total of 8,277 miles, through 4 countries if you include the 2 hours I was in Spain on day 1.

I have stayed at 15 hostels, hotels and apartments in 14 different towns and cities so far. The shortest time I stayed in a room was one night (The hostel in La Fortuna filled with kids). The longest I stayed in a place was a week, in Boquete, where I could have stayed even longer.

I have travelled a conservative 64 hours so far by plane, boat, car and oh so many buses. That doesn't include any time waiting for buses or sat in airports etc. I have walked 240 miles so far. Up and down mountains, through rivers, jungle, rainforests, beaches and mangrove swamps. I don't know how much weight I've lost as I can't find any scales, but I'm using a hole in my belt that's never been used before.

I've seen countless new animals, but highlights are Howler Monkeys, Sloths, Hummingbirds and Tapirs!

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And this lazy bastard

I have lost or broken very little thankfully. I had a towel stolen on day 3 or so, lost a sock a few weeks in, so tossed the other one, cracked the back of my phone, but that can be fixed and the strap broke on my small bag, so I replaced it with a small rucksack.

I broke a fingernail in half, got dirt stuck up my thumbnail after a slip that hurt a lot more than you'd imagine and of course did something to my back 20 mins before leaving that seriously affected my first few weeks of travel. I've also been bitten by mosquitoes about a million times.

I'm having a fine time, and it's getting better. I missing everyone very much though.

Right, I'm gonna go, some hippy looking guy is doing something weird with a flower covered stick in the hostel and I want to see what's going on!

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I can't get enough of hiking through jungles

Posted by cblanc102 05:40 Archived in Ecuador Tagged waterfalls skylines people animals birds planes rainforest wildlife hiking beach travel bus hostels jungle costa_rica aeroplane bugs beauty flights ferry coffee south_america central_america ecuador solo solo_travel coronavirus Comments (0)

This is more like it


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So I'm 48 days into this trip and finally it's starting to feel like it's working right.

Ecuador has been consistently great, I know I'm only 5 days in, but usually that's long enough for me to mess things up in some way! I've got the next 3 weeks planned and starting to get an idea about the next couple after that, but things are a lot easier to plan when you're not having to rush them. Importantly as well, things are a lot cheaper here which has opened up the whole trip for me.

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Volcanoes everywhere you look here

For instance. In Costa Rica, on average I paid around £8 per night for a room in a hostel, and around £12 for my own room. In Quito it was £3.50 for my own room and I'm currently paying £4 for a whole apartment in Banos!

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£4 a night, free coffee too!

In La Fortuna, Costa Rica, white water rafting cost over £70, today I paid just £20. I'm going on a tour on Friday that's around the same price but lasts 13 hours!

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The food here is cheap too, there's loads of street food at $1 all over the place, but last night I splashed out and had a massive burger and chips for £3. There's also a really cheap enormous supermarket next door for anything I need.

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It was huge!

I was never short of money here, but I put things off in Costa Rica and Panama because of how expensive they were, hoping they'd be cheaper here or knowing they are cheaper in Asia when I get back there. I had wondered before when I was feeling a bit down here what was different during the last trip and it's finally hit me, I did what I liked.

I didn't worry about money or anything really. Bangkok was super cheap, I did my PADI on Koh Tao, slept in a floating village and trekked through jungle at Kao Sok. And I stayed in hotels all the time because they cost next to nothing. Ecuador actually feels like that and it's made it far easier to pay out on the big things like the Galapagos when the smaller things don't cost an arm and a leg.

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Is this a thing in the UK?? A KFC 'pizza' with chicken breasts as a base? There's your heart attack right there!

Which brings me to Banos (pronounced ban-yos), a small town in Central Ecuador in the shadow of a volcano (like everywhere here) that seems far more touristy than it would be just because of it's adventure sports and proximity to the Amazon Rainforest. At first sight, the place looks a bit of a dump, with nearly all buildings either hostels, restaurants, souvenir shops or places selling adventure tours. I should also give a special shout out to barber shops and online gaming places of which there seems to be far too many of. But it has a charm to it, the people are great, there's a waterfall about every 100 meters and if you're looking up rather than down or ahead the place is stunningly beautiful.

It's also surrounded by thermal baths, which use the hot water from the volcano nearby. The one I went to tonight had three pools at increasing temperatures, going from 'warm' to 'bastard hot!' I lasted about 2 mins in the latter. I may try a different one tomorrow morning as I'm sure to be achy after the white water rafting I did today!

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They light the waterfall at night next to the baths. Very nice

To say I had an amazing day is an understatement. A six hour trip, including about 90 mins of actual rafting time and a really nice lunch after all for £20 was fantastic. I can't believe I've never done it before and am looking forward to doing it again in Peru next month. It's just pure fun! For anyone who's been to Orlando, it's like being on the Popeye ride, but it lasts over an hour and you're working constantly to not fall out the boat.

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AND IT HASN'T RAINED IN 5 DAYS!!!

I ended my day after the rafting and baths by taking a walk around the town to make my 30 miles walked this week as I almost didn't make it after barricading myself in my hotel room for two days in Colon, Panama and then spending a day travelling to Ecuador to escape. I made it though, and after 7 weeks, I've now walked 217 miles! pretty good I think!

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And on that note, I'm going to bed. I have an easy day tomorrow doing little and waiting for the England match at 2pm (here). As always Come on England!

I shall be back in a few days with hopefully some amazing pics!

Posted by cblanc102 04:58 Archived in Ecuador Tagged waterfalls mountains night boats food rainforest hiking travel volcano thailand drink hostels jungle weather costa_rica beauty coffee journey south_america central_america latin_america ecuador solo solo_travel Comments (0)

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)

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