Quito, Ecuador – Sept. 17-20, 2011

On Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, Anna and I returned to Quito from the Galapagos Islands.  I accompanied her as she bought some last minute gifts to bring back home and then we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant right before she flew out that evening.
The next two days, I hung out with Rich Imamura, an old friend from Peace Corps Zambia.  I probably should’ve gone out and seen more of the city, but I was content with just eating, playing foosball and drinking beer at night.  I don’t excited about seeing another plaza, museum or church because I’ve already seen plenty throughout S. America.
At 9:50 am on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, I hopped on a bus to the Ecuador-Colombia border to make my way back to Cali, Colombia.  I arrived in Cali late at 2:45 am.  My goal in Cali was to spend the next two weeks learning salsa until my planned flight home to the United States on Oct. 4, 2011.

The Galapagos Islands – SCUBA diving at North Seymour Island – Sept. 16, 2011

The SCUBA diving at North Seymour Island was just ok.  We were expecting to see hammerhead sharks, but we saw not one.
Still, Anna and I considered the trip a success in that we were competent enough to safely complete the dive.  Anna hadn’t dived in about 4 years and she probably should’ve had a refresher course, but we thought she’d be ok if we winged it.
I, on the other hand, had only 5 dives under my belt.  We had inquired about diving at North Seymour Island with another dive company and they turned me down saying that the dive was only for people who had done at least 25 dives.  I might have been a beginner, but I felt I could wing it, too.
We did see some cool fish, including a moray eel.  Unfortunately, neither of us had an underwater camera so I don’t have pictures from that dive.  All of my pictures from this trip are from the dive boat.
All the other tourists hung out in the shadow deck where the benches were.  I thought it’d be cool if I walked along the rail of the boat towards the sun deck, where I could take in the pleasant breeze, the sun and get a better view of everything.  It was perfectly safe and I wondered why no one else was out there.  In fact, I was glad no one else was there.  I persuaded Anna to come join me and we indulged in the beauty of the Galapagos Islands all around us without any other tourists.  We felt like kings of the world.
This was yet another moment when I was glad Anna was there so I could turn to her and express myself, “Hey, Anna!  Isn’t this cool?!”

Living the dream!

Anna with her pimp pose

Back in Puerto Ayora, we walked a past the fish market.  There a sea lion and several pelicans waited for scraps of fish.

The fish market at Puerto Ayora

Anna wasn’t feeling well so she took a nap as soon as we got back from SCUBA diving.  When she woke up, we went to dinner and took a walk afterwards at the public pier where we spotted a bunch of rays in the spotlights.


We didn’t party that night as originally planned.  Anna went to bed early, while I lingered around the hostel until I finally decided to go to bed.  The next morning, we flew to back to Quito, on mainland Ecuador.

The Galapagos Islands – Charles Darwin Research Center & Tortuga Bay – Sept. 15, 2011 (Day 5 of 5)

We had spent the night in the harbor at Puerto Ayora.  Our anchored boat was surrounded by other tour boats.  I spotted a blacktip shark in the water.

Blacktip shark

Other boats in port

We boarded a dinghy which took us to the Charles Darwin Research Station.  There, we saw many giant land tortoises, the most famous of which is Lonesome George.  Somewhere between the age of 90 to 100 years old, George is the last of his species and efforts to get him to breed with other turtles have failed.  When he dies, so will his species.
Charles Darwin Research Station

Lonesome George and me

Lonesome George

Other Galagagos tortoises

After the Charles Darwin Research Center, Anna and I checked into a hotel in Puerto Ayora, scheduled our SCUBA trip for the next day, and then we relaxed on the beach at Tortuga Bay.

Anna and me at Tortuga Bay

The Galapagos Islands – Santiago and Rabida Island – Sept. 14, 2011 (Day 4 of 5)

After crossing the equator line from the northern hemisphere into the southern hemisphere, I did the Coriolis effect experiment in our bathroom sink.  As expected, the water drained counterclockwise.
We visited Santiago Island in the morning.  It was full of marine iguanas and sea lions.  Several of the sea lions were nursing young pups.

A baby sea lion

A mother sea lion nursing her pup

Marine iguanas

Marine iguana

Anna and me

Afterwards, we went to Rabida Island.  Here we went snorkeling and saw some sea turtles.  On the beach, were more sea lions.

A pair of young sea lions on Rabida Island

Anna with sea lions

Everyone took the dinghy back to the boat while I swam.  I made it my policy to swim whenever I could.  The water in the Galapagos was a lot colder than I thought, but it was bearable.
Our yacht took us back to the harbor at Puerto Ayora for the night.  The next morning we went to the Charles Darwin Research Center.

The Galapagos Islands – Genovese Island – Sept. 13, 2011 (Day 3 of 5)

The overcast sky on the morning of Sept. 13 made it very cool and comfortable.  We landed on the beach at Genovese Island by boat, and we were greeted by the familiar sight of sleeping sea lions.

Sleepy sea lion

We saw many red-footed boobies nesting in trees.  One thing that never gets old is how astoundingly close you can get to these animals without bothering them.  I put my camera right in front of a red-footed booby’s face and it responded with a blank stare.

Red-footed booby

Red-footed booby

We strolled for few hours in the morning seeing birds that we had already seen before.  Nonetheless, it was a very scenic and pleasant walk.

A yellow-crowned night heron

In the afternoon, we went to another part of the island landing at a place called “Prince Philip’s Steps.”  Climbing the stairs, we were met by a Nazca just hanging out.  This part of the island was full of Nazca boobies nesting on the ground.  A few were sitting on eggs while others were tending to their chicks.

A Nazca booby at the top of Prince Philip's Steps

A Nazca booby with her chick

A Nazca booby with her egg and chick

During our briefing the night before, our guide Hans, told us that there was a chance that we might find a short-eared owl.  But we’d really have to keep our eyes open because they were very well camouflaged.  We were in the area for a while, looking for them.  After about half an hour of searching, one member of our group spotted one.  We felt very lucky because we could barely see it against the rocks behind it and it was pretty far away.
We walked on and Hans found another one that was much closer.  We all gathered close to it and a paparazzi-style photo session promptly ensued.

A short-eared owl

Another really cool bird that we saw was the red-billed tropicbird.  I couldn’t get a good picture of one because my camera couldn’t zoom in close enough.  But here is a picture of it from the Rochester Institute of Technology:

A red-billed tropicbird. (http://people.rit.edu/rhrsbi/GalapagosPages/TropicBird.html accessed on Oct. 6, 2011)

Later, that night we crossed over the equator line to get to Santiago Island.  Right before going to bed, Anna and I conducted our own little Coriolis effect experiment in our bathroom sink.  We stopped up the drain, filled the sink with water and then observed the direction that the water drained in the northern hemisphere:  counterclockwise.

The Galapagos Islands Cruise – Chinese Hat and Bartolome Islands – Sept. 12, 2011 (Day 2 of 5)

We woke up in the morning anchored about a hundred yards from the beach at Chinese Hat Island.  After breakfast, I swam to shore while the rest of the tour group took a dinghy to get to the island.

Chinese Hat Island

On the island, we took a walk and saw crabs, many sea lions and a large male elephant seal.

Hola, senor sea lion!

Great pic of Anna with a sea lion!
Baby sea lion
Me lying next to a sea lion
It’s amazing how close you can get to these wild animals!!!
Marine iguana
Marine iguana

After touring the Chinese Hat Island, the six of us tourists went snorkeling.  What made this exciting were the playful sea lions that we encountered.  We all watched as the sea lions moved like torpedoes through the water, maneuvering between the underwater rock formations, performing loops.  One of them came face to face with me.  As I spun in place, it spun with me and then darted away.  Now that was cool!  Another “wow” moment!
I really enjoyed snorkeling with the sea lions.  As always, I was the last one to get out of the water.  I swam back to the boat, accompanied by one of the other tourists, and then we sailed off to Bartolome Island.  Along the way, we all admired the beauty of the islands that we passed along the way.

Some of the islands that we passed on the voyage from Chinese Hat Island to Bartolome Island

On the way to Bartolome Island, I climbed up to the roof of the boat and took pictures of the frigate birds that flew next to the boat.  They hovered in place thanks the the air currents coming off the boat as it plowed through the water.

Frigate bird above the port bow

We landed on Bartolome Island by boat to hike to the top of the mountain.  The view was great as you’ll see in the photos below.  The landscape was rocky.  Our guide told us that this was where the movie Total Recall, an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie set on Mars, was shot.

Bartolome Island

The Martian-like landscape of Bartolome Island

At the top of the volcanic cone of Bartolome Island. Below my right foot is Pinnacle Rock, one of the islands distinct features.

After we descended the volcanic cone, we hopped into a boat to go looking for Galapagos penguins near Pinnacle Rock.  Here’s what we saw:

A Galapagos penguin

A Galapagos heron

Pinnacle Rock

A lazy sea lion!

Afterwards, a few of us stayed behind to snorkel in the area.  I swam right up to the Galapagos penguin that we saw earlier from the boat.  While snorkeling, I also saw a sea turtle swim quickly in front of me and disappear just as fast as it appeared.  Later, I swam back to the boat.
Someone spotted a Galapagos shark swimming near the boat.  I asked our guide Hans if they ever attack humans and he said no.  I then grabbed snorkel and fins and jumped back into the water.  I admit that I was terrified.  Everyone on board could hear how hard and fast I was breathing.
Underwater, I saw it.  A huge mass swimming about 15 feet from me.  Did I mention that I was terrified?!  Sure, Hans said this type of shark doesn’t bite, but I still couldn’t keep my cool.  I was hyperventilating.  I watched as this gigantic Galapagos shark swam near me and then away it went.  My breathing slowly returned to normal.
I had just swam with a shark.  Wow!

The Galapagos shark, just before I jumped into the water to play Marco Polo with it.

This is a better picture of a Galapagos shark that I copied from the Florida Museum of Natural History Icthyology Department's website.

The Galapagos Islands Cruise – North Seymour Island- Sept. 11, 2011 (Day 1 of 5)

It was about a 45-minute flight from Quito to Guayaquil, Ecuador.  From there, it took an hour and a half to fly to the Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean 1,000 miles west of Quito, Ecuador.  Anna and I waited around the airport for someone to pick us up.  After waiting a while, Hans, our guide, finally met us and the four other tourists with whom we’d be spending the next five days aboard the Yacht Angelito.
We rode a bus to the harbor where we got our first glimpse of the Yacht Angelito, a “Tourist Superior” class boat can sleep up to 16 passengers.  The weather was beautiful and the water was a bright blue, the kind that just invites you to jump right in on a sunny day.

The Yacht Angelito

Our boat took us to the first destination on our itinerary, North Seymour Island, where we saw frigate birds, land iguanas, swallowtail gulls, and sea lions.  It was incredible how docile the animals were, displaying no fear of humans.  You could walk right up to these animals and they would just sit there, aloof to your presence.

A swallowtail gull on North Seymour Island

A male frigate bird

A land iguana next to a female frigate bird, her chick and her nest. Animals here aren't even afraid of each other. There aren't any predators.

A blue-footed booby

Marine iguanas

Anna next to a marine iguana.

Walking near a sea lion

A land iguana

As we finished touring the island, we saw a group of older tourists trying to disembark off their dinghy and onto the island.  The sea was a little bit choppy and the tourists had to jump from a moving boat onto some uneven rocks.  I thought this was an accident waiting to happen so I watched.  One of them couldn’t disembark and had to go back to his boat.  He missed all the wonderful things there were to see on North Seymour Island because his body couldn’t safely make that small jump.
I was grateful that Anna and I were traveling while we still relatively young and healthy.  Our bodies are physically capable of enduring the rigors of traveling in third world.

Don't wait to travel. Travel now!

At the end of the day, Anna and I felt like we  were living a dream.  We were on a luxurious yacht on the Galapagos Islands.  Every moment seemed like a profound “wow!” moment.  Thank goodness Anna was there so I could turn to her and say, “Isn’t this cool?!”  Since most of my traveling has been solo over the years, most people back home cannot relate to the wonderful things I’ve seen and done.  I’ve written journals, told stories and taken many pictures, but none of these are sufficient to convey the experience.  The experience is much more fun when it’s shared.

This sea lion decided to climb aboard our boat! This was another "wow!" moment for me.

The middle of the world! Quito, Ecuador – Sept. 10, 2011

This is the equator line determined by 18th-century French scientists. I'm in the northern hemisphere. Anna is in the southern hemisphere.

Our primary objective in Quito was to book a tour of the Galapagos Islands, which we immediately started working on during the morning of the Sept. 10, 2011.  We finally booked our flight and tour, a total cost of about $1,500 for an 5 days and 4 nights on the Yacht Angelito.
Anna and I then went to the Mitad del Mundo, a park with a monument signifying equator.  There was also several museums, including a planetarium and an insect museum.  Unfortunately, the planetarium was closed.  Fortunately, the insect museum wasn’t.  It had exhibits of butterflies and humongous elephant beetles mostly.

Elephant beetle!

I could feel their tiny little claws through my shirt. It felt like they were piercing my skin. Yikes!

That's actually a nervous smile. You'd be nervous, too, with a gigantic beetle clinging to your face with its sharp little claws!

Next door to the Mitad del Mundo was the Intinan, where the actual equator determined by GPS is located.  There were experiments that one could perform in order to observe the Coriolis effect, such as watching water drain on both sides of the equator and on the equator and being able to balance an egg on nail driven on the equator line.  [In the northern hemisphere, water drains counter-clockwise.  In the southern hemisphere, water drains clockwise.  On the equator line, water drops straight down through the drain.  There is whirlpool.]

This is the real equator at Intinan determined by GPS.