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. ( 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.

Whale-watching in Juanchaco, Colombia – Sept. 7-9, 2011

“We Always Win.”  That was the travel policy between Anna and I.  We had traveled all morning to get to Buenaventura.  Once we got there, we learned that we couldn’t continue by ferry to Juanchaco to go whale-watching because it was raining and the sea was too rough.  It was one of the ugliest days I’ve had all year, hot and rainy.  We didn’t find out until after the fact that Buenaventura is one of the rainiest cities of the world!
Refusing to lose, we hopped on a ferry to Pianguita which was at least a little bit closer to Juanchaco.  There was no way were going to get stuck sleeping in Buenaventura!  Anywhere but Buenaventura would’ve been good for us.  We spent the night at this little hostel on the water in Pianguita instead.  It was charming, remote and nearly empty.

Big smiles on our faces because we weren't getting stuck in Buenaventura! Big smiles!

The sun come out the next morning and we proceeded by ferry to go whale-watching at Juanchaco.  There we took another boat that would take us to the whales.

Whale-watching at Juanchaco!

Two whales

Thar' she blows!

We had thought about staying a little longer on the coast.  I could’ve easily spent a few days hanging out on the beach, but Anna and I decided to continue moving fast.  We left the same day on a ferry from Juanchacho to Buenaventura, and from there by bus all the way back to Cali.  We spent the night in Cali.  From there, it was another 14 hour bus-ride to the Colombia-Ecuador border.  After that, it was about 5 more hours by bus to Quito.  We arrived in Quito late at night on Sept. 9, 2011.

Quick stop in Cali – Sept. 6, 2011

We went swimming at the Rio Ponce park for the day.

Anna and I arrived early in the morning in Cali.  We checked into the Jovita’s Hostel, where Anna went straight to bed and I hung out working on my Rubix cube.  Adriana, the receptionist told me that her and a handful of other backpackers were going to the Rio Ponce to go swimming.  Anna and I went with them in the afternoon because we really had nothing better to do around the hostel.

The Rio Ponce

The water level at the river was really low, and we could barely swim in it.  Anna spent the afternoon sitting on the riverbank reading a book.  I, on the other hand, spent all my time in the river.  I did the best I could trying to float on my back through the rapids or swim against the current like a salmon.  Also, I’d hold on to a rock with one hand underwater and just feel the river moving past me as I’d make myself as hydrodynamic as possible.
At one point, I tried to make a small raft out of some pieces of bamboo and to ride it through the rapids.  It was shoddily-constructed and wasn’t very effective.

The remnants of my raft, pieces of bamboo tied together with some string I found.

This is the group that we went to the Rio Ponce with. Here we are waiting for a bus.

I saw this guy selling some food on the road and approached him for a closer look.

These are are called "cocadas." They are made of coconut, milk and "panela," or solid sugarcane extract. Very delicious!

We went to this awesome restaurant for dinner. I had to take a picture to remember the name so I'll know where to go to get an excellent meal the next time I'm in Cali!

Anna and I had planned on going out to dance later that night, but we were thoroughly exhausted from being out in the sun all afternoon and we were feeling the onset of a food coma having just had a fine meal at the Lulodka Restaurante.  Everyone from the hostel ended up leaving without us.  Later when we woke, we watched the movie,  127 hours.  I fell sleep again long before the end of the movie.
The next morning, we had breakfast and made our way to the Pacific coast of Colombia to go whale-watching.

Pablo Escobar Tour – Sept. 5, 2011

Pablo and Roberto Escobar's "wanted" poster

Anna- bless her heart- agreed to modify our plan and to stay in Medellin an extra day to do the Pablo Escobar tour offered by the hostel.  I had read the book Killing Pablo, by Mark Bowden earlier this year and was interested to tie what I had read about Pablo Escobar with my visit in his hometown.
We went got picked up with a bunch of other tourists in a hot van without air-condition and drove Pablo Escobar’s family grave.

Pablo Escobar's memorial

After visiting the memorial, we went to the house were Pablo was shot by the police.

The house were Pablo was killed by the police

Then, we went to his brother, Roberto’s house.  There we heard stories about Pablo and saw artifacts from his glory days, including him and his brother’s first car, his motorcycle and a truck given to him by the Cali drug cartel, which had a bullethole in it from when Pablo ran a police checkpoint.  We also got to see bullet holes in the house from when the police tried to raid his house in order to catch Pablo.

A bullet went through this picture and into the wall in Roberto Escobar's house when the police tried to capture him and his brother, Pablo.

The house had this hiding spot behind a bookcase where Pablo and his brother could hide from the police for hours. Note the air tanks.

This is me with Pablo Escobar's brother, Roberto. Roberto's brother, Pablo, was once worth $25 billion dollars and rated by Forbes to be the seventh richest man in the world.

After dinner that night with some travelers from the hostel, Anna and I boarded an overnight bus to Cali, Colombia.  My seat would recline, unfortunately because it was broken.   However, I was able to fix it after tinkering with it for awhile and I was finally able to recline for a triumphant slumber.
Our bus had cockroaches in it, but I didn’t tell her because I knew it would freak her out.

Piedra de Penol – Sept. 4, 2011

The Piedra de Penol

After a night out at Medellin, Anna and I went one a day trip outside of Medellin to a place called the Piedra de Penol.  All it was was a giant rock, like the tall mountains of Rio De Janeiro, except you have to ascend stairs to get to the top.  It’s a good thing Anna and I are still relatively young and physically able.  We passed lots of older people who struggled up the stairs.  We rested a lot so as not to overexert ourselves, and when I got to the top, my breath rate was still pretty low.
I’m thankful that I can travel now while I’m still young.  It’s great to see and do things that most people wait until they are retired to do.  I worked and saved for awhile.  I even bought a house.  But now, without a job and without too many financial liabilities, I have total freedom to do anything I want at the age of 30.  These are the best years of my life, and the optimist in me leads me to believe that I’ll continue to believe the same year after year.  It’s all just one big journey.  I wax philosophical… Back to the Pieda de Penol!
The view from the top of the Piedra de Penol was spectacular.

The view from the top of the Piedra de Penol

On the way back to Medellin, about five cockroaches of various sizes started coming out of the windowsill next to Anna.  That was really gross.

Medellin, Colombia – Sept. 3, 2011

New found friends in Medellin

Medellin is known for its nightlife.  Anna and I went out for a night there.  We went to this club called Red, not too far from the Tiger Paw hostel where we were staying.  We sat there for a while drinking our beers and watching other people dance.  Eventually, we left to see where else was good for dancing.
Anna and I saw a bunch of Medellin girls walking on the street and she told me to go talk to them.  I approached them and asked what they were doing.  They said there were going to a place to drink shots.  I asked if Anna and I could accompany them, and they were happy to oblige.  Even better was the fact that they all spoke perfect English so communication became seamless.
The place didn’t have shots, so we went to a place called Blue, right across the street from Red.  Anna couldn’t get in because she didn’t have her ID.  She went home instead.  At Blue, they played awful rock music in English.  The Medellin girls and I quickly changed scenes and went back to Red.  Then, I was finally able to dance for the first time.  I spent the rest of the night there until the club closed.  Grabbed a hotdog on the way home, and went to bed.   It was a fun night out and I wasn’t even drunk.  Even though I drank some beer and the local aguardiente, offered to me by the Medellin girls, it had no effect on me.