The week after my last post was pretty typical, nothing special to report.
That Friday was our last day of volunteering. We cleaned the quarantine area where we got to spend a lot of time around the lion cub. Then we cleaned the Tapir/Capybara cage again where this time they put all of the animals in a holding cage, but somehow in the middle of us shoveling their poop into bags, the Capybara managed to escape and came after us again like the previous week. It was really hilarious and he undid a bunch of work we had done and then they had to chase the ferocious capybara back into his holding cage. Friday night we all met up at the bowling alley in the mall and did a bit of bowling. We were in 2 lanes and I came in last of my lane, but a lot of people in the other lane thankfully did a little worse than me so I’m not too too terrible at bowling. After that we all went down to the river and hung out there for a while before heading home.
Saturday I worked on some more homework and then went into town for dinner. In the evening we all went bowling again, this time I chose to watch instead which was fun enough in itself. Afterwards we went to this bar that has a dancefloor and music, so its kindof like a discoteca but its a bit more of a bar atmosphere. They were playing american rock music like ZZ Top and Nirvana so we got a bit crazy and had tons of fun dancing to that.
Sunday-Thursday were pretty uneventful, with us focusing on finishing our final homework projects for all 3 of our classes.
The next night, one of the girls on our programs boyfriends had a bonfire at his vacant lot which was super fun. We roasted marshmallows and listened to music and relaxed.
Friday I slept in finally before setting out to work on some of my final culture project. In the afternoon we had our final presentations of our work at the Zoo. Friday night we went to a new discoteca that had just opened. It was pretty fun, but the music wasn’t my favorite. Still though we had to go out because it was our second to last weekend-night.
Saturday I met up with a couple people in my group and we walked around downtown and along the river. There were a lot of people out because it was dia-del-Cuenca, essentially the city’s birthday. There were arts and crafts booths lining the river so we wandered along looking at all the booths and I bought a few little things. Saturday night we all met up for drinks and then went to a bar that had a dancefloor and danced a bit there. From there we went to the same hostel that we went for the Valentine’s day concert but this time they were having a Cuenca-day concert. It was super great music with a good sort of lightshow that accompanied the music and it went until 2:30 at night. It took forever to get a cab home because there were so many people out and about but it was a perfect last-night-out.
Sunday I slept in and then did homework all afternoon. In the evening, we all met up at my professors apartment and had a Passover Seder because two of the girls on my trip were Jewish. It was super fun and the food was incredibly tasty.
Monday and Tuesdays were more very busy days since all of our projects and finals were due and they were basically our last days of the program.
Then Tuesday, right before the program was to end, I was hit very suddenly by terrible nausea. I thought it was just nerves for the future at first, so I tried sleeping it off but I couldn’t sleep and just got progressively more and more nauseous until I was vomiting. The vomiting was pretty continuous, even into the night and when I had nothing left in my tummy to throw up, so I barely got any sleep. Not to mention I was in so much pain all over my body with backaches, headaches, full-body-aches, so I could barely move without feeling like crying. It was miserable. Also it was terribly timed because I had my Spanish final on Wednesday and I still had to pack to go to Quito. Wednesday I still wasn’t feeling good (in fact, I really didn’t start feeling completely normal until today), so I went to the doctor and he gave me some antibiotics and concluded it was food poisoning. If that was what it was, it was the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had or could ever imagine having.
Wednesday night there was a big going away party at a fancy garden/restaurant which was pretty sad and emotional. The spanish school made a movie with photos of all of us, which was really sweet and everyone mingled and danced. Then I hugged everyone goodbye and went home to finish packing.
Thursday morning I woke up super early and headed to the airport. After a hassle-free quick flight to Quito, I navigated my way on buses from the airport to my hostel (and the airport is about 2 hours away from my hostel so I was pretty proud of myself for making it). My hostel is super nice and pretty, tucked away on a side street right outside of the historic center. The terrace overlooks the entire historic center and you can see the tops of all the major churches and sights right from where you eat.
I was in a dorm room that was kinda reserved for solo travelers, and since almost all solo travelers are guys, all of my dorm-mates were guys. They were also all incredibly nice, although its crazy how I seemed to have new roommates each night because most people are just passing through. Besides my roommates, I met also lots of other really fun and friendly people in my hostel, from all over the world which is super cool. Its great to hear where they’re traveling from and to and share tips of where to go and what to do.
Thursday I also tried to go to the Brazilian Embassy to get my Brazilian visa, which is the only reason I’m in Quito. But turns out they close at 12 (which it did NOT say on their website) and they weren’t going to be open Fri-Sun because its Semana Santa (Holy Week). So thats a bit stressful for me because it means I apply for my visa on Monday which gives me a week to get it before I fly back to Cuenca and to the Galapagos and need my passport again.
OK so then Friday, it was Good Friday. Quito is the city in Ecuador that has the biggest celebration for semana santa so for good friday, there was a HUGE procession/parade. It was super weird. I went with 2 people from my hostel and we sat in the sun and basically, for 2-3 hours, people walk down the streets basically torturing themselves to alleviate their sins. Everyone dresses in these weird purple costumes that look like purple kkk suits, with a full length covering robe and tall pointy hat/face covering with slits for the eyes. Many people walk barefoot because thats what Jesus did. Also for every group of these penitents (I think the groups were different churches around the city) there were 1 or more people dressed like Jesus carrying HUGE and heavy crosses over their shoulders like Jesus was forced to do with people dressed like soldiers walking being him. There were even some people who went to extreme measures to alleviate their sins like whipping themselves on the back as they walked or having crosses made out of cacti strapped to their bare backs.
It was really odd, and no one seemed to be immune to it, as there were people of all ages (tiny children carrying crosses, to really old people too).
Saturday I wandered around La Mariscal district and got lunch there. It was super cute and the food was quite tasty. Then I went back to the same arts and crafts market I went to when I first got to Quito and got some more little gifts, which was quite fun. THen it was more relaxation and netflix watching in my hostel.
Sunday was easter, so almost everything was closed. However, I still wandered around the centro historico a bit before going back and relaxing in the hostel.
Monday I woke up early and headed to the Brazilian Embassy. Got there early and it turned out I had to wait a whole 45 minutes before they would let me in. Then once I got in, I had to go out and reprint off lots of papers and it was a hassel, but I got it all applied for and they could process it in 5 business days so that was exciting. Then I wandered around La Mariscal district a little more and relaxed at my hostel.
Tuesday I took a bus a couple hours north of Quito to a town called Otavalo and stayed in a really cute little hotel in the center of town. It was really relaxing and I got a really nice hotel room for really cheap. It was a bit creepy though because during the middle of the week, the town is deserted, so I think there was only one other person in the whole hotel so it felt a little off.
Then I woke up Wednesday, ate breakfast in town and went to the famous Otavalo market. Although its really famous for its Saturdays, it seemed too hectic to go on a Saturday so I went mid week instead and it was perfect. Essentially this whole plaza is filled with booths of Otavaleños selling handicrafts and art and its all super cheap and there are literally so many different kinds of things that they sell. I can’t even imagine how it is on Saturdays because there were soooo many booths mid week. I went a little crazy because I really love handicrafts and they were all so affordable, but I still feel like I should have gotten more because it was all so amazing.
Then I went back to the same hostel in Quito and relaxed for the evening, after taking a short little walk around the historic center.
Thursday I switched hostels to a new one in La Mariscal since it was closer to the hotel my parents booked for us Friday. The next hostel was definitely a lot more of a party hostel, there was a bar in the hostel and you got a coupon for a free drink just for staying there which was pretty cool. I had the most delicious lunch from a vegetarian restaurant right down the street from the hostel and then I did some more wandering around the neighborhood. Then at night I hung out with some new people staying at the hostel, one of whom was from Portland so that was cool. Sleeping there was a bit miserable though because it was in the barhopping area of town so it was fairly loud and disruptive.
Friday I woke up early and switched to the hotel where I met my parents. Super nice little boutique hotel, so I spent all day just kind-of lazing around the hotel. My parents got in in the evening which was very exciting, since I hadn’t seen them in a while.
Saturday we woke up early and I showed my parents La Mariscal, the area of Quito around our hotel. Then we got a car up to Mindo, the cloud forest I briefly visited at the beginning of my trip that has one of the best birding sites in the world, where we stayed at a super nice Eco-Lodge. Our cabin was super nice and super comfortable and was right next to the river. It was fun because in order to get over the lodge you had to sit on this rope-and-pulley-sort-of cart and get pulled across the river. The lodge specialized in vegetarian food so we were fed quite well as soon as we got in. Then we got an orientation hike around the lodge where we spotted a few birds and were taught about the local plants.
Sunday we had a private tour guide all day who was one of the areas best birders. We started the day quite early and didn’t completely end until a late dinner, with lots of little stops back at the lodge for meals and snacks. In total, in only one day we saw a few more than 70 species, which was both me and my mom’s best birding day ever (my dad claims he had a better birding day once in Panama). This included a new MotMot species, 13 (out of the 18 possible) hummingbird species, a new Trogon species, and lots and lots of Toucans (2 different species). We also saw lots of cool plants and insects around too. Our guide was so wonderful and knew all of the birds so well and was really excellent and finding tiny birds hidden in the thick forest understory.
Monday we woke up super super early (4:30-ish) and drove a bit to a Cock-of-the-Rock leck. This is a really rare bird that only really exists in the Mindo area. They have lecks all over the area, which are little sites where the males of super showy species congregate to attract females, but they only congregate in the mornings. We went to a specific one on this birders property where you pay a little fee and get to watch their whole mating behaviors. It was really crazy. These birds are super colorful and super loud and do all sorts of weird hopping behaviors. Then we went to another little site on the same property where the guide called out a couple of really rare Antpittas. We saw a few other new species around there too, so it was a morning full of rare birds. Then we got a car back to Quito, where I finally picked up my Brazilian visa, and we flew to Cuenca.
Tuesday I took my parents around Cuenca in the morning, stopping by the new Cathedral and a couple of markets. Then we went to Amauta so I could introduce them to my teacher and the Amauta coordinators.
We went to one of my favorite cafes for lunch and then we went to this really weird Modern Art Museum that was right next door. Then my host dad picked us up and took us on a complete tour of Cuenca, going up to the viewpoints of the city both in the North and South, the Central Museum, and doing a full driving tour of the historical center so they could see all of the chuches there. In the evening we walked around Calle Larga, so they could see the main party area in town.
Wednesday we went back to the Central Bank Museum to see the part outside. There we saw some more new bird species in the garden and some of the Incan ruins that are outside of the Museum. Then we did some more walking around the center with a stop for lunch at another one of my favorite cafes. In the evening we went over to my host families house for dinner and hung out there for a while. It was really great seeing them again but sad saying goodbye because I probably won’t see them for a long time now. Then we took all of the stuff I had left there back to our hotel and condensed it all into less luggage.
Thursday morning we set off again, this time towards Guayaquil. We stopped multiple times in Parque Nacional Cajas and did some more birdwatching. We saw lots of new species there too. We got into Guayaquil pretty late and did some grocery shopping and then went to sleep pretty early.
Friday we woke up early, returned our rental car and headed to the airport, headed for the Galapagos. Our flight was easy and we landed in the islands mid-day. It was hot and arid upon landing and we were immediately whisked off across to the main island and then to our hotel. The hotel is very nice and has a super nice little pool that we jumped in as soon as arriving. Then we had a guide take us around the town a little bit. He took us to the little beach closest to town where I saw my first Marine Iguana.
Then he took us to the Charles Darwin Research Station where we walked through some little exhibits about the natural history of the galapagos and then we went through their galapagos tortoise breeding area where we saw tortoises of all ages. There were lots of little ones since they mostly just let them grow until they’re 2 years old and then release them into the wild, but they also have some giant tortoises too, as well as some land iguanas.
Then we went to this other little beach where there are multiple parts of the beach, one part of which had tons of marine iguanas lounging around on it which was quite exciting. There was also a seal playing around in the sand. The sand was super cool because there was a layer of big sea urchin spines covering it completely which was really pretty since they were purple colored. Unfortunately, here I also took a pretty nasty fall while scrambling around some rocks trying to take a good photo of the red colored crabs. The cuts from the fall have been causing me lots of issue since then since they hurt every time I get in salt water, which is a lot here.
Then the guide took us into town where we got dinner at these little food stands that were pretty good. They had hugeee portions though and I got a chicken hamburger that alone was as big as your standard sized larger plate.
Saturday we got up and headed to the dock where we took a glass bottom boat out and about on a ¨bay tour¨. It was pouring rain when we woke up so we were a little bit sketched out about the idea of going out on the water, but thankfully by the time we got on the boat the rain had completely let up and didn’t return all day. However, because of the rainstorm, there were huge swells so the boat ride was quite rough and rocky.
The first stop on our tour was a little tiny island that the galapagos sea lions like to hang out at. Once we got there the guide told us it was time to snorkel and to ¨prepare for swim¨. Everyone in our tour group was a bit shocked that they were expecting us to get in the water seeing as there were pretty big waves, it was a tiny island of only rocks and sea lions, it was overcast and fairly cold, and the water just looked dark and ominous because it was cloudy out, so we were all pretty frightened. The guide didn’t really give us any option though so in the water we went. Fortunately, once we were in the water it really wasn’t scary at all. The water was a lotttt shallower than I thought, it was very clear, there were beautiful colorful fish everywhere, and it wasn’t cold at all. We all swam around a bit and snorkeled with a couple of sea lions and then got back on the boat and went to our next stop.
The next stop was snorkeling along this little cliff where some blue footed boobies and marine iguanas were hanging out. The snorkeling here was a bit less pleasant with the water a little colder and a little less clear. We were looking for white tip reef sharks because it was supposedly where they hang out but either they weren’t there or the water wasn’t clear enough because we didn’t see any.
Then we got out of the water right nearby and took a little walk past a couple of channels and a little beach that are formed by alkaline type pools, one of which is where the baby sharks like to hang out during the day. We didn’t see any sharks there, but we saw a ray in the channel and the vegetation of the cactus trees against the blue ocean background was quite beautiful. There were also a couple cute sea lions lounging around the dock that we landed at.
Then we continued the boat ride to our final stop where we got out and walked a little way across an old lava field to this area called Las Grietas which is basically where this huge canyon has springs and ocean leakage so its a deep slot canyon filled with crystal clear, really blue and cold water. The only way into the water is to jump, so you leap in and since at this point of the day it was super hot and sunny, it was very refreshing.
Then we headed back to our hotel where we relaxed for only a tiny bit. Because in the afternoon our same naturalist guide picked us up and took us up the hill to the highlands of the main island. We went to first these two craters called las gemelas that were formed when the volcano on santa cruz was active. They were quite beautiful and filled with lush vegetation very reminiscent of the craters in Hawaii where my mom works. Then we went to an old lava tube, which was quite huge and was deep in the ground. However, halfway through our walk into the lava tube, just after we had started the sort of scrambling part over the collapsed old lava inside the tube, the electricity in the lava tunnel went out, so there we were deep underground inside a lava tube with no light on a part of the trail that was really scramble-y and we didn’t have any cell phones or flashlights or anything. As we started slowly crawling back using our camera screens (which didn’t do anything since they were showing the blackness that we were in) to light the single spot in front of us, using our hands to feel if there were any point rocks on the ground by our feet, the light popped back on thankfully. Still the total darkness in such a desolate place was a bit terrifying and not something I’d like to experience again.
Next we went to this private piece of agricultural property that has a lot of ponds where the wild giant tortoises like to roam around. We walked along the property and found a few very peaceful looking wild giant tortoises. They also had a couple of huge giant tortoise shells which I took the obligatory photo inside of.
Sunday we slept in a tiny bit and then hiked out to the beach, Tortuga Bay. It is a two part beach. The first part is a hugeee white sand beach with fairly big waves. The sand there was so incredibly white and super fine so it was really soft to walk in. The water there is really beautiful but not safe to swim in because of very strong currents and rough waves, although its good for surfing if you know the area. However, we were told that there is a rumor that a surfer got a pretty nasty shark bite there a couple weeks ago, but that no one will confirm the rumor because it drives away some tourism.
Then we walked to the end of the beach where there is the beginning of some rocks and mangroves and there were huge iguanas lounging on the sand, some really pretty herons on the rocks, lots of little fish in the water, and a few baby black tipped reef sharks which were a couple feet long chasing the fish around. I got super excited about the sharks and one of them even got really close to my foot because I was already in the water when I first saw them and was a bit afraid to move once it got closer and closer.
Then we continued to the second beach of Tortuga Bay which is more of a mangrove protected lagoon, so it has no swell and is thus safe to swim in. We were supposed to rent kayaks, but it ended up being a big frustrating deal and the guy who had the kayaks never showed up so we rented mask and snorkels instead. The snorkeling was quite unpleasing as the water is very much lagoon water, which isn’t terribly clear, so we only saw a few fish although just standing at the edge of the beach you could see little sharks swimming around in it too. However the sand on the beach at the lagoon was the same perfect white soft sand so we sat around in that for a while, and I unfortunately got a bit sunburned…
Then we had a relaxing day around the hotel and hung out with the girl who is working there who is a 21 year old girl from Rome, who even knew the high school that I went to when I studied abroad there and knew some people who went there, so we had lots to talk about.
Monday, I woke up and my camera wasn’t working. It had gotten wet the first day we got to the galapagos because after I fell on that first day, I sat down to look at my wounds and a rogue wave made it all the way up to where I was sitting with my camera. At the time it didn’t seem like anything happened to my camera but it turns out that there was water damage to the place where the camera plugs into the wall to charge and since the battery had died and it wouldn’t charge, it wouldn’t turn on. So I had to go for the rest of the day without a camera. My dad stayed on the main island to go talk to some biologists at the research station and my mom and I took a boat trip to Santa Fe island. It was quite the rocky trip out there and some people on the boat got seasick. Once we got there we again were brought to a place and told to jump in and start snorkeling despite the rain and dark looking water. However, once we got in the water, the temperature wasn’t too bad and the water was sooo clear. It was the best snorkeling we did on the whole trip, with sea lions diving around us, fish everywhere, and perfectly clear really blue water. We even went into a couple little caves. Then we got back on the boat and went to this little bay inlet with very white sand. We didn’t go inland here but snorkeled all along the edge of the bay where we saw lots more fish and sea lions, including a massive rock scorpionfish that was perfectly blended into the rocks (a bit scary because they’re very poisonous and it was a shallow enough rock that someone easily could have touched or stepped on it). Then they made us fresh lunch on the really big nice boat (including grilling fresh fish for those non-vegetarians).
After that stop we went to the backside of Santa Cruz Island where there is a hidden beach that was so so beautiful, with perfectly clear warm turquoise water and soft white sand. We swam out a little ways and snorkeled a bit on the reefs and saw a bunch of fish including a large porcupinefish, and then swimming back there were a bunch of rays (maybe eagle rays or bat rays?) that glided right in front of us.
In the evening, once we were back on the main island, we went out for Caipiriñas and sushi and happened to find a pretty cheap camera store that happened to have the kind of battery I needed for my camera and an external charger for them so that I could make my camera work again which was exciting.
Tuesday was quite a day. Oh boy. We went to Isla Isabella which was another long boat ride over rough seas to get there. The entire situation of getting on the boat and getting to the tour and everything was very disorganized, likely because there were so many middle men along the way. Once we got to the island, the person in charge put us on the wrong tour and when we got back he started yelling at us and blaming us for his mistake of putting us on the wrong tour and telling us we had to pay for that tour even though it was his fault and he was just incredibly disrespectful and awful. In the end, it ended up working out and the guide got tons of formal complaints against him along with losing 2 complete days of pay because of his awful behavior so it was alright.
Besides that, the tour was alright. The first part was snorkeling in this bay that had terrible visibility and huge waves. I had multiple waves crash on me which was a bit unpleasant and it was a pretty big group of people so we kept getting in eachothers way. Plus the tour guide was just constantly swimming and we were just supposed to follow him so we barely ever got to stop and he was swimming fast and we swam all the way across this huge bay, it was quite a workout. Then we went to this island called Tintoreras, which was this lava covered island where the guide told us all about the volcanic activity on Isabella Island and we saw some more iguanas and sea lions.
Then we boated around a tiny bit more and saw some native galapagos penguins which were pretty cool.
In the afternoon, after the whole fiasco with the awful tour guide, we went to a lagoon where we saw migratory flamingos that live in the area.
The next day, Wednesday, we got picked up early by a tour bus and went to the harbor at the very north of the island where we boarded this super fancy boat that we took up to this island called North Seymour. As we were waiting for the little dinghy to take us from the boat to the island there were a bunch of really big sharks in the water swimming under us. Then we got on the boat and went to the island where we walked around for a couple hours.
The island is very flat and is the center of breeding for a bunch of the bird species around the Galapagos, most notably the 2 species of frigate birds and the blue-footed boobies. It also is one of the few islands that still has wild land iguanas on it, which are a bit bigger, faster, and more colorful than the marine iguanas.
We walked around amongst all the breeding sea birds for a while. We saw all different stages of breeding. There were tons of male frigate birds sitting on the nests they built puffing up their plumage and red throat-sack things trying to compete for the females, there were also male blue footed boobies trying to out-dance eachother for female attention. There were a couple pairs of birds of both species that were mating. There were female frigates sitting on egg-filled nests and male frigates bringing them sticks (its actually very cute, in frigate birds the males bring the female a little present every time they return to the nest). FInally, there were lots of babies and juvenile frigate birds waiting for their moms to return with food.
Then we went back to the boat, ate lunch, and headed to this really small island that was literally just a strip of white sand beach and a little bit of lava rock.
We snorkeled around the little beach island, which was excellent snorkeling. Beautiful water, great clarity, colorful fish. The beach on the island was also very nice and it was a loberia (which is essentially a nursery for sea lion pups) so there were tons of baby sea lions all over the island, some of which our guide said were only a month old. There were also lots of mom and baby sea lion pairs that were drinking milk. It was very cute.
Thursday we slept in and stayed around the hotel all day. Our host offered us a free trip to Floreana because of the whole mess with the Isabella tour guide, but we were pretty set on having a calm relaxing day on the main island. I spent the day editing photos and packing up my stuff into a single backpacking backpack and tiny backpack to bring to Brazil for the rest of my travels so my parents could take everything else home.
Friday, we headed to the airport. On the way we stopped at another little beach that had more flamingos in its lagoon and saw a bunch of these poisonous trees and some other new bird species. Then we flew back to Quito and went to our hotel. We spent the rest of the evening enjoying eachother’s company and I repacked my stuff a little bit.
Then it was off to the airport at 3 in the morning since the airport is so far from the city and since its new there are no hotels near it. Dealing with the airport was a bit hectic, lots of people, lots of slight disorganized-ness. Now I’m in the Panama City Airport, waiting for my flight to Manaus, but unfortunately I have an 8 hour layover here so I’ll be here a while. I’m a bit nervous because they forced me to check my backpacking backpack and I feel like they’ll lose it since I have such a long layover, so here’s to really hoping they don’t. Anyhu, this will be my last post in the Ecuador section! A bit sad but exciting too.