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And We Are Done In the Galapagos

Our last day and a half in The Galapagos was mostly just more of the same. Some kind of one hour nature walk followed by the opportunity to snorkel followed by a meal followed by…

The one exception to this was the one “attempt” I made to snorkel – well, not really snorkel. It isn’t a lot of fun to put a mask on, take a deep breath, submerge one’s self, look at as many fish as possible and then resurface and start the process all over again. This is particularly frustrating when one can’t even stand because of the rocky bottom. The others did tell me all about the wonderful things they saw which really helped.

Some of the sights:

The same sunrise on two cameras:

Frigates – they are amazing birds. They have a 7 1/2 foot wing span and can soar at incredible heights for weeks at a time. They watch for other birds to catch fish then catch the smaller bird and shake it until it drops the fish and then they swoop down to catch the catch. It was great watching them glide it

Basking sea lions

Two kinds of birds

More marine iguanas and red crabs

Tortoise bones

A super high tide, caused by the nearness of Venus the night before, which prevented the scheduled nature excursion “A walk on the beach”.

Our final morning was a scheduled panga, or dinghy, ride. This was by far the best excursion.

After another spectacular sunrise,

We went into Black Turtle Cove

where we saw:

Tiger Rays,

Lots of White Tipped Sharks,

Giant Tortoises

Pelicans by the dozens

and, of course, the famous Blue Footed Booby.

After the morning’s excitement – you join 12 people trying to get pictures, moving from side to side on a panga, in shark infested water and tell me that’s not excitement, it was back to the ship to say farewell to our new good friends Carol and Mike,

and the flight out to start on the last leg of this incredible adventure.

Next time – Hola Mexico City.

A Brief History of Time – Or Our Time in the Galapagos

This trip has had many incredible moments and experiences. The experiences of early morning wake up calls (I know, I have whined about them before, but it’s my blog) have not been among the incredible though. We anticipated our time on the ship assuming we would have some time to unwind and relax. Not so grasshopper. Think for a moment that you are lying in bed deep in sleep. Think that the ceiling in your room is about 7 1/2 feet instead of the standard 8 feet. Now imagine a white disk approximately 8″ across directly above your head. Finally imagine that it is 7am and suddenly La Cucuracha is blaring at full volume from that little white disk. That was our first wake up call on the Coral I. This is followed by the Ship Manager inviting all the “Dear Passengers” to come to breakfast for 7:30 and that at 8am we will be departing for Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island to see the iguanas and the mockingbirds. So much for the relaxation part.

Arriving at Santa Cruz we disembark onto a lava field (similar to the one below) and have to navigate across approximately 30 meters of this. Now we are relatively fit, but compared to the majority of our fellow passengers, we are highly tuned star athletes. Just before reaching the sand, the fellow front of me took a bad fall and was lucky to come away with only a scraped arm.

The Marine iguana had no problem with the lava though.

There are 35 of us on board the ship and they divide us into three equal groups and each group has its one guide. Yesterday we had Billy and so made sure we didn’t get into his dinghy today. Instead we jumped in with Lola.

Lola is a nice enough person, but as a guide she was not terribly effective. For example “Today we will see land iguanas and marine iguanas. The land iguanas live on the land and do not go in the water. Marine iguanas go in the water and today we will see both marine iguanas, which go in the water and land iguanas which stay on the land.” I am not using hyperbole here either.

Every piece of information she gave us she repeated at least 3 times. We think it was because she didn’t know enough to fill the hour long tour.

Anyway, here are all the animals we saw in our first excursion into the wild. The yellow ones are the land iguana and the black are the marine iguanas. The trail behind them is caused by the tail which drags along the sand. Marine iguanas spend the night on land and then head back to the water in the morning.



We saw lots and lots of red crabs.

We saw pelicans, a heron, and finches.

Then it was back to the ship so that those who wanted to could go snorkeling. Terry, Lynne and Martin all went. Those who know me know there is no way I can put that mouthpiece in my mouth without gagging, so I stayed on board. Unfortunately the area where they were taken was quite murky and they saw very very little.

After lunch we were off to Bartolome Island – an island with no animals, which isn’t exactly why we came here. Nevertheless we took the challenge of the 375 steps to the top. It was interesting – very much a moonscape.

From there it was off to see the “pinguins” aka penguins, just around Siwash Rock’s big brother – check out the rock sticking up in two of the last three photos.

Tomorrow’s another day…

Off to Quito – The Middle of The World and The Galapagos Too!

After the wonders of Machu and Huayna Picchu it will be hard to have an equivalent awe inspiring experience, but we four intrepid travellers will give it our best shot.

Starting with a 4:00am wake up call will make it that just much more difficult though. We fly from Cusco to Lima to Quito arriving just after 1pm. It’s already been a long day when we are met by Odette, our guide for the following day. We are pretty much exhausted and decide to relax for the night. Odette picks us up at 9 – a very civilized hour and we are off for a visit to Latitude 00° 00′ 00′, more commonly known as the equator.

I admit that I was a little sceptical – after all, how can you see something that doesn’t exist. However, it was quite entertaining right from Lynne having a shrunken head placed on her hand – after an initial reaction, the guide pointed out it was a plastic facsimile – to watching Lynne and Terry walk the equator while trying to remain balanced.


Terry is like a rock…

while Lynne, not so much.

On the other hand, when I was standing on the equator, the guide was able to push my fist down from over my head with one finger.

We were in two different hemispheres. Aahhh romance.

From the equator it was off to a short, but informative walking tour of historic Quito. Nothing too much to write about though – just another really old South American city. I was able, though, to try on a hat.

What’s so special about this Panama hat, you ask. It cost $5700US! The shop owners were okay with me trying it on, but were pretty much apoplectic when I handled it by the crease on the top. “Only brim sir”

Final stop was for lunch. Freudian slip?

Sunday brought a 3:45 wake-up call for pick up at 4:20 in order to catch a 6:50 flight to The Galapagos – after all, at that time of the morning the traffic to the airport (30 minutes away) can be brutal. Just not that morning.

We took a van, a plane, a bus and a kodiak/dinghy to get to the Coral I, (our home for the next 72 hours or 4 days, 3 nights depending on the marketing) where they served us a lovely lunch. This is Coral II – the sister ship to ours.

Before I go any further, do you recall my comment about fate as we took the train back from Machu Picchu? One of the couples across the aisle from us was in line to get on the boat with us. Lynne, being the outgoing person she is, chatted them up while we waited. Turns out Carol and Mike are transplanted English, now living in Grenada. A number of years ago (2013 I think), with the assistance of a couple of friends they sailed across the Atlantic, fell in love with Grenada sold their boat and moved. Now that’s an adventure. Anyway the six of us have become fast friends and had a great time on the boat.

After lunch, despite the fact that everyone had had an early start, they put us back into the dinghy or pangas, took us ashore and drove us in a bus the 45 minutes across Santa Cruz Island to the Charles Darwin Research Centre to see giant tortoises. Along the way we received almost no information from our guide. It was so bad that Terry finally tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was a guide and if he could provide us with some information about what we were seeing. “There are no tortoises here” is his response. Hmmm…

These two were preparing for a little romance of their own. It takes four hours and is very noisy. She doesn’t look like she is looking forward to the experience, does she?

A couple of baby Giant Tortoises.

As we were leaving the research centre we came across a small family of black iguanas.

Then we were dropped off in the village to “Do some shopping and support the local economy.” Instead we hit one of the local bars for some refreshing cuervsas before the 45 minute bus ride back. Now I’m not saying there were a lot of disgruntled passengers about how we spent our afternoon, but then again I’m not saying there weren’t any, either.

Tomorrow – land iguanas, marine iguanas, black iguanas, yellow iguanas, red crabs and a visit to an island with no animals. (Which isn’t exactly why we came to the Galapagos…)

The Feat of the Climb of Huayna Picchu

Machu Picchu means “Big Mountain” and nearby is Huayna Picchu or “Little Mountain”. There are only 400 people a day -200 at 8am and 200 at 10am, allowed to climb Huayna Picchu, as opposed to an unlimited amount who can presently access Machu Picchu. In the booking of the trip, our travel agent must have gotten some erroneous information about her clients, since we were given the opportunity to climb it. Now, the day before when we were looking at it from M.P. we mentioned to Terry that we would be climbing it – “Are you crazy?” was her response – and a legitimate response it was. As you view it from a distance, it does appear to be quite vertical and easy to fall off.

Nevertheless, a spectacularly clear and warm Thursday morning found us at the 2nd control centre signing in for our opportunity of a lifetime. In the line of eager participants in this folly were us, and 196 people between the ages of 20 and 40. As we looked around, I am confident that we were all quietly echoing Terry’s sentiments from the day before.

When we were in Portugal, it always seemed that we had to go down in order to go up, to go right in order to go left. Climbing Huayna was the same. Now when you are looking up and see how high you have to go in the next hour and a half, it is disconcerting that the first 5 to 10 minutes you go down. This is problematic for two reasons. 1. You have to climb that distance again just to get back to the elevation you started from and 2. in the back of your mind as you climb up and up and up is the realization that when you come back down from the peak, you still have to go up in order to finish.

Some information about Huayna Picchu:

1. The elevation is 8835 feet which is approximately half the elevation of Machu Picchu mountain itself

2. It takes roughly 2100 steps to cover the 850 feet to the top from the “village” of Machu Picchu where most people go.

3. No two steps seem to be the same height. They range from perhaps 6″ to 14″ or 15″.

4. There are many places where cables have been installed to hold onto as you go up.

5. There is no safety netting.

6. In many areas the rocks are quite slippery.

7. One section of the steps are nicknamed “The Death Steps”. Luckily they are in the section that is separated into “one way” only. There would be nowhere to go if someone was coming down while you were going up.

8. It took us 1:30 to get to the top – apparently the Incans used to have races to the top. Now, although the Incans didn’t have stopwatches, we were told one did it in 15 minutes.

9. We couldn’t believe how they could have carried the stones up to build all those steps.

10. The view was absolutely spectacular.

11. It was the most challenging physical endeavour any of us had ever done and man are we proud of ourselves.

The photos which need no words, but I’ll supply some anyway.

From a distance, on a spectacular day, it doesn’t look like much does it.


All full of vim and vinegar – at least before the start.


Yes, that’s where we’re going.

How daunting is it? Look carefully on the left side, about half way up – which really is only about 1/4 of the way. There is someone in a blue shirt on his – or her – way up.

Some of the good steps…

…the not so good steps…(Note the steel cable rail and Terry at the top)…

…and a section of the aforementioned “Death Stairs” and, believe me this doesn’t do them justice.

Two guys with a little less vim – and no vinegar!

This is actually a cruel joke since even though it seems you are at the top, you aren’t.

Looking down from almost the top to where the above sign is.

Okay we have “Reached for the Top” and there’s no vim left either.

Now, it is a little sketchy up there, and although it was quite safe, neither Terry nor Lynne wanted to sit on the rock for the photo op.

Looking back down on the village.


The views were truly spectacular.


A view of the road up with ten of the 13 hairpin turns. The peak is the top of Machu Picchu Mountain. I know that’s redundant, but it differentiates it from the village.

Photographic evidence that we all did reach the top.

(Apparently, climbing 2100 steps does not help one’s waistline)

The path down leads through this very narrow choke point. You can just see a yellow backpack about to enter the passageway.

The Incas built it in order to ensure no army could get through anymore than one at a time.

And at the bottom. Tired? Who’s tired? One of the women in the background came up to Terry to see if everything was all right. She said Terry was looking very worried. We think she was likely a nurse. Very nice of her.

By the time we got back down all we wanted to do was to catch the bus down to Agua Calientes and have a beer which is exactly what we did. Unfortunately we also had to wait for about 2 1/2 hours for the train to take us on a 1 1/2 hour ride back to Ollantaytambo where we got on the bus for the 2 hour ride back to Cusco. On the train they put on a cultural dance for us, followed by a fashion show – I kid you not, of clothing we could purchase. Please forgive the 2 cameo appearances.

And tired? Some of us slept right through the 10 minute dance and 10 minute fashion show despite the loud music, rhythmic clapping and caterwauling- yes caterwauling!

And trust me, despite how it may look, those little peepers were firmly closed.

Who among you believes in fate? Well, sitting across the aisle from us on the train were two couples. And with that I bid you adieu.

The Magic of Machu Picchu

There are very few words which can effectively describe Machu Picchu – but magical, mystical and ethereal are a beginning.

We took a bus from Aqua Calientes for about 30 minutes, up a rough, narrow road which has 13 hairpin turns. In many spots if you come across a bus going the opposite direction, one of you has to back up. On one bend in the road we came face to face – stopping with 20 feet to spare.

Once at the “control centre” we went through an orientation with Marco, our guide, about the logistics of what we would see. There are a number of “circuits” one can follow and these range from easy to difficult in terms of steepness. Thank goodness Marco chose the easy one. The amazing thing is that once you walk through the control centre – think PNE entrance gate, and travel maybe a hundred yards you are in the “middle” of the Machu Picchu village. I say middle because it falls away down the mountain to your right and goes up the mountain to your left as well as extending out in front of you. The elevation of Machu Picchu at this point is 7970 feet.

Our first day was somewhat overcast with periods of drizzle as well as having wispy bits of clouds drifting through the peaks of the surrounding mountains. It definitely felt surreal at times.

Marco took us on a two to two and a half hour tour, which was most informative, although there was so much information presented we all became overloaded and I’m not sure how much was actually absorbed.

The steps were quite steep in places.

This is a small example of the “quarry” where the stones for construction came from.

All of the construction were blocks of stone simply fitted together – no mortar was used.

After the official tour, we had lunch and carried on with a self-guided effort. In the background is Huayna Picchu, elevation 8835 feet.

There were several llamas roaming around the grounds, feeding freely.

This llama stood absolutely stock still for at least 15 minutes. It was as though he – or she was either on guard or surveying its domain.

Tomorrow we go for a hike.

Fawlty Towers Comes to Cusco

Before getting into this post let me warn you. I have skipped over a few days in order to share the experience of our last night in Peru while it is fresh in my mind.

Some background: On Sunday evening we had a fabulous meal at Morena’s Peruvian Kitchen. It was so fabulous that we made a reservation to go back last night as well – our last night here. However after our long day on Wednesday Lynne and Martin went to Les Melens for dinner while Terry and I went to bed. It was so good that we cancelled our reservation and planned to go there, which is where this experience really begins.

Thursday morning they are out for a stroll and see “the guy” – you know, the one who is always trying to pull you into his restaurant. Lynne asks if she can make a reservation for 7:30. “Sure, you can even choose your own table.” They go upstairs and choose two tables for two which can be put together for 4. And, they are on the window overlooking the main square. Perfect. Lynne mentions that it is our last night in Peru and he assures them that it will be a special evening. Perfect.

Later Martin is out for a stroll and the same guy tries to pull him in. “We have a reservation for 7:30.” A blank look is quickly followed by a “Yes, of course.” We arrive at 7:25 and walk upstairs. A waiter greets Lynne “Hello. Welcome back. How was your trip?” Lynne responds “Good.” Now remember they had been there the night before, there was no time for a trip and Lynne spent the afternoon in bed suffering from altitude sickness. “Trip?” “Good”?

We tell the waiter that we have a reservation for the table on the window and look down the restaurant where the two tables are. One is occupied by two men who have full drinks in front of them and not looking like they are leaving any time soon. The other is empty. We tell the waiter that we will have a drink and wait for it to become available and sit down at an empty table to wait.

Suddenly, there are four Pisco Sours in front of us. Delightful. They are compensating us for the screw up. We toast and have a few sips. Our good fortune on this trip continues. Also suddenly, a different server brings a couple in and seats them at the second table. We are all gobsmacked. When the waiter comes by, I tell him that that is our table and we are waiting for the other table to clear. He goes away and then the first waiter goes by us to, presumably to tell them they have to move. No, it is to remove the reserved sign from the table. Then the manager comes over and we explain it all over again. He looks at his watch and says ” Well the reservation was for 7:30 and it is now 7:45″ clearly implying we were late. “No, we have been here since 7:25 waiting.” He then goes over and tells the new couple he must move them, which he does. I felt sorry for them, but they were very gracious about the whole thing.

It is apparent that reservations and choose your own tables are just like traffic lights in China – just ethereal concepts.

It is now 7:45 and I see food being delivered to the two guys! I go over to the manager and tell him that since the two guys are clearly going to be awhile, he may as well give the table back to the couple and we’ll just sit at a different table. On the way back I stop and explain what was happening to a lovely Swedish couple.

When I get back to the waiting table, the Pisco Sours are gone. Apparently they were for a different table. Lynne thought they were moving us to some kind of special table and almost followed him, but no, they were just taking them away. We have no idea what happened to them. (Shades of Manuel – “Qui, Meester Fawlty?”)

We move ourselves to another table and promptly receive four mini Pisco Sours from the manager. “No charge” he says.

We order a bottle of red wine and a glass of white. The red comes and is opened, tasted and poured. (Do you have any idea how difficult it is to taste wine just after having a few sips of a mini Pisco Sour? I did soldier on though.) We wait patiently for the glass of white which, does come, except it is a glass of red. Back it goes and eventually a glass of white does arrive.

We order our food which is delicious, although according to the menu Terry was supposed to get fries instead of the boiled potatoes that showed up, her chicken seemed to be served in the fetal position and Lynne’s Spaghetti Pesto tasted strangely like Spaghetti Mint.

Jorge, the waiter, comes by at some point and says “Tomorrow I will laugh about all of this, but tonight I feel bad”

Other observations:

The special of the restaurant are 15″ brochettes. They are served on a bbq-like tray with fries. As one is being delivered to a neighbouring table, a brochette falls on the floor.

The two guys on the street trying to get you to come in are also the guys who bring you upstairs and seat you. It is disconcerting to see two guys in parkas and toques seating guests and moving tables about.

The “napkins” at Les Melens can double as a strip of toilet paper in a pinch.

In the week we have been here, we have not laughed so hard at anything – particularly the removal of the Pisco Sours. They truly did make it a special, albeit Fawlty Towers type, evening.

From Lima to Cusco

I must say that that phrase had never entered my 66 year old brain as the title of a blog post detailing my/our experiences. There aren’t too many stories – just some sightseeing, so here are some of those sights.

Remember the Incan Ruin – real name Huaca Pucllana – I told you we blew by? Well the reason is that to enter you must go on a one hour guided tour and that wasn’t in the cards for our city tour. Being the fearless travellers we are though we found it ourselves the next day.

Huaca Pucllana is one of several archeological sites discovered around Lima. The site dates from 100 A.D. and was the home to various cultures through to about 650 A.D. when it was covered up and abandoned, according to the guide. The idea of being covered up is quite amazing since it is over 500 metres in length, 100 metres in width and 22 metres in height. It was discovered after people started building their homes on the site and when motocross was taking place on it.

The purpose was to ensure that the elite clergy could demonstrate their control over all water resources, both fresh and salt water in the area.

There are literally millions of these adobe bricks in the site.

The bricks were all placed vertically in order to give them room to move in case of an eartquake. Brilliant. The bricks were made with dirt and water from the local river. They were safe from destruction by the rain since it never rains in Lima (according to our guide). And I suppose he is mostly right since they only get 6.4mm or 1/3 of an inch annually. eat your heart out Algarve.

This is a reconstruction of a burial plot. They were wrapped, given food for the journey and covered over.

That’s a lot of work to build and then cover over.

They also had llamas as beasts of burden and guinea pigs for food. Today it is a VERY popular, if expensive dinner option. This caused much consternation among us. Lynne had many as pets as a wee child and the thought of eating one was disturbing. On the other hand, many many people said we must try it. Eventually I did and was underwhelmed at best. There was almost no meat – I gave Terry a square about 1 x 1 and that was the largest piece I found on the thing.

After the tour we were ready for lunch. You know how in most major cities there are no shortage of cafes, bistros, whatever on a Main Street such as, oh say, Robson Street? Well we found the exception that proves the rule. It was a long walk before we found a reasonable looking place.

This may look appetizing but I’m here to tell you that that isn’t always the case. I’ll never go on looks again! This bread was enough to permanently remove white bread from my diet!

Off to Cusco we go. You gotta love those early morning pick-ups – 5:00 for the thirty minute drive to the airport to catch an 8:00 domestic flight. “Oh there could be very long lines.” Not so much. The only long lines were at the only two places to get coffee.

The Cusco airport is at the east end of the valley. The landing path is from the west end. However, there isn’t a lot of room to get that sucker cranked over and lined up.

It may not look like much but I’m guessing we were at a 33 to 35 degree angle which from my perspective was about 30 degrees too much.

Finally on an almost level flight path. Runway top right.

After being picked up (Yes yes, as opposed to before being picked up) we were off to our hotel. Now those of you who have read these things carefully will recall that when we were waiting to be checked in at the hotel in Lima we all enjoyed the famous Pisco Sour. Not in Cusco. We had our choice of coca tea, which aids in combatting altitude sickness or muni tea which combats upset stomach. We all have altitude pills – Cusco is 3399 metres or 11,151 feet above sea level and it is recommended not to have the coca tea when taking the pills, we all enjoyed the muni tea. Probably a better choice anyway.

For dinner I chose the Limbus Restaurant – highly highly recommended by Tripadvisor. We climbed and climbed and climbed. A sample of the stairs.

The other three were real troopers and didn’t complain once – at least that I heard. When we got there we discovered the music was loud techno music and the menu pretty much pub food. So much for Tripadvisor. We were one drink and back on our way down.

However, the view – aahhh the view. From the east to the west.

Pictures – particularly the ones above don’t do it justice.

Then there is this one.

Time to say Buenos Noches.

The Shoe Blog

Now I warned you that Peruvian women, although lovely, aren’t “out there” in shoe fashion. It was the best I could do.

Next a parade like no other, ruins like no other and factory sales like no other.