Tortuga Bay

A couple of weeks ago in the Galapagos we hiked to a beach called “Tortuga Bay” on Santa Cruz island. To get to the beach we walked a long trail to a beach called Playa Brava (Brave Beach) and then from there walked about 15 minutes to Tortuga Bay.

We built a giant sand castle. We started by building an arch connected to a giant circle of stairs and then realized it looked like the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. On one side of the Starship Enterprise was a huge arc and on the other, kissing penguins.

We also got a two person kayak. Every one except Karina had a turn on the kayak. At the end they let me go out by myself then take kayak back.

After Karen left, we began building a wall around the city. Alora helped Dad build the wall and put decorations on the wall.

At Playa Brava there were napping sea iguanas at the edge of the beach. There were also sea turtle nests that were roped-off to keep people from stepping on them.

Snorkeling Los Tuneles

Isla Isabela, Galapagos

Friday morning around 11:00 am, we went to the snorkeling shop to get fitted into our wet suits, flippers, and goggles/snorkels. After we all got fitted, we drove to the dock to get on our boat to drive forty-five-ish minutes. Grant and I got to ride in the front of the boat. When we were upfront, the boat exaggerated the bumps so much. Towards the end of the ride, the waves were 4-5 meters high, or around fifteen feet tall.

The craziest part of the trip was trying to get into the “island” area – between the waves so they wouldn’t capsize us. This was intense so they made Grant and I get back in the back of the boat. Once we got past this part, one of the first things we saw was the Blue-footed Boobies. We admired these animals for a bit. We actually got to see the parents caring for 2 week old baby boobies. Then we moved on to the Galapagos penguins. These penguins are the second smallest penguin in the world.

We ate lunch at this point but not without seeing a sea turtle. We saw about four in this one day. Lunch was rice with chicken and other spices. It was soooooo good. Then we walked a little on the small “bridges” made from lava flows. The bridges were formed by the water cooling the lava creating lots of little tunnels.

Then we got to the part where we were going to go snorkeling so we put on our gear – the flippers and snorkels. Then we jumped into the water. At first, it was really clear but then dad came in and walked on the floor kicking up sand and making it cloudy and dusty? Once everyone was in we started to swim away from the boat to see different fish. One of the fish we saw on this excursion was the trumpet fish, the black-tipped shark (we saw like 12 of these), the green sea turtle and some fish with a beak that only I saw. One of the black-tipped sharks swam within 1 foot of Grant.

When I saw the fish with a beak coming towards me (looks scary in real life with its serrated beak). I swam as fast as I could. While I trying to escape the “beaked fish” I looked forward and saw a Black-tipped reef shark swim under Grant. That was scary but not as scary as the beaked fish chasing me. After all of that, there was a cave that had over ten sharks. All of them were sleeping in the same cave. Our guide would put us in the cave by holding our flippers & sliding us in, then pull us back out. We saw lots of other fish that I don’t know what they are.

Here’s a documentary about sea turtles.

The Galapagos

Known for its unique ecosystems and being Darwin’s inspiration for the the theory of evolution, the Galapagos islands lay 850 miles off of mainland Ecuador. The history of the islands over just the past millennia is fascinating as the islands change hands between countries, explorers, and governors. But first a small introduction.

The islands that you will hear of in the other posts are San Cristobal in the east, Santa Cruz in the middle, and Isabela in the west. So here I will offer a brief overview of each.

San Cristobal

One of the oldest in the arpeggio, the island gets its name from the patron saint of seafarers, St. Christopher. With about 6000 residents, most of the populace sits on the bay where the docks are and tourist activity is strong. There are several small beaches and snorkeling areas. There is also an informative museum detailing the history of the island up to the present, both the good and the bad.

Santa Cruz

The entire island is a National Park. Here, the Charles Darwin Research Station has a breeding program for endangered giant tortoises. With a population of 12,000, this makes Santa Cruz the largest urban center, though it is only the second largest island in size. Main attractions include the Charles Darwin Research Station, the sandy beaches, scenic bays, and lava tunnels.

Also, just north on a separate island is the airport, remnants of a WWII airstrip once called the Seymore Island Airfield. The airport was turned over to Ecuador after two years and in 2012 was the world’s first green airport. Self-sustained using solar power and windmills, the airport is made out of recycled material as well.

Isabela

The largest and one of the newest of the islands, Isabela is also the smallest in population with only 1,700 residents. The island has five volcanoes, all of which are considered active. However, due to the nature of the formations, the island volcanoes never erupt violently. Each year fissures release gasses and buildup so that when there is an eruption, it is considerably calmer than the vast explosions so heard of with other places. There has not been a need to evacuate due to any of the recent eruptions.

It’s impossible to talk about the Galapagos without talking of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. There are several ways in which animals would have arrived on the island. While there are many species of reptiles and birds, rats and bats are the only land mammals and there are no amphibians on any of the islands.

Carried only by water or wind currents, arriving species would have had to have been hearty enough to endure the lack of food or fresh water. Hence the numerous iguanas and tortoises which could have survived the harsh conditions.

Each of the islands that we visited has its own distinct feel as well as its unique species of animals. The history of the Galapagos has ranged from penal colony, a sight of ecological study, the ravaging of the giant tortoise and other resources, farmland, ecological preserves, and tourism. But considering this is an island that constantly undergoes change, it makes sense that the history evolves as well.

A Day in Quito

A day, a day . . . what can one do in a day . . . stick with me & you’ll find out.  So, after 2 exhaustive days of being on the road we had a day to explore the treasures of Quito. The day started with a trip to the park – Parque Carolina. The 1st thing was paddle boats & ice cream of course. Ice cream is not restricted to particular times of day when on vacation, in case you were wondering. After ice cream, the kids ran off some energy at the playground.

Local Moms give Neal & Karen a push on the group swing

We had lunch at Pim’s a recommendation from a friend of Karen. The food was delicious & we had an AMAZING view of the city.

Lunch at Pim’s

After lunch it was time to see the historic district. We started with Basílica del Voto National. Locally referred to simply as La Basilica. The craftsmanship was awe inspiring – how do they build things this ENORMOUS without machines!?! Prepare yourself for an onslaught of images, words fail.

Basílica del Voto National

Next stop, Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús (Church of the Jesuits)

Here you can get a glimpse of Cooper’s love for food, in this case it’s espumilla. Truth be told after spending a couple weeks with this boy, I’m pretty sure he loves food – all of it.

For dessert we went to Café Plaza Grande, for a very interesting experience you have to order the ice cream (helado de paila). To see for yourself please view the video below, executioner ice cream.

After dessert we were able to enjoy Quitunes (Quito + lunes [Monday]). So, every Monday in the historic district of Quito they have traditional dancers come perform. It was SOOOO much FUN! Our personal favorite was the “flatulence fanning dance”

This dance reminded us of Inti Raymi in Cotacachi. I was especially impressed with the dancers’ ability to dance with streamers in their face!