Monday, June 16, 2014

Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and Lima, Peru (May 16 - 27, 2014)

As of Quito, we are now into a package deal with Celebrity Cruise Lines. Our trip to Ecuador and  the Galapagos Islands was maybe our best trip ever, at least the most unique.  I feel there is a lot to say so please bear with me.  If I peak your interest and you go, or at least enjoy what I have to say, then it won't be time wasted.....maybe.   As previously mentioned, upon our arrival in Quito there's  a Celebrity man with a Debbie Rowe sign.  Quito has a brand new airport.  It's very nice but the down side is that it is 25 miles outside of Quito.  Worse yet, the new airport did not come with new roads.  They're currently under construction.  As we later learned the traffic congestion could be horrendous.  Not the case at 12:30 am.  We get to our JW Marriott room about 1:30am.  It's very nice and you can even flush toilet paper.

We promptly get to bed and rise early for breakfast.  It's a buffet, too good.  After breakfast we board one of three buses for a tour of Quito.

We see churches, a plaza (I think all South American cities are built around a plaza) municipal buildings with sentries, shops and a monastery. 

The monks had smart phones!  We're not "foodies"... notice my frequent mention of buffets, but we do appreciate a good quality meal.  Lunch was delightful and came with a charming opera singer!  After lunch we visited the equator.

That evening we were back on buses to get to dinner. The evening passes quickly, we leave our luggage with the Celebrity people for transfer to our ship and get to bed.  Up early, breakfast, slower bus ride to the airport and then a flight to Baltra, Ecuador.  We are now in/on the Galapagos Islands.

After landing at Baltra we transferred to our ship, the Xpedition, via a Zodiac (single outboard motor boat with hard bottom, inflated sidewalls, 16 passengers)  and thus began our cruise.

The ship is about 250' long, designed to carry 100 passengers.

The rooms are as "spacious" and comfortable as most any cruise ship we've been on.

There were 3 nice outside deck areas, 1 hot tub, no pool.

There was one dining area and one common area both large enough to comfortably seat all 98 passengers

Depending upon what you read (I did Google this), somewhere between 12 and 24 islands make up the Galapagos Islands.  A fair conclusion could be that there are 12 "major" islands and maybe a half dozen way small islands. Only 4 of the islands have ANY human inhabitants!   The islands are surprisingly hot, dry and barren.  Although there are a few exceptions, this is not a tropical paradise.


I don't mean to imply that there are no beautiful beaches...there are.

In 1959, 98% of all of the Galapagos Islands were designated a National Park.  Since then a significant campaign has existed to minimize the negative impact of homo sapiens. Consequently, the number of visitors is greatly limited and controlled by the Ecuadorian government.  The majority of visitors reside on boats during their visit and move from island to island.  Tour boats are assigned alternating routes, again to minimize the tromping of our big feet.  Typically, we sailed to a new island mid-day during lunch, sometimes in the evening and other times throughout the night.

So here we go.  Rather then giving you an hour by hour, island by island review, I'll attempt  a broad summary. Our schedule of events on the ship did not vary greatly.  Breakfast (buffet) was 7:00 - 9:00.  We then went ashore 8:00 - 10:30. You had a choice of a long or short hike.  We always took long, 2 miles max. The emphasis is on observing the scenery and more importantly the wildlife.  On several days this outing was then followed with a deep water snorkel.  We always went and this was some of the best of what the islands had to offer.

Before Galapagos, snorkeling with sea turtles was the best.  Now, the new standard is snorkeling with turtles AND  sea lions.

Lunch (buffet) was 12 - 1:30  Around 2ish there often was a lecture or film about the Galapagos.  Our next shore excursion would then be at 3:00  Again a short or long hike and maybe snorkeling. A few times we just motored in a Zodiac around an island or cove enjoying the wildlife hanging at the shore.  One Zodiac ride provided numerous encounters with the Galapagos Penguin.  Way cool!

One morning we saw a flock of Flamingos just hanging out in a shallow pond!!!


Each evening about 7:00  we were provided an overview of what to expect for the next day.  This included pictures of the island terrain, our Zodiac landing site, recommendations for shoes, sun screen, bug repellent (very few bugs) etc as well as what wildlife we should expect to see.  Dinner from a menu was about 7:30 and then an evening program/live music/party around 9:30pm.  Our cruise package was all inclusive which means all the spirits you'd like, on the house.  Our conclusion was that the evening was largely an opportunity to drink with the gang. I don't drink (another story another time) so we passed on these activities. Plus early to bed looked good.   About the end of the cruise we thought we should have at least dropped in to see what was happening but we took the old man way out.  I don't know what all to say about  our island experiences and impressions.  The Zodiac ride ashore was always enjoyable and sometimes downright exciting. Life jackets required.

The landings were either dry or sometimes you were getting off in the surf.  We were always in a group of no more then 16 people, always with a guide.  As often is the case , a guide can make or break this type of outing.  Our guides were terrific.  They were endlessly helpful, knowledgeable and highly motivated to share with us the power of what we were experiencing.  Once ashore we entered a different world.  The pictures will be far greater then  my babble.  What you don't see is what you feel.  It's so cool to be on these islands that in most cases are entirely uninhabited.  Consequently the animals have no fear of man.  The Iguanas (marine and land), of which we saw THOUSANDS, don't run off.




The Sea Lions want to play and nuzzle with you. And how many times did we say "they are so cute"? Just a million or two.


 Even the birds don't bolt.



The Waved Albatross are sitting on soft ball size eggs in the middle of the path where you're walking.  You're within inches and they don't even twitch.

The waved albatross, found on Espanola Island, have a wing span of 7-8 feet! 
 The blue footed boobies were a hit with everyone.

Oh, and we can't forget the most colorful crabs ever (called Sally Lightfoots).

Often we were watching species that exist nowhere else other then where we were standing.  Not all the islands had great things to see but here we are on a remote island, made of volcanic rock that maybe had nothing else to offer other then serenity. One afternoon outing was to a barren bit of island.  Mother nature blessed us with a down pour that never let up (the only day of rain on our entire trip). The rain was fun but the real bonus was that the weather brought the island tortoises out to enjoy the rain.

The Tortoise is kind of the signature creature of the Galapagos.  On the morning of the last day we went to the Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz island where they breed, study and protect the tortoises.

Their success rate is something like 95%.  And yes, we saw huge tortoises doing the wild thing.

Our group of mature adults struggled to not act like 12 year olds (with little success) but it also was a moment in nature not to be forgotten!  That afternoon we went to an area called the Highlands that was uniquely lush with vegetation where the tortoises roam freely in this wonderland.

Throughout our time in the Galapagos we endlessly enjoyed the drama and beauty of the ocean, the unique vegetation, the wonderful cliff views



and the relentless excitement of having the opportunity to enjoy such a unique trip.

But the fun is not over.  After arriving back in Baltra we fly back to Quito and spend another night at the Marriott.  Really only part of a night because we're up at 1:30am so we can depart the hotel at 3am for the one hour drive to the Quito airport.  Our flight leaves promptly at 6am and we arrive in Lima, Peru at 8am.  Don't ask, yes there is a man with a Debbie Rowe sign waiting for us. We are now back on Debbie's ticket so let me take this opportunity to  soundly applaud Celebrity Cruise Lines.   Simply stated, they met our every expectation and we could not be more pleased with their service!

So our taxi dude drives us to the Hotel Tierra Viva in Miraflores,

which is an upscale section of Lima and nothing like the area around Lima airport that we saw at the start of this trip. By now it's only about 10:00am but the hotel allows us to check in early.  So after getting settled we head out for breakfast at a sidewalk cafĂ©.  We then spend the day strolling through town, a little shopping, visiting some very nice city parks, enjoying a fun open air doubledecker bus tour of  Miraflores and settling for some lousy Pizza Hut pizza.  After yucky pizza, we mosey on and find the real highlight of the area.  Miraflores is situated high on some cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

We later figure out that Miraflores has taken full advantage of this geographic delight by creating shoulder to shoulder parks all along the coastline.  This includes at both the shoreline as well as at the top of the cliffs. 

As you can see the parks are full of cats

The Kissing Couple

But by now we have been  awake 30 hours or more so we crash early for some delightful sleep.  We begin the next day with a rooftop breakfast (buffet) compliments of Tierra Viva!  We then walked at our leisure to the cliffs and spent quite a bit of time just watching the hang gliders take off and land. A very popular attraction apparently, judging by the lines of people anxious to risk life and limb.

We enjoyed the parks/cliffs  until about 5:00 pm then we go back to Tierra Viva.  We paid half the daily rate for a late check out which in our case was 7:30pm.  Seemed like a good deal.   So we go down to the lobby and yes our prearranged taxi is waiting for us.  Our man gets us safely to the airport despite horrible traffic and we depart Lima on our flight to Fort Lauderdale at 11:20pm.   We arrive in Fort Lauderdale about 6:30am along with several other flights.  Getting through Immigration was painfully slow but eventually we're on a 9:30 flight to Las Vegas.  After a 2 hour layover we're on the final leg of our journey.  We arrive in Tucson at 3:25pm and our good friend Don is waiting to drive us home.  Our dogs, we do love those boys, are thrilled and being home is simply nice.  We're not in the house 20 minutes and we walk across the street to Don and JoAnne's house for dinner.  Very sweet!

So that's a wrap.  We're currently working on selling our truck and camper (downsizing) so we're now into enjoying our first summer in Green Valley.  Here's a surprise.  Debbie's steadily working on an August trip that we'll look forward to telling you about. Life is too good.  We're grateful!  Thank you for hanging in there with us.