Galapagos Islands: Sierra Niegra and Volcan Chico

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Once again I am writing from my favourite hammock, and just like yesterday I am pretty pooped after a full day of hiking – this time up into the Sierra Negra volcano. In total we covered about 16km on terrain that varied from thick sticky mud, broken lava rocks, hills, and everything in between. The visibility of the Sierra Niegra volcano – apparently the 2nd largest volcano crater in the world – was rather limited as we were walking in clouds. Our full body raingear – waterproof shoes, pants and jackets – came in very handy. Thanks to our wonderful friends Ian, Katie, Ryan and Tati for sending us off with some appropriate clothing. We returned absolutely covered in mud, but within a few minutes of rinsing, our stuff was all squeaky clean.

Fortunately, as we kept walking towards the north, to Volcan Chico, the clouds cleared up and we were able to appreciate the fantastic views of all the lava formations. The broken lava rock appeared in a variety of colours – yellow, red, green – it almost looked like ground up Fruit Loops cereal. Some of the lava from the last major eruption cooled into what can only be described as frozen waves – very impressive. In general the landscape was really unique – we felt like we were on the moon. We also got to stick our hands into a couple of heat vents – small cracks in the ground which excreted a hot gas – like putting your hand into a very hot sauna. The smell of sulphur was also memorable.

Alas, we saw no smoke come out of the volcano, nor any flowing lava. Nick, an Aussie physiotherapist who was also on our trek, suggested we head to Hawaii to see more volcanic activity. We’re actually meeting up with Nick and his partner, Anthea (a teacher turned flight attendant from Perth), for dinner in town tonight. They are convinced they have found the best place for a $4 dinner on the island. Naturally, we are interested to try it. However, since there are maybe a total of 6 or 7 places to get food here, there is a good chance we had already eaten there. Nick and Anthea are heading to San Cristobal tomorrow morning, while we hope to get out there in a couple of days. Good chance we will bump into them in a few days. Although the islands are fairly large – Isabela being the largest – the majority of people, restaurants, and accommodations are all within a few blocks of each other. Some days we see the same people over and over again.

I know that in a week or so we have to head back to the hussle and bussle (and pollution and altitude) of mainland Ecuador. While I am excited about all the things we plan on seeing there, I think I will miss the uber-relaxed feel of the Galapagos islands. On the other hand, Marina and I have both realized that despite our need for space, tranquility, solitude, etc. we would not be able to live in a place as isolated as this. It is certainly a great place to unwind and slow down, but after a while one can easily get stir crazy. Maybe if I had an easily accessible internet connection I could last a bit longer. Without it, I’m in trouble.

Off to dinner we go.

Peter

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Galapagos Islands: Exploring Isabela Island

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I am currently lying in a hammock outside our room at Posada Del Caminante. From an outdoor clothesline, we just gathered our clothes which were laundered earlier by the owner of our hostel – Lauro. This was, of course, done free of charge.

Unfortunately, due to the abundance of wildlife on the islands, a couple pieces of our clothes had been redecorated with some tiny bird droppings – probably belonging to a small finch.

Joining me out by the hammocks is one of Lauro’s friends watching soccer on the television, which seems to entertain half of the island throughout the day. I’ve come to know some of the local folks who come by and watch random and often outrageous shows for hours on end.

Since English is VERY rarely spoken by anyone on this much less populated island, I’ve had to develop my Spanish skills via an iPod app I purchased right before departure – it has been a life saver. I am starting to move from just singular key words and lots of hand-waving and gesturing to some phrases. Soon enough I may be able to pull off a full sentence. It’s amazing how quickly you can pick up the basics of a language when it is the only way to get what you need. The much tougher part is being able to comprehend the often long-winded and hurriedly expressed responses to my broken questions and attempts at conversation.

The most common exchange goes something like this:

Peter: Buenos trades, senior. Que por almuerzo y quanto cuesta, por favor?

Local: Buenos tardes….long string of incomprehensible Spanish…with a “quatro” or “cinquo” or some number I can understand.

Peter: Mui bien. Dos almuerzos, por favor.

And then we wait to find out what exactly we are eating.

On the topic of food, despite the various unknowns around meal time, there are a few guarantees. First, you know you will be given a load of ‘arroz’ or rice. I have now begun ordering ‘no arroz’ for Marina – she’s attempting to lower the carb intake in a country where simple carbs make up the large majority of the diet. You are also guaranteed some portion of meat – we generally hope for ‘pescado’ or fish, which tends to be fresh, over  less certain options such as ‘pollo’ or chicken. Very often the meal starts with some sort of a soup, followed by a main dish and a drink. These are the set menu meals that are by far the cheapest way to get your fill – $3-4 per person. If a meal is over $5, we are splurging. Keep in mind that only a week ago, we would have easily paid over $30 for sushi take out. The dollar goes a LONG way here. But damn, do I ever crave some sushi from either Sima or Akira sushi in Kingston…

I should stop that train of thought before I drown in my own saliva.

Yesterday, we spent the morning walking around ‘town’, checking out the beaches – both of which we apparently have to ourselves. The almost absolute dearth of people on this island can be explained by two things: the low tourist season, and the recent economic collapse. On an average day we may see 2-4 other ‘gringos’.
In the afternoon, we rented some snorkeling gear and headed out to a popular spot on the island – Concha de Perla. The snorkeling was pretty good – saw some Sgt. Majors, one stingray, and a bunch of other fish I am too daft to identify. As we got out of the lagoon, a group of tourists being herded by their guide all got in the water in full-body wet suits – some of them even wearing special water gloves! I had just gotten out of the water after snorkeling for about an hour in my shorts. Upon exiting the water we exchanged a couple stabs at the silliness of the overly-intense equipment of the tourists with a couple from Britain. Simon, a lawyer, and his partner, a teacher – both in their 50’s, were just at the end of their 7 month trip through South America. They had both quit their jobs, rented out their home in England, and decided to travel for over half a year – according to them, 7 months is just the right amount of time for a decent trip.

Apparently, we had met people who were crazier than us.

Today we spent the entire morning and early afternoon walking the +12km Wall of Tears trial in the extremely hot and humid conditions. Aside from the above, we also saw the biggest marine iguanas we have seen thus far – easily 40lbs or more. Also we bumped into 8 teenage giant tortoises in the wild. And so on…
Tomorrow we’re off to Sierra Negra – one of the largest volcanoes making up this island. Hopefully the weather in the highlands is agreeable for clear views.

Once again, it is now past 10pm and Marina is asleep beside me.

Buenos Noches.

Peter

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