We haven’t even been in South America for 48 hours, and already it feels like we’ve experienced so much. After I posted yesterday, I chatted with the owner of our hostel, Carlos, regarding getting over to Galapagos. He had just been there with his wife and encouraged us to travel the Galapagos on our own rather than on a cruise with all the other gringos (tourists). Encouraged by his enthusiasm, we went down a few blocks to the TAME airlines ticket office and within 5 minutes had flights to Galapagos for the next morning. It is funny how before one explores various countries – some of which may appear very sketchy (case in point: Ecuador) – you just assume it would be so difficult to get around, to communicate, to find food, etc. And yet I am always surprised no matter where we go how easy it all is and how quickly one adapts to the new environment. One day we’re in Kingston at our friend’s home (thanks again Ian and Katie), Marina is stressing out about her PhD thesis defense, and 7 days later we are on a trolley with the locals in Quito heading to the old town to check out the sites while sipping on coconut milk we bought from a street vendor. The change is so drastic and yet feels completely natural. Two days ago we would easily spend over $30 for some sushi take out. Today, when offered a 3 course meal on Santa Cruz island of Galapagos for $6 I said ‘muchos gracias’ and kept walking in search of more ‘reasonably’ priced fare.
But before I get into Galapagos, I should say a few things about Quito. Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and at about 2800m above sea level, it is the 2nd highest capital in the world – after La Paz in Bolivia – where we’ll be traveling through later this summer. Since we live at sea level, the change in altitude can be a challenge for some, leading to altitude sickness – migraines, nausea, vomitting, etc. We actually got medication for altitude sickness – Diamox – to help us in case of potential trouble. However, knowing that we will be facing much higher altitudes in the near future we decided to save our meds. Luckily, other than getting winded walking up 2 steps, we experienced no issues with the altitude. We did, however, walk much, MUCH slower than we usually do as you can get out of breath very easily climbing the hilly terrain of Quito’s old town. For someone who is always revving very high, it was a nice, albeit physiologically imposed, change of pace. The old town has some interesting architecture, countless locals sitting about chatting in the various plazas, as well as a multitude of child labourers who shine shoes, sell popsicles, and likely other vocations I didn’t witness. While Marina and I were sitting at one such plaza, trying to catch our breath while applying some recently purchased sun screen (it was surprisingly sunny and hot) a group of school girls approached us to do an interview for a school project. We were both a bit on edge as this type of encounter usually ends with an unsuspecting tourist being robbed while they entertain the cute local children. Anyways, turned out these kids weren’t part of any street gang and simply interviewed Marina in broken English, while video taping the whole thing. At one point the interview veered into my territory when the adolescent interviewer asked Marina what effect the Barbie doll may have had on female perception of ideal body shape. In response, I cut Marina off and went on about some study I once read…Needless to say, the interview ended rather abruptly after “the crazy fast-talking white man” decided to contribute his wisdom. I hope those girls can edit me out and pass their school project.
After touring around old town, we decided to head back to our hostel and check out new town, or Gringolandia, as the locals refer to it. Since our hostel had a spare classical Spanish guitar, I couldn’t resist plucking a few chords in the common room while Marina took a nap. After a nice dinner at Uncle Ho’s, we both crashed pretty early. I slept like a baby.
Today was an early wake up to make our Galapagos flight. The flight out of Quito was possibly the most scenic flight I have ever taken – within minutes in the air we got crystal clear views of the various volcano peaks just south of the city. Marina snapped dozens of photos through the window. In the terminal waiting for our flight and even more evident on our flight was the obvious demographic bias towards those in their 60’s and upwards. I nicknamed our terminal: “Heaven’s waiting room for gringos”. We were 2 of maybe 6 people on our 100 plus person flight into Galapagos who were under 50. Its odd how many people wait until they retire before they take the time to explore the world – unfortunately, by that point, it becomes much harder to deal with the physical challenges of traveling in certain regions. Almost all the older people on our flight were booked on a big group tour on a cruise ship where they were herded through every step of the process from checking in at the airport, getting their luggage, to getting all their meals, and having a guide hold their hand for the whole 5 days they spend on a boat. Sure its easy and comfy. But the downside is all the experiences you missed by not having to figure things out yourself – forcing yourself to mingle with the locals, and trying to communicate with people in a language in which you know 7 words – now that is fun! And – its a hell of a lot cheaper. As a side note, we are staying at the Hotel Espana – which we simply walked into and asked for a room once we arrived on the main island. Our room has beds for 5 people – 2 for us, the other 3 for our luggage. We are paying $15 per person.
Ok, I am getting tired sitting alone in the lounge of the hotel while Marina watches random Spanish tv in our room.
Here is a list of animals we saw: hundreds of huge marine iguanas, sea lions, crabs, a sting ray, a few small sharks chasing after small fish, pelicans, and of course – the blue footed boobie in action; diving for fish in the crashing waves off the coast of Tortuga Bay.
Lastly, where do two atheists eat while visiting Galapagos, the land which inspired the theory of evolution? A Christian street bbq, of course.
We walked by a few of the restaurants, but I had a sneaking suspicion something more interesting would be just around the corner. So we ended up eating chicken and fish which was bbq’d right in front of us while a procession of about 100 locals followed a man carrying a 10 foot cross and then prayed and sang. In the meantime, Marina and I tried to carry a conversation with an adorable girl by the name of Emily. Her little boy friend was less talkative – I still don’t know what music he was listening to on his MP3 player…
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