Air Treks

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Trip Summary: Top 10 Actual Experiences

Now that a full month has come and gone since we landed back in the US, we have had time to reflect on our entire trip.

The most common question we have gotten was: "what was your favorite part." Which as you can anticipate is extremely difficult. Favorite country, excursion, city, food, hotel, activity, etc.. It is hard to compare our favorite country with our favorite experience. As discussed early in the trip, I wanted to compare our most anticipated "experiences" with what we actually enjoyed the most. Here is a ranked list of my favorites pre and post trip.

Actual Top 10 list with pictures we took:
10. Seeing the Terracota warriors

9. Swimming in the infinity pool on top Marina Bay Hotel in Singapore

8. Hiking the W trek in Torres del Paine

7. Drive to the Milford Sound

6. Hiking the Great Wall of China

5. Cruising and landing on Cape Horn

4. Seeing the massive coral at the Great Blue Hole (all video)

3. Snorkeling in Belize (all video)

2. Hiking on a glacier.

1. Bringing in the New Year at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro
(that is what 0.3 megapixels on the front of the iPhone 4S will shot)

Top 10 through video:
10. Seeing the Terracota warriors

9. Swimming in the infinity pool on top Marina Bay Hotel in Singapore

8. Hiking the W trek in Torres del Paine

7. Drive to the Milford Sound

6. Hiking the Great Wall of China

5. Cruising and landing on Cape Horn

4. Seeing the massive coral at the Great Blue Hole

3. Snorkeling in Belize

2. Hiking on a glacier

1. Bringing in the New Year at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro

Here is Kristen's actual top 10 list (they are not ranked in any order):
Snorkeling in Belize
Climbing Great Wall
Hiking on glacier
New Years in rio
Cape Horn
Drive to Milford sound
Eating hawker food
Angkor Wat
Hiking W

vs her anticipated list:
10. Spending one night in Bangkok
9. Relaxing on a beach in Phuket, Thailand
8. Playing with wildlife in Galapagos
7. Hiking in Patagonia
6. Drinking Malbec in Mendoza
5. Going outside my comfort zone and routine
4. Spending 80 days with Jake
3. Boating on the Mekong Delta with a Vietnamese hat
2. Eating local food in each country
1. Climbing the Great Wall of China

Now for some random trip facts:
*80 days

*12 countries visited

*17 countries landed in

*36 flights

*41,785 miles flown

*We traveled via "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and boats and buses

*28 blog posts (including this post)

*89 YouTube videos posted

*19 Picasa Web Albums posted

*1,694 Picasa photos posted

*80.6 GB of video/photo memories copied to PC

*4,320 video/photo files

*Total cost of the trip: Pricele$$

And to think there is soo much more of the world to see!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day 74 - 79 Belize

Day 74 - Travel day to Belize CityI naturally woke up at 2:00 am just before our alarm. I didn't want to fall back asleep for just 30 minutes and feel druggy as I was wide awake at 200. Kristen popped right out of bed with our 230 wake up call. Long day of traveling ahead of us. We hoped in the cab at 300 and were at the airport within 40 minutes. After some Johnny Rocket breakfast, we boarded our plane. Again today we had the isle and window seat booked and again today we had the entire row to ourselves. This is a must when booking ahead of time. The worse case scenario, you have the middle person take your isle or window seat. I've never had someone deny that. But often times, we get lucky and have the entire row to ourselves!

We had a seven hour layover in El Salvador. We would have normally left the airport to experience the city, but Kristen does not have any open space on her passport for another stamp. We walked the entire terminal and it was just average. I somehow convinced the lady at the Avianca (owner of our flight operator to Belize) to let us in the VIP lounge for free since we had such a long layover. We spent six hours in their lounge taking advantage of their free drinks (including alcohol), food, and more importantly wifi. We got to try two traditional dishes, papusas and pan dulce. Neither were spectacular, but both decent at the same time. We were able to do quite a bit of needed business today with decent wifi: DEA license change (after six weeks of trying), apartment lease, auto transport to Portland, and uploaded Torres and Mendoza photos so we could post both of their respective blogs. The time actually flew by.

Our flight to Belize City was less than an hour long. We arrived in Belize, picked up our bag and met the lady with our name on a sign. She signaled for our driver to come over. The look on our face had to be priceless as a late 1980s Oldsmobile with a cassette tape player rolled up: Leather seats torn and a swimsuit calendar stuck to his dash. The part that had me nervous was that I pretty much planned the entire Belize trip and made all of the arrangements, so Kristen was just trusting my work. Our hotel made the travel arrangements for us, so I did not get started on an impressive note. Luckily Kristen is fun spirited and laughed it off. If that wasn't bad enough, ten minutes into the drive, the driver gets a call and he forgot someone else at the airport. So he turned around to pick him up and we got to fit 3 passengers in the back seat of an Oldsmobile. To make matters even worse, the guy was a smoker who smelt like booze from the flight. So here we are back on the road, the driver and lady in the front with Kristen smashed between the two of us in the back seat. Luckily the guy was actually really nice and gave us good advice on Caye Caulker as he comes at least once a year.

We get to the water taxi port and the driver expects us and the guy to both pay $25 USD each. After some negotiation and us both talking to his boss separately, he agreed to take $15. What a scam: $50 for three people to be smashed in the back seat of an old beater car.

The water taxi stand was a bit more chaotic that I imagined but luckily the guy helped ensure us that we weren't getting ripped off by the ticket. The water taxi was nothing luxurious and smelled like all other water taxis, diesel fuel. Once we got moving it was better. We did get a treat with a beautiful sunset as we pulled away from the nasty dirty city of Belize City.

We got to the island in the dark, so we didn't get a good view of Caye Caulker from the water. We took a golf cart taxi to our rental, Oasi. The streets here are all made of sand as there are no motorized vehicles allowed, only golf carts and bicycles.

We made the quick hop to Oasi to meet Luciana, the owner. I was excited to show Kristen Oasi as it was rated number one on trip advisor for B & Bs. Caye Caulker is not commercialized which was very appealing to us, so there were not big resort style hotels. Oasi has four apartments, two big and two smaller. We got the best one, a big one on the second floor. We had a huge balcony to ourselves which had a hammock, two lounge chairs, and a table and chairs for two. The balcony had a huge clothes line for us to dry our wet clothes. Inside, it had a full kitchen with free coffee, so we could ease into our day by making breakfast in our PJs and eat on our balcony, which we did each morning. We now actually check hotel websites for coffee in our room. Not a huge feature but really makes the morning enjoyable to brew your own coffee as you get moving.

Luciana gave us a map of the island which we didn't really need to navigate as there are really three parallel streets on the island. We walked the perimeter before having dinner at Wish Willys, the recommendation from the guy we shared the taxi with. We quickly realized that we were on island time where everything is informal and nothing moves fast. If fact, we saw multiple signs on the walk that said "slow down." Despite a pretty cool island atmosphere, the food was just ok here. We stopped at the grocery store for bread, peanut butter and eggs. The interesting thing about eggs is that every country on our trip keeps them at room temperature. Even in the island heat, they were on the shelf.

The roads were very difficult to walk on as they had a huge storm the previous day, so there were huge pot holes filled with water. It didn't stop us from walking with groceries while eating ice cream!We knew that we were going to be happy on this island. Kristen had already admitted that I did well in picking this island and she loved the apartment rental and she hadn't even got to ride on the bikes that were included!

Day 75 - Belize. The SplitWe woke up to no alarm this morning, just the sun light! The crazy thing is that we rarely got to do this on our trip. When you have the gift of travel in amazing places, you constantly want to take advantage of the opportunities at the destination. I decided to get up first to make coffee, scrambled eggs, and peanut butter toast. We sat on the balcony in our pjs enjoying the warm air and not having to get dressed and mobilized to start the day. We didn't have anything planned, so I took a load of laundry to be cleaned ($8 USD for one load) while Kristen did a workout with the bands. After I came back we went for a run/walk around the south end of the island.

The island is split into two halves with the "split“ waterway in between. The north island is all preserved and no tourist or local activity takes place there. The smaller third or quarter is where everything is. We are staying on south end of the South Island. There was some nice trails here to do some exploring. Not a ton as the island is maybe 3 miles in circumference. The trails itself were still pretty wet, so we couldn't do the entire loop as it was flooded, but enough to get a sweat going. We are both looking forward to getting back in shape when we return. It has been very difficult to workout on this trip. A million excuses why, but mainly, we just didn't make it a priority. Too many other cool things to do. But this can't last forever, so we will get back in shape when returning. Kristen actually got a jump start and worked out everyday in Caye Caulker. I wanted to enjoy the hammock instead.

I really wanted to dive the Blue Hole as it was only a two hour boat ride from the island, so we made that a priority this morning. We first went to Frenchs who was booked (they go twice a week), so I ended up going with the nicest and highest end dive shop, Belize Dive Services. This company ended up being great, which I describe on day 77. They had availability for Monday!

Now that the dive was booked, we wanted to book a good snorkel on the local reef. Belize Dive Services told us to find Juni, by the basketball courts. This was the same advice we had gotten in Patagonia. So we were on the mission to find Juni, but he wouldn't be back from the day's snorkel until 5:00.

We put on our swim trucks and packed our beach bag and biked to the split, where everyone hangs out during the day. This place was very unique in that there wasn't really a beach. A third of the people were lounging on a sanded section, a third laying on wooded pier, and a third was hanging at the bar. The crowd was mixed: mid 20s getting some sun, middle aged hippy travelers, and a mix of local rustafarrians. I guess we don't actually fit into any of those categories, but we didn't feel out of place. We ordered a bucket of beers, a burrito, and some nachos and just spent some time people watching and listening to the DJ mix some reggae and pop music.

Kristen rode back to get our googles, so we could swim across the split in hopes of exploring the other part of the island. However, once over there, the sand wasn't really meant for walking barefoot, so we just swam back. The current was pretty strong here, so the visibility was not good either. We didn't last long in the water since it was deep and cloudy. We decided to lounge in the sandy area. After about thirty minutes until a random man shot straight out of the water! One of the coolest things I have seen a wave runner do before!

We hung around the split until we were able to catch Juni after his day of snorkeling. He was full the following day, but could take us on Monday. I told him that I was diving the Blue Hole and he said "Why, you will have way more fun with me, see more, and it will cost a lot less?" Well shoot, when you put it that way, maybe I should reconsider. However, I really wanted to dive, so I kept my Monday Blue Hole and booked us for Tuesday snorkel. Since we were gambling on good weather for Tuesday, Kristen signed up for Monday as well, which turned out to be the best decision in Belize (the weather was fantastic Monday and rainy Tuesday).

We headed back to the apartment to shower for a dinner date at Habaneros. This was one of the only "fancy" restaurants on the island. I quote fancy as it was a typical establishment by normal US standards, but felt fancy compared to the local dinning. We didn't make a reservation, but they had a few tables open so we got right in. The restaurant gets pretty busy as it is popular, so we felt a bit lucky. Once seated though, we were rushed the entire meal. On multiple occassions they informed us that we had to be out by 8:00 as the next set of reservations were for then. Despite the bad service, we did enjoy their food.

We did a lap around the island to take in the salty ocean breeze before graving some ice cream and playing cards in the apartment.

Day 76 - Lounging around BelizeMy main objective today was to find someone to take me diving. I got up early and went to multiple dive shops, but they were all full! I came back to my hammock to read on my ipad while Kristen was out for a walk. When she came back we decided to go snorkeling out on the local reef. As we were trying to finalize the plan, we noticed a huge black horizon, so we decided to wait it out until the afternoon, before trying again. Sure enough, we barely made back to the apartment before it down poured.

After about two hours, the skies cleared up, but the temperature never really recovered. It was stil a bit windy, so we cancelled the snorkeling excursion and decided to walk to get something for lunch. We walked to the sports bar where we watched the second half of the 49ers game when they beat the Panthers. It was an interesting bar as there were two tables of texas holdem and there were folks in their respective team's gear. I guess Belize isn't that far from the US, so it makes sense. We just were not used to seeing American sport fans over the past 2.5 months.

We decided not to watch the Broncos game as the sun was back out. We wanted to spend more time exploring the island since we were going to be on the water the next two days. We have taken full advantage of our free bikes at Oasi.

We decided to try the mediterranean restuarant on the island as it has sand floors and we have both missed falafel/hummus. When we showed up, we should have stuck to our insticts: If there is no one else in the restaurant, don't stop. We over rode our instict and the food was less than mediocare. We ended the evening with some Belizean ice cream. I am going to miss my daily ritual of beer and ice cream! Early to bed as I have a 430 wake up for the Great Blue Hole.

Day 77 - The Great Blue HoleI anxiously woke up at 430 just ahead of my alarm this morning raring to get on a boat to check out the great hole. I made some toast and coffee while trying not to wake Kristen. I biked half way down the island, about 0.5 mile, to +Belize Diving Services. I was the second one there and helped myself to a glass of coffee and some eggs as they had breakfast for everyone. The rest of the customers rolled in, but it wasn't a lively crowd at 530. We all got on the boat just prior to 6 to check all of our gear. We were off land just prior to sunrise.

The ride away from the island was calm as we watched sunset rise. I took a spot on the open top deck of the very nice dive boat. This company is known for its investment into its equipment and it was evident by the equipment I saw all day. Very high class dive shop. I took a random seat next to two guys who quit their jobs to travel for nine months around central and South America. They were on day 15 and just arrived from Mexico. They were awesome to talk to: their travels thus far, their plans, and how they arranged for nine months of travel.

The dive master warned that the waters might be rough when we crossed over the reef and that we may get wet on the top. They were spot on. I got drenched a few times, but luckily it was warm enough that it didn't matter. The swells in the water at times were probably six to eight feet spraying water to the top deck. I'm definitely glad Kristen did not come as she would have been sea sick. I continue to be thankful that I can handle fairly high waves.

We couldn't exactly tell when we entered the hole as there was no sign nor could you see the entire circle of reef. We crossed multiple reefs to get out here (2 hr boat ride), so we didn't exactly know until we slowed down. We started to get our wetsuits and gear on as a huge storm approached and the wind picked up. I put on my now wet wetsuit (my gear was second from the back of the boat) and instantly became very chilly and nervous all at once. It had only been less than two months since my last dive, but I haven't dove without Kristen nor with 16 other people (we split into three groups). I was actually shaking a bit and I couldn't seem to stop. I tried to take deep breaths, but I never actually got better until I was in the water and took a fewer deep breaths from my tank.

The first dive was called the Great Blue HoleTour description: The first stop is The Great Blue Hole, a remarkable sink measuring nearly 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep. It’s a Belize National Monument and UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, experienced divers can venture to the limits of recreational scuba diving to see Costeau’s giant and ancient crooked stalactites at 130ft/40M. This profile is for experienced divers only—divers with 25 or more dives. For those not qualified for this depth or who simply want a longer dive profile, we offer a second dive profile to 80ft/24M. On this profile, you cannot swim through the stalactites, however, you will still experience the drop-off and likely see some sharks.

Since I don't have 25 dives in, I was in one of the two 24 meter groups. I had been to this depth on most of my previous dives so that wasn't an issue. I felt the group descended a bit faster than me, but I took my time. The very eery feeling of this dive is something I won't forget. You are on this huge straight vertical wall and when you turn around, it is pitch blue and you can't see anything. You can see the wall just fine but behind you and below you is just dark blue. Not black, but blue. If you don't find something to focus on the wall, you can easily become overwhelmed. After just a few minutes under the water, I became calm as previous dives and got into my groove. We explored the wall which had very unique grassy like coral on it. We eventually saw a sea turtle which I spotted at the end of our group. We also saw a few sting rays, a barracuda, and Caribbean wrasse which were a bold blue colored fish that had what looked like wings. The visibility was actually poor on this a dive since the current and storm had worked up the sandy bottom at the shelf of the wall. This dive only last 30 minutes as we went down to 31 meters for some time.

The second dive was absolutely amazing. The coral on this reef is so mature and huge. The huge trees and coral bowls were sometimes five or six feet. I have not see coral this mature in the Maldives or Bali. Besides the amazing colors and various coral formations, we quickly saw two huge reef sharks. Two of the our five ran out of air fairly quickly, so our instructor worked with them to go up. I turned off the Go Pro to save battery while waiting when instantly a six foot shark came from behind the coral and swam two feet over my left shoulder. That 15 seconds took about 100 PSI of oxygen out of my tank. On this dive we also saw a couple sea turtles, sting rays, barracuda, and a few tuna.

Tour description:After the Great Blue Hole dive, it’s a 25-minute boat ride to Half Moon Caye Wall for the second dive of the day. Along the walls, which drop beyond 1,000 feet, you’ll see colorful sea fans, giant barrel sponges, turtles, eagle rays, eels, octopi, reef sharks and sting rays hiding in the sand flats. Half Moon Caye is a picturesque Caribbean island with a bird sanctuary observation deck that overlooks a Red-Footed Booby Colony. We have lunch on the Caye and explore the island before heading out for our third and final dive of the day, Long Caye Aquarium.

We took an hour lunch break on Half Moon Caye where I got to continue to visit with the couple from Germany, a guy from Austria, and a girl from San Francisco. Kristen always said that you actually meet more people when traveling alone and this dive trip highlighted that. I got to know so many people. We also got to see male Frigate birds with their red sacs blown up making mating calls similar to the Galapagos.

After lunch, we had our third dive which again had amazing and huge mature coral. On this dive we got to see four eagle rays swimming together, a sea turtle, two sharks, barracuda, and various other fish. The visibility was great on this and the second dive. I'm excited to watch the go pro video footage to see if it portrays the amazing coral I got to see today. (It doesn't as I have to get a filter for the Go Pro in order for the colors to be there. Here is what I need to get:

After returning to the boat we started to sail away. About two minutes into the sail, the captain did a 360 and went to pick up what looked like trash in the ocean. As we got closer, it was a huge taped up rectangle that looked like what they transport drugs in the movies. The crew pulled it on board and one of the divers had a knife and cut it open. Sure enough, full of blocks of further taped material. The captain ordered them to put it under the boat and we moved on. No true clarification, but probably cocaine or marijuana. What a crazy experience!

On the way home, we got to see a dolphin jump alongside the boat which was a first for me. What amazing animals.

After arriving back to the dock, I rode back to get Kristen and met the Australian guys at the Split for some drinks and a fabulous, clear, and colorful sunset. We spent about an hour there talking to them and a few others from the dive that day. After getting bit by Mosquitos, we all said goodbye and we rode to dinner. Kristen's snorkeling guide, Juni, recommended Syds, so we went there. Upon pulling up, the Australians were eating there too. We got a table with them and the four others from their hostel. The island is really starting to feel small as we recognize people from various events, dinners, etc.. That feeling is part of the charm in Caye Caulker.

What an amazing day of diving. I am eagerly excited for tomorrow as we are going snorkeling with Juni, whom Krisen went with today and claims that she had the "best outdoor experience of her life!"

Day 78 - Snorkeling with JuniWe were both eager to get up this morning to snorkel with Juni. Juni is a ~70 year old Belizean man who has been snorkeling the local reef for 31 years. We first heard about him from the Swiss couple in Patagonia and then again from the dive shop that I went to yesterday. When you meet Juni you understand exactly why you want to snorkel with Juni. He is a very wise and calm man who you just sense that he has some connection with the local reef. He charges $35 USD for six hours of snorkeling, better than any price on the island. He could be charging double the highest snorkeling trip and he would still sell out every day. He only takes a max of seven people so he can keep his group small. If you plan on going to Caye Caulker, I would highly recommend that you book with Juni and that you skip over the next few paragraphs so you will have the experience of surprise when joining him.

We got on board at 945 with three Americans and two Canadians. Juni has a very quant little sail boat that makes you feel like he has been using it for the same 30 years. Even though it is probably 30 years old, you know that he cleans it everyday and keeps up the maintenance on it regularly. He asked Drew (Farmer from North Dakota) and myself to sit at the front of the sailboat to keep the nose from bobbing too much. I enjoyed chatting with him during our 1.25 hr sail. He is from Wilson, ND where there is a huge oil boom right now. He described the expanding community and life now that he moved back to take over the family farm.

The sail was nice until about 30 minutes remaining where it started to sprinkle before down pouring. There was a front moving through and we were hoping that it would move through like the previous days. It never really did, but at least it stopped raining. We were pretty cold from the rain and were excited to first jump in the water. Maybe I was also more excited to jump in since there were reef sharks circling the boat. Only four today compared to the 13 Kristen had yesterday.

We jumped in the water and tested our masks while a few sting rays and sharks swam through. And by through, I mean in ten feet of water, so it wasn't like they were thirty feet below us. Juni finally got in and immediately started making vibration noises with his hands. Juni does not feed the animals like almost all of the other snorkel guides. He doesn't need to. He is friends with these fish. The entire time he was in the water he had one fish (about two feet long) that swam with him. He took us through the beautiful coral reefs as we saw many different types of fish. The highlight was at the end of the hour snorkel, he somehow called over this massive sting ray and he was able to hold it and place it on top of each of us. You could see that the two of them had a bond. It was an experience to meet such a fish whisperer. After twenty minutes of playing with the four foot wide sting ray, we got back in the boat.

Our second stop was at a place where his friend clean conch shells. His friend has been doing this for thirty years also so there is an amazingly huge collection of huge sea shells at this spot. Kristen was cold so she stayed in the boat for the 15 minute snorkel. The shells were so high that you couldn't jump in, but had to slide into the water to avoid the shells and one of the three dozen sting rays. Wholly sting ray! They were massive and every where. There were also small nurse sharks and a huge beautiful turtle. They were all swimming within a few feet of me. It made spotting sting rays and turtles a joke yesterday compared to the marine life today. This stop was unlike any experience ever before. The shear number of sting rays and sharks was amazing. With the clouds out and the seas a bit rougher, the number was significantly down from what Kristen experienced the day previously. I can't even imagine more fish in this spot as there were soo many today.

Our third stop was further up the reef where we immediately saw a six foot grouper under the neighboring boat. It was the biggest fish I have ever seen. I'm not even sure I got it on video as I was so ah struck. Kristen later said that the previous day they swam through a school that size! Wow. Juni took us through more amazing coral: some you could barely float over as it was so tall. The purples really stood out despite the sun, but it wasn't as vibrant today without the sun. Along the way, Juni was able to attract a moral eel out of the coral and he held it. What! Exactly, these fish just know him. Once again he had the same fish follow him for the entire hour snorkeling. The nurse sharks were not as abundant here either. I guess yesterday, Kristen got to hold the baby sharks and she had one swim with her for the hour! Juni continued to vibrate his fingers and hands attracting fish and stingrays. We also saw some beautiful eagle rays, one almost five feet wide. We also saw the biggest puffer fish which had to have been four feet long with a head the size of a basketball. We have seen our fair share of puffer fish on this trip, but this male was at least five times bigger than the biggest we had seen previous. Juni said sometimes the female is also there. On this snorkel we also saw the biggest barracuda that I have ever seen.

The water was warmer than the air temp (at least it felt that way), so it was cold when we got out of the water. Drew and I continued our role of keeping the front of the boat down as we started our cruise back to Caye Caulker. About half way there, I noticed some fins sticking out of the water, so Juni steered that way. Five dolphins came and swam right beside our boat! They were jumping out of the water and one was even throwing a fish out of its mouth and then catching it! He asked if we wanted to try and swim with them, which was a no brainer. Kristen, I and a girl from San Diego jumped right in. The water wasn't the clearest so we couldn't always see them, but we could hear them chirping at each other. It sounded just like you hear in the movies. We never got close enough to touch them, but what a great end to an awesome snorkel.

After resting for a few hours, Kristen was up for trying to walk to get some food. After a long wait at Bar Easy for some lobster, we left uneaten. The service and the environment stunk and I didn't want to wait there anymore. We went a few blocks down to Frans who is a lady who has three picnic tables on the sand with a guy grilling fish, chicken, and lobster. We sat at the only spot open and had an amazing conversation with a couple from London. We chatted for over an hour drinking our included rum punch. We eventually got our lobster, grilled vegetables, rice, baked potato, and a slice of strawberry cake. The more we stay on the island, the more we are enjoying it. The small island starts to feel small as we continue to recognize other tourists and continue to meet other amazing people from around the world.

We couldn't leave the island without another stop for some Belizean Ice Cream, so we enjoyed it on our walk home for the evening. We decided not to pack tonight as it was too sad to think about leaving tomorrow!

Day 79 - fly to Cleveland via AtlantaWe woke up at 630 this morning, made some coffee and packed our bags. Kind of sad to get our warm clothes back out! We packed early as we wanted to have breakfast out at Glenda's. Luciana, the owner of our apartment, said it was the best on the island and she was right! We each had an omelet, beans, a cinnamon role, and coffee and we split a fry jack and OJ, all for $13! More than the bargain, it was absolutely delicious. I had never had beans for breakfast and Kristen just raved about hers. She now wants to make it in Portland. A Fry Jack is a fried bread sliced in half and stuffed with cheese, eggs, and beans! Best breakfast sandwich you can eat! What a great last meal on the island. We were going to be flying over lunch and didn't expect a US flight to include a meal. We were right! More on that in a second.

After breakfast we said our goodbyes and had a golf cart taxi take us to the water taxi. Here we chatted with the New Zealand couple who I dove with on Monday. They had another 10 days left on their 90 day vacation, so we enjoyed chatting with them on their explorations. Our flight left about 30 minutes late, but we have a three hour layover in Atlanta.

Being on an American owned plane again highlights how poor our airline service really is. I cannot comment on the safety rating of the US carriers vs the world, which is obviously the most important aspect of flying. However, I can only remember one flight being delayed on take off thus far until today. Sure enough +Delta was 30 minutes late leaving Atlanta. Furthermore, we have had meals on almost every domestic and international flight on this trip, no matter the time of day. All international flights have had free alcoholic beverages too. Delta must not count this international flight as being long enough. All we got was a choice of biscotti, peanuts, or pretzels. I have mentioned in the past the great service we had with +LAN en Argentina when we had bad weather, which would never happen in the US. Additionally, we changed a few flights along the way for under $50. No way we get that on the major US airlines. I am very happy to be coming back to what is the best country in the world. However, we are not the best at many things and airline service is one of them.

Landing in Atlanta was bitter sweet for us both. It was sad to stop exploring the amazing places we had visited, but it was also nice to turn on our cell phones and call home. We had the most amazing paninis and a quinoa salad in the Atlanta airport. I think we both are looking forward to more consistent quality food. We had amazing food on our journey, but I am not sure the average is better than our average meal in the US.

For photos click hereWe didn't take too many photos here since we videoed most of the underwater activity.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Day 66 - 73 Galapagos

Day 66 - Fly from Quito to Baltra, Galapagos
Quick night sleep for us last night. Our heads hit the pillow at 1:15 am and we were up at 5:45. A quick shower and a cup of coffee started the day. We had our cab driver from "last night" pick us up again as it was still his shift. He was in the lobby at 6:25. 

The drive was a bit slower as it took about 50 minutes to get to the airport this morning. Contrary to what I pictured Quito, their airport and roads were very nice. The airport was recently built and was very clean. The prices are also fairly reasonable at the airport. We had a breakfast burrito, egg croissant sandwich, and three cups of coffee for $20. 

Our flight left on time at 8:25.  We landed quickly in Guayaquil to drop off some passengers and pick others up. We did not deplane and were up and going within 30 minutes. 

The downside to flying Business Class yesterday is that it feels extremely cramped today. My knees literally touch the front seat when they recline and I have only one arm rest since the guy next to me claimed my other. I found myself getting really annoyed, but realized it was probably just me and the four hours of sleep after a day of flying in Business Class. It amazes me how quickly we can change our perspective on things when our recent experiences are more prominent in our mind. 

We are getting ready to land in Baltra, Galapagos and on the descend, the flight crew sprayed all of the overhead compartments to kill any insects that might be in our bags. Kind of crazy. I would have thought more of it, but Kristen said they did the same thing in Zimbabwe. 

Landing right on the edge of water is beautiful. Baltra is one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, so it is right by the sea. The landing was one of the roughest we have experienced as it got really windy on the descent where the plane was rocking side to side. Thankfully, the landing gear absorbed what felt like a quick touch down. 

We laughed it to off while taxing as Kristen had this look of approaching sea sickness. If we continue to have rough travel days, I think she might restrict our next vacation to no plane, boat, bus, or car. Thankfully, Portland has a train into Canada. 

The airport in the Galapagos is very small, but it has big enough runways for big planes. I found it interesting that they require everyone to pay the entrance fee in US cash. There were three planes scheduled to land on the board (including ours).  At $100 per person and 200 passengers per plane, there was $60,000 cash moving through this one desk in a few hours. This must be one way they keep enough US cash in the country to make it the official currency. 

We took our bus to the boat where we got to meet all of our crew and crew mates:
Naturalist Guide: Tamara
Captain: Antonio
First mate: Alfredo
Mechanic: Paulo
Bar man: Jovany
Dingy/Panga/zodiac boat driver: Federico
Chef: Lupo

German: Christian, Peter & Amelia
Australian: Mark, Carolyn, and Sara
Miami: Kevin and Eloise. 
Connecticut: Amanda and Hunter
Japan: four hard to spell names

We were the last three to arrive on the boat (us and Christian), so we had to quickly eat lunch and get our wet suits and snorkel equipment. We had our first disembarkment at Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island. Here we got to see the many sea crabs and marine iguanas. There were hundreds of sea turtle nests, but we were only able to see sea turtles swimming in the water. When walking on the island, we had a very strict path and had to follow in line behind our naturalist guide. On the walk, we learned that only people born in the Galapagos can work in the Galapagos (scientists being an exception). The 30,000 citizens are not enough for the work force so our guide works three weeks on board and one week off. We caught her on her third week, which is why she is a bit crabby.   Along the walk we also got to see one flamingo, but it was far away. 
Land and Marine Iguanas hanging out together

After the hour walk, we got to snorkel for an hour in a very controlled area. Being on a sandy beach, the visibility was very poor, so it was hard to see more than 8 feet.  We were reassured that the other snorkeling excursions would be better as they are not on a huge sandy beach. 

Galapagos Hawk checking out some snorkeling gear

I was shocked that we had to have a wet suit despite being on the equator.  I sure am glad that we have it though as the water temperature is only about 70 degrees. 

After returning to the boat, we spent time socializing with the other passengers before our first dinner: chicken, rice, lentils, carrots and green beans. The two meals we had today were great, especially when you consider the space in the kitchen!  We did get to see some sea lions and sharks swimming around the boat just prior to sunset. We were excited to also finally see the stars.  Both New Zealand and Patagonia had nightly clouds preventing us from seeing the Southern Hemisphere skies.  

Day 67 - South Plaza and Santa Fe Island
615: Dry landing on South Plaza
800: Breakfast
Cruise to Santa Fe Island
1100: snorkel around boat
1200: lunch
1400-1500: snorkel from panga
1600-1745: wet landing on Santa Fe Island
1830: briefing
1900: dinner
Cruise to espanola

Animals we saw: Galápagos sea lions, land iguanas, marine iguanas, swallow tailed gulls, Nazca boobies

We set our alarms for 530 to prepare for our early morning disembarkment only to realize that no one was up yet and that we did not account for the hour time change from Quito to the Galapagos. This is the perfect example of when we rely on technology to automatically adjust for us, but fail to manually do it when the technology is not working. We did not have a cell or wifi connection in the Galapagos, so the iPhone could not adjust. This is another example on our journey where good things come from unplanned adventures. We got to check out the beautiful stars again before watching a clear sunrise over the horizon.  It was an awesome way for us to start out our day. Luckily, there was coffee made already for the helmsman sailing the yacht. 

We left the boat in two groups of eight at precisely 615. We have to follow a specific timeline as the various boats are timed through the national park, so we have to be off at a certain time for others to come on the island. It appears that everything is highly regulated here, which is a good thing to help preserve the land. 

This disembarkment was a sharp contrast to yesterday. Instead of taking pictures of still crabs, iguanas, and flamingos, we got to watch playful sea lions and birds. The sea lions were a blast to watch and they could have entertained us for hours. 

Landing on South Plaza Island

We learned quite a bit about sea lions. The sea lion pups rely solely on the mother to eat for the first few months. The male sea lion is huge and watches the pups while the female swims in the ocean for fish. We are not allowed to snorkel in this area despite being the clearest of waters as the sea lions attract a lot of sharks, which we have gotten to see many of from the yacht. We also got to see the only nocturnal eating bird in the world, the swallow tailed gull.  They have red rings around their eyes which is on the same gene which is often associated with night vision. Their bill has white on the start and tip of their beak so that their young can see where the food is.  The baby gulls are all white to help the mothers see them in the dark after finding food.  
Sea Lion mother rubs pup

Sea Lion pup nursing

Sea Lions playing with male supervising

Land Iguana

There wasn't a ton of marine life around the boat just prior to lunch. However, I did get a snapshot of a tiger snake eel. This is kind of funny as I swore it was a snake and so did Kevin who also saw it. Our naturalist (who didn't see it) said that it was probably an eel. Both of us have seen eels before and didn't think it looked like an eel. I loaded my go pro video on the ipad and extracted a picture from it to show the naturalist. We looked in the Galapagos marine book and the only thing it looked like was a Tiger Snake Eel. We have joked about the non-creative names on the islands. It appears that this one was no exception. It looks like both animals, so it is named so. 

Snorkeling from the panga was much better. We saw many sting rays, various fish, a poisonous scorpion fish, and one sea lion. 

We continue to have great food and company on board. We were only able to play cards for about an hour after dinner as the sail was pretty rough.  It ended up being a long night as we would constantly toss and turn. Kristen did not feel well but was able to manage by listening to music and laying on her side. Finally about 200 am we made it to Espanola Island where we anchored and we both slept well until 615. 

Day 68 - Espanola Island
700: breakfast
800: wet landing in Gardner Bay
900: snorkel from beach
1000: sail to Gardner Islet
1015: snorkel from panga
1145: lunch
Sail to Punta Suarez
1415: Dry landing
1730: back on board
1840: briefing
1900: dinner

Animals we saw: espanola mockingbird, sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, waved albatross, nazca boobies, blue footed boobies, Galapagos hawk, werbler finch

This morning we got to walk along Gardner Bay beach without a guide.  Christian, Sara, Kristen and I walked together and were the first ones down the beach after the tide went back down. This was pretty cool as the sand was absolutely perfectly flat without a single foot mark.  We took many pictures of the sea lions and marine iguanas.  
Juvenile Sea Lions playing in the water

After about an hour, we snorkeled from the beach where we saw much more marine life today.  We were hoping to see white tipped reef sharks, but didn't.  However, we saw more sting rays, a huge lobster, and a sea turtle. The sea turtle was the highlight of the day as he/she swam between Kristen and I comfortably. I was able to get video of all angles and even one with Kristen swimming next to it. It was magnificent. It just swam slowly and calmly while checking us out. We could have swam with him for awhile, but ultimately had to swim back as it was going away from the group. 

We boarded the boat and did a quick sail to another islet where we saw sea lions under water, hundreds of beautifully colored starfish, many sting rays, and tons of various fish.  The snorkeling never gets old, but twice in the morning was exhausting. 

We returned to the boat and had lunch before sailing to Punta Suarez.  Everyone was exhausted, as was I, so we all took a siesta to rest up for a long excursion on Punta Suarez. 

On Punta Suarez, we saw hundreds of marine iguanas.  It was a bit sad on this island however as there were about ten dead iguanas. This happened a few months ago on another island and the scientists have not figured out a cause. I think we have now seen enough sea lions, iguanas, and lava lizards.  It is amazing how quickly you can get used to seeing such precious animals in their habitat. The lizards and iguanas are boring to watch, but when the seal lions are not sleeping, they can entertain for hours. I am still hoping to get to swim beside them. The juveniles are the most curious and likely to do so. 

Bigger Sea Lions kicks smaller one off the top of rock

On this excursion we got to see the biggest bird in the world, the waved albatross. We were fortunate to see a few dozen, because in January, they all fly to Peru for three months before coming back. Most had left already, but we did get to see some. Most were younger ones that were not ready to fly. One of the cool things we got to see up close was a young albatross trying to fly for the first time.  It just sat and practiced flapping its wings and we didn't see it take off. We saw two of the three types of boobies: nazca footed and blue footed. The nazca are bigger than the blue which is bigger than the red footed. They are very similar boobies except for their size and the color in their feet. 

Mating Bird Call

Pelican in flight.  Beautiful!

We came back to the boat a bit hot, so the captain let us swim around the boat. We actually got to jump off the top deck, so I got to highlight my can opener to our ship.  The water was too deep to really snorkel well, so we only swam for maybe 20 minutes. We didn't need our wetsuits for this duration, but it wasn't comfortable unless you were moving around. 
Can Opener off the Darwin Yacht

We both showered and enjoyed conversing with the rest of the passengers. This ship is a bit different in that the crew doesn't really engage much with the passengers socially, which I respect since they do this all of the time. Everyone spoke English, including the Japanese family of four, but it is difficult to understand them. They seem to do their own thing. Otherwise, it has been great getting to know the other passengers. We talk about the common differences and similarities between countries, where we have traveled, and what life is like back at home. 

We again got a briefing tomorrow where we should see sea turtles at the minimum and hopefully sharks and penguins. 

We set sail after dinner again tonight, so everyone headed to bed. I have the entire top deck to myself and enjoyed the surprisingly warm breeze on me. Last night was a bit rough, so not too excited for sailing again tonight. It is supposed to be a six hour sail again.  The rooms are extremely small, so we put our bags and stuff on the top bunk and share the bottom one for sleeping. This was ok the first night. With the different waves last night, we often rolled on each other. I'm going to try and fall asleep out here tonight and see how long that lasts. It's great to be outside enjoying the fresh air with no flies bugging you. Buenos noches. 

Day 69 - Floreana Island
700: breakfast
745: wet landing at Post Office Bay
snorkel from beach
945: back on board
1015: deep water snorkel at Devils Crown
1115: back on board
1130: lunch
1245: wet landing Punta Cormorant
1400: back on board
Sail to Santa Cruz (4 hrs)
1840: briefing
1900: dinner
Check out Santa Cruz at night

Animals we saw: Galápagos penguins, sea turtles, white tipped reef sharks, eagle rays, sting rays, lava lizards

Last night was indeed a long night. I only lasted about thirty minutes sleeping on the top deck as it was too chilly. We tossed and turned with the boat until about 2 am. 

We had an early disembarkment this morning.  Our first stop was to Post Office Bay where the pirates and whalers used to leave notes for their loved ones back at home. If someone came by and was headed in that direction, they would pick it up and hand deliver it. They continue this tradition, so we sent two post cards and ended up finding one to be delivered to Portland and another to Bend, Oregon. We now have the responsibility to hand deliver to these two families. 

The snorkeling was fabulous in the bay. We got to see two sea turtles eating off the coral. These two were the biggest two we have seen to date, maybe 2-3 foot in diameter.  Additionally, we were able to swim with some penguins. And by swim, I mean see them swim by at up to 25 mph. They are soo fast!  As we came ashore, a sea lion tried to play with me. The tide was changing so the water was very sandy and hard to see. It ultimately got taken to shore in a big wave. It then posed for us for minutes. The water was the murkiest thus far, but still the best as we got to see these three animals!  I really enjoy the bigger animals to the various fish and coral. 
Sea Lion Falls me to shore

We hopped on board for thirty minutes where we got to snorkel Devils Crown, one of the most popular places in the Galapagos. I have never seen so many fish since diving or snorkeling. The schools were massive. We got to see one white tipped reef shark maybe six or seven feet long. It was probably 30 feet below us so it wasn't  a threat. We saw many sting rays, a couple maybe four feet in diameter!  I got to follow an eagle ray which was very pretty to watch. We ultimately did not get to see hammer head sharks which was disappointing, but that is how it goes. So much marine life that we didn't want to get out of the water. 

After lunch, we got to land at Punta Cormorant. Here we hiked about a half mile where we got to see some flamingos off in the distance before ultimately getting to a beautiful beach with dozens of sea turtles playing in the water. It is illegal to snorkel here (and even put your feet in the water), because the sting rays nest in the shallow water and are poisonous. We got to see the sea turtles in the big waves crashing ashore which was kind of cool.  We all wanted to snorkel here, but understood why we couldn't. 

We are now on board for our four hour cruise to Santa Cruz. We will get a chance after dinner to walk around the settled part of the Galapagos. The seas were a bit rough so Kristen laid in our room to prevent any sea sickness. I got a quiet spot alone on the front of the boat in the much needed shade. I was able to read before taking a quick nap.  I really enjoyed this two hours as it was very peaceful. 

Port Ayora is the settled port town in Santa Cruz where we got to spend a few hours walking around. As much as we have been enjoying the boat and being in the middle of the ocean, it was nice to step onto land and walk around a city for a few hours. A group of 12 of us road the bug tram around the city which was interesting. We appeared to be the only tourists on board, but I am sure that not all were locals. We listened to Ecuadors remix of some pop American songs.  The ride lasted longer than I expected, maybe 15 minutes. The living here is pretty simple as the houses are very basic looking with no yards or garages or outdoor decorations. We could see inside some of the windows and they appeared to have normal looking living rooms with a TV, chairs and a sofa. 

We all had a cerveza at a bar that had wifi.  We were disappointed to see the score of the OSU game, but were unable to load highlights or read about the game. The one fact we were able to google for the group was the definition of a continent. We verified that the islands around the world are not considered to be part of the seven continents, but all fall into oceanic islands. Therefore, New Zealand, the Galapagos, Hawaii, etc. are not actually part of Austrailia, South America, or North America by definition.  However, they are all often associated with the nearest continent. We spent the next hour strolling the streets and stores drinking Club Ecuadorean beer. On the dock we saw many more sea lions, iguanas, fish, and reef sharks. Everywhere you go around here, there is an abundance of wildlife. 

There definitely was a sadness in the mood as the Miami couple, German couple, and Australian family only signed up for the five day cruise so they were leaving in the early am. This was our last excursion with them all. We have enjoyed all of them and had quite a bit of fun experiencing the Galapagos with them. 

Day 70 - Santa Cruz Island
700: breakfast
820: dry landing to Charles Darwin Research Center
1145: back on board
1200: lunch
1400: dry landing to a Highlands
1715: back on board
1800: briefing
1830: dinner
1930: into town

Animals we saw: marine iguanas, lava lizards, giant land tortoises, land iguanas, yellow werbler

This morning we took a group photo before wishing the seven leaving passengers good bye. After about an hour, the existing nine of us disembarked to explorer the Charles Darwin Research Center. We got to see much bigger land iguanas at the dock, but the true excitement came when we got to see the Giant Tortoises. We got to see small babies up to full grown adult male and female tortoises. They have a breeding center here to regrow the population on some of the surrounding islands as they almost became extinct in the 1970s.  They now have a very successful program where they harvest eggs from the wild for four months under specific conditions. They keep the eggs below 30 degrees Celsius if they want to hatch a male tortoise and above 30 if they need a female.  They only feed the tortoises three times weekly to try and teach them to eat on there own, so they have better success rates when releasing back in the wild. We were lucky as we walked through during one of the feeding sessions.  This was pretty cool as usually the tortoises are very immobile and tourists only get to see them still. Pretty cool to see them chomp away!
Giant Land Tortoise eating

We then got to walk through town with Christian strolling the local shops for about an hour. We came back on board for lunch and got to meet seven new cruise members. 
Canada: Sydney and Robin, Sebastian and Mary
Australia: Kat
France: Jacque and ?

After lunch, we disembarked again on Santa Cruz where we got to see two huge craters made from sinking lava. It was cool to see ginormous holes in the Earth, but I am glad that we didn't spend too much time here. The highlight of the excursion was to see the giant tortoises in the wild. Kind of wild I guess since it was a reserve. We have quickly become used to seeing these huge turtles. Seeing them eating grass and swimming in a pond was a better experience than in the research center. After finishing the 45 minute walk, we paid our three dollars per person and got a free glass of lemon grass water and Galapagos organic coffee. The lemon grass water was very refreshing. Kristen was able to speak Spanish to the couple who run the reserve on how to make it. We are supposed to gently boil water for five minutes before removing from heat and adding chunks of ginger, lemongrass, and mint to the warm water. Let sit over night before adding lemon juice and sugar to taste in the morning. 

We again got to spend a few hours in the town tonight. Christian, Kristen, and I walked the streets while having beer and ice cream. Amanda and Hunter joined us before stopping for pizza. Kristen tried to transfer her DEA license at the local Galapagos (spelled like google) Internet cafe, but the website would not load. It now looks like her start date will be delayed.  

We sat sail at 930 to Santiago Island which was a very rough night. The rocking of the boat made it impossible to sleep much more than an hour, if lucky. Because of this, I would recommend booking a catamaran as there is much better stability in not all too rough waters here. 

Day 71 - Santiago Island
700: Breakfast
800: wet landing at Puerto Egas
1000: Snorkel from the beach
1100: back on board
1145: lunch
1300: wet landing on Espumilla Beach
1400: back on board
Sail to Bucaneer Cove
1500: snorkel from the panga
1600: back on board
Sail to Bartolome Island
1900: briefing
1930: dinner

Animals we saw: sea lions, fur seals, marine iguanas, Galapagos hawk, blue footed boobies, pelican, American Ostercatcher, yellow werbler, Darwin finches, Yellow crown night heron, great blue heron

Today was an awesome day. It started with a walk to see fur seals, but on the way we got a nice surprise. We got to see male iguanas fighting (they butt heads) and a male trying to copulate with a female. The crazy thing about iguana sex is that the male bites the female iguana in the neck and the female always tries to get away. The female this time fought off the male, but it made you feel as if it was iguana rape. 
Marine Iguana trying to mate

We made our way to see the fur seals which were name appropriately. They have a very thick fur as they eat at night and at very deep depths in the ocean. They are smaller than the sea lions and are much less playful. Luckily the sea lions are more prevalent as they are much more entertaining. 

We got to see two huge sea turtles on our first snorkel. The huge all black one was eating sea grass which we was fun to watch. We also got great video footage of sea lions playing in the water and eating. We saw probably the biggest possible sting ray sitting under a giant cliff. It had to be four feet in diameter. There were little jelly fish in the water that stung Kristen multiple times. Luckily, the stinging didn't last that long. She continues to get bitten by bugs and jelly fish and I don't. This snorkel had many varieties and quantities of fish also. 

After lunch we got to walk along a perfectly smooth golden beach. I was a bit tired and didn't think it was going to be cool, but it turned out to be awesome. We got to see small little orange ghost crabs come in and out of their holes.  But the best three experiences on this excursion were:

1) we got to see blue footed boobies and pelicans dive into the water for fish. These birds get soo aerodynamic and look like darts going into the water. It was awesome to see them dive probably 30 different times. Each time never got old.
Blue Footed Boobies and Pelicans diving for fish

2) when walking back down the beach, we got to see three juvenile Galapagos hawks eating an unknown freshly killed bird as the proud male and female hawk looked on.  This was Mother Nature at its rawest. Kristen couldn't watch it, but I along with many others took as much video and photos as possible. Our naturalist said that she rarely gets to see them eating, let alone the young ones. 
Galapagos Hawks feasting

3) in the panga back to the boat, we got to see two sea turtles mating. Male on top of female just floating in the water. How amazing again was Mother Nature to us.

The second snorkel again was awesome.  More close encounters with a sea lion. The highlight was seeing a white tipped reef shark. The fish and coral were absolutely amazing again. We got to snorkel in a cave where the water was pitch black, but it was cool leaving the cave and seeing back into the lit up ocean. 

As if the day couldn't get better, we saw manta rays jumping out of the water during our sail. Our guide told us to keep a watch during the three hour sail and were we lucky to see these huge rays (estimated to be 6 feet in diameter) spin and flip out of the water. I was able to get some cool photos, but by the time I got to trying video they were done for the day. Also on the sail, I got to see flying fish. We had seen many fish that skip on the water, but this was the full deal. Fish out of the water flapping wings for maybe three seconds before diving back in. Awesome experience to see something that seems so mystical!

Everyone went to bed early tonight as last night was rough. We are anchored for the night, so hopping to get a full uninterrupted night of sleep. Buenos noches!

Day 72 - Bartolome Island
700: breakfast
745: dry landing 
945: back on board
Snorkel from panga
1130: back on board
1200: lunch
1400: snorkel
1500: back on board
1600: dry landing on Sullivan Bay
1730: back on board
1840: briefing
1900: dinner

This morning we went to the top of Bartolome Island which is completely made of black lava.  There are minimal plants or animals on the actual island, but it is popular for its amazing view from the 110 meter peak.  We walked the stairs to the top enjoying gorgeous panoramic views. The sun was out with minimal clouds, so the water was amazing and you could see the different lava rocks in the water. On the way down from the top, I saw a manta ray jump out of the sea twice.  It wasn't very close, so I couldn't tell its size. While waiting for our panga to pick us up, we got a perfect picture of a blue footed boobie. These are hard to catch landing as they are usually flying and fishing. We saw multiple ones fishing also. Additionally while waiting, we got to see a penguin and sea lion swim in the beautiful turquoise water. This excursion surprised me as I was only expecting to see landscape, but we got to see animals also!

The snorkel this morning was in the bay between Bartolome and Santiago Island. Within 60 seconds of being in the water we saw five white tipped reef sharks!  The sun was still strong, so the visibility was its best today. We hung around for a few minutes watching some of them rest at the bottom while others swam around. The snorkel was 90 minutes, so we got to cover much ground. We saw an eagle ray, sting ray, puffer fish, and many many other varieties of fish. The landscape of lava into the much clearer water today was fabulous. Despite being a longer snorkel, it went by very fast. A few others saw a snake eel, octopus, and sea turtles. A funny moment: I called Kristen over to see a huge sting ray and when she approached she yelled "Manta" at which time six people swam over.  She got a little excited and apologized at the false alarm.  The bottom of the ocean here was cool as it was formed from the volcano. You could see where the lava was cooled and settled.  One of the best areas was where you could tell the lava had flowed in tunnels, forming what looked like huge tree roots under the sea. 

After lunch we had our last snorkel on the cruise. It was a bit different as we only really saw small fish. However they were in huge schools and very colorful. The light shinned off of them brightly reflecting reds, yellows, blues, and greens.  The highlight was seeing the octopus at the very end. I would have never recognized it sitting on the bottom as it looked like a rock.  However, we did get to see it swim away which was something that I have not seen before. It formed a cone like head and narrowed its tentacles.  

Our last excursion today took us back across the bay to Santiago Island where we got to walk on lava.  This was really cool as I had never seen lava. The island had a volcano erupt about 125 years ago and there still was only two different small plants growing on this side of the island (lava cactus and small weed looking Mollugo Crokeri). There were two different types of lava, one that was really smooth and rope like (Aa' lava) and one that was very rough and jagged (Pahoe hoe lava). It was very interesting to see this terrain in the beautiful Galápagos Islands which are soo full of life, yet this part of the island looks like a foreign planet. I imagine this is what Mars looks like. Despite being all lava, there were slight hills and caves during our hour walk. 

After coming on board, we spent happy hour discussing travel with the Canadian couple, Amanda, and Christian. We toasted to our last briefing before indulging on our last dinner on the cruise. Lupo the chef has been much better than expected on every meal. The meal was topped of with a delicious chocolate birthday cake as Hunter turned 11 today. 

We packed our bags for an early 615 departure tomorrow. We will have breakfast before getting to the airport in the am.  Sad to say goodbye to everyone. Cruising the Galapagos has been on our wish list for some time and it truly did not disappoint. We have seen amazing animals and marine life and met great people along the way!  We have two hours of rough sailing ahead of us, but should still have enough calm time for a good nights sleep!  I am enjoying the front of the yacht as we sail into pitch blackness with a cool breeze in my face.  

Day 73 - North Seymour and flight to Quito
615: dry landing
800: breakfast 
830: go to airport
1230: flight to Quito

Animals we saw: Magnificent Frigate Birds, land iguanas, blue footed boobies, swallow tailed gull, sea lions

Magnificent Frigate Bird trying to mate

This morning we got up at 530 for an early excursion. We have enjoyed our very early excursions as the wildlife is much more active than later in the day. Today was no exception. The highlight of today was getting to see the Magnificent Frigate birds. Three days earlier we were looking at post cards and we had seen all of the animals except for this one and it was on many post cards. And now today we got to finally see them all.  The magnificent frigate bird was the best bird to see in the wild. Well at least the male birds looking to mate as they had a huge balloon like sack inflated under their beak. We saw many of them, but the best was one of the males who was showing off his sack to the female birds (I am not exaggerating on this) and he was beating his beak on the sack making his matting call. We didn't get to see any female birds approach him, but he entertained us for about ten minutes. The second highlight of this island was that I got a picture with a Blue Footed Boobie while wearing my new tshirt "I love boobies....Galapagos".  Pretty sure it is why Kristen married me for moments like this. 

Female Land Iguana covering up her eggs

After breakfast on board, we said our goodbyes and were transported to the airport. Five us of were on the 1230 flight, so we had three hours to kill. We reminisced about the cruise and the amazing wildlife we saw.  We snacked on plantain chips and tried banana chip Ecuadorean chocolate. We learned a little about life in Germany from Christian:
1) they really only eat sausage in the summer when they grill it for a barbecue. Very similar to us
2) they can bear arms in Germany, but it is unlikely that someone will hold up a store with a gun as there is too much security and there is be a high likelihood they will be caught. Crime with guns is very unlikely. 
3) it is common for them to get 4-5 weeks of vacation a year

It was light out when we flew into Quito. Wow. What a beautiful city. They have huge mountains/hills and gorges. It is soo green here. We heard that it rains everyday from 3-6, but has good weather otherwise. Today was no exception as it was raining. We shared a cab into Quito with Christian which took just over an hour as traffic was heavy.  After saying our goodbyes, we quickly checked in and left our bags to go to dinner. It was already 730 and we wanted to get to bed early since we have to get up at 230 am for our 530 flight!  We walked a few blocks to the center of the restaurants and the city became alive. The energy of the city was vibrant. We ate outside at a BBQ restaurant. All senses were on overdrive in the square. It was a bit chilly, so the heaters were on above us.  The smells of the dozen restaurants consumed the air. The flashing bright lights lite up the square. And upbeat music (Pitbull is truly world wide) played over head.  We enjoyed our hour exploring the city. We definitely wish we had more time here, but Caye Caulker, Belize awaits us tomorrow!

Reflection on the cruise and the Galapagos. 
I would highly recommend a live a board as we got to see so much of Mother Nature. You can't have sharks swimming around your boat in the evening if staying in a hotel. You can't get onto an island at 630 in the morning if you have to first travel two hours from a hotel. This place is truly magical as there is soo much wild life both on land and in the water. I am not sure how we will enjoy zoos now that we have this experience up close. Seeing penguins and sea lions in captivity will no longer be the same since we saw them swimming with us in the water.  I loved the Darwin Yacht as it was very casual. We left our shoes and sandals at the back of the boat and walked around barefoot the entire time. We flew our clothes and towels on the top deck to let them air dry. We never felt we had to wear certain clothes as anything was acceptable. The crew was amazing. The only caution with this yacht is that it is an odd shaped yacht that is not very long or wide, but fairly tall.  It was not very stable in the waves when sailing making fairly calm water rough. This meant that we could not sail when eating and many people had to be laying down when sailing. The upside is that this was one of the cheapest cruises we saw and it was absolutely amazing. I have no doubt that you will leave the Galapagos happy even if you pick a higher end cruise. If you love animals, this is an absolute must vacation. I do not know of any better place on Earth to view more diverse and interesting wildlife. 

The one thing we wish was a bit different on the cruise was to have more education on the different ways of adaptation. We often heard that this animal was endemic to this island.  Sometimes we got an explanation, but many times not. It would have been interesting to know why and how each animal adapted to its surrounding before viewing it to fully appreciate what it had evolved to. For example, we did learn about the cactus finch who adapted on the islands with cacti by growing a longer beak. This is what is incredible about the islands.  The adaptation of the various animals so survive. They have done this for centuries against Mother Nature. We wish we had bought a Galapagos book with us so we could have read about the different islands the day prior.  

I was shocked at how arid the landscape was and how far apart the islands were. It was also amazing at how different the wildlife was on the different islands.  You truly have to visit the different islands to see the different animals. Even after eight days, we did not get to see many islands, particularly Isabella. I do wish we could see more islands, but eight days was the right amount of time to visit. We didn't leave to early, but didn't stay too long either. 

Underwater Video from snorkeling