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A new TV, a Blue-Ray DVD…and a trip to the Galapagos Islands

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kpc

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Three years ago, I had only vaguely heard of the Galapagos Islands….all I knew was that it was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, near South America, had interesting wildlife, and Charles Darwin had visited the islands in the 19th Century, and it had helped him formulate some of his ideas on the theories of evolution, published in 1859 in his famous “On the Origin of Species”. I’m no academic / historian so these facts posed little interest to me.

Around this time, having just purchased a new Plasma TV and Play Station 3, I was recommended the [FONT=&quot]BBC Blu-Ray DVD, Galapagos, [/FONT]as the vision from this documentary would be apparently stunning on my new purchases.

The DVD was truly visually stunning but I became very intrigued (well my partner would described it as more of an obsession) about the Galapagos Islands. The islands’ geographic isolation, over 960km off the continental west coast of South America, has led to the evolution of numerous endemic species here. The islands were formed over 5 million years ago by volcanic eruptions, and through a quirk of evolution, large predators failed to evolve here.



Over the next 3 years, I read as much as I could about the Galapagos, and soon it became a “must visit’ destination on my bucket list. The geographic location of the Galapagos made it a difficult destination to reach from Australia. The 2 main options for getting here were either via North America or South America (Santiago).

Late last year, I decided to attend a conference in San Francisco, and I asked my partner as to whether we could do a “short” side trip to the Galapagos after the conference. Unfortunately, my partner’s concept of geography is not the strongest, and she readily agreed. With leave restrictions, I only had a week to fly to / from the Galapagos as well as the time for sight seeing.

To get to the Galapagos (which is part of Ecuador), one has to fly from either Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador. So the following plan from San Francisco was hatched:

We would fly SFO-MIA-UIO and stay 2 nights in Quito, which would give us one full day for sightseeing in Quito. We then would fly from Quito to the Galapagos to start a 5 day, 4 night cruise around the islands. At the time of planning, the return trip to Sydney, GPS-UIO (Overnight hotel)-MIA-SFO (Overnight hotel)- LAX-SYD seemed pretty straight forward, a series of flights that I subsequently found to have nearly killed me from exhaustion!

Next….to the Galapagos Islands via Quito!
 
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drron

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I do hope you enjoyed the trip.It is the one place I have been to that I felt David Attenborough didn't do justice to.Absolutely stunning memories.Priceless in fact.
 

kpc

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After a week (mid February) in cold (temperature barely got over 10 degrees Celsius during the day) and wet San Francisco, it was time to go to the Galapagos!! We organised a 330am wakeup call to catch our 0625 American Airlines flight to Quito via Miami:
AA 552 SFO 0625 MIA 1435; AA 967 MIA 1830 UIO 2235

Both flights were operated by the workhorse of the fleet, a Boeing 757. Thanks to an extremely generous AFFer, who gifted us 4 eVIPs, all our flight were upgraded to the next class, first on domestic sectors, and business on international sectors. Apart from the larger seats, and more leg room, this meant being served food which was pretty good actually. On the MIA-UIO sector, I was served the best steak I have eaten in the air - not overcooked, medium and nice, tasty and juicy!!

Arrival into UIO revealed a small, disorganised airport. After more than an hour in the queue to get through immigration (a passenger collapsed in the queue!), we were greeted by mountains of luggage stacked sky high. The most popular colours were blue and black, and guess what colour our bags were? Yup, blue and black. My next suitcase will be bright pink!!!

We booked 2 nights at the Hilton Colon Quito, and courtesy of my HHonors Gold status, were upgraded to the executive floor with club lounge access; there was free WiFi or cable internet.



Hotel exterior



Our room…not sure why we got twin beds but we were too tired to change rooms

It had taken us nearly 17 hours to get from hotel room in San Francisco to hotel room in Quito...so much for a short side trip from San Francisco!!!




Plate of sushi on arrival (2 pieces only actually…)



We awoke to this stunning view of Quito from our room…

We then headed to the executive lounge for breakfast. A basic but more than adequate breakfast was served; a mixture of hot food, cold selections and fruits.



Executive lounge




Another great view of Quito from the Hilton lounge

We could not wait to finish breakfast and head out to explore Quito…this being our only day for sightseeing in Quito!


Next…sightseeing in Quito, and the robbery….
 
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thewinchester

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All these TR's keep reminding me I must eventually finish my asian report from last year. Keep up the work, look forward to reading.
 

kpc

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San Francisco de Quito (Quito) is located in north-central Ecuador in the Guayllabamba river basin, on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano in the Andes Mountains. Quito is 2,800 metres above sea level, making it the second highest capital city in the world.

After debating whether we would go on a guided tour or not, we decided to sightsee Quito by ourselves. We first decided to cab it to Cruz Loma on the east side of the Pichincha volcano. The aerial tramway, TeleferiQo, takes visitors to an altitude of about 4,100 metres where there are a number of restaurants, coffee shops, and a variety of stores. Unfortunately, the view of Quito was somewhat obscured by low lying clouds, but the main set back was when I got out of the tram. I immediately felt dizzy and light-headed, and after climbing a short flight of stairs, was extremely breathless and my pulse was racing at 150 beats per minute. It was clear that I was suffering from altitude sickness, so after a short rest, we descended back to 2800 metres, at which time my symptoms resolved quickly.



Aerial Tramway aka as a Cable Car



Low lying clouds prevent a spectacular view of the city of Quito, unfortunately

The waiting cab then took us to the Old Town. Quito's Old Town is a wonder, blocks and blocks of colonial architecture, some of it dating to the mid 1500s when the Spanish founded the city. Vintage facades line the streets and large open plazas are surrounded by cathedrals and stately public buildings. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

We wandered around the Old Town soaking in all the sights and atmosphere as the pictures below attempt to show.



Plaza Grande (Plaza de la Independecia) – the heart of the Old Town



Palacio del Gobierno (Presidential Palace)



Palacio Arzobispal




Plaza San Francisco



Monastery of San Francisco
 
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kpc

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Quito – continued

Maybe we were too relaxed, and let our guard down, or we were falsely reassured that it was 130pm in broad daylight, there were lots of familles with young children about, and there seemed to be police at every 2nd corner, I was then robbed.

As I was taking lots of pictures, I carried my small digital camera by having my hand through the strap. Suddenly I felt a tug on the camera, and then I felt a strong yank, and I felt the strap snap. I turned around to see a teenage boy running off with my camera; as I momentarily debated whether to chase him or not, I noted he was now a good 30 metres away, and that it was very unlikely I could catch up to him, and even if I did, I was worried that he may have a group of friends nearby. Apart from letting a loud yell out, I was completely stunned by the events. My partner didn’t even realise what had happen til she heard my yell. As I regained my composure, my first thought was about all the photos taken that were yet to be downloaded from the camera. Then my next concern was that we needed the camera as we were about to depart for the Galapagos the next day, and whilst I had another SLR camera back at the hotel, the camera just stolen was able to shoot high definition video as well. After cursing my luck for the next 10 minutes, we decided that we had lost the mood for sight seeing, and we would head back to the hotel, and see if we came across any camera shops along the way to buy a replacement.

As we started walking some 10 or so minutes after the incident, I noticed a young woman riding towards us, waving madly with something in her hand that resembled my camera. We waited as she approached us, and she then returned my camera to me, advising us to be very careful with our possessions around Quito. She informed us that she had witnessed the camera snatching, and had chased after the offender on her bicycle. Apparently, she chided the young man who claimed he had stolen it as he was very poor. She lectured him about stealing from tourists, and he gave the camera to her. I was absolutely flabbergasted and stunned by her good deed, and it immediately restored my faith in humanity. I offered her a reward which she refused but she finally accepted a small amount of money for lunch! Everyone that I subsequently told the story to said I was very lucky to see my camera again. Lesson learnt but not the hard way!



Basilica del Voto National - the robbery took place in the bottom R) hand corner of this picture

With faith in humanity restored, we continued sight seeing and returned to our hotel in the late afternoon.



View of Old Town from Basilica del Voto National



Virgin of Quito statue on Panecillo Hill overlooking Quito



Misc. pic. of Old Town



Misc. pic. of Old Town



Parque El Ejido – less than a stone’s throw from the Hilton

As we were rather tired and still a little shaken by the earlier events, we retired to the Hilton executive lounge for dinner, and spent a pleasant evening chatting to an American couple about our respective travels.

In summary, Quito is a beautiful city and I wished we had more time to explore....we were told that we must go to [FONT=&quot] Otavalo [/FONT]and the Amazon river so one day we may return to Quito...

Next…finally off to the Galapagos Islands….
 
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Princess Fiona

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A new TV, a Blue-Ray DVD…and a trip to the Galapagos Islands

Fascinating TR, and great photos. Can't wait to see the Galapagos :)
 

kpc

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Once I decided back last September that we will be going to the Galapagos in February 2011, I spent a lot of time searching the internet and reading guide books to plan the trip. Some might find this tiresome and tedious but to me, this is part of the fun and excitement of the trip! I find nothing more relaxing than picking up a Lonely Planet Travel guide, and spending 10-15 minutes reading about a place that I wanted or was going to visit. After a lot of indecision and countless emails to various travel agents in Ecuador, I decided on a 5 day, 4 night cruise on a 16 passenger luxurious catamaran around the Galapagos Islands. As my dates were limited and fixed, this also restricted my choice of boats as well. Anyway, I finally settled on the "Queen of Galapagos” which had an itinerary visiting six of the islands which I liked based on my reading.

Ecuador uses US dollars as its currency, and when I paid for the cruise, the Australian dollar was close to parity with the US dollar, which helped keep the costs to a reasonable amount. Our flights to / from the Galapagos were organised by the same travel agent. A month prior to the trip, we were informed that the ‘Queen of Galapagos” would be in dry dock, and we were being switched to the “Treasure of Galapagos’ which was a similar sized luxurious catamaran only a year or so old. It had a similar itinerary to the “Queen” and I accepted the change, not that I had a lot of choice in the matter.

A real buzz of excitement filled my body as we were picked up from the Hilton Hotel at 0745 for the transfer to Quito airport to catch the following flights:
2K26: (AeroGal): 1000 Quito to 1045 Guayaquil
2K30:1130 Guayaquil to 1215 San Cristobal (Galapagos)



Plane spotting at UIO as our flight was slightly delayed





Finally, boarding the AeroGal Boeing 737….





AeroGal Boeing 737





My first glimpse of the Galapagos Islands





Just prior to landing at San Cristobal airport….the ‘Treasure of Galapagos” is the largest boat seen in the centre of the photo
 
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kpc

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The red line roughly maps our 5 day intinerary in the Galapagos Islands


Itinerary for Day 1:
San Cristóbal Island – Airport – Interpretation Center
Arrival at San Cristóbal Island – Galápagos. You will be picked up by your guide who will accompany you during your whole stay on Galápagos. PM: San Cristobal: Interpretation Center: Dry landing. This place is educational about the evolution of the Galapagos islands and the animal life on the islands. Paths: easy, duration: 1h. Later free time to walk and shop in the small town of San Cristobal. Dinner at night.


San Cristobal, Galapagos





First sighting of wildlife…a Galapagos Sea Lion





Spotted on the main street of San Cristobal





Motorised dingy (panga) that transports us between the shore / jetty and the large catamaran anchored some distance off shore





In sight of the “Treasure”






“Treasure of Galapagos”




“Treasure of Galapagos”


Next…more of day 1 and onboard the “Treasure of Galapagos”
 
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flychrisfly

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We waited as she approached us, and she then returned my camera to me, advising us to be very careful with our possessions around Quito.
All I can say is WOW! I had items (camera, walkman) stolen from a bag on a bus in Colombia in 1996 and to have ever seen them again would have been a small miracle. You were VERY lucky!

I visited the Galapagos also in 1996 and am vicariously reliving the memories through your TR! Can't wait for the next instalment :)
 

totalk

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Galapagos Island is as interesting as you have written the report. Looking forward to the yet to be told report of the trip. Very nice pictures by the way.

Cheers :)
 

kpc

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We were met at the airport by our guide and taken by panga to board the “Treasure”. We immediately explored the boat and found it to be quite luxurious and comfortable. I took an instant liking to our room…it was clean, reasonable in size and had a private balcony and bathroom. There was no WiFi or TV though!



Our room….bedroom – note the beautifully folded towels in the shape of swans!





Sitting area





Bathroom (shower not shown)




Private Balcony with sea / ocean views!





Common dining area - 4 tables of four





Common lounge area





The bar… costs extra tho…





Small kitchen below deck where the chef managed to produce some really nice meals, and no meal was repeated during the 5 days





Front desk where we collected our life jackets prior to getting on the pangas; also cold fruit juices and snacks were served here on return





The bridge…

The daily routine on the cruise was quite busy and tiring. Breakfast was served at 7am, we set off for our first land excursion at 830am, and had a swim / snorkelling session either before lunch or after lunch. Lunch was served at 12 noon, and we had siesta time after that til around 230pm. We then had a shore excursion and usually did not get back to the catamaran til around 5pm. A briefing for the following day was usually held at 630 pm, and dinner was served at 7pm. Most guests retired to their rooms by 830pm, and we ourselves were usually asleep by 930pm as we were physically exhausted from the day's activities. So we didn’t even get a chance to watch any of the movies that I had downloaded onto my laptop in case we got bored at night! There was an onboard desalination plant so there was no limit on shower time or hot water. In the steamy heat of the Galapagos, I usually had 3 showers a day!

A number of passengers did get seasick on the first day, including my partner who missed most of her meals during the first 24 hours onboard. None of the seasickness pills she took helped but the following day, a fellow passenger gave her a patch which seemed to work wonders. All 16 passengers were very friendly and we all got on well. They were all extensively travelled, and I would say most had travelled more than me. Ages ranged from early 30s to mid 70s. The 16 passengers consisted of 3 German couples, an elderly Argentinian couple, 2 women from the US, another couple from the US, a Japanese couple living in Lima, and us. Including the captain and the guide, there was a total of 10 crew members looking after 16 passengers!!
 
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markis10

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A front desk where you get life jackets - love it. Great trip report so far, who needs travel books when you have AFF :D.
 

Fifa

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Really enjoying your trip report.
Another destination I'll have to add to my list, thanks to you! :D
 

kpc

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(Warning: the next few instalments are going to be very photo intensive as I let the photos attempt to convey the wildlife and natural beauty of the Galapagos Islands; narration will be kept to a minimum!)

Day 1 continued.
After lunch onboard, we were taken back to shore (San Cristobal island), and taken by bus to the San Cristobal Interpretation Centre. The Centre explains the natural processes that have made the Galapagos such a unique place, delineates efforts to protect and preserve the islands, and serves as an education center for park personnel and naturalist guides.



Town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal




San Cristobal Interpretation Centre, 2 km southwest of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno


Map of the islands showing where the various wildlife can be found


The tourist boom…can the Galapagos sustain it?

View of the harbour of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno



Which one is our boat?
 
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kpc

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The wildlife seen on Day 1:



First sighting of the lava lizard





A lazy afternoon nap….





A nap with a few friends…



Sorry kids…sleeping under the swings is so comfortable




Marine Iguana…we were to see much more colourful and larger ones on subsequent days



Frigate Bird



Hang on…that’s the “Queen of Galapagos”, the catamaran that we were originally booked on; I thought she was in dry dock???



A pelican…from the panga on the way back to the “Treasure”



A beautiful sunset as Day1 in the Galapagos comes to an end…

My dreams and expectations of the Galapagos were being rapidly realised!

Next...day 2.
 

kpc

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Thanks for all the positive feedback and encouragement...as those that have previously done so know, posting a pictorial trip report takes a fair bit of effort and time but I'm really enjoying reliving the trip as I post. The fact you are enjoying the report provides me with more stimulation to keep going as my vision gets blurry sifting through all the photos.... :mrgreen::p:)
 

kpc

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I have been distracted watching / reading about the earthquake in Japan, and my condolences go out to the people of Japan. This bit of news caught my attention:
Latin America's Pacific coast is on tsunami alert. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has declared a state of emergency and ordered people on the Galapagos Islands and the coast of the mainland to seek higher ground.
I hope this warning does not materialise into something serious for the people of the Galapagos and Ecuador:(:shock:

Update:
The tsunami has caused a storm surge in the Galapagos Islands but largely spared Latin America from major damage. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said the surge may have affected some dwellings but "has not endangered human life".
 
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