Tuesday, 31 December 2013

270 Start of the long desert drive South

Saturday 28th December 2013  Continued....
The flight to Quito went without mishap. We then had a 4 hour wait for our connecting flight to Guayaquil. We filled the time in with a delicious visit to TGI Fridays and then armed with a belly full of chicken we got on the flight to Guayaquil and finally cleared the airport at around 6:30pm having lost another hour. We are now 5 hours behind the UK.
The only snow for a very long way. More on this later.

We caught a cab back to the hotel and once there saw Wallace who appeared to not have been molested in our absence. Once in our room we had a lot to do and my impatience sparked off a tiff between us. We were both knackered and I was seriously insensitive so whilst sorting the gear back into its rightful order for packing back onto Wallace we did not speak a word. It is amazing how quickly things get done when you are not speaking to each other.
Sunday 29th December 2013

Miles Today 181 Total 31,913
Sadly we slept on our tiff so packing Wallace was a very quiet affair.
Fortunately we are so practiced at this routine (packing that is) that we can now do it in silence. Good job too really !  We set off and after dealing with the town traffic we were back on the Pan American Highway for a very quiet 150 mile ride to the Peruvian border. 

These figures were everywhere. It is apparently part of the "Semana Santa", - Christmas week. 25 -31st Dec.

A Southern Caracara. It just would not move out of the road.
The border crossing was calamitous. We started out arriving in Peru having not been stopped at all. We were promptly sent back 6 miles to a customs post that as luck would have it is nowhere near the border. We quickly exported Wallace from Ecuador and armed with our export papers we went back to Peru. Once there our first job was to get stamped out of Ecuador. The exit Immigration post for Ecuador and the entry immigration post are physically the same desk with an Ecuadorian sat at one terminal and a Peruvian sat at the other. Sounds great till you see they work at a snails pace and the queue to the desk took over an hour. We were hot and bothered and still not speaking.  Needless to say we were both angry at each other, (I wasn't angry, I just decided that quiet was good), and the situation was not helped by people pushing in at the front. Normally this would not be a problem as being a gobby git I would just tap them on the shoulder and point to the back of the queue, but today I just got angrier. 
We eventually got through and it was time to import Wallace. This was relatively easy in another building and another hour gone by. Sadly, we could not get insurance as it was Sunday and the desk was closed. We were told we could get it the next day in the Town of Tumbes, 25km further on. All things considered I was about to explode and Karen came to the rescue. She calmed me down and we both realised that we were being silly and instantly made up. Needless to say I was still in deep poo poo but that is quite normal !!
We got ourselves a coffee at the border and then set off for Tumbes.

We found a hotel that would accommodate Wallace. It was the Costa Del Sol, Ramada. It was nice and far over our budget but we were so fed up with the 3 hour border crossing that we just took it on the chin. 

After settling in we partook of our free Pisco Sour, the Peruvian national drink. It was then out onto the streets to have a wander around, sink a few beers and get some grub. We found all we wanted and the Chicken shop where the chickens were roasted over open coals. It was delicious and the good thing was, it was where all the locals eat so it had to be good.
It was then to bed.

Monday 30th December 2013
Miles Today  216  Total 32,129
First job for the day was to get some insurance. I asked at the hotel reception and one of the bell boys (a 50 ish man actually) showed me an insurance office just around the corner.
We ate the free breakfast and I then went to the insurance agent only to be told that he could supply a years worth but I needed 30 days which could only be obtained at the border. Bugger.
We packed up quickly and hot footed it the 25kms back to the border. After my usual run in with the security guards it was apparent that there were no insurance agents at the entry port. Bugger. That means I will have to pay for a year instead.
We rode back into town and I asked Karen to look out for a sign saying SOAT. The insurance system in South America. The girl did good and pointed one out. I asked about a months insurance and hey presto, no problem. $35 instead of $140. Some luck at last.
Armed with our certificate we set off at about 12 noon for the 170 mile trip to Piura. It is a good job we had the certificate as halfway through the journey we were stopped by customs at a check point and made to produce our documents. 

The terrain has changed significantly. We are now in semi desert.

The only proper greenery was beside the rivers.

It was a long and slow 170 miles and we eventually found our pre-booked hotel at around 5pm and after check in went for a walk.

The Central Church.
And the inside. These churches are all a serious work of art.

A Christmas blinged up VW beetle. Papa Noel is driving!

The central square after dark.

Father Christmas (Papa Noel) and his helper.
 Christmas is a strange time here (from our perspective). They all put up Christmas trees and decorations the same as we do in the UK and US. They all use the same icons, as in the above photo and even revere the evergreen conifer tree that us westerners use as a Christmas tree. The strange thing is that there are no coniferous trees any where around. The other odd thing is that on the TV, the digitally back drop snow into their Christmas shows and I would guess that only 1 or 2% of the population have ever seen snow. They even have figures of snow men. For us it is strange but nice.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

269 Boxing Day and leaving Galapagos.

26th December 2013
Miles Today 50  Total 30,633
We were up early again today in prep for a trip to the “Tunnels”. We started out with a 1 hour boat trip, Westwards, along the coast. On arrival we saw why the area was called the ‘Tunnels’. Lava flowing over softer material, probably sand, had solidified and when the tide had taken the underlying material away, it had left bridges of lava, hence the term ‘Tunnels’.

A reluctant ‘John Travolta’, our Captain.
This place is weird in that Cactus grows just above the waterline, it is the only place in the world where this occurs.

These birds just let you walk right up and take piccys. This was from about 12”. A blue footed Booby.

After the Tunnels it was time for a spot of snorkeling, not too far from where the Tunnels were, in fact the tunnels were still there but underwater. This left some lovely places for big fish etc to hide and I set the GoPro up to take a photo every 1 second so I did not have to fiddle with the shutter under water. This is a good and a bad thing. Firstly I means I can just point the camera in the right direction and hey presto, lots of piccys and there is a good chance I have got what I want. The down side was having to sift through 1500 photos to find the 20 or so good ones. This is especially bad when you forget to turn the bloody thing off when just swimming from place to place. Doh !
Still, we got some good ones that we can cherish in our old people’s home in years to come. Also with the help of Paintshop, we were able to bring out the colours back and the definition better.
Some of the underwater tunnels left by the weird lava flows.
A big fish. Hieroglyphic Hawk fish
A "giant Damselfish"

A lesser spotted  Ray  looking for more fish.
The underwater landscape.
A Sea Horse.

A huge Lobster.
We then found some marine turtles and this just blew us away. It was fantastic.

Karen swimming above a very big Turtle.

We were then called over to a small cave where there were some sleeping sharks. Wohoo....

There are actually 5 sharks sleeping here. You cant see them all at once due to the light but they are there.
This is the original photo of the above to show how Photoshop can help bring the reality out of a picture. Underwater, your eyes and brain adjust to some degree and Photoshop helps to compensate for what the camera struggles to do in bad light.

The original of the above picture.

Another closer view inside the cave.
Then Captain Travolta found an octopus. Sadly it was then to become his dinner for the night. Incidentally, the Captain looks a lot like John Travolta and has collected this nickname.
Us two mimicking fish.
We did have a laugh when Karen spotted something and shouted to me, "Ray", "Ray". It caused a furore as everyone suddenly migrated to her expecting to see Stingrays. It was then shouts of "No, No, mi esposa Ray".

Once the fun was over we sailed the 1 hour trip back to Puerta Villamil and Karen then went for a walk to do some bird watching and I got talked by our Hotelier, Julio, into walking up to the top of the volcano, Sierra Negra. As the sky was clear and it was the first time we had seen the top of the volcano since we arrived, it seemed like a good idea. Stupid boy. After a a ½ hour taxi ride and a 30 minute walk to the top of the volcano the clouds had come back in and we could see the grand total of very little.
This is the Caldera which as you can see has thick clouds rolling in and we could only see about ¼ of the way across. A big disappointment really.

The mist gave the place an eerie feel on the way down.
On returning to the hotel, Karen had been taking some bird piccys and here are some of them.

A black Necked Stilt.
Another Flamingo.
A Smooth Billed Ani.
A friendly little Finch.
Friday 27th December 2013
Miles today 54 Total 30,687
A 5am start left a pair of very tired travellers sat on the dock waiting for the boat back to the main port of Ayora. However the birds, penguins (yes, I know they are birds too) and the seals giving us a serious fishing display. There were hundreds of Blue Footed Boobys all diving for fish only a couple of feet from where we were stood on the dockside.

We were then subjected to a bag search for stolen iguanas and seals. When none were found we boarded our mini boat for the 2 hour trip to Santa Cruz Island. At around 8:30 we arrived bored, tired and battered but alive. 
3 Trusty Yamaha’s taking us home. (I am horribly bias I know).

Sunrise as we left Isabella Island.

Our first job was to get some cash out. Again my card did not work but fortunately Karen’s did and we finally had some cash so we could eat where we pleased (as opposed to the only restaurant in town with a card machine). We then found a restaurant and dived into an English style breakfast. Bliss. It was then a short wander to our pre-booked hostel. After eventually finding it we moved in and had a couple of hours sleep. It was then out to the shops for the obligatory T shirt and fridge magnet hunt. 
The street outside out Hostel. We were back to the epicenter of ‘Fleece the Gringo’ land.
You don’t see many of these.
We passed the local fish preparation area and there were some serious fish being bought ashore. Whilst they were prepping then the local wildlife decided to turn up for the easy meals. It was incredible. Pelicans and Frigate birds fighting over the fish pieces. A couple of the pelican's bit off more than they could chew – literally.
It was hilarious and I have slowed the good bits down so you can see them better.

I’m next...No me....  No me..... Oh for God sake, who has pooped on the dinner table ? Jerry, was that you ?

I can’t talk right now, I have my mouth full...
The above bird eventually gets his meal down. The one with the nearly whole fish decided it is too much. Spits it out and as he does, another comes along, tries to steal it off him and accidentally kicks it back into the sea.
After some more grub and a relaxing afternoon we went to the pier area and saw some baby sharks and rays in the lit up harbour.
A Golden Ray. We have seen many more Stingrays but missed the photos.
Saturday 28th December 2013
Miles Today 1,045 31,732
A slightly later start today back for the airport to the mainland. We caught a taxi almost all the way and then the water taxi to the Island of Baltra where the airport is.
The long straight road over the lava fields of Santa Cruz.
Our water taxi to  Baltra. The island with the airport on. It crosses the stretch of water you can see in the above photo.
Baltra airfield was built by the US Americans due to its proximity to the Panama Canal. It was used as a defence airfield during WW2.
When we checked in we could not find our immigration papers to enter the Galapagos. They were probably in the luggage we had just checked in !
We paid £10 each for these and have no idea where they were. So it’s back to ‘Fleece the Gringo’ time and another $20 to exit the island. It is a bit sad, but my logic to them was. I must have already paid this or I would not be here. Did it cut any ice ? Take a guess. Essentially we have paid $240 to the Galapagos government to visit their islands only to be ripped off left right and centre by everybody and his dog and then pay 12% tax on top just for fun.
Karen has a different opinion and has enjoyed her stay here. For me, I enjoyed the wildlife side of it immensely but was left deflated due to the rip off culture that exists here and the lack of ATMs considering it is a tourist hot spot. I have no doubt Karen will slap some sense into me at some point. I am called grumpy for a reason.
Anyway, as I write this we are at about 30,000 feet and crossing another time zone so we are now back to 5 hours behind the UK. I am looking forward to seeing Wallace again. I know to most people he is just a motorcycle, but to me, after Karen, he is my best friend. (Karen calls Wallace a ‘She’, God only knows why, Women !!!)
Reliable, sure footed through the rough, and able to carry some serious baggage!

Friday, 27 December 2013

268 Chritmas Day in the Galapagos

Wednesday 25th December 2013
Miles Today 0 Miles Total  30,583

Merry Christmas to all our readers.

We got up a bit later than usual and chilled out till after midday when Julio, the hotel owner took us on a tour of the local islands. As well as being our host he is also an accredited Galapagos tourist guide.

We started out on a boat that took us to a small volcano what was absolutely rammed with  huge iguana. As we approached we came across a family of penguins. The big brown one, oddly enough is the juvenile.

The baby is the big one lying down.

In the water these guys are unbelievably fast.
We then landed on an island and had a specific route to follow. They are very strict as to where they will let you go. Its a good thing really. The island is a breeding ground for marine Iguanas and I know we have posted many picture already but the are such awesome creatures. Whilst we were there, 2 males started fighting over the good looking females and were running around our legs and scrapping as though we were just small trees in the way. The only time they move for you is if you look them in the face from about 12".

On one stretch of beach we saw this baby seal. We think it must have been recently born as it kept falling over. It was goddam cute though.

We then spotted our first adult marine turtle. How gorgeous is this:

This pic just had to go in...

It was then time to snorkeling again.  

A sea Cucumber. About 12" long.
Then Julio, our hotelier and Guide, showed us where he knew a White Tipped Reef Shark would be sleeping so when we were all waiting, he went and woke it up.

Come on dear, show time...Julio, our hotel manager.

It was a harmless shark (needless to say) but only the second time we had seen one under water.

But this for me was the icing on the cake. A Pacific Green Sea Turtle.

Once back on the boat we went walkabout (so to speak) and saw some some of these handsome fellows.

A Blue Footed Booby.
Karen then spotted a Fat Old Git lurking at the back of the boat. Fortunately it was one of the friendly varieties.

An Ugly Fat Git.
Once back on shore it was shower time and out for Christmas dinner. We have been using this place. Principally as it is the only place on the island that takes VISA and as you probably know, due to my overly helpful bank, we are penniless tramps, (Grumble grumble - no - stop that, it's Christmas). Anyway the proprietor was a very nice German guy and the food was good too.

Karen decided as it was Christmas that she would have lobster. Do you think she liked it ?
The answer to that is a resounding yes.
After dinner we popped into this bar to spend some of the last few dollars. We could only afford one !!  (Typical male, we still have a third of our original float left, and we got the washing done).

Iguana Point Bar.

We saw this guy too. A night Heron hunting for Crabs. These birds and animals are just not afraid of humans.