Equator- Dec. 25th

Today we went to the Equator. We thought it would be a special thing to do on Christmas Day.

First we visited the government site to see what was once thought to be the Equator. This had many gift shops and museums. A tall building was built directly through the painted yellow line.

 

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The government monument (not really the equator)

 

We also visited the real Equator. That was the highlight. We walked through a path that lead to the beginning of the tour.

Here are some experiments and facts we learned:

1. The shrunken heads:
The last time a head was shrunk was in the 1980’s. An Amazon tribe did this because they believed that if their lips and nose were sown together their their spirits would stay with them. It was an honour. The proses they followed was to cut off the head, then take the scull out, next boil it and last stuff it with a wooden ball and sew the lips and nose.

 

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A real shrunken human head

 

2. The Coriolis Effect with Balancing an Egg:
This experiment was quite fun. Imagine trying to balance an egg on a nail, hard right? But, apparently on the Equator it is easier. We all could balance the egg after a few tries.

 

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Balancing the egg on the Equator

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3. The Coriolis Effect with Water:
Have you ever wondered why water drains in a certain direction? Well, on the south side of the Equador the water goes down clockwise, on the north counter, and on the Equador it drains staight down. This is the Coriolis effect.

 

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Coriolis effect

 

Great way to spend the last day of our trip. Merry Christmas!

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Double Decker Bus Tour, Downtown Quito – Dec. 18th

Today we went on a double-decker bus tour. We had a couple of obstacles, knowing where to catch the bus and being there on time. We eventually caught it, and it was very cool. Here are some of my highlights:

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#1 – Basílica del Voto Nacional
The basilica is the largest church in the county. It has two towers extending 115m above ground, which Alex, Dad, and I climbed. In order to get to the top we took an elevator part way, climbed 3 flights of stairs, and then 3 steep ladders. I was shaking while climbing the ladders. I’m normally not scared of heights, but this thin ladder, more than 100m above the ground, made me a little scared.

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Church decorated for Christmas

 

 

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The tower we climbed

 

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Us at the top

#2 – El Panecillo
For some reason we made the wrong decision to drive up a steep hill on the top of a double decker bus, in the pouring rain, to see the Virgin Mary statue. The higher we got the more scary it got. The road was really narrow with barely enough room for two cars to pass. When we got to the top we didn’t see very much because it was raining and the elevation made my hands freezing.

El Panecillo

#3 – Plaza Grande
Plaza Grande, also known as Plaza de la Independence, was a great place for us to spend our time. On Sundays, it is known for festive celebrations and people watching (one of Alex’s hobbies). The president, Rafael Correa, lives in the Plaza Grande Palacio. One of the main attractions is on Monday at 11:00am when Rafael comes out on the upper balcony of his palace. We had lunch in a small café, and because of the cheap prices we each got an ice cream. We were warned a few times to watch our stuff. Apparently there is theft here.

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Religious gathering

 

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Plaza Grande café

 

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Plaza Grande Palacio

#4 – Mercado Artisanal
The market, Mercado Artisanal, reminded me of the Otavalo Market. Although the size was nothing to compare and the prices were more expensive here, it sold all the same stuff. Alpaca shawls, blankets, scarves, and sweaters, plus leather and llama items were the main sellers. Something else had caught Alex’s eye though, light pants. I had wanted a pair for a while and I finally got them. In fact Alex, Anna, and I all got them. $22 for three pairs, that meant $7.33 for each. A great price because she started at $12 each.

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Market decorated for Christmas

 

 

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Where we got our pants

 

We had a great day full of adventure. Next, Christmas!

 

 

Gondola, View of Quito – Dec. 19th

Going on this gondola has been on the “To Do” list since we left for Belize, and it finally happened. Dad, Anna, Alex, and I took a taxi partway up Volcan Pichincha. From here we got the tickets and took the six person cable car to the top, Cruz Loma, with an altitude of 4053m.

The ride had an amazing view overlooking the whole city. It took about 20 minutes to get to the peek. At the top we explored, taking a small trail to an even higher look off. Even though it was cloudy you could make out the volcanoes that surrounded Quito.  From here we could see horses and llamas in the hills below. When we took the short trail, I was out of breath because of the higher elevation.

We made our way back to the cable car as we had a 20 min ride ahead of us. We found a taxi and drove back to our apartment to share all the fun with Mum.

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View of Quito and volcanoes surrounding it

 

 

 

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Trail to lookout point

 

 

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On the way down

 

Otavalo Market

Today we went to the Otavalo Market. It is the largest market in South America. Although it was a long ride, it was definitely worth it.

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The tourist section of the market

 

We took a 20 min taxi ride to the bus terminal, then a two hour bus ride on top of that. It was quite the drive for Mum because she was sitting on the wrong side (the cliff side). What really got her were the sheer cliffs and at times NO guard rails, but she kept her eyes closed through most of it.  The cliffs were not a surprise. After all we were driving through the Andes.

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Line for bus tickets to Otavalo

When we arrived we got directions to the market and it turned out to only be about 3 blocks away. We arrived and realized how big it really was. In the six hours we were there we couldn’t get around to all the 100’s of stalls.

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Local section showing traditional clothing

There was a local and a tourist section, although, locals were everywhere. There were not many tourists. I felt sad to see the poor people bagging for food and money. They weren’t very pushy though.

We then went out for lunch and talked about what we saw and the prices. It was hard to know the best price because even though some vendors would bargain, we were only looking at this point. The lunch was only  $2.50 US pp. That included soup with popcorn (a popular meal in Ecuador), chicken, rice, beans, fries, veggie medley, and a make your own salad.

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Soup with popcorn for lunch

 

I ended up with getting a soft alpaca blanket for only $10 US. That was a deal! We had time to kill so we just wandered around looking at different things.

 

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My soft alpaca blanket

 

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We eventually made our way back to the bus terminal with what seemed like hundreds of bags. The ride back was not so bad because Mum was sitting on the inside plus this bus seemed more safe.

It was not even 9:00 pm and I was tired. I think it was pretty special to go to such a neat place.

Galaxy II Cruise – Day 3, Espanola

The day started early with a dry landing at Punta Suarez and a two hour walk over lava rocks. At the beginning, we saw some sea lions on the side of the path. As we made our way through dodging iguanas, we came to the beach which had more sea lions playing in the water. As we continued the trail would get rougher.

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Sick sea lion just off the trail – not so healthy looking
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Sea lion pup about 3 -4 months old
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Christmas Iguana found only on Espanola (nowhere else in the world)

Along the “path” we would see more and more blue footed boobies, and Nazca boobies. About halfway through the trail there were Nazca boobies and their eggs. We were lucky enough to see baby chicks too.

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Nazca booby with two eggs
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Nazca booby and chick

Another highlight were the waved albatrosses and their babies. These babies were much bigger then the Nazca and blue-footed booby babies. We kept walking along the trail and could see some frigate birds. Espanola is definitely the place to see a variety of birds.

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Albatross baby on left, mother on right

We came to a look off of some sort that we would sit at for a while to spot blowholes. It was so cool! It definitely took some patience but when the first one came more and more were right along.

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Blow hole

We returned to the boat to have an early lunch (every meal on the boat is delicious). Our afternoon stop would be Gardner Bay Beach, also on Espanola. In 2015, Gardner Bay beach was considered one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. It is no surprise! See lions were resting in the sun – some in a line, some piled on top of one another. Others were swimming. We were quite taken aback when one sea lion walked right up to us. You are not allowed to approach them (unless, of course, you are at one with the sea lions, like Alex).

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Gardner Bay

 

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Alex at one with all the sea lions

 

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As we had walked down the beach, it was time to go back. We were told there were something very cool just over a sand dune. So, we checked it out. It was a humpback whale skeleton! We wondered if it was put there for the tourists, or if it was swept up on shore except that would’ve taken a long time to rot out.

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Humpback whale skeleton, just there – WOW!

We were a little late getting back from Gardner Bay because we were having so much fun! That meant we were a little rushed to get ready for snorkelling at Osborne Rock. The water at Osborne rock was freezing! Although it wasn’t as freezing as Pinzon.

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Osborne Rock

The highlight of snorkelling here were the sea lions. Rachel saw two of them and had one brush right by her arm! Rachel, Anna, Mum, and Alex got cold so they decided to go for a kayak in the same area. In their two kayaks, they paddled over to where Dad was snorkelling and glad of it! A sea lion was playing with dad! It was so cool to see that. One of them even took the rope from the kayak and started pulling us around! Alex was no longer cold so she and dad switched places.The sea lions played with us for about 20 minutes!!!

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Sea lion pulling Rachel and Mum’s kayak rope!

 

 

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It was a game caught on the GoPro by Graham and Alex

 

 

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No fear of humans

 

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Dinner on the cruise

That evening we would motor to San Cristobal. Rachel was tired from the day so she fell asleep. After all the fresh air and excitement, no wonder! Supper was delicious and it was topped off with dessert (again).

 

Galaxy II Cruise – Day 4, San Cristobal

This was the last day of our cruise on the Galaxy 2. After being pampered with first-class accommodations, food, service, and excursions, I think we were all in a little bit of denial that it was over. It was evident by the last-minute packing before breakfast.

Our last day was spent on the island of San Cristobal. This island is on the eastern side of the archipelago and is the administrative capital of the Galapagos Islands. The provincial capital, Puerto Banquerizo Moreno, is a pretty sleepy beachside town with the main street hosting some souvenir shops and restaurants. It sees a fair amount of tourists, but is nothing compared to the hustle and bustle of Puerto Ayora.

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The morning was spent at the Charles Darwin Centro de Interpretacion. This Galapagos National Park’s exhibition centre has displays on geology, climate and conservation, attempts at colonization, and of course Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution and natural selection.

The Galápagos Islands were (are) harsh, volcanic islands that were difficult for animals (human and otherwise), to thrive. Inspired by the Galapagos islands, Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution by natural selection. Behaviour and characteristics of a species changes when it is necessary to adapt to the environment. Those that are most fit, survive; those that are less fit, are eliminated. This is natural selection. From generation to generation the most favourable characteristics are passed on which allows for better adaptation. For this reason, the organisms that inhabit the Galapagos Islands are quite different from their ancestors on the mainland.

Evidence of this evolution is illustrated in the adaptations of Darwin finches and other animals. There are 13 species of finches, one for each of the Galapagos Islands. Each of these species are very similar except for the beak. The difference in the beaks shows how they adapted to the food available on the different islands. One beak is good for sucking blood, another for sticks, another for crushing nuts.

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Another example of adaptation is the flightless cormorant. This bird now has very small wings and is unable to fly. This change occurred because the food supply on ground was abundant and there was no need to take flight. A third example is the marina iguana. The lack of food on the lava forced them to find food in the sea. Other iguanas in the world can swim, but the Galapagos marine iguanas are the only ones that dive under water for food and can stay there for 30 minutes!

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Charles Darwin spent five years in the Galapagos Islands in the 1830s onboard the British ship the Beagle. He did not publish his theories until 1859 in “On the Origin of Species”. This book and his theories challenged the traditional biblical story of creation and thus rocked the Western world! How fortunate to have spent time in these islands that helped shape our modern day thinking.

We bid our shipmates adios. There were some fine people aboard the Galaxy 2 and it would’ve been nice to spend a bit more time with them. Maybe someday we will see some visit us in Canada!  We, however, were leaving the Galapagos Islands the next day.

The afternoon was spent at a restaurant along the main street attempting to catch up on our blogs. Once again, Wi-Fi was unreliable and the hours spent were a waste of time except that Rachel and Alex were able to find us excellent accommodations in Quito through Airbnb.

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Our last ferry was taken, this one from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz where we spent our last night in the Galapagos islands. What a treat!

 

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Cruise over, en route back to Santa Cruz

Galaxy II Cruise – Day 2, Floreana

The day started as usual with a delicious breakfast. The kitchen staff realized how much our girls like hot chocolate and added a hot chocolate carafe on the 24 hour coffee bar!

Our first stop on Floreana was a wet landing (means your feet may get wet getting out of the dinghy). We stopped at a salt marsh to watch a few pink flamingos with their heads under water looking for food. We continued on to Cormorant Bay – a beautiful sandy beach with protected dunes where Pacific Green Turtles nest.

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Pink Flamingos in the distance

 

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Green turtle nesting grounds

 

In the first twenty feet of water, stingrays rested on the sand and drifted in and out with the waves. We stood in ankle deep water and counted 8 rays together. When you see this many stingrays in such shallow water, it is understandable why we were told to shuffle our feet in the water – better to bump into a stingray than step on one.

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Anna watching the stingrays

 

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Small stingray

 

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Cormorant Bay

It was fascinating watching the blue-footed boobies diving for fish while the colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs moved with the waves. We could have happily spent much more time here.

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Sally Lightfoot crab

After returning to the Galaxy II, we quickly gathered our snorkel gear and hopped back in the dinghies for a 5 minute ride out to The Devil’s Crown, a circular rock formation (volcanic cone) with a cut through the middle. As the current was quite strong, we started on one side and drifted along the outside wall. There were schools of large fish near the bottom (30 to 40 feet) but the current and the swell meant there was not a lot to see near the surface. As we drifted around the outside wall, Tina, Graham, and Alex swam into the cut against the current. Anna and Rachel were quite cold so signalled to the dinghy and were picked up. The depth “inside” the crown was about 20 feet and there were a few more fish; however, they were also fighting the current and were eating organic material as it zipped by. After about 10 minutes with little progress, we decided to go with the flow and got picked up by the dinghy and headed back to the Galaxy for hot showers and lunch.

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The girls about to go snorkelling at Devil’s Crown

We motored for about 20 minutes and dropped anchor in Post Office Bay. This area has been used as a communication hub for over 200 years. Pirates and other travellers would drop letters in a “post office barrel” to communicate any news to travellers arriving at a later date. The letters would remain in the barrel until the recipient would land on the island and check the barrel. Sometimes, the letters were used to provide false information. For example, a pirate may leave a letter saying, “Arr matey, we be heading to the east side of Santa Cruz, arr”, when in fact, they would be going to the west side.

Today, tourists drop post cards in the barrel (no stamps allowed), in hopes that someone following will find their card an hand deliver it to the address. So, we bought 5 post cards before we left Santa Cruz, put our names in a hat, we then addressed our cards to the name we drew – we’ll see if the cards ever get delivered.

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The Post Office Barrel at Post Office Bay

 

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Juan, our tour guide, passing out postcards that had been left in the barrel. Unfortunately, we did not find any with an address close to Wolfville, but some ship mates found cards with addresses close to their homes (Switzerland and Victoria BC). These will be hand-delivered when our ship mates return home.

We continued on to a lava tunnel that was probably about 30 feet underground and 150 feet long. Much of the walk in the tunnel was quite treacherous as the rocky floor was submerged in a foot or two of water. At the end, there was a good sized natural pool with very cool water where we all had a dip.

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Entrance to lava tunnel

 

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Alex, 3rd from left, and shipmates in the lava tunnel pool

When we returned to Post Office Bay beach, we were greeted by three Galápagos penguins swimming and fishing in the schools of sardines. We got our snorkel gear on quickly and had a blast swimming with the penguins. They showed no fear and would zip around us (apparently they can swim 60 km per hour) – they seemed as curious of us we were of them.

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Galapagos Penguin, a real thrill

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White arc identifies it as mature

 

This certainly was a surprise and a highlight as penguins don’t usually visit this beach in December.

WHAT A DAY!