Ecuador Part 3 – The Galápagos Islands

October 8, 2019

We were up early for breakfast in the hotel before heading to the airport with our tour group at 6:00 am. Originally, we were going to leave at 7:00 am, but they were unsure about the time it would take to get to the airport due to the protests. We ended up getting there with tons of time to spare before our 10:13 am flight to the Galapagos. We gave our passports to our GAdventures Representative with $20 USD and she obtained our transit control cards for the Galapagos. We took out a lot of cash at the airport as we were warned there isn’t a lot of opportunity to get cash on the islands and most places would not take credit card.

Our tour group at the airport in Quito

The flight had a stopover in Guayaquil to re-fuel and some people departed and new people boarded. We stayed on the plane and headed off to San Cristobal Island. Upon arrival at the airport in San Cristobal we had to show our transit cards and then pay a $100 USD Galapagos Island Park Entry Fee. The fee funds the maintenance and supervision in the Galapagos, as well as ecology study, conservation and infrastructure development.

We met our GAdventures CEO, Dario, outside and loaded onto the bus. It was about a five minute drive to our hostel. The capital city of San Cristobal has 9,000 inhabitants. To live in the Galapagos you must be a resident or marry a resident.

We dropped our bags in our rooms and changed into our swim suits. We were able to rent snorkels for $25 USD for the week. I rented one, but Danny had brought his own that he had purchased on our round the world trip. The bus took us to the Interpretation Centre where we learned about the history of the Galápagos Islands and how they were formed. The islands were formed in the Pacific Ocean by the interaction of the plate tectonics and hot spot volcanism. The Galapagos lie on the Nazca Plate which is moving to the southeast towards the South American Plate at 5 cm/year. Volcanoes are formed in this hot spot creating new islands. Previously formed islands slowly move away from the hot spot allowing room for new islands to be formed. Older volcanoes eventually become inactive and erode into the ocean. Hot spots created the Galapagos as well as the islands of Hawaii.

There are thirteen major islands with hundreds of smaller rocky formations. A single volcano formed each island except for Isabela which was formed by the union of six different volcanoes. The majority of the islands were formed less than one million years ago. The islands were originally devoid until eventually, seeds carried by the wind arrived on the islands. The pioneer species were lichens and cactus capable of living with little water. Vegetation rafts from the continent would take a minimum of two weeks to reach the islands and only those capable of living with a lack of water such as reptiles, would survive. Just outside the interpretation centre were some candelabra cacti that grow only one metre every 100 years.

Candelabra cacti

There are two seasons in the islands: between June and November the average air temperature is 22 degrees Celsius and between December and May the average air temperature is 25 degrees Celsius. It is not quite as warm as one would think being so close to the equator. This is due to the predominant current coming up from Antarctica.

We walked along a trail behind the Interpretation Centre to a bay. There were steps down to the water. We left our clothes and grabbed our snorkels and jumped in the water. It was absolutely freezing. I think we lasted in the water for 30 minutes and really didn’t see much except fish. We got out and Danny was shaking from the cold.

Snorkelling in the freezing water

Some others that had gotten in the water later were still swimming when a sea lion came over to swim with them. We were a bit jealous. We got dressed and headed back to the hostel. Along the way we were shown some other beaches that we could go to the next day.

We had showers and got ready for supper. After supper we went for a walk around the town. There were tons of sea lions on the beaches. Most of them were resting. They make some very interesting noises that don’t suit their looks. After getting our fill of staring at the sea lions, we returned to our hostel for some sleep.

Nap time in the streets
October 9, 2019

In the morning, we had breakfast in the hostel then went for a walk around town. We bought some groceries for lunch and then went down and sat on one of the piers. We watched the sea lions for a bit, saw some iguanas and then a bunch of different birds.


When it had warmed up a bit from the morning temperature of 15 degrees Celsius, we changed into our swim suits and packed our bags to head to Playa Mann. The beach was about a 45 minute walk from our hostel. It was quite a large beach that was mostly covered by sea lions. We took our snorkels into the water and immediately saw a huge sea turtle.

Swimming with giant turtles

There were also sea lions swimming around. They were a bit scary because they would come up and swim past you very quickly. The sea turtles would just float in the water and you could stare at them for awhile.

Swimming with sea lions

When we walked along the beach we found a little sea lion that still had its umbilical cord attached and was laying next to its mother. The male sea lions will stay with their mother for three years, while females will only stay for one year.

Mom and baby sea lion

We spent most of the day at the beach and left when we realized how burned we had gotten. We returned to the hostel and along the way stopped to watch the sea lions again and then saw some blue footed boobies and more iguanas. We had supper then returned to the hostel to pack up for the next day.

Napping sea lions
October 10, 2019

We were up fairly early for breakfast and then caught our bus down to the pier. Each of our bags were looked through to make sure we weren’t smuggling any sand, plants or iguanas. We took a private boat to the island of Floreana which has approximately 150 inhabitants.

Danny on the boat to Floreana

We saw some more iguanas right when we arrived on the island. Apparently the red colour on the iguanas means they are males that are ready for mating. We hung out at a bar on the black sand beach. According to the bartender the bar was opened two weeks ago just for us.

Beach on Floreana

Some of our group including Danny went snorkeling out in the water. I was feeling too sun burned and didn’t want to make it any worse. After snorkeling we walked up the road to a little restaurant for lunch. It was a GAdventure supported community restaurant.

We were also able to purchase postcards there. At the pier there was a barrel you put your postcard in and other visitors that lived nearby would pick it up to hand deliver it. I found this idea very exciting and was hoping to find one near Edmonton to deliver, but the closest was Vancouver so we left it there. We will see if the postcards we wrote to our parents ever make it to them. An address in rural Alberta may be hard to find…

We hopped back on the boat for another 2 hour trip to the island of Isabela. Isabella has a population of about 2,200 inhabitants. A bus picked us up at the port and drove us into the highlands where we were staying at a camping site. Each set of two had their own tent. Inside were mattresses and towels for us. We had time at the campsite before dinner for a little ultimate frisbee game.

Supper was served at the campground and then after we had a fire. Danny and I had heard there was going to be a fire so had purchased cookies, chocolate and marshmallows the previous day while we were in San Cristobal for s’mores. The s’mores went over very well. No one had the traditional scary stories to tell, but we did have a lengthy discussion about serial killers. We knew we had an early morning so we didn’t stay up too late.

October 11, 2019

We were woken up very early by the roosters next door to our campsite. They seemed to have woken up at 4:00 am. We had breakfast at the campground then hopped on our bus to head up further into the highlands. There we hiked about an hour up to a viewpoint of Volcano Sierra Negra.

Volcano Sierra Negra

Volcano Sierra Negra has the largest caldera (bowl shape) of all of the Galapagos volcanoes. The volcano area is approximately 10 km x 8 km. It is a shield volcano which means the eruption occurs along the edges and is therefore less explosive than a strata volcano. It is also one of the most active of the Galapagos volcanoes. The last eruption was in June 2018 and locals hiked up to edge to watch. The green part of the volcano is lifting at 15 cm per year and the black part is lifting at 5 cm per year.

There is another volcano on the island that has giant tortoises living inside it. Goats also used to live inside, but would compete for food with the tortoises. Hunters have had to kill the goats to save the tortoises.

We hiked back down and drove into town where we walked out to a marshy area to see some flamingoes. There are about 250-300 flamingoes in the Galapagos and they fly between the islands. The dark pink colour indicates they are an adult and the lighter pink indicates they are younger.


In town we met up with a local tour guide that would take us on our next adventure. We took a boat out to Los Tuneles, an area created from the Sierra Negra volcano. The many bridges are simply collapsed lava.

Los Tuneles

We were able to walk around the interesting landscape and view the entire lifecycle of the blue footed booby. There is no specific mating season for boobies. It is more dependent on food availability so differs between the islands. Males make a whistling noise while females make a honking noise. A male will flap out his wings to attract a female to mate with him. The female will choose the male she wishes to mate with.

Male booby dancing on the left, disinterested female in the middle and second male on the right

The parents will poop around an area to mark out their nest and usually they have one or two eggs. There is a 35-40 day incubation where one of the parents will stay at the nest while the other goes fishing. Once the babies are a bit older both parents will go fishing while the youngings stay at the nest. They eat fish exclusively and mostly sardines. Children start with white feet and develop their blue feet in adulthood.

Blue footed booby nest

After our walk we had lunch on the boat. Ecuadorians eat a lot of rice and beans which is what we had for lunch. After lunch the boat took us out to another spot along the shore where we put on our wet suits and snorkels and hopped in the water. There we saw a huge sea turtle who must have been about four or five feet long.

Sea turtle

We also saw a bunch of small black tipped sharks swimming around. The guide then pointed out a little tiny sea horse. The Little Mermaid really disillusioned me to the size of sea horses. Danny also saw an octopus.

Black tipped shark and seahorse

We swam over to this underwater ledge where you had to peak your head under to see the cave below where there were a set of white tipped sharks. They were really cool looking. We did see a lot of cool things there, but the way it was described to me I thought it was going to be so much more so I felt a little let down.

The boat took us back into town where we sat and relaxed for a bit. There was a bit of a protest going on in the main square, but nothing as large or as climactic as what was going on in Quito. Just before 6:00 pm we headed out to the beach as a group and watched the sunset. We met up for a spaghetti supper before heading back to the campground.

October 12, 2019

Our morning started very early for us to catch one of the public boats to our next island, Santa Cruz which was about a two hour ride away. Santa Cruz has a population of about 12,000 residents making it the most populated island of the Galapagos. We arrived at our hostel, but were unable to check in so early. Instead we all walked to the Darwin Research Centre and Fausto Llerena Breeding Centre to see all the giant tortoises. In the Galapagos there are 12 of 15 species of giant tortoises still surviving.

Giant tortoises at the breeding centre

In the 18th century explorers would take the tortoises for food on their ships because they would live without food and water for a long time. Their heart rates can drop to 3-4 beats per minute at rest. Apparently the taste is a mixture between chicken, pork and beef. Tortoise oils were also burned in lamps before electricity and the shells served many purposes before the invention of plastic. There are only 30,000 giant tortoises remaining in the Galapagos. Volcanic eruptions kill a lot of tortoises and there is an ongoing black market for tortoises. A small one can cost $65,000 on the black market.

The breeding centres search for eggs in the wild. Only 1-2 of twenty eggs will survive in the wild. At about 3-4 years old the tortoises are released back into the wild. The temperature the eggs are kept at determines their sex: warm breeds females and cold breeds males. This means that there are more males in the highlands. The males will walk to find the females to breed using the smell of their poop. Females walk away from the males and do not want to breed. The males continue their pursuit until the females cannot escape, the males hop on and essentially rape the females. Giant tortoises move at a rate of 1 km/h. Tortoises can live up to 200 years. The breeding centre pays about $1,000 per tortoise per year.

Baby tortoises

Dome shelled tortoises are adapted to wet zones where food is close to the ground. Saddleback tortoises are only found in the Galapagos and have long neck and legs adapted to finding food in desert zones.

Super Diego is a famous tortoise from the breeding centre. He was one of the last males of his kind and the breeding centre found him at the San Diego zoo. They brought him to the breeding centre where he repopulated the species producing approximately 2,000 offspring.

Super Diego

We walked back into town and I was getting very hangry. It took us forever to get to our lunch place. After lunch we took a bus about 45 minutes into the highlands. We were able to walk through a lava tube that was found when a farmer kept losing his cows. The last eruption there was 2.5 million years ago. The lava tubes are essentially arms of the volcano.

Inside a lava tube

Next we walked around an area with a ton of tortoises in the wild. We saw a couple that were over 150 years old. They didn’t seem to care too much that we were there. They have no predators in the Galapagos except for humans. They are herbivores that mostly consume grasses and leaves.

Wild tortoise

At the end we were able to look inside a tortoise shell to see where it’s spine is attached to the shell. We were also able to crawl inside to get a sense of the weight of the shell. Male tortoises can weigh more than 500 pounds and females average about 250 pounds. The shell encompasses the spine as well so a tortoise cannot leave its shell.

Danny as a tortoise

We returned to the hostel where we were able to check in and rest a bit before supper. We had some delicious sushi for supper and viewed another calm protest in the town square. It seemed more like a celebration of culture with singing and dancing. Danny and I got some ice cream on our way back to the hostel before bed.

Protest on Santa Cruz
October 13, 2019

We slept in a bit then had breakfast at the hostel. We chatted with some of our tour group about the situation in Quito. We had been hearing the situation had gotten much worse with the protests. Many others on our tour had rescheduled their flights to leave from Quito right when we would be arriving back from the Galapagos. Danny and I looked into it, but the cost to change our flights would have been $300 USD each. We decided to wait and see what the situations as like in Quito when we arrived. We also found out that the same flight we were taking out of the Galapagos was canceled today so we didn’t want to change our flight and then have to change it again.

We decided to head into town and grab some food to pack for lunch. It was an hour walk along a hilly path to Tortuga Bay. When you reach the water there is a beautiful beach that you cannot swim at as it has strong rip tides.

Tortuga Bay

We walked passed a bunch of iguanas that were swimming.

Iguanas basking in the sun

Up further there was a cove that had calm water for swimming. We found a spot in the shade to lay out our towels. We took out our snorkels and jumped in the water. The water, however, was not clear enough for snorkelling. We could barely see our hands in front of us. Instead we swam for a bit, lounged for a bit, swam for a bit then decided we were a bit bored and worried about getting more sun burned. We walked back to the hostel and relaxed for a bit.

We met the group and went for supper together. I had a big lobster which was pretty exciting. After supper we walked down to the main pier and were able to see a ton of sharks swimming around. Then we enjoyed a quiet walk back to the hostel.

October 14, 2019

We were up pretty early to take our bus down to the pier where we caught a boat out to Isla Baltra, an island just north of Santa Cruz. The island used to be a US Military Base during WWII to patrol the eastern Pacific and protect the Panama Canal. At the Pier of Isla Baltra we caught another bus to the airport on the island. Here we said goodbye to our guide Dario and went through security to wait for our flight back to Quito.

Our flight returned to Quito as planned. We said goodbye to many of the people from our tour at the airport as they had their next flights to catch. We returned to the original hotel we had stayed at in Quito with a set of five others from our tour.

We checked in and relaxed for a bit. We met our remaining group and walked up the street for supper. I had a plate full of vegetables and Danny had a quarter of a guinea pig. It tasted like rabbit and was actually very good.

Quarter guinea pig

Following dinner, we walked back to the hotel and went to bed exhausted.

We booked a nearby Airbnb to stay at for the next couple of days. The President met with the leader of the Indigenous the day before and everything seems to be going all right now. On our drive back into Quito there were people cleaning up the blockades in the streets so that is a good sign. Everything seems to be calm in Quito now so we plan on keeping our original flight and spending the next couple of days checking out Quito.


Ecuador Part 4 – Quito

October 15, 2019

We slept in and relaxed in our hotel room in Quito for the morning. I think we needed a rest after the worry and then travel back from the Galapagos. Around 10 am we went up the street to the mall to drop of our laundry off to be washed. We packed our bags and stored them at the hotel as we weren’t able to check into our Airbnb until 3 pm.

At 1 pm we met another couple from our Galapagos tour and walked up the street to Plaza Foch for lunch. After lunch they continued up to the market and we returned to the hotel, collected our bags and walked up the street to our Airbnb. It was probably four blocks away from the hotel.

The Airbnb was a nice modern one-bedroom apartment. It felt so nice to have our own space. I even chose to hang up my clothes in the closet. This is something that always made me feel more at home and relaxed on our round the world trip.

We went up the street to the mall, picked up our laundry and purchased some groceries for the next couple of days. Since we missed Thanksgiving in Canada we decided to try to have our own Thanksgiving dinner. We found some chicken breast, a turnip and what we thought were potatoes. It wasn’t quite a normal Thanksgiving dinner, but it was pretty good. We watched some Netflix then went to bed.

October 16, 2019

We got in contact with our original Ecuador tour guide, Santiago, when we arrived back in Quito. He arranged to pick us up in the morning to take us up the cable car and to the equator line.

We drove about 20 minutes to the teleferiqo or cable car. Quito is actually the highest capital city in the world at an elevation of 2,850 m. The cable car took us to a view overlooking Quito. You could see from there why traffic was so awful. The city is sprawled out from north to south and then to the east are mountains with a valley in the centre separating the city. Quito is 60 km x 6 km with a population of 3 million. The total population of Ecuador is 16 million.

View from cable car

In Quito, the minimum salary is $400 per month and people making this must live in the mountains to be able to afford rent. In the mountains rent is about $150 per month.

We rode back down to the bottom and drove about an hour north to the “Middle of the World”. There is one spot with a large monument to the French mission to find the equator’s location in the 18th century. Then there is another spot with a museum at the exact location of the equator. We went to the second site because that is where all the cool stuff happens.

Standing on the equator

First we were given an overview of some of the history of Ecuador. We were told of the Shuar who are an Indigenous people of Ecuador and Peru living in the Amazon. They are most well known for shrinking heads. They first cut the head off the dead person, then cut out the skull. A combination of secret plants is used to shrink the skin. The mouth is sewn closed so the soul can’t escape. It is then placed over a fire to dry the skin. The idea is to preserve the soul in the head to immortalize a person.

Shrunken head of the Shuar

We were also told of the Waorani who are an Indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. American missionaries airdropped gifts to the Waorani in the 1950s. The package included photographs which they believed to be evil magical creations. When missionaries landed on a riverbank the tribesmen speared them to death. In the Amazon there are fish, candiru, that will swim up your urethra. The Waorani men tie their penises up to prevent the fish from going up when they are in the water. The Waorani also have ear piercings. The size indicates how important they are. They are also the group that hunts mainly with blow guns.

Quito means centre of the land in the language of the Indigenous in the area before the Incas. This Indigenous group had found the equator line using astronomy. They built temples along the equator knowing that twice a year no shadow existed for three minutes.

At the equator we did a couple of different tests. One of them was balancing an egg on a nail. It is supposed to be easier at the equator as gravity pulls completely straight down. I was still not able to do it, but Danny did and even got a certificate for it!

Trying to balance eggs

We were shown how on the equator water will drain straight down. The lady demonstrating then moved the sink about two metres to the north and the water drained clockwise. She then moved the sink two metres to the south and the water drained counterclockwise.

As another test we walked along the equator line with our eyes closed and each of us would automatically veer to one side. I’m not so sure about this test. We were also told about how in Ecuador you can see the Big Dipper (northern hemisphere) and the Southern Cross (southern hemisphere) which is pretty cool.

The last test was my favourite. We were told to hold our thumb and index fingers together then another person would pull them apart. About two metres to the north or south of the equator it was relatively hard and then on the equator it was insanely easy. It was crazy how much of a difference it made. I think the explanation was something about there being less gravity so you have less muscle mass.

We headed back into the city and I was craving pizza so we went in search of an Italian restaurant. The first place Santiago said was very good, but it was closed. We then drove to another spot that Santiago thought had pizza, but it just had Italian sandwiches. I had seen a sign just a few stores over that said pizza so we walked over there. They did not currently have pizza. We decided to eat there anyways because we were getting very hungry. We enjoyed our last meal with Santiago. We were very grateful for his efforts in keeping us safe and ensuring we saw all we could along the way.

Last meal with Santiago

He dropped us back off at our Airbnb where we chilled for the evening. Danny found a free walking tour of the old town and booked us in for the next day.

October 17, 2019

Our day started with breakfast and then a long walk to where our walking tour was set to start. I think the walk took us about 45 minutes.

The tour started in the local market. The market had local herbs that are used for medicine, then tons of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. The top exports from Ecuador starting from the largest are oil, cacao, shrimp, tuna, bananas, coffee and flowers.

Next we walked through the old town which is 485 years old. A lot of the buildings have a Moorish design which is common of Spanish architecture. The Spanish arrived in 1534 and were in charge until the 1809 revolution which took place while Spain was busy dealing with Napoleon in Europe.

The balconies used to be full of geraniums to overcome the smell of the streets before indoor plumbing was invented.

Street in Old Town Quito

We walked to an area where there was a wonderful view of a Virgin Mary statue. In the statue she has wings because there is a story in the bible which describes her getting wings to get away from serpents who were trying to kill her baby.

Virgin of Quito

Along our walk, we were taken to a shop that sold Panama hats which actually originated in Ecuador. Workers from Ecuador worked at the Panama Canal which is how they got their name. The hats are made from palm. I almost wish we had gone back to that shop because the prices for the hats was very reasonable.

We ventured in to the main square where we saw the Carandelet or Government Palace. There were fences and guards outside the square limiting the people going inside. There were people in front of the palace protesting the elimination of cock fighting. The palace still had barbed wire along the veranda, but I assumed it was remaining from the previous weeks’ protests.

Carondelet Palace

In 1997-1998, the El Niño gave rain for one month resulting in no exports from Ecuador. As well, from 1995-1998 there was a border dispute with Peru. This all resulted in increased inflation. $1 used to be worth 5,000 sucres, but by 1999 $1 was 20,000 sucres. There was a 600% inflation. People wanted their money out of the banks, but they didn’t have the money so they just closed their doors. For one week, there was no cash in the ATMs.

The President, Jamil Mahuad, asked the USA to change the Ecuadorian sucre to USD. It was very expensive for Ecuador and the national reserve gold was used to pay the difference. Residents had only one week to change their currency. Over 3 million people left Ecuador during that time and went to Spain, Italy and USA. Soon after the dollarization in Ecuador, Mahuad was forced to resign. In May 2014, Ecaudor’s courts sentenced him to 12 years in jail for embezzlement, but he escaped to the USA. He now teaches economy at Harvard.

In 2012, Julian Assange was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The reason this was allowed was because apparently the Ecuadorian President at the time, Correa, wanted to do an exchange with the USA for Mahuad.

Our tour of Quito ended with a chocolate sampling. It was tasty, but not as good as the Pacari chocolate we bought in the market.

We asked about a nearby pizza place to go to at the end of the tour so our guide walked us to a restaurant. The pizza ended up being delicious and I was able to satisfy my craving.

Pizza in Quito

We ended our tour of the old town by walking to the Basilica of the National Vote. Along the way it really started raining and it was a little bit of a hike up the streets to get there.

We purchased tickets to go up the towers of the Basilica. It offered a really nice view over the old town. We even got to go behind the clock in the tower which was a pretty cool experience.

Basilica of the National Vote

We walked back the 45 minutes to our Airbnb and ate leftovers for supper.

October 18, 2019

In the morning, we had breakfast then decided to go for a walk to a nearby neighbourhood, La Floresta. We were told by our guide from the previous day that it had lots of great artwork and graffiti and was just nice to walk around. We started by walking to the the local neighbourhood market, but it had mostly fruit and vegetables which wasn’t the ideal purchase on our last day.

The guide had also said that Hotel Quito was a nice place to walk to so we walked up there. The whole walk was very up and down. We went into the hotel expecting a view out their windows, but it was mostly just trees.

We ended up walking back to Plaza Foch where we grabbed some brunch from a coffee shop. After we went back to the Artesanal Market to buy some last minute gifts.

We returned to the Airbnb and had to check out so we ended up heading to the airport really early. Our flight was scheduled to leave just after midnight and we got there around 2 pm which meant a long wait for us.

Across from the main airport was another area with some shops and a food court. We hunkered down there for the ten hours. We watched some movies, played some cards and got supper at one of the restaurants. At one point I leaned over on my side to watch a movie and a security guard came over and told Danny, “no sleep”. So back up I sat.

October 19, 2019

Our flight left on time and arrived in Houston with plenty of time for us to grab some breakfast. They did serve supper on the plane, but it was so late I slept through it.

Our flight leaving Houston was a bit delayed which caused us to get into Calgary late. Originally we only had just over an hour layover in Calgary which we thought might be pushing it because we had to go through customs and collect our bags. We likely would have been all right, but it took 40 minutes for us to get our bags.

We arrived at the Air Canada desk to drop our bags and there had been a set of folks that missed our flight to Edmonton. We were all booked on the next flight which was about an hour later. We had enough time to grab some lunch and then get to our gate for our last flight home.

When we arrived home and talked about our trip I wasn’t as excited about it as other trips we have been on. I think the amazing time we had was overshadowed a bit by the ongoing protests. While we were never in any immediate danger, there was still a bit of worry over how to best keep ourselves safe. When I think of the trip now I realize we saw some amazing things and had some amazing experiences. We were also able to check off a couple things from our Bucket List (visit the Amazon and the Galapagos) so who can complain?


Ecuador Part 2 – Banos, Cotopaxi and Quito

October 5, 2019

Danny was up bright and early to participate in La Selva or the jungle marathon. The Guayaquil Marathon was canceled so the running club had decided they would host their own. They made their own running tags with their names and measured the distance from the lodge to Misahualli and back. For a full marathon they would have to do this track twice.

The race started at 6:30 am with two rocks banged together. I stayed and watched the water and snacks table at the lodge while one of the ladies went up to get some other things. Danny returned after just under an hour and a half. He had reached the 5 km point and the sun was starting to come up so he decided it was time to turn around. He was happy to finish the 10k especially since the sun just kept getting hotter.

La Selva, Jungle Marathon

I had breakfast at 8:30 am and then a man showed up at our table to ask us about what we wanted to do with all the protests going on. We determined after a few minutes that he was Santiago, the guy our original driver had mentioned. Santiago was a manager at Suchipakari Lodge. He had been stuck in Quito the last couple of days helping some other travellers get to Quito and then to the airport. He told us that the southern route in to Quito was where the main blockades were located. The cab and bus drivers had been appeased with a raise in fairs, but the Indigenous continued their protests south of Quito. He told us we could make it to Banos, but we may not be able to enter Quito from the south. If this happened, the plan would be to go back towards the jungle and get back to Quito from the east. We agreed to head to Banos and see what happened from there.

Following breakfast, we made fresh chocolate. We took cacao beans fresh from the jungle and roasted them. After a couple of minutes they were hot enough that we could roll them to get the peel off. After the beans were put through a grinder until it was a sticky powder. Next the ground cacao was put in a saucepan over the fire and milk and sugar were added. We ate it with some fruit like a fondue.

Chocolate making

Cacao beans were originally found in the Amazon of Ecuador and now can be found on the coast as well. On the coast they grow very well and can be exported. In the Amazon, the cacao is more for family use. The cacao are harvested twice a year and inside a plant there are 50-60 seeds.

After chocolate making, we packed up our bags to get ready to go. Santiago drove us and another couple at the lodge to Tena. From there, the other couple would be heading northwest towards Quito with another driver. Santiago continued driving us southwest to Banos.

He told us how there are lots of towns named after oil companies such as Shell and Texaco. He was saying that nowadays the Shuar, an Indigenous community within the Amazon, are not part of modern society. They live on land where oil still remains. Ecuador believes in protecting the Indigenous culture and have created Reservation de production de Fauna Cuyabeno. However, many oil companies choose to go through Peru to get to this area.

Electricity has changed sleeping patterns. Roads have made the cities more accessible. Young Indigenous people feel stuck between two worlds. This has led to an increase in youth suicides.

We had lunch just outside of Banos. Banos was named after all of the waterfalls in the area. After lunch we walked out to Pailon Del Diablo. It is the second tallest waterfall in Ecuador at 80 m. There is one higher waterfall in the northern Amazon at 120 m. The waterfall was very powerful and the view was spectacular.

Pailon del Diablo

Next we visited Agoyan Waterfall where we were given the option to do a $15 USD zip line across a canyon, over the waterfalls and to the other side. Danny chose the sitting up version and I chose the Superman version. We were put into harnesses and taken up to a platform.

I watched as Danny was attached. They took the rope from the harness and looped it around a T-bar on the line. I expected something to be fit on the ends to prevent the rope from coming off, but then Danny was sent down the line just like that. I watched as they attached me the same way. I was freaking out. If the zip line were to sway a bit or I were to move too much the rope could slip off the ends and splat. I did not enjoy the zipline. I was basically praying the whole time over the waterfalls that I would not slip off. Thankfully, I made it to the other side. I guess that’s what you get with a $15 zipline.

Terrifying zipline over Agoyan Waterfall

Our next stop was La Casa del Arbol, Swing at the End of the World. There were a bunch of swings there with a view of Tungurahua, an active volcano whose peak is at 5023 m. The way the volcano opens, eruptions go the opposite way of the valley of Banos. I very much enjoyed this place. Apparently it is usually very busy there, but due to the situation in Ecuador we only had to wait a bit to get on a swing.

La Casa del Arbol with a view of Tungurahua

We walked around and there was a cow with mountains in the background. It looked very similar to pictures we took in Switzerland.

View at La Casa del Arbol

On our drive into Banos we stopped for a view overlooking the city. The hotel we stayed at had a thermal bath. We enjoyed some time relaxing there before supper. Santiago took us to a restaurant where we had mojitos and steaks. It was amazing! After we went up the street to a bar where we had some more drinks and did some dancing before heading back to the hotel for bed.

October 6, 2019

We had a bit of a sleep in before breakfast at the hotel. We left Banos at 10 am to head to Cotopaxi. Santiago informed us that we would not be able to make it Quilotoa, a water filled caldera volcano, that was supposed to be part of our itinerary. The way there was blocked by the Indigenous protests.

Our drive to Cotopaxi was interesting. We took some back roads until Santiago believed the way was clear back on the main highway. We returned to the highway and then saw a bunch of vehicles heading the wrong direction towards us. The highway must have been blocked further up. We ended up taking back roads all the way to Cotopaxi. We drove past remnants of blockades on those roads as well. There was burning ash and trees and rocks pushed to the road side.

Remnants of blockades along the back roads to Cotopaxi

At Cotopaxi National Park, we checked in then a guide drove with us to the visitor centre. She explained that the trees in the National Park were from Canada, California and Chile and used for export. Cotopaxi means “throat moon” in the Indigenous language because the way the moon sits in the volcano at night makes it look like the throat of the moon. Cotopaxi volcano started to be active again in 2000, but it’s last major eruption was in 1817. History shows that it erupts every 100 years. It is the second highest active volcano in the world. Technology is able to give 20 minutes for people to escape the volcano. They have found that horses will leave the area 15 days before.

Our national park guide left us and we drove on to a nearby place within the park that had horses to ride. Santiago had called to arrange in the morning, but when we arrived there were no horses. He explained that the Indigenous people bring in the horses, but they were away protesting. We drove out of the park and further up the road to a little resort which had its own horses.

We were given an explanation on horseback riding that was much more extensive than when we were in Mongolia. The horses we had were quite calm. We were given furry chaps and a traditional poncho to wear. It started to rain not five minutes into our ride. Rain jackets were put over us and the rain did not stop.

Our clothing for horseback riding

We rode for about 45 minutes to the top of a hill. There was supposed to be a view of Cotopaxi and some of the other nearby volcanoes, but it was much too cloudy. We could just make out one of the smaller ones closest to us. My horse and I were very happy when we started heading back.

View from the top of our horseback ride

We had some locro de papa, potato soup for lunch which was very enjoyable. We added avocado, cheese, seeds and corn on top. At this point it was already 4:30 pm. We left the resort and continued on a back road until we reached the main highway. From there, it was clear all the way into Quito.

We stopped at a place to have a burger for supper then Santiago dropped us off at our hotel where we were supposed to start our GAdventures tour. We were a day early, but they had room for us to stay there. Santiago left us to relax and we planned for him to pick us up the next morning at 10 am. He asked if he would be able to bring his son as well because school was canceled for the next day. We agreed and planned for us to go to the Quito Cable Car and out to the equator line.

October 7, 2019

We had breakfast in the hotel then saw a message from Santiago telling us we would not be able to go to the equator line as the Indigenous had blocked the route. He asked if maybe we could move this day until we returned from the Galapagos. He phoned the reception at the hotel and she printed us off some maps to show us places we could go within Quito.

We started by taking some laundry to the nearby mall to get washed then we walked up the street to the Ethnohistoric and Crafts Museum of Ecuador. We saw a bunch of ceramics and textiles.

Exhibits in the Ethnohistoric and Crafts Museum of Ecuador

We had lunch right beside the museum then walked up the street to the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal. They had all sorts of knitted clothing, t-shirts and other souvenirs for sale. All the stalls seemed to blend together after awhile. We think we got some good deals though.

We returned to the hotel to chill a bit before we met our GAdventures tour group at 5:00 pm. This tour was set up a bit differently. We had a GAdventures representative meet with us to explain the airport procedure for the next day, but she was not going to be the guide with us for the whole trip. We would meet our guide when we arrived in the Galapagos.

A bunch of us met for supper just up the street. It was a fancy meal, but we enjoyed it. We returned to the hotel to pack our stuff to leave for the Galapagos the next day.

With the situation with the protests in Ecuador we have been very lucky to avoid any issues. We were unable to see Quilotoa which was a bit disappointing, but we were able to make it back to Quito in time to start our Galapagos trip. We are excited to be on our way to one of the most unique places on earth.


Ecuador Part 1 – The Amazon

Day 1: October 1, 2019

Our flight left from Edmonton at a very acceptable time, but we still had to be up at 4:30 am. We had a five hour flight to Houston where we spent a five hour layover grabbing lunch and just relaxing. Then we had another five hour flight to Quito, Ecuador. On this flight we had the row in front of the emergency exit which meant we couldn’t lean our seats back. This was a big mistake. It was so uncomfortable and all we wanted to do was sleep.

We arrived in Quito just after midnight, cleared customs fairly quickly and picked up our bags. We then went outside to catch a taxi. The official taxis have orange license plates. There was a set price from the airport into the city. It was $26 USD for our cab ride. In 2000 the Ecuadorian sucre was given up for the US dollar after the sucre dramatically lost its value.

We checked into the Masaya Hostel which was suggested by our tour company. It was a nice quiet hostel. We had a private room with our own bathroom. We dropped our bags and went to sleep exhausted from a long day of travel.

Day 2: October 2, 2019

We woke up around 7:00 am to have breakfast and get ready to meet our tour guide in the hostel at 8:00 am. Around 8:10 am we started getting worried. Then at 8:30 am we looked up the tour company’s phone number and were just about to call when a man came in. He asked if I was Merai Downey to which I replied yes. He said Santiago sent him and we kind of shrugged not understanding who Santiago was. We had booked the tour online using Viator and the tour company just said Live Ecuador. We went with him because he knew my name.

We had dressed in all of our clothes because our itinerary said we were going to Cotopaxi where the weather was supposed to be -15 degrees. The driver then said he was driving us to the hot springs and then to the Amazon. It turned out we were doing the itinerary we had seen online in reverse.

Our first stop was Papallacta Hot Springs. The temperature was a little on the chilly side and these hot springs were outside. We changed into our swim suits and ventured into the pools. They had a bunch of smaller pools around the site and then a bigger one. It was nice and relaxing and not too busy. We spent about an hour there.

Enjoying Papallacta Hot Springs

As we were leaving we got pulled aside by one of the employees at the hot springs to watch a mock exercise with paramedics. All we saw was them carrying a man in a blanket to the meeting point. We aren’t quite sure why we needed to see it.

We returned to our driver and he drove us to a nearby town where we had trout for lunch. The portions were very large. There was a bowl of popcorn to start, our main meal and then a bowl of rice came out. We also tried a homemade alcohol made from fermented sugar cane with different tree barks.

On we drove, into the Ecuadorian Amazon. We drove to Suchipakari Lodge located near the small town of Misahualli. Our driver dropped us there and one of the staff helped carry our bags to the lodge which was about a five minute walk along the nearby river.

At the lodge we were shown to our room which had a beautiful heart display of flower petals. It was very cute and thoughtful.

Our bed at Suchipakari Lodge

We chilled in our room until just before supper time when we met our guide for our time at the lodge. His name was Dorian and his community was about 20 minutes up the Napo River. He told us about our plans for the next day and got us fitted with some rubber boots.

Supper was held in the main area of the lodge open to the Amazon breeze. There was another large group there from a running club. We went back to our room right after and went to sleep.

Day 3: October 3, 2019

We both had really good sleeps the night before. I think we both needed to catch up. We had breakfast at the lodge and then Dorian met us with three other travellers for a walk through the jungle.

Our guide, Dorian, on the far right

We saw lots of different plants and Dorian explained their different uses. Our walk ended at the Napo River where there was a motorized canoe waiting to take us to a nearby Kichwa (Indigenous peoples of the Upper Amazon Basin) village.

In the village, we were greeted and given braided head bands that were supposed to keep away the mosquitos. We were also given face-paint using a plant then when broken open has a red liquid.

Danny’s head band and face-paint

We were shown how to take a plant (we think it was a palm leaf) and scrape off the green skin to get a fibrous rope. The community uses the rope for fishing and for making different items such as net bags.

Making rope

Next the lady showed us how they take clay from a certain part of the river and are able to use it to make pottery. They paint the pottery with different colours of clay using a brush made from the hair of a young girl since it is softer.

Making bowls from clay

The last item they showed us was how they make chicha, a fermented beverage made from cassava in this case, but can also be made from grains, maize or fruit. They boil the cassava for 30-40 minutes then mash it up. They then leave it to ferment. It used to be fermented by chewing and spitting the cassava, but when the Spanish arrived it increased the spread of tuberculosis so they stopped that practice. We were given a taste of the unfermented chicha which tasted like yogurt.

Danny helping to make chicha

We thanked the women for showing us a part of their culture and continued in the motorized canoe. Along the way we saw some squirrel monkeys jumping through the trees along the river.

Our journey continued to an animal refuge centre. They take in animals that have been apprehended by the government because they are illegal to have as pets. We saw parrots, turtles, monkeys, caiman and pecari.

There were two especially sad looking monkeys. Both had mental health problems due to how they were treated in the past as well as their previous diet. One was a capuchino monkey which are known for being very intelligent and are often used in movies because they can be taught tricks. However, this also means that being locked in a cage can have devastating effects.

Capuchino monkey

We returned to our canoe and took a ride to a picnic spot. We were able to go for a swim there in the muddy water.

After we walked up the trail a bit to a small group of houses where we were able to try to shoot a blow gun. The blow guns typically shoot 20-30 m and are used to hunt monkeys and birds. The darts and gun are made from palm trees. There is cotton on the end of the dart to keep it straight. The bag of darts had a set of piranha teeth hanging from it which was used to sharpen the darts. They also will boil a dead poisonous frog to add poison to the darts. Our practice involved shooting a wooden owl. I don’t think we did too terribly.

Blowgun practice

Our canoe returned us to our pick up point and we walked the 30 minutes back to the lodge. Danny and I played some cards until we met Dorian again for a night time walk through the jungle. We stayed nearby the lodge and took a trail around to look for different insects. We saw lots of different types of frogs, crickets, spiders, moths, walking sticks and caterpillars.

Creatures from our night walk in the Amazon

Back at the lodge we had supper and went to bed.

October 4, 2019

At breakfast the tour guide for the running club started explaining something about protests. We had no idea what was going on and had to ask their group. It turned out the Ecuadorian government had removed fuel subsidies causing diesel prices to rise from $1.03 to $2.30 per gallon and gasoline from $1.85 to $2.39 per gallon. In Quito, the taxi and bus drivers were protesting this increase and transportation was shut down. The running club had been planning to go to Guayaquil for a marathon, but now weren’t sure if they would be going.

We started our day by taking a taxi ride to a waterfall just outside of Misahualli. There was a little falls right near the start, but we hiked up another 30 minutes to a larger one. There was a pool there to swim in which was very refreshing.

Waterfall near Misahualli

On the way back down Dorian broke open a yellow cocoa to show the beans inside. We each took a bean and stuck it in our mouths. It was covered in a sweet film that had a hint of chocolate taste. We had lunch back at the bottom and did some more swimming by the first waterfall. Then we waited for our driver to pick us up to take us back into town.

Our driver never showed up and we found out later that when Dorian called him he said that due to the protests, he wasn’t allowed to leave the town square. There was someone there with a clipboard checking to make sure no one was working. We walked out to the main road to see if we could catch a ride back. Within five minutes a truck stopped to pick our group of six up and take us back into town.

The town was dead. I guess there are normally a lot of tourists there, but the protests had stranded a lot of people. We walked to “Monkey Beach” where there are usually lots of monkeys in the trees, but they must have been at the protests as well. Back in town there were a couple of monkeys hanging around looking for food. One came over to see us by sliding down a telephone wire.

Monkey in Misahualli

Dorian had to do some improvising and hired us a water taxi to take us to another Indigenous community along the Napo River. One of the members of the community explained to us how 17 years ago they had been digging foundations for a building and found this gigantic rock. He showed us all of the different animals and rivers that could be seen in the rock face. Some scientists had taken a sample to see if it was actually a meteorite.

Rock found in one of the Indigenous villages

After a group of women performed a traditional dance for us. We were encouraged to join in which as pretty cool. We thought they would show us more dances, but after one dance we left. The water taxi had waited for us and took us back to our pick up point from the previous day. From there it was only a 30 minute walk back to the lodge.

Traditional dance

When we arrived back to the lodge, the women from the village had beat us back there. They were there performing a wedding ceremony for a couple from the running club also staying at the lodge. They had gotten engaged before the trip and since they were stranded at the lodge decided why not get married.

We arrived just as the ceremony was starting. It was very moving. It reminded us very much of the way we got married when we were in Nepal. We both had tears in our eyes as they said their vows. They had a bit of a dance party afterwards with some special drinks.

Wedding ceremony

Just before supper Danny and I decided to play some pool in the main area. The running club had mostly sat down at the nearby tables. One of the men stood up and asked for everyone’s attention. We assumed he was going to give a toast to the new couple, but instead he said how disappointed he was to see people from their group drinking alcohol. One of his friends who was only recently sober was very upset seeing other people drinking and was thinking about leaving. It was explained that the running club was created to help people who were at the bottom and there were people who were recovering addicts and alcoholics. The conversation ended with the creator of the running club, “The Judge” saying that he understood and all events going forward would not have alcohol. It was a really touching moment and showed how expressing your feelings openly can be met with understanding. It was inspiring how much the group cared about each other.

When I googled their running club later to see if they were on Facebook, I found that they actually have a documentary coming out October 14, 2019 called “Skid Row Marathon”. I’m very interested to see it now.

The running club is called “Skid Row Running Club” and was created in 2012 by a Judge after a man he’d sentenced to prison returned to thank him. The runners in the club are from all walks of life. Some members are homeless or in recovery and others are lawyers, social workers, students or off-duty police officers.

We were served a barbecue supper which was delicious then we returned to our room for sleep.

The Ecuadorian Amazon has been a real treat for us. We added this tour on because it fit in before our scheduled tour to the Galapagos. We didn’t really expect much from it, but feel pleasantly surprised. We loved visiting all of the Indigenous communities and walking through the wilderness. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. We are supposed to head to Banos, but are unsure if we will be able due to the protests.