MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “September, 2015”

From the Andes to the Coast

I remember feeling breathless after just a couple of steps into the hotel lobby. Those first few days at Lake Titicaca in Peru a few years ago, took some getting used to, and that was what I was thinking about as I arrived at Quito, Ecuador’s capital at an altitude of 2850m (9350ft). Fully expecting to feel the air stolen from my lungs, I didn’t have grand plans of filling my 1 day in Quito with too much action. But I stepped off the plane and out the airport to normality, and I breathed in the fresh air without a hint of a problem.

I had nearly 6 weeks of Spanish immersion in front of me, and I was determined to make the most of it. From the moment I boarded the LAN flight from New Zealand, I spoke only Spanish, and was quietly impressed with myself chatting to my taxi driver as he took me to my hotel for the night. Quito’s airport is relatively new and as yet it doesn’t have an airport hotel. Arriving at 11pm at night, with the city up to an hour’s drive away, I just wanted somewhere to put my head, so I had booked into the nearest hotel I could find, which was in the nearby village. Down a cobbled back street and hidden behind a high wall, the driver could have been taking me anywhere. Arranging a ride for the next morning, he left me behind and I got shown to my room which was right under the flight path on approach to the runway. Thankfully I was too tired to be bothered and I was out like a light.

The next morning I was up early to get into the city and make the most of the 1 day I had there. I was met by the same taxi driver as the night before and we chatted as much as my Spanish would allow on the 45 min drive to my next hotel. He told me about his family, and I told him about my work, and with patience and a bit of repetition, we managed a reasonable conversation. He got a bit lost as he reached the edge of the city but I didn’t mind because he was the first real Ecuadorian I had met and he was lovely.

I fell in love with Quito in an instant. It was that sudden. Driving down into a gully and seeing the buildings tower over us from the opposite hilltop, I was taken aback with just how undulating the place was. Full of hills itself, it is also surrounded by peaks and I was eager to get out and explore. The Trendy MariscalIt was a steep walk down from the hotel to La Mariscal, an area full of bars and restaurants and tourists. It was also the nearest stop for the city’s hop-on/hop-off bus tour which was going to be my mode of transport for the day. Driving round QuitoLike many large and long-standing cities, Quito is a mix of old and new, and it is a seemingly haphazard sprawl of highrises, parks, religious buildings and colonial buildings with hills jutting up behind it all.

 

 

 

Steep street on route to Plaza GrandeMy first port of call was Plaza Grande in the Old Town, or Centro Historico. The day was hot and sunny but I was determined to pound the streets of the region to soak up the atmosphere. Plaza GrandeBeing a Saturday, there were as many locals as tourists, mainly hombres or caballeros chewing the cud with their amigos on the park bench. Iglesia/Church on Plaza GrandeI slightly recoiled when one called me a gringa as I passed, unsure if it was meant as an insult or just a passing remark. Wandering around the Old TownComment aside, I never felt threatened or uneasy wandering around Quito, and I followed a recommended walking route round the surrounding streets admiring domineering and religious buildings and museums before pounding up the steep street to the gorgeous Basilica del Voto Nacional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basilica del Voto NacionalWe had passed it on the bus on the way to the Old Town, and no matter which angle you see it from, it is stunning. Inside the BasilicaI was desperate for water by this point, and having finally obtained some, I despaired at being a weakling and not being able to open the bottle. Stained glass windowsI geared myself up to asking a stranger in Spanish to help me out before finally prising it open. The clock towersIt was much needed, for not only is the chapel itself beautiful, the real reason to visit is to climb the many stairs up the towers. Beautiful BasilicaFirst one side, and then across the roof to the towers at the other end, the changing viewpoint of the surrounding city is more than worth the $2 entry fee, but for some people, the steep ladders may be a physical and mental challenge.Quito as viewed from the clocktower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quito Observatory at Parque La AlmedaWith the bus passing by each stop hourly, I had some time to kill, so continued on foot to Parque La Almeda which was packed full of people relaxing with their family and friends, and had a quaint little lake at the far end. Parque La AlmedaI was hungry but all the stalls were surrounded by crowds of people or didn’t look appetising so I pressed on and after a nice stroll, Beautiful BasilicaI headed back to the Basilica to jump back on the bus. The Virgin stands tall over QuitoFrom there we wound through the streets and up the hill to El Panecillo, a viewpoint with a giant sculpture of the Virgin who looked over the city. Quito to the SouthVisible from most of the city, she was huge up close. Quito to the northRound the corner, a collection of food stalls served various local foods and the city sprawled out below and to the side and up the neighbouring hillside. In fact, Quito appeared to disappear into the distance in every perceivable direction, but with a population of over 2.6 million people, it isn’t even the most populous city in Ecuador, with Guayaquil taking that crown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handily, the bus sits here for about half an hour to give time to soak up the view before moving on, and back down the hill, we motored through some tight streets and back through the Old Town before turning and hugging the western edge of the city below a large mountain, before cutting back into the city in the New Town and looping to Parque La Carolina where I jumped off. Cacti bed in the Botanic GardensSurrounded by malls and American food chains, it was a totally different side to the city, but the park itself was well used by the locals with families having picnics, and people playing sports on the various sport fields. Orchids in the Botanic GardensTwo thirds of the way down, a lake was filled with people pedalling boats, and next door was the compact Botanical Gardens which I opted to go for a wander round.

 

 

 

Sign in La MariscalBy now well into the afternoon, I caught the last circuit of the tour bus to take me back to La Mariscal where I enjoyed a relatively expensive meal at a tourist bar before heading back to my hotel to meet up with the people that I was heading to the Galapagos Islands with. Cotopaxi VolcanoWe headed back to La Mariscal in the darkness for a meal in another tourist restaurant before we headed off the next morning before sunrise for our early morning flight. By the time we reached Quito airport, the sunshine was spilling over the surrounding mountains, and the domineering structure of Cotopaxi volcano stood out against the blue sky with its white cap. Just a week later, Cotopaxi erupted.

Statue in the MaleconOn the banks of the expansive Rio Guayas, Guayaquil sits at just 4m above sea level and felt very different to Quito. Guayaquil on the river bankAn obligatory stop-over on my way home from the Galapagos Islands, I had just the evening to explore the country’s most populated city. Colourful suburb of GuayaquilThe airport is within easy reach of the city centre, so having checked in at my airport hotel, I was quick to jump in a taxi and head to the Malecon, a large, developed promenade that snakes along the bank of the river. With play areas, restaurants, shops, a cinema and much more, there was plenty to do here. GuayaquilI’d read about a bus tour of the city, and with time to kill till the night time tour, I plodded my way along and back most of the length of the malecon. By this point on my trip, I was keen to avoid tourist restaurants, and found the best place I could for local food, the last Ecuadorian meal I would have. Certainly, the staff seemed surprised when I walked in and spoke Spanish, and generally, despite Guayaquil being the main point to get to the Galapagos Islands, it seemed a lot less sure what to do with tourists. Granted, I didn’t venture far on foot outwith the malecon, but there was just a very different vibe to the place than I’d experienced with Quito, and I just couldn’t warm to the city very much.

 

 

 

 

Rotunda at the MaleconWhen finally the time came for the bus tour, my feeling was increased even more. The open top bus blasted loud and irritating music for the entire 1.5hr route. Repeatedly we had to duck low branches to avoid being knocked out by a tree, but most importantly, what was supposed to be a tour of the city’s sights, felt like an irritating drive round ‘Nowheresville’. I had been told about a few places worthy of a visit which I assumed the bus would go near, but instead it felt like we were being shown every mall and car showroom the city had. It even included the airport as a tourist site, and after just 20 mins I was desperate to get off. Finally, we found our way back to the malecon, and I happily disembarked and went in search of a taxi.

With so many places I could explore within reach of Quito, I would happily head back to Ecuador’s capital in a heartbeat, but Guayaquil was just not the city for me.

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Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands

I am fully aware of how lucky I am. I have been able to travel many times, and in different countries have had, with just a few exceptions, such thrilling experiences with the local flora and fauna. But in my opinion, there is nowhere in the world that can come close to the experience I have recently had in the Galapagos Islands. Magical. Surreal. Fantastic. Whatever adjective I choose, it cannot adequately sum up how the place makes me feel. After 5 weeks visiting 10 of the 17 islands (and the seas in between!), I saw so much wildlife that I just had to share some of my excitement.

MAMMALS (English)/MAMIFEROS (Spanish)

Sea Lion/Lobo Marino

Sea LionSea lion underwater

Humpback Whale/Jorobada

Humpback Whale mother and calf

Bottle-nosed Dolphins/Delfin Mular

Bottle-nosed dolphins

Killer Whale/Orca

Orca (fin tips just visible)

REPTILES/REPTILES

Galapagos Giant Tortoise/Galapago

Galapagos Tortoise

Pacific Green Turtle/Tortuga Marino del Pacifico

Marine Turtle

Marine Iguana/Iguana Marina

Marine Iguana

Galapagos Land Iguana/Iguana Terrestre de Galapagos

Land Iguana

Hybrid Iguana

Hybrid (Marine x Land) Iguana

Lava Lizard/Lagartija de Lava

Lava lizardLava LizardLava LizardLava Lizard

Gecko/Geco

Gecko

BIRDS/AVES

Blue-footed Booby/Piquero Patas Azules

Blue-footed Booby

Nazca Booby/Piquero de Nazca

Nazca Booby

Magnificent Frigatebird/Fragata Real

Magnificent Frigatebird (Female & Juvenile)Magnificent Frigatebird (Male)

Great Frigatebird/Fragata Comun

Great Frigatebird (Juvenile)Great Frigatebird (Male)

Galapagos Penguin/Pinguino de las Galapagos

Galapagos Penguin

Greater Flamingo/Flamenco

Flamingo

Lava Gull/Gaviota de Lava

Lava Gull

Red-billed Tropic Bird/Ave Tropical

Red-billed Tropic Bird

Swallow-tailed Gull/Gaviota de Cola Bifurcada

Swallow-tailed Gull

Brown Noddy Tern/Gaviotin Cabeza Blanca

Brown Noddy Tern

Smooth-billed Ani/Garrapatero Comun

Ani

Galapagos Shearwater/Pufino de Galapagos

Shearwater

Storm Petrel/Golondrina de Mar

Frigatebird (large) with Storm Petrel (small)

Semipalmated Plover/Chorlitejo

Plover

Whimbrel/Zarapito

Whimbrel

Sanderling/Playero Comun

Sanderling

Wandering Tattler/Errante

Wandering Tattler

Ruddy Turnstone/Vuelve Piedras

Turnstone

Great Blue Heron/Garza Morena

Great Blue Heron

Cattle Egret/Garza del Ganado Bueyera

Cattle Egret

Great Egret/Garza Blanca

Great Egret

Brown Pelican/Pelicano Cafe

Brown Pelican (Juvenile)Grey Heron (Adult)

Finches/Pinzon

Small Ground FinchLarge Ground FinchGalapagos FinchFinch

Yellow Warbler/Canario Maria

Yellow Warbler (Male)Yellow Warbler (Female)

Striated Heron/Garza de Lava

Striated heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron/Garza Nocturna

Night Heron

Galapagos Mockingbird/Cucuve de Galapagos

Mockingbird

White-cheeked Pintail/Patillo

White Cheeked Pintail (Female)

Common Gallinule/Gallinula

Common Gallinule

Black-necked Stilt/Tero Real

Black Necked Stilt

Galapagos Dove/Paloma de Galapagos

Dove

Galapagos Flycatcher/Papamoscas

Flycatcher

FISH/PECES

White-tipped Reef Shark/Tintorera

White-tipped Reef Shark

Stingray/Raya

Stingray

Spotted Eagle Ray/Raya Aguila

Spotted Eagle Ray

Blue-Chin Parrot Fish/Pez Loro de Barba Azul

Blue-Chin Parrotfish (Terminal Phase)Blue-Chinned Parrotfish (Initial Phase)

Streamer Hogfish/Vieja Ribeteada

Streamer Hogfish

Panamic Sergeant Major/Sargento Mayor

Sergeant Major

Damselfish/Damisela

Damselfish

Galapagos Grunt/Roncador de Galapagos

Galapagos Grunt

Razor Surgeonfish/Pez Chanco

Razor Surgeonfish

King Angelfish/Pez Bandera

King Angelfish

Bullseye Puffer/Botete Diana

Bullseye Puffer

INVERTEBRATES/INVERTEBRADOS

Galapagos Painted locust/Saltamontes de Galapagos

Painted Locust

Spot-winged Dragonfly/Chapulete

Dragonfly

Zig zag Spider/Aranha zig zag

Zig-Zag Spider

Sally Lightfoot Crab/Zayapa

Sally Lightfoot Crab

Fiddler Crab/Cangrejo Violinista

Fiddler Crab

Pencil Spined Sea Urchin/Erizo Punta de Lapiz

Sea Urchin

Chocolate Chip Sea Star/Estrella Chispas de Chocolate

Chocolate Chip Sea Star

Octopus/Pulpo

Octopus

Cockroach/Cucaracha

Cockroach on back

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