Of course, no trip to the tropics is complete unless you eat the fantastic fruit available. I don't even know what these giant green things were, but they were very sweet.
Here's what they look like on the inside:
Quito had some great murals:
Ecuador is famous for its chocolate and the Republic del Cacao is an awesome (albeit pricey, $10/bar) place to taste different types of chocolate:
Since we're not big museum folks, we did an obligatory stop at the fancy cathedral (Basilica del Voto) with the gorgeous stained glass:
The next morning, we left Quito at 4:30am to catch an early flight to Baltra island in the Galapagos with our cruise group. There's wind turbines at the airport on Baltra!
Getting from Baltra airport to Puerto Ayora where the cruise boat depart is tricky so we went with the tour group. Interestingly, the buses were old Chinese buses. We first did a tour to see the Galapagos Tortoises at Reserva El Chato. The tortoises are huge; they're old; and they can live a year upside down without food or water (sounds awful to me, but pirates used to do this for food).
These are real shells. They are huge!
As we left the reserve, we saw a large male tortoise trying to mate with a tiny female tortoise. He walked really fast (for a tortoise) and finally caught her. If you can't see the video, you can go to: Galapagos Tortoises mating
We then went to the Darwin Research Station and saw more tortoises including these really cute 4 week olds:
Cactuses in the Galapagos look like trees:
The Galapagos has manzanillo trees. I remember similar trees in Grand Cayman. The fruit is poisonous, the bark and sap are irritants and if you take shelter under one of these trees in the rain, it'll 'burn' and blister your skin. Unfortunately, they look just like ordinary trees.
Then we boarded our super fancy (and super expensive) yacht - the Natural Paradise:
We had one super fancy deluxe room on the upper deck:
with its own balcony:
Here's Leo on the top sundeck:
They also had a jacuzzi which had warm (not hot) water in it. Still it was nice, because the Galapagos water is COLD! The Humboldt (El Nino) current comes up from the southern tip of South America. That's why there are penguins there. We had a champagne toast on the boat, met the rest of the passengers (16 of us), and motored to Genovesa Island overnight. The beauty of the cruise is that you travel overnight so you don't waste your days on boats and are sleeping during potentially rough open water crossings. Genovesa is one of the three 'highlights' of the Galapagos - the others being Espanola island and Isabela island.
At Genovesa we saw frigate birds (the males have red chests that they fill with air to attract females):
Here's a Nazca booby:
This is the red-footed booby:
We also saw a short-eared owl, but it was too far away to get a good picture. We had a nice dinghy ride in the bay and did some snorkeling. We had what I thought was a great lunch of ceviche. Then visited huge numbers of boobies and frigate birds and sea lions and Sally light foot crabs. The boys crashed out after:
I had felt pretty ill all afternoon and finally lost my cookies at dinner and was down with food poisoning for the next day. Pretty miserable to get sick off the lunch on a fancy cruise. Leo also got food poisoning from the ceviche, but it wasn't as bad.
That evening, the boat generator broke. The emergency lights went on in the rooms, making it difficult to sleep. There were no emergency lights in the bathrooms, making it difficult to be as sick as I was. Our second cabin was in the lower deck and had no operable windows, making it hard to sleep without air conditioning. So it was a miserable night, but in the morning, they got the generator going a little bit, just enough to make breakfast. By this time we were on Santiago island. We had a nice, cold snorkel. Some people saw a shark. I saw a blue footed booby dive into the water very deep, grab a fish and torpedo out of the water like a rocket. It was pretty cool.
Unfortunately, the boat generator broke again and they determined we'd have to stop the cruise and get the boat fixed back at the airport. Without power, there was no running water and you couldn't flush the toilets. This was a real problem for someone with food poisoning. We spent the rest of the day heading back to Baltra. I will note that I complained to the cruise company and they gave us a partial refund. There were some frigate birds who kept circling the boat. I was convinced someone on the upper deck must be feeding them because they kept slowing down when they reached the upper deck. Turns out they were perching on various parts of the boat:
We got to the Ikala Hotel late that evening. It's a really nice hotel although the shower had that warm (not hot) feeling of solar water heating and sure enough:
We had a fancy dinner - most of us got lobster which was spiny lobster (not like Maine lobster) but still tasty. They took the group to a forest hike very early the next morning. We had been scheduled to do a beach trip and see crabs and flamingos and so were a bit disappointed and skipped the forest hike to sleep in and recover from our illnesses. We had lunch in Puerto Ayora at a nice restaurant and Paul got either food poisoning from the fish soup or had some contaminated water in his drink. Either way, he got really sick for the next three days.
We boarded an afternoon ferry to Isabela Island. It was really just a speedboat with 35 people crammed into it. The open water crossing had some big swells. Leo got seasick and barfed his entire lunch, which was quite a lot. The 35 people all moved away from him.