We had a spectacular time in the Galapagos! We treated ourselves to an 8 day cruise around some of the more difficult to access islands, Isabela and Fernandina. After the cruise we stayed a few more days to island hop because we just could not get enough of the amazing wildlife encounters and beautiful scenery. Words would not do justice to what we saw, so we did our best to filter through our hundreds of photos (no easy task) to give you a visual representation of our Galapagos experience.
Had somebody told us prior to arrival in the Galapagos that not only is the water frigid cold on the Equator, but that we would also eagerly anticipate every opportunity to submerse ourselves in it, we would have called them a liar!
During our cruise we typically had 2 opportunities each day to plunge into the water and glimse the world beneath the waves. Despite the wetsuits we would quickly find ourselves blue-lipped and shivering, yet always reluctant to emerge at the end of each session. Unfortunatley we did not bring an underwater camera, but 2 shipmates were friendly enough to give us their photos to share with you. Thanks Matt and Mia!
We had a magnificent time in general, multitudes of fish of all shapes, sizes and colors, and lots of sea turtles and sea lions. There were 4 snorkel expeditions in particular that stand out:
1) This was the best snorkel trip of our lives!
It started with 15 minutes of watching 3 adorable Galapagos penguins zip and turn in the water 3 feet below us as they fished. It was a real documentary moment to just float in the water as these little birds showed off their underwater dexterity and even caught a few fish. As we moved on we were treated to the sight of a flightless cormorant swimming around below us, also sharing in the success and devouring a fish. As we followed him around we came upon a turtle having a meal of algae, but we were quickly distracted by a couple of playful sea lions who swam up to check us out. Apparently we were not particularly interesting because they quickly left us to go harass a small Galapagos bullhead shark on the sea floor nearby! It sounds more like a childrens story than real life!!
2) Another memorable trip was snorkeling in the water with over 20 sea turtles and some 30-odd marine iguanas. We came to understand that this was not such a common sight, based on the reaction of our guide (a galapagos native), who got super-excited and grabbed someones underwater camera to snap some shots. The iguanas were amazing to watch in the water and were surprisingly bouyant. Dale had a particularly close encounter as one iguana literally swam right into his face-mask. Not sure how to interpret this possibly amorous act...
3) Sea Lions!!! On nearly every snorkel trip we were greeted and inspected by friendly sea lions. They would swim right towards us until uncomfortably close, then make a sudden and graceful turn just as we would be bracing for impact. If we dove down into the water they would swim over and check us out, while showing off with twists and spins. But one snorkel in particular stood out for Bek as she encountered 2 young sea lion pups. These two got closer than any of the other sea lions, mere inches from her face, thus inspiring a bit of fear in addition to awe. But it did not stop there. These little guys needed to investigate this strange human creature and began to chase her flippers and grab them in their mouths to tug at them. It was a good five minutes of play time as these sea lions took turns chewing on the fins and trying to detach them from her feet. Had big, scary momma sea lion not come along to put an end to the play, Bek may not have returned to the boat preferring instead to live and play with these little pups.
4) And to top things off we decided to spend one day deep underwater on a scuba dive. For this we were rewarded with a view of 30 galapagos sharks lazily swimming above and at times next to and below us. It was an exceptional experience
The first time we have seen this, an aspiring doctor?
Yes he has to manually operate this sewing maching. Takes skill to operate the machine with one hand while holding seams together with the other.
Stingray jerkey anyone?
We really love the markets in South America. Anything you could ever want all in one crazy chaotic scene. Recently we strolled through a market and bought some fruit to snack on, a new pen for journaling, some hair clips for Bek, and some herbs to make tea, as well as getting our travel-worn bag sewn back together. And all of this was accomplished within a square block of stalls.We thought we would share some of our favorite scenes from the most recent market we visited.
A typical stall in the witchdoctor section of the market. Here's a fun challenge - can you find the Toucan beaks? How many armadillos can you spot?
For our last few days in Peru we opted to find some sunshine and relaxation. And amazingly, in the north of Peru it isn't cloudy/foggy all day long. The catch, we are so white and unaccustomed to the strong equatorial sun that we had to limit our sunbasking time to one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon. So to pass the rest of the day we lounged in hammocks, tasted the Peruvian rum and played cards, a tough life we know. Perhaps the highlight of our days, a ride in our beached boat, drinks in hand, as we enjoyed the beautiful sunsets. A great way to end a bit of a rollercoaster of a journey through Peru.
"When it rains, it ruins..."
We found ourselves quite dazed as we stumbling out of our overnight bus & hoist our backpacks for the umpteenth time in an unfamiliar town. Blinking in the harsh desert sunlight we look around trying to take account of our surroundings. This town went by the name of "Huanchaco". Never heard of it? Neither had we...
An entirely pleasant seaside town populated by just the right ratio of tourists to locals for it to retain some of its fishing village roots, while providing some level of comfort for our road-weathered souls. The coastal fog that had plagued us the entire length of the Peruvian coast was, unfortunately, still swirling about us. But we discovered that a few brief but brilliant hours of sunlight bathed the town in the late afternoon - just enough to satiate our pasty whiteness. We easily fell into a rhythm of morning tours and afternoon strolls, followed by sunset drinks overlooking the pier and watching the locals expertly negotiate the surf in their traditional reed fishing boats.
Just a dozen kilometers inland is the substantially-sized city of Trujillo, with a tranquil colonial-style plaza providing safe haven from the carnivorous mototaxis that prowl the surrounding streets in search of their next fare. The region is known for its pre-Colombian ruins, buried for centuries by sand, with brilliant discoveries being made every few years, to the point that our Lonely Planet 2007 Ed. was almost ridicuously out-of-date.
The archaeological sites we visited were from different cultures ranging from a couple thousand years BC to about 1500AD. Many have been decimated by century after century of water erosion wrought by El Nino, bringing at times devastating floods to this otherwise arid desert area. From a tourist perspective this often left us looking at unimpressive mounds of soil, albiet many dozens of feet high and likely hiding untold treasures.
The museums at each site showcased an outstanding range of artwork from each culture; pottery, gold and silver jewellry, copper weapons. No photography was allowed making it difficult to convey the enjoyment we derived from seeing said artwork.
Not a natural hill, ruins of a religious site
What was once a pyramid
Chan-Chan (Chimu culture) - The largest pre-Colombian city in South America covering some 20 sqkm and an estimated population of 30, 000. Only one complex within the city has been partially restored, the rest really is just mounds of soil with occasional walls still standing. But consider that the complex was surrounded by 50-60ft walls, with interior walls containing many hundreds of intricately carved patterns of fish, birds & mammals, realistic and geometric (think old-style atari computer games).
Whats left of an important 'tax collection' complex
Big Walls, amazing they are still standing hundreds of years later
Huacas del Sol y Luna (Moche culture) - Two temples consisting of millions of adobe bricks and built distinct phases, each new phase built atop the previous level. This resulted in a boon for archaelogoists, preserving amazing multicolored murals. But also an interesting quandry - how to investigate new levels without destroying the outer shell.
Sipan (Moche Culture) - This site was made famous by the discovery of a mummy - the 'Lord of Sipan' - in a grave untouched by thieves and filled with treasure, evidently left there to assist the old chap with his transition into the afterlife.
El Brujo (Moche) - Discovered only recently, the 'Señora de Cao' could be described as South America's answer to Cleopatra. Judging by the elaborateness of her burial, this lady was evidently of the highest rank.
This mural was repeated through many of the areas of the Huaca
Representation of a half-man, half-spider god.
A small section of a huge facade priests on the top level, warriors on the bottom
You can see where they filled in with bricks to create a platform for the new structure on top of the old
As discovered, not restored!!
Complex mural they are still working to understand
The representation of their god
Excavation in progress
The outside of the pyramid, absolutely stunning and hundreds of years old! The missing bit in the center is from where the graverobbers broke in.
Each decorated level is about 10 feet high. How impressive would this have been hundreds of years ago! There are 2 or 3 layers that were destroyed/eroded away on top of what you can see.