An August 2001 trip
to Ecuador by Shannon Schiner
Quote: Ecuador and the Galpapagos were always on my list of places to visit. Now they are on my list of places to live.
My first impression of Quito was quite positive; it struck me as being fairly safe and clean. Jenny and Pablo dropped us at our hotel, the Fuente de Piedra Hostal II, centrally located in the heart of the busy tourist district. The rooms were small but clean and nicely decorated. Joan and I had the privilege of a balcony…that later proved to be an echo chamber for the hoards of early morning traffic commuting into the city. Richelle, Dick, Joan, and I spent the afternoon walking to the Indian market at the park down the street.
Shopping immediately began when we realized how cheap everything was…I left with a painting, hand painted wooden box, and tablecloth (all things that I did not need, but it was under $20). I believe Richelle purchased a mask…Dick and Joan may have left empty handed. The poverty level in the streets was disturbing to someone like me who has never really been faced with small children running up and begging for money, selling gumballs, or polishing shoes. Getting through the day without giving away handfuls of money proved to be a difficult task. I started buying gumballs for $1 each (even though they were priced at 10¢). There are still bags of gumballs in my luggage! Thinking back I cannot even remember so many children doing this in Mexico City or San Jose (CR).
After a nap we had a great Italian dinner at the Hotel Lafayette down the street. The next several days will prove to me just how valuable my Spanish lessons were…I hope to leave with more fluency than I arrived with.
When you look at Ecuador on a map it appears to be a very small country, so theoretically one would not think that it would take long to get from place to place. That is until one actually experiences the roads (often similar to the rutted wagon trails found in the 19th century N. American wild west) of the country. Leaving the main part of Quito by heading down a steep and narrow cobblestone street was charming. A few minutes later we drove past a long line of mountains/volcano, which Jenny nicely named for us. Among them was a glimpse of the famous Cotopaxi Volcano with its perfect snow capped peak looming above the others. Our first stop was Madre de Paramo, a statue marking the highest road point…she was covered in flowers left by locals believing by giving a gift they would have a safe journey. It was absolutely freezing and felt as though it might snow, so I took a fast picture of the statue and jumped back in the van. Soon the road turned into a muddy wreck and we witnessed the destruction caused by Texaco’s oil pipes, which have occasionally leaked contents into the pristine river below (one of those feeding into the Amazon). We also drove over a road that had been completely wiped out by a mudslide only a few weeks before.
After what seemed like an endless route filled with car swallowing mud holes, bumps, twists and turns, and frequent delays we made it to our lunch stop. We were early! To pass the time we walked around the small village. It was interesting to see the cemetery where people are not buried but instead placed in what looked like a locker. There was also a small school with Disney characters painted around the outside…even one very out of place painting of Goofy on skis!
Lunch was good, soup, trout, dessert, and bottled water. It was a clean restaurant that would be safe for all tourists, according to Jenny. Also it is the only safe restaurant for tourists within about a 2-hour radius! Next time I have to remember the difference between the trout here and the trout there…I don’t really like it when they serve the entire thing, including eyeballs.
With full stomachs and thirsts quenched we were back on the road for a few more hours of bumps and turns. Two hours later is when the necessity of bathrooms became obvious… public bathrooms are as rare as the spotting of an Andean Condor in the countryside of Ecuador. We quickly learned to go at every available opportunity, packing our own TP, and carrying bottles of hand sanitizer. Dick suggested that if someone wanted to make a fortune they would start up a chain selling water and toilet privileges! Actually it would probably be very successful!
We drove down a narrow dirt road through several small villages, all with volleyball courts, until we arrived at the edge of the Napo River. I jumped out of the car and ran into the banana trees (because I wasn’t fully aware of the lack of public restrooms until this point) while everyone else checked out the dugout canoes. Guinea Pig is a delicacy in Ecuador, called “Cuy” by the locals, and these locals must have been raising a crop for some feast. I gladly left the small creatures behind and loaded my bags into the primitive looking dugout canoe, with a Johnson outboard motor on the back. We motored up the river about 10 minutes when Casa del Suizo came into view…a gorgeous lodge set in the middle of the jungle.
Thankfully we settled into our rooms and changed into swimming suits. This lodge had a great swimming pool and tiki bar. Both of which were needed after a long day on the road! After a few beverages, a refreshing swim, and tasteful dinner I settled into a long conversation with Jenny and Andrés, the owner of the lodge. It turned out that Jenny was an ex-nun, she left the convent after 10 years, and Andrés detested organized religion in any form. I was more an observer than a participant! I was shocked to learn that Jenny, with her wild hair and many piercings, had been a nun for 10 years. Finally I retired for the night.
After breakfast we were introduced to our native Quichua guide, Telmo, who would be leading us on our forest hike and river exploration. He helped us pick out knee high rubber boots (very sexy) and then announced he probably wouldn’t be swimming with us because he didn’t have anything under his shorts (shocking). We were loaded along with lunches and inner tubes into the dugout canoe for a trip up the river. After disembarking on to the rocky bank we all put on our black rubber knee high boots. The group looked hysterical with shorts, white legs, and rubber boots. Telmo took us for a wonderfully muddy hike complete with steep hills! Along the way we heard birds and monkeys and saw trees that were over 400 years old and towered above the rest of the forest. He pointed out edible ants, which I sampled (tasted like lemon), and even cut umbrellas for us when it started to rain.
When we were finished hiking we were each given an inner tube and put into the river. Imagine my horror when I saw Telmo standing there in a t-shirt and no shorts (I didn’t look too closely, but Richelle assured me that he was wearing underwear…if he was I don’t know where he found them since earlier in the day he claimed not to have any on). The river was thankfully much warmer than it looked! I even forgot about the resident anacondas (who only consume small people and pets) and piranhas (Telmo assured us that only the "vegetarian type" live in the river) and enjoyed my float downstream. It was fantastic to silently drift under the protective canopy of the forest and past the quiet platform dwellings. The float came to an end on a small rocky beach and we enjoyed our delicious packed lunches.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent exploring more of the forest, touring a wildlife refuge, and visiting a local family. The refuge held a variety of native animals and it was great to see tapir, monkeys, parrots, sloths, capybaras, peccaries, ocelots, and many others. Volunteers who are desperately trying to educate the local people to conserve their habitat ran the refuge. Unfortunately it looks like they may be fighting a losing battle many of the animals’ pelts are worth more than the average Ecuadorian makes in a year! This is why it is very important not to buy any crafts made from feathers or fur. We returned to the comfort of the canoe for a ride to visit a local family.
Seeing the way the family lived was educational…it is a totally different standard of living than what we are accustomed to. The family unit is comprised of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and siblings. There seemed to be hundreds of kids running around with chickens and dogs mixed in for some variety. We were shown up the stairs and into the social room, which basically had a fire in the center and benches around the outside. The woman of the house demonstrated how to make the local fermented beverage by heating up yucca and mixing it with potato enzyme (historically fermented with spit enzyme, but the tourists wouldn’t drink the stuff). I tried to forget about my slight unsanitary surroundings, thought about tasting the ants (which weren’t too bad), and took a big swallow. It wasn’t the best thing I had tasted, but I managed to keep it down. Thankfully it settled enough to stay down when I saw her dump the remainder of the group beverage (we all drank out of one bowl) back into a bucket…I wondered how many others had left remnants of backwash (my number one pet peeve) before our bowl had been filled from the community bucket. I nearly lost everything from my stomach.
Next we were educated in the operation of a blowgun! It looked easy enough after Telmo hit the target that was swinging from a rope attached to a nearby tree. I took my turn and the dart flew way past the target, nearly stabbing a child and hitting a dog across the yard! The following turn I blew a little softer and just narrowly missed the target as it swung out of the way…oh well, at least nobody was injured. On the way out of the neighborhood the children managed to sell each of us a necklace made from beans, seeds, and bark.
The day had been packed full of new experiences, and new tastes! I was grateful for a margarita before dinner. The post dinner conversation ended early and I happily crawled into bed.
Leaving the serenity and comfort behind was difficult, but I think that we were all eager to see what was around the next corner. Turned out the next corner held an even worse section of road to anything that we had previously experienced. Shortly after leaving our first bathroom stop of the day (thankfully everyone went) we were on a narrow muddy road with a cliff on one side and giant ditch on the other. All of the sudden a bus came careening around a corner and Pablo was forced to steer into the ditch! He jumped out and took one look before telling us all to quickly and smoothly move to the left. We were teetering on the edge of falling into the giant ditch! Some men came in a big towtruck and offered to pull us out…which meant we had to evacuate our already precarious perches. Since the door to the van was on the right side we could not use it. This meant climbing out the window and on to Pablo (or into his arms, whichever way you wanted to look at it). “No Problema!” Laughing hysterically at my luck in Latin American vehicles (last year in Mexico I nearly went with a Suburban over a waterfall, in another exciting Latin driving experience) I managed to fit my rear out the window before collapsing on top of poor Pablo…who was probably expecting me to weigh substantially less. Richelle came next and I was able to get an action shot of her evacuation. Dick figured out the driver’s door was on the left side and he easily escaped, Joan went right after him. I am sure that all of the guys, who had gathered around to assess the damage, were laughing their heads off at Richelle and I climbing out the window…they were probably also thinking about how clever Pablo was to suggest his arms and the window instead of the door. They quickly pulled our van back up onto the mud slick road and we were back in action!
The next priority was lunch and we stopped at a cute little restaurant in Puyo, where they served us hot soup, pork, vegetables, and a baked apple. The rain continued to pour down while we ate. After stuffing ourselves we went to tour a factory that manufactured balsa wood souvenirs. When I think factory I automatically assume a large assembly line plant. This place basically consisted of a guy with a chainsaw in the basement surrounded by three other guys with witling knives carving out shapes, upstairs there were two more guys with wood burning tools surrounded by several more armed with paintbrushes and ridiculously bright finger-paint look-a-like stuff. The background music was salsa and the workers were hanging out chatting, whittling, burning, and painting. There were some dogs and kids running around. This turned into another fabulous shopping opportunity! I managed to buy a whole bunch of tacky bits of balsa wood that I did not need, but it was under $4! Back in the van…back on the road…next stop a hike to a waterfall!
Pablo announced “no problema” as we carefully drove along a road the width of the average N. American sidewalk that was approximately 1000 feet above the bottom of the valley. Perhaps this would have been a good place to look for the nests of rare cliff dwelling birds. We were basically hanging to the side of the cliff like some sort of mythical snakelike creature. Very scary road, but it apparently has never completely collapsed and I am sure the total absence of guardrails keeps drivers on their toes. I tried not to look down and I avoided thoughts of big buses that might be coming from the other direction. When I did brave a glimpse down the cliff I was rewarding with breathtaking views of the Rio Pastaza and steep mountainsides. We arrived at the parking area for the waterfall hike and I gratefully leapt from the van into the rain…thankful to be alive and ready to kiss the ground. There was a small store complete with public bathrooms (by the way, a key to travel in Ecuador is packing your own toliet tissue and hand sanitizer). Dick and Richelle made the intelligent decision to stay in the van with Pablo, someone must have told them it was straight down and back up (2km at about 8,500 feet). Joan and I eagerly hiked down the steep trail to view the “Devil’s Pan Waterfall”. It was really raging because of all of the rainwater; I was nearly knocked down by a spray that escaped just as I was trying to get out of the way of Joan’s picture. Soaked completely to the bone I started to race back to the van…Jenny and Joan walked, they did however pass me as I stopped to gasp for air! I forgot about running in high altitudes, it does tend to be a little harder to breath. I took some final pictures of the waterfall and view below and caught up to the other two. Many people were riding mountain bikes down to Baños from the waterfall. I wanted to join them; anything would have been less frightening to me than the van at this point.
Baños turned out to be a delightful town filled with shops, Internet cafes, Spanish schools, young people, and adventure tour operators. I really would have like to stay and check out some of the things that they were offering. It looked like a wonderful town to spend time exploring with a very comfortable feel. A few years ago I guess it was nearly lost to the Tungurahua Volcano, which its sits right below. The volcano was spewing ash and occasionally lava as late as July of 2000. At some point it could have a major eruption that would undoubtedly damage, if not completely destroy, Baños. The day’s driving had taken much longer than anticipated and we didn’t have much time to explore, everyone was eager to continue on to the hacienda for dinner and some much needed sleep.
More driving as it was approaching dark. We were able to see many of the local Indians in their normal/traditional clothing working in the fields. Some were leading heavily burdened donkeys down the roads and those not fortunate enough to own a donkey were carrying huge bundles of their crops on their backs. Daily life looked like so much work. Finally we arrived at Hacienda Andaluza! Thankfully it more than surpassed our expectations. The rooms were enormous and had really nice bathrooms with hot showers! Refreshed we met for dinner and were surprised to find that a local music group was playing traditional songs to entertain everyone. They served us their local drink, which tasted like a hot cinnamon tea, and we had a nice dinner. Dick was kind enough to provide us with a nice bottle of red wine from Chile. Pablo announced that even though it was “no problema” the roads had been worse on this day then he had ever seen them in the past!
The post dinner conversation was fairly mellow. Most of the guests retired to their rooms, a majority of them had come over the same roads that we had. Pablo and I opted for a game of billiards. It wasn’t too exciting so we traded to pool cues for ping-pong paddles. Ping-pong was much more challenging because the only ball owned by the hacienda was flat on one side! It was hysterical to be playing back and forth and out of the blue the ball would take a turn of its own and head down the hall! I went to bed after a few attempts at a game; Pablo may have stayed up to see if he could find a way to make the ball round again.
We consumed a simple, but filling breakfast, and resumed our positions in the van for the drive down to the Chimborazo Volcano. Thankfully the road was in decent condition for a majority of the way, only the last hour was on a dirt road. We visited the refuge located just below the peak, 20,697ft, of Chimborazo. Due to the equatorial bulge the top of the mountain is the highest point in the world from the center of the earth. While walking around at 17,417ft and despite my acclimatization to higher elevations and good level of physical fitness I did notice that breathing was tough. The mountain was impressive and I have made a vow to go back and climb it at some point in the near future. Unfortunately I could not stay at the base of the mountain and daydream for very long…we were on a schedule.
Riobamba, with its bustling streets and colorful buses, was the next quick stop on the agenda. Briefly we were able to get out and look at the church in the center of town and the beautiful fountain. My attention was once again drawn to the Indians in their colorful clothing; very functional, simply crafted and vibrantly toned. Jenny and Pablo hustled us back into the confines of the van so that we could return to Quito.
Shortly after heading up the Pan-American Highway the van began to have some major issues. We pulled over because the engine was overheating. Thankfully that morning the hacienda had packed lunches for us, each containing a bottle of water! As soon as the engine cooled down a bit Pablo opened the radiator cap and begin feeding the bottles of gourmet water into its seemingly bottomless depths. This did the trick and after eating was remained of our lunches we continued without incident all the way back to Quito.
Exhausted from the driving we consumed dinner and retired!
Stepping on to our jet was like stepping back in time to the 1970’s…the thing was ancient by aviation standards. Tame is the national airline of Ecuador and as with everything else in Ecuador it is just a little behind the times. I became exceedingly worried when the man in front of me started to cross himself while saying the hail mary in Spanish! Sitting there my stomach began to rumble and I was impatiently waiting for stewardesses with beehive hairdos to come out from behind the blue velvet curtains. Viva Tame! One thing that I failed was adapting to the very fast landings and takeoffs, I felt like I was flying with some sort of deranged teenage pilot whose most exciting part of the day was scaring the life out of his passengers. Apparently they have to fly this way due to the high altitude…perhaps one day a pilot can explain how this works to me. We flew from Quito to Guayaquil, picked up a few more passengers, and then headed over the Pacific to the Galapagos.
Baltra Airport is a charming and quaint open air shed! You leave the runway and go directly to the line where they take your money for the Galapagos entry fee, $100 in cash. We were met by our guide for the day, Oscar, and transferred on to buses. After 2 different bus rides and a ferry ride we finally arrived in the town of Puerto Ayora. Our bags were taken and transferred to the boat and we were loaded into a pick-up truck (the local taxi of choice) and packed off to the “Charles Darwin Research Station”.
The research station held tortoises, many exhibits on the geology, and explanations about the variety of wildlife we would see in the upcoming days. The station is also home to Lonesome George, the last of the Isla Pinta subspecies. They are attempting to breed and reintroduce a couple of sub-species and it is possible to observe the incubators and nurseries where the young tortoises are frolicking, well as much as tortoises can frolic. It is amazing to see them as eggs, hatchlings (about the size of a mouse), and 4-year olds ready to be released (about the size of one of my shoes). Hard to believe that in 100 years they grow to the size of a compact car. One thing that never seems to change is the speed at which they move forward.
After fully taking in all of the sites we mosied into town to look into a few shops and wait for the remainder of our group before boarding our yacht. We were starving, the airplane lunch just didn’t fill us up, and there was a cheerful Italian restaurant called “Happy Tummy” just calling our names. After the initial communication glitch, I was speaking Spanish and the waitress was speaking Italian, we managed to order a pizza. This was the best pizza of my entire life…topped off with a margarita…heaven. Stomachs full the time had come to make our way back to the docks. We made in time, but the remainder of the group had obviously experienced some difficulties and they were running behind schedule. Dick, Joan, Richelle, Oscar, and I decided the best thing to do was to watch the sun set with a cold beer at the nearby tiki bar. Eventually we were allowed to board the boat and shortly afterwards the remainder of the group made it back. The first night on board was spent over a delightful dinner, settling into our rooms, and meeting the crew. None of them spoke English, which made me happy because I knew that I would be forced to speak Spanish.
Prior to going to bed I made a complete inspection of the small yacht…I was pleased to find a sun-deck, dining room, spacious front deck, and open air bar! Our cabin was on the bottom deck and was definitely cozy. Very comfortable, but the shower was built for short people…Neither Joan or I are very tall and we just barely fit! Thankfully it looked like our schedule wouldn’t find us spending much time there.
Sleeping on the yacht took some serious adjustments. I quickly learned why my bunk had high wooden sides (actually it looked like a crib); we were tossed about all night as we crossed a strong current. Eventually I adapted and fell into a deep slumber, only to be rudely awoken a couple of hours later by a large rhythmic slamming noise. The closet door was agreeing that the waves were a bit much and every time we rolled it flew open and hit the wall located directly to the left of my head. Joan pulled off a magnificent engineering feet and tied it closed with a baggage tag and we finally slept through the night.
We had a filling breakfast, made by Francisco the chef who had introduced himself to us as the most important man on the ship! Walter, our naturalist guide, oversaw us putting life jackets on and then put us down the side of the yacht and into the 2 small waiting pangas (little shallow boats that hold 8-10 passengers). Milton and Polo navigated along the shore where we were able to watch penguins fishing and catch our first glimpse of sea lions. The panga ride ended at Isla Bartolomé where we took a hike on the red volcanic rock to the highest point on the island. The view towards the island of Santa Cruz was dramatic; including the bright red ground we were standing, the brilliant white beaches below, blue-green water, and the black volcanic lava flows of Santa Cruz.
Before lunch we had time to visit the white beaches on the other side of the islands (not that it was that far the island is only 1.2 km square). Walter took us to see the red-tip sharks swimming about 4 feet off of the shore on the north side of the island…he assured us that they were vegetarians and we carefully waded in for a closer inspection. We were led back to the beach on the south side to put on our snorkeling gear and see what we could find. Nothing could have prepared me for how cold the water would be. I was torn between curiosity and thoughts of hypothermia, curiosity won and I slowly made my way into the water. My face was freezing and my breathing was rapid because I think my body was having a minor problem with being dipped in ice water. I was hoping to have some penguins fly by or perhaps a vegetarian shark…instead I was greeted by brilliantly colored fish, starfish, and curious sea lions. The scenery more than made up for the cold and I could have stayed in the water exploring all day. Walter had other ideas.
Polo and Milton returned with the pangas and took us to Santa Cruz where we disembarked on to the hard forbidding rope-like lava. Walter took us on a hike over the lava and we learned that it was just over 100-years old, formed during a large eruption in the late 1800s. As the lava cooled it formed into shapes resembling ropes and cords. Walking over it reminded me of walking over miles of rolling, wrinkled, cloth. One small stumble would probably teach otherwise, this is definitely a very hard surface! Because of all of the air pockets within the rock it is extremely light, making it easy for anyone to pick up a boulder sized hunk. The downside to the fascinating black lava is the amazing heat that it absorbs. It didn’t take too long for us to be hot and ready to return to the cool comfort of the boat.
Once on board we set off for James Bay, a three-hour cruise to the other side of Santa Cruz. This was where I discovered the great joys brought by the bar on the back of the boat. I spent the three-hour cruise sipping cold drinks, listening to music, practicing my Spanish, and taking salsa lessons provided by Polo and William. Fabulous. The sun was setting, music was playing, the boat gently rolled as the island passed by, I was in paradise. At this point I started to think that perhaps I should just stay on the boat and not ever leave this place. I could make myself useful by teaching English to the crew.
Joan and I spent the after dinner hours teaching the crew new phrases from my Lonely Planet Latin America Phrasebook. Everything was going splendidly until they found the section about making friends and dating. We were nearly in hysterics as they tried out many of the lines in the book…hopefully they understood that those phrases are not appropriate to use on clients! Eventually we forced ourselves to go off to bed, with our new pupils saying “good-night beautiful ladies”. Yep, I definitely wanted to stay in the islands on the boat. No phone, no television, no worries.
The first thing we saw after leaving the pangas was three baby sea lions practicing their swimming skills. I really would love to have my own sea lion, they kind of remind my of Labrador retrievers with no legs. Happily and playfully swimming around, stopping every once and awhile to stare at us. They are definitely curious creatures. I have never been to a place that has animals with no fear and total acceptance of humans. It is probably because they have never been hunted, never been chased, and the islands truly belong to them…we were only visitors. The hike led us past hundreds (perhaps thousands) of sea lions, an enormous colony of marine iguanas, and to the home of the fur sea lions. Marine iguanas are a unique adaptation; they are excellent swimmers and survive by eating the various types of algae and seaweed found just off of shore. We saw one or two that had obviously gotten too close to a sea lion or perhaps a shark and their tails were partially missing…unfortunate since this is what propels them through the water. The fur sea lions were slightly smaller then their cousins and perhaps a bit more aware of our presence. I suppose that this is due to the fact that they were hunted in the past.
A circular trail led us back to the beach and we once again put on our snorkeling gear and cautiously headed into the water. It had not gotten any warmer! I was able to stand it for a bit, but the welcoming sun on the beach seemed much more inviting than the cold water. The fish were beautiful, but there wasn’t too much to look at and I thought that perhaps I would save my cold water snorkeling for another day. I headed back to the beach to soak up some warm sun and watch the guys above playing soccer…occasionally retrieving the ball as they kicked it down to the beach.
We left James Bay and made a lunchtime crossing to Rabida. The water was rough and on more than one occasion a plate, bowl, or glass was caught as it attempted to leap from the table to the floor. Thankfully we made it to Rabida unscathed, the next feat was attempting to drop the anchor. Apparently this is very difficult for the crew because it is a steep island and the shore really declines rapidly, they also said that there were severe currents that were making things tough. After awhile they managed to get everything straightened out and we were ushered back into the pangas. We took a walk, which led to a brackish lake and bachelor colony of sea lions and then the opposite side of the island. There were dramatic cliffs and we were standing on the steep cliffs watching turtles swim below.
There was a small beach and most people opted to go for a final snorkeling session. I decided to take a walk with Walter to look for more baby sea lions and to see the nesting pelicans. When we returned to our spot on the beach my shoes and backpack were being thoroughly investigated by three very curious sea lions. These are their islands so I had to wait until they were finished before I could go and retrieve my belongings.
Another delightful happy hour was awaiting our return…more salsa lessons with Polo, William, and Walter. The dictionary and phrase book came back out and the English lessons continued with most of the crew. Now I knew them all Moraceo the captian, Ramon the first mate, Polo and Milton the sailors, Carlos the engineer, Francisco the cook, Marco the assistant cook, and Walter the guide. Perhaps nine of the nicest people I have met in the tourism industry…patient too, anyone who would dare to teach me to salsa or allow me to practice my Spanish is nearly a saint.
This was our last night on the boat and a very sad night for me because I realized that once again I would be leaving friends behind…and the islands that I was growing very attached to. The great part about my business is being able to see so many amazing places and meeting wonderful people around the globe. The hard part is always feeling like I am saying goodbye and never knowing when I will be able to return.
Francisco had gone out of his way to prepare a farewell feast, complete with a cake. The crew had showered, shaved, and put on their best khakis and polo shirts. We stayed anchored while we stuffed ourselves. Afterwards we retreated to our reserved positions in the back on the boat and continued with our happy hour activities. When the tide came in we picked up the anchor and began to motor towards North Seymour. The current was strong and the boat began to really toss, dancing became nearly impossible because we kept getting thrown into the port side deck railing. Finally we gave up and Walter and Polo decided to show me the constellations.
One thing that I really miss about Wyoming is being able to lie on my back and look up at the stars. The sky is always so brilliant there because there are not many lights. We went to the top deck, where there were no lights and we could see everything in the night sky clearly. It was the best view of the stars that I have had since leaving Wyoming. They pointed out the various constellations and then showed me the phosphorescence in the water caused by the disruption of a certain type of algae. This was a magnificent way to spend my last night in what I thought was paradise. I didn’t want the night to end, but all good things must eventually come to a close.
Walter and I had one last good chat. He told me about his family and life in the Galápagos…it was sometimes hard for him because his schedule only allowed time for him to see his wife and two children about once a week. I asked him why he chose such type of work if it kept him away from home so much. First he told me that it was partially for him because he loved the nature and wildness of the islands and he wanted to help people understand and appreciate his home. Walter had gone to the university to get a degree in biology and he also had a passion for scuba diving. However these were not the only reasons, he then explained that not only had he chosen it but a few of the other guys on the boat had too because of similar situations. Making a living in Ecuador, and particularly in the Galápagos is very difficult, and health care and education are expensive. Walter wanted to make sure that his children would have good educations and proper medical care. The best way to earn a good wage is to work in the tourism industry and in the Galápagos that basically means the boats. Walter is lucky because he does have an education that enables him to guide, which is a very good paying job. Some of the other guys on the boats work really hard and do not make as much money, but they still consider themselves lucky to have good jobs that allow them to support their families.
The fine crew pulled up the anchor and we set off towards Baltra, a mere 30 minutes away. This was my final time on the boat and time to say farewell. I’m not so good at saying good-bye so I stood on the back of the boat with the crew, minus Moreceo because he was up in the captain’s chair, and joked around. All too soon it was time to leave and as I thanked everyone we all agreed to see each other again soon. As much as I would have loved to stay there I knew that it was not possible. Sadly I settled into the panga and looked towards shore, when I turned to look back the remaining crew members were all waving. Walter and Polo accompanied us to the airport and made sure that we made it to our flight. They were off to pick up the next week of guests and we were headed back to Quito.
Upon landing and gathering our luggage Jenny and our new driver, Luis, met us. Exhausted we were very happy to return to the hotel for showers, clean clothes, and dinner. At dinner Richelle announced that she would be returning to Miami the next morning. Unfortunately there were some immediate pending problems at the office that she needed to resolve.