A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

Ecuador: Amazon: Scariest Halloween Ever!!

October 31, 2011

sunny 90 °F

Ruby was up bright and early today recording the sounds of the Amazon and taking a few pics around the lodge. One of the large trees around the lodge had several long Oropendola bird nests hanging off of it. You can easily identify them because they’re blackbirds with yellow tail feathers. They make the coolest sounds and I hope you can hear them on one of Ruby’s recordings. After breakfast Ruby went back to the room to pick up some things before we left for the day. . .from across the lodge Tony hears “Babe!. . . I think there’s a tarantula in our room!!”. Ruby thought she had seen something big and black crawl just next to the bathroom door when she walked in. Not wanting to take a closer look she had stepped outside to call the boys over. Of course, Tony grabbed Diego and they came running back to our room with a flashlight. Diego turned our room inside out and upside down looking for the spider, but since Ruby had stepped out. . it disappeared! Diego said that she probably imagined it because they would have found it by now, besides that, there was a dark spot on the floor where the fibers on the mat were fraying. . . which could have been mistaken for a hairy spider in the dark. So we all chalked it up to Ruby’s overactive imagination :)

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We boarded the boat and said goodbye to our new German friends and took off up river to do a little canoeing, fishing and bird watching. After about an hour on the motorized canoe we were dropped off at a small river and started paddling in our 3 person canoe. The water levels were much lower because it’s the dry season so the only way to get to the little lagoon was to paddle, push, and pull our canoe down this beautiful narrow stream. We could hardly see into forest beyond one to two rows of trees because the canopy is so thick. It was amazing to see (but hard to photograph) all the birds flying over head. Some of our favorites were a beautiful woodpecker and an Amazon kingfisher that was flying tantalizingly just out of reach of our camera. At one point Diego told us to stop paddling and said “shh, listen, the macaws are coming”. We sat quietly staring up at the sky. . . sure enough about 30 seconds later we saw three gorgeous blue and yellow macaws flying overhead making their characteristic calls.

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As we got further down the little river we decided to stop in a narrow channel to try give piranha fishing a try. Found a nice spot in the shade to park our little canoe and Diego left us alone with a cup full of raw meat and two sticks with lines and hooks on them and told us to catch something! Both of us were pretty scared to actually catch a piranha for fear of their sharp teeth taking a chunk out of one of our fingers! Once we put some raw meat on the line it was only seconds before Tony had his first catch. A BIG piranha. We took this opportunity to take a closer look at its teeth before letting him go back in the water. Meanwhile, Ruby was basically feeding the piranhas for at least the first 5 tries. You have to be quick and pull up the line as soon as you feel them chomping because they’ll take the meat off in a matter of seconds. Once she got the hang of it, she caught one and nearly took Tony’s eye out trying to pull it out of the water! Of course, everything is sustainable here so we did catch and release. We hadn’t seen another soul since we left our lodge this morning it was a little eerie being out alone.

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After this little adventure we finally paddled our way into the little lagoon and there was still not another person in sight. We could see lots of different birds resting on the branches of the trees in this sunken forest. The trees themselves were gorgeous, covered with gnarly branches, orchids, and bromeliads. Diego said that this is the perfect time of the year to find a giant anaconda curled up in the tree branches but Ruby is really glad that we didn’t! Which means that the anacondas were all swimming in the water below us! Diego loves to fish and actually caught 2 peacock bass at the same time, hooked on the same lure! Pretty cool!

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The sun was really high overhead so we found a deserted little islet where Diego set up a hammock. We took a nap for a couple of hours and ate some lunch before getting back on the water. We were just lazily paddling along the center of the lagoon when we felt something large underneath our canoe; it rattled the bottom of the boat and made some big splashes in the water. We looked back and saw three or four large muddy brown bubbles in the water behind us. We’d like to think it was one of the Amazonian manatees which are very rare to see because they’re black in color but we’ll never know for sure. . .

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As we paddled closer to the shore we could hear Hoatzin aka stinky turkey birds making their distinctive calls and we were finally able to take a picture of this silly bird with its Mohawk and blue face. BTW, you wouldn’t want to eat these for Thanksgiving, apparently they taste as disgusting as they smell! Diego stopped the boat near the shore to see if we could find some Caimans in the shallow water . . . we didn’t see any of those but did find some large animal droppings on the water’s edge. Diego wasn’t sure what animal it was from but he said we could go look for the animal. It was eerie as we followed him into the uncut rainforest, it got darker right away without the sunlight and there was no trail to follow. We went in deeper about 10 minutes with Diego marking our path using his machete to carve a small mark into the tree bark. We did not have any luck finding the animal but we did find fresh tracks in the mud. It was a tapir! This is a really large animal that kind of looks like a pig and has 3 toes. Ruby had really wanted to see a tapir but it seems we missed it by just minutes and this would be as close as we would get on this trip.

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It was getting later in the day when we finally started to paddle back to where Milo our boat driver would pick us up. It was quite a long ways since we spent most of the day getting all the way out here and still. . no other people! We paddled quickly because we didn’t want to be alone out here when the sun went down. Along the way a troop of at least 30 squirrel monkeys (third species we saw here) crossing us overhead in the trees so we took a few quick pictures before paddling along. We finally made it to the meeting point where we hopped into the motorized canoe.... thank goodness! Our arms were sore from all that paddling! When we approached the big lagoon Diego and Milo asked us if we wanted to paddle in the big lagoon alone. We don’t know what we were thinking . . . we were tired, didn’t have life vests on and had hardly any experience with paddling outside of today but we said—SURE! Let’s just say it was creepy being all alone out there as the sun was setting. We just tried to enjoy the gorgeous view and put all the thoughts of the 15 foot caimans and other creatures in the water below us out of our mind :)

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Just as the sun finally went down, they came to pick us up and we transferred back into the other motorized canoe to head back to the lodge. Once we got to the dock, Ruby immediately noticed a big purple tarantula with orange foot pads crawling on the post to her right. She said “see, I can tell you what a spider looks like” . . . this did not bode well what was to come. We went back to our room and as Tony walked in he said “yeah, I see how you could have thought that spot on the floor was a spider this morning” . . . and then he turned on the light and sure enough, there was a very large spider in the exact spot that Ruby said it was this morning. Ruby ran outside and called out for Diego to come and this time Tony didn’t take his eyes off of that thing! Diego came in and said it was a Wolf Spider which can give a poisonous and really painful bite. Diego surprised us by taking off his shoe and killing the spider. We thought he was just going to carry it outside but he said he’s been bitten a few times and didn’t want to risk it.

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After dinner we decided to go on another night walk . . . as if we hadn’t had enough! It felt like we were in a scary movie as we walked with our flashlights to the forest behind the lodge. It was very dark and foggy outside and it must have been our day to see spiders because we saw another tarantula on a banana tree in the back of the lodge. Diego told us that female tarantulas find a place to live and just stay there their whole lives. So it’s easy for the guides to point them out because they are always in the same place. We walked for about 15 minutes checking out different insects and listening for the sounds of animals rustling in the trees before we deciding to call it a night. On our way back to the room Ruby spotted the coolest bug on the walkway. It's a bush cricket (cyclopetra speculata) that looks EXACTLY like a leaf---veins with brown spots and all! We went back to our spider-free room and tucked the mosquito net tight before feeling safe enough to fall asleep that night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 14:22 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador: Amazon: A Witch Doctor with Limon Ants on Yucca

October 30, 2011

sunny 90 °F

Buzzing, humming, screeching, and whistling were just some of the sounds that we awoke to in the morning. Ruby liked it so much she recorded the sounds to take home with her on her iPhone! We had a yummy breakfast and relaxed on a hammock before our group of four headed out further down the river. About an hour down the river we stopped when Diego spotted the tiniest monkeys in the Amazon—pygmy marmosets. We have no idea how he found them because they are smaller than the palm of our hand and the trees are so thick. We could see them climbing up and down liana vines, they were just adorable to watch.

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Afterwards we stopped at a clearing and Diego looked back and asked if we’d like to hike or take the canoe to the nearest village . . . of course we decided to hike. Little did we know that we were signing up for a 3+ hour hike through the primary rainforest guided by just a tiny cereal box compass! Upon entering the jungle Diego picked some garlic plant leaves and told us to stuff them in our pockets—we all smelled like a bad Italian restaurant but at least it warded off bugs! It was extremely hot and humid . . . Ruby was ever so grateful when Diego made her and Heidi fans out of palm leaves. The hike was great, and along the way Diego pointed out multiple plants and insects. We saw the most pretty mushrooms and flowers as we walked along.

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Every time Diego cut a stick we knew he was about to coax a large insect out of its hidey hole. The largest and one of our favorites was a large hairy maroon and black tarantula. We also got to try lemon ants—which, yes, really do taste like lemon and yes, we really did eat them (don’t get any ideas today is definitely not getting a FOODIE ALERT and this is one dish we’re not making back home). They live inside pods of a plant that kills off other plants/trees in the surrounding area. You can find these trees with the ant pods by looking for a clearing in the trees. Some other highlights included a species of plant with leaves that have very fine hairs on the underside that stick to you like glue, Diego decided to make a creative bathing suit out of his. We also saw lots of caterpillars crawling around on trees and leaves.

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As a gift for the village, Diego worked hard to make two “graters” out of the Grater palm tree roots; these were fierce looking weapons with spikes all over them. Tony decided to test his out right away on another tree trunk—only to remove many of the spikes to Diego’s dismay. As we continued our walk we passed multiple Kapok trees which are the giant trees of the Amazon. They are so big that the roots can be as long as 3km in order to reach a river?! In one of the much smaller trees we saw a bird's nest with two tiny eggs but the mommy bird flew away. We started to worry about getting lost when Diego showed us how to make a “map” using a leaf. He showed us how to fold the leaf and bite in a certain pattern to create the map. As you can tell by the pictures---NONE of us were any good at following his directions since our maps all looked completely different! I don’t think the maps would be very useful!

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Towards the end of the hike we could hear dogs and knew that we were getting closer to the village of Puerto Bolivar. Upon arriving we were greeted with a yummy lunch before they put Tony to work in the fields. We followed one of the villagers to the garden to collect yucca for making bread. Thankfully Tony’s been working out because he helped pull a huge yucca root out of the ground with his bare hands. We went to an outdoor stove where we watched our host painstakingly clean, grind, and pack this into a bamboo strainer with Ruby’s help to squeeze all the water out. Well, it looks like if this doctor thing doesn’t work out. . . she’s got a backup plan squeezing water out of yucca mush in the Amazon! Our host then sifted and baked the yucca flour into bread. It was really tasty and with a little guava marmalade it was the perfect afternoon snack.

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We then walked across town to meet the local Siona tribe shaman. He was adorned in everything from an elaborate crown made of colorful toucan feathers and necklaces made from the teeth of a wild boar. The local medicine man told us about how he learned the art and taught us about the medicinal and psychoactive drink called “ayahuasca/yahe” they make out of liana vines to induce a trance like state---no we didn’t try it! :) The shaman asked for a volunteer to do a cleansing and diagnosis ritual and of course Ruby volunteered Tony for the job! She’s always trying to look after his health :) After a few minutes of chanting and hitting Tony on the back with a bush the shaman told Tony that he was healthy and clean. Luckily the shaman didn’t use the Ortega plant like they often do, otherwise Tony might be covered in urticaria aka hives. Tony told Ruby that she better not tell her friend Christel about this because she is so into alternative medicines that she may start a practice of hitting her friends with a plant and chanting in San Francisco! We thanked the shaman for allowing us to learn more about his culture and went to check out more of the village. Tony took this opportunity to take a little dip in the Amazonian waters—it was the perfect temperature and yes there are piranhas and other creatures in the water but we didn’t want to go back home without trying it out!

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Soon, we were on a relaxing boat ride home watching the sunset while heading back upriver. By the time we got back it was dark, we shared a beer while Ruby caught up on some reading. The darkness turned out to be the perfect time to go exploring for nocturnal creatures. We found some beautiful tree frogs and moths around the lodge. We were careful to avoid shining bright lights directly at them because it would irritate their sensitive eyes. Afterwards, we had a delicious dinner of baked tilapia, vegetables and you guessed it . . . yucca fries! In our room we both literally fell into bed face-forward from exhaustion and the long day.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:29 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador: Amazon: Bright Red Eyes Under a Bright Red Sky

October 29, 2011

sunny 88 °F

We were startled awake by an earthquake in Quito—as Californians, of course we tried to turn on the news to see what the rating was on the Richter scale. . . .until we realized that out of 100 channels on TV NONE had news on them, odd? Luckily it was a small quake that didn’t seem to cause any significant damage. We were a little worried since this tiny country of Ecuador is littered with volcanoes. Soon enough we were on our trek out to the Amazon, we stopped quickly to restock some essentials—(sunscreen and bug repellant) before being picked up, dropped off and even checked in at the airport in Quito. It was all so convenient—this must be what it’s like for rich people who travel :)

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Our flight was a bit delayed but once we got going it was only 30 minutes before we were dropped off into Lago Agrio. The town‘s real name is Nueva Loja but was renamed by Texaco when they setup camp and started destroying the rainforest in the 1960s. It's a little sad that you can see an oil pipeline running along the side of the road. Our driver greeted us at the small airport and we were off on a 2 hour drive to the entrance of the Cuyabeno Reserve. The road was well-paved and got more and more beautiful the further from the city we got. On the way we saw this amazing tree with vines hanging off it. . .it completely reminded Ruby of the tree in the movie of Avatar—we wonder if this is where they got their inspiration. At long last we arrived at a bridge and paid our fee to enter the reserve—a mere $2.00 each . . . a small price to pay for what we were just about to experience.

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Our guide Diego and boat driver Milo met us at the entrance and loaded our 25 foot motorized canoe with supplies for our stay. The minute we started moving we knew that we not anywhere near home. The river is the only way in and out of the reserve and these were the last roads we we be seeing for a while. We were immediately greeted by lush greenery of all types, trees with hanging vines and bromeliads galore. On the way to our lodge we zigzagged around downed trees and gnarly shallow roots as we made our way along the river. The lodge is located 35km or about another 2 hour boat ride down the river (under ideal conditions). We didn’t see any people but along the way Diego pointed out some yellow-handed Titi monkeys and a black and red colored river snake swimming in the water in front of us. Both of which were unfortunately too fast to capture on film (our trigger finger was a little slow after all the fearless animals in the Galapagos)!

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When we got to the lodge we opted for the trip to “La Laguna Grande” aka the big lagoon instead of resting before dinner-- this was just surreal. The black water of the river and lagoon was like a gigantic mirror reflecting the gorgeous blue sky. It was here that we experienced one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sunsets ever, surrounded by a sunken forest of trees. We waited until the sky changed from blue to orange to red and finally black before we turned on our flashlights in search of caimans. Before that, the only light was the glow from some lightning bugs and the thinnest sliver of a new moon. We could hear the fish bats whizzing around us on the water while we quietly paddled along the water’s edge looking for the glowing red eyes of caiman. Luckily the largest caiman we approached was a baby- we were thankful that we didn’t find her mother who could be over 15 feet long. On the way back Diego tried to get cell phone reception by climbing up a tree but had no luck. We weren’t surprised given how remote this location was and the fact ours sometimes doesn’t even work in New York! After a simple dinner of spaghetti we fell asleep to the cacophony of insects and birds that were just outside our screened windows.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:51 Archived in Ecuador Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises Comments (0)

Galapagos: Santa Cruz: Sad Tortoises and Sad Goodbyes

October 28, 2011

sunny 88 °F

We woke up at 5:30am and hit snooze more than a few times, because we couldn’t believe it was already time to get up! We had a long day starting with a tour of the Charles Darwin Center and ending in Quito. The Charles Darwin Center is a breeding center much like the one we visited on Isabela but with much larger and older tortoises. That’s saying a lot because a tortoise can live to be over 170 years old! The main attraction is a one of a kind practically extinct tortoise named Lonesome George. He has been called the rarest creature in the world since he’s the last known of the Pinta Island Tortoises and they haven’t had any luck breeding him. It’s amazing being able to see him; this must be what it was like to look at the last Dodo bird. It was amazing but don’t feel bad if you can’t spot him in the photos, our guide even confused him with another tortoise for a minute but to be fair it was a long night and we were all a little hung over! You can recognize him because he’s the one that looks so lonesome.

One of the many amazing things about these islands and the plants and animals that live on them is that you really can see the adaptations from island to island. If you look at the shapes of the tortoises shells you can see what islands they are from. The open front and long legs allows the Saddleback Tortoise to eat higher vegetation, they are also a little smaller because the islands they live on have less vegetation. In the rich humid highlands lives the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, the largest species of tortoise that can grow up to 880 pounds and more than 5’ long! They have larger domed shells with short necks.

Our flight out was not for a few more hours so we decided that with this extra time we would rather stay in town, have some lunch and maybe make it up to the highlands. We said our sad goodbyes to the rest of the group and our guides but using our power of persuasion we talked a few of our friends including Mario and Estuardo into staying and sharing a taxi with us. Unfortunately we spent a little too much time walking around town and stopped to eat our favorite-- “ceviche de camarones” so we didn’t have time to go to the highlands. We’ll just have to leave that for next time! We all piled into one odd little taxi/pickup truck and took the hour long ride to the airport listening to cheesy love songs. For the next few days I think we were singing “I’m never gonna dance again, guilty feet have got no rhythm” :) It was great to meet everyone and I hope we get to hang out with some of them in New York!

We were very sad to leave this magical place but we’re sure that we'll be back. We boarded our flight and watched the islands disappear below us. Luckily we had more things to look forward to. The highlight of our flight to Quito was getting to see one of the most famous volcanoes in South America from the air: Cotopaxi. It’s pretty hard to miss with its beautiful snow-capped peak poking out above the clouds. We arrived into Quito and grabbed a taxi to Hotel Eugenia and immediately started planning our dinner in the city. Our hotel was perfect, it was beautiful and located in the Mariscal (hip, cool part of town) but just far enough away to avoid the noise of the clubs. We contacted Estuardo and Mario at their hotel and invited them to come have dinner with us at La Boca del Lobo. We had seen this place last year and Ruby had just read an article about it in a gastronomy magazine.

We met up with the “Mario Brothers” who had met up with “The Brazilians”: Fabio & Dayana by coincidence in La Mariscal. It was great! The restaurant was beautiful with glass walls so we could watch the craziness of “Dia de los Muertos” aka Halloween going on outside. We enjoyed a nice dinner, relaxing with a glass of wine, yummy stuffed mushrooms, and a fancy dessert that tasted a lot like Trix cereal! We all headed out to another bar for round 2 before calling it a night around 1:30am. We have another long day of travel tomorrow and it was the “Mario Bros” last night so we’re sure they partied it up well into the wee hours!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 06:40 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador:Galapagos:Floreana:Playful Peguinos Party with Pedro

October 27, 2011

sunny 86 °F

We were greeted today by several dolphins on our way to shore. One was a baby dolphin flapping his little tail awkwardly--so cute! I wish we could have gotten a good photo but they are so fast and by the time we would look one direction they would swim around us to the other side. It was an amazing experience even if we didn’t get the photos. On the island of Floreana is a small box called the Post Office. It’s a tradition on Floreana to leave a letter addressed to someone and the next sailor who happened to be sailing that way would deliver the letter for you. Unfortunately for us we didn’t see any from New York, but a lot of our friends got them including the boys that picked up two from California. Man are those people going to be surprised to see those letters show up at their door!

Our guide Pedro said that we would walk a little bit until we would arrive at the Lava Tunnel. On the boat they had told us that we would be doing some cave diving and if we had them bring a waterproof flash light. Unfortunately none of us had waterproof flashlights but if you go, bring any light you have! A headlamp will do just fine! It was pitch black inside the cave with an uneven walking surface and jagged rocky edges poking out every direction. Our group of 10 people only had two lights, one good one and one from a keychain that Ruby borrowed from a guy walking out. Tony did his best using the flash from the camera as a light and Ruby stayed close by our guide. With only two torches we all felt a little vulnerable and I think some of us were surprised that we made it out without any bumps to the head! At the end of the tunnel was a waist deep pool of fresh water—yes it was chilly.

We arrived back to the beach hot and ready to do some snorkeling. As we walked into the water Ruby stepped on a green sea urchin but lucky for her/us it wasn’t too painful and Tony easily took out the barbs. As we jumped in the water Ruby spotted two penguinos swimming just a few feet away. This was an amazing opportunity to swim with penguins and it sure helped Ruby get over the whole barbs in the foot thing. We swam with them for a few 100 feet and watched excitedly as they called out to each other (braying like donkeys) and zipping past us above and underwater. The island is great for snorkeling and had tons of gorgeous colorful fish, sting rays, and even some sea turtles but we didn’t see them because we were hanging out with PENGUINOS!

Back to ship for some rest and lunch before heading to Punta Comorant and what had to be the stinkiest flamingo pond ever—without flamingos! It was so smelly that we could hardly stand to look at it. We saw lots of indigenous plants but don’t remember most of the names. The end of our hike was a large cove –with you guessed it, beautiful white sand and crystal clear water. The water was teeming with sea turtles and sting rays which you could see swimming just feet away from shore (see video below or linked on our website). Sally Light-Foot crabs (which are extremely photogenic by the way) were crawling in the shallows. There were also several tracks in the sand from where sea turtles crawl into the bushes to lay their eggs.

We decided to do some laundry in preparation for the Amazon or as Ruby liked to call it “Lavenderia del Decko”. After our around the world trip washing clothes in a sink and hanging them to the top rail of a boat doesn’t seem that strange. Tony took a shower and had a few beers with the boys while Ruby laid out on the deck reading Bolognia (dermatology bible) and chatted with our new friends. We got to see another sea turtle swimming next to the ship before leaving Floreana. As usual we had another gorgeous sunset and did our best to capture it so we can look back and remember how fabulous this day really was!

Today was our last night aboard the ship and the cook made us a yummy dinner complete with farewell cocktails. This mixed with the wine we snuck on board and we were ready to party in town. The ship dropped anchor and most of the crew and almost all the passengers boarded the water taxi to shore. Our guide Pedro would be showing us around town and kept us out dancing until 1am! It was a total blast-- Pedro was doing the most amazing dated dance moves, from the 70s and 80s and maybe the future, needless to say he was getting DOWN! We arrived at the dock and told the water taxi to take us to our boat. He looked at us and asked where was it anchored? This is funny because it’s dark and all the boats in the harbor just look like lights. Lucky for us one of the guys in the taxi worked on our boat and pointed out our light!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:48 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador: Galapagos: Tony No Hablo Espanola

October 26, 2011

sunny 85 °F

Today we awoke to the Island of Espanola and the beautiful Gardner Bay outside our window. From the boat we could see that there were tons of sea lions on the beach! It was our first wet landing, meaning they get a few feet from the beach and everyone hops off the side of our inflatable raft. The water was clear and warm and the sand white and amazingly soft. We brought all our snorkeling gear but started with a walk on the beach.

As most of you know Ruby loves baby animals and for some reason every time she stopped to take a photo with/of a baby sea lion it would start waddling along after her on the beach. It was so funny to watch all the baby sea lions follow her like she was their mom. We kept exploring and just a few more steps down the beach we had the opportunity to watch the prettiest marine iguana munching on the grass on the rocks. It was like watching the Discovery Channel; iguana in the surf eating grass on a rock with sea lions playing in the background and sea turtles swimming by! :) We walked back down the beach to the rest of our group. Before we got back to the rest of the group we enjoyed watching the “beachmaster” patrol his territory. This is the largest male sea lion who has a harem of females on his section of the beach. We watched him swim up and down the beach barking out commands for all other males to stay away :) After that we started snorkeling around but you can see Ruby was nervous about the beachmaster. You definitely want to steer clear of him when you get in the water.

The visibility was not great in the shallow water but we did manage to see several sea turtles and sea lions. After being in the water for a few Tony decided to take a “shortcut” back to shore. It worked out perfect for him but for some reason Ruby kept stepping on every rock in the ocean! Tony was laughing so hard as he stood on soft sand and watched her stumble over the rocks. Needless to say, Ruby is the better navigator!

Back at the boat we had a quick snack and loaded up again to do some deep water snorkeling. They dropped us off next to a large rock with water around 15’-25’. The visibility was amazing and we got to see our first white tip shark, tons of fish, and of course more sea lions (the girls said Tony looked like a sea lion with all his playful moves and deep dives).

After lunch and a nice hot shower we sailed over to the other side of Espanola and arrived at Punta Saurez. It was a dry landing and as we climbed out on the rocks we were greeted by tons of sea lions and a few marine iguanas swimming back to shore! We stood on the beach watching them in amazement as the rest of our group started walking down the beach. When we caught back up with our group we were greeted by a few blue footed boobies and Nazca boobies nesting on the path. We also got to see an all-out “bar room brawl” between a pair of Nazca boobies and their mates. They were honking at each other and sticking their beaks down each other’s throats. It looked a bit painful too. I think we have video of this—we’ll post it on the website if we can find it :)

This must have been the island that the Bishop of Panama was talking about in 1535 when he wrote “birds so silly that they do not know how to flee, and many were caught in the hand”. It’s a good thing that it only had silly birds and not gold or King Carlos V may have destroyed it before we got to see it! This island is a major breading island for the waved albatross (large white birds with yellow beaks) and because of its steep cliffs one of the best places to see them takeoff. The waved albatross chicks are some of silliest looking baby birds around, they’re large with wispy brown feathers but Ruby still thought they were adorable.

Standing on the cliffs with a huge blowhole in the background we got to see them run off the cliff and float gracefully though the air. We also watched mocking birds and Galapagos hawks soaring high over head. Once again we got distracted by beautiful brown eyes of baby sea lions and noticed our group leaving us behind. Eventually Tony was able to pull Ruby away from the babies and catch back up with the group just as we were loading back on the boat.

When we arrived back to the boat there was a hitchhiker on the back resting—a sea lion sunning. As we started sailing off into the sunset (yes, literally) dolphins appeared at the front of the boat, jumping and doing tricks. This paired with a gorgeous sunset and cocktails with friends is a great way to leave the island. At night we could see a trail of sparkling green lights in the wake behind our boat—it turns out this was bioluminescent algae activated by the movement of our boat! We lay on chairs on the deck and watched the sky with our new friends Estuardo and Mario. The sky was absolutely like nothing we have ever seen before--you could hardly see black because we could see sooooo many stars! It was confusing to look for constellations because on the equator you can see both the Northern and Southern hemisphere stars. We were all lying watching the sky when Angel, our guide, came out and shined a flashlight in the water. Just then a dolphin came flipping out of the water. We got to see a few more dolphins around midnight before heading to bed! What an amazing day and night!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:19 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

Ecuador: Galapagos: Head North to Seymour Frigates

October 25, 2011

sunny 89 °F

Getting up at 5am is never a good way to start the day on vacation . . . but at least we saw a surprise Galapagos penguin swimming like a torpedo underwater to send us off. We took the earliest speed boat back (6am) to Santa Cruz Island to join our cruise. After the 2.5 hour speed boat ride and another 1 hour drive we arrived back to the Baltra airport. We meet up with some of our crew including our guide Angel. We all boarded a bus and took a short ride over to the dock to board our cruise ship.

We immediately had a good feeling about our fellow travelers and crew. Aboard the ship were two guides Angel and Pedro, Vicki the housekeeper, and Ricky the bartender. On the ship with us were 18 other passengers, including 3 other doctors. We met two guys from Northern California: Mario and Estuardo while waiting for our first panga ride, Estuardo was wearing a Macchu Picchu t-shirt which of course sparked a conversation. The “Mario brothers” as we like to call them were just as lucky as us and also got one of the two top cabins on the ship (on the sundeck level instead of below)! We all settled in and relaxed on the deck—Ruby caught up on some reading while Tony went to go take a nap. As usual, Ruby didn’t get much reading done because there were just too many great distractions. This time, within minutes of sitting down she saw a huge frigate bird fly inches past her! These birds have wingspans of about 6 feet so it was pretty hard to miss. She got up and got the coolest video (see below) of this bird coasting along next to the ship. We’ve never seen anything like that; you could reach out and touch this giant bird!

We coasted along until we could see North Seymour island, it looked beautiful as we approached with rocky cliffs amidst a bright blue ocean and throngs of birds overhead. This would be our first island stop. We were separated into two groups of 10 and hopped into our panga boat for our first island landing—this would be a dry one. Ruby was reminded of Cuban refugees as 12 of us all crammed into our little inflatable raft—of course in quite different circumstances. On land we encountered a rocky beach with tons of cute baby sea lions crawling over the rocks. This is a great time to come if you would like to see baby animals! Next came a yellow colored land iguana, stopping only to eat some plants and for a quick photo shoot with Tony.

A little further up the trail we came to the blue footed booby nesting area. We saw a blue footed booby baby that had a heart shaped design on its feathers when the wings were tucked back. It was really cute and we had to take a photo so you wouldn’t think we were just being cheesy in love! :)

As we continued walking around this small island we started seeing more and more frigate birds. They are amazing because the males blow up a large red sack in their throat and do a little call to attract a mate from up above in the sky. It’s just like when Ruby looked at Tony standing by the bar; these guys have something eye catching for that flyby! :) We took so many photos with these guys and had the opportunity to see them up close because some had nested right on the trail. On the way back we also got to see swallow tailed gulls with red color around eyes thought to absorb more light for hunt at night. We can’t believe all the things we’ve seen and it’s only day one of the cruse! We both watched a beautiful sunset while Ruby read her Bolognia chapters followed by a delicious dinner and drinks with our new friends. It had been a long day so we decided to call it an early night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:30 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador:Galapagos:Sierra Negra: Calderas and La Concha Perla

October 24, 2011

sunny 87 °F

After breakfast we packed our own lunch with the sandwich items the lodge had put out for us. We then loaded into our modified pickup truck/bus and drove down the one road to the volcano. The drive took about 45 minutes and it was surprisingly cold but we warmed up pretty quick on the walk. Along the way there was lots of evidence of previous volcanic eruptions in the form of hardened Pahoehoe lava flows. The last eruption of the Sierra Negra volcano was on Oct 22nd, 2005, looks like we were almost exactly 6 years too late to catch the action! Our group today was a young couple from Japan (who didn’t really speak English) and four other people from Spain (who also didn’t really speak English). We know right away that this wouldn’t be one of those times when we would make lifelong friends.

Back in New York we had been reading blogs about how hot and difficult the hike up would be. We were also told that the hike would take at least 6 hours. In reality, it only took us about 45 minutes to walk up a dusty trail and about 1 hour taking the long flat way down. As we climbed up we were able to look back and see many of the other islands out in the distance. The caldera of the volcano was amazing, it’s the 2nd largest in the world (and by the way yes we have been to the largest caldera, it's in Tanzania :) This one is 10 km at its widest diameter. Much of the caldera floor is covered by quite young lava flows which give it the black color you can see in photos. There is absolutely no vegetation which makes sense as it is still an active volcano with heat in the center. We walked along the ridgeline and Ruby had me take a few photos of her walking in the sunshine surrounded by greenery so she could be reminded of the feeling when we get back to the cold NYC winter weather. During the hike we did have time to observe some of the local vegetation and birds—some of our faves were a purple flower that sort of resembled lavender, one of Darwin's finches and a red-breasted male flycatcher bird.

After the hike we stopped at a small bar to eat our lunch. Tony sat in the sunshine and Ruby used this time to take a nap in a hammock. After relaxing for a few hours at the lodge we headed out to an area called “La Concha Perle”. We walked over a bridge while ducking under vines and branches of mangroves before arrived at a large natural lagoon. The water was pretty cold so we were happy to have our wetsuits on hand. Snorkeling around we weren’t seeing much until we found 4 marine tortoises . . . one of which was almost as large as Tony and definitely weighted more than him?! Wow, never seen anything quite like that. It was lovely swimming alongside and above them as they gracefully floated through the water. Afterwards we were quite happy to hit the beach and relax. We shared a few beers over delicious fresh “ceviche de camarones” while watching a group of Blue Footed Boobies dive into the water like missiles to catch fish. We can’t ever resist watching a good sunset so we sat on the beach until the sun disappeared. It’s not surprising that Ruby was so exhausted that she passed out in less than a minute after dinner that night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 06:49 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador: Galapagos: Isabela : Swimming with Sea Lions

October 23, 2011

sunny 88 °F

Today we officially felt like our vacation had started, we made it to our first destination! After breakfast we headed out on a small boat to Las Tintoreras, an islet only about 20 minutes away from Isabela. Right away we saw three penguins zipping around underwater followed by a sea turtle lazily passing us by in the boat. Our first blue footed booby was gorgeous and was sitting on a rock along the coast. These animals hardly seemed to notice us at all when we came close.

We made a dry landing, meaning onto a dock (or rocks), at Las Tintoreras and we were immediately greeted by a lava lizard and tons of baby marine iguanas basking in the sunshine. These guys all have some white stuff on top of their heads—it’s actually dried sea salt from their special salt excretion glands to get rid of the salt that builds up when they’re out diving in the ocean. They actually snort the salt out and it looks like they’re sneezing every now and again.

On the island there is a small channel with 50-100 white tip reef sharks slowly swimming along or laying on the bottom trying to get some sleep. It was really neat to see them right next to the marine iguanas and crabs. As we walked around we saw a sea lion doing his best imitation of a shark fin. We took a short boat ride out to a snorkel spot and as soon as the boat stopped we were greeted by three little sea lions. It was an amazing opportunity to swim with sea lions and one I don’t think we’ll ever forget. They were so playful! They would whizz around us in circles inquisitively checking out our responses with their beautiful brown eyes.

After lunch and a little hammock time we visited the tortoise breeding center. They keep the tortoises until the age of 5 when they are dropped out to their original sites in the volcanic highlands. Fun Fact: the center can control the sex of tortoises they breed by the temp they incubate the eggs. Ruby liked the faces of the tortoises and even went so far as to call them handsome. She thought they looked like old men. If you would like to see for yourself, you have some time because some live to be 200 years old.

We then boarded our modified pickup truck/bus and drove up to visit the Wall of Tears. This wall was built by prisoners in the 1940 and 50s as the start of a prison. It was never completed after a prison revolt in 1959 but many men died due to lack of fresh water and hard labor. We made a few quick stops at a lava tunnel, a lookout point to see the wetlands, and a large cactus species that was so big Tony couldn’t even put his hands around it.

After dinner we enjoyed a great sunset on the beach where we felt like we were the only two people on the island, very secluded feeling compared to Santa Cruz. This is the largest island and there is only about 3000 residents total. I think we have more than that in our building in New York! :) If this is what our first day on Galapagos is like we can’t wait to see what else is in store for us.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:16 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador: Galapagos Islands: Isabela: Destination Difficult

October 22, 2011

sunny 85 °F

After a long night and maybe a bad movie or two we arrived into Guayaquil, Ecuador. I don’t know what it is about South Americans but people always clap when the plane lands. When we travel we are always being reminded of our friends back home. This time it was a guy in front of us in the customs line with a City Year bag (Ruby’s sister Preety works for them). Normally we would have started up a conversation with this guy but his outfit was just so over the top that we were afraid of what he might say. He was fully clad in leather everything including a cowboy hat, sunglasses, and the brightest ostentatious red and black sneakers we’ve seen in a while. Sorry we didn’t take a photo but we were in customs and didn’t want to get arrested! We quickly grabbed our bags, ate a “desayuno ejectivo” and headed to our connecting gate to the Galapagos. The flight was about 2 hours to get to the islands 600 miles of the coast of Ecuador. From the air we couldn’t help but notice the color of the water—it was turquoise and crystal clear, not what we expected at all so that was a pleasant surprise! We landed onto the barren island of Baltra and quickly started the trek to get to Isabela. We took a bus to a ferry to a pickup truck just to get to the harbor. This totaled a little over an hour and by this time we were starved, luckily for us we ate lunch at La Isla Grill . . . who knew they would have such delicious BBQ pork chops? YUM!

Our next step was a long and painful speed boat ride. This was about 2.5 hrs of bouncing around and staring at the Pacific Ocean. Tony got sick and puked off the back of the boat! Gosh, we sure hope Isabela is going to be worth all this trouble! It was low tide when we arrived so we had to be ferried in on smaller “panga” boats. We quickly knew we had made the right decision because we saw a huge spotted stingray and sea lions swimming around the panga boat. Our guide met us and quickly ushered us to get to the flamingo pond before sunset. As luck would have it, those flying flamingos continue to be elusive. Finally, after a long day of travel we arrived at our hotel San Vicente. . . the hot showers felt amazing and we were definitely ready for dinner. We met some fellow travelers including Sylvan from Switzerland and enjoyed some classic Ecuadorian soup and cuisine before passing out.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:11 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

USA: New York: Happy Birthday Ruby

October 21, 2011

semi-overcast 70 °F

Today was Ruby’s birthday and we spent most of it at work! :( We could tell you all about how New York drivers suck and how crazy people are on the East coast but we’re trying to keep this blog short. We celebrated with an amazing dinner at Terri and John’s house, complete with some delicious Italian food, chocolate cake, and a bottle of vino! Tony’s family even got online with us on Skype to sing Happy Birthday. . It was just perfect! The gorgeous scarf that Terri got Ruby for her birthday was wrapped so beautifully that Ruby almost didn’t want to unwrap it.

The spoiling continued with a personal sendoff to JFK. Upon arriving we realized that Ecuador starts at the gate! No matter where we travel we always notice that the country starts at the airport. South America is known for impatient people and who don’t like to form lines, so it came as no surprise when we got to the airport and it was sheer chaos at the ticket counter and gate!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:49 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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