February 18 - Quito
We left for the airport about 10:45 last night for a 1:30 am flight to Miami. The flight went off without a hitch so we were able to get some breakfast before our flight to Quito. Just as we were boarding, a storm passed over the airport and all activity was suspended until it moved on. The delay lasted only about 15 minutes and it looked like we would be able to take off on time. However, there had to be an inspection and a problem with the cargo door was discovered. Between having the door fixed and filling out the paperwork, we took off two hours later than scheduled.
We arrived about 4:00 pm (EST). The customs process at the Quito airport was quick and easy. We got a cab - you go to a counter, tell them where you want to go, pay there, they call for a driver who comes in and get your bags.
The drive into Quito was fast and furious - roundabouts, lots of merging with no apparent rules, curves, long winding descents and then ascents. There were flowering shrubs and pots of flowers everywhere.
Hostal de la Rabida is on a side street. The driver rang a bell at the gate and we were buzzed in and greeted by Carlos who took our bags and checked us in. We were given a letter outlining the amenities and procedures. As we were checking in, a couple came to the desk and asked for a cab. Carlos called a cab and told us it was not advisable to walk in Quito at night.
Our room, #2, is small but delightful, king sized bed, nightstands, wardrobe and a small bathroom (no toilet paper in the toilet) and a patio bordered by an enormous rhododendron and pots of geraniums. It is cool, becoming cloudy and dusk is upon us. The city noises burst off and on - sirens, cars, horns, and a dove flitting through the leaves of the tree.
February 19 - Quito
We both slept well and woke up to rain. According to Gloria, in reception, the last couple of days were beautiful. She told us that, unlike in the North, they don't forecast here and you never know what to expect weather-wise.
Giovanni, our guide for the day, picked us up about 8:30. The driver's name is Carlos. Giovanni is 50 years old and has worked as a guide for a long time, first on his own and now with Adventure Life, the company we booked our trip with. He gave us a lot of information about the city and country throughout our 5 hours with him.
Ecuador is currently a socialist country. President Rafael Correa, has a year left to his tenure (two 4-year terms) and is planning to extend his presidency as Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela. Under his administration, the new Quito airport was built and the roads in the rural areas were improved. Giovanni told us corruption has decreased. An internet search on Correa revealed he is a bit heavy-handed in terms of accepting freedom of expression.
Our first stop was the Museo de Sito Intinan which is at latitude 00 00' 00" ... on the equator!. Our guide there, Yvette, demonstrated how the centrifugal force of the Earth's rotation is negated at the equator, but is in play on either side and is more noticeable the further away from the equator you go. She demonstrated how water falls straight down on the equator, but swirls clockwise south of it and counterclockwise north of it. We stood on the red line designating the equator and closed our eyes with arms out and tried to not tip to one side or the other. Neither Doug nor I could balance an egg on a nail, though there were some people who had more patience and were able to do it. The museum also features displays of indigenous Ecuadoran cultures. The grounds had many beautiful plants, flowering shrubs and lots of birds flitting around.
Our next stop was the Basilica, or Rock Church, built in the 1800s, which resembles Notre Dame. It is massive and ornate and was built of volcanic rock from Pinchincha, the volcano which overlooks Quito.
Our next stop was the Old Town area and Grand Plaza, where we visited another church and took a brief walk around. We went up El Panecillo, but unfortunately the cloud cover obscured the view. We were able to get a sense of how the city looks and the surrounding area. The statue of the Winged Virgin dominates the hill.
Our last stop was the Mariscal Craft Market which has rows and rows of booths filled with souvenir items, jewelry, leather goods, Panama hats and more. Bargaining is the norm. If you show an interest in an item, the shopkeeper will tell you the cost and then lower it if you do not buy.
Giovanni and Carlos dropped us off about 1:30 and we took it easy, snacking in our room and later walking in the neighborhood.
We woke up at 4:15 to get ready for our 5:00 pick-up by Adventure Life. As it was too early for breakfast, the hotel staff boiled some eggs to take with us. Giovanni and Carlos arrived on schedule and took us to the airport and guided us through the lines, waving us off as we stood in line to get to our gate. The airport has a separate section just for travelers to Galapagos.
There was a short plane ride to Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city which is on the coast, where some passengers got off and others got on. After about 40 minutes we were in the air and headed to the islands. The approach to Baltra and the airport was exciting as we could see many members of the archipelago from the air. The terrain was very gray and dry with very little green. The cacti looked quite parched. The islands are experiencing a drought.
After retrieving our bags and paying the park fee, we met our guide, Angelika, and the rest of the passengers and were brought to the Tip Top III by dinghy. We went to our cabin, small and compact, but comfortable, unpacked and then went up on deck where many of us gathered and began to get to know each other. We are a diverse group in age, nationality and experience. There are 4 others from the States (one couple and two single women), two couples from Ottowa, a couple from Scotland, a couple from Switzerland, and a couple from Australia. Doug and I are the oldest with a few others close to our age. The youngest are in their upper 20s.
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(Music: Jazz Samba by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons "Attribution 3.0" http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/3.0/