....has Sew What? been? I've been very far away!
At the Blow Hole rock formation on Espanola Island, Galapagos, Ecuador April 5-15, 2010.
I've crossed the equator at least 6 times since I last reported. Yes, I've been in South America, Ecuador to be exact, and from Quito, Ecuador, my brother and I went to the Galapagos Islands.
This was a trip that was many months in the planning. We first decided to go on the trip in April, 2009, paid our money to secure the room on the cruise ship in May, and have been slowly getting ready for our big adventure.
Since this was a first big international trip for both of us (not counting a trip to British Columbia about 11 years ago, and crossing the border to go to Tijuana once), we were both a little apprehensive. My misgivings were these: Would we get along in a Spanish speaking country without much usuable Spanish? Would the airplane actually get us to our destination without too much trouble? What about customs? What about passports? What about money? And would I be able to actually tour the islands because I'm old and somewhat out of shape?
So starting with the first question: Spanish--in Ecuador, there are many English speaking people. Since most of our interactions with local folks invovled the exchange of money, and they use American dollars in Ecuador, we somehow spoke the common language of American Dollars, so all retail transactions were rather easily accomplished. Lots of smiles, pointing, cuando???, holding up fingers to indicate how many dollars, and showing $20 bills got me what I wanted! Quito is a shopper's paradise, on one street, there was the entire street full of fabric vendors, cashmere, alpaca, bolts stacked to the ceilings, $3-$5 per yard! And I wasn't able to shop because we were on a tour with a time deadline! I swear I'm going back some day with two empty suitcases, and going to reap a bonanza of treasures to take home. I did OK as it was with the shawls, shirts, blouses, purses, leather goods, and carvings we found at an open-air market. I did so well, I had to buy a big bag--duffel bag size--to carry my treasures home. That extra 2" expansion on the new suitcase wasn't going to cut it! Anyway, the new suitcase left room for more treasures, once we got to the Galapagos. And I have nice cool souvenir from Ecuador.
Second question--about the airplane (I really hate flying): There was a potential disaster on the horizon when in Miami, they declared our airplane as unable to fly to Medellin, Colombia, as the reverse thrusters didn't work, and we would fly off the end of the runway if we tried landing in that plane. Glad they found out about that before we took off. But lucky for us, another plane was just sitting around ready to take its place, and we were only delayed by an hour, which they made up by fast flying. When we got to Medallin, we had to pick up our suitcases, go through customs, pick up our boarding pass, go through customs again and get on our airplane. Now, when we had gotten off the first plane, the second plane was parked right next to it, but it was a long journey of running up and down stairs to get on the next flight. Some very friendly Colombians at the airport kindly helped us, carried our suitcases up the steps for us, and helped us to negotiate all of this. So that part of the worry turned out OK.
Customs was not fun, but not terrible either. The longest wait and most frustrating customs experience was in Atlanta when we got back to the U.S. at 5 a.m and 300 people were waiting to go through customs. Then we had to get our suitcases, take them 50 feet to another place to check them in, and finally we were on our way home for the last leg of the journey. Oh, and to leave Ecuador, you have to pay $28.27, exact change desired--an airport tax, just to make sure you went home with very little cash left! Crazy!
Passports were not a problem, we have lots of stamps now. Money, no problem, except that I left quite a bit of it in Ecuador!
The physical aspects of the trip were challenging. We walked at least 2-3 hours every day, some days on some very rugged terrain. But it was definitely worth it, because we saw some of the most amazing sights you can imagine. I will post some of the most spectacular of my pictures in subsequent posts. The trade off was that we got to swim/snorkel at least once a day, and one day we got two opportunities to snorkel. We saw so much wildlife, it is hard to explain how much there was to see. The word UBIQUITOUS is the best adjective I can give for the amount of iguanas, crabs, birds, fish, penquins, sea lions, turtles. There is so much to see in Galapagos. It truly was a trip of a lifetime, and I'm glad I got to go on this adventure while I was still physically able to do it.
And, I'd go back in a minute!