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Travelling to remote and not so remote places



Quito – Close, but no cigar

After having spent almost two months at sea level I was quite excited about the prospect of travelling to an unknown city in the Andean mountains. Quito is beautifully surrounded by mountains, some of them exceed 4000m; the city itself is located just a few kilometres South of the equator at an altitude of over 2800m. Old Quito is a UNESCO world heritage site – all indicators that we should have fun. The arrival process, which in some places can be a pain in the backside (whoever arrived anywhere in India will know what I’m talking about), was super smooth: no taxi haggling, the car looked as if it was going to make the 40km into town, the driver spoke English well enough to have a conversation, the road into town was well built and devoid any potholes – it felt good. We rode through the narrow streets of old Quito towards our hostel – one beautiful colonial building after the next, the hostel was very nice – it felt excellent. Since we arrived late in the afternoon we didn’t have time to see much, but just settled and went towards the main square  (Plaza Grande) to the restaurant we’ve selected through the usual process of “lonely planetting” and being “trip advisored”. We were, of course, aware, that choosing a restaurant in the most touristic spot in the most touristic area, albeit recommended by fellow travellers, was risky business. But again, it started well: the place was located in a beautiful building (a former bandit’s a.k.a. Archbishop’s palace), the waiter was pleasant enough – so far so good.

Hasta La Vuelta Senor
The restaurant we’ve visited on our first night in Quito: Hasta la vuelta, Señor – the name is based on a horny priest, who used the church’s cross as his stepping stone to meet the girls. As the story goes, the big boss told him off and henceforth he’s been an asset to society (the priest). Didn’t happen with the priests that had a go at the little boys, lately, though.

Heck, I am rambling here, but I’m trying to figure out why a city, which has got everything going for it Continue reading “Quito – Close, but no cigar”

You say turtle, I say tortoise

For approximately 43 years I have lived a lie. My beloved childhood pet turtle Mohammed Moshe (M.M) wasn’t actually a turtle at all but a tortoise. I now stand corrected in the knowledge that a turtle lives in water and a tortoise on land. And Galapagos has an abundance of both kinds. It’s truly breathtaking how close you can actually come to the animals and how many you see in the wild.

Wild tortoise and the breadbaskets
A lonesome tortoise and the Breadbaskets in Urbina Bay, Isabela

A very large population of giant tortoises can be seen on Santa Cruz island. The ranch next to the El Chato Reserve got so fed up with the tortoises breaking down the cattle fences on their strolls, that they finally gave up and are now letting the tortoises roam around freely on the grounds. Naturally, what they lost in cattle breeding, they won in tourist contributions!

Continue reading “You say turtle, I say tortoise”

The Enchanted Islands

The Galapagos Islands were on top of Anna’s and my list when it came to planning this trip. We’ve stayed for two weeks with a five day cruise at the beginning and some free travelling at the end. The cruise was an interesting experience – we had the feeling that we were bringing down the average age on the boat by approximately 20 years (talk about stereotypes). That said, it was a marvellous experience with excellent, knowledgeable guides, some great snorkelling with sea lions, turtles, rays and sharks and a lot of excursions at places which we otherwise wouldn’t have reached. The whole archipelago is a national park with limited access for visitors, who are only allowed to visit designated locations and only in company of an official Galapagos tour guide (they call them naturalists there). Watch the little clip to get an impression of what we could experience.

Obviously, the individually perceived highlights varied: Molly loved the baby turtles, Max fell in love with surfing and Anna and I were awed by being able to see (strange) wildlife so close across the board. Despite a few hundred years of contact with human beings the local animals have managed to maintain their fearless approach to life – on one hand due to the fact that hardly any animal has natural predators in the area, on the other hand it seems that the numerous visitors, which have been streaming in over the past 10 years (estimated about 200,000/year), have managed to behave themselves. That leaves hope.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle…

Traveling South America and not going to the Amazonian rainforest felt like a no-go. Being on a budget but still wanting to avoid hoards of tourists, we decided to enter the Amazon basin in Ecuador and not the often preferred route through Brazil. The Napo Wildlife Center in Yasuni National Park offered a perfect family solution: comfortable eco-lodge owned by the Yasuni community, daily trips into the depth of the rainforest to ensure lots of wildlife spotting and respectful and knowledgable guides. Top Choice!

Tree canopy
Eco-tourism is a way to prevent the rainforest from being exploited – and destroyed – by the oil companies

Already on the first day we spotted a scary looking caiman in the lake on which the lodge was situated, as well as Giant River Otters looking for fish. The caimans looked peaceful enough but four years ago, when swimming in the lake was still allowed, a caiman attacked two guests. Although they both (miraculously) survived, the poor woman’s head had been stuck in the caiman’s jaws and she needed extensive surgery. Ouch!

The lake around the lodge has plenty of caimans, hence swimming is (now) forbidden.
Giant river otter
Giant River Otters are dangerous predators although feeding mostly on fish (and not little blond girls)

Early morning every day, we were taken by paddle boat along the black water creeks surrounding the lake. It was wonderfully calm and peaceful to float along slowly in the early morning light. Even the kids kept quiet to listen to the sounds of the rainforest!

Continue reading “In the jungle, the mighty jungle…”

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