Thursday, July 13, 2017

Day 9 (1 July 2017) – Guayaquil, Ecuador to OKC - Adventures by Disney Ecuador and Galapagos Islands Tour (23 Jun – 2 July 2017)

For the first time in over a week since we started our Adventure, we slept in a bit this morning.  We didn't really have any plans and our flight didn't leave until almost 11 pm.  I spent part of the morning working on my blog and researching things to do in Guayaquil.  When Seth and Rhys finally got up, we decided to just have some lunch at the hotel before heading out to do a little sightseeing.  We got packed up, left our suitcases with the bell desk, and went to the hotel cafe where we just had the buffet which featured a lot of traditional Ecuadorian food including empanadas, fried fish, fried plantains, ceviche, etc.  It was quite good but very expensive - the buffet lunch for the 3 of us was over $100.

I had looked it up online and decided that we could climb the 300+ Las Penas steps up the Santa Ana hill then walk the Malecon to the iguana park.  It was all within a few miles of each other so we took a taxi from the hotel to Las Penas. 

A word about the taxis in Guayaquil.  I had also looked into whether Uber was a better option but reviews said that taxis were plentiful and inexpensive which turned out to be very true.  We never paid more than $4-5 for each trip we made.

It took us a little bit to find the steps - we actually went up one way and came down the actual steps.  This part of Guayaquil was really neat - little public areas everywhere.  

We climbed to the top of the hill where there was a light house and a church.  We climbed some more up to the top of the lighthouse - the view was pretty cool.

On the way down the actual steps, we could see that they were numbered.  We also went by a local who was selling crabs out of a bag.  I just had to find out how much the crabs were so I asked another local how much he was selling them for.  They were 5 crabs for $1!! I couldn't believe it.

I wasn't quite sure what the Malecon was - I thought it was a big shopping center but now in retrospect, I think it was just the big public area or "mall" that went right along the river.  It was a nice walk.

We soon got to the iguana park - there were so many of them everywhere and they let us get pretty close to them. People were feeding them banana peels and lettuce.  They were a lot like the lava lizards in that when they got upset or mad, they started doing "push ups".

We walked around for a bit until we found a taxi and took it to the Mall de Sol that we had seen from the bus on the way to the hotel.  We figured there would be someplace to eat in this mall and decided to try the Noe Sushi Bar but it turned out that the restaurant wasn't actually in the mall so we hopped on another taxi to the restaurant.  The sushi was pretty good.

We took one more taxi back to our hotel and then hung out in the lobby as we waited for our ride to the airport.  Lauren met us in the lobby and let us know that our flight was delayed - it would be almost midnight before we would be leaving but everyone decided to go ahead and head for the airport at the appointed time.  This was not a big deal as we were flying business class and had access to the airport lounge where we hung out for a couple of hours.  The flight to Miami was great - the business class seats on this plane were awesome but we arrived into Miami over an hour late and knew that we would miss our connecting flight.  Fortunately, they were able to re-route us through Dallas and we still ended up getting home around the same time.

This was a fantastic trip.  I was dreading the snorkeling but after a few times, I felt much more confident in the water.  I'm so glad that Rhys chose this trip and am most impressed with the conservation of the Galapagos Islands.  There was very little in the way of a time change so no jet lag, the currency and electrical currents were the same as the US which was great.   Our Guides, Lauren and Robby, were really fabulous - just as we've always come to expect from Disney and what makes Adventures by Disney stand out.  We're looking forward to our next Adventure in 2018:  an Adult Exclusive Adventures by Disney trip to China for Seth's 50th birthday.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Day 8 (30 June 2017) – San Cristobal to Guayaquil, Ecaudor - Adventures by Disney Ecuador and Galapagos Islands Tour (23 Jun – 2 July 2017)

This time, both Seth and I were up at around 5:30 am as it was just starting to get light outside. We finished our packing and then headed off to the library to get some coffee. We went upstairs to upper deck and could see that we had already arrived into San Cristobal. We realized this was the first time all week we had seen houses or buildings. The frigates were all circling above us.

We went downstairs for our last breakfast on the ship and Lauren found us and gave us our certificates for having crossed the equator on a ship. Plenty of people cross the equator on a plane but not many do it on a boat. We had crossed from the southern hemisphere where we landed (Baltra) and the crossed back to the northers hemisphere in the middle of the night the other day.

We ate our breakfast pretty leisurely (we actually found out from Lauren and Robby that there are ABD “black lists” and apparently you have to do something pretty egregious to be black listed from ABD) and then made a final check of our cabin, grabbed our carry ons, and then headed to the library to wait for our group to deboard. Robby let us know that the ship was preparing special packets for us of food for lunch which we picked up from reception on our way down to the pangas. It was the last time that dolphins and frigates would be called and I’m sure we’ll all miss those bulky red life vests we had to wear almost every time we boarded a panga.

We boarded the pangas and said goodbye to the Santa Cruz II. We were headed to the pier where we were told was like sea lion city and, indeed, we did see a bunch of sea lions playing in the water as well as some just laying on the steps. We dropped off our larger carry on bags that they kept for us in the back of a pick up truck while we were on our last excursion to the tortoise preserve.

The ride on the bus to the tortoise reserve took about 45 minutes but the cool breeze coming into the bus felt great. There seemed to be orange trees everywhere.

Once we arrived at the tortoise preserve, we went through the front gate and were immediately treated to a huge tortoise just inside the gate. At first, I thought it was a statue until it’s head moved. We were guided one last time by Indi who explained all about the tortoises, their funny, saddle shaped shells, how to tell their age (older = fainter lines on the shell that had been rubbed off with time) and how to tell their gender (males have much bigger tails). The adult males are much much bigger than the females weighing up to 600+ pounds. They moved very very slowly.

We were taken on the trail and saw a few tortoises along the way until we reached the back of the preserve where the young tortoises were kept. We were told that they had about 50+ adult tortoises and about 109 baby tortoises in the preserve. Tortoises usually just deposit their eggs and leave them to hatch on their own providing no protection to the hatchlings so at this preserve, the eggs are picked up, marked, and put in incubators until they hatch. Apparently, the gender of the tortoise can be determined by how warm the eggs are kept which I found to be fascinating. The new baby tortoises go through different areas of the nursery from boxed enclosures for the first few years to small outdoor enclosures for another few years, and then when they’re older, they are released to the general population of tortoises or to the wild on the island.

We headed back towards the front of the park via a different path and come upon several areas where the tortoises were being fed. It was amazing to see them so up close.

When we reached the front of the sanctuary, we had the opportunity to use the bathroom one more time before reboarding the bus. We were taken back into town and dropped off to do a little shopping – only about 30 minutes or so. We picked up a few small souvenirs – a tea bag box for Amina, some magnets, some stickers, couple shirts and a cap for Seth.

Meeting back at the point where we were dropped off, we boarded different buses this time to get to the airport which really wasn’t very far at all – we could have walked it. We picked up our carry ons and then checked our luggage in. We went through security and then sat in a large room waiting to board but it turns out that the flight into San Cristobal was delayed due to mechanical reasons so we had an extra hour wait. It was a good thing we got those lunch bags – we ate our lunches and then the airline actually gave us some juice and snacks as well. Our plane finally arrived and we boarded from both the front and back of the plane so that went a lot faster.

The flight to Guayaquil was pretty unremarkable. When we arrived, we made our to way to baggage claim and picked up our suitcases then followed Robby and Lauren out of the airport onto a waiting bus. Porters took our suitcases in the airport and loaded them on the bus for us.

The ride to the hotel took the better part of an hour in Guayaquil – the largest city in Ecuador. The traffic was interesting – there are no lane lines marked on the streets. We checked into the Hilton which was packed with people – there was some sort of veterinarian conference going on at the same time. The rooms are nice and spacious. We waited for our suitcases to arrive and then headed downstairs to the bar with our complimentary drink vouchers to grab a drink before we met the rest of the Adventurers in the lobby at 6:30 for the last time. They took us to the Portofino restaurant in the hotel which was closed just for our event.

For dinner, I had the Serrano ham with melon, a seafood bisque, tenderloin with baked potato, and crunchy apple pie for dessert.

 We enjoyed 2 guitars who played traditional Ecuadorian music as well as 2 dancers who did some traditional dances for us during dinner. We were also given our final pin of the trip.

After dinner, we viewed the slide show from the trip which is always a nice recap of everything we did all week. What was particularly awesome was that after the slide show, Lauren air dropped some picture postcards, instructions on accessing all the pictures from the trip online, as well as a copy of the slide show video to each of us. That was particularly nice because our internet connection at home isn’t the greatest and it probably would have taken ages to get that video downloaded.  *edited to add:  our Adventures by Disney Farewell video slide show has now been uploaded to my smugmug account.

We were given our departure information. Some families had a very early flight at 6 am for which they would need to leave the hotel at around 3:30 am. (OUCH!). Our flight didn’t leave until almost 11 pm so we had the entire day to spend in Guayaquil. Late check out was 2 pm or until 6 pm for an additional $100. We had no plans and I know Rhys and Seth were looking forward to sleeping in.

We said goodbyes and exchanged hugs with our fellow Adventurers. We also got a copy of everyone’s email addresses. Guide tip envelopes were passed out. As always, this Adventures by Disney trip introduced us to some of the nicest people and we seemed to really click with several of the families. Nobody loves the end of a vacation but I’m so glad for the things that we saw and the people that we met.  

Next post:  Day 9, 1 July 2017 - Guayaquil, Ecuador to OKC 

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Day 7 (29 June 2017) – Prince Phillip’s Steps and Darwin’s Bay, Genovesa Island, Galapagos - Adventures by Disney Ecuador and Galapagos Islands Tour (23 Jun – 2 July 2017)

Like clock work, I woke up at 5:30 am. The boat was really rocking overnight and most everyone today said it had woken them up at some point. They had told us last night that we would be moving into Darwin’s Bay at around 5:45 am but when I went up top to watch, it took until well past 6 am for us to pull into the Bay. I uploaded the pictures from the day before on to Facebook and watched as we  pulled into the bay alongside the other ship in the same fleet – La Pinta.

As soon as we got close to the island and the bay, I could already see the birds circling overhead and around the island. As we got further into the bay, I could hear all the chirping and bird sounds. The breakfast buffet was good – a bit of variety each morning.

Today we were going to have a dry landing to do some hiking on Genovesa Island climbing up the Prince Phillip’s Steps which were pretty uneven but there were hand rails. It was cool and the wind was blowing on the island so I was glad that I had a long sleeved shirt with me to slip on.

This island is absolutely amazing. When we reached the top of the steps, birds were everywhere: Nazca boobies, red footed boobies in the trees, frigates, and nests everywhere with young and juvenile birds. The noise was amazing….as well as the odor of bird poop. As we moved to the other side of the island, we saw so many white fluffy balls of feathers that were the boobie babies still in the nest with the mother having to guard them. What’s so remarkable about this place is the fact that the birds had no natural predators- they had zero fear of us. We walked right up to them (as many were sitting right in the middle of the trail) and they didn’t scurry away or act scared at all.

Indi gave us 2 assignments: (1) to see if we could find any lava lizards; and (2) to see if we could find any owls. There was 1 species of owl on this island but it’s feathers are a brown and black color which make them very difficult to see from a distance. We spent the next hour or so finding 7 of these owls and helping each other to see them by pointing them out. Once you saw a couple, they got just a bit easier to find.

There's actually an owl in this picture
We headed back along the same path we had taken to get out there. Total number of lava lizards we saw: zero. There really weren’t any land animals on this island. We climbed back down the steps, donned our red PFDs, and got on the panga for a quick tour to see the seals that were just lounging around on the rock. Seals are nocturnal so they were all snoozing away.

We got back on the ship for a quick change into our swim suits for our snorkeling excursion and boarded another panga to get out into our 2 man kayaks. We paddled for about 45 minutes or so and saw more birds and a sea lion sitting by the steps we were just using earlier that morning.

We returned back to the ship and had a bit of time before lunch at 12:30 so we hung out on the panorama deck talking with fellow Adventurers. We then headed downstairs to the Ecuadorian buffet lunch which wasn’t my favorite as most of the meats had cilantro in them.

After lunch, we were invited to tour the bridge but I decided to skip it in favor of catching up on my blog.

At 3 pm, we headed over to the library to await our turn to board the panga for a wet landing at the beach to take a walking tour followed by some swim/snorkel time in Darwin’s Bay. We were divided into 2 large groups where the first group would be swimming/snorkeling first followed by the walking tour and our groups which would be going in the opposite order. One thing I had been doing was taking one of the cabin towels (the blue towels were for the cabin and the white were for the excursions) – just a small washcloth so that when we had a wet landing, I could use it to wipe the water and sand off my feet to put on socks and my shoes – this was far more comfortable walking on the uneven surfaces, lava, and rocks on these islands. In the panga on the way to the beach, Rhys spotted our first male frigate with its large red chested balloon puffed up waiting for a female to come by. We saw several more of these on the walk.

The walking trail wasn’t far at all and gave us a chance to see the same birds but even more up close. There was a huge mangrove tree/bush that many of the red footed boobies and some of the frigates used for their nests. On this trip we had seen the matured birds, the ones sitting on nests with eggs, boobies and frigates with very young chicks that were like little fluffy white snowballs with eyes and beaks, to much larger fluffy white older chicks (many times they were bigger than the parent), to juveniles who were either shedding all the fluffy white feathers or had mostly shed them except for a few fluffy tufts here and there (these were the ugliest stages imo). This mangrove was like a baby bird nursery. The variety of life stages on this part of the island was amazing to see up close. And, as always, the birds were all fearless – just eyeing us with kind of a bored air with nothing close to fear at all. The only things that scurried away from us were the teeny tiniest crabs we had ever seen – they were like ants on the ground and ran off into their teeny holes whenever anyone went by.

After our walk around beach, we got ready to snorkel and this was the first time when Seth said we didn’t really need to snorkel if I didn’t want to but this was actually one time I did want to as it was our last chance to do it. The largest things we had seen in the water was a stingray and a sea lion. We didn’t ever get to see the penguins in the water the other day so I was hoping to see something bigger today.

The water was a lot warmer here but was very murky and hard to see anything. We swam for just a little bit and almost threw in the towel but then decided to go closer to the rocks and we did see some of the same fish again. As we turned toward the beach and headed back, a moving dark mass to my left made me look over and I saw a shark swimming around, yanked on Seth’s hand and pointed and he got to see the shark as well. It was a black one and Seth thought it was only around 3 or 4 feet long but to me, it might as well have been 10 feet long. I was pretty much done snorkeling at this point. Rhys tried to find the shark again but never did get to see it.

We returned to the ship and the procedure was a little different this time. We just piled our wet suits, fins, and bags on the deck in sorted groups as they were all being washed tonight. We cleaned up and threw some stuff in the dryers. Most of the time, people were very nice about sharing dryers. We decided to go and get a drink at the bar before the Crazy Cui (cui = guinea pig – a local delicacy in Ecuador) party at 6:15 pm. This time, I got a Sangria Isabela which was pretty good. There was actually a cocktail menu that we hadn’t ever looked at all week.

We went downstairs to the library where Lauren had wrapped all of our Otavalo Market $5 purchases and had them laid out on the table. Robby handed out numbers to everyone and the rules were pretty much the same as Dirty Santa (steal or choose, 2nd steal was the owner, 1st person would have opportunity to trade at the end anything not already owned) including that if you picked something wearable, you had to put it on. The whole game took less than 40 minutes for our group of 27 or so people. It was a lot of fun seeing who got what bargain on which items. Seth had chosen an Ecuador apron which I stole from him. He then turned around and stole a pair of Eucadorian striped pants which surprised me a lot. Rhys got the painted coffee mug that we had bought at the market. My apron got stolen so I stole a cute llama figure from Michael, one of the older boys in the group.

After our game, we had cake and received our pins of the day then headed upstairs to the last briefing on the ship which was going to include a slide show.

The ship photographer was with us on every excursion and I saw him snorkeling with us frequently diving down and shooting pictures and footage of the wildlife. His pictures in the slide show were nothing short of amazing. He captured some of us as well as a picture of Rhys with his birthday cake. What was really cool was that the tour company who ran this expedition was providing us with this video for free – we just had to get our email addresses to the photographer. That was a nice bonus.  *edited to say:  I've now uploaded the Santa Cruz II video slide show to my YouTube channel.

Being our last night on the ship, we got our marching orders. Wake up call at 6:45 am, breakfast at 7 am, and then our luggage outside our doors so we could be ready to leave at 8 am. Dinner this evening was an appetizer of roasted octopus which was really good, the Ecuadorian vegetable soup was also excellent, but the entree was fish with a chimichurri sauce that tasted like it had some cilantro in it so I didn’t really care for it. The walnut cream dessert was very good.

We headed off to our cabins but I did go back up to reception to settle our final bill which ended up being about $370. We finished packing up our things, and I slept like a rock that evening even though we had been warned that the ship motion may be just as bad or worse than last night’s rocking.

Next post:  Day 8, 30 June 2017 - San Cristobal to Guayaquil, Ecuador