Sea and mountains

Hello everybody,

I haven’t posted since a few days on the blog and some readers (got very bored at work and asked me to post something asap) were worried that I got eaten by a shark, so here I am guys, I am not dead 🙂
In the last post, I was taking the plane from Quito to Baltra island in Galapagos. I booked a 8D/7N diving trip there and hope to see some nice big fishes 🙂

To illustrate this post musically, I offer you this time 2 videos. The first one is a good match to my diving trip, the second one is a suggestion made by my friend Guillaume F., who is a recognized latino music expert .

John Williams – Jaws soundtrack

Sash – Ecuador

The flight to Baltra is not direct and we make a strange connection in Guayaquil. Indeed, after landing there and once the plane parked at the terminal, passengers bound to Baltra are asked to keep their seatbelt fasten, while passengers for Guayaquil are to stand up and leave the plane to let new passengers get on the plane 🙂 Very interesting, first time that I see a plane handled like a bus!

Arrived in Baltra, I get in the queue at the local immigration counter. Galapagos is a special protected territory inside Ecuador and so getting in means passing a border like for a normal country. To get the nice Galapagos stamp on the passport, a USD100 cash fee is required. As I didn’t know that, I ‘m not carrying enough cash with me. The immigration officer gives me her best smile to tell me that she keeps my passport, that I have to go to an ATM in town and then pay at the immigration office downtown. Yeahhh, welcome!!!
After having found my group in the arrival area, I explain my issue to the guide. Finally, as going to town is not an option due to time constraints, one of my fellow divers, Marc a french guy living in Miami (and which will also be my buddy later), is willing to help me and I am allowed to get my passport back.

The first afternoon on the boat is quite light. After we get our rooms assigned, we go shortly in the water for a check dive. The water temperature is the warmest we will have during the whole week: 21°C :p The first night onboard is rather ok. The board is quite small and the sea quite rough and so it’s very easy to get sea sick. As I get on the deck in the next morning, I am astonished by the view on the surrounding islands. Galapagos is a volcanic area and the light of the rising sun (we get up every day at 05:45 to be in the water for the first dive at 06:30) on the rocks generates a particular atmosphere that makes you feel like you are in the middle of a lake on the moon. This moon landscape will follow us the whole week. Simply amazing!

The first days are exhausting just enough. We try to get used to the cold water and the strong underwater current. The conditions are particularly demanding as the current is sometimes vertical and you have to be careful not to be pushed in the depths or against the cutting rocks on the ground. I did my first dives without gloves. As I always had to grab rocks to fight against the current, my hands are completely destroyed and I decide to sacrifice my winter gloves and wear them for my following dives. In terms of fauna, the dives are not disappointing and meets almost all expectations a diver can have for a worldclass dive site like Galapagos.

On land, a lot of colorful birds can be seen, some of them also following our boat when we move from one dive site to another. In the water, we meet a lot of turtles, sharks, rays and even some sun fish aka mola-mola. On some sites, some curious sea lions come to play with our bubbles, and we even get to see some dolphins. (photo credit Marc)

We experience the most impressive dives when we arrive at the two famous islands Darwin and Wolf. The conditions there are the hardest (16°C water and very strong current), but there are the ones that sharks particularly like. In some dives, we get to see very big schools of hammer sharks (30 to 40) some being very curious and coming very close to our group. I also do for the first time dives “in the blue”, which means without any sight of the land. It is very impressive at first as you sometimes don’t know anymore where the top and the bottom is. Going in the blue is sometimes necessary to see bigger stuff, in our case, we wanted to see whale sharks (but unfortunately didn’t see any). Some safety stops were a bit scary as big groups of silk and galapagos sharks kept turning around us until we went out of the water. (photo credit again Marc :))

We spend the last day of the trip on land. We have the chance to visit the Darwin research & conservation station and some small farms, where we can see giant tortoises and iguanas. We also do a mini hike where we can see some old volcano craters. It is amazing to see the tortoises reaction at the sight of humans. Some of them are not used to see visitors and look at us very curiously. Some of them also seem to be happy and giving big smiles.

After a very exhausting week, we come back  full of wonderful memories to Baltra airport. The journey to Quito is a bit challenging as the flight most people were supposed to take was canceled. I am a bit luckier than the others and get a seat directly in the next flight just 10 mins after the initial one. Back in Quito, I directly go the Southern bus station to take a night bus to my next destination: Banos.

Banos is small city a few hours South of Quito. Thanks to its location near the Tungurahua volcano and the Rio Verde river, it is quite famous for its outdoor adrenalin activities. However after one week diving, I have absolutly no motivation to do anything again in the water 🙂
My first night back on land is a bit strange. After one week on a boat, I still have the feeling that the ground is moving and I sometimes have difficulties to find my balance. On the next day, as I am still exhausted from the diving week and it’s raining hard outside, I choose to stay at the hostel to relax. It’s also a good opportunity for me to plan the rest of my trip in Ecuador. When the rains stops at the end of the afternoon, I walk a bit around to explore the city center.

The plan for the next day is to rent a bike and ride along the “Ruta de las cascadas”. This is a famous road going down from Banos to Puno in the valley along the Rio Verde. Along the way, a lot of waterfalls can be seen and there are also numerous ZIP line to fly above the river.
When I wake up at 07:00, it is still raining a lot and I really thought about skipping the bike trip. However, as the clouds start going away at around 10:00, I jump on the occasion, rent a MTB and start riding along the river. The view is really beautiful. The waterfalls are very impressive. As I started a bit too late, I chose not to ride the whole way to Puno (61kms) but to stop after about 20kms at the biggest waterfall called “Pailon del diablo”. The waterfall is accessible via a short trail which ends directly behind he waterfall. It is very impressive to see the volume a water pouring down each second.

On the next day, I take the bus to a small city further South called Alausi. Alausi is the starting point ofthe famous “Nariz del Diablo” (Devil’s nose) train track. It is the last remaining part of a longer track that used to connect Guayaquil to Quito. Due to El Nino activities and earthquakes, the line was damaged quite often and is now not maintained anymore. Only the small part between Alausi and Sibambe is still existing for tourist purposes. This part is seen as an engineering masterpiece as it takes the train from 300m to 2600m in 60kms, changing the train direction twice. However its construction was finished at a high human price. The Devil in the name is due to the high number of slaves who died during the construction of the line. The nose comes from the shape of the mountain, which looks like a nose when looked at standing in front of it. The morning tour starts at 08:00 and takes in total 02:30 hours. The ride itself takes only a little less than 1 hour, but at it is a very touristic tour, the other 01h30 is spent at the viewpoint restaurants and bars at the end of the track.

Back in town around 11:00, I take some hours to visit the city before taking the bus to my final destination in Ecuador: Cuenca.

Cuenca is a colonial city and the third largest in Ecuador. I arrive there in the late afternoon. After having checked in in my hostel, I take some time to visit the city center. Moving around is a bit difficult as there are a lot of construction. I take some pictures of nice churches illuminated at night before finishing the evening in a bar restaurant where I eat a nice ceviche while watching the incredible Michael Phelps in the swimming competition at the Olympics .

On the next day, I wake up quite early and spend the morning planning a bit my future trip in Peru. Shortly after 13:00, I decide to go out to have lunch (this time while watching Rafael Nadal at the Olympics) and visit the city a bit more. I walk first to the Mirador of Turi where I have a nice overview over the city. After that, I come back downtown to explore the churches.

At the end of the afternoon I come back quickly to the hostel to take my backpack and get a taxi to the bus station. After a last diner in Ecuador, I get on a night bus to travel to Peru. I cross the border on 09.08.2016 01:00am, the exact time of my birthday 🙂 For that, I get a nice pink stamp with something looking like a big…90 😉
20160809_095117First report about Peru in my next post, stay tuned!

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7 responses to “Sea and mountains

  1. you want to start a music challenge !?!?

    By the way, cool the hammer shark ! We did cooler : we saw “carpes” at the big aquarium of tourraine and we could touch them ! Ah ah in your teeth !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “first time that I see a plane handled like a bus!”…. No need to go so far, same in FR. You can fly from La Rochelle to Lyon with “bus stop” at Poitier 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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