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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Deliver de Letter de Sooner de Better


The boat has moved from Espanola to Floreana.  The good news is that during night the cloud of flies following us from Gardner Beach has made a left turn and disappeared.

Pedro tells us if we’re lucky we might see some Flamingos today.  He tells us that their sightings are rare in the Galapagos Islands.  I point out in Canada they’re not - we see flocks of them roosting on the lawns of people celebrating their 40th birthdays.  Unlike the ones here we don’t have to sneak up on them  - they  just sit there – like tortoises and iguanas here.  I offer to send him some for his 40th birthday.  Besides if he likes birds I’m sure I could arrange to send him a few thousand Canadian Geese – nobody back home would miss them.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mankinis and Boobies

After watching giant tortoises cavorting in the woods yesterday afternoon I was hopeful that we might see something a little more exciting.  Today we’re scheduled to go snorkelling. The boat has shorty wetsuits, masks, snorkels and fins and most decide to use them.  My son, who visited the Galapagos a couple of years earlier, warned me that the water is “cool” and suggested I take my full 3 mm wetsuit – and I am glad I did.  Sid, resplendent in his red mankini (or “budgie smuggler” as the Australians call it), says he doesn’t need anything else to keep warm.  I have a feeling there’s going to be a very small budgie in there once he hits the water. I would include a picture of him in it, but I've been warned about putting inappropriate images on the web.    Several others, including Marla, the girl from Richmond are also swimming in their regular attire.  I have included a picture of her.(Note the shark below her).
pink breasted boobies

 I have my own mask, because without a prescription mask I’m totally blind in the water and have no idea where I am.  The last time I went diving without one I followed two large manta rays for half an hour thinking they were members of my group.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Walk for your life! It's a tortoise stampede!!!

The Galapagos Islands
After my walk around it was time to head back to the hotel and meet some of the other participants on the Galapagos tour.   At six o'clock there are five other people sitting in the lobby for our Guide to show up and brief us:  There’s a pharmacist from Chattanooga,  A tall very fit couple from England, Marla, a girl who turns out to have lived three blocks from me in Richmond, and Sid who hails from New Zealand.  Sid is wearing a muscle t-shirt, a copper bracelet and an earring  in his left ear.   He is engaged in a contest with the ropey English couple of who’s the most fit.  Sid claims that he actually rode a bicycle up to Machu Picchu which is 5000 feet higher than Quito.  After my experience  chugging up a small hill in Quito I point out the only way you’ll get me up to Machu Picchu is in a hyperbaric chamber on the back of a pick-up truck!  Sid is also annoyed that our original boat has sunk.  It doesn’t matter we’re getting a “better” boat.   I instinctively know who they’re going to assign as my bunkie when we get to the boat.  I judge I’ll have to make the best of it as he looks to fit to push overboard. 
The groujp
 The next morning our guide arrives with a van to transport us back to the Quito airport for the three hour flight out to the Galapagos  Islands.  He buys our tickets, escorts us to security and bids us farewell.  Evidently we’ll be met by a new set of guides on the other end.

Along with about a hundred other people we mill around departure Gate 9 until just about departure time.  A few minutes before the scheduled loading the video screen above the gate suddenly goes blank.  A murmur of concern spreads throughout the milling throng.  This is when I am at my best.
“Don’t worry,” I tell the group, “I speak Spanish.  I’ll go find out what’s happening.”

I head over to the next gate and begin to engage the  chap in Spanish.
“I speak English,” he says.
I lower my voice so the group will still think I’m conversing in Spanish.
“Where do you want to go?” he asks.
“To the Galapagos Islands,” I reply.
“Oh you’re at the wrong gate!  You have to go upstairs to the other end of the airport to gate 1.”
I march down to the assembled group.
“Gate change!  Gate 1.  Follow me.”
Like the Pied Piper I lead the group upstairs and to the other end of the airport to Gate 1.  The plane is already loading.  I hand the attendant my boarding pass.
“This isn't your flight!  Your flight is downstairs at Gate 9!  What are you doing up here?  You better hurry or you’ll miss your flight!”
There is an angry murmur in the crowd.
“Communication problem, “  I tell them.  I was speaking Mexican Spanish to the guy, he misunderstood.”
I don’t wait  to find out if they buy it, but head down the escalator.

San Cristobal
Even though the Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador there’s a rigorous screening after we land.  They’re not interested if we’re carrying firearms or bombs – they’re more interested in anything organic that might infect their islands.  My luggage is ploughed through and my gingerbread men from home confiscated.

Outside the airport a person stands with a sign reading Monserrat, the name of the boat we will be staying on where we meet the other 11 people  who will be sharing the boat with us. There are several other couples from England and Ireland, a thirty something dot-com millionaire from New Orleans and Mr. Sandhu an 83 year old Indian gentleman whose entire travel clothes seem to be what he has ben wearing: dress pants, a madras shirt, and leather loafers. 

Mr. Sandhu
It’s a quick bus ride to the harbour and our boat which I quickly rename Monster Rat. (Actually the boat was quite nice – I just had a hard time remembering the name – after I renamed it, nobody else had a problem remembering it either.)  We’re introduced to our crew and our naturalist/guides, Pedro and the gorgeous Jocelyn.
I notice that most of the guys in the group have stopped taking pictures of sea lions and concentrate on the local attraction. And as predicted I found my assigned roomie was Sid.


As soon as we’ve had a chance to unpack we’re ushered on to the dinghies for a ride back to shore and a bus ride  to the Jacinto Gordilo Breeding centre where they breed Giant Tortoises in a semi-wild habitat.  Bascially what you’re seeing are a lot of giant tortoises standing around doing nothing.

“Pretty boring, mate, eh?” comments Sid,  “Maybe we can stir things up a bit.”
With that he screams at the top of his lungs.  Four seniors in the next tour group go into cardiac arrest, but the effect on the tortoises is amazing.  Heads suddenly appear from inside the shells and they are galvanized to move on mass.

“Tortoise Stampede!” yells Sid. “Walk for your Life!”
After about twenty seconds the tortoise herd grinds to a halt having covered maybe one foot.
“Pretty exciting, eh?” asks Sid.  “Did you manage to capture that on video?”

Sid is taken aside by the tour leaders and given a stern lecture about decorum.  I decide maybe I misjudged him.  


Monday, January 6, 2014

Greetings from the Galapagos Islands!

For those of you who don’t know where they’re in the Pacific Ocean  about a thousand miles off the Ecuadorian coast.  They’re famous because that’s where Charles Darwin stopped and got the idea we are all descended from Chimps.  Chuck was so impressed with his travels to the Galapagos Islands he burned his passport as soon as he returned home and didn’t travel more than two blocks from home the rest of his life.  He also developed a taste for bananas.

I was searching for somewhere different to go this year and one of the travel companies suggested  I should go to the Galapagos Islands.

“Why on earth would I ever want to go there?” I asked.
“Because pretty soon you might not be able to,” she replied.
Well that pretty well clinched it for me.  Any time someone tells me I can’t go somewhere I immediately move it to the top of my bucket list.

There are now so many people visiting the ecologically fragile islands that the Ecuadorian government may soon have to limit the amount of visitors.  Of course the government loves those millions of tourist dollars.  What to do?  Birds or Money?  I’ll let you guess who’ll win out.

Some of my friends who have dreamt of going to the Galapagos Islands since they were 12 and saw an item about “Boobies Abound in the Galapagos!”   I similarly was inspired by a similar article when I was 12, but it was in Playboy.


My previous few trips had been with GAdventures so I decided to check out some of the other companies and I’m travelling with Intrepid Travel this time.  This trip was advertised as a “comfort” trip.  wasn't quite sure what this meant, but my buddy Dave, who is an expert in such things, explained it to me.
“It’s where you sit on the deck of your luxury yacht and they bring you things.  You just sit there in a barcalounger and say things like: ‘Hey!  Bring me that lizard over there.  No, the yellow one.  And while you’re up bring me a beer.”

I began to have some doubts about the comfort tour when I received an email just before I was to leave telling me that my luxury yacht had hit a rock and sunk.  The good news is no animals were injured.  And hey, even better news: they've found an even nicer yacht – even nicer! Hopefully the captain’s not the same guy who was captain of the Costa Concordia.

Getting to the Galapagos Islands is a bit of an ordeal:  There’s no direct route.  My itinerary took me first to Toronto, then Miami, and finally Quito where I would spend two nights before going on to the Galapagos.

Thanks to American Airlines who have co-opted Air Canada’s motto: “We’re not happy ‘till you’re not happy!”  I arrive in Quito at one in the morning.   I’m fortunate that someone is there to meet and escort me the one hour trip from the “new” airport to my hotel in down town Quito.


We pass through dark, deserted streets where we arrive at the “Hotel San Francisco of Quito” - the last two words so I won’t accidentally think I’m somewhere else.

The night clerk doesn’t speak English (The day one doesn’t either).  In my broken Spanish I manage to check in and told my room is on the third floor.  I’m told I’ll have the room to myself this night – tomorrow I’ll have a room-mate.

“Where is the elevator?” I inquire.
I’m told there is no elevator.  The hotel was built in 1701 – before Mr. Otis was born.  I drag my bag up the narrow staircases, find my room,  throw myself onto the bed and have a nightmare that my hotel has hit a rock and sunk and there are no survivors.  I go back to sleep and try and dream about something more pleasant – like bedbugs.

I wake up in the morning with the sun streaming through the window with things looking better.  In daylight the hotel doesn’t appear as dingy – in fact it actually has a fair amount of charm.  I guess the lesson learned is not to judge after at 24 hour  trip and arriving in the middle of the night.

As soon as I walk out of the hotel it’s as if I've walked onto a movie set.  Gone are the dark and threatening streets; all the shutters on the shops are up and the street is full of happy people; lots of children; street venders and musicians.   All the buildings are covered with bunting and flags are everywhere.  I've arrived on Ecuadorian Independence day.

 I went for a little walk and soon found myself wheezing like an old geezer as I climbed up a small hill.  Then it hit me:  Quito is up HIGH!  9,350 feet!  Almost twice the elevation of Denver.  It is going to take a bit of time getting used to the altitude.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Greetings to my new blog!  Some of you may already have seen the newsletter.  I'll add a link to sign up for the newsletter in the next few days.

I suppose a lot of you are wondering why now after all this time am I suddenly sending out newsletters and blogs.  If you don't really care and just want to get to the funny stuff you can skip this entry.

For more than ten years I've enjoyed writing about my misadventures travelling.  I've been encourage by all of you to keep going and keep writing.  I also enjoyed writing for a wider audience in the papers and enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the tree previous Travel editors of the Sun and Province.  Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and when the last editor took early retirement  her replacement didn't appreciate the humour and informed me he "won't be using my articles" anymore.   This was not only upsetting on a personal level, but his predecessor  had made written commitments to three companies to publish my articles, which was the main reason they underwrote the cost of the trips.  The current acting editor feels no obligation to honour those obligations which put me in an awkward spot

This is also galling because the papers pay next to nothing ($300) for an article and demand exclusive rights to the content (including photos) for all the papers in the chain for any purpose they desire into perpetuity.

It's for the above reasons I've decided to put less emphasis on the papers and build my own readership - hopefully with your help.  If you enjoy the material please pass it along to your friends.

This is going to be a bit of a learning experience for me as I have to catch up on how to use social media. I haven't really concerned myself with it since I left DottoTech about 9 years ago.

The new formats will let me share pictures and videos with you - something I've wanted to do for a long time.  I do get myself into some funny situations like the Hungarian Folk dancing debacle:

For the first bit the newsletter and blog will be very similar  in their content.  I eventually hope to keep the blog more personal (like my emails to you were) and the blog more formal (like the newspaper articles).  I'll also be eventually adding tips and other travel info into the newsletter as I go along.

Besides your help passing the word around I really would appreciate any and all feedback and suggestions.
Thanks to my friends in the industry who have encouraged me and pushed me in this direction -particularly to Johnny Jet who I met on the River Cruise.  He's got a great newsletter and I encourage all of you to  subscribe to it. (no he didn't pay me for this!)

I'll be also posting on Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter as soon as I figure them out!

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