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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.

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