Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Amazon Adventure & Galapagos Discovery - Ecuador


Amazon Adventure & Galapagos Discovery - Ecuador

I’m traveling to Ecuador for a 12-day land based Travel Adventure.  I’m traveling as a solo with the help of a tour operator: Exoticca.  

January 16, 2024, Tuesday / Travel Day

I began this Adventure with a 6:00 flight from Tampa to Miami. Then from MIA direct to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and the 2nd highest Capital City in elevation in the world. It’s an hour's drive from the airport to the city center, but my driver made it faster with his standard 4. It was like a Le Mons race with hills, valleys, roundabouts, mountains, tunnels…everything. I was at the Rio Amazonas hotel at about 3:30 pm. My room is on the 10th floor with a great view (photo). I made a trip to the Pharmacy and then had dinner in the very nice Hotel Restaurant. I had a Canoera Traditional, a sample platter of Ecuador's most favorite traditional dishes. Some I liked and some not at all. Very interesting though. There have been no signs of problems or unrest that I can tell and everyone seems to be going about their business. I had a very nice ten hours of sleep which has helped my cold/sore throat that I picked up on my recent cruise. A very interesting travel day, but actually easier with my last minute flight changes to American Airlines.

January 17, 2024, Wednesday / Quito to Amazon

I woke early feeling much better and ready for my first day of sightseeing in Ecuador. I went down to Reception and took my larger bag for them to hold, then checked out and went to breakfast at about 7:00 am when it opened. A selection of Ecuadorian dishes, eggs, fruit, and leche caliente, a nice surprise. We had an Exottica tour meeting at 8:00 then our first official tour rolled off at 9:00 am. We have eleven people in our tour group, a driver and our guide Carlos. We went to visit the downtown Plazas and Squares which are a UNESCO-designated historical area. I can see why, it is beautiful. We first visited a very stylish hotel for a Chocolate demonstration. Ecuador has the most golden cocoa pods in the world. Interesting. In the old town, there are many beautiful Public buildings, the old National Bank, the Presidential Palace, and Beautiful Churches. I have to say it is one of the most unique city centers I have seen. We then began our drive over the Andes Mountains an interesting experience in itself. The higher peaks were of course above the tree line and similar to crossing the Rocky Mountains back home. Once across you drop down into the Amazon Rain Forest. It becomes very green with a jungle canopy and fast-flowing rivers that are within the Amazon basin. We stopped in the village of Quijos to eat at Restaurant Gina. Most ordered the fresh trout from the local stream next to the village, I had mine fried, also an excellent Blackberry Juice. It was very good. Soon we arrived at our destination: the Hakuna Matata Amazon Lodge. A very nice facility in a very remote location, in fact, we could not cross the local bridge in a vehicle, so we walked across and were taken by motorcycle the rest of the way to the lodge. That’s a new experience. I have a nice cabin very close to the large palapa-style restaurant/bar. Great forest views from there as well as from my cabin. We had dinner at 7:00 pm and offered a night walk following. I had the meal and skipped the walk enjoying a local Pilsner beer and using the internet. I turned in early and enjoyed the sounds of the rainforest and the rain that fell in the middle of the night. It was a great first real day in Ecuador.
January 18, 2024,   Thursday / Amazon Basin 
I woke to fresh rainforest air and the sounds of wild birds this morning and then went to our 8:00 am scheduled breakfast. I had Watermelon, Papaya, Pineapple, Fresh Egg, Bread, and an interesting local fresh fruit juice. The group did a short walkabout tour and I stayed and updated this blog and did some business (no WiFi in the cabin). I have had my experiences in rain forests so it's good for those who haven’t experienced it. Some did a more extensive extra tour as an add-on. I did my walkabout in the immediate area noticing the flora…very pretty. I love my free-standing cabin and the Rainforest sounds here, it reminds me somewhat of the ranch, but the continuous sounds of running water were amazing. I had a very nice lunch of Tilapia, Fresh Salad, Rice, and Soup, they prepare everything fresh so always a home-cooked meal. After lunch I tested the swimming pool, it is continuously fed by a spring so always fresh water. It was a bit cool but refreshing, and the sun peaked out as well. I had my Ecuadoran Coca-Cola (sweeter) as my afternoon beverage. At 7:00 pm went to dinner and I had a special Amazon cocktail…very nice Jennifer. For dinner, the appetizer was the best, an individual casserole with Hearts of Palm, a Pork Chop entree with Scalloped Potatoes, and root vegetables. Dessert was a mixed berry soufflé. A nice final dinner at Hakuna Matata. I retired early and will pack in the morning.

January 19, 2024,   Friday / Amazon - Center of the World - Quito   
I again slept very well, I enjoy life in the extreme country…although I would not want to live in the Outback again. At home, we have a sound app that plays water sounds when we go to bed…not needed here. Our meeting time to check out and for breakfast is at 7:30 am. this morning. I woke up, packed my small bag, and went to breakfast. We had bread and jam, a wonderful fruit bowl, and scrambled egg with yucca biscuit. Very good. I had the first motorcycle down and thus first to the bus arriving just before our luggage on a bicycle cart, it was good to see my bag before we left. We were soon off and stopped at a small Highland Village to view the unique cooking of fish and chicken in heavy leaves over charcoal. Also visited an outdoor market with fresh fruits and vegetables so there was plenty for all of us to share on the bus. The Yucca and small Bananas were my favorites. I bought some Ayahuasca, a native cure-all I had previously read about and the guide had mentioned as well. We’ll see. We stopped at a Hummingbird Sanctuary That was interesting. A group of birders from the USA entered after us so I asked I asked if any had checked off Painted Bunting…none had. I hope Mr. Crocket is taking care of the seven sets I had established on the Ranch…he said he would. We began climbing the Andes Mts. with views of beautiful waterfalls and heavy forests. It was very cold at the summit. As we crossed over we transitioned from the Amazon basin into the Central Valley. We next visited the Center of the World where it was sunny and warm. This is a very nice park area with a monument and information about the Equator. Lots of tourist shops, restaurants, exhibits, and even lamas. Very clean and somewhat Disney-esque. I got a new Panama Hat, a good meal, and a great Ice Creme. We arrived back in Quito at about 5:30 pm and the hotel had a Welcome Drink for us and distributed our luggage, I had the same room as before. My plan is to rest, relax, hot water, WiFi, and then a good sleep before tomorrow's excursion. A great day in the 
Highlands of Ecuador.
January 20, 2024,   Saturday / Quito - Otavalo Tour 
I did not sleep well with urban sounds compared to previous jungle nights. There is no A/C so imperative to leave the window open, but you get the sounds of the city. There was a lot of activity too, more than a few days ago as things have returned to normal in Quito. I went down for breakfast at about 7:30 am and had Leche Caliente, Scrambled Eggs, Empanadas, Fried Plantains, Watermelon, and Pineapple. I finished and then boarded our 8:00 am. bus (same Guide & Driver) and our full-day optional excursion: Otavalo and Quilotoa Crater Lake excursion. An early stop was in the Cayambe area famous for biscuits...there are a dozen plus restaurants featuring these unique biscuits and they are very good and different. We sampled three different style servings...well worth the visit. We then went to Quilotoa, the westernmost volcano within the Ecuadorian Andes and its two-mile wide caldera presents a stunning panorama with its lake in the center. We took an open-air boat ride around two islands located in the middle of the lake. Fun and interesting. Next a shopping and lunch stop in Cotacachi, I had a fantastic meal at La Marquesa. First, the indigenous entertainment was great and I enjoyed a Pilsener beer...I then ordered a Potato Soup with a large Avocado and Cheese, then a Fried Trout topped with Shrimp served with Fried Potatoes and Salad. The trout was served differently (flattened) than at Gina's. It was excellent as was the soup. My best meal in the country by far. Our final stop at about 3:00 pm was at the famous Saturday Otavalo Market. The entire main Square and several streets between are filled with Artisans, Crafters, Local Farmers, and various other types of vendors. This is the real deal and not manufactured flea market junk. Some vendors were leaving so some real bargains were available, I bought a Mohair Blanket and a couple of Dolls early on so had time to sit at a balcony bar overlooking the square and people watch. The native dress was common and the small indigenous people were numerous…I didn’t take photos although some were dressed out for it and accepting tips. Amazing. We left at about 4:30 for the two-hour trip back to Quito crossing the Equator for the second time today. Every stop today was a highlight. I made some notes and retired straightaway knowing I would be up early on Sunday.
January 21, 2024,   Sunday  /  Quito to San Christobal, Galapogos 
I woke at about 2:00 am…this will be a long day but I had six hours of sleep. I began by updating my Blog from yesterday's great excursion and then packed for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. Check-out and on the Bus by 4:15 am for our hour journey to the airport. There was an Exottica agent who organized and helped us in getting the Galapagos entry documents ($20) and inspections done. She had also preprinted all our flight boarding documents. I was at the gate one hour before our 7:05 am. boarding. A smooth morning thanks to Exottica. The flight was uneventful and at about 10:00 am we landed in San Christobal. We deplaned down a staircase and walked over to the small terminal to be processed. The entry tax / National Park fee of $100 is paid and then we watch the luggage show: all luggage is placed in rows on the floor and a sniffer dog goes by all. Our group, the Llamas, were met by our local guide and team loaded on a bus and at our hotel, 
The Blue Marlin, within minutes. We were assigned our rooms, changed clothes, and off on a guided orientation walk straightaway. We are just three blocks from the Malecon and central pier so easy access to the entire village. We walked along the Malecon to Playa Mann where all went about their own way. I went directly into the water as I needed a cool off. Yes you do share this beach will the Galapagos Sea Lions…very interesting. After cooling off I had a $6 lunch (will explain in notes) of Beef Broth & Potato Soup, Ceviche, and a Drink sharing a table with fellow Llamas. Following a second swim at Mann’s Beach I slowly walked back towards the Malecon and town. So much to see along the way, Sea Lions dominate here and the mothers are birthing now, Pelicans, large Galapagos Lizards, a variety of Birds, and more. I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon around the Blue Marlin Pool with the wonderful sea breezes. At about sundown, I walked towards the Malecon just looking for something to eat, and stopped at The Burger House which had a very eclectic menu, and decided on a large taco/burrito combination of meats entree. It was served with ranch beans and plantains. It was both interesting and good.  After such a long day I retired.  It was a great first day on the Galapogos.

January 22, 2024, Monday / San Christobal, Galapagos Islands 

I slept well, the room is air-conditioned by individual units. I wish the hot water worked as well. Breakfast is served from 7-9 AM and I went at about 7:30. It’s a set menu of Egg & Cheese omelet, a strip of bacon, and a large croissant. Clever that it can be eaten as is with Jam & Butter or can be made into a breakfast sandwich for those on the go. They served a small pitcher of Leche Caliente (without requesting…wow). The Llamas met at 9:30 for our full-day scheduled tour. We went up into the Highlands to visit Galapaguera, the home to amazing giant tortoises. MWF are feeding days where they place fresh greens out in various locations and the tortoises come in from the wild to feed. There will be many found at the primary feeding locations. They also have a Nursery Area where the young are allowed to grow before being released. They are quite small when young. These are the tortoises that put the Galapagos on the map. They are amazing to see. The next stop was at Puerto Chino to see seabirds, but I took advantage of the beach as I had already been walked out. The Sea Lions already had the choice spots picked out but I found one and enjoyed the clean fresh waves… Afterward, we returned to the hotel for a two-hour break, I had a Hamburger next door at a cafe and rested. We left at 3:00 pm for the short drive to La Loberia for two hours of snorkeling and swimming. I just used my swim goggles but I went further and saw much more than most. I saw numerous fish as expected and a lot of small to medium-sized (18-24”) sea turtles that were swimming around individually and in groups. I then had beach time and watched the Sea Lions train their young. It was very nice. Once returning to town many (7) signed up for the 360 water tour around the island on Wednesday. I stopped for a Chicken Shawarma with Fries and Soda  ($9) from El Arabe (Jordanian) as I knew I wouldn’t go back out this evening after a long day. It was a very good day in the Galapagos.

 January 23, 2024,   Tuesday  /  San Christobal, Galapogos Islands 
I slept well on this 
day of leisure. I went down to breakfast at about 8:00 am, the same breakfast as previous days. I went to get/be measured for equipment for the 360 cruise tomorrow then enjoyed a Coca-Cola with ice on the Malecon. Great weather day at about 82° with ocean breeze. I then lounged around the pool before taking a long hike to Playa Punta Carola. Long walk but has nice water and a beach. I was able to swim with Sea Lions and Sting Rays. I was safe as I went with new friends and was able to stay in the water for a good while. A long walk back stopping for a Coke at Playa Mann then a Czech-style beer at the Post Office Restaurant on the Malecon. I saw a Heron and was told sea birds do land around there after sunset…so that became my dinner plans. After washing off all the sand I returned to the Post Office for beer and a great Fish & Chips dinner (photo). No sea birds though. I then retired early to prepare for my busy full excursion day tomorrow. I did get in over 13,000 steps in on this day of leisure…

January 24, 2024, Wednesday / San Christobal, Galapagos Islands 

It was pouring rain when I woke at 6:30 am. Not encouraging for the biggest excursion of the trip scheduled today. It was improving by the time I arrived at the Tour Office. Seven of our 11 plus five others are sailing on a San Christobal 360 Tour…i.e. sailing completely around the island. This is the most popular tour here @ $180 pp. and over 8 hours in time, We met our guide, Christopher, picked up our gear bags and walked down to the pier at about 7:30. am We then took a harbor water taxi to our Boat…and we met the Captain & Crewman. There is a government official to ensure life vests are used, but once he is off they come off. Soon on our way for the longest sailing period of the day doing a little fishing to Bahia Rosa Blanca. We were shuttled ashore in a Dingy and walked across a volcanic outcropping to a sheltered bay. Here we snorkeled and saw numerous Sea Turtles and fish. Upon return to the boat we were served the raw Tuna we caught earlier…actually very good. From here we sailed to Punta Pitt, passing a pod of Whales, where we were served lunch and watched Red-Footed Boobies. The next stop was at Bahia Sardinia, a beautiful beach where the group went snorkeling, but I swam into the beach and enjoyed that, eventually the group walked over to me returning from their snorkel, humorous as it looked as though I was hanging with the sea lions. We stopped at Cerro Bruno a large outcropping and a photo opportunity. The prime photo is through the arch with Kicker Rock in the background. Also here were some Blue-footed Boobies. The best and final destination is last: Leon Dormido or Kicker Rock (photo). This is a series of very high huge rock outcroppings located off the main island of San Christobal. This is the best snorkel opportunity in the Galapagos. This is deep water which allows for a variety of unique opportunities. We saw huge Sea Turtles, Tiger Sharks, Sting Rays, a variety of Fish, and at the very end the Hammerhead Shark. WOW. What an experience. We received a towel and began sorting our gear on the way back to Puerto Baquerizo arriving at about 4:45 pm. This was one of the best excursions I have ever done and very glad that I did it. After cleaning up I went to Giuseppe’s for dinner: Nona’s Meatballs, and a nice Salad. Then the final walk along the Malecon as I returned to the Blue Marlin. An outstanding day.

January 25, 2024,   Thursday  /  San Christobal to Guayaquill
I woke early so began to pack and was at breakfast at about 7:00 am. The newly arrived Exottica Group had questions and is not getting the extra day on the island. I’m glad we got it. Our airport shuttle is at 10:50 am and we were at the airport straight away. A small wait once there but soon on our way to Guayaquil.  I got an upgrade to seat 2A and boarded first actually.  I was also first off the plane. A first for me on both.  We were picked up by Hotel Shuttle in Guayaquil and we stayed ay the Wyndham Garden Hotel near the Airport.  I have a very nice king room and it will be very nice to take a hot shower, and sleep in a large clean bed.  At about 6:00 I went next door to a Red Lion for a nice Hamburger and some Coca-Cola.  Very nice way to decompress from the trip.  An easy travel day.

January 26, 2024, Friday / Guayaquil, Ecuador

I slept very well and I have a late check out so easy morning repacking as I’ll check both bags through to Tampa. I enjoyed this hotel and took the 11:00 am Airport Shuttle. AA is not open as yet so time for KFC. I was kind of pleased with myself: I ordered from the kiosk, paid by iPhone, and got my food…simple. However, I had to have the lady next to me open my mayo packet…Oh well…not quite independent? I got through security and check-in without a problem and to my gate two hours before departure. Smooth process and a nice Airport. We arrived in Miami at about 7:00 pm and had the huge process of customs and secondary security. My Tampa flight was a little late and only an hour flight but still midnight before arrival. The DD and DW picked me up and we were home at about 1:00 am. Long day, but the trip was well worth it.

Exottica, the Tour Operator
I was very pleased with Exottica. I thought giving us an extra day in Galapagos was better than staying in Guayaquil where there could be security concerns. They handled last-minute airline changes very well. Exceeded expectations and I will travel with them again. I’m setting up Bosque Travel as an affiliate.

Tour Guides

Carlos - a native of the Highlands, was our guide for four full days while in Quito, the Amazon Basin, Highlands. He was personable, knowledgeable, helpful, translating, and always Smiling. You can tell he loves his country. One of the best, in my top five, I have had in all my travels.

Boris - a native of San Cristobal, was adequate, but too much of a hustler for me. Does his job because it's his job. A bit lost in translation perhaps.

Christopher - (360 Excursion) 20 years on the island and was excellent and friendly. He knew how to manage groups of people.

Galapagos Dual Economics

Tourism here is based on the unique varieties of animals. Beaches are nice but found all over the world so it’s the unique species of animal that is the Galapagos. For years It had primarily been affluent American and European tourists who visited; however, during COVID-19 tourism wasn’t possible. The Ecuadorian government began to allow native Ecuadorians easy access to the Galapagos. The fee was now minimal so they were the dominant visitors for the past several years and restaurants catered to them. Now that full tourism has returned there are two styles of restaurants and tours. A local lunch averages about $6, and a tourist lunch $12. I had lunch from a local stall at Mann beach and it was good, but also not the quality of the standard. But Ecuadorian food has not appealed to me in general.  The dual pricing also seen in other areas...so negotiate.


This adventure was one of my most unique and enjoyable experiences as a traveler.


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