Awakening one last time to the smooth motion of gentle waves, Diane and I reflected on four amazing days visiting various locations in The Galapagos Islands where time appeared to stand still. Unlike any place we’d experienced before, the islands are one of a handful of places on the planet where animals coexist with tourists while totally oblivious to human presence. Observing the most northerly penguins on earth, treeless boobies that sit on the ground protecting their young, several endemic bird species, iguanas that swim and colorful ones that prefer land, prehistoric looking giant tortoises and sea turtles that come up to you, the islands proved well worth the hefty price tag.
Clearly everyone’s favorite creatures are the Galapagos Sea Lions, and although we saw them almost every day, the crew saved the best for last with a trip to Mosquera Island, a small sandy island in the channel between Baltra and North Seymour Islands and home to a large colony of sea lions. Completing the recreational part of our annual Expat Destination Research Vacationto Ecuador, we’d visited Sacha Lodge, an awesome Amazonian rainforest lodge and spent the last four days on board the Ocean Spray, a luxury catamaran offering Galapagos cruises from five to fifteen days long. Unaware I’d be writing my blog exactly two years later as an unemployed house husband thanks to an unexpected layoff, visiting Ecuador was an exceptional trip and we both highly recommend it even though we’re choosing Southeast Asia for our early retirement.
Expecting Barney Rubble to emerge with Fred and Wilma, Diane and I visualized a scene from Bedrock on the fourth day of our fascinating cruise around The Galapagos Islands. Already experiencing close up views of adorable fur seals and penguins, large treeless birds staring up at us from the ground and marine lizards emerging from the sea like scaly fish, it all seemed surreal. Imagining a scene from a prehistoric world was easy while viewing North Seymour Island’s beautifully colorful land iguanas and walking among enormous Galapagos tortoises older than both of us on Santa Cruz Island, the main population center of the islands.
Unaware I’d slept through several hours of rather violent seas on the return from an incredible day of bird watching on Genovesa Island, I woke to beautiful calm seas as Diane and I prepared for the third day of our Galapagos Islands Cruise. Part of our annual Expat Destination Research Vacationin Ecuador, we planned to visit Cuenca and discover what made it so attractive to expats. For now, however, it was something completely different and our guide Javier briefed us on the day’s activities featuring close encounters with Marine Iguanasand a rare opportunity to kayak and swim with Galapagos Green Sea Toirtoises, the only species nesting anywhere in the islands. Allowing me to relive the experience, this is the third in a five-part series and I hope the post conveys some of the islands beauty.
Thinking early retirement was still years away and unaware I’d be laid off exactly one year later, we went first class on The Ocean Spray,a beautiful 16 passenger luxury catamaran. Fully satisfied so far, we learned about Santiago island, an island flanked with mangrove forests, pristine beaches and teeming with many creatures only found in The Galapagos Islands. Landing at Espulmilla Beach, the group headed inland for a short walk but before we did, scores of beautiful Galapagos crabs scampered across the beach making the morning’s first photo opportunity a bit tricky, but well worth it. Stunningly colorful. adult crabs are bright orange with pink and yellow spots and grow as large as 20 centimeters.
Waking to the gentle rocking of the catamaran from our comfortable king sized bed, Diane and I hopped out of bed and headed to the balcony. Sleeping soundly after adjusting to the motion, we stepped outside and gazed at the shores of Genovesa Island, a spectacular but rather remote island for the second day of our Galapagos segment of our annual Expat Destination Research Vacation, this time to Ecuador. Having already seen fur seals, iguanas and penguins on day one, anticipation built quickly as we showered and headed for breakfast. Promising incredible bird watching opportunities, the crew briefed us on the morning’s activities that began with a wet landing at a beautiful coral beach in Darwin Bay.
On the beach at Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island
Technically a shield volcano and built almost entirely of fluid lava flows, Genovesa Island is horseshoe-shaped, occupies only 5 square miles, has a salt water filled crater lake and cliffs all around the perimeter. Located eight hours from most other islands, only smaller vessels can visit due to habitat sensitivity and the crew navigated the waters while we slept. Known as Bird Island, wildlife abounds including assorted boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, Darwin’s finches, Galapagos mockingbirds and marine iguanas. Separating this experience from most bird watching expeditions is the unspoiled and unique environment which eliminates the need for binoculars as many birds don’t see humans as predatory and literally sit in front of you. Glancing right at us with googly eyes, scores of amazing big birds were on the trail guarding their eggs while wide-eyed visitors strolled past.
Anticipation was high as we awoke on the third day of the South American leg of our annual Expat Research Destination Vacation. Planning only a single day of sightseeing in Quito, we left the jackets and long sleeve shirts behind and headed for a totally different climatic zone. Realizing Ecuador’s boundaries include a large chunk of untouched Amazonian jungle, we jumped at the chance to experience our third different rainforest adventure. Freshly embedded memories of Borneo’s jungle excursion remained strong and having already visited Costa Rica in 2002, that leaves Madagascar as the only rainforest we have yet to explore. Probably too far and expensive for early retirees in Malaysia, we’ll settle for orangutans over lemurs.
Sunset at Sacha Lodge
Understanding human encroachment remains the biggest threat to the world’s rainforests, there’s a handful of lodges that personify sustainable ecotourism at its best. Not to be missed, Sacha Lodge, in Ecuador’s Napo Valley Region fits the bill. Located on a pristine piece of privately owned land and bordering Yasuni National Park, one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions, the lodge is accessible only by navigating the Napo River for 50 miles, hiking inland on an often muddy boardwalk and crossing a scenic lake. Beginning the journey in Quito, Diane and I boarded a 25 minute flight over snow-covered peaks to the small town of Coca where guides met us for the start of a 4 day, 3 night adventure that exceeded our expectations.
Encountering a heavy bout of turbulence, Diane and I fastened our seat belts and sat peacefully as we watched other passengers meandering about the cabin. After 13 years in a post 9/11 world, all Americans understand that full compliance with any instructions by flight attendants and crew members is mandatory, not optional. Oddly enough, not only did nobody listen, several passengers seated in first class wandered back and started conversations with friends seated elsewhere. Realizing Ecuadorians are not Asians, we found it a bit unnerving that an American based airline would allow total disregard for Federal safety rules once out of U.S, airspace.
Nazca Boobies on Genovesa Island in The Galapagos chain
Travelling in November, a relatively empty season for tourism, Diane and I were adventuring to Qutio for the South American leg of our annual Expat Destination Research vacation. Having already gained positive impressions from two trips to Southeast Asia where we engaged in excellent adventures like trekking to a village of Hill people and spending quality time with orangutans, we decided to investigate the reasons behind the hoopla of the hottest expat destination according to Forbes and International Living. Although the mostly local passengers on the plane provided an interesting first impression, all negativity quickly faded after landing. Blessed with mountains, rain forest, beautiful beaches and The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is one of only a few expat havens with so much to offer in one small country. Continue reading →
We made our first friend in Malaysia. No, not the monkey.
The expat destination research vacation of 2011 continued after our amazing adventure at Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Still a current Facebook friend, our guide at The Bilit Adventure Lodge in the Kinebatangen River Valley enhanced our adventure with a personalized style not found in a tour guide manual. Unlike the college educated and company trained professional staff we’d met at the luxurious lodge, Loy is a local resident from the village that just happens to work for the lodge. Sharing local knowledge, a few rounds of guitar and some cold beer it was more like hanging out at a friend’s house. Continue reading →