Sadly, today was the last day of my tour. With hindsight, I should have stayed some extra days and organised some day trips for myself, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I also wish I had realised how easy it would have been to have organised the entire trip myself as it is really not necessary, as I had thought, to come here on a tour or with a very expensive cruise boat. However, given that the Galapagos are very expensive, I am not sure that I would have actually saved much money – just had more time to enjoy the archipelago.
After breakfast, which, for once, was in the hotel, we drove in utes/pickup trucks, along the very straight road to the other side of the island to catch the ferry to Baltra, where the airport is located. On the way, we detoured, in the Highlands, to El Chato Ranch, a private ecological reserve where Giant Turtles lived in the wild. Here, we all tried on a turtle shell (very heavy) and visited a lava tunnel, which had been formed when lava continued to flow under lava that had already cooled and hardened. Once the lava had stopped flowing, the tunnels or tubes remained. There are a number of these, some very long, on Santa Cruz.
Trying a turtle shell for size
Holding up the lava tunnel
Inside the lava tunnel
Giant turtle having a swim
One of the 10 species of Galapagos finches
With an 80 year old, 180kg turtle
After each of us had had our photograph taken with an 80 year old, 180kg turtle, we set off for the ferry across the short channel to Baltra and then transferred to the airport in a bus. Baltra itself is very dry and brown with little on it apart from the airport.
Having arrived in plenty of time, I almost missed the flight as I didn’t go through to the departure lounge until the last minute as I had gone to post a card. It was only when one of the members of the group, who was travelling on a later flight, told me that I should board that I realised that rather than the flight not having been called yet, the gate had actually closed! Whoops!
On arrival in Guayaquil, it was pouring with rain and continued to do so whilst I transferred to the bus terminal and then all the way to Cuenca. Consequently, I couldn’t see much of the mountains although we must have travelled over an extremely high pass as we ground our way upwards for a long time and then descended a very long way before arriving in the city, which, itself, is located at 2,600m.
I had some trouble getting a taxi at the terminal as the Ecuadorians kept jumping in front, but eventually, I arrived at the apartment, which is situated above office blocks in Gran Colombia, the main shopping street of Cuenca. There was no door bell and no way of getting in so I had to fumble in my bag, find the phone number I had been given and call Pilar to let me in. She had been waiting, a little impatiently, having anticipated that I would arrive earlier. She was going to her daughter’s to stay, having relinquished her room to another guest, who wanted to stay longer. By the time I had settled into my room, I was exhausted. However, as I was having a cup of tea, a Canadian couple returned and I ended up chatting to them for quite a while so it was very late before I actually made it to bed.
The last couple of days have been spent at Ballenita, one of them on the beach itself and the other taking 25 cent bus rides to have a look at the shopping mall at La Libertad (not worth the trip) and then on to Salinas to see what the American retirees find so appealing.
To get to the latter, I hailed a bus in La Libertad that I hoped was going in the right direction. It arrived eventually after a nice tour of, what I assumed, was the poorer side of town, judging by the state of the houses, the piles of rubbish in the streets (although that in itself is not so unusual), and the rutted and pot holed dirt roads (also not unusual).
This was in stark contrast to the beach at Salinas, which has high rise apartments and hotels right on the beach front. One block away from the beach and it is back to the normal Ecuadorian houses and shops and a stench of drains. Somehow, the two were somewhat incongruous as far as I was concerned. And I am still not quite sure why the Americans would want to retire here (although the beach is very nice).
Once I had crossed Salinas off my list of things to see, I walked along to try and find the bus stop back to Ballenita, thinking that I would also have some lunch along the way. I had yet to try the ceviche, for which the area is well known, so sat myself down at one of the first restaurants I came across. Having committed myself to an order, I realised the entire area was ‘cevichelandia’ and I could have had my pick of about 50 cafes! However, when it arrived, the dish was very tasty and full of prawns, so I was very satisfied.
Afterwards, I went on the hunt for a bakery in preparation for the next meal (for I would hate to starve) and once I had found and made my purchases, I hailed a bus to return to Ballenita. I never know where the official stops are, or even if there are any, so now just do what the locals do and stand at the side of the road and wave one down. Usually, they stop, but not always. I try not to take this personally!
It was another scenic route, only this time via Santa Elena. The journey took an hour! It did give me time to solve the puzzle of the ships moored off shore though. I had been looking at these and wondering why there were so many and where they were going. Of course, they are all oil tankers and filling up from a pipeline from the oil refinery located between Ballenita and La Libertad. At one point, yesterday, I counted 18 ships parked directly out from the beach. Environmental disaster waiting to happen?!
Yesterday, I decided not to catch any buses but just to go down to the beach at Ballenita and soak up some sun. For it was a blue sky day! A first for quite some time. The beach was quite busy. I had forgotten it was Saturday. This is what comes of never having to go to work. I walked along the road a little way and then picked my way back across the rocks. The tide was out and there were plenty of rock pools, although I only occasionally spotted a small creature darting across them.
I took up my sun bathing position and tried to relax. First I had to test the water though. It was warm but absolutely full of a variety of red weed, which didn’t exactly appeal. I hate the feeling of bits that I can’t see swirling against my legs. You just never know what might be lurking down there! My swim was very short. After picking off the weed, I lay down and enjoyed the sound of the waves and the heat of the sun.
My lunch was another ceviche at one of the small cafes at the top of the cliff. There are quite a number there and I find it quite mystifying that one or two have to tout for business and are relatively empty, whilst the others are full. I picked one of the ones that wasn’t touting and had a large group dining, working on the basis that seafood requires a quick turnover and you are less likely to get food poisoning in a busy restaurant. The prices all seem to be the same wherever you go. $7 for a shrimp ceviche, which is accompanied by popcorn (to be put in the soup) and a plastic bag of plantain crisps. I haven’t worked out yet if you have to do anything special with them but I just eat them straight from the packet!
Afterwards, I strolled home, buying an ice lolly/block along the way and then carrying the stick and wrapper all the way back to put in the rubbish bin. Despite the fact that the streets are piled with rubbish, I couldn’t quite bring myself to add to it.
I have had very broken nights sleep since being here. It has been very hot and humid, there is no air conditioning and the fan is extremely noisy and only works on a timer, with the maximum time being 2 hours. This is not really efficient for night time! I have also been plagued by mosquitos, even though there are screens on all the windows. I was therefore feeling very weary when I walked down to catch the bus to Guayaquil this morning.
I arrived at the hostel at about 1pm, had a very lengthy checkin as Frederic, the receptionist?/manager? showed me everything and was very chatty. I then had to wait whilst he checked in some more people, before he could show me a map and places to visit. In the meantime, I had started chatting to a Liverpuddlian chap with whom I ended up walking along the Malecon afterwards.
My first stop was for an encebollado, or another variation of fish soup, at a cafe up the road that Frederic had recommended. I was later joined by the Liverpuddlian who had, by chance, decided to do the same thing.
After eating and walking, I headed to the supermarket whilst he went back. It was bliss to come back to a room with air con, something I have been very dismissive of in the past but, after the last few days, I must confess to thoroughly now appreciating!
One of the oldest streets in Guayaquil
The end of the Malecon in Guayaquil
Paintings outside a shop in the old part of Guayaquil
My anticipation of a sunny blue sky day was very short lived as I awoke to a grey sky and torrential rain on Wednesday. I procrastinated the sight seeing and sat on the patio, under cover, having breakfast and catching up with the world. When I deemed that it had stopped raining sufficiently for me to venture out, it was about midday.
I meandered along the Malecon, which had been part of an urban revitalisation project and is now a very pleasant place to walk. The theme appears to be sails, as there are various sail like towers along the promenade for people to climb and admire the view. They seem to be extremely popular with courting couples, Ecuadorians obviously not having any qualms about demonstrating their affections in public.
View from one of the ‘sail’ towers on the Malecon
View towards the old part of town from the Malecon
A statue on the Malecon
At the end, I had a quick look at the Artisanal Market, which proffered the same products as every other one, and then decided to take the double decker sightseeing bus for the one and a half hour tour. Whilst there was an English commentary, it was hard to hear and distinguish the words, so I am non the wiser about the city. There were very few passengers and we got our exercise by climbing up and down the stairs during and after the rain showers.
One of the windows in the Clock Tower on the Malecon
The Clock Tower
Renovated old Market Building
Plaza in front of the old Market Building
By the time we returned to the Malecon, the rain was torrential once again and we were getting quite wet just sitting in the downstairs deck of the bus as the water poured through the (closed) windows!
The old part of town
The original site of Guayaquil
I waited for some time before getting off, in the hope that the rain would ease. It didn’t! I eventually ran towards some shops that offered some shelter under the veranda and made my way up the street until the veranda finished. And there I waited for about 3/4 hour, along with hordes of others, watching the rain pour down. The drainage system obviously couldn’t cope and the water was rising in the street. Eventually, I decided it wasn’t going to ease and I was just going to have to take the plunge and start wading (literally) my way back to the hostel.
In a very short space of time, I was extremely wet and, by this time, also hungry, so I stopped at a pizza place and ate a couple of slices, sitting in the shop, with water pouring down my face. I also squelched my way into the Cathedral for a quick look and then into the park outside, to see the land iguanas that live there. There are very few places in the world where iguanas live in the middle of the city! Once back in my room, I warmed up in the shower and then had a beer on the terrace. At least I had seen a little of Guayaquil.
Thursday wasn’t exactly brimming with sunshine but it wasn’t actually raining as I caught a taxi to the bus terminal. I was heading for Ballenita, a small village on the coast, but wasn’t quite sure how I was going to get there. I needn’t have worried. There was a very luxury bus to Santa Elena, which has a large bus terminal, from where the local buses run every 5 minutes to Ballenita. The journey to Santa Elena was quite boring, through flat, very dry countryside. I had a young Ecuadorian man next to me, who attempted conversation but, unfortunately, my Spanish failed me and I wasn’t really in the mood for in depth conversation. Bus journeys are for quiet reflection, as far as I am concerned! We also had a loud, fairly silly, Spanish dubbed American cop film showing, which he thought was hilarious.
Once in Ballenita, I had a hot walk to the accommodation I had booked for, by now, the sun was shining. Within 200 metres of the bus stop, I was asked for money by 2 people, which did not endear me to the place immediately. I had wanted to stay in a non touristy place and this was certainly one although they must have encountered a few as they knew to ask for dollars.
The studio room, however, is wonderful, with a full kitchen and bathroom and distant view of the sea. The most important appliance in the whole place though is the fridge. This means the ability to make tea and coffee at any time and to have cold wine, water and beer. What luxury!
After settling in, I walked back down to the bus stop, via the Malecon, which had seen better days, and caught the bus to La Libertad to do some shopping.
Think this has seen better days!
This has a long Malecon and quite a few local people were under umbrellas on the beach. I would have to say though that neither the Ballenita nor Libertad beach appealed to me. I am far too spoiled by New Zealand beaches.
La Libertad waterfront
Malecon at La Libertad
Ships, ships and more ships on the horizon
Playpen on the second floor!
I stocked up on a few essential supplies and then caught the bus back to Ballenita and ‘home’ where I was able to sit on my small balcony and admire the sunset over the distant Salinas, through the many electrical cables that adorn the streets, with a glass of wine in hand. Excellent!