The border crossing from Colombia to Ecuador while one of the slowest of the trip was completely uneventful.
2 ½ hours of waiting for 2 minutes of passport stamps and truck import documents and we were on our way in country number 12 of the journey.
After a quick stop in the town of Tulcan to have a look at the tree sculptures at the local cemetery we moved on to Ibarra where we would start to get our bearings on Ecuador.
The drive through Ecuador is stunning.
We booked a trip to the Galapagos islands to begin the first week of our time in Ecuador so we need to hussle to Quito and find a place we are comfortable leaving our truck for almost 3 weeks while on the islands.
Exploring mainland Ecuador will have to wait.
We found a small hostal near the Quito airport to leave the truck while in the Galapagos and head off to explore what we are anticipating to be one of the highlights of our entire trip.
Our plan while in the islands is to spend half of our time exploring the easily accessible islands on our own and the other half on a small naturalist cruise that will take us to the more far flung islands of the Galapagos chain.
Our trip begins on the island of Santa Cruz and right away, in a taxi from the airport we are blown away by the number of giant land tortoises wandering along the side of the road and gathering in the banana fields.
The town of Puerto Ayora is the main hub of activity on Santa Cruz.
Puerto Ayora is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station which in addition to conducting research projects on all facets of conservation, breeds and protects the various species of giant Galapagos tortoises found throughout the islands.
The greatest thing about the Galapagos is that wild animals can be found everywhere. On beaches, hanging out in front yards, wandering down country roads and even on the streets of Puerto Ayora.
The local fish market is no exception.
Pushy sea lions jockey for space at the fish cleaning station.
A kilometre long walking path brings you to Playa Tortuga, one of the most spectacular beaches we have ever seen.
The water this time of year is a little chilly.....
....and full of these tough looking dudes swimming in the waves up and down the coast.
Before embarking on our cruise which will be heading to the Eastern islands of the Galapagos we take a few days to explore the more remote Western island of Isabella.
A few days of hiking the stark landscape...
...exploring deserted beaches.
...and snorkeling tunnels formed by ancient lava flows.
Dating as far back as 1832, islands in the Galapagos were used as remote penal colonies and as recently as 1946 a prison was opened on the Southern end of Isabela Island.
With nothing to keep the prisoners occupied they were eventually tasked with the building of the "Wall of Tears", a wall made of volcanic rock with no purpose other than to kill time constructing it.
By 1958 the prisoners had enough, revolted, killing a number of guards but resulting in the death of hundreds of prisoners.
The prison was closed a year later.
We had a great few days on Isabela but it was soon time to head back to Santa Cruz and get ready to board our naturalist cruise.
Unfortunately the naturalist cruises do not offer diving in the Galapagos (and dive cruises do not offer land excursions) so we opted for the naturalist cruise (this time) and I made sure to get a couple days of diving in first with a local shop in Puerto Ayora.
Galapagos diving is not for the faint of heart. The water is cold (especially in December), the visibility is not great and the currents can be a challenge.
The fantastic diving Galapagos is known for is done from the dedicated dive cruises that ply the waters of Darwin and Wolf Island some 100 miles away from the main inhabited islands. Unfortunately, we will not make it out there on this trip.
Two days of local diving, first off Floreana Island and then to Gordon Rocks.
Sea Lion video clip!
Floreana turned out to be a great day of diving with turtles, sea lions and white and black tip sharks and perhaps the highlight, a pod of killer whales or Orcas during the cruise to the site.
My group had very little diving luck at Gordon Rocks with very little sea life on our dive.
Others I spoke to that week had great Gordon Rocks dives and did find hammerheads, so you just never know...pricks!
Our time on Santa Cruz complete, we boarded our home for the next week, a 90 foot yacht that we would share with a great group made up of 12 of us in total.
The key to booking a Galapagos cruise, if your schedule allows and you are flexible on which boat you end up on, is to wait until the last minute to choose your yacht and make your reservation. Perhaps not on Posh Luxury Class boats but for the others, everyone that waits gets a great deal.
A super crew took wonderful care of our group, shuttling us from island to island, creating delicious meals and educating us in the wonders of the Galapagos.
So for 7 days we cruised the beautiful Eastern Islands of the Galapagos chain...
...Chased dolphins (thanks Bob M. for the pic!)
...Made new friends
...Learned more about all of the crazy birds of the Galapagos than we knew we wanted to know!
...Tried to avoid stepping on bags of iguanas.
...and took way too many photos of these guys.
Daily snorkeling was also on the agenda, some of it great, some of it just cold.
Free diving with this little penguin was great fun.
While on our boat I wasn't quite over the fact that I didn't see any hammerhead sharks during my two days of diving at Floreana and Gordon Rocks.
I had heard that Kicker Rock was a spot that I might get another chance and was excited that our cruise itinerary included snorkeling at the famed Kicker Rock.
Well....there it is in the distance. Kicker Rock. We just sailed right past it on our way to another island. Too rough to stop and snorkel I am told. (Photo Credit: Bob M.)
Apparently they need to update our boat's online itinerary.
I think partly because he knew I was pissed, our guide indicated he knew another spot where we might still find hammerheads.
It's cold, murky and a bit of rough current but we could go have a look at the furthest island on our journey, Genovesa.
...and he found them!
As advertised, the water was green, murky and cold and we couldn't see much more than a few feet in front of our face which just added to the thrill of snorkeling with at least 8 scarred up nasty looking hammerhead sharks.
This video quality is really poor but it was such a great experience I couldn't leave it out.
Our boat tour was coming to an end so a couple more lava field hikes and it was time to say adios to our new friends.
As expected The Galapagos has been a top highlight of our entire trip!