Quito Covid test results-negativo! With this positive news, we began the next leg of our journey early the next morning. The Avianca flight to Baltra was longer than expected as it stops in Guayaquil, the largest city and major port in Ecuador, for passengers to get on or off the plane and to refuel. Finally, we touched down and made our way through various security points to the man holding up a sign with our names on it. It was our first glimpse of Sebastian Estrada, our Classic Journeys guide for the week.
We had no idea what we were in for! We didn’t even get past the small, landscaped area in front of the airport before the lessons in how to use all our senses on the Islands began. Coming to an abrupt stop, Sebastian pointed out a large land iguana sunning herself, a Jerusalem ‘crown of thorns’ tree (reputed to be where Jesus’s crown of thorns came from), and the Holy Tree, often used for purification rituals and medicinal purposes. The oil oozing from the trunk has a strong, distinctive, but not unpleasant, smell. Similar to potpourri.
And that was how things went in the Galapagos Islands. Our first experience getting around there reinforced the writer’s adage that ‘the journey is just as important as the destination’. With no time to waste, we hopped on a bus, were deposited with our luggage next to a water taxi, then ferried across the water to where a driver and pickup truck were waiting to take us to the first stop on the tour, Reserva El Chato. Getting to the area known as the highlands (because of its altitude), the roads were a muddy obstacle course of potholes/craters and, sitting in the front seat, I was in awe of how expertly Manuel was able to navigate around each and every one of them. My spine didn’t even get displaced once!
We had a little fun and then lunch onsite at the Rancho el Manzanillo, a woodsy, open-air, family-run restaurant with fresh Ecuadorian cuisine. Then, after donning the provided muck boots, we headed down the path in pursuit of the giant tortoises. It didn’t take long to find them; they come and go as they please and they are everywhere! And every bit as cool as you imagined. It’s funny how sometimes the smallest things are the most memorable like their ancient, wrinkly faces on elastic necks, their slow, plodding gait, and the noise they make as they chew on the green, leafy vegetation. It really is unbelievably mesmerizing to wander amongst them in their natural surroundings and just take it all in.
Next, Sebastian took us in a lava tunnel. For those who have never been in one of these geographical features, it’s a unique experience! Especially for those of us from New York and New Hampshire! The one at El Chato is more sanitized and commercial but since it’s included in the price of admission it’s definitely worth the visit. Overall, though, I preferred Cuevas de Sucre on Isabela Island. That lava tunnel is a bit more treacherous but feels more authentic, especially when you turn off your flashlights and stand there in the absolute dark and silence!
Next up-The people and places of Santa Cruz.