A Travellerspoint blog

Awards,Awards.....

On our loooooong way home, we have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on our three weeks away. One thing is sure, we will do this again. It has been fantastic to be together as a family. No TV. No separate bedrooms for grumpy teenagers or forty-somethings to retreat to for a good sulk. We've probably had a bit too much wifi/internet, but that is today's world and anyway, how else can one blog? Otherwise, we have been just the four of us, holding our own in a strange environment, meeting people from all over the world, seeing some fantastic places,scenery, and especially wildlife, learning a new culture and language (Rob did very well with his Spanish), fighting the inevitable minor bugs and generally having a great experience together as a family. As a well-known advert would have it...."Priceless".
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So as we have reflected on our best and worst moments...so drum roll please, here we are, the Noyes Awards.

Best Place and Overall Experience

Has to go to the Napo Wildlife Centre. Great Place. Great Wildlife. Great People.

Best Moment

Despite his aversion to horseriding, even Rob has to admit that riding across the paramo in the shadow of Cotopaxi was special, though his highlight is cantering home! For the rest of us, it was a magical hour cantering free, racing each other across the plain. Thank you to Ride Andes!

Biggest Surprise

Two awards here. From all of us, it was that composting loos are OK. Indeed preferable to normal loos!! I'm not sure the Black Sheep Inn will be looking to develop a marketing campaign around this but who know!

The second is a special award from Lucy and me. It comes under the surprise (scary) category.

When we were in Napo, Lucy and I went for a night canoe with some others. Throughout this canoe, we coped with loads of bats, spiders, frogs et al coming at us in the night. As we were returning into the main lake, where the centre was situated, we could see in the torchbeams literally hundreds of red eyes. Caymans looking for supper! We quietly glided towards them when all of a sudden there is what seemed an enormous whoosh sound as something leaps into the boat, hitting Lucy on the shoulder. Lucy screams and leaps on top of her seat. Her Father, bravely seeking to protect his daughter, does exactly the same! How the canoe didn't tip over....well it is a testimony to Lucy and my balancing skills and of course is why I joined her on the seat.....to maintain the boat's balance, stupid! Anyway, after much flapping around, our intruder was caught.....not a six foot Cayman but a six inch Bream. I'm not sure what story that Bream is telling his/her mother, but for giving Lucy and me our biggest surprise, an award!

Now for the most important category recognised by all travellers and suitcase packers of the world...........

The Most Useless Item taken on Holiday, not used......and most importantly.....Brought All the Way Back Home!

You will not be surprised to learn that there were several nominees in this category.

Rob brought his mobile phone though he has no roaming sim card and didn't take a charger.

Dad carefully packed his neck pillow, eyeshades and ear plugs......in his hold bag.

Dad also took two old, worn out long sleeve work shirts that he would use and then leave in Ecuador. They are once more hanging in his wardrobe.

Trina has a number of entries including Washing Powder tablets, a hair spray for aiding the blow drying of hair and her best entry....a very natty pair of water shoes, carefully researched and then bought in a sale, just for this trip. However she very sneakily wore them for the first time on our last day, to go down to the swimming pool in our hotel in Quito and so is disqualified!

That leaves the winner as the Mosquito Head Net, donated by Trina's sister V, and taken by Trina. This wins as the rest of us did not know Trina had even taken it, until she owned up ay supper tonight!

And that is about it! If you have read everyone of these entries. Thank you! If this is the first entry you've read, just see what you have been missing...........

We had a great adventure and would happily recommend Ecuador and its people to anyone looking for a holiday with a difference. And we learnt "stuff" too........like

A) In Ecuador on a single carriageway road, you can fit two buses, a lorry and a car, all heading in the same direction...easy.

B) You can tell the difference between seals and sealions easily because sealions have ears.

C) The Amazon was originally named after the Spaniard who first navigated it...Orellana.....but the name Amazon was more popular and was kept because it recalled the fact that he thought his party had been attacked by naked female warriors.....the Amazons from Greek Mythology.

D) Frigate birds are the scavengers of the sea in the Galapagos but in fact never land on the sea.

E) Ecuadorian cuisine has high points and low points.....they love soups many of which are very tasty. On the low side, the Noyes' will be avoiding Tree Tomatoes and Soft White Maize!

F) Always take your own sink plug!

G) Biodiversity....we met some startling examples of biodiversity and specialisation. From Darwin's 13 finches to the leaf cutter ant. Curious? Read this....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafcutter_ant

H) Last but not least......when you are walking in the jungle.......don't step on anything that looks like a neat deposit of animal poo........chances are it's a Lancehead Viper..................

Posted by NoyesRus 16:04 Comments (0)

Galapagos......strange isles!

semi-overcast 17 °C

Our trip to the Galapagos was eventful but maybe not as we had intended. We flew from Quito to Ecuador's second city, Guiyaquil, and then took the same aircraft on to Galapagos....or that was the plan. As we were on the second leg, all of a sudden, the oxygen masks dropped down in front of us. This was an old 737, so of course not all of the masks dropped down, including those in front of Trina and Lucy, who were in the row ahead of Robert and me. Everyone on the plane was calm, especially as there seemed to be no difference in the plane's atmosphere. No obvious drop in pressure. Then the crew started scurrying around, getting everyone to put their masks on, the plane started to lose altitude and the pilot announced we were returning to Guiyaquil. People became a bit more agitated at this stage especially as the masks did not feel as though they were working!

Anyway, after 10/15 minutes it became clear that we still had normal cabin pressure and we made a slow return. Aerogal's crew were pleasant but completely uninformative, so no explanations or apologies were given. However once we landed at Guiyaquil, we were told that a replacement plane would be made available in about 30 minutes. Having been in this situation with BA, I have to say that I was highly sceptical that another plane would be either available or fuelled, loaded and crewed in that time. As it turns out, I was wrong and 30 minutes later we were embarking. Consequently we arrived at San Cristobel in the Galapagos, a little shaken but not stirred!

Of course, our boat that we were due to join had moved along with its itinerary. Fortunately it was only a 30 minute ride away by banga banga (we were told this is the local word for dinghy...pulling our legs?......Not so dissimilar to the Xhosa for tractor...ganda ganda......but maybe my leg had bells on then too?

I digress. We caught up with our boat in time for our first excursion on shore. 97% of the islands is National Park and entry is strictly controlled so all the boats' route and excursions are agreed the week before at least and cannot be deviated from, so the number of people in any one point at any particular time is highly regulated. This is where our visit became in a sense unreal. We had just spent nearly a week creeping around the jungle, keeping as quiet as possible, eyes peeled, ears pricked seeking out the wildlife. In the Galapagos it either ignores you, so you have to watch every step to avoid treading on an Iguana or Blue-footed Booby or it comes right up to you to investigate you, as do the Mocking Birds on land or sealions in the water. In some ways we found this very difficult to come to terms with. For example you would have the following conversation with the guide. One of us would see a bird in the distance. We would shout out, "What's that? Just coming into land, by that thorn bush at two o'clock?" Our guide, Billy, a veteran of 24 years would say, " Oh don't worry. We'll see lots of those round the next corner." Sure enough, round the next corner there would be a nesting colony of Boobies or Albatrosses or whatever, and we would walk to within two metres of them and they wouldn't bat an eyelid!! Somehow, I think we all found that this made it less special or exciting.
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That first day, we walked on San Cristobel seeing mainly Blue-footed Boobies, Frigate birds and learnt the difference between seals and sealions. (Do you know?) Overnight we then cruised to Espanola. Cruised is a loose term. Both Trina and I awoke at midnight to what we thought was the anchor being dropped. No such luck! This was the anchor being weighed. We subsequently learnt that our boat only had one serviceable engine, so we ground our way through the night!! On Espanola, the main attraction was the Albatross colony, along with Boobies, Shearwaters, Petrels, Frigatebirds, Tropicbirds. This was thrilling...not so much seeing them close at hand on the ground, but in the air, where they conducted flypast after flypast around the cliffs, as though each of them was Jonathan Livingston Seagull for that afternoon. We also had our first swim with sealions here. They too conduct frequent "flypasts", though at considerably closer quarters. All a bit unnerving for those of us who feel water is not our natural habitat. Fortunately Lucy held my hand though I swear the only reason I was shaking was because the water was freezing even with wetsuits! We also met with many a Marine Iguana, though I'm glad to report, all these were on land.
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Our penultimate island was Floreana, a dry, desolate looking place in this their dry season. Here we were lucky to see 5 Flamingoes, who deign to island hop and so are not as predictable as other species. Otherwise, Floreana seems as famous for the lurid tales of early settlers on the island and its ancient post box, used by sailors 2-300 years ago. The tradition continues and so we left Robert's 18th birthday card there, for delivery in 2012. No stamps needed!
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More snorkelling in Floreana, where if anything the water was even colder. (Billy had already helpfully declared that he never swims before December!) Here we were promised more close encounters with sealions ("Lucy!"), sea turtles and sharks ("LUCY!!!"). Fortunately only a sea turtle turned up! Huge. Ugly. But amazingly graceful underwater.
On our last day, (Robert's 16th birthday!) we saw the sea turtle's land based cousin...the Giant Turtle...equally ugly, even bigger and no grace in sight! Mind you they need to conserve energy as they are estimated to live to 200 years old. Looking at them, you would believe it!
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So that was the Galapagos! If I come across less than enthralled, then that reflects well our reaction to it. In some ways this was a reaction to our week in Napo. When we were in Napo, we were commenting that we were glad we were seeing the jungle first and then the Galapagos. The Galapagos would be the climax of our trip. In the end, we all felt the other way round. Seeing "wild" animals so close, and such strange looking animals in some cases, is very special but we quickly became very blase. I started wondering what the world would be like, if we humans, the earth's greatest predator, had been vegetarian. Would the animal world be like it is on the Galapagos? Then of course I remembered that the animals and birds in the jungle were wary and hiding as much from each other as they were of us. It reminded me that I was equally uninspired by the wildlife in New Zealand, where again there are few natural predators. Makes it all a bit tame.....on land.....whereas if sharks could become veggie, I'd be a whole lot happier.

Our other reflection was on the people. we were supposed to be on a pretty upmarket boat. It was well furnished if a little tired (and one engined!). The boat crew were also a little "one engined" in comparison to Napo. They were pleasant enough, but they did not exhibit the same care and pride in the experience they were sharing with us foreigners. Robert and Lucy would say I am complaining now which I am not. I'm rambling but I hope also giving a sense of how much we appreciated what we had experienced in the jungle at Napo Wildlife Centre.

Posted by NoyesRus 14:15 Comments (0)

Homeward Bound

semi-overcast 16 °C

Just back from Robert┬┤s 16th birthday supper in Quito! Very full after lots of Tapas and chocolate crepes. Now have the daunting 4.00am wake up call to look forward to so this is a very brief update.

The Galapagos was surreal and a bit of an anti-climax all in one go, so will require a longer entry. Suffice to say we saw lots, swam with sealions and sea turtles and were in amazed at how close you could get to some spectacular "tamelife". I think it was this that lead to the anti-climax having had to stalk, hunt and search for everything in the jungle, it was somehow unsatisfactory to have an Albatross sit and look at you from 2 metres away!

Anyway, more later. We have that 4.00 am call and then two flights and 18 hours flying to look forward to tomorrow so I am signing off NOW!!

Posted by NoyesRus 18:26 Comments (0)

Walmart, Tesco eat your heart out!

sunny 18 °C

On what was supposed to be our quiet resting day in Quito in between the Napo River and the Galapagos, the girls took Rob and I shopping..........to Otavalo, a two hour drive north of Quito. Otavalo actually has four markets...two food, one "small animals" and the crafts market. We were of course headed to the crafts market. As we went on a Wednesday┬┤it was only a pale shadow of the real think which takes place on a Saturday. Fortunately we will be a 1000 km away by then. This market occupies the whole plaza of downtown Otavalo. Any Ecuadorian craft you can think of is featured here. The majority of stalls though are for woven goods...lots of rugs, shawls, woolly hats and gloves and also jewellery galore. After two hours of extensive research (!) and haggling we came away with two hammocks(!), two cushion covers, three scarves, one shawl and the prize buy....an Ecuadorian football shirt!

We also stopped off at the Equator......very underwhelming and then on the way back at the Parque de Condor. Well we had to see one even if sadly they were in cages. We saw three in total. What magnificant birds! Simply huge. Sadly they now estimate that there are only 40 left in the wild in Ecuador! Very depressing!

Off to the Galapagos tomorrow, so I have no idea if we will get a chance to blog before we return here on Sunday for our last night before we begin our trek home. Hasta Luego!

Posted by NoyesRus 17:15 Comments (0)

Civilisation?....Read this before the Recaps.

all seasons in one day 20 °C

So today we returned to Quito and have checked into the Hotel Quito. This is one of the oldest, modern hotels in Quito. I emphasise the word "modern".......in otherwords, though this hotel is not part of a chain, we could in truth be walking into any Marriott or Holiday Inn. After two weeks "on the road", it was what we all as a family wanted, even craved, but it was a shock as we walked in. It felt very strange. Once we had got our rooms, we sat as one on a bed, eating our marmite sandwiches which we had made at 5.30 this morning in the jungle, a world away. It was great to hear the children expressing the same sentiment that as if somehow, by coming back to standard western "civilisation", we were cheating! Equally, as I sit watch them playing in what must be a freezing pool, I recognise we probably needed an afternoon like this. The last two weeks have been full on and have made a strong impression, especially the last five nights in the jungle.

I am at last working on a computer, so let me give you a bit more insight than usual, plus (Victoria) some photos! We have taken 600 photos by the way. Recognising that some will be reading these on Blackberries etc, I`ve broken these down into three recaps....

By the way, if you are wondering how we came to be "roughing " it in a modern hotel. Well this reflects our one lowlight. When we returned to Quito from the Black Sheep Inn, we stayed one night in the San Jorge Eco-Lodge. This is a wonderful old hacienda converted into a hotel.....of sorts. It is owned by an Ecuadorian professor, who is made keen on birds. The gardens are a haven for Hummingbirds. This lodge is one of four in total...all birding reserves. This is a great idea, but as a hotel it sadly lacked. The rooms were freezing. Ths staff were very friendly, but there are only three of them. It reminded us of Fawlty Towers. The gardener who welcomed us, also turned out to be the bellboy, barman and only waiter. The kitchen is situated about 40 yards from the dining room. He would reach our table out of breath having run with whatever the next course was. The food was very Ecuadorian from a set menu. So no choice! Possibly all right for adults for one night....but not every night....and to top it all it is the most expensive place we are staying in the whole trip. So we checked out literally! We are here in Quito tonight and tomorrow and again as we return from the Galapagos before flying home the next day.

Posted by NoyesRus 16:01 Comments (0)

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