KODAK PAGES 11-20
WHERE THE HELL IS KODAK
The day for my trip to the reed islands is perfect. Clear skies with the sun out. My tour van picks me up and off we go. I am with a tour of about 14 people from all walks of life around the globe and so to the floating islands of Uros. I’m only doing a day trip (about 5hrs) but you can stay overnight with one of the families. It’s really weird to walk on these islands made of reeds. To me it seemed like a lot of hard work to live on them. They have to get everything fresh each day, no refrigerators here, or dry the fish and other meats out in order for them to last and then there are the problem of getting rid of their excrement. This is done everyday also with boats coming in and taking it away for them.
Lake Titicaca is very clean and you could see the bottom of it for a long way out until it got to deep. Some countries could take a leaf out of Peru’s book in this regard. And the other thing is they are so tolerant. Families live right on top of each other so to speak and if there is a dispute then they all have to sit, discuss and resolve before they can go. Well when you see how they live you understand this rule. I had however at the end of the day decided that if it weren’t for the tourists that go see these islands they would have ceased living on them years ago. To me it didn’t really seem practical at all but it was totally different and very interesting. All in all it was an enjoyable day and I can now tick of the Floating Islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca, Peru. As I’m writing this up my mind is drifting back to there. Wow it seems so amazing that I have been to this place and so many others.
Next on the list for Kodak and I is Copacabana, still on the shores of Lake Titicaca but further around and in Bolivia. I must say that the whole of Peru is so well set up for tourists and apart from the little bag thing in Nazca there was to be no other concerns when taking any other buses within Peru. The same can be said of Puno. The bags are tagged and put on the bus as soon as they have tagged them. The bus station was a buzz with buses and people and friendly helpful Peruvians. Most of the people on my bus are backpackers with a few locals and Bolivians.
But for this trip which is to be around 8hrs there is no toilet. After 3hrs one of the guys, (Canadian I think) asks the driver to pull over as he needs a toilet stop. The bus driver ended up being out the door first as he was busting to and then the whole bus just emptied out. Everyone went to the toilet. Ladies just got out, down trousers, up skirts and did their business. Can’t be shy in these circumstances! The men did wait with backs turned for us all to finish though. Back on our merry way and the next toilet stop goes the same way and then we reach the border. There are toilets here that everyone makes full use of.
To get over the border you have to first go to the Policia (police) and have a stamp put in your passport and then go to immigration and get the exit stamp out of Peru and a ¼ km walk over a small rise to Bolivian immigration. Get stamped into Bolivia and join your bus again. Easy. Accept if you don’t listen like one guy didn’t and neglected to get the Policia stamp out of Peru so he got left on the road in no man’s land. Bolivia wouldn’t let him in as he hadn’t been stamped out by Peruvian Police and Peru wouldn’t let him back in because he had the exit stamp from immigration and as far as they were concerned they weren’t going to stamp him in to get the Policia stamp out. What a goddamn awful situation to find yourself in, but at the end of the day his fault for not listening and how he mucked it up I will never know as everyone followed the bus driver to the Policia building first, then to the immigration office second. What he was doing while we were doing that god only knows. After waiting for a ½ hr to see if they would let him through one of the guys he was travelling with just told the bus driver to go. We left him standing with immigration officers in the middle of the road at the Bolivian border.
Another lesson learnt, listen and keep your wits about you. Kodak and I finally arrive in Copacabana around 8pm. It was a long day and after a very nice meal we hit the sack for some much needed sleep.
I seem to have struck it just right weather wise as the next morning is brilliant again. My thought of following the summer weather from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere is paying off. Today we are off to the Island of the Sun on a day trip. Down to the little jetty, buy your ticket, hop on and off you go. It’s a nice cruise to the island and takes us around an hour. They isn’t really much to see here but this island has been inhabited since the beginning of Bolivian and Peruvian history. Again they have a home-stay programme running and fill you in on all the myths and history of the island and teach you a traditional dance. A Canadian girl I sat next to on the bus did the overnight stay and enjoyed it.
On getting back into Copacabana I then strolled up a hill behind the town to take in the magnicent view. All tourists that hit the town tend to take the walk up here. There is the local plaza and churches and small souvenir shops to see and all in all an enjoyable little town. The restaurants are good to. Lovely people, I like this place.
Next morning sees us on the bus again and off to La Paz. It’s a great trip to take. Like every other place there is so much to see. The scenery is out of this world. The lake, the dry desert-like fields with green crops that are irrigated. The climate is surprisingly dry up here yet you are so high up. I always thought the opposite would apply. Wrong again. We get to Kasani and have to disembark and buy a ticket for a ferry across the lake to Tiquina. The bus goes on a separate barge. On the Tiquina side we have time to have a quick look around, get something to eat and go to the toilet. It’s always a good idea to carry toilet paper with you but most places you will find a lady at the toilets who asks for a few coins in exchange for toilet paper. I don’t mind this, as for some of them it is their only source of income.
Back on the bus and into La Paz. Wow, you come around the corner at the top after going through what I would call the outer residential area and there below you is La Paz. You wind down the hill and into the centre of it all. People, cars, vans and buses. It’s another metropolis. Australia is on my mind again when I see how many eucalyptus trees there are. South America just loves these trees. Getting to the hostel is a breeze as the taxi driver knows exactly where it is. Turns out I am in the most popular hostel in La Paz, the Loki. This hostel will turn out to be the best one I have stayed in to date. 177 beds and the whole time I was there it was full. The girl I sat next to in the bus from Puno to Copacabana (Nicole) and another English girl I met in Arequipa (Katie) are both staying here. The night of course we just had to spend in the hostel bar catching up and swapping stories. Great way to spend the evening/night.
The following day I head to the famous Witches Market. Anything you can dream up I’m sure you can buy here and it’s so cheap. I reckon they must fly it in by the plane load. You can even buy dried lama foetuses, not that you would have a use for them, but the Bolivians bury them under their houses as they are supposed to bring luck. Hmmmmm. And finally I get to buy a new camera. That was rather a laugh as the shop attendant didn’t speak English and my Spanish is still hit or miss. Usually miss but I’m getting exceptionally well at charades. We get the camera onto English so I’m ok and the book has over 10 languages, including English, as I brought a Sony Cybershot. Cost; $US 40. Priceless. Memory card included. I’m happy. Walking around La Paz, as you can imagine, is hard work as it’s at 4000mtrs above sea level. Now everyone says it’s the highest capital city in the world but actually Sucre is the capital of Bolivia. However it is the highest city in the world. At the hostel is a girl from London who has been living and working there for a year and after seeing a notice she has posted a decided to take some Spanish lessons with her. I also book to do a mountain bike trip on the World’s Most Dangerous Road.
Next day starts with getting up at 5.30am and heading down the hill for breakfast at our meeting point in a restaurant to do the mountain bike ride. There are 6 of us from the Loki and others. With breakfast done we get on the bus and go. We climb even higher to our start point at one of the mountains that you can see from the La Paz streets. Sh.t it’s cold up here. There’s snow on the ground and by the time we get to the first stop point to let everyone catch up the ends of all my fingers are numb. I then have one hell of a time trying to hold onto the handle bars for the next hour or so. The first part luckily is on sealed road so I manage to keep going. Once we hit the metal part of the road my fingers have thawed and I’m really in my element now. Everyone is looking at the drop-off which is 300mtrs down the bottom and into the river. If you lose it here and for the next 30kms or so you aint coming back. People have been killed doing this ride but that doesn’t faze me and when it’s time to start this part of it none of the guys are willing to go first in behind the guide. That gave me the opportunity to get right behind him and that suited me. When we got to the first stop, to again let everyone catch up, the guide turns around and says to me ‘you’re right up my butt and pushing me hard, you must have done this before.’ When I explain that yes I have heaps and that my son, his mate from school and I used to scream down this certain hill at 80kmph he then understands that I am not going to let up and intend to be right behind him all the way to the bottom.
Next stop he simply calls me Bloody Crazy. The rest of the guys in the group just can’t get over the fact that I’m pushing so hard and one says to me that’s he’s jealous of the fact that I’m better than him. It wasn’t a matter of me being better than him just a matter that I have done mountain biking lots and know my limits. Give me a good stiff wind on top of a hill and I simply get pushed over by it. (Yes this happened once and left everyone around me in fits of laughter, but it was funny) I’m a very petite person. Practise and technique make all the difference. Anyway I put so much into going done at break neck speed that when it came to small hills I didn’t have the power in my legs to get up them. The end was a welcome sight as by now we have discarded as much clothing as we could and the rest is wet with sweat. We get a shower and change into our spare clothes, have a meal and watch a video of the ride then on the bus and back to La Paz. Our guide, an Irish guy keeps us amused with stories from other rides and the best one he had up his sleeve was a girl who did the ride and when at the bottom asked ‘are we at the place where we left this morning’. Oh my god, 45kms downhill all day, never laughed so much in all my life!! We got back to La Paz at 8.30pm. Slept like a log.
Now I don’t know why but Bolivia has really captured me. Maybe because I’m a giant in this country. Well 5ft6 is giant as they are all 5ft nothing. No, on a more serious note they are a friendly and happy people. They aren’t in your face when you go shopping unlike Cusco in Peru and they help you out best they can. There’s just something about Bolivia. I made a comment to Kodak that I would return again and the following year I did just that.
Love it here, even though when walking down the street you get a fright from Policia with machine guns at the ATMs and the shoe-shine boys with balaclavas on. Kodak and I make a night trip to Uyuni on the bus. God the road was like corrugated iron all the way. Didn’t get much sleep. In the moonlight I could see desolate landscape like I imagine the moon to be. We went through several villages that where just slums really. All the buildings were made from pieces of old boards and rusted sheets of iron. For such an amazing and interesting destination it still is one of the poorest countries in the world but at the same time draws you in with what it has to offer. I wouldn’t actually mind living here.
As soon as we get to Uyuni the bus is surrounded by tour operators. I took a few pamphlets and headed off to get breakfast and decide which company I will go with to see the Salt Plain. You have the choice of doing a day trip or 2 days and some even do 3 days and will drop you off at the border of Argentina in the south. After I had talked with others in the Loki hostel I had decided before getting here that I would do just the day trip. Most had said the 3 days was too much and you spent alot of your time in the vehicle just belting along all day with a few stops here and there that are interesting but its a long trip.
I end up in a vehicle with a French and Danish girl and off we go. First stop is a train grave yard, then to a small village on the plain then out onto the salt plain itself. Wow it is so blinding. 12,000km square of salt at what seems the top of the world. Don’t make the mistake of lowering your sunglasses to see how bright it is. It’s bright!! It wasn’t till a few days later that I really take notice of how many blind people there are in Bolivia, and there are lots. I got some great photos from the plain and Kodak ended up going head first into it and came up looking like he had been playing in snow. We made a visit to the salt hotel before driving for an hour in a straight line to this huge rock which pokes out of the salt and has cactus growing on it. This is where we had lunch. There were tourists all over the place and even tour buses. Mirages everywhere you look and it also deceives your eyes at close range. Someone would walk away from you about 10steps and they looked like they were a ¼ km away. It came out in the photos like this to.
I just ended up with being fascinated at something every day. Doing the day trip was enough for me. It was hot, bright but so worth it. The next day in the town was a fiesta in honour of some god that I didn’t quite get to the bottom of but all the school children were dressed up and there were celebrations in the street. Their clothes and costumes had all the colours of the rainbow and there was traditional Bolivian music from adults accompanying them as they went through the streets. It was great fun to catch this and my camera is working great to. After watching this for some time I go sit in the main plaza and have a look in my Lonely Planet book trying to decide where I will go when I get to Ecuador. That night Kodak and I bump our way back to La Paz. I have decided to stay another week and take Spanish lessons at a school. My teacher has no idea what is about to hit her. I’m already feeling sorry for her.
My first Spanish lesson goes ok and I’m getting ahead of myself thinking I might get the hang of this. I was to end up doing 4hrs each morning for a week. One afternoon while walking in one of the streets up behind my hostel I bump into Mike. Mike is Canadian and we hit it off immediately when we met in Argentina. He’s around 6ft4 and the easiest guy to talk to but will he send you an email – hell no – and that’s why I had no idea he was in La Paz. The first thing he asks me is to help him. Why, what has happened. Well turns out he met this girl in Chile and she decided to follow him to Bolivia and he didn’t like her to the point where he wanted to see her again. But she invited herself along anyway and he wanted my company the next night at dinner as he wasn’t too sure what he was going to talk about with her.
Mike also had lost his backpack. No I should rephrase that, he had it stolen by making the biggest mistake in the book. He was the only one in the taxi and had paid the driver before getting out and while Mike was walking to the boot of the car to get his pack the driver took off. That has to be the oldest and most heard of trick in the book that taxi drivers use. Put the bag in the backseat with you, get it out and yourself then walk to the driver’s window and pay him, then shut the door you got out of. I have done this many a time now. The dinner goes off ok and this girl seems nice but the first 2 seconds told me she was not Mike’s type. The rest of this story I think is better left unsaid.
I was to have my own encounter with a pint sized Israeli that decided he would like to get into my pants. What is it with guys when they are away from home and especially the younger ones? I mean I’m old enough to be their mother!! The day of our departure to Quito in Ecuador comes around and Kodak and I have a wakeup call at 5am.
Thankful I don’t have many early morning flights on my trip. On getting into the plane the head steward puts out his hand to shake mine and comments ‘what amazing coloured eyes you have, so blue’. We end up talking like we have known each other for years and in the end I have to sit down as everyone is in their seats and waiting on me, bit embarrassing. It wasn’t till later when I got off the plane I realised I didn’t get his email. The flight is good though as it follows Lake Titicaca more or less right up the middle. I have a 2 ½ hr stopover in Lima and this is where I find the one and only place to smoke in all of South America. Yes it’s at gate 23. There’s a cafe there and you have to buy a coffee or tea and you can sit and smoke for as long as you like and go on wifi to pass the time.
Arriving in Quito and getting to the hostel goes without a hitch. Oh but it is colder here and it is at altitude also, only 1000mtrs lower than La Paz. Quito was to turn out to quite fun. I was to stay at a very popular hostel and meet and make friends with people from the US, Canada, England and Belgium. Some people think that I’m a live wire and leave them for dead with the energy I have but this Canadian Sean out did everyone. He was living in Sydney, Australia and had also live in Gisborne, New Zealand. He was into climbing, surfing – well you name it he had tried it.
One day there he decided he was going to climb the high peak up behind the Teleforica. Stupidly Pat and I said that we would also give it a try. The ride to the top of the teleforica takes a half hour and takes you up 1km. When you get to the top you are at 4000mtrs above sea level and it is so cold up here. Pat and I were wrapped up well but after walking only a short distance give up and head back to the cafe and toilets. Sean and the others didn’t last much longer realising the going was tough and there was no way they would reach the top before dark and get back for the last trip down in the cable car. Didn’t matter and the photos from up there turned out great. You get the most wondrous view over Quito and because we had all been to lots of places within Quito we are able to point them out.
I also decide to take another week of Spanish. Oh my poor Spanish teacher!! I think he found the going harder than me. One afternoon I head off with a group of people to go ice-skating. At first no-one even believed me when I said that you could go ice-skating in Quito but you can. It took us awhile to find the place but it was the best fun and what a laugh. I have never done it before and in the 2 ½ hrs I spent on the ice I only ended up on my butt 3 times. The arrival of 3 kiwi girls at the hostel allows me to have some company on a visit across to the coast and a place called Puerto Lopez. I had been thinking of going this way and when these 3 turned up and said they were going there I asked if I could join them. Their answer – yes. Great so a few days later we head to the bus station for a night bus. Great thing about Ecuador, you don’t need to book a bus as they are heading to all sorts of destinations nearly every 20minutes. Apart from that there are several companies to choose from.
Wow the road to Puerto Lopez is something else, well the first part of it anyway. Huge hills that the bus winds up for ages. The jungle areas that we go through is where all the banana passionfruit comes from that I had been buying in the street and introducing to hostellers whom had never heard of it let alone seen it. There are lots of Ecuadorians with their children on this bus and when we get only 10minutes into the movie I am wondering why they are showing it. If you have seen Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypse’ then you know what I mean, if you haven’t seen it well I can tell you it is rather violent. God even I couldn’t look at some parts of it and I know for sure that there is no way I would let my granddaughter watch it. I’m sure those poor kids must have had nightmares for a week but none of them seem to cry, scream or even flinch when this movie was on. Getting to Puerto Lopez was an all night affair with some of the roads quite rough, especially the last bit leading into our final destination. It was heavenly to finally get there.
Our first day in Puerto Lopez we were introduced to an Italian who had lived in this small town for so long he had nearly forgotten how to speak his native language. He became our tour guide for the day. First off was to a lovely secluded beach. We spent just hours swimming and sun-bathing. Then we were taken to a thermal pool. God it smelt, reminded me off Rotorua in NZ, and it was only luke warm but we got to meet locals and we a place I’m sure not to many people have been.
Then we headed in the opposite direction and bumped our way along to another beach. I must say the beaches out here are stunning and the water is crystal clear and warm. Never have to ask someone if they are hopping in. A lookout point we went to was amazing. It is owned by a German gentleman and he had also been there for many years. His eldest son attended highschool in Guayaquil but came home every weekend. He was a very interesting man to talk with. The sun is piercing hot all day and there was a ton of suntan lotion used. When we got back to our little town later in the afternoon we were in time to see all the fisherman come in and the off-loading of the days catch. There are pelicans for miles (as you can see from my pic). Boats are rowed out to the bigger ones then rowed to shore. No wharf here to make their jobs easier. That evening our guide for the day invites us all to his home for dinner.
There are some stunning and very modern homes in Puerto Lopez. Yet another place I decide I wouldnt mind living! After a pleasant meal and conversation we are taken back to our hostel. I like this place with its Great Dane dog, lizards and these over-sized looking rat things! The cockroaches I could have done without especially when they crawled into my bag. Hope they get smouldered!!
The following day we head down to the beach to meet up with a guy we organised the night before to take us to an island for a look around then snorkelling. A guy we meet the night before on our wanders is coming with us. Marc was his name and he turned out to be quite the photographer, and his was his birthday to boot. I wasn’t feeling the best all day so didnt do the snorkelling bit but still had a great time. On getting back to shore we invite Marc to dinner and head back to shower and change. When I walked into my room, which I had to unlock first, I notice my bag unlocked. I quick look at my wallet, little bit on cash, passport, yellow fever certificate and a few other pieces puts my mind at rest that nothing is missing and it all looks the same. Clothes haven’t been moved, thrown out and put back in, but I swear I locked it.You know one of those nagging thoughts that stays with you because you just know you locked it!!
Anyway off to dinner we go and Marc I know, very much appreciated company on his birthday. I am still friends with Marc and keep track on Facebook and have even stayed at his place in Williamstown. I told him I would love to visit one day and over a year later I did. HI MARC. The following day the other three girls decide they are going to head further south so Marc and I head to Manta. We bump our way back to Manta. God it seems to take hours and its so hot. Marc is going to stay the night but when I tell him I’m heading to the airport to see if can get a flight to Quito he decides to come along. When I just rock up to the TAME counter and ask if its possible to get on the next flight to Quito and buy my ticket there and then Marks like ‘what the hell, I might as well come to’. He was amazed that I could and did just rock up and buy a ticket. We turn around to see this lonely red and black backpack being pulled along by a small tractor on one of those baggage carts all by itself. Not 2 minutes later we are getting on the plane and heading to Quito. If memory serves me right its only just over an hour and a half to Quito.
Anyway there was no way I was going to spend another 8-10 hours on the bus from Manta to Quito and this way I can still catch a bus and be in Riobamba well before dark. Brillant! So I get to the bus station in Quito and buy a ticket and then I’m off to Riobamba. Yes, just like that. I love the fact you can do that everywhere in South America and Quito is so easy. There’s just buses to everywhere all the time and a load of bus companys to choose from. No worries and inexpensive and also just as comfy as anywhere else and the roads are better than in Peru. The countryside along the way to Riobamba is flat of rolling and cultivated with many crops. I didnt get to see many tractors but I dear say they where there somewhere. I arrive in Riobamba and find myself next to a market. Couldn’t help but take a photo of all these poor hens stuffed in a box. The noise was more like a scream, well it wasnt a cluck thats for sure.
After arriving in Riobamba and finding out that the train trip I wanted to do is only on a Thursday (its Tuesday) and that I would be needing to get up at 5.30am and travelling to Alausi and then catching my train and then having to travel all the way back to Alausi and then getting on a bus and back to Riobamba all in one day I decide to give it a miss and spend the one night in Riobamba.
So the following morning I get up and head out. This town is like most others with markets and shops to buy just about anything you can think of. The streets seem to be narrow but it is a smaller city if you like and in the centre of the country. I decided for lunch to follow the locals. By this time I had learnt that the best places to eat of course is where the locals go. Good food, good prices. After lunch Kodak and I head to the bus station.
Next lesson – always tell the taxi driver where you are going to. Saves a lot of time and in this case in Riobamba lots because there are two bus stations. One at the south end of town and one at the north end of town. The rest is self explanatory. So from the north station we head off to Banoś. It only takes about 2 hrs and it goes very fast. It was rather hot when I got into Banoś.
After booking into my hostel off I go for the usual look around and head back to the hostel. For some reason that I can’t explain I decide I need to look at my travel cards. I have 4 and also my debit card from the UK and another NZ card and 1 credit card. I only have this many because of being away from home for so long. On pulling half my clothes out of the backpack I discover my money belt is gone. Panic set in and I just went blank. After sitting for a half hour trying to get my head around it I know that it had to be in Puerto Lopez that it was stolen. At this point I have a bit of a cry. The frustration got to me and it has been the only time in 2 years of travelling that I have cried. After pulling myself together I getting phone numbers and travellers cheque numbers etc….I head down to an internet cafe to make phone calls and try to put a stop to things.
This was really frustrating because of the time difference. To my surprise my traveller cheques $US4000 had been cashed in Puerto Lopez the day I had gone to the island snorkelling. Yes the day I came back and swore I had locked my bag. Well they where good – REALLY GOOD because they had to go right down into the bottom of a second pocket that you don’t know is there unless you take half my stuff out. To this day I still don’t know how they did it. They obviously knew the person that worked at the bank to in order to cash them and get this 2 hours later they got another $500 off the same cheques. American Express figured the bank teller themselves then went back and did this for themselves somehow. Needless to say they were just as amazed as I was.
They had also tried to use my NZ card but when the pin number was wrong a second time it was overridden by my bank and stopped immediately. They didn’t bother to try my UK one. All in all the first night I spent 4 hours on the phone and the following night another 4. My stay in Banoś was not what I wanting it to be. The 3 other kiwi girls turned up and after telling them they were just as surprised. They had all their stuff all over the room and nothing had got from their packs at all. After a long night on the phone it is decided I will head back to Quito and hire one of the Spanish teachers there and head back to Puerto Lopez with them as my interpreter to get a police report. More money. I get back to the Secret Garden Hostel and get an interpreter and 2 days later we are flying into Manta. Then it’s on the bus again to bump my way back to Puerto Lopez. We are told it is a direct bus but then find ourselves inland and having to change buses.
It just seemed to go on forever and we don’t get into PL until 2pm. Then the fun starts. First I have to go to the Policia and make a report. He then goes to the Political Policia and tells them what has happened, and then it’s to the Camasaria to ask their permission to do the report and ask if they will sign it. When he has permission we then go back to his office and he hand writes what I tell has been stolen. Next I have to pay him for this and then it is back to the Camasaria and they have a look at his report and I then pay them so they will sign it after he has had it typed up on official Policia Report paper. You get the drift.
All this time I’m thinking if this was NZ I would be done for bribing the Police. You don’t dare suggest payment to the Police in my country yet here I am paying the Police in Ecuador. I can say honestly that the whole thing made me nervous. Anyway after walking between offices and 3 different lots of Police, Jackie then tells me the report will be sent in a few days to her so she can deliver it to me at the hostel. I’m now thinking that I might not even get it and another lot of money has just gone. By the time we finish and get back to the bus station the last bus to Manta has left. What now! This man at the bus station knows another who has a good car and will drive to the airport. Out comes my wallet again and for another $US60 off we go. This poor guy is driving like a bat out hell so we can make it in time and he keeps saying ‘this is Ecuador, nothing is on time’. Well up to this point every bus and plane I have taken has always been on time. And you guessed it.
We get to Manta airport and our plane had left on time 10 minutes ago. So out comes the credit card (they didn’t get this one) and another lot of money gone. SHIT what the hell else is going to go wrong. We catch the next flight and finally 9.45pm that night we get back to Quito. I’m starving by this time and to tired so go straight to bed, not that I got to sleep in a hurry. God let tomorrow be a good day!!!
Photo compliments of Marc Freeman
Well the following day turns out to be OK. I went up to a statue of the Virgin Mary on a hill overlooking the older part of the city. Then to soccer match with a group from the hostel. I’m back at the Secret Garden Hostel. A real find this one. Anyway this soccer match is a real eye opener. We had a guy from Scotland with us. My god did he get into it in a big way and none of us could actually understand a thing he was saying. We spent more time laughing at him than looking at the game. After the game had finished we make our way outside and then watch the happenings that are going on.
Supporters are trying to start a riot and low and behold the Policia are just backing off big time. We nearly find ourselves in the thick of it so move away and then watch all the bottles start to get thrown at the Policia. Must say that I got nervous there for awhile. This goes on for 20 minutes before we move on and leave them to it. We catch a bus back to the nearest drop off point to our hostel and then sit to talk about the whole afternoon. Ever noticed that everyone everywhere always goes home and talks about the day especially when it has had the heart pumping. We just can’t help ourselves can we.
So to what am I going to do next? Kodak and I think it must be time to see the Galapagos Islands. This is something I have always wanted to do and I need time to get my mind off the last few days and have some fun and meet new people. So the following day I head down to the corner and catch the tram downtown. It’s really good having it so close by and all I have to do is walk over a block and turn left and I am at the agency that I had googled that has last minute spots for these trips.
At the same time I get some passport photos down as my spare ones had been stolen along with me drivers license, international drivers license, a letter from Canadian immigration and other bits and pieces. I get all booked and paid and have to go back the following day to pick all the tickets up. So now I have the next thing to look forward to and I must say it was good. My enthusiasm for all things Ecuadorian is starting to grow again. I went window shopping for 2 hours and brought some souvenirs before catching a taxi back. By this time I am so far away from where you catch the tram I can’t be bothered walking all the way back. My taxi driver speaks a little more English than most and between my Spanglish and his English, Jose and I have a pretty good conversation. He was a really nice guy.
Next morning I head downtown again to get all my tickets. Yes I am off to the Galapagos Islands. On walking back up the street I want to have another look at something I had seen the day before and I have to cross the street at the lights. As I am doing this a taxi starts tooting madly at me. I’m just about to let rip as in Quito it is a past time off all drivers to relentless toot all day like it is having some effect on getting the traffic to move again. Noise pollution, anyway I look around and who is grinning at me but Jose. What are the chances? There has to be close to a million taxis in Quito. No kidding. Not many people can afford their own cars so public transport and taxis are just everywhere, so I reckon it has to be around a million to one chance of seeing the same one again.
This same night I get an email from my daughter saying the parcel I posted in Peru has gotten there and everyone is stoked with their presents. Anyway to get some sleep as I have to be at the airport for a 7.30am departure. Our flight takes us to Guayaquil first to pick up others that are on the trip and then onto the Galapagos. Flying in you can see how clear the water is. It looks so inviting already. I am on the ship ‘Santa Cruz’. The young girl sharing my cabin is from Guayaquil and works for Metropolana Tours who does the bookings in Guayaquil. This is her 3rd time as she gets a trip once a year if she wishes to take it. For lunch we have buffet.
Following that we are put into groups and the afternoon we get to go ashore and practice our snorkelling. I haven’t down this in years but it took no time to get the hang of it again. The water is so clear and warm. I could have stayed there all night. That night at dinner I am sitting at a table with a guy from Germany. He is sponsored from companies in Germany and has a t-shirt on with ‘Mike the Bike’. He is cycling around the world. (In January 2009 I was in Tokomaru Bay, NZ and meet another guy from Netherlands who had met him on his travels. Small world.) Getting to sleep is no trouble and I have now found the smallest showers in the world. The next morning when we wake up we find ourselves at a different island. Cont…..18
A new day dawns. I have already seen sea lions, birds including flamingos and fish of all sorts and taken a photo of a seahorse. Breakfast is buffet and the selection is great. We head ashore to a new island. This island we get to see iguanas by the hundreds. The big male albatross sitting on the nest while his partner is out to sea. We walk on hardened lava that has formed amazing patterns and see the blue-footed boobies. Their feet seem oversized for their body.
But the best part of the day is snorkelling. The fish and manta rays by the dozen, but best of all was just floating in the sea with a turtle no more than 4 inches from my face. We floated just looking at each other for 10minutes before he decides to move on. The fur seals go whizzing past your face at 50kmph or more and give you such a fright and they do it continuously. I don’t know how many times I got a fright but it was loads and to just watch them is so invigorating. If only we could swim like that. They twist and turn and invite you to try it and there is no way you can keep up with them.
By the time you have turned around they are already behind you again and I swear they are having a good laugh. I went over right by the rock face as the fish tendered to be over there and when you drifted to close to the rocks all you had to do was pushed yourself off. The surf was amazing gentle and the water so warm. I don’t know how long we were there but it wasn’t long enough. Never is when it is something you are having so much fun doing. I have more photos again and even some of penguins. After we were all back on board our inflatable outboard boat we go into a cave. We have the choice of whether we get in the water of not. 25 metres or so below us the bottom of the cave is covered in manta rays. Now it’s not the manta rays that stop you getting in the water, it’s the temperature. It is remarkably colder in this cave. Not 40 metres back out it is so warm. Three guys from my boat hop in and have a dive down and play around which we can all see as the water is crystal clear but they don’t last more than 10minutes because of the cold.
There were also the fur seals darting around everywhere. I could have watched this for hours. Back on board is time to relax and mingle with the others. There are people of all ages from all over the world. Lunch is served to us and so is dinner. Yep, you don’t have to lift a finger. The waiters remember your name from the first time they meet you so every time you walked into the dining room they would greet you by your name. I was most impressed and the food was excellent. Note to oneself – take another cruise because if it is anything like this I won’t have any complaints.
There is a jacuzzi on the top deck, bar and you can do karaoke. The captain sang for us one night and wow he could sing. In the main lounge a screen is pulled down and the guides put on view all the photos of us. We didn’t know they were taking photos of us taking photos of everything we were seeing. Who ended up on the big screen? KODAK. By this time of course everyone knew who Kodak was. Gives you a different take on things also to see it up on a huge screen. The drama of last week is well to the back of mind and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. If you ever have the chance to go to the Galapagos Islands then go. I can see why my cabin mate is taking her 3rd trip.
The next day sees us all go ashore on a different island and then the afternoon is spent snorkelling. It’s fantastic. The thought of this all having to come to an end is not something I want to think about. There are the usual things we see today along with penguins and those super quick sea lions. One of the guys in our group kept getting bombarded by a bird when he was snorkelling to the point where this bird actually pulled out some his hair. Most of us couldn’t help but laugh every time this bird came in for another dive at him. He then ended up spending a lot of snorkelling time diving under when this bird lined him up. This bird had something against him!
Our last day is spent getting to the island of Santa Cruz and going to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. WOW! The giant turtles of the Galapagos are giant all right. My guide told me it takes 8 men to lift one. NO – I think it has to take 12 men. They are massive. I put my hand down by the foot of one of them so people could take a photo and try to get an idea of just how huge they are. They can live to over a hundred years of age. One that was there is believed to be 108yrs. I thought they moved at a reasonable speed to considering their size.
It’s pretty hard to put into words just what it is like to be here and to describe what I have seen and experienced. It really is a place you have to visit for yourself to appreciate the place, the people and the wildlife and creatures of this amazing place. Needless to say if I have the chance to come again for another 4-5 days I will do so. Sadly the day is coming to an end and it’s off to the airport and my flight back to Quito. Amongst the Galapagos Islands are only two airports. One used to be an American Military Air Base. We flew into one and are flying out of the other. We first fly back to Guayaquil to drop off the ones that started their journey here. This time Guayaquil has dried out somewhat as when I fly down at the start of my Galapagos adventure it was flooded, as was pretty much all the south of Ecuador. Quito is wet and cold, nothing like the Galapagos which was so warm.
The following day is my Mum’s birthday and I give her a call. It’s good to hear a voice I know from home and to catch up on all the gossip, not that I have really missed that. The Policia report had been delivered to Jackie while I was gone so I have made the decision to move on again. I have booked a flight and have to get up at 5am so I borrow a phone off Lucy (from Ireland) and head to bed. I have met some great people at this hostel and will endeavour to meet them somewhere in the world again. We all had the company of a Bolivian doctor from La Paz one night. He and his wife where in Quito for a South American doctor’s conference but they didn’t like staying at the posh hotels they provide for free, instead they liked to stay at hostels to meet people from all over the world. Like me. I find them so much more fun and sociable than hotels, unless of course, you have had enough and want a change to keep your sanity. Hello to Kylie, an Australian, living in Dublin. I meet her at this hostel and have visited her in Ireland. This hostel is The Secret Garden. So Where the Hell is Kodak going next?
But first to get there we have a 4 hr stopover in Panama. Now you are probably thinking why not fly direct from Quito and maybe have a stopover in Bogota. Cost. To do it that way was actually nearly twice the price. In this part of the world it pays to check out several search engines and the airlines directly. Anyway I’m thinking what the heck am I going to do in Panama airport for 4 hours? Oh brother, leave me here. This, so far, is my favourite airport for layout and DUTY FREE SHOPPING! It has got to be close to ½ km long and duty free shopping on both sides. Heaven. I loved it and oh did the time pass by so fast.
The onward flight to Cartagena goes without any delays and Kodak and I are soon taking our first footsteps on Colombian soil. This is despite all the protests from friends about how dangerous Colombia is. (Its bullsh..!) Walking out of the airport and into a hail of taxi drivers and having not much Spanish is never fun but I find a taxi driver that speaks English. Then all hell broke loose. The other taxi drivers didn’t like it as I had walked past some of their cars to go with this driver and next thing there is a bit of pushing and shoving going on. The Policia had to get these other guys off my driver. Another incident that made the heart go bump, bump! No problem. Now that may sound a bit scary, but no more than anything else. The Policia are armed and it was the driver who was getting it. The competition is fierce.
I had booked myself into a hotel as I knew that the area of Getasami where the hostels are is rough to say the least. I stayed down in Bocagrande. I loved it down here. Right on the beach and 2 pools at the hotel. If I don’t want to eat hotel food two buildings away is McDonalds. I didn’t end up eating there as breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided by the hotel and the selection was fantastic. And to top off they serve you.
So I do my usual thing and dump my bags and head off to have a look about. First stop was the bar downstairs and immediately start a conversation with the bar owner. He just so happens to sell emerald jewellery and twice a week goes to the cruise liners that call at the port to sell them there. Nice bloke and as it turned out most nights were spent in the bar talking with him and two of his friends. One of these guys, Juan, I hit it off with and his sister who didn’t have a job was to spend endless hours with me talking Spanish.
Now a word of warning. Be prepared to nearly get man-handled by woman wanting to give you a massage and put beads in your hair. Every time I stepped onto the street they were there suggesting I would like both. Became rather annoying actually. There are the taxi drivers that just sit outside all day waiting till someone wants to go somewhere. There’s usually 4-5 of them and once a day they end up having an argument about something. There is the guy that sits there trying to sell sunglasses all day, woman who come along with fruit bowls on their heads and Henry. He sells tickets for the day trip on a boat to Rosario Island. Then there are the horse drawn carts that do a circuit forever trying to get you to go for a ride. I refuse simply because their horses are so skinny and obviously not looked after. The poor things are so thin, hot and thirsty and look like they are going to drop dead on you.
My second day there I did a city tour and meet Genny from Bogota. We had a lot of fun as she didn’t speak much English but taking photos and gesturing and pulling faces about things is a universal language. My second full day there sees me heading to Rosario Island. On the way we see one massive cruise liner in the port. I am going on a cruise on one of them one day for sure. We first call in at a small island and go to an aquarium and swim then onto Rosaria Island for lunch. This is nice. The water is so clear and warm. You can do a banana boat ride or spend a little money buying the usual stuff from the vendors working the beach. Most enjoyable day of swimming, white sand beach, palm trees and sun. It finished all too soon. On the way back to port there is a Colombian couple that strike up a conversation with me. Lovely people and this was the way I was to find most Colombians especially if they spoke only a little English.
This same night Genny comes to the bar again and I learn a little more about her. She works with a company that imports wine and alcohol to Colombia. We are on facebook and she often sends me a message in Spanish of things. Next day I head to Club Nautica and see if I can put my name down to catch a boat to Panama City. To get the address of this place I went to a hostel in Getasami called Casa Viena. I walked in and immediately spotted this guy that I had meet and talked with in the Loki hostel, La Paz, Bolivia. The street this hostel was on had not been a lie and this guy had been beaten up and his wallet stolen at the start of the alley that leads to this hostel. I was looked at real hard to when walking down here but I can remember things I was told when doing my security guard training and I’m sure it has served me well on occasions.
After visiting Club Nautica I walk for about 2kms along the shore until getting a taxi back to the hotel. I have no problems with trusting the taxi drivers in Cartagena.