Galloping to the Galapagos - Chapter Six
Santa Cruz to San Cristobal to Quito and the Humboldt
Saturday, December 5, 2020
At our final stop in Santa Cruz, we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station to see more rescued tortoises. We also saw ‘Lonesome George’, reportedly the last Pinta Island tortoise, who died in 2012. He was estimated to be at least 100 years old.
Author’s note: They froze George, then shipped him to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to be reserved by taxidermists. He now “lives” in a climate controlled room in an air conditioned building at the Charles Darwin Research Center and you’re only allowed to see him for about ten minutes.
At this juncture we said goodbye to our shipmates and the Bonita Yacht to catch a fast ferry to San Cristobal.
Author’s note: We were warned by more than one person that this might be the ferry ride from hell, but we did not find it so. The seats were comfortable and I managed to nap a bit during the three hour fast boat ride. I do understand that if there is rough weather it can be hell.
As we pulled into the harbor we noticed what looked like an “old school” vessel called M/Y Grace.
Author's note: Curious we looked it up. It’s a restored yacht with an interesting history: Aristotle Onassis presented it to Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly at their wedding in 1956. It’s now privately owned, offering cruises in the Galapagos. You can read more about it here: https://www.vogue.com/article/grace-kelly-galapagos-yacht.
When we arrived on the dock in San Cristobal we could see our destination from the pier, the Galapagos Sunset Hotel.
Author’s note: As we settled in, the owners let us know there would be a power outage that night. Tom has a C-PAP machine and doesn’t sleep if the machine doesn’t have power. Our hosts found a small generator and upgraded us to their best room on the top floor (no extra charge) so the generator could run and not bother my sleep either!
The view from our room was exquisite!
Sunday, December 6, 2020 San Cristobal
The sea lions seem to own San Cristobal. They sleep on benchs and in the park. They are everywhere.
Author's note: I'm facinated by the sea lion's back flippers. I've seen them scratching with those flippers. You can see the nails in this closeup. When they fold their flipper, the nails are exposed - similar to our having nails on our knuckles.
We wandered San Cristobal a bit to find El Descanso Marienero for lunch. I had ceviche. Tom had seafood fried rice. Both were delicious but we were the only customers in the restaurant.
Author’s note: Yes, it was mid-afternoon but we still wondered how they were making a living.
As we looked for a dinner spot, I stopped to chat with a local.
Author’s note: Covid had closed several of the restaurants we tried. Finally I decided I wasn’t really very hungry and we found a crepe shop where Tom could get a sandwich and I could get a crepe.
Monday, December 7, 2020
After breakfast (included at the Sunset Hotel), with a bit of trepidation, I headed to the San Cristobal airport at 11:45 to return to Quito. Tom headed to the Humboldt Explorer at 1:00.
Author’s note: My Hilton Honors card gave me a free Priority Pass membership. This gives me access to high-end lounges around the world. The lounge in the San Cristobal Airport honored my pass, so I awaited my plane in comfort. Tom was worried about my return to Quito. So was I. I anticipated difficulty with the altitude so arranged for a wheelchair. It was a good call. It seemed there was at least a mile between the airplane and the taxis. I would have run out of breath long before I reached the taxi.
I arrived at the Hilton Colon Quito, opted for room service chicken soup for dinner, took a preventative migraine tablet, and went to sleep.
Tuesday, December 8, 2020 Breakfast was also included at the Hilton. Author's note: After breakfast, I struggled to connect my new phone to my laptop. There was no internet on the Bonita so when my laptop declined the tether to my phone, it meant I couldn’t download my pictures. With better internet at the Hilton I managed to make a connection that allowed me to download one picture at a time.
Late afternoon I walked out for an early dinner at Fairuz Restaurant. The presentation was outstanding. When I sat down they brought a tiny cup of sweet jasmine tea and several barazek sesame cookies. I declined dessert to hunt for cacao.
Author’s note: Ecuador is famous for their cacao/cocoa. Cocoa shops regularly offer cacao in levels from 100% cacao (sipping chocolate), to 50% cacao. I found a small shop (about 8 seats) and chose an 85% hot chocolate and a slice of passion fruit cheesecake. It was amazing.
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Wednesday began my exploration of Quito culture. Javier (from Cacaoland Tours, who assisted us through Quito Airport) and I visited the Museo De Sitio Intiñan. This is not to be confused with Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, the ‘official’ Equator museum. Modern technology indicates that Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is not actually located on Latitude 00°00’00” line of the equator, but Museo De Sitio Intiñan is.
My guide through the museum, Rondaldo, was delightful. He challenged me with questions making me reach back to high school lessons for answers. I learned about the indigenous people of Ecuador, caught glimpses of hummingbirds, and participated in fun activities to ‘prove’ I was at 0° Latitude or on the equator. So, I walked the line of the equator with my eyes closed (my guide told me this is easier for short people than tall people); balanced an egg on a nail (though possible anyplace in the world, supposedly easier at the equator); watched water travel straight down a drain on the equator, swirl counter clockwise north of the equator and swirl clockwise south of the equator. It was fun and we laughed a lot.
Author’s note: Apparently we crossed the equator on the Bonita Yacht - Tom and I have certificates to prove it. I don’t know exactly when it happened. Maybe they told us in Spanish.
On the way back we stopped for an empanada and a bowl of fruit at Fruteria Monserrate - recommended by Javier.
Author’s note: I was surprised that the empanada was not very spicy. There was a spicy sauce to add to it, but even that was not too spicy.
Perhaps it was the activity or perhaps it was visiting the highest point from the equator, but Wednesday night a headache crept up on me again. First I tried Advil on the way to bed. The pain woke me up, so I turned to my migraine prescription for sumatriptan which sent me back to sleep. At 4:00 a.m. the pain was more insistent so I pulled out all my prescriptions (I brought a couple just-in-case from previous surgery) including the ones from the doctors in Quito. One by one I looked them up on my phone and discovered that a couple (from the Quito doctors) could cause headaches. Finally I settled on a hot shower and a cup of tea with a cookie (to keep my stomach from rejecting the med) with my Hydroxyzine Pamoate capsule. Off to sleep it sent me to awake at 7:00 a.m. pain free.
Thursday, December 9, 2020
Today is a rest day. Due to the altitude, I’m touring one day then resting the next, with a goal of walking somewhere for early dinner. Today I indulged in hot chocolate at Cacao & Cacao then returned to the hotel for chicken soup.
Author’s note: This chicken soup was a total surprise. My first chicken soup in the Hilton was a clear lightly seasoned soup with a few vegetables. My second soup was thick and creamy with strong seasonings (including a LOT of salt), and a few vegetables. The first soup was delicious the second soup was almost inedible. I found it really remarkable that a ‘corporate kitchen’ didn’t have a consistent recipe.
I continued to struggle with transferring pictures.
Friday, December 11, 2020
Javier picked me up to visit the rainforest area known as Mindo. A typical tour of Mindo involves hiking up a mountain to see the waterfall. Obviously I wasn’t going to be able to hike the mountain. Although it was a more expensive option, Javier created custom tours that allowed me to tour the areas without overtaxing myself.
First we visited the butterflies. I have visited butterfly museums before but I have never been in a place where there were so many butterflies.
Next we visited the hummingbirds. When the owner bought the place it was a dump, literally. As he cleaned it up, he began adding plants. He noticed hummingbirds, so started choosing plants to attract them. I sat in a chair on an open, roofed deck, watching hummingbirds not more than six feet away. Watch carfully for the hummingbird's tiny tongue! I could have stayed there all day.
This last clip is not great, but Javier filmed a snake in the garden catching a frog. We were riveted as we watched. It’s something I’ve never seen before in person.
The last stop was Yumbos Chocolate. The tour included a cup of cacao and as many samples of chocolate as I cared to try, including unique flavors like lemongrass or chili and salt.
Author’s note: I bought several chocolate bars, including Naranja (orange). I ate it all the naranja the same evening. Luckily Javier’s friend was going to Mindo the next day and brought back three more Naranja for me.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
Author’s note: I must skip ahead for a moment. On December 14, when Tom arrived in Quito. I lost my cell phone. Because it was new, not fully set up and would not properly connect to my computer, I lost most of my photos. The fabulous interiors we were able to snap from the sidewalk because the doors were open for Sunday services are gone. I have them in my memory, but not to share. Most of the pictures I have shared are Tom’s.
At 9:00 a.m. on Sunday Javier and I headed to Old Town Quito. First we visited Basilica del Voto Nacional. This incredible Gothic Church was begun by the government. When the money ran out the people took over, sometimes bringing stones one by one to complete the building. Instead of gargoyles hanging off the ramparts, there are native Ecuadorian animals, including tortoises, condors, armadillos, sea lions, iguanas and more.
Next we moved into the heart of Old Town to Santurio Franciscano with its huge pavilion (this picture is mine).
Author’s note: Quito is building a subway. Old Town Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; therefore they cannot change anything within its boundaries. In order to build the subway under the pavilion, every stone was removed, numbered and then after the construction was returned to its original spot. You’ve really got to want a subway to do all that, right?
The La Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus) was exquisite with its distinctive twisted columns. The view inside was golden from ceiling to floor.
We also saw the Caraondelet Palace, the residence of the President and his family. Before Covid guided tours were available. The palace faces Independence Square which highlights the Independence Monument in commemoration of lives lost during the revolution for freedom from the Spanish.
Javier, ever attentive to my diminished stamina at altitude, offered a stop at 7 Campanarios Restaurant for coffee and quimbolitos and humitas.
Author’s note: Quimbolitos and humitas are traditional Ecuadorian sweet cakes made with corn flour steamed in corn husks. Humitas are more savory than quimbolitos, but both reminded me of cornbread, only better!
Our last stop of the day was the Virgin of El Panecillo, also known as the Virgin of Quito or the Winged Madonna. She is perched high above a hill and visible all over Quito and is reported to be made of 7,000 pieces of aluminum. She overlooks the entire city of Quito.
That evening I ate dinner at Hacienda de Los Arrieros, about a fifteen minute walk from the hotel. I ordered chicken soup and a glass of passion fruit juice.
Author’s note: The best thing about Quito is whenever juice is available in restaurant it is fresh: passion fruit, mango, soursop, blackberry, tree tomato (tamarillo) – all are fresh!
My soup arrived and looked good.
Then the rest of my meal arrived. It was a huge serving and delicious.