Galapagos Islands, Part 11 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, & Peru Tour

One of the most amazing things about traveling to the Galapagos is the sense one has of not needing to speak. The landscape, the animals, and the birds are all just there for us to enjoy. Each time we went to visit another island or another location on an island, it was a new experience even though sometimes we would see the same animals and birds over and over again. Each time was special.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

This bird has to be one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen. And, like the other Galapagos birds and creatures, he was not frightened by the humans and held still for a good number of pictures.

Cactus trees

Cactus trees

Lava Lizard

Lava Lizard

Another amazing critter!

Nazca or Masked Booby

Nazca or Masked Booby

The Nazca Boobies are very beautiful and what is even more exquisite is a very young Nazca Booby. They are fluffy and white. Here’s a mother and her baby.

Nazca Booby and baby

Nazca Booby and baby

Flamingo

Flamingo

In certain light, it seems as if the endemic flamingos glow. They do not. They get their beautiful color from the sea animals that they eat.

A cooperative Blue Footed Booby

A cooperative Blue Footed Booby

And yes, that is really the way they look. They tell me that it really attracts the girls (girl boobies, that is) which is a good thing.

What you can’t possibly imagine is how completely amazing this place is and how right the world seems with this beautiful life just living and thriving in a tranquil landscape.

And once again,

The Land Iguana smiles in approval

The Land Iguana smiles in approval

Galapagos Islands, Part 10 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

We traveled to a number of islands and several locations on Santa Cruz Island. In each place there was tremendous beauty. For example, here is a swallow tailed gull.

Swallow Tailed Gull

Swallow Tailed Gull

I was very excited about the prospect of seeing blue-footed boobies. Even having seen a number, they still fascinate me. This is a picture of the first one we saw. He/she didn’t feel like cooperating with us, but at least didn’t fly away.

Uncooperative blue-footed booby

Uncooperative blue-footed booby

We saw this very beautiful bird.

Yellow Warbler (Canario Maria)

Yellow Warbler (Canario Maria)

A frigate bird

A frigate bird

Frigates are completely black as they fly through the sky. They look almost the way you would expect ominous black birds to look, except watching them fly was just beautiful. However, when they want to impress each other ( and particularly the female of the species) they can puff out a sac that is bright red (and actually, quite impressive.) Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good pictures, but you can see some magnificent pictures of magnificent frigates here.

I tried to identify the next bird with my handy-dandy identification guide. Unfortunately, the birds in my pictures are never in the same position as they are in the guide, and so I am just guessing that this incredibly gorgeous bird is a Royal Albatross.

Royal Albatross (?)

Royal Albatross (?)

A land iguana

A land iguana

These guys always smile. I know that they must just be the happiest characters.

And no island trip is complete if one doesn’t have a chance to see sea lions. This time it was a nursing mother and her nursling.

Sea lion baby snack time

Sea lion baby snack time

The Galapagos Islands, Part 9 of the Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Peru Tour

Our first outing to an uninhabited area was to Bachas Beach which is located on Santa Cruz Island, but is far away from any human habitation or signs of civilization.

Bachas Beach

Bachas Beach

In the background you can see our ship, but otherwise, it was only we and nature. Bachas Beach got its name from a mispronunciation of the word “barges” as during World War II, US ships docked there in an effort to protect the Panama Canal.

As we walked onto the beach, I was overwhelmed with the peace and the natural beauty of the place, but looking further, it became clear to me that the island was full of life. Do you see it?

Life on the Island?

Life on the Island?

If you look carefully at the two pictures, you may be able to see some very small red/orange objects. They are Sally Lightfoot crabs. These crabs are strikingly beautiful. And they are everywhere. The entire rocky coastline is alive and moving!

A Sally Lightfoot Crab

A Sally Lightfoot Crab

Taking a walk

Taking a walk

Up close

Up close

Here I was, on the fifth day of creation. I couldn’t believe it. The crabs did not shy away from the camera, nor did the Lava Gulls, who posed for pictures.

Lava Gulls

Lava Gulls

The Galapagos Islands are all about seeing and listening, and not so much about speech. In fact, one of the things I loved the most were the long silences when no one was speaking and when I was alone in this magnificent natural environment.

Lava Gull

Lava Gull

We saw some other creatures too. Here are two of them:

Greater Flamingos

Greater Flamingos

At first they were shy, but once they noticed that we were silent, they stopped hiding.

Our Flamingo Friends

Our Flamingo Friends

And who was there to say goodbye once our magnificent visit came to an end?

Sea Lion

Sea Lion

More fabulous creatures to come….

The Galapagos Islands, Part 8 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

Finally we arrived at the Darwin Research Station outside of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.

We have arrived!

We have arrived!

Our visit there was fascinating as we saw species of plants and animals that we had never seen before. One of the animals we came to know and love was the land iguana, a reptile so clever that it has learned how to eat cactus pads and get not only fluids from them in the dry season, but food value from them as well. Land iguanas vary from island to island in the Galapagos. They can grow to be as much as three to five feet long! Here is a land iguana eating a cactus pad.

Land iguana at lunch

Land iguana at lunch

The major concentration at the Darwin station is the giant land tortoises. They too vary from Island to island with different shapes of shells and other remarkable differences. At the Darwin Station, scientists are concerned with preserving all of the existing species. There is, unfortunately one tortoise who is partnerless… Lonesome George is the last known existing tortoise of his kind. He was identified on Pinta Island and was brought to the breeding station in 1972. Since then he has waited in vain for a female Pinta Island tortoise. You can read more about him here.

We enjoyed seeing these enormous tortoises. Unlike what was permitted in the Galapagos Islands years ago, people are not allowed to ride on the tortoises. In fact, we are not permitted to touch them. The government of Ecuador takes very seriously the importance of preserving these islands and their air, land, and sea inhabitants– But we can take pictures!

Wow!

Wow!

My husband and his new pet

My husband and his new pet

and here’s something I thought I would never see:

Up close and personal!

Up close and personal!

When our tour of the station was over, we were satisfied and happy. We got back to the boat for a delicious kosher dinner and a restful night’s sleep, lulled by the gentle waves of the Pacific. What a wonderful day!!

The Galapagos Islands, Part 7 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

I can’t remember a time when I was more excited about a non-life-changing event than I was on the morning we left for the Galapagos Islands. Births and weddings of course have long lasting implications that change entire futures, but visiting a new place? But it was not just that it was a new place. This was to be the adventure that would be unlike anything that I or anyone I knew had experienced before– something I had only dreamed of.

Our luggage was inspected thoroughly before we got onto the plane. Because the Ecuadorians are concerned that the Galapagos Islands remain a living laboratory, as untainted as possible by civilization, there is always concern that people might be bringing things that will destroy the unique ecology of each of the islands. For that reason, no plants, or seeds can enter the islands. Similarly, when we travel from the Islands to the boat, the bottoms of our shoes are washed off before we enter the boat so that we will not transport seeds from one island to another.

We flew from Quito to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and then on to the Galapagos Islands. Before we landed, the interior of the plane was sprayed.

The first thing we saw when we landed at the airport in Baltra was this tree.

Galapagos cactus

Galapagos cactus

We thought it looked unique. It seems to grow quite profusely in the Galapagos Islands.

The archipelago consists of 15 main islands, 3 smaller islands and over 100 rocks and outcroppings. Once we had claimed our luggage, we went by bus and ferry and bus to the ship’s landing in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is one of the 5 islands that are inhabited by humans.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

From there we walked along the pier. I thought that we would see our ship, a small cruise ship that takes a maximum of 100 passengers.

The pier

The pier

It was raining and happily, it was the only rain we experienced during our visit there.

What I didn’t anticipate was our mode of transportation to the cruise ship and subsequently to each island. The islands are to remain unspoiled and so large ships do not dock near them, but stay removed from them so as not to pollute or to carry anything that might upset the ecology of the islands. So it was like this that we reached our ship.

The dinghies

The dinghies

And here is a picture of the ship

The Galapagos Legend

The Galapagos Legend

Once settled in, all of us were ready for our first big adventure. Late in the afternoon, we set out on our dinghies to visit the Darwin Research Station.

Imagine our surprise when we came upon a whole welcoming committee of marine iguanas who graciously posed for pictures!

Marine iguana

Marine iguana

and friend

and friend

The Marine Iguana is the world’s only sea-going lizard and is found only on the Galapagos Islands. We found them fascinating. We almost forgot that they were not what we were there to see. The Darwin Station is most concerned with the giant tortoises. You’ll see them next time…

Ecuador, Part 6 of the Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, & Peru Tour

After our lovely trip to Otavalo and environs and then back to the middle of the world, we went back to the hotel to prepare for shabbat.

And what a shabbat it was! First of all the flowers that filled the hotel put all of us in a good mood.

Roses

Roses

As shabbat neared, the women went to the dining room to light shabbat candles and shortly afterwards, the services started. The chanting and singing were lovely and in the short time we had been together, we had become a group.

More roses

More roses

After services, at dinner, we began to get acquainted with our guests, members of the Jewish community of Ecuador. Eating with us Friday night were the Israel consul to Ecuador and his wife and children. In addition, there were other Jews who lived in Quito and the vicinity. It was fascinating to hear about them and their backgrounds and why they were living in Quito and a little about life there.

Quito does indeed have a Jewish community. It numbers about 500 people and follows the Conservative stream of Judaism. There are some Orthodox Jews as well, but they comprise only a small fraction of the community. The community is dwindling with young people leaving the country for the US or Israel. There is a community center and a synagogue. There is also a Jewish school, the Albert Einstein school which is known for its excellent education. We were told that a majority of the students are not Jewish and are sent there because of the fine academic reputation the school possesses. The community has a store that sells Judaica, a mikvah, and the availability of kosher food. There is also a mohel (ritual circumcisor).

On Friday night and Saturday we enjoyed talking to the people who came to our hotel to join us for services and meals. We loved seeing the bright-eyed, beautiful children they brought with them– little children learning to speak Hebrew, English, and Spanish. I was not the only one who tried to encourage them to take the aliya plunge! After all, being a Jew in Ecuador is a bit like being a fish out of water. In Israel, they will be swimming along in a current of wonderful, refreshing, fresh water.

We were treated to talks by the Israel Ambassador and the Israel Consul to Ecuador and in addition, we met the local Chabad rabbi.

Yes, more roses

Yes, more roses

On shabbat afternoon we went to see a very beautiful ethnology museum. We enjoyed seeing the dress and artifacts and crafts of some of the peoples who have been living in Ecuador for centuries.

Our walk back to the hotel was pleasant and once shabbat was over, we were treated to a folkdance show put on especially for us in the hotel.

But all of us were very excited because we knew that bright and early on Sunday morning we would be getting up to start the adventure of a lifetime, a trip to the Galapagos!!!

Ecuador – Part 5 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, & Peru Tour

Early in the morning we set out for Peguche Falls, just outside Otavalo. It was a lovely, sunny day and we enjoyed riding through the picturesque countryside. When finally we got to the village adjacent to the falls, we went on foot, through the town, and then along the path to the falls, located in the woods.

We were walking along, just enjoying nature. The scenery was lovely and the people we were with were delightful. It was very quiet and relaxed when suddenly we noticed that we were not the only people who had the idea of seeing the falls that morning. We turned around and saw this:

School children

School children

Of course, their young legs were faster and more nimble than ours and very soon we were looking at the backs of some of them.

More school children

More school children

Yes, there were hundreds of them!

Yes, there were hundreds of them!

And all of us were treated to this at the end of the path.

Peguche waterfall

Peguche waterfall

It seems that each Friday school children take trips and these falls are a big attraction. In addition to walking to the falls and seeing them, the children played soccer and other games and had bought along picnic lunches. They chattered and laughed and seemed to be enjoying themselves!

After our visit there, we made our way back in the direction of Quito, but we stopped at a very interesting landmark, one of the places that is located along the equator. This one attempted to instruct us about what it meant being on the equator and they did some experiments that were supposed to convince us that the forces of nature act differently on the equator. We all found it entertaining, even those of us who are natural skeptics.

My husband once again at zero degrees latitude

My husband once again at zero degrees latitude

My turn to straddle the equator

My turn to straddle the equator

And what a surprise to find there a sign that was trying to be in Hebrew. We could make out the last two words: Middle of the world. The rest is still a mystery!

Hebrew?

Hebrew?

We arrived at the hotel happy and ready to prepare for a shabbat together. It was time to relax just a bit before we were out and about once again.

Next time: Shabbat in Quito. Not what you think it would be at all…

update: I received this comment:
Hachtamat Darconim : Hotemet Emza Haolam… I guess the shop was marketing its stamps for being in the Centre of the World. I got a certificate once for reaching the Arctic Circle…. but personally I think Israel is the Centre of the World… Mihal Indyk

She would have won the prize if there were a prize because indeed, inside that building, there was someone who stamped our passports indicating that we had visited the center of the world!

Ecuador – Part 4 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, & Peru Tour

Today we will visit two lovely places, but first a little background:

Ecuador is not a rich country. Its top source of foreign capital is the export of crude oil. However number two is the income it derives from its expatriates who work in other countries and send money home to their families. According to our local guide, Julio, 4 to 5 million of the population of 14-15 million work outside the country. There are an estimated 700,000 Ecuadorian women working in Spain alone! Ecuador’s third highest source of income is from the magnificent roses grown there. Agriculture is an important industry and fruits and vegetables are exported as well as coffee and cacao.

Our guide, Julio, in the vest and the Panama hat

Our guide, Julio, in the vest and the Panama hat

Julio here was introducing us to some new and exotic fruits.

Oh, and a piece of trivia: Panama hats are Ecuadorian!

In the year 2000, after years of economic crisis, Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its currency. Since then, prices have stabilized. Having the US dollar as currency makes it an attractive tourist destination for those familiar with the dollar! On a recent tour to Vietnam, I misplaced a decimal when converting to the local currency and almost gave our local guide $320 for items she purchased for us when I only owed her $32. She, thankfully, was honest and told me that I had better check my math! In Ecuador, I had no such problems.

Trivia: Remember that song we sang in the US– “Kumbaya”? I never quite knew what to make of it. It turns out that Kumbaya is the name of a town not far from Quito and the song was a song they sang, in a circle, to bring down much needed rain. The people would sing louder and louder again and again to bring the rain.

We made our way from the hacienda to Parque Cóndor Otavalo, a refuge for birds that have been injured and need special care. Often these birds are not equipped to survive on their own and spend their lives there. We saw a number of fine looking birds:

A barred hawk

A barred hawk

A black hawk-eagle

A black hawk-eagle

and our old friend, the bald eagle

and our old friend, the bald eagle

Later we drove to San Pablo Lake. It ‘s a beautiful area at the foot of the Imbabura volcano. The land is rich and the mountain is seen as the sacred protector of the area. We stayed at a beautiful resort with wooden buildings that contained large, lovely guest rooms each with its own fireplace.

Hosteria Puertolago

Hosteria Puertolago

The inn

The inn

Another view

Another view

After taking our things to the room,we all went out on a boat for a look at the lake and its surroundings. As Israeli groups tend to do, we sang together a good deal of the time. There was lots of laughter and joking and lots and lots of smiles. As it got dark, we noticed that the lights in the homes surrounding the lake had been turned out. We wondered if there was a power failure. We were told that the lights are turned out for an hour or two each evening to save electricity.

What is particularly amazing about this place on earth is that being so near the equator, one is able to see both the constellations of the southern hemisphere and of the northern hemisphere. With the lights out, the view couldn’t have been more perfect– and if I had studied more astronomy, I am certain I would have been even more awestruck. Next time I will be sure to look for the Southern Cross.

When we returned to land, we were greeted by a delicious dinner, sent by our mashgiach in Quito, in the beautiful, elegant dining room with windows out to the lake.

After dinner and some time spent getting to know each other, we all went to our rooms. When we arrived at our door, a young woman was waiting to build us a fire. A lovely end to a perfect day!

Next time: You and me and thirty gazillion school children at a waterfall and a visit to another spot on the equator.

Ecuador – Otavalo, part 3 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, & Peru Tour

We arrived in Otavalo just after noon. It was a beautiful sunny day. Unlike Sundays when the market is bustling with people, the market was almost deserted which made it particularly lovely to experience and photograph.

The first thing I noticed about the market is the colors, brilliant colors everywhere. The handwork was delicate and skillful. Here are some of the sights:

Key rings

Key rings

Decorated gourds

Decorated gourds

Necklaces

Necklaces

Flutes

Flutes

Chess sets

Chess sets

Hanging Chairs

Hanging Chairs

They had lovely embroidered blouses and shirt and dresses as well. They had beautiful woven fabrics in a multitude of colors. The vendors were friendly and nice to deal with. There was none of the hard sell that one experiences in other parts of the world.

We took some time to walk into a little shop and order some diet coke and coffee to go with our lunches. The coffee took a really long time to come. Finally, when the next customer came in, we realized why. They were getting the coffee from another restaurant down the block!

After lunch we continued on to see a hacienda. We found it particularly interesting because our local guide had come many summers with his family when he was a boy to spend time there. It was not only a hotel (and quite a lovely one) but also the food, he told us, was excellent and it is surrounded by beautiful gardens. We looked into some of the guest rooms all of which have fireplaces as well as lofts for additional family members.

The Hacienda

The Hacienda

A lovely variety of plants and flowers

A lovely variety of plants and flowers

A welcoming entrance

A welcoming entrance

The hallway that runs parallel to the front of the hacienda with our hostess

The hallway that runs parallel to the front of the hacienda with our hostess

But the afternoon was not yet finished. Next time you will meet some of our fine feathered friends and see a most exquisite resort by a lake.

Ecuador

Landing in Ecuador after such a long trip seemed almost like a dream. As we approached the airport, we were flying north, above the valley that Quito occupies. As I looked down at the city, I couldn’t believe how green and lush everything looked. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is located among volcanic mountains. The city is at an elevation of 2,800 meters (about 9,186 ft) above sea level. The city itself stretches from north to south a distance of 60 kilometers (about 36 miles). Although its main square is 25 km (15 miles) south of the equator and the city itself extends to within about 1 km (0.6 miles) of zero latitude, because of its altitude, it is not hot.

When we finally exited the plane, I felt a resonance in the sight I beheld, for here, inside the airport, were a huge number of people waiting for their relatives and friends. It so much reminded me of Ben Gurion Airport with the crowds waiting to greet visitors.

After we had gathered all of our luggage, we set off for the hotel, just a few minutes ride away. Our hotel room had a lovely vase with long stemmed roses. We learned later that Ecuador makes a great deal of money exporting these huge, gorgeous long stemmed roses.

Roses in our hotel room in Quito

Roses in our hotel room in Quito

Imagine our surprise when we walked into our private dining room for dinner and we found the tables set as if for a banquet and we were introduced to the local mashgiach (kosher supervisor) who had supervised the preparation of a delicious meal!

After a much needed night’s sleep, we awoke the next morning and set out to discover Quito and its surroundings.

We first came to the Middle of the World Monument.

The Middle of the World

The Middle of the World


where we heard an amazing explanation of the seasons and how they change and how the sun’s shadow at noon can tell us the month of the year.
Cylindrical post and compass on the ground

Cylindrical post and compass on the ground


Of course everyone had to have their pictures taken straddling the equator, and I was no exception, nor was my husband.
My husband, with one foot in each hemispere.

My husband, with one foot in each hemispere.

But we had much more to do that day and so we got back onto the bus and headed in the direction of Otavalo.

One the way we saw lots of area for raising roses, one of the biggest export crops. Also in the area bananas, coffee and cocoa are raised. Some of the world’s finest chocolate is produced in Ecuador and some of it is produced under kosher supervision.

Once near Otavalo, we are able to see the children returning from school. Like children in many other countries, these children have school uniforms and they all looked incredibly adorable

Children coming home from school

Children coming home from school

.

Yes, lovely and sun-filled and happy and content. What a wonderful day. But it was just about to get a lot better when we got to the magnificent market in Otavalo.

But that’s for next time…

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