The challenge: to create a “best of the best” month-long adventure in Ecuador & Peru for seasoned world travelers Anne and Jer McCall.
The solution: a Galapagos cruise, historic cities, unique properties, hiking in Machu Picchu, pink dolphins in the Amazon, and a gorgeous beach on the Pacific coast!
Immerse yourself in the McCall’s descriptive and informative travel log. Anne has quite a way with words!
“We arrived in Ecuador on Thursday night. We got up the next morning and caught a 2 hour flight to the Galapagos island of St Cristobal. I was very surprised when we first arrived. This island has 20,000 people. It’s one of several that are inhabited. I guess I should have expected it, since I was flying into an airport. Anyway we got to the dock and there were sea lions everywhere. They were lying on the benches, you just sort of stepped over them. The town was about 6 blocks long, with the typical gift stores and eating places. Then we went by dingy to our Galapagos cruise boat, the Yacht La Pinta. It can accommodate 46 guests. We lucked out because its only about half full, so we can have more flexibility. It’s a great mix of people. 4 Americans, 2 Germans, one Spanish woman, several Australian families, and one English family. OK, so now here’s the part you aren’t going to believe. We get up at 7am…yes I said am….every morning.
Our first day we went on a hike…yes I said hike…and I did the whole thing!!! I’m quite proud of myself. We were still on still on St Cristobal, but on the other uninhabited side. Now this is what I thought the Galapagos would look like. It was volcanic and ash rock. We hiked about half way to the top of the island and got some beautiful pictures. We saw a red footed booby with a bright blue beak, sitting on her nest. Those can only be found here… When we got to the bottom and hit the beach, I could not get my clothes off quick enough to hit the water. It was wonderful. The sea lions were just laying on the sand with us. Then I took my snorkel and started looking around, and I almost ran into a turtle. A big turtle. He completely surprised me. I started grunting through my snorkel for Jer to look. I kept getting closer and closer to him, and he was letting me. Jer started physically pulling me back because they can bite. But it was remarkable experience. All the island and sea life is so comfortable around humans, they don’t see us as predators like everywhere else.
So we’re on the dingy to go back to the ship and we see dolphins….like 60 of them! They started swimming all around the dingy. We were so close to them, I could have reached out and touched them. That was an unforgettable experience. It made up for seeing the bird at the top of the mountain!! We got back around 5:30, so it was a long day.
So today we got up at the usual 7 am (you guys just don’t know how hard this is on me). We are now at the Island of Espanola. It is a small, uninhabited island. We were going to shore on the dingy and we started seeing all of these swimming iguanas! It was so weird to see them whipping along in the water. They use their tails, they don’t have webbed feet. I thought they would. They are really fast. So we got on land and along with the sea lions, we saw these crabs…they are bright red and yellow. They look like they are painted ceramic. They are small, about the size of a crawdad. And the iguanas are everywhere. There were pup sea lions suckling. Several were a few days old. There were turtles in the water. We are snorkeling again this afternoon, hoping to see a lot. “
“Today we have a nice long break in the middle of our day, so there’s time to write. Yesterday we landed at Santa Cruz Island (easy to remember). It is another inhabited island, 18,000 people. In the morning we saw the conservation center for the giant land turtles. They are very endangered. The abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of humans is terribly sad, but the bright side is that they should now be saved. They gather eggs from each island, keep them separate, and when the turtles are 5 years old they will transfer them to the wild in the appropriate island. If you remember “Lonesome George”, you’ll be interested to know that he lived here (mostly alone) for many years, died at the ripe old age of 140.
In the afternoon we were able to see the turtles in the wild. It’s an area of Santa Cruz called the “Highlands”. It was as green and lush as Kauai, I was surprised since the lower island was lava and ash rock. It seemed out of place. It was also 20 degrees cooler. Anyway it was so much fun to see these giant turtles, they let us get so close….In the middle of all this lushness was a lava tube. It was completely natural and was so perfect it looked man made. There was a perfect, even arch to the ceiling.
As an aside….Yesterday we lost all of the passengers except for 6. Its possible to take a half cruise. So the people remaining are us, a father and son from Australia, and 2 men from England. We took on 27 new people. The 6 of us immediately regressed back to high school, calling them “newbees”, laughing because they put their life jackets on wrong, laughing at them taking pictures of everything and being confused about when dinner was. We then sat at our own table and acted like we owned the boat. It was so much fun, its embarrassing to admit.”
Good Bye Galapagos
“I have been completely immersed in the Galapagos over the last 7 days. The people (newbees) who were only on the boat for 4 nights really didn’t get the chance to feel a part of it. Thank you Valentina and Priscilla for arranging the 7 days! I was so immersed that I tied my hiking boots together and flung them over my neck, like a real professional! Unfortunately my shoes had sand in them (it would never occur to me to dump that out) and all the sand from one shoe went down my tank top…a real professional.
We are now going from nature to culture. Our boat will take us to the airport in Baltra Island tomorrow morning, where we will catch a flight to Quitos, Ecuador, the capital of the country. We’ve entered the stage of the trip where we are two nights here and two nights there, which for me means no unpacking, just swirling everything around in my suitcase. Friday we left the boat and had a smooth flight to Quito, the capitol of Ecuador. The elevation is over 9000 ft. I had been fretting a bit because I had heard stories from different people about altitude sickness. Me being me, I thought I was having symptoms the minute I stepped off the plane. I was dizzy and kept taking deep breaths, just to make sure I could. To make a long story short, as soon as I was distracted by something else, I forgot the symptoms and was fine the rest of the stay. We were met at the airport by our guide and driver…As soon as I walked into the lobby of our hotel, the Casa Gangotena, I was happy, it was so beautiful. It is a mansion built in the 1600′s and has been completely restored. Our room was formerly the formal dining room. We had a mural that ran all around the room. The hotel is located in the historical section of Quito. We toured 2 Catholic (is there any other kind in Ecuador?) churches that rivaled the ones we toured in Italy. They were so ornate, carvings with gold leaf. We also strolled around the streets of old town. It’s really a charming area. Some of the streets could have been in France, with wrought iron balconies and flower boxes.
But enough culture, Jer wanted to go to the equator and straddle it. It is interesting, how the north and south poles spin in opposite directions and oppose each other. They do experiments that demonstrate it. They would fill a sink with water. If you put the sink on the north side of the equator, the sink would drain counter clockwise, on the south side it would drain clockwise. If you tried to walk on the line of the equator with your eyes closed, you would wobble all over. It was sort of like going to the Mystery Spot!”
If It’s Sunday, It Must be Lima
“Today we flew to Lima. We are staying at the beautiful Country Club Lima Hotel, right in the middle of town. Lima has 9 million people, 1/3 of the population of Peru. Our last day In Lima was fun. We went on a culinary tour. Our guide took us to a typical market. She gave us aprons that said Culinary Tour….it could have just as easily said American Tourista, with Jer’s camera hanging around his neck. But there were so many fruits and vegetables that we had never seen before, they were fun to taste. She showed us a root of some kind that she said worked just like Viagra, and Jer got several pictures of himself with a bag of them. There were fish, sea urchins, octopus, meats, chickens, all for sale. From there we went to a Peruvian restaurant, and the bartender showed us how to make a delicious cocktail with Pisco. This is a very popular South American liquor. It is over 40 proof. He had us take a straight shot first, and it burned all the way down. Then he made a cocktail using it, an egg white, lime juice, sugar, and bitters. He then shook it in a martini shaker. It was delicious. He had me make the next one, and it was equally as tasty. Then we had a lesson in making traditional Peruvian cerviche. This will be the next appetizer I bring to a party. It was wonderful. Our guide ordered lunch for us. We had barbequed cow heart, which was really good, stuffed yucca, tamale, and sweet potato. Speaking of food, Guinea Pig is a delicacy here. I’m just not going there. So is Alpaca, can’t do that either. I’m even starting to have doubts about one of my favorites, lamb. Young children are walking the streets in traditional costumes holding baby lambs. You take their picture and they hold their hand out for payment. The lambs are sooooo cute. I just have to put it out of my mind.
We had a smooth flight into Cusco. As we were descending I could tell I would really like it here. The mountains were so green, it looked like a postcard. We are at 13000 ft above sea level. The air is really thin. We haven’t gotten altitude sickness, but we are light headed and tire easily. Our hotel, the Monasterio, is so cool, its an old monastery. I’m feeling very Catholic here. They have music piped throughout of priests singing in Latin. It has 4 courtyards, lots of arches. Most of it is original. Our room has a monastery door, and I have to duck my head to walk in. We had dinner in the hotel dining room last night. It was very elegant, and they had Peruvian opera singers, a man playing a flute and a woman playing the piano. They had stunning voices. When the man and woman sang a duet of Ave Maria, I thought I’d cry.
Today we toured some Inca ruins. The engineering on these walls are truly amazing, considering they had no modern equipment. The size of the granite rocks alone were daunting. They moved them 6 miles from the quarry… Tomorrow, bright and early (every day is bright and early) we take a train to Machu Picchu. I’m really excited about it.
A little note…..”C” in a South American shower does not mean cold….”
It took my Breath Away
“Now you guys know I don’t throw that term around a lot…Machu Picchu (and the Andes too) are spectacular, spiritual, awe striking, and overwhelming. I am not exaggerating, I got to the top of the stairs where the part that you always see in pictures came into view, and I was silent. We had a terrific guide who was very knowledgeable and was able to explain alot about the life style and history of the Incas and Machu Picchu. Everyone said we brought the California weather with us (because everyone thinks we have beaches and bikinis all year long). But it is the rainy season, and we were at 11,000 feet (we came down from Cuscos’ 13,000 feet) The sun was shining, 2 days in a row, no clouds, and probably 90 degrees. Everyone was rolling up their pants, taking off their shirts, it was HOT. We got some terrific pictures. As Jer and I were just marveling at the sight, I asked him how he thought this would compare to seeing the biggest yarn ball or fry pan in America. I think I have finally put that trip to rest!
We took the Peru Rail up the mountains along the Urubamba River. In 2 hours the scenery changed from mountain vegetation to rain forest. We then transferred to a bus for another half hour ride up a windy road to the site. There is a 4 day camping hike that is available, but I thought I’d leave that for the 20 somethings. There is plenty of hiking at the actual site. I realized for the first time that I had a bit of an issue with the height. The trails can be thin, and of course there’s no railing. I did every single bit of it, but I found myself clinging to the walls. My guide said, don’t worry, this section has terraces (which the Incas used extensively for stability throughout all of their ruins) but I’m thinking to myself, yeah, but the first terrace is 30 feet down! I started to get used to it as we went along, and it was fine. (I have pictures to prove it, I swear!).
We took the bus back down to the train station, which was within walking distance of our hotel, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo. I wanted to check in and Jer wanted to do something else, so the guide pointed out the hotel and he caught the next train….The lovely Inca Terra was right on the Urubama River, which you could hear running from every spot on the property. It was very rustic, we even had a real fireplace. We had a 2 day pass to Machu Picchu, so we got up and took the bus back up the hill for a few more hours of heaven.
We have been staying in Sacred Valley for the last 3 nights at the Hotel Rio Sagrado, another lovely hotel with picture windows that have a view of the Andes. I could throw a rock and hit them. We are also still on the Urubamba River. We’ve had some down time here, and it was needed. We visited 2 more ruins in nearby towns, and our driver took us to a terrific Sunday market that had lots of shopping…Tomorrow we have a long day of traveling. We start at 6:30, drive an hour to the airport, we fly to Lima, then connect for a flight to Iquitos, then we get on a bus for another 11/2 hours to the Amazon. Our boat has 4 bedrooms, 8 passengers. Pass the mosquito repellent please….everyone say a prayer for us, we opted not to take the malaria pills because they made us sick to our stomach in Africa.”
“We arrived in Iquitos Peru airport, met by the staff of the Delphin I, our Amazon riverboat. They put the 8 passengers together. We laughed that we were so easy to spot. Three couples were American, from Houston, Ashton NC, and CA, and one couple was from Barcelona. (This was the most Americans we had seen in one place). We boarded a bus, and after a 90 minute ride, we arrived at the Delphin I. What a beautiful boat. It had 4 state rooms, dining room, open air bar and lounge area on top, under a thatched roof. Our cabin was HUGE, probably 30 feet long with wall to wall windows. We had a large balcony that ran the entire 30 feet, with a spa, lounge chairs, and a table for two. The staff was so great, their main goal was for us to have a good time on the Amazon. The chef was excellent. They changed the dining room for every meal, including the window coverings!
We took the skiff out twice a day, to see what we could see…a lot of birds we’d never seen before, a few looked prehistoric, sloths, very small monkeys (pocket and squirrel) They really did swing through the trees. We tried to fish for piranhas, but our guide said the water was too high, that they tend to spread out more. The amount of different flora in the Amazon is stunning. Sometimes we would go out, cut the motor on the skiff, and just close our eyes and listen. The birds and insects made the most peaceful chorus. We went out one night, and we saw thousands of fireflies. BUT, the most amazing, truly amazing thing that we saw were PINK dolphins. I had no idea they even existed. They have a flat dorsal fin, and they don’t jump the same way the grey ones do. The color knocked my socks off! There were grey dolphins frolicking with them. We also had a chance to walk on a suspended bridge. It was a third of a mile long and 85 feet high. It was kind of like zip lining on your feet.
We had incredible luck as far as the people who were on the boat with us. We were very compatible, and had some great laughs. One day we were able to go swimming. It was kind of weird jumping off the skiff into dark brown water, but it felt great. The Amazon is very hot and humid.
We took a flight out of Iquitos on Thurs afternoon, had a connection in Lima to Tumbes, a beach area on the Pacific Coast. Our Spanish speaking only driver picked us up for the 90 minute drive to our beach hotel in Mancara. I’m beginning to like Spanish speaking drivers. It means that Jer can’t engage them in mindless conversation. It’s much more restful…We turned down a dirt road at what I thought was the driveway to our hotel. It went on and on and on. It was really bumpy and it was dark. There’s that moment when you start to get nervous…..wondering if you’re going to get hit over the head for your money….but YAY, all was well. The Hotel DCO Suites, Lounge & Spa is a great hotel, only 6 rooms. We have an outdoor sitting area with gauze drapes, and right beyond that is the sand. There has got to be at least 2 staff members to every guest. They seem to not have much to do, I feel like I have to come up with something to keep them busy. We have had absolutely nothing to do here except relax and reflect on a great trip.
I’ve decided I’m not even going to attempt to top this trip, because its not possible.”