Another failed mission: no Narcotics Anonymous meeting existed at the described location. I read about an NA meeting held on Santa Cruz Island on a Lonely Planet forum. I was looking for a little friendly support group to ride me over until my return stateside. After actually locating the church on the correct night at the correct time but there was no meeting. I even found a sign posted that lusted the NA meeting and the time. I went inside the small room, and a man came in with a guitar and a few others followed him... Definitely a church group. I asked in Spanish where the narcotics anonymous meeting was held, but the man said there was no such meeting. I brought him outside to show him the sign in front of the church. He looked at me perplexed and said, no, there is no meeting, but he could ask the preacher tomorrow... Oh well. I tried.
After arriving at Baltra airport, I made my way down to Santa Cruz Island, which is probably the busiest of all the islands. Puerto Ayora is the main tourist town on the island and a great jumping off place for Galápagos adventures. You can arrange many day tours here, visit the other inhabited islands via ferry as well as purchase last minute cruises in one of the man agencies. (Side note: Ecuador uses the USD).
As I mentioned this leg of my trip was not planned, but I did book two nights at a hostel (through booking.com) before arriving. I found two online resources regarding DIY Galapagos and last minute cruises. The first afternoon that I arrived, I wandered in and out of some of the tour agencies and asked questions about day trips. I also investigated the ferry options- it costs $30.00 USD each way, to DIY and visit San Cristobal, Isabela or Floreana (the only inhabited islands). However, you cannot go island hopping, you must return to Santa Cruz. So, if I wanted to go to San Cristobal and then to Isabella, I would first have to take the two hour ferry ride back to Santa Cruz and take an additional ferry to Isabela. There are many free walking, exploring and snorkeling opportunities. Yet, you must hire a tour guide to do 80% of activities in the Galapagos, simply because it is a national park and there are a lot of rules.
I knew I wanted to dive, so the first thing I did was book a diving trip, that included two dives and lunch for $175.00 to Las Moscaras and Seymoure Norte. Although I enjoyed the experience, the ocean water was cold, and despite wearing a semi-dry suit, I was flipping freezing by the end of the second dive. The ocean is quite choppy in much of the Galapagos, and depending on the size of the boat you are on, you might feel a lot of current and 'up and down' rocking on the water. (Many people get sick on the ferry ride from Santa Cruz to Isabela.) I swam alongside the dive master because I had not been diving in a year, and I only have about 5 dives under my belt. Also, I was informed that I could possibly see: sea turtles, black-tip sharks, white-tip sharks, hammerhead sharks, eagle and manta rays, barracuda and loads of fish on this trip. We saw ALL of the above, and I nearly lost it when the dive master pointed to his left and I saw not one but six sizable hammerheads. So, no, they aren't aggressive, but a shark (much larger than me) in its natural habitat, is freakin' scary if you have never experienced it before!
I also purchased a last minute Seymoure Norte tour from the Moonrise agency, and paid $160.00, which was full day and included lunch, a walk and snorkeling. Even though I had visited as a diver, it was completely different because this would include a land walking excursion, to see the nesting of the Blue-footed booby and the frigate birds. These colorful birds are so beautiful and allow you to approach within inches of them. I had an amazing day because I got to hang out with sea lions on the beach and the ocean! The sea lions swam with us and played with us in the water. It was incredible, they are so much like dogs. It made me miss my Billie, who was in my sissy's care, but I really enjoyed playing with these dogs of the sea.
I spent the rest of my time on Puerto Ayora wandering around, eating fish and lobster, eating ice cream at the Galapagos Deli on Tomas Ave. I also took a water taxi (80 cents!) to the German Beach and walked to Las Grietas, which is a swimming hole in a crevice of rock. You can jump into the water and snorkel around.
After much thought and questioning agencies, I booked a last minute cruise for 5 days, 4 nights for $900.00 at the Discovery Agency near the port. More about that in the next post.
The photos above were taken whilst I navigated by myself around the Galápagos via Puerto Ayora. The photos below were taken on a snorkel/walking excursion to Seymour Norte.
In 2006, I'd visited Ecuador but wasn't able to visit the Galapagos (lack of financial resources was the main reason). Instead I traveled to Isla la Plata, known by locals as "the poor man's Galapagos." While cycling in Peru, Louise, my tour guide talked about the Galapagos and mentioned a local airline airfare sale... I started looking, saw cheap tickets, was at first apprehensive and the ticket prices started going up. I realized that I would regret not going, faced that I would be in debt a few months and bought the airline tickets. This also meant, in order to maximize my time in the Galapagos, I would face an epic journey getting home because I would have to get myself back to my original departure city of Lima, Peru.
I boarded a flight from Quito with the destination Baltra, the airport closest to Santa Cruz. The flight made a stopover in Guayaquil, but I didn't need to deplane. After 40 minutes we were off again. Before landing, the flight attendants sprayed something over all of the luggage stowed in the overhead bins. (Presumably to kill insects?) I arrived in the Galapagós (after three flights) with very little knowledge as to how things worked on the islands. I'd done a scant bit of Google research.
After exiting the plane, we all proceeded to migration, and to the counter to pay the $100 USD Galapagos entrance fee. Somehow I had gotten through Quito without paying the other $20 USD fee, (probably because I almost missed my plane, but that's another story) so I had to move to a different line to pay the additional fee. The next step was to have my bags searched for contraband- mainland fruits, veggies and most foods aren't allowed. I had some cookies in my bag which I didn't declare, and the customs dude glared at me when I showed him. He then pointed to the place on the customs form (which I did not check off) that said 'processed foods'. He scowled at me and told me to pass.
I had not checked my luggage because I was late for my flight so I was able the to exit the airport without having the trained canine walk over my luggage. The airport workers spread the luggage out while the expectant passengers watch and wait behind a line. Then an officer takes a Shepard and leads him on top of everyone's luggage, the dog actually paces over the luggage many times and sometimes selects one piece to be examined. (Unfortunately I did not get a picture of the spectacle).
Then the real fun begins, getting to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. First you hop on a bus (free), which takes you down to a small ferry ($1 USD), then you get onto another bus ($2) which drops you near the port in the center of town. I was easily able to walk to my hostel from the port. Although my dang plantar fasciitis had started to act up and my left foot was a bit inflamed, I checked into my room and quickly left to explore the little town.
I had started taking my malaria meds, and wasn't feeling too well. Good news, according to the weberverse, I don't need to continue taking the malarone here as malaria isn't a risk in this part of the amazon.
Here's the skinny on the jungle trip, which is called "la selva" here. The jungle is at higher altitude than the jungles I visited in Central America. This means it isn't constantly hot, and it actually gets cold at night. One day included a kayak trip, in which I sat in a few inches of water, a visit to monkey island, a place where former pet monkeys are set free to hang together, and a night caiman hunt by boat. Another day we hiked through forest, then canoed through swamps to get to Lago Sandoval, which is an oxbow lake. I've never heard this term before, have you? It means that the lake was formed by the river, and eventually cut off from river. There is a family of giant river otters that live there. We followed them around the lake, watching them play with each other as they constantly crunched on fish. We also went on a night walk in the jungle, it was so dark when we all turned off our flashlights that I could not see my own hands in front of my face. Exhaustion hit me all at once when I sat down for dinner, and I crashed hard that night.
The final day in the jungle, I was up and out by 430am, to go by boat to a clay lick. A clay lick is an area of soil high in minerals that is naturally formed in the environment. It was so effing cold on the boat ride. We arrived and waited as the sun rose over the river. The parrots, macaws and parakeets arriving in flocks and pairs. At one point the guide said there were about 200 birds on the clay lick. Hundreds of beautiful green and blue wings flitted through the sky overhead, while the red tipped winged macaws noisily sat in the treetops.
After the 45 minute evening boat ride out of the jungle, I arrived back in Puerto Maldonado around 630pm. I have a bit of downtime before I'm off form my next adventure...the Galapagos! It was a hasty decision that I hemmed and hawed over, after Louise had told me about a Peruvian airfare sale. I'll be in be debt for a few months, but it's definitely worth it. Who knows when I'll get the chance again?
In the afternoon, we said our goodbyes to our new bicycling friends in the van as we all went our separate ways. I had the sense to ask the Kiwis to meet us for dinner at Jacks, a gringo restaurant in San Blas that we had been to before.
The hotel owner explained to us how to get into the city center by public bus, for only .80 sols. (Of course we could always take a taxi.)
After a bit of unpacking and organizing, we successfully made it by bus to the stop closest to the city center. The buses can be quite a clusterfuck at first, and it's necessary to ask and confirm the stops or destination multiple times.
After exit by the bus, we figured out where we were and walked about ten minutes to the restaurant. It was pretty easy! (Yay us.)
Diner at Jacks was amazing and filling. Afterward we decided to take a stroll and look for dessert. On our way I told Peter and Christine about the only gay club I was able to find in Cusco. (Found on the Nomadic Boys website.)
After dessert, peter became hellbent on helping us find the club...which turned out to be closed down. Check out the photographs- the google maps pic which clearly shows club Rokkas, and then the actual picture of what we found in that location. So sad.
We decided we would check out one of the other clubs in town. The Kiwis escorted us to Mama Africa, a club on the Plaza de Armas. When we arrived salsa lessons were in process. We stayed only briefly because we were exhausted but the vibe was chill and the music good.
The next day we completed our mission at the San Pedro market, I picked up lines, ginger and honey to make a big pot 'o tea for my professing cough and cold. I was able to get ahold of the contact given to me, for a fellow alcoholic, so I could get to an AA meeting. The contact, Erick, showed up in a taxi to take me to the meeting that night. Although In understood only 1/3 of what was said at the meeting, it was nice to be amongst my people. Successful day.
Our bicycling tour ended Friday and we were dumped at our guesthouse in Cusco. We waited patiently and rang the bell a zillion times... no response. So, we taped a note to the door and headed to find the nearest cafe. Before we got to the top of the block, a man called my name. It was Mario, who ran the guesthouse. He apologized saying it was lunchtime, therefore no one was around. He walked us back to the guesthouse and unlocked the door.
Once inside, he said that he had an upgrade for us... but also, a small problem: it's located in a different building. Ahhh, the joys of foreign travel. Due to the local Strikes, the person in our room was still there...but he had a better place for us- an apartment, in a better neighborhood, but it was further from the city center. We decided to have a look.
We accepted the change as the apartment was really sweet, large and private, and in Santa Monica a quiet and safe neighborhood.
After we were left alone in our new digs, my heart continued to thump loudly in my chest, my thoughts zoomed. I also had feelings of sadness that tends to happen to me when anything comes to an end. (A weekend away, holiday, friends visiting,etc.) The bike tour was over, our two-week companions gone separate ways; we were on our own again, to make all decisions, with no safety net.
Truth be told, I always have bouts of anxiety whilst traveling (and at home too) as I do suffer from a mental disorder. Unfortunately the anxiety lasted the entire evening but dissipated after a good night's slumber in a super comfy bed.
Last time we were in Cusco, C was terribly ill with the mountain sickness; this time I came down with a cold. After cycling a day that included extreme temperature changes as well as altitude changes, this time I couldn't withstand the dry air of Cusco and I succumb to a cough and cold. Fortunately, C and I had a few days here to rest and recuperate before my next adventures.
Early bird gets... to see Maccu Piccu. We found out many travelers couldn't get to Aguas Calientes due to the strikes and the disruptions they caused. At our hotel we spoke to several folks who were stranded in Aguas Calientes after seeing MP.
We were up at 4:20am to have a little brekkie before catching the bus to MP at 5am. I think part of the mystique of MP comes from being a sleepy or weary traveler as I was a little out of it when the bus pulled up to this wonder of the world.
MP is strategically placed high in the mountains and between several peaks, so that it remains partially hidden and shrouded in mist. The sun appears late on this mountaintop, adding to the magic and mystery of the ancient Incan ruins.
We walked the grounds in the brisk air with our tour guide, Vilma, who explained the historical importance of the different structures. Sun burst through clouds, slowly warming up the air. The site is overwhelming, it is enormous and spread out. As I meandered, I tried to imagine what MP was like as a thriving little village. It is belivwd that the Incans observed the land and climate many years before they built upon it. This is how they knew exactly when the equinoxes and solstices occurred, and how they were able to build a Sun Temple which the sun shines through on the solstice.
After Vilma set us free, our group decided to hike Wayna Piccu, a higher mountain beside MP, with an altitude of 2,668m. The steep climb up was slow-going at points, and I kept thinking about slipping and falling over the edge. (Unlike the US, Peru doesn't feel the need to 'idiot-proof' the grounds, so there aren't any guardrails.) There are tiny steps that even my 6.5 foot cannot fit on.
The breathtaking view from the top was worth the climb. Although we were among the first groups to climb Wayna Piccu that morning, it got hairy at the top as there were too many people vying for the perfect selfie or photo.
After the treacherous climb down Wayna Piccu, C and I wandered the grounds a bit more before catching the bus back to Aguas Calientes.
We cycled into Ollayantaytambo in the late afternoon. A tiny, touristy but super cute town, I wished I'd had more time to wander Ollayantaytambo. We were up early in the morn to explore the ruins of Ollayantaytambo, which are amazing examples of Inca terraces. I learned that the Incas did not invent the agricultural terraces, they were developed by pre-Incan cultures. However, the Incans perfected the terraces as they did the irrigation systems.
After our tour, we piled into the van for an hour's climb up to 4300m altitude to begin cycling at the Abra de Malaga Pass (14,419ft). We biked down hill and even though I had several extra layers on, I froze my fingers off. The air chilled my nose and ears, as we cycled through the clouds and mist. It was breathtakingly stunning but I was too cold to stop and remove gloves for a photo-op. The morning ride began at 37' but by the end of the day we were in the high jungle of Quillabamba, and it was a hot and sunny 91'. We descended 10,938 ft over the course of the day! That has to wreak havoc on the human body. We spent the night in Quillabamba.
Louise our guide kept up on the gossip about the Cusco teacher strikes. To be sure to get us into Maccu Piccu on Thursday, we had to be up at 430am on Wednesday to start the journey. We drove to Santa Theresea and then the van left us at the hydroelectric plant (Hidroelectric). Louise had intended that we would all take the train into Aguas Calientes, but the strikes stopped trains from running. New plan: we would hike the 11 k to get to Aguas Calientes. Despite the protests, we made it to Aguas Calientes in time for lunch.
Cusco is around 12,000 ft high, so it wasn't surprising that somebody would become ill. I was dealing with an on-and-off again throbbing headache. John, the Aussie, was very sick during the night at the homestay in Lake Titicaca. (Probably the worst place to be ill, as there was no electricity, and an outdoor toilet that lacked plumbing). In Cusco, C had the 'mountain sickness'. Altitude sickness can occur at heights more than 8,000 ft. It was definitely coming on the past few days because she complained of feeling dizzy. It hit a peak yesterday when we were out during the afternoon. C felt nauseous and by the time we returned to the hotel she was ill. Unfortunately, she spent the night in Cusco in bed and in the baño, while I wandered the narrow, winding streets and then dined with John and Allistar, the Scotch kid.
After two days in Cusco, we packed up yet again and headed out. I cycled 24 k after brekkie, even though I skipped the steep hill at the start and instead began on a 1% grade hill. I was definitely huffing and puffing due to the altitude.
We cycled into Pisac and then wandered the artisanal mercado. I picked up some gifts for friends. We dined as group in a cute cafe next to the market. After lunch I cycled 45 k.
Sadly, my partner and cycling pal, C wasn't able to ride that afternoon. Instead she took easy and napped in the van. She started taking the Diamox and ibuprofen to alleviate the sickness.
For most of the day I cycled at my own pace, and was alone. The Kiwis were far enough ahead of me that I couldn't see them and John and Louise behind me. Riding alone, I reflected on my life and what's importantly me. It's funny how unimportant some things are on the road, that I put too much weight on when I am home.
My anxiety doesn't bother me whilst I'm cycling. I'm focused on my legs moving the pedals, looking around at the scenery, being aware of stray dogs that chase bicyclists, or cars driving too fast and too close, looking at my immediate surroundings, dangers, beauty. Sometimes I just listen to my breath.
We cycled through guinea pig village- where I had roasted guinea pig on stick waved in my face more times than I could count. Guinea pig, or cuy, is a delicacy in Peru. I haven't screwed up the courage to sample it.
There's a public schoolteacher strike in the Cusco region. The teachers want to negotiate for better conditions and pay. Consequently, they dump piles of rocks and even boulders onto the roads to cause traffic delays and gain attention. Obviously cars cannot pass with the rocks blocking the roads, so the roads are shutdown.
It seems after conversion calculations, I've cycled 48 miles on this day!
Back on the bikes at 8am. I hope I am becoming a better cyclist, getting stronger. Each day pressing onward. I can't always keep track of my distance because it's told to me in kilometers, (so I'm always doing the math in my head). I just keep pushing forward.
After we dined on banana quinoa pancakes with our host family on the peninsula, we set out cycling. It was so damn frigid this morn that I had to pile on extra layers. I logged 20 miles at around 12,000 ft before 10am. I was happy to hop in the van to travel onward to the next location.
After a few hours traveling by van we unloaded the bikes. This ride started out downhill, then the road was up and down, as we rode through two villages and past the Quattro Lagunas. The ride added another 9.45 miles to the daily total. I'm feeling strong and accomplished.
Everyone has various levels of experience cycling, the 19 year-old Scottish kid is extremely fit and speeds on ahead of all of us. The hubby and wife from New Zealand have been on many trips and cycle a lot at home. The Aussie keeps a good pace. I think I'm the only one huffing and puffing at times.
C and I are different types of cyclists. My style is more slow and steady, with stops to smell the flowers (or photograph the alpacas). I'm more of a meanderer on a bike. (Whereas I'm a city walker, and keep a fast pace on foot.) C is a competitive, strong cyclist, pushing herself, very technical about things and happy to finish among the first, (and not so happy to be a long the last). Sometimes she waits for me or cycles just a bit ahead of my pace. I don't mind cycling alone, I am pushing myself each day, more than I have ever before. I have to remind myself, I've only just started this sport, cycling with a bit of seriousness since April, on my hybrid road bike. Previously, I meandered along in my beach cruiser, complete with my late great min-pin, Miss Holly Go-Lightly in the basket. (I've included an old pic of Miss Holly & I below).
Hi, I'm Reverend J, a queer+ sober wanderer, activist, writer and ordained minister.