Amazon Arrival

July 17

After a satisfying breakfast at the buffet, we began our full day trip by van to the Amazon, leaving at about 8:45. It was amazing to climb up to 4400 m at the highest point, with full views of some of the surrounding volcanos including the snow covered peak of Cotopaxi. Our driver stopped so we could take the requisite photos, and pointed out the smoke coming out of the top. It is recently active over the past fifteen months but hasn’t erupted in about 300 years

Then we slowly descended first to the cloud forest and gradually into the Amazon rainforest.
It was really interesting noticing the change in both vegetation and climate as we continued our journey. In the Quito area it is quite dry, and somewhat temperate, the cloud forest was still a bit cool, and as we got closer to the Amazon, the humidity rose. We opted not to use the air conditioning in the van, so we could open the windows. A few hours into our journey, we starting feeling cool drips of water on our heads. This was from the condensation forming on the ceiling of the van from the air conditioning.

We stopped for a very early lunch, as we made much better time than expected. We ate at Kopal Pizzeria in a town called Baese. It is owned by a Dutch ex-pat, and had truly delicious thin crust pizza and salads.

We travelled some of the time on beautifully paved roads, and other times on dirt roads full of puddles and holes. Our driver expertly navigated all of the obstacles. We arrived in excellent time to the shores of the Napo river, where we boarded a long canoe (including seats and a canopy overhead) with an outboard motor. After a beautiful 20 minute ride, we arrived around 4pm at Minga Lodge – a slice of paradise in the rainforest. We were welcomed with a snack of plantain chips with salsa and cool Guayusa Tea served in handmade ceramic cups. Women in the village wake up at 2am to start brewing the caffeinated tea so it can be served before work, to give the family energy and focus for the day.

We watched the sunset from a deck high above the Napa River, looking out over the Amazon and the sacred mountains in the distance, while we got to know some of the others in our group. We also met a hilarious photographer named Tony who is on assignment here. He will be hanging out with our group for part of our time here as well.

We had a wonderful dinner, some great conversations, and got to encounter the resident parrot named Yolanda. The boys were captivated by 3 large hairy spiders crawling on the rafters of the dining area, just a sample of some of the many creatures we will discover while we are here.

While unpacking, we heard a large crash on our roof, caused by a seed pod falling from the giant Ficus trees above our cabin. It sounds like a gunshot or a door slamming. And when they fall onto the ground, it sounds like an animal scurrying about. We hope that not too many fall in the night, or at least that no one wakes scared from the noises.

As expected, it is extremely humid. We will have to adjust to being wet the entire week we are here. Sitting in our room, surrounded by the orchestral sounds of the rainforest, we feel surprisingly at home, and are looking forward to travelling to our first community in the morning. We will be working on a build site for a computer lab/library project in a community about 45 minutes upstream.

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On the road again

July 16

We were not in a rush to do anything today. Everyone has a little bit of travel fatigue setting in. Today’s plan is just to get to our hotel, where we will meet up with our Me to We facilitators, and have a down day.

The home where we have been staying in Quito is owned by a lovely couple. The husband is a retired paediatrician and the wife has a hair salon in the building. Zev and I decided to tame our “fros” before heading into the Amazon. Ten dollars later, we both have extremely short hair and are both happy with our results. In addition to his office and her salon, their home has room for their two-storey apartment, an upstairs apartment for each of their two sons (although one lives ten months of the year in Miami), and the last apartment they rent out ever since their daughter married and moved out. Maria, and son-in-law Fredy, have been our tour guides for all three of our Quito-based trips. Our kids have had fun playing with the six grandchildren staying here. While Aubrey and Koren were packing up, the kids went to the neighbourhood park to play soccer. And the paediatrician reviewed Teva’s numerous pock marks and agreed they were bites.

Finally it was time to leave. We took our 6 small backpacks and walked about 15 minutes to the bus terminal, where after a bit of wandering around and asking different people directions, we found the bus going our way. Riding the bus was an experience. First, you always pay when you get off, not when you get on. There is one person whose job is to jump off the bus right before the stop, announce all the places they are going, punch in some type of time card at a nearby store or kiosk, and take money from people as they get off, providing change when needed.

Sometimes when we stopped, 2 or 3 people would hop onto the bus, trying to sell refreshments like chips, dried plantains, fresh fruit, beverages, and newspapers. Once, a man came on the bus, possibly to solicit money. Our Spanish is very rough, but it seemed he was sermonizing, something about having the love of God in your heart and pleading for money.

The staff on the bus were helpful, and told us which stop to get off. The ride was about an hour and 15 minutes, and it cost $2 total – for all 6 of us. Sure beats having to pay for two taxis to take us there! It could be said that one of the best things you can do to really get a sense of a place is to ride the local bus. The people watching is ideal, as one certainly gets a sense of what is normal in town. We especially enjoyed seeing the different towns we passed through on the way to our hotel stop. Because it is Saturday, we saw that some places had open air markets, selling food and clothing. We also saw people dressed up nicely, carrying bouquets of flowers, perhaps on their way to a family gathering. We even passed a wedding.

We made it safely to our hotel. It is very nice: Impeccably decorated, and the front staff presented us champagne flutes of refreshing narijilla juice blended with basil while we were checking in. We settled in, ate some of our packed sandwiches and then explored the facilities. Erez and Zev played 3 rounds of pool, while everyone else took advantage of the outdoor swimming pool, sauna, hot tub and steam room. While we were in the pool, many people dressed in fancy clothing walked by. This is when we realized the wedding reception was about to start. It was a bit awkward. The guests congregated in one area for appetizers and then, while our kids were still splashing in the pool, 120 guests walked by. We were a bit underdressed in our swimming gear.

A little while after the mass migration, a large family grouping started flooding the common area. They were swimming and singing Karaoke. Badly. Suddenly we did not feel as bad about making noise that could disturb the wedding. Aubrey stayed and finished his book in spite of the karaoke. Koren found a quieter place to hang out, amazed he could tolerate the off-key noise.

Our facilitator, Kristin, found us while we were playing pool. It turns out her family will be accompanying us on the trip as well – her parents, 21 year-old brother and 9 year-old sister. Our group has now grown to 14.

We opted to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was delicious. The wedding reception was going strong next door. Suddenly, a band marched into the wedding – a snare drum, a bass drum, two trumpets and two saxophones. It was amazing. Then the band led the guests outside so they could set off some fireworks. They danced outside for awhile and then came back into the reception area. We figured that if we had brought something other than quick-dry clothes, and brushed up on our Spanish, we could have crashed the party.

Later we bumped into the third family on the trip, who are from California. They have a 9 year-old son and a 12 year-old daughter. Now we are more excited than ever to start our adventure in the Amazon. It looks like we will have a great team to work with. The itinerary looks fun-filled and fulfilling. We will be sure to keep track but won’t have access to Internet to upload our blog for the next week.

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Quito City Tour

July 15


Today we decided to take the day and explore the city. In 1978, Quito was the first city to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With a population over 2 million people, it is a mixture of both old and new. You can find Colonial squares and plazas, as well as modern malls. There is a recognition of the indigenous population and culture, as well as uber modern skyscrapers. The new areas, including near where we are staying, have a surprisingly large amount of glass in the buildings. And often the shapes and colours of the buildings are beyond the basics.

On our way to start our errands, the boys wanted to check out a trophy store we had walked by the previous week. It was blinding in there. There were trophies and plaques of every shape and size. Some were bigger than the kids! They also had a huge selection of tiaras in one showcase. None of us would want the job of polishing them all.

We had to find an apple friendly charger as ours is not working well. We figured our best bet was the shopping mall next to Carolina Park where we were going to catch the Quito Tourist bus. On the way, Erez spotted an apple dealer. We had to get buzzed in to shop in the store. In fact, many of the stores in that building had similar security set ups. Many small items were quite expensive, so we assume they are trying to stop shoplifting by controlling who and how many people are allowed in the store at once.

We also had to find an ATM so we ended up going into the mall anyway. It was quite an upscale mall, with many mall stores we would find at home.

After a bit of confusion based on our guide book having some details wrong (we’ll spare you the details, but it involves a walk across the huge and amazing Park Carolina and then back, returning to the intersection where we started walking from the mall) we got on Quito’s Double Decker Tour bus. For $15 you can buy a ticket that will take you to 11 spots of interest around the city in a three hour loop. You can hop on and off the bus as often as you like during the day. There is both a Spanish and English tour that is heard throughout the bus so you can learn about the city. In between sites of interest, they played well known Latin music as some of the people around us on the bus were singing and clapping along.

It was a very interesting ride, although somewhat downgraded by having to sit in traffic. We did hop off the bus at one location in “Old Town”. We did a thorough self-tour of one of the most impressive churches in South America, La Compania. Seven tonnes of gold are supposedly on the ceiling and on the artwork in the church. There are also countless paintings on the walls and ceilings. It has been called “Quito’s Sistine Chapel”. It was built by the wealthy Jesuit order between 1605 and 1765. It was severely damaged in the 1987 earthquake and an intense fire in 1996 but has been fully restored. We also looked through the church’s extensive collection of cultural artifacts, clothing and hats. The opulence was quite astonishing.

By the time we finished exploring the church, we had time to eat gelato, quickly explore the main Plaza and then hop back on the next bus. The next stop was El Panecillo (Little Bread Loaf) Hill. Overlooking the city there is a giant aluminum winged statue of the Virgin Mary. From the top of the hill you get a spectacular view of the city, continuous from new to old and back to new across the panorama, all nestled in the valley between two rows of volcanoes. Quito is about 50km long and only about 8km wide, limited by small hills to the east and the three large volcanoes to the west which help to define Quito. After this city exposure, we have some ideas of where to spend time when we are back in Quito for a couple of days at the end of our trip.

The bus was huge and many of the streets were narrow. It was a wonder the driver could navigate through them at all. A few times it seemed we were scratching the buildings that lined the streets. The guide kept announcing that the people on the top floor of the bus must stay in their seats, because in some parts of the city, there were very low hanging electrical wires or bridges and the bus just barely cleared them.

We ended the day back at the Carolina Park and started the 20 minute walk home. The boys were starving so we ended up stopping at a wing joint, because it was the first decent place that was open. On a Friday night why wouldn’t places be open at six? Initially we were looking at several items on the menu, until the server advised us of their four specialities, which were actually the only four things they had to serve. So we all shared wings. Otherwise, it felt just like a wing joint at home except the wings came with a convenient pair of thin disposable plastic gloves so your hands won’t get dirty. That didn’t help with the boys’ faces though! They also offered some interesting sauces like passion fruit, honey maple and a spicy red fruit sauce.

Tomorrow we will attempt to take public transit to our next hotel where we will meet up with our Me to We contact. Then, Sunday morning, we will head down to the Amazon.

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Laguna Quilotoa

July 14
Laguna Quilotoa

Jorge picked us up promptly at 845 and we set out to pick up our guides and make the 2.5 hour drive to Laguna Quilotoa. Basically, the volcano collapsed 800 hundred years ago, leaving a deep crater now filled with a beautiful lake.

The drive passed through some colourful pastoral countryside alongside the Andes, with evidence of the local Kichwa people farming the land right up the hillsides. The area is relatively cold as the elevation is above 3000 metres. The Kichwa people wear red ponchos and felt fedoras, and the women wear skirts. Their main non-farming industry is textiles. Here and Otavalo are the main Indigenous textile areas.

We explored a shop of a painter, who expects to spend over six months on his current painting, which seemed detailed and very much folk art. There were also masks and drums. We are likely to have some sort of Ecuadorian instrument in our hand luggage.

Nearby Cotopaxi is an active volcano and is one of the most popular destinations in Ecuador but is above the 4700 metre snow line and requires acclimatization and real mountain gear for the climb. It has thrice lead to the destruction and rebuilding of the large Latacunga town in the nearby valley.

Next stop was the Quilotoa hike. It was cold and windy at the top parking area at 3900 metres, so we decided to buy alpaca llama sweaters for the boys to avoid shivering and whining on the descent. After we survived the ascent, Aubrey and Koren went back to explore the artisan area more fully and the surrounding shops and completed the family sweater set.

It was hard to stop taking pictures and actually start the 1.7 km descent, as the lake-filled crater is beautiful. The shoreline water is bright green from local minerals and then quickly darkens to the depths. Given the extremely steep path, it is not surprising locals believe the Laguna is bottomless. Geologists more specifically believe it is 250 metres deep, which is pretty much the same.

We slid and resisted falling down the sandy path to our lunch spot still a bit above the lake surface. It took about thirty minutes and was surprisingly only 300 metres down. We watched as many people huffed and puffed their way back up, or sat calmly on horses to ascend.

After a cheese empanada lunch, we began the ascent. Our guides thought it would take us 1.5 to 2 hours to get back to the top. The hike is extremely steep and tough footing in the sand of the path, so the prediction seemed about right. And in our defense, the elevation still makes breathing difficult with any exertion. As such, we plodded forward slow and steady. At times it was truly difficult to get one foot in front of the other. Erez, Zev, and Aubrey led the way, taking short breaks every four minutes or so to settle heart rates and rest legs. And shed clothing, all of which ended up in the pack Aubrey was carrying. We were only passed by one little girl and an old local man. Zev admittedly nearly collapsed twice, but we made it to the top in 47 minutes. Koren, Noam, and Teva took 100 steps between breaks and still only took 80 minutes to the top, perhaps spurred on by the dog following Noam most of the way up.
The drive home was uneventful but long. We arrived after dark and so dove into our leftover spaghetti. Our laundry was dry and so led to an important argument amongst two boys about socks. It seems everyone has had enough of long drives, so tomorrow we plan on spending the day doing more driving, getting on and off a tour bus of Quito…

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Mindo in the morning, Quito at Suppertime…

July 13

Yaku Quinde Lodge

The boys slept in later than usual, but Koren was up at 7:30, and started the day watching scores of hummingbirds hovering around the property. They were all shapes and sizes and colours. The sheer variety was dazzling.

After a huge bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt, we ate a traditional breakfast of Bolon de Verde filled with cheese. It is a fried green plantain ball with cheese in the middle, although we hear it can also have meat inside. It was delicious!

Then it was time to start our hike. Galindo, our guide, was on loan from his nearby home community to help get this Eco lodge off the ground. Their mandate is to provide a unique ecotourism experience, while preserving the primary growth forest. They have many big plans, and the family is still building and preparing for more tourists in the future. A few young men were actively painting metal roofs and their chainsaws were audible preparing the site even during our hike. They are targeting Ecuadorian nationals in particular, with natural swimming pools, a play area for the kids, a soccer field, volleyball court and a fishing pond. As a place where Ecuadorians can venture for a weekend getaway, the income thus prevents further reduction of the forest for income. The hikes and conservation will be more focused on foreign tourists.

One of the interesting things about travelling in a country where you are not proficient in the language is that you cannot be sure if you are truly understanding the information given. But perspective always affects perception and understanding. The Eco lodge plans at the edge of the primary forest (the two lane highway was visible far down below in the valley during parts of our hike) reminded us of some of the issues of cottage country back home in Ontario.

We hiked for about two hours, marvelling at all the species of trees, plants and flowers that make up the Cloud Forest. The scenery was truly magnificent. Galindo was a wealth of knowledge. The leaves of the plants were so large. The fern trees were massive compared to home. There are many different types of Palm. We saw trees traditionally used for building, leaves impervious to water and so used for roofing (replace after five years), and fibrous leaves ideal for weaving (including bracelets Galindo made for the kids). We did manage to see a beautiful Quetzal bird at the beginning, but our boys are way too loud for us to get a glimpse of much more wildlife. Plus the path was steep and muddy and thus impossible to look anywhere but at the path while walking. A toucan also visited our breakfast area, just before we arrived, but cleared out once it heard us coming.

After we worked up quite a sweat, we cooled off in the refreshing and very cool waterfall-fed pools and river. The boys had a great time paddling an inflatable raft and two inner tubes.

We finished off our time in Mindo with a delicious lunch (traditional soup followed by rice with fish, tomato and onion salad, lentils and potatoes), and then we signed the guest book. I believe we were the international guests to sign it. We then headed back for our 2.5 hour fast and windy road ascending from 1600 metres back to the 2800 metres of Quito.

While Aubrey hand washed our laundry, Koren went with the boys and the six grandkids of the owners who live in the building to play football at a local field for almost an hour. Once back home, they started new games of football and then “volleyball” (using the two clotheslines as the net) in their tiny concrete backyard. Once they tired out and darkness started, the kids came up to our apartment and had a Mario Kart tournament on 3DS.

We ended the day with pasta and Caesar Salad at home, and then sent the kids off to bed.

Tomorrow we hike to the Laguna Quilotoa.

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Mindo Cloud Forest

July 12

Now that we know our neighbourhood in Quito, it was easy finding some drinking water at the mini mercado in the morning. Last night, we visited the Hipermercado and stocked up on breakfast, so we were able to feast this morning.

We packed up again for a two day trip to the cloud forest. Along the way, we packed in a lot of adventures.

Our first stop was the mandatory tourist stop at a spot along the new satellite defined equator. Remarkably, the mathematically determined line is only 200 metres off and remains the official site. Only Erez managed to balance an egg on a nail on the equator. We learned about shadows (long and north far into the northern hemisphere, short and south in most of Ecuador, and absent at the Equinox at noon on the equator). We also learned how winds start at the equator, so hurricanes move north and go counter-clockwise, while cyclones only move south and rotate clockwise. But the toilet and bathtub drainage hemisphere theory is a myth.

An indigenous woman lived on the site in a handily constructed stone and mud hut, cool inside despite the blazing sun and impervious to earthquakes. Her 110 years are credited to her production and consumption of corn alcohol in her home. Somehow the smoke didn’t damage her lungs and instead waterproofed her home. The indigenous people of Ecuador are celebrated at the site as well. We learned about the penis fish of the Amazon in southern Ecuador (don’t pee in the water there or the urea attracts the dangerous fish) and about shrunken heads (restricted to powerful friends and enemies and requiring a special recipe). We also toured a home of one tribe. They consider anacondas in the home good luck and the one room hut sleeps twenty-four comfortably (kids of one family in one hammock and parents in another).

We next stopped at a butterfly breeding greenhouse, where we saw all four stages of butterfly life. Mostly we enjoyed walking among several different native species of butterfly and the boys basked in hosting butterflies on their hands.

After a plentiful local lunch of soup, fish and rice with lentils and potatoes, delicious juice, and strawberries with cream, we separated into two groups. Koren and Teva became learned in the ways of the cacao tree and its fruit. Apparently, we are going to experiment with chocolate balsamic vinegar at home next. The rest of us spent an hour zipping on ten different zip lines across a deep river valley of the cloud forest. It was thrilling speeding over and through the treetops high over the base of the valley. The three boys even did runs upside down as a bat, in a superman pose, and in a butterfly pose. The guides were and the boys had a lot of fun and the entire course was well prepared.

By late afternoon, we arrived at the eco lodge outside of Mindo. Yaku Quinde is a family farm encompassing primary rain forest, where the recent addition of tourism infrastructure (colourful hobbit-like dwellings, guided forest hikes and trails, waterfall swim areas, and a play area at the base of the valley for kids) will enable ongoing preservation of the Forest. We had an introductory tour before dinner outside by the fireplace.

If the kids can be quiet during our walks in the forest, we might actually see some birds. Although we did see two types of toucan in between zip lines. And hummingbirds at the feeder.

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Las Tunelas, Isabela Island

July 10

Las Tunelas

Although we could have slept in until 10, we were up just after 6. We could have snuck an activity in before our 11:15am pick up, but we sensed some travel fatigue and allowed the kids (and ourselves) to laze around for most of the morning. We ate breakfast fairly early and then read and rested for a couple of hours. Zev and Koren did manage to squeeze in a Bar Mitzvah lesson for the first time since we’ve been here. Doing the lesson on the balcony over the sound of the surf, next to the beach makes it all the more bearable for both of us.

There was a little bit of miscommunication when we arrived at the office regarding what was and wasn’t included on the tour, but we are getting used to our language barrier. We climbed into a high speed fishing boat with 7 tourists and 6 non tourists. It seems the underbooked tour meant some friends came along for the ride.

The fifty minute boat ride could have been the attraction: we got some great air with some of the wave action out in the open ocean. Even as we sped up the southern tip of the western coast of Isabela, we spied the occasional sea lion, sea tortoise, and even three massive manta rays. We had to take care to avoid striking them with the boat. Each in its way was just floating along in the ocean.

We boated through a labyrinth of lava hardened over the ocean and then eroded by wind and water until sections broke off. The result is a plethora of archways and underwater tunnels. In a different section of these calm water lava structures, we snorkelled around and saw fish, sea tortoises, white tipped sharks and a manta ray, as well as a sea horse! Teva decided the boat ride was more fun and spent the hour in the boat. He was supposed to be with the crew, but unbeknownst to us they ditched him to swim with the sharks! Aubrey forgot his contact lenses at the hotel, so we managed to wedge his folded glasses in place in his mask so he could mostly see.

On the return voyage, the older three boys were thrilled as they took turns driving the boat and avoiding rays (and capsizing the boat). Then we spent about thirty minutes at this tall but quite small lava formation at least one kilometre out to sea as the crew fished by line jigging. They caught a few of the large school of yellow fish congregating near the surface and near the rock, moving in unison and often open-mouthed at the surface.

Tonight we dined on the seven dollar special set meal at a different restaurant on the main strip and packed for our two flight travel day to get first to Santa Cruz and then to the (Ecuador) mainland by mid afternoon tomorrow.

So far we have some decent pictures (underwater and more so above ground), we have a few stories, and we have only lost (and not found) a ukulele and a water bottle. We have been falling asleep and waking to the ocean, but after tonight we will be exclusively inland.

Tomorrow the Mindo Cloud Forest…

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Highlands of Isabela

July 9

Waking up to the sound of the surf is a great way to wake up. Pick up time was 9:15, we piled into one of the pick-up truck taxis. The two older boys were ecstatic because we let them ride in the back with the guide on the way to the highlands. Our first stop was a short hike to see if we could find the Pajaro Brujo (Vermilian Fly Catcher Bird). We left the dry dark lava of the south and found green mangrove and other planted trees to make up a forest. Luckily for us, we saw the Parajo Brujo within minutes of getting out of the car. We still went for a short hike along a cow path in the wet forest. The whole area was shrouded with mist and our bird watching tour was successful, as the return of some rain has brought out more insects and thus more birds for us to see.

Our next stop was the Cueva de Sucre (Sucre’s Cave), named after the gentleman who owned the land where the caves are located. Our guide, Junior, told us that Sucre Gil used to hunt wild pigs who would take shelter in the cave when the weather was bad. The cave is actually a lava tunnel. It was really dark. Outfitted with headlamps, we explored the cave, sometimes crawling under ledges. Junior told us that we could not stay in the caves for too long as there is a high concentration of sulfur deposits in the tunnel.

Lunch was at an organic farm called Campo Duro. After we ate a delicious lunch of rice and lentils (and chicken), we had a short rest time in multiple hammocks strung up around a giant mango tree. I wouldn’t call what the boys did “resting”, but they had fun nonetheless practicing sleight of hand. Junior took us on a tour of the fruit grown on the farm and let us sample the different trees. Erez surprised Junior when he capably shimmied up a papaya tree and knocked down a beautiful ripe specimen for all of us to share.

Our last stop on the tour was Mango Look Out, a wooden platform built on a small peak overlooking the south side of the island. The view was gorgeous. We spotted a couple of hunters on horseback with two wild pigs gutted and strapped to the back of one of the horses. They were both chatting on cell phones as they rode by us!

After a short period of down time (something the boys have needed at the end of every day) we returned to their now daily ritual of running and splashing in the waves for an hour or two at the beach outside our door, working up an appetite for our dinner at 6:30.

It is a real treat to walk five minutes to eat on the patio of a lovely restaurant, just after swimming in the ocean. So far we have been away ten days and have already enjoyed some group time, some alone time with each person, a lot of learning and teaching about understanding getting along with others, and we are all still ready for more adventures.


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Penguin, Sharks, and Flamingos

July 8

Las Tintoreras

We awoke to the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach of the hotel, as this island hotel has an even better view than our Santa Cruz room overlooking the main square and the harbour. The only time we have slept closer to the ocean was years ago in Thailand when we shared with cousin Kady a huge bed in a wooden hut right on the beach.

Every day we have breakfast included at the hotel. We have been enjoying tropical juices, eggs, and this time fresh pressed cheese.

The van picked us up and after a one minute drive we were at the port. We hopped in a small fishing boat and set off for Las Tintoreras, an area of Islets teeming with marine life. We saw a few sea lions and a stingray on our way to an island inhabited by Galapagos penguins (Teva’s favourite). They are small. On our way to our hike, one of the highlights was seeing blue-footed boobies synchronized diving for fish from up in the air. The islet we hiked was another example of dry seemingly extra-terrestrial landscape inhabited by strange creatures: large groups of marine iguanas, colourful crabs, and interesting lichen formations (only on the south side of the rocks due to the winds). We saw a large group of adult white-tipped sharks swimming along a characteristic rock channel.

Our third activity was snorkelling in a small lagoon (which becomes open sea at high tide). We saw oodles of sea turtles up close, swimming marine iguanas, schools of large angelfish, different species of sea stars, globe fish, anemones and urchins and too many others to mention.

Our morning was so successful we were an hour late coming home! Noam and Aubrey explored town to find supplies for lunch (somewhat successful with only two small mini-market hardware stores open at late for lunch time and no one has bread).

With fuller bellies, we took a cab (pick-up truck) outside of town to a flamingo hang-out. We joined a tour group exploring a large land tortoise breeding centre. They are working hard to save the many species of land tortoises on the island which are endangered. We were able to see tortoises of all ages and stages, including some embryonic and incubator samples. Tortoises can generally live over 150 years, but babies rarely survive in the wild with current ant, goat, cow and dog non-endemic and introduced species. Breeding programs here mimic natural processes and then return tortoises to the wild when they are old enough to fend off predators. So far they have been quite effective at turning around the potential extinction of several tortoise species.

We walked home by first taking a pathway over wooden walkways through several lagoons and wetlands. We saw interesting bird life, including a flamboyant of flamingos. At the end of the path, instead of going though the main road of town, we followed the beach home. Afterwards, the older three spent an hour playing in the waves by our hotel.

It is hot in town and cooler by the water, and it gets cool (socks! Pants!) Even in town once the sun goes down. Everything is a bit damp. Our dinner burritos and crunchy rice dish were so good we reserved a table for tomorrow. We also had a (not so young) coconut with a straw and watched part of a local adult turf mini-soccer match.

Tomorrow, the Highlands.


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Isabela Island

July 7

We got to leave a little later than usual. Pick up was at 10. This gave us plenty of time to pack up and eat a leisurely breakfast. We were picked up by our mini van and then took a water taxi to Baltra Island, and then took a bus to the airport. All of these modes of transportation were organized and provided by our tour company. We did not have a copy of our ticket as the tour company also booked the flight. This led to a bit of confusion as we didn’t know what flight number we were, exactly what time we were leaving, or the name of the airline. Somehow everyone figure out where we needed to go (it is a very small airport and the staff were helpful). They ushered us into a small open VIP lounge to wait. After a few false alarms, we walked out onto the tarmac to board a 9 passenger plane (that is five rows of two seats). Each seat was complete with yellow ear protectors. It was quite loud, and the view was breathtaking, although more so for the half we were beneath the clouds. The flight was about 30 minutes long and we made a smooth landing on Isabela. There is no real airport there, just a landing strip, so we should not encounter the same problems on the way back.

Isabela is the largest island of the Galapagos. It is more than four times larger than Santa Cruz, the next largest island, and it shaped like a sea horse. It has six intermittently active Volcanos. Most of it is uninhabited, including a lot of dark volcanic earth through all but the shorelines.

Only 2000 people live on Isabela. Puerto Villmil is tiny. Emilie, our Quebecoise guide said that Puerto Ayora (where we stayed on Santa Cruz) is like New York compared to here. We rode in one of the pick-up truck taxis to our hotel. We are right on the ocean! The boys needed some serious down time so we did nothing for awhile and then we went swimming and snorkelling out on our beach. Erez saw another stingray, Noam and Aubrey saw more cool fish, and Teva was content to jump waves at the shore. Zev took some time to read and have some alone time. He needed a break from everyone else for a few hours.

We had a delicious dinner on the main strip of restaurants that is the Main Street of town, and of course I fell asleep again in my clothes before 9 o’clock.

Tomorrow, Las Tintoreras

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