Ecuador 5: Galapagos to Piura, Peru

The team woke early and prepared for the recommencement of racing by quickly packing.  Racing out to the street they hailed a cab and were driven to Puerto Ayora’s terminal Terrestre, an oddly large structure for an island that has only one bus route.

Riding the morning bus service to the Canal took the normal hour. There the team completed the short ferry ride across the water and rode the free bus to the airport terminal.  After checking in and some last minute souvenir shopping they boarded their flight to Guayaquil.

The uneventful flight soon deposited the team back at Guayaquil airport where they took a cab over to the massive bus station.  Tickets were bought for the afternoon bus to Cuenca. Simon and Ang were pleased at how the morning had gone and were glad to still be leading the race.

The bus arrived in Cuenca without incident and the team stayed overnight in a quaint colonial hospedaje.  The next morning, after a walk around the city and an attempt to sell one of the team’s cameras to a camera shop, the team returned to the bus station.  Tickets were purchased and the team boarded another bus heading south for the border town of Loja, close to the Peruvian boarder.

Cuenca town Mary Poppins is now sadly without a working umbrella
Happiest windmill in all Ecuador on the road to Loja Roadside roasted pig stand

Arriving in Loja, they once again found accommodation and walked around the surprisingly pleasant town.  On their walk, the team observed a protest march by some Ecuadorian union types.  Later, an eating challenge was completed with the team consuming a large quantity of tamales.  With this challenge completed, the team received their next clue, and early the next morning boarded an international bus to the Peruvian town of Piura.

Union protest, Loja style Lots of roja flags in Loja
The start of the Tamale challenge

The bus ride into Peru and border crossing was straight forward.  Arriving in Piura, the team was confronted with a huge number of tuk tuks and market chaos.  Ang commented that “it feels like India, especially after the Galapagos”.   Once again accommodation was found and the team enjoyed a fantastic meal at a Peruvian fusion restaurant before receiving their next clue to fly to the town of Cuzco.

Interesting southern Ecuadorian trees
Fruit pickers in transit Friendly Peruvian fruit farmers

Waking early, the team took a taxi to the airport where their boarded a flight south to Cuzco via Lima.  The Taca flight was delayed leaving, so upon arrival in Lima the team only had moments to spare to make the connection.  Racing through the airport the team soon arrived at the boarding gate and were met by a Taca representative.  Unfortunately they were too late for the connecting flight, arriving at the gate at 11am, minutes after boarding had closed.

Initially told by the ground staff that the team would have to spend the night in Lima, Simon and Ang negotiated to be put on another flight.  They were transferred to a LAN flight at 2pm.  Due to all the time taken to arrange this transfer, Simon and Ang had less than one hour left to locate their bags and check in to the LAN operated flight to Cuzco and go back through security.

They raced back out past baggage claim, urged the TACA staff to locate their bags, waited while these were found, raced to the enormous LAN queue and just made check in with minutes to spare.  They raced through security and straight onto the plane.  Both Simon and Ang were relieved they didn’t have to spend a night in Lima and glad they had managed to avoid a delay that could have cost them the race.

Arriving in Cuzco the team took a taxi to the main Plaza De Armas and located accommodation.  There, out of breath on account of the high altitude, they checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race, a lovely hostel with private rooms overlooking gorgeous Cuzco.

Ang finds it difficult to climb the hill at this altitude

Galapagos 8: Floreana Island

Once again, the team woke early and raced to the port.  There they boarded a fast speedboat and were soon bouncing across the waves to the island of Floreana.  The island of Floreana is a small island that is famous for its historical past that included pirates, buccaneers, sailors and crazy baronesses.  The journey past quickly and after a brief stop to check out a pod of dolphins, the team arrived at the small settlement of Floreana.

Floreana seems to have red marine iguanas

To explore the island, the team boarded a chiva.  They were driven inland to a tortoise breading enclosure before they walked to the only source of fresh water on the island and a pirate cave.

A gang of land tortoises
Pirate stone head! Pirate passageway

After lunch they raced back town and on to Black Beach or Playa Negra before they returned to the speedboat to head to the snorkelling spot.  Because this was a day trip, the team was taken to a less than ideal spot as national park fees are prohibitively expensive for day tour operators to visit the prime Galapagos sites.  Ang decided against snorkelling and opted to swim instead while Simon completed the survey the shoreline challenge and managed to spot very few fish and several frightened green turtles.

Sally lightfoot crab emerging from its lair

Completing this challenge, the team was raced back to Puerto Ayora aboard their fast speedboat.  Arriving in town they completed the final task for this phase of the race by ordering a delicious plate of $15 lobster from William’s kiosk.

…To be continued.


Galapagos 7: Bartholme Island

Team Australia woke at dawn and quickly made their way to the agency shopfront where they were to be picked up.  After driving around Puerto Ayora collecting other passengers, the bus headed to the Itabaca canal across the island of Santa Cruz.

Along with teams from Italy, America, Argentina, Spain, Team Australia was deposited at the docks and soon shuttled quickly to a waiting 49 foot motorboat.  There they ate breakfast and watched the blue footed boobies dive bomb fish.

The crew of the boat attempted to start the engine, but were unable.  After 15 minutes of trying, they gave up and called the mechanics.  They would have to come from Puerto Ayora, which meant there would be an hour long wait.  Team Australia remained in good humour and chatted with the other passengers while they watched the blue footed boobies do their dive bomb thing.

After an hour, two mechanics with spanners arrived at the boat.  They opened the engine casing up and started it.  Instantly the engine roared to life.  With their work completed, the mechanics departed and the boat motored off to the island of Bartholme.  The boat then motored slowly out of the harbour.

Mechanics fix the boat

Eventually the boat arrived at spectacularly unique Bartholme Island.  The first challenge was to climb to the summit of Bartholme for a fantastic view of Pinnacle Rock.  Due to the earlier engine trouble, Simon and Ang commenced this climb just before midday.  Trying to stay cool and race was difficult for the team, but luckily they had Ang’s trusty umbrella to shade them on the bare slopes.  The hot climb was completed by Simon and Ang in record time, with breaks required only to listen to the novice guide talk about various aspects of the local environment.

Racing to Pinnacle Rock
Simon completes the lift a large rock with one mighty arm challenge Ang completes this challenge easier
Panorama of the Pinnacle Rock area

Racing back down from the summit, the team got their snorkelling gear on and swam straight off the beach around the huge Pinnacle Rock.  This snorkelling challenge required only one team member and due to the potentially sharky nature of this task, Simon nominated himself.  There were two tasks that needed to be completed before the next clue would be provided.

Fish! Pinnacle rock from up close
More undersea life

The first task was to swim around to the other side of the rock and witness some hilarious sea lion behaviour.  As Simon was the only snorkeler equipped with fins, he rapidly completed this task and witnessed a sea lion chase a white tip reef shark just for fun.  Simon said later “I was looking up out of the water at the big rock.  I put my head underwater and saw a sea lion swim towards me, like several had before.  This sea lion seemed to be a bit cheekier than the others before.  I followed him as he swam across my path and straight after the shark.  They swam in circles for a bit then off into the distance.  It was hilarious for everyone, except the shark”.  With this task complete, Simon joined the other snorkelers and swam back around Pinnacle Rock and across the small bay.

Across the bay they swam up to four penguins sunning themselves on a rock.  Two penguins decided that now that they had an audience they would start going at it like rabbits.   Simon captured this special moment in nature and then swam back to the beach.  There the team received their next clue and would now be required to make their way to the Island of Floreana.

Galapagos penguins

Returning to the motor yacht, the team sailed back to the Itabaca canal at Santa Cruz and then took the bus back to Puerto Ayora town for dinner and later to bed.


Galapagos 6: North Seymore Island

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two joined the Eden for a fantastic eight day cruise of the Galapagos Islands.  They spent their final night anchored next to North Seymore Island, surrounded by sharks.

Just before dawn the team woke to the sound of waves gently lapping on the hull.  They had a quick breakfast and jumped into waiting zodiacs for the short trip ashore to the island of North Seymore.  As normal, many sea lions, blue footed boobies and marine iguanas were awaiting their arrival on shore.  The new animal for this island was lots of nesting frigate birds, the pirates of the skies.

On the walking tour of the island, the team was able to spot male frigate birds attempting to attract a mate.  Once they had witnessed this interesting and unique display that occurs year round, the team was given their next clue.

The racers take a moment to rest next to a local Sea lion waiting for the sun to come up
One more time… mega awwwww Male frigate bird looking for a lady
Frigate bird planning the next big heist Female marine iguanas warming up

Returning to the boat, breakfast was had and bags packed.  The Eden motored to the nearby Harbour at Baltra Island where they transferred to zodiacs for a final time and were delivered ashore.  Boarding a bus they travelled back to Baltra airport and said good bye to the departing teams who were flying out that day.  Simon and Ang along with Adam from Team America and Karin from Team Swiss transferred to another bus and were soon crossing the narrow channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz islands on a government run ferry.  A taxi ride later, they were back in Puerto Ayora.

The other teams on the bus to the airport, racing to the next legs of their respective races

Arriving in town the team was given a multiple route choice challenge.  They could either get themselves on another boat or they could do two day trips.  Simon and Ang, having thoroughly enjoyed their time on Eden opted to attempt to get themselves on another boat.  However, there was a small problem as there were few open agencies owing to it being a Sunday.  Asking another friendly Team Australia that raced by them on their way to a taxi, Simon and Ang found out that there was a boat, called the Monserat, leaving in a few hours for a great last minute deal for five days.  Unfortunately the agency they had raced from and booked with was closed for lunch.  Simon and Ang went into three other agencies but were unable to get the phone number of the boat.  This meant they would have to wait until the first agency opened after lunch, leaving them scant minutes to get to the north of the island.

After collecting laundry, the team raced into the agency in contact with the Monserat boat. There, the team rapidly negotiated a $150pp discount on even the special last minute rate, but was unable to negotiate a lower enough fare for the budget the producers had given the team for this leg of the race.  Considering they had one hour to get from Puerto Ayora to the canal and onto the boat, the price was great, but not fantastic enough as they would need to change flights and the itinerary only had two new locations over the five days so, Simon and Ang decided to switch tasks and complete the day tours.  These were rapidly booked for the next two days.

Marine iguana hits the resort pool

Adam from Team America who was on the Eden with Simon and Ang, kindly offered his spare studio apartment for the team to stay in.  Both Ang and Simon were very grateful to Adam and Ruth, his wife, as this great pad allowed them time to organise themselves for the upcoming race challenges.

Casa de Adam y Ruth

That afternoon the team walked to Tortuga bay for a sunset swim and dip.  Dinner that evening was a great lobster dinner at William’s kiosk.  Then the team retired for the night, as the first day trip would commence at 6am

Panorama of a Cacti forest at the end of Tortuga bay
Another of Darwin’s finches Marine iguanas are not the best with directions
Galapagos flowers

…To be continued.


Galapagos 5: Santiago Island to North Seymore Island

Upon waking, the team found themselves in yet another stunning Galapagos location, James Bay on Santiago Island. They were once again ferried ashore. They walked along the trail and saw lots of birds, including finches that were friendly enough to land on cameras. Ang through these birds were very vain, but enjoyed the experience immensely.

Early morning Galapagos dew
One of Darwin’s friendly finches These finches are not camera shy

After the short walk they arrived at a lava rock grotto and headlands. There they were able to see the usual assortment of lots of marine iguanas, sea lions and birds. For the first time they saw fur seals, which unlike the staffy like sea lions, which to Simon thought looked a little like sea rats.

Ang and Simon complete the Val Halen challenge HDR marine iguana
Even more awwwwwww Sleepy sea lion

With this challenge completed, the team made their way back to the landing beach. There they changed into their snorkel gear and wetsuits and entered the water. Snorkelling along the beach they saw the usual huge numbers of fish, swimming marine iguanas, sea lions, turtles, a ray and a huge friendly white tipped shark.

Surprisingly, the swim with marine iguana challenge is just as hard as the previous dolphin challenge

With the shark challenge completed, the team returned to the Eden and cruised to Rabida Island. Once again they were required to change in their snorkelling gear and enter the water at a location that Rubén called “a special place”. It definitely was special with the team seeing the usual huge assortment of sea lions, turtles, rays and fish. With this snorkelling completed, the team climbed back into the zodiac and were driving around a headland. There they entered the water and swam back towards the beach, hugging the coastline they saw blue footed boobies, heaps of fish and sea lions. Once they arrived at the beach the challenge was completed and they returned to the Eden.

Mighty frigate bird
Undersea community Underwater racers!

Anchor was weighed and the Eden motored to North Seymore Island. Dolphins were seen on the way and Simon, along with some other passengers, sat on the roof to watch the sunset. Several frigate birds landed on the roof to catch a free ride back to their colony on North Seymore.

Another mighty frigate bird Lazy pirate frigate birds hitch a ride

Soon the Eden arrived at the anchorage. White tipped sharks circled the boat as the team ate dinner and then spent the night.

…To be continued.


Galapagos 4: Isabela and Fernandina

Waking early, Team Australia joined the other passengers and boarded the zodiacs for the morning wildlife spotting challenge.  The two boats motored out away from Eden out of Targus cove along the cliffs.  Henry, the slightly crazed skipper of one of the boats, spotted a pod of whales in the distance, so both zodiacs raced in their general direction.  After following the pod for a little while, the boats turned back to Targus cove.

Sunrise just outside of Targus cove Pelican and boobie at dawn
Hunting whales challenge Success! Whale spotted in front of Fernandina

Spotting a huge pod of dolphins, both zodiacs raced over to the northern entry to the cove.  After driving around for about ten minutes, Rubén came up with the idea of bringing the morning’s snorkel forward.  Both zodiacs raced back to the Eden, stopping briefly only to watch some mating turtles.  The team quickly had breakfast and changed into their snorkel gear and were soon ferried back to the entry of Targus cove.

Dolphin swimming with the zodiac Stunning fish or just mucking around?
Fornicating turtles Clumsy and awkward sea turtle sea sex Clumsy and awkward sea turtle sex

Jumping into the water, Ang and Simon, along with the rest of the group started swimming.  Galapagos dolphins squeal then flee when humans enter the water.  After thrashing their way for twenty metres or so in pursuit of the pod, the team stopped swimming and put their heads above water, realising the try and out swim dolphins challenge was too difficult to complete.

However, not wanting to give up, all teams climbed back into the zodiacs and attempted to try again.  This time they were dropped into the path of the oncoming pod.  This time, for those who entered the water first, the dolphins were very close.  Simon, as one of the first to enter the water, saw several dolphins swim towards him, then turn as they got close.  Afterwards Simon said “you could hear when everyone got into the water as the dolphins clicks and squeaks got louder, almost like they were saying ‘humans!  Run!.. I mean swim!’”.

With the dolphins fleeing the cove, the team received their next clue and set about snorkelling along the cliff wall.  This snorkel allowed them to see the usual huge numbers of turtles, sea lions and fish.  This time they also saw penguins and a cormorant from above and below the water.  Completing this challenge the team returned to the Eden and once again changed.

Another green turtle Galapagos starfish

Back into the zodiacs they went and were shuttled over to the shore where they went for a short walk to spectacular lookouts over a lagoons, and huge lava field.  Photographic tasks for this walk were to capture the elusive mocking birds.  The team also read some of the graffiti that various sailors had written on the walls over the previous centuries.   With time running short, Ang and Simon franticly tried to capture the mocking birds on the return to the zodiacs.  They were not successful and had to wait out a short time penalty.

View towards Targus cove and neighbouring lagoon Ghetto sea lions are legit
Little finchy, but sadly no mocking bird photo

After the time penalty was completed, they returned to Eden and anchor was weighed.  The boat headed north in the direction of the island of Fernandina.  This island is virtually untouched, volcanically active place and is the newest of all of the Galapagos Islands.  There is only one tourist landing site on this island and the Eden was steaming directly for it.   A delicious lunch was had en route.

Arriving at the island, the team and other passengers quickly readied themselves for the landing.  As Fernandina is very remote, few cruise boats make this journey.  However, larger vessels with up to 100 passengers do visit this site.  One of these boats arrived at the anchorage soon after the Eden.  So, in order to beat the hordes ashore and complete the walking through the Imps of Darkness challenge, Simon and Ang and the rest of the passengers raced to the zodiacs and over to the landing site.  After a quick surprise ceremonial birthday dunking of another fellow Australian passenger by one of the crew, the group walked onto dry land. There they saw a huge number of marine iguanas, the usual assortment of sea lions, cormorants, and some rare hawksbill turtles.  As they were walking around more marine iguanas arrived having finished their afternoon feeding.

Ellie gets dunked
Lava cacti and associated iguana Chris from team Holland gets amongst the iguanas
Piles of iguanas in iguana town Co-habitation at its best
Simon enjoying this leg immensely Just like Godzilla, an iguana emerges from the sea

Their last task was to complete the Imps of Darkness challenge with Simon giving Ang a piggyback through a field of iguanas that had stationed themselves on and around the path to warm up. With this challenge completed, the teams returned to the Eden.

Simon later said “the marine iguanas are amazing.  They start the day by trying to warm up in the sun.  Once they are hot enough they swim out to sea where they eat algae and seaweed for up to thirty minutes then return to the beach to reheat and snort up sea salt.  It was a magical, somewhat gross evil sight to see”.

Only thing cooler than a marine iguana is a marine iguana with a lava lizard on its tail If nothing else, this says ‘metal’
Whiskers McWhiskers walks with an iguana Brothers from different mothers

Back on board the Eden, a course was set for the northern tip of Isabela.  Arriving at the dramatic location, the team once again changed into their snorkel gear and entered the water.  Snorkelling along the shoreline the team saw an excessive number of turtles.  There was that many that Ang lost count of the number and the team had to be careful not to swim into them as they snorkelled.   Their snorkel route continued around the shoreline past blue footed boobies, cormorants and penguins.  Rounding a headland, the team swam into a huge cave that was home to an angry bachelor sea lion. There they completed the challenge and received their next clue in the water.  Back into the zodiacs they climbed and returned to the Eden for well earned snacks and drinks.

Ang is freezing, but happy at completing the challenge

Soon the Eden left Isabela and was motoring north for an eleven hour overnight sail to their next location.

… To be continued.


Galapagos 3: Isla Isabela

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two joined the Eden motor vessel for a cruise around the Galapagos Island.  After visiting fabulous islands such as Isla Lobos, Santa Fe and South Plazas, they motored to the mysterious Isla Isabela and the town of Puerto Ventimilla.

Delivering building supplies into Puerto Ventimilla

Waking early, racing resumed with the Simon and Ang being shuttled to the dock.  There they boarded a chiva for the drive to the Sierra Negro, a huge shield volcano with a 10km wide crater.  The chiva ride took the team past flamingos, lava flows and rural farmland.  At one point, Walter, a member of Team Holland spotted a red bird in the trees.  He excitedly called out to the driver to stop, and jumped out of the chiva and was soon snapping away.  He was quickly followed by the other passengers, once they had realised no one had fallen off the truck.

Galapagos flamingos on the way to Sierra Negra Crimson bird half way up Sierra Negra

Back in the chiva, the rest of the drive was quickly completed and the teams commenced the walk up the volcano to the mirador.  The hike was expected to take 45 minutes; however, as all teams were racing the humid walk was completed in half that time.  At the summit, they were treated to a spectacular view of the huge crater.  There, they had lunch, and fifteen minutes later the clouds arrived.  While they watched clouds obscure the crater, the other teams were entertained by Ang, who demonstrated her love for all things Mary Popins.

Ang, aka Merry Poppins, in front of the huge Sierra Negra crater

Returning to Puerto Ventimilla and to a beachside bar, Team Canada enjoyed a ceviche while Simon, the other team Australia and half of Team America 3 braved the cold Pacific waters and went for a swim.  With these challenges completed, all teams walked back to the dock and were soon back onboard the Eden.  There the final additional passenger, Adam of Team America 4, arrived and that evening. After the regular briefing on the next day’s activities, the Eden motored into the night for nine hours, bound for the remote western side of Isla Isabela.

The mysterious Galapagos bottle tree Simon completing the beach swim challenge
Puerto Ventimilla town Ellie and Ang from the two team Australias shelter from the rain

Waking after a restful night’s sleep, Simon and Ang found the Eden in a spectacular location called Punta Moreno.  They were once again dropped ashore by zodiac where they walked around a huge kilometres wide lava flow.  Their walk allowed them to see hundreds of sally lightfooted crabs, sea lions, blue footed boobies and other birds.  Their walk took them past a small sea lion colony where they sadly saw a sea lion with a large fishing hook in its flipper.  The flipper was infected and obviously was causing the sea lion great pain.  With no veterinary or park services in this remote location, there was little that could be done for the animal.

HDR image of a lava flow Galapagos thumbs up cactus
Ruben’s feet seemed imune to lava Sally lightfooted crabs also love lava
Lava cactus
Panorama of a huge lava flow
So sad, but there was nothing that could be done Another photo of a sally lightfooted crab loving lava
Cactus worthy of being a Windows desktop background

Continuing, the teams soon arrived at a lava tidal pool. There they saw many trapped fish and several large white tipped reef sharks.  Soon it was back to the Eden to change and once again into the cold Isla Isabela waters.  Here, they snorkelled right next to the lava flows and despite the waters being murky, saw sting rays, heaps of fish, kelp and by Ang’s count, at least ten turtles.

Ang poses for a photo before she begins the easy turtle spotting challenge One of many turtles spotted
Racers on Eden’s sister ship, Aida Maria, go for a swim

Back onboard the Eden, the boat once again motored north, this time bound for Elizabeth bay.  Here, they embarked into the zodiacs and travelled into a mangrove estuary, which unlike Australian mangroves, included mangrove trees as tall as gum trees.  On the ride in they saw lots of turtles, blue herons, cormorants and smooth bill anis. As required by national park regulations, motors were not used in certain parts of the estuary, meaning Ang, along with Adam from Team America 4, had to take up oars and row the dingy.  Soon it was time to leave the peaceful mangroves.  On the way out of the bay, they passed over tens of golden rays swimming in a school.

Flightless blue eyed cormorant Close up of a Heron

Reaching open water, the team’s dingy continued to a nearby rock island.  There, they motored around the island and observed a mixture of blue footed boobies, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and blue herons that were all living together on the island in perfect harmony.

Mixed use colony
Boobie on a rock Lots of boobies
Yawning boobie

Finally after this action packed day, they returned to the Eden and then cruised for four hours to Targus cove where they spent the night.

Sunset towards Fernandina

… To be continued.


Galapagos 2: San Cristóbal to Santa Cruz

Waking early for New Year’s Day, the team raced to the dock.  On their way they ran past a variety of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno citizens who were still revelling at 10am.

Sea lions sleeping off New Year’s excess

Once at the dock they waited for the Eden boat representatives and the rest of the passengers to arrive from the airport.  Simon went in search of an open shop for breakfast, a hard challenge for the first day of the New Year.  After much searching of the town, he found some breakfast yoghurt and raced back to the dock.  On his return he had to run as the rest of the passengers for the cruise had arrived and were in the dingy waiting, ready to be shuttled to the boat.

Ang and Simon joined teams from Holland, Canada and the US.  There was also another Australian team on their own exclusive race to complete the 11 initial passengers.  Introductions were made once onboard the Eden.

After the safety briefing was completed and cabins assigned, the Eden motored to the nearby Lobos Island and commenced an amazing eight day tour of the Galapagos.  Once the boat had arrived and the passengers were briefed, the team went ashore.  They walked amongst the large sea lion colony, spied blue footed boobies, land and marine iguanas.  Returning to the boat, the team donned snorkelling gear and entered the water.  The fantastic array and sheer volume of marine life astounded Simon and Ang as they snorkelled.  They saw huge green turtles, rays, lots of fish and sea lions.

Blue footed boobie Awwww
More awwww Baby chases mum, for more boobie
Marine iguana poses for the photo Boobie on a rock
Ang gives the Galapagos the thumbs up Marine iguana sunbaking
Check out these blue footed boobie booties

With the first snorkelling challenge completed, they returned to the Eden then back to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.  Simon and Ang joined the other passengers that night ashore for a drink, and then later returned to the Eden.  Whilst they slept the boat weighed anchor and motored overnight to Santa Fe Island.

The second day of the cruise began early.  Simon and Ang awoke to find the Eden anchored alone in the Santa Fe anchorage.  After a quick breakfast everyone went ashore for a short walk through the vegetation.  On this walk the team saw a different species of land iguana, giant Galapagos tree cacti, birds and of course more sea lions.  At one point, the team engaged in a rather serious discussion with other teams about the classification of one type of Darwin’s finches, the medium finch (when does it become a large finch?).  After completing this walk the team returned to the Eden, changed into snorkelling gear and entered the water.

Galapagos giant cacti tree Baby sea lions with their babysitter and number one predator

Once in the water, Simon and Ang were again amazed at the huge variety and carpets of fish, massive green turtles and the playful sea lions returning from their morning fishing.  With this task complete, the team returned to the Eden and were soon motoring to their next destination, South Plazas Island.

Arriving between the South and North Plazas, the team once again boarded the two zodiacs and went ashore to South Plaza.  This island is roughly rectangular in shape and rises on the southern side to an impressive cliff.  The walking tour of this island commenced amongst sea lions and marine and land iguanas (again from different sub-species) and then climbed to the southern side of the island.  The walk up to the top of the cliff was through a forest of giant cactuses and a carpet of red plants that Ang commented “It looks just like coral”.

Sea lions have the longest whiskers of all lions
South Plaza landscape panorama
A panorama of the waters between North and South Plazas

Arriving at the top of the cliff, the team took in a David Attenborough-esk sight of thousands of birds, frigate birds and tropic birds wheeling and flying around in the high winds.  After taking in the scene with awe, the team followed their guide, Rubén, along the top of the cliff face, past the bachelor male sea lions and back down to the shore on the northern side of the island.  Walking along the highly polished stones from thousands of years of sea lion use, the team returned to the rocky pier and on to the Eden.  The Eden then cruised to Puerto Ayora where they stayed overnight.

Racers pause for a photo Land iguana waiting for a cacti flower fall to eat
Cacti flower South Plaza vegetation
Land iguana, almost a dinosaur
Tropic birds Ballet dancers of the sky
Name of bird unknown Frigate bird getting a free ride on the Eden

Waking early the next morning, Simon and Ang, along with the other Exclusive race teams, went ashore and walked to the Darwin Centre.   The purpose of this visit was to see the giant tortoise breeding program and to say hello to Lonesome George and his two concubines.  They walked around the hot grounds, visited George and said hello and greeted many other giant tortoises and land iguanas.

Lonesome George gorging himself Little baby giant tortoises
Smooth bill anis

After a brief lunch back on the Eden, the passengers were joined by another Team, this time from Switzerland.  They then all boarded a mini bus and made their way into the highlands of Santa Cruz.  Arriving at the private rancho, the team first walked into a lava tube and then around the grounds where they saw many giant free-range tortoises. Ang said “ they are absolutely huge! just incredible, like ancient wrinkly weathered half soccer balls with heads”

Racers behind a giant tortoise Ang sneaks up on an unsuspecting tortoise
Tortoise and the tree Tortoise gorging on grass during lunch

With this task completed, the team returned once again to the Eden for dinner, then walked around town and used the free Redgal wifi from the aft mid level deck.  Soon the Eden weighed anchor and set sail for Isla Isabela as the team slept.

Eden’s dinning room

….To be continued.


Galapagos 1: San Cristóbal

Early the next morning the team boarded a fast 600hp speed boat for the journey to San Cristóbal.  They arrived in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno two hours later after a rapid thrill ride.  Quickly they sourced accommodation and then headed out to walk around town.  As this was the last day of the year, many people were letting off fireworks, so it gave the place a warzone carnival atmosphere.

Panorama of Pelican Bay, Puerto Ayora
Depressed bird
Random papier-mâché creature Yellow bird
Where is Mario?

After reading their next clue, the team set off on foot to Playa Mann.  There they watched the sunset and sea lions playing.  Whilst they sat on the sand, they were approached by two inquisitive baby sea lions.  In keeping with the two metre rule, the team backed away, but the sea lions gave chase.  The team watched the sea lions frolicking until the sun set.  This completed this challenge and the team were given the next task and returned to the centre of town.

Baby sea lion and mother on Playa Mann Another yellow bird

On the way back to the centre of town, the team were stopped by two cross-dressed Ecuadorians.  It was unclear why they were cross dressed, but as is normal for this part of the world, from midday 31 December to midday 1 January, children and adults are traditionally allowed to stop pedestrians in the street with passage only given once a contaminación toll is paid.  The amount is any coins, so it is necessary to carry enough small change to get where you need to go.  The team was lucky to have a few 5c pieces and good humour, so were able to pass by the many tolls without much issue.

The Team is still not entirely sure what Contaminacion means

Another Ecuadorian tradition is to write two long posters. One outlines the good things that you hope will pass in the future and the other outlines the bad things that have happened in the past.  Ecuadorians also make a papier mache character to accompany the messages that represent all the bad things that have happened in the previous year.   All around the town there were many such characters waiting for the New Year.

Ecuadorians lover their papier-mâché Yogi says ‘hola’
Ecuadorians love smurfs More smurfs and this time Taca airlines
Another display, this time with a garden theme A diver ready to dive into a fire
A ship with end of year messages ready to be set alight Yogi bear on car (this guy would escape getting burned for some reason)
Smurfs and African animals live together perfect harmony in Ecuador

The team had a nice meal then joined the crowds of locals walking along the waterfront and the streets watching buskers and socialising, and reading the New Year’s messages.   As midnight approached, the intensity of the fireworks increased.  Soon semi-professional fireworks were being released in the town square, into the sky and occasionally into the crowd.  Then, at midnight and without any countdown, locals set fire to their characters to ring in the New Year all across town.

A semi professional Ecuadorian fireworks display One minute after middnight
Bonfires in the street to see in the New Year

The team’s challenge was to photograph as much of this as possible, avoid being injured by the explosives that were thrown into the burning piles and help burn any blown away parts of remaining characters.  Much feliz años nuevo was said and with these challenges completed the team made their way to their accommodation to rest ahead of the next part of this leg.

… To Be Continued


Ecuador 4: Salinas to the Galapagos Islands

Taking advantage of their early, first place departure from the pit stop, Simon and Ang had a quick breakfast before they once again jumped in a collective taxi to head down from the mountains.  Ang had developed headaches from the altitude, so the timing was perfect.

The truck ride down the hill was along the winding Salinas road and caused Ang to be motion sick once they finally arrived in Guaranda.  There, after Ang recovered, the team raced to the bus terminal and boarded the first bus to Guayaquil.

The ride took the team through some spectacular mountain scenery and small quaint looking mountain villages.  The bus driver seemed adverse to any sort of speed, even when the road was clear of the thick fog. However, once the low plain was reached, the bus picked up speed, passing most traffic as it raced west to the coast to make up lost time.

Guayaquil suburb Stilt houses outside of Guayaquil
Roundabout art

Arriving in Guayaquil, a hot dusty and dangerous port city, Simon and Ang took a taxi to a hostel in the centre.  There, afer checking into their accommodation, they took a short walk along the boardwalk and had a dinner that included a big ball of plantain and cheese.   After completing this challenge, the team were given their next clue and were directed to make their way to the Galapagos Islands.

Iguanas escape people in a central park of Guayaquil A tall ship on the waterfront
Guayaquil firestation The reason why Guayaquil is dangerous – the kids learn young

Early the next morning the team raced out to the airport where they checked into the first available flight to the Galapagos Islands.  The flight was rapidly completed and the team’s plane landed at Baltra airport.  Strict entry formalities were completed and fees paid.  The team boarded the shuttle to the Itbacca channel where they then boarded a ferry for the short ride, complete with sea lions, across to Santa Cruz.  Once there, they were the first and only team on the first bus to depart for Puerto Ayora.

Arriving in Puerto Ayora in the hot early afternoon, the team were given the task of finding suitable accommodation.  After walking around, the team located Galapagos Dreams, a small boutique hostel run by the super friendly local upcoming business identity, Jonathon.  The team shared lunch with Jonathon and were then given their next clue.  They were to find and book a cruise with the Eden boat.

With the town of Puerto Ayora mostly closed as it was the day before New Year’s Eve, the team settled for the first open agency recommended by the guidebook.  They rapidly completed arrangements and agreed a payment plan as the ATMs on the island all had small withdrawal limits.

With this task completed, the team had drinks with four members of Team Canada.  They then all returned to Galapagos dreams where they climbed to the roof of the main building via a wonky homemade ladder and enjoyed the second last evening of the year.

On the roof of Galapagos Dreams

To be continued…