Monday, November 30, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Galapagos - more to come!!


Cotopaxi to Montanita


So as you can see by the pictures we made it to the top of the volcano!! For days beforehand we stocked up on chocolate and cake and basically any type of food as we were told firstly chocolate helped with the altitude and secondly we could possibly burn up to 8000 calories during the climb - say no more when we are given an excuse to stock up on food! So Thursday morning at the lodge where we were staying our guide arrived - Fernando and another guide for the British guy Adrian who we persuaded to do the climb (himself and his girlfriend were staying at the hostel and when he heard we were doing it he decided hed like to too, howeve he had to get his own guide incase he had to turn back or one of us did and therefore having his own guide ensured wed all hopefully make it to the top. So after trying on several pairs of plastic hiking boots I finally settled on a very fetching yellow pair that resembled ski boots. They felt a bit big but I reckoned this was a better more comfotable option than being too tight. Next we got kitted out with our thermal trousers and some waterprooof salopette looking things, gators, polar gloves and very attractive matching bright yellow masssively oversized North Face fleeces !! With our own socks and jackets and hats we were ready to go! We had about an hour drive to the base of the mountain, enroute we stopped at the supermarket to get some more chocolate(just incase the huge amount I had wasnt enough!!) and the guides got some food to bring to the refuge for dinner. Then it was back into the jeep and off we set, a little bit nervous of what lay ahead but at the same time very excited. The weather was good and all was set for what should be a successful summit.

An hour or so later we arrived at the car park where we put on our hiking boots for the first time (as much to get used to them as to reduce the weight in our rucksacks for the hour climb up to the refuge). So we set off up the sandy steep slope. The car park is at 4,500ish metres so 300m didnt sound like too far to go , however carrying all our climbing gear,sleeping bags, harnesses, ice axes, helmets, all the warm clothes we had and all the chocolate 300m seemed like a lot of work!! About an hour later we finally reached the refuge and realised that it was a lot colder than we expected so layered up yet trying to save some of the layers to put on at midnight when we were to get ready for the climb. On arrival we were served soup and bread and cheese and tea, picked out our beds, located the very unattractive outdoor toilets with no running water or toilet paper (especially when youre nervous and you think youre going to need to visit them with more frequency!) and chatted to the other climbers wh were planning on setting off with us at 1am to reach the summit by sunrise.

At 5pm we were served dinner - more soup and bread and some potatoes and veg and yet again more tea and by 6pm we made a visit to the beautifuol toilets, admired the most amazing stars Ive ever seen and was tucked up in bed by 6.10pm! Too cold to sleep and needing to go to the toilet I eventually gave in and crawled out of my sleeping bag adn put on all the other clothes I had with me and then resubmerged myself under the sleeping bag. A fitfull 6 hours later of sleep we were woken up and put on the boots again, did our final bag packing and forced some breakfast into us. One last toilet stop and then it was time to put the harness and headtorch on and start the climb!!

The climb to the base of the glacier took longer than we had anticipated but as we stopped there momentarily to put on our crampons abnd get roped onto the guide Fernando told us we were making good time so we snapped a quick pic and went on our merry way.The previous day we were supposed to go up to the glacier to have a practice of walking in our crampons nd using our ice pics but instead Fernando decided we should conserve energy and have a 5 minute lesson in the refuge dorm instead! This involved putting on our crampons and a quick demo in how to fall on our icer pick if one of us fell and we had to stop the others sliding back down the mountain. Seemewd pretty straightforwrd in the dorm but we both secretly hoped we wouldnt have to put this lesson into practice!

So off we set and it wasnt long before I was regretting the second bowl of cereal Id eaten, I was beginning to feel very nauseos (not sure how to spell that!) and knew this was the effect of altitude and hoped it would settler down and not hinder the climb. Jo was looking strong ahead and I did not want to be the cause of us not making it to the top. We stopped for regular breaks and really needed them. It was hot climbing but at points there was a strong wind. The wooly hat was coming on and off and eventually the helmet had to go as along with the nausea it was startign to make me feel very claustrophobic. As we stopped for breaks along the way it was amazing to see the city lights of Quito so far far away below us and the only lights anywhere near us were the slow moving headtorches of the other 6 climbers. Adrain was just ahead of us , his guide having left earlier than us ( we secretly think the guides had a race on amongst themselves as when we caught up with Adrain we werent given a break and we played cat and mouse for a while!)

So on we climbed the steepness of some parts was unbelievable and although it was still dark I could make out just how narrow some of the ledges we were walking up were and was not looking forward to having to come back down these in daylight! Furthermore there were places were I thought to myself if one of us slips here where on earth do we lunge to to dig in our icepicks. There really was nowher to go except down the hill! Anyway to keep myself calm and try to ignore the nausea I sang myslef all the way up the mountain alternating between the Wesley College School Hymm, Be Thou My Vision and Be Strong, Be bold for the Lord your God is with you - amazing how calming these hymns are!! So singing myself strong through the tough times when I really doubted if I could climb another steep incline the top began to seem a little closer. For hours we had been climbing and I had learned not to lok up or down but just one step ahead of me, lookingup or down either created feeligns of vertigo or fear!The daylight began to appear and I knew we must be getting close. We passed Adrain at the final 10 mins where he was on his knees practically crawling the last part - we felt strong as we gave him words of encouragement and saw the look of disgust on his guides face as he realsed we were going to get there first!

4 hours 40 minutes later we reached the summit and it was hard to know whether to cry or laugh so we kind of did both at the same time as hugging and trying to admire the amazing crater that we were now peering into. It was amazing to be so high above the clouds and the sun rising through them. We were given about 30 minutes at the top and then the race was on between the guides again and it was a case of who could get their troops roped up the fastest and ready to go! As we were preparing to descent 2 of the other group arrived and felt very lucky to have made it to the top having heard that the other 4 in their group had to return half way suffering too badly from altitude sickness. As I had been roped last on the way up it was now my turn to led us down. Trying to concentrate on the narrow ledges knowing if I fell Id take everyone else with me and at the same time trying to admire the view and take in the amazing snowscapes that we couldnt see on the way up was tricky but we made good time and made it back down tot he bottom of the glacier in just over an hour. According t our guide this was a very good time! Tired and weary we undid our crampon and harnesses and enjoyed the view of the refuge of which we happily knew was now only about a half an hour away.

Adams words of wisdom about not clebrating too much at the top because we still had to get down safely rang in my ears as I realised how tired my legs and mind now felt. My tiredness truly manifested itself at the final hurdle as I slipped 4 times clambering down the volcanic sandy last bit of the descent, managing to hit myslef on the head with my helmet that was hanging of my bag - I know silly place to put it but it was too big and made climbing harder.So we finally arrived back down to the refuge where we practically crawled the last 10 metres in the door and happily ccepted yet another cup of tea while trying not to be too cheerful and excited as the people who hadnt made it looked on in envy. 15 mins later we were putting the rucksacks back on and making our final route down tot he carpark. This was a really tough task as the feet were now beginning to ache and the boots were feeling very alien. I still have a trapped nerve in my foot from them! Fell asleep in the car on the way back to the hostel and couldnt believe it was only 9.45 when we got back. It really felt like it should be 5pm!

The 5 star treatment of our 5 star package deal finally kicked in and we were brought out onto the sunny deck to be given our celebration champagne. We presumed this would be a glass but no it turned out to be a whole bottle and a bottle of beer each!Luckily it didnt have a very high alcohol percentage s we hadnt had an alcoholic drink in nearly a month we were worried what affect a bottle of champagne at altitude would have on us! By 10.30 we were eating a full dinner and finished ourselves off with a huge piece of chocolate cake each . It tasted even better today knowing we had really deserved it! We headed back to Quito that evening and were tucked up in bed by 8.30 sleeping like babies through the Friday night music on the streets.

Two days later we made our way to the airport and after a short delay (AeroGal are definitely our new favourite airline, a half hour delay and they gave everyone in the boarding lounge free orange juice and banana chip snacks -you wouldnt get that at home!!) we were on our way to the Galapagos Islands. We had to wear lovely touristy badges with the name of our boat on them so that we could be identified when we arrived at the other end. These however proved to be quite useful in identifying who else might be our sailing companions for the next 5 days. There were a lot of very loud bumbag wearing, huge white smile Americans in the departure lounge that we did not fancy spending 5 days in close quarters with! Luckily we didnt get any of these onboard!

The airport in Isla San Cristobal is very similar to Sligo airport, basically a glorified hanger. After paying our 100 dollar entrance tax (which helps conserve the islands) and having our bags searched to ensure we werent bringing any food or plant items to the islands we were ushered into another area where from behing a piece of tape we watched our bags being brought in form the plane on a tractor and trailer where they were then sprayed and left in random locations in the holding area where we then had to go retrieve them oursleves! So an hour after landing we were greeted by John our local tourguide for the next 5 days and finally officially met our fellow boat companions - a Swiss couple, a Slovenian couple, an American and an Indian now living in London lady and a Dutch girl who had already been on the boat for 5 days and had 3 left. The trips run on 5 or 8 days on the catamaran we were on so some people overlap as was happenign in this case.

After we had gathered our snorkels from the shop in the town we were ushered ontot he Zodiac ( our dingy ) adn brought out to our floating home for the nextt 3 nights ( we would have 3 nights on board and one on land and then fly out day 5). On boarding we were shown to our cabin through the galley having to squeeze by the fat chef! (which turned out to be the nicest cabin on board!) and greeted by 2 swans ( actually just the towels were made into swans! Some days we got turtles wearing our sunglasses or headphones!) Then lunch was served. We quickly learned that we would not go hungry on this boat. The food was amzign, fresh fish and fruit everyday and some yummy desserts and everything was always presented in a very hautecuisine manner.

We visited 5 islands over the 5 days and saw an array of wildlfe, from the famous blue footed Boobies (who initiate their mating ritual by dancing and showing their blue feet , they also use this dancing to recognise thier mate as each pair has a a different dance), to Albatrosses, marine iguanas, land igianas, crabs, giant turtles, sea turtles, sea lions, an amazing array of fish, Flamingos and lots of other birds. Each islñand has a certawin amount of animals and birds that are only found on that particular island. Youhave to be very careful leaving one island and landing on another that you dont brign any sand etc with you incase you initiate the planinting of a species on an island thats not supposed to be there. Hence on leaving one island you have to wash your shoes very carefully to get rid of any sand, seeds, animal poo etc.

Aswell as swimming with wild sea turtles and sea lions (which was amazing) we swam in an underwater lava hole and visited the famous post office. This post office has been in existence for over 500 years. In the past whaling boats and pirates would stop at this particular island and leave post in the wooden box. If there was something addressed to someone on their route they would bring it with them and deliver it by hand. And so the tradition continues so we now have in our possession a post card for a family in Gorey and one in Clonsilla to deliver by hand when we return and hope someday the card for you at home will be picked up by a fellow Irish traveller!! Not being a great sea traveller I was a little worse for wear on a coouple of the sailings ut lying down out on deck helped and I slept a lot as the sea sick tablets knocked me out pretty quick! Other than those ill days it was an amazing trip and I would love to return someday to see the other islands and of course the famous penguins! We also had the pleasure of meeting Lonsome George the only giant tortoise of his breed remaining form Pinta island. He is now kept in a conservation area with 2 females who they are tyring to mate him with but there has been no success so far!George is alegend in the Galapagos and even has a merchandise shop especially for him! There is so much to learn about the wildlife on these islands and there is huge conservation work going on on a permanent basis. I hope the pictures will justify the experience and entice some of you to visit and see these amazing species for yoursleves. Its amazing how friendly the animals are. They have no fear of humans and only get agitated if they think youre tyring to steal their babies!

We flew back from Santa Cruz island to Guayaquil and then took a 3 hour bus ride from there to Montanita on the coast of Ecuador (that was the bus ride I got robbed on - no idea how as I wasnt asleep and cant fathom how they got my money belt out of my bag). So we are resisign here for a week before going back to Quito on the 3rd for the Founding Day of Quito festival where we will be meeting up with some friends from the States for 4 days before flying down to Chile for our final week in South America. Montanita is a very small town, maybe 2000 people. Its a hippy beach town with surf and wooden shacks with thatched roofs lining the beach. Loads of restaurants and hostels and jewellery sellers and not a lot more! We bumped into some Israeli friends we met near Cotopaxi and last night spent a traditional Friday night Israeli dinner with them and 18 other Israelis who all happen t be travelling here. We dined at a guys house on the beach who owns a restaurant here. Being the only 2 non Israelis we felt very honoured to be invited and it was an amazign cultural experiece. The women were sent to the kitchen while the men prayed and then we ate a lot of yummy food! The eating began with the breaking of bread, dipping it in salt and then eating and drinking from the goblet some very sweet wine which was passed around.All of this was interspersed with a lot of chanting of prayers and singing, laughing and clapping. All in all it was a great night and defintiely an experience I will bring back to RE class! Seemingly the very religious Israeilis dont do anything after this meal for 24 hours as they are supposed to rest and go to temple. Doing nothing includes no driving, no cooking, no reheating things in the microwave, no use of electricity and even pretearing sheets of toilet paper so they dont have to work at tearing toilet paper.

The weather is still warm but overcast everyday so far here. Hoping this will change but counting our blessings as we hear about all the floods at home. Kind of sad to think the South America journey is almost over. Has been such an amazing experience and I will defintiely be back as there is so much still to explore. Ecuador is coming in as my favourite counmtry here so far. it is so diverse and offeres so much for the tourist while still retaining such a local feel to it. Anyway going to try put up some pics now, love to all at home and hope the flood situation improves xoxox

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Laguna Quilatoa, highest point of top of old crater is 4000m

Mountain village on way to Laguna Quilatoa

More market, fruit and veg amazing here, this is the weekly Sunday market that serves the surrounding 'villages' that have nothing. the locals travel once a week to here to buy and sell their produce and get all they need for the next week.

This straw like house is the one bedroom house where all the family live, 4 children and about 3 or 4 adults including the guinea pigs that they breed for food. its just one room and the house lasts about 6 years then they have to rebuild it form the local grasses which takes about 4 days.
Buggies and prams are not to be found anywhere in Peru or Equador and all women and children as you can see from this pic carry the young around on their backs using giant scarfs. the children here all have a very mature look about them. I suppose they are put to work quite young and help raise their siblings. They dont have hte innocence about them that you see in children of this age at home.

Some pics from Quito and mountain towns

Market - bread woman where we tried to buy one loaf but she didnt have change so had to buy 6 for one dollar - not bad value!!

Public transport
Random meat at market - really not sure what this is, note the still alive tied up chickens in background of pic
Our Columbian friend from the plane and her son - us tasting the local hot wine like drink!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009