More photos from Santiago

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Homeward bound

Yesterday morning it was time to say good bye to all the lovely kind crew. What wonderful smiles they all have, so gentle and happy. St Christobel, where we woke has a population of about 7,000. It was very odd to wake up in a bay with other ships, to see buildings, people, vehicles… and after 4 days cut off from phone and internet (very good it was too) to find a signal on our phones. This morning we took a rickety old bus up into the hills (300m) to the giant tortoise breeding centre before heading for the airport and a flight back to Quito. It was hard to say good bye to the crew and to our new friends, we have shared some lovely experiences & it was quite disconcerting to find ourselves back in a capital city with so many people, rush hour traffic and the appalling pollution. The altitude immediately hit again. We went to dinner in a local restaurant to have our last pisco sours, platain turnovers and prawns, then back to our enormous hotel bed with room for 4 or more.
This morning we wandered in Quito, visiting the cultural museum, the house of Sucre (fought for the independence of Ecuador) & the cathedral. The cathedral was full of carvings, statues, gold leaf and lime green baroque alters very OTT. No photos allowed unfortunately. We lingered on the café terrace in the main square, pure street theatre, watching the passers by: sellers of everything, shoe shine boys, smart suited business men, many police, some on Sedgeways, school children in their uniforms, traditionally dressed women, musicians… A trio who sang beautifully were laughing with us mocking their compatriots for being so small. Imagine a row of elderly ladies sitting on a public bench, their feet all dangling in mid air like a row of toddlers !
This evening we leave for London and then Thursday for home. Thank you for following this blog. Please forgive the errors, it is quite difficult writing on a phone with a french spell check. See you soon ! From my ALCATEL ONETOUCH IDOL 2 S

Galapagos day 3

This morning up early for a7am walk on South Plaza island in the cactus tree grove, where the iguanas wait in hope of a falling pear. These cactus trees provide nearly all the hydration these animals will get. The ground was carpeted with a red succulent plant. Back for breakfast and then out in the zodiacs for an early snorkle and then we sailed for Saint Fé island. Our boat was followed by lots of frigates that played in the thermals above us or who hitched a ride. We enjoyed the sun beds on the deck, time to read, dream and doze.
Saint Fé was idylic, a turquoise lagoon with white sands protected by a reef. A great back drop for lunch. The afternoon started with snorkling at the reef (inside the lagoon) where a colony of sealions live. Here despite a heavy swell we were able to swim with the sea lions, who were quite curious, watch them playing with shells and diving for them. I along with another woman saw a largish shark (approx 1.8m) that was not a reef shark ! Amazed how calm I was. Also saw a ray. We clambered back into the zoiacs and headed out to the centre of the lagoon looking for turtles. When we found them it was back over the side to watch the turtles. Back on board ship while we had hot chocolate and cake the young crew had a ‘mad half hour’ diving off the top deck, doing back flips and generally showing off. Even Leo our guide jumped into the sea fully clothed for a cool off. Then back out for a wet landing on the beach to observe at very close quarters an enormous colony of sealions. There were tiny babies probably just a week old, feeding from their mothers, some crying searching for their mums, the dominant male keeping the other young males at bay, but most were just lazing in the sun or playing in the surf. We all took far too many seal photos.
A walk on this island found enormous cactus trees with a metre girth, small snakes, iguanas found only on this island (larger and more powerful) but little bird life.
This evening after our last dinner on board a guitar was found and Robert finished our evening on a riotous musical note with help from our guide and our Aussie ! We have been part of a lovely group of really interesting and lively people. During the night we headed to St. Christobel island.
From my ALCATEL ONETOUCH IDOL 2 S

The Galapagos day 2

Day 2 was spent on El Barranco Island. Although the Galapagos islands are all volcanic, with little rain, old and mainly low lying, the only soil being made up of worn down lava; each island is very individual, has its own vegetation and species, often unique to one island. Thus today we saw land iguanas and marine iguanas and a hybrid of the two, rather like the mule it cannot reproduce. This is the only place we saw this iguana. We also saw red footed boobies, heron, sea lion, red crabs, marine iguanas and many Nazka birds sitting on their eggs (2) amongst many. We could be just centimetres from these animals. After lunch we had a long snorkeling session beneath the cliffs. Some of the young crew dived with us and showed themselves as agile as the fish we were watching. After dinner the ship left for our next stop. From my ALCATEL ONETOUCH IDOL 2 S

The Galapagos

We boarded our 18 berth catamaran 4 days ago. but we were just 15 passengers: British, Swiss, German, Australian, Canadien and American. A lovely crew of about 10 young men and our naturalist guide made us very welcome. The Galapagos are a very reglemented National Park, with the number of annual visitors strictly reglemented. Our first stop was Seymour Island. Here we took to the zodiacs to go out for 45 mins snorkeling besides a rocky cliff. I saw 3 sharks and shoals of beautiful coloured fish of all shapes and sizes. Later we walked around the island led by our guide. We saw frigates, famous for their red chests, some in courtship practises, some sitting on their nest with their chick, blue legged boobies, iguanas, sealions, all at extremely close quarters, as the animals have learnt no fear. We took the zodiacs back to ship where we were greeted with cold towels, tea and cakes. Then after a major clean up transformation we had cocktails with the crew, dinner, taken at a big long table, a briefing for the next day and an early night. The boat sailed at midnight for our next destination. This was the pattern of our days for the next 3 days. From my ALCATEL ONETOUCH IDOL 2 S

Quito

A morning tour of the city started with a cable car trip up the Pichincha, 1 of the 16 live volcanos that surround the city, to appreciate its enormous 50 km length. At 4,200m we were also able to appreciate the thick veil of smog that sits over the city too ! The vegetation on the slopes of the volcano provides a habitat for pumas, so close to the city.
Back down in the city we walked round the 16th century colonial Quito. The first city to be named a Unesco World Heritage Site, there are some splendid buildings, but also much renovation work needs to be done, especially since the large 1987 earthquake. There are about 2,000 tremors a year but many are not felt.
The Independence Plaza, the meeting point for citizens (many of the women knitting !) is bordered by the Government Palace and the Archbishop Palace. Both of these like some of the churches have shops set in the ground floor and we were allowed right up to the front door of the Government Palace. I tried to get Robert to get a Government Palace hair cut but he wasn’t keen.
We visited several churches and monastries, the most beautiful and impressive being the San Francisco, baroque and totally decorated in gold leaf. Unfortunately no photos allowed.
Like Chili the children here wear school uniform and like Chili there are not enough school buildings, so pupils either attend school from 7h15 to 13h15 or from 13h15 until 19h15.
There is no unemployment benefit, so the streets are full of shoe shine boys, fruit and veg sellers, musicians… I would love to show you photos of these women carrying their wares and their child on their back, their felt hats and traditional dress, but it was just too intrusive. We spent the afternoon just wandering watching the street theatre and the beautiful buildings.

This evening we went out to dinner in a nice hotel on the main square.  2 brides and their grooms were having their portrait photos taken in the square and on the steps of the church ahead of their weddings.  Other than that the streets were rathet quiet,  except around our hotel which is the area for night life. Like all west coast South America there is a very heavy police presence.  Here in Quito they have bad security,  drug and alcohol problems.  If you read the UK gov. advice you would not come here ! We had seen several incidents on our way to dinner, but were not unduly worried having come out with just a credit card with which to pay for dinner.  However when we paid our dinner bill (we miss the excellent cuisine of Peru-  there is no oil or seasoning on the food here)  the hotel insisted on calling us a taxi for the 800m return as they considered it far too dangerous for us to walk. Admittedly we cannot melt into the woodwork here,  being considerably taller and paler than everyone else !

Tomorrowt 4h15 start to get to the Galapagos !

From my ALCATEL ONETOUCH IDOL 2 S