Sunday, October 24, 2010
I’m glad to report that we are home safe and sound but after a trip as unbelievable as we had, an exhausting total of 9 flights within 10 days and more up close and personal wildlife encounters I had ever imagined, I’m not sure we will ever be the same again.
While exploring Quito (and going to a windy view point 4,100m high) was great, we couldn’t wait to get to our first adventure in the jungle of the Oriente region of Ecuador. A short plane ride took us to the edge of the rain forest in the bustling market town of Coca. We felt the change in climate immediately, the heat and humidity hitting us as soon as we stepped off the aircraft.
Upon disembarking at a make shift jetty and after I was literally devoured by bugs the second I set foot on land (I felt the painful stings before even noticing the countless insects that were nibbling on my shoulder/arms and only then proceeded to douse myself in DEET), we had to take a 30 minute trek through the jungle to get to the edge of a lake. A couple of men then rowed us in a traditional (and very unstable) hollowed tree trunk pirogue to La Selva Lodge, on the far side of said lake.
I don’t consider myself to be a spiritual person but I never felt more in tune and in awe of nature than on this part of the trip. I surprisingly loved the remoteness of it all - no cell phone or internet reception, with only the incessant (and sometimes alarming - howler monkeys sound like horror movies monsters!) sounds of the jungle surrounding us day and night.
All too soon, we had to leave our little jungle paradise and head back to Quito to continue on to the Galapagos islands. I must admit that while going back to a city with lots of people and honking cars was a shock, I relished being able to sleep without being concerned about critters getting in my bed at night. The cabin next to us found a tarantula on their porch on the second night and that was pretty much the end of my “Jane of the Jungle” fantasy!
Within an hour of landing, we had been given a short briefing, chosen our wetsuits and snorkeling gear and been taken to shore to snorkel off a local beach. As we approached, we spotted the first of many sea lions basking in the sun. We had been warned that the sea was cold (no more than 18C) but with the excitement of it all, I hardly felt it and dove in only to find myself swimming with a sea lion and a giant turtle almost immediately. I was so shocked and exhilarated by the surprise encounter that I stopped breathing for a few moments.
The wildlife is so abundant and you have to watch your step for fear of hurting anything! Animals are mostly unconcerned by us, barely acknowledging our presence. As relatively new visitors to their territory, they do not see us as predators. It is really one of the only places on earth where one can stand so close to them and observe them in their natural habitat from the endemic blue footed boobies birds, majestic albatross, sally lightfoot crabs in their dazzling red coats, to iguanas and of course sea lions. It was like being inside a National Geographic documentary.
We didn’t realize quite how much snorkeling would be involved. Especially “extreme snorkeling” as we all came to call it. On the 3rd day, we dove 3 times and each time came out of the sea having lost all sensations in our fingers and toes, our lips blue and teeth shattering. I must admit that we questioned our sanity for doing this (and paying for it) more than once! The ship’s crew certainly seemed to find it a highly amusing spectacle. But there was no way that any of us were going to miss any snorkeling opportunities and what was essentially like swimming in a huge aquarium - despite one of them involving being dropped at a 30 meters deep point at 8am and snorkel in strong currents along the cliffs to get an unparalleled glimpse of maritime feeding time and playing hide and seek with 4 young sea lions.
We also made a stop at Post Office Bay on Floreana island. We expected something resembling a post office but were surprised to find instead an old barrel amongst piles of driftwood. Legend has it that sailors back in the 1700s left letters to their loved ones in the barrel for other passing sailors to post/hand deliver when returning home. The tradition continues and we all left postcards for our respective families around the world and in turn took postcards from other travellers to post on our return. I can’t wait to see how long it will take for my parents to receive theirs!
Coming back from such a diverse, intense, adrenaline-filled adventure is always hard and I returned to New York with a serious case of holiday blues and a bad cold. But all the pictures and memories will hopefully keep me going through the inevitably cold New York winter.