The Santiago in Chile and our visit to San Cristobal Hill

Ola from Santiago!Somehow, Australia seems to be the only country in the world do pay this strange sounding ‘reciprocity fee’ for entry into Chile and it is US$117. Ouch!  So we were determined to make the most of it. When the mists started to lift from the mountain tops the morning after we arrived, we jumped straight into Uber and headed for Santiago’s popular San Cristobal Hill.

Pretty pleased that we didn’t have to do the hike, we whizzed past hikers doing the 45 minute walk to the top. Just when we thought we were home free, a local security guard stopped our car. There was a river of Spanish spoken before we got the drift that we can go no further. Alas, we had to leave our wheels behind.

Fortuitously, it was also the midway point of the cable car that do go all the way to the top! There was no need to convince us and we duly bought return tickets for the ride.

At the summit, there is a little church which anyone can visit.

Inside seems quite plain except for these beautiful reliefs engraved onto the walls either side of the church. It is the Bible stories in stone.

It is so lifelike and well done.

This highlight though here is the statue of Virgin Mary that is 22 metres high. You can take the stairs up or the disabled ramp to the foot of the statue. The ramp has crosses that are decorated uniquely by different artists.

You can see the statue below, There are rows and rows of seat below it. I can imagine it filled when there is an important ceremony.

The pedestal Virgin Mary stands on has a little chapel in it. Pope John Paul II prayed and blessed the city from here in 1987 when he visited.

The views over Santiago though is probably another reason this is a popular spot. The Andes Mountains are almost visible in the background.

If you enjoy your parks, Santiago Metropolitan Park is also here. It is the largest in Chile and one of the largest urban parks in the world. I don’t think Mummy would have liked getting lost here. So we did not go exploring much but we did wander into one of the celebrations for Chile’s National Day. So I leave you with a photo of a Chilean BBQ. I bet you can almost taste it!

The most popular city in Ecuador as voted by locals

The city that enjoys more Ecuadorian visitors than any other city in Ecuador is . . . . Guayaquil! It seems the locals love coming here! And how do I know that? I read about it somewhere.

As a port city, it is also one of the gateways to the Galapagos Islands. Peering outside our hotel window, the Guayas River almost fills the entire view. See, it is very big!

So, I think to myself, this is where Rully said an iguana would have been trapped on a tree branch that eventually floated out to the islands of Galapagos. Must have been quite a ride. As our hotel was already on the riverbank, we decided to go for a walk. This is the neighbourhood of Las Penas. Apparently some of these houses are 400 years old!

That below is Mister Numa Pompilio Llona, an Ecuadorian poet. A street here is named after him in Las Penas. He looks very lonely and you can’t sit next to him because of his pile of books.

We then walked to Malecon 2000. The urban renewal project that has transformed Guayaquil. It is 2.5km’s long and this was one end of it. It is quite impressive and would equal the river esplanades of any country.

It was a hot day but we managed to walk up to the Rotonda, which is about halfway. La Rotonda is a famous monument to a meeting between Simon Bolivar and San Martin that happened here in 1822. I also read it is pretty impressive when illuminated at night. So trust Mummy to check it out because we came back at night!

Here you can decide for yourself. What do you think?

Of more interest to me, is that they have a very colourful GUAYAQUIL sign out the front of the Rotonda monument painted by local artists. Lots of visitors take photos here. Mummy waited a long while before there was no one to take this photo.

Did I say it was hot? Well these water fountains made us even thirstier. We absentmindedly forgot to bring a water bottle with us so in the end we decided to turn around and head back at this point.This is Santa Anna hill which you can climb the 400 steps to get to the lookout. It is surrounded by colorful favelas. We saw it on the way back to our hotel. Did we do the climb? (Ahem did I say it was hot that day?)Like I mentioned, we ventured out again in the cool of the evening and Guayaquil looked even prettier. We walked the same stretch again. How different everything looks when it is all lit up. We enjoyed our short stay in Guayaquil. Tomorrow, we are off to Santiago in Chile!

Diego and George, Giant Tortoises.

The biggest, grandest (and oldest) celebrities of the Galapagos Islands are the giant tortoises. These gentle giants are the first thing that I think of when someone mentions Galapagos. But we did not see a single one on our trips and in fact, Rully says it would be extremely rare to spot one in the open. So on our last day, we motored our way to Santa Cruz Island, specifically Puerto Ayoura, home to the Charles Darwin Research Station.

We were all delighted with this excursion because other than going to see the giant tortoises, there was one other thing we have failed to spot the ENTIRE time.

S-o-u-v-e-n-i–r-s!

No need to convince anyone of this trip. For the first time in the Galapagos Island, we boarded our pangas with credit cards in hand. No trip is ever complete without Mummy at least getting a souvenir.

 The Charles Darwin Research Station has been around since 1959. Operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation, it is an active research station. However also located here is the Fausto Ilerena tortoise breeding centre. “Don Fausto” is the father of the breeding program.

He worked for 43 years as a park ranger before retiring in 2014. Today, at 78, he lives in the upper part of the island, 15 minutes from town. The centre is named after him for his sterling contributions to the program.

From 15 tortoises here, over 1,200 little tortoises have been born. They have some scoreboard going and from the last count, it looks like we are at 1,286!

From the entrance it is only short walk before the tortoises. You can see the them in an enclosure made specially for them. Here I guess they do their own thing.

Without doubt, they do move really slowly. It’s almost like they are thinking a lot.

So, what are you really thinking Mr Tortoise?

As a side note, one of the males, Diego, has himself fathered an estimated 800 of the 1200 babies! He is known affectionately as Super Diego and believe it or not, came from the San Diego zoo. (That is him below)

When the tortoises were collected from Espanola island after it was overrun with goats, someone remarked how similar the Espanola giant tortoise was to one that was in a zoo in San Diego. As it turns out, the San Diego tortoise was indeed from Espanola island and he was duly repatriated to Santa Cruz in 1977 to help with the breeding program. Hence his name Diego.We also saw “Lonesome George.” He was the last of his kind. The Pinta Island Giant Tortoise. Or rather a taxidermied George. He died in 2012. It was quite a sombre exhibit.

After that we certainly needed some retail therapy. And here on Santa Cruz there are lots and lots of that available.

 

After iguana city in Punta Suarez, Espanola Island

Once we got over iguana city on the beach, Rully distracted us sufficiently by excitedly pointing out a Galapagos Hawk not far away. Apparently it is lucky to spot one. This one was just perched high enough to scan his surroundings. Probably hoping to spot a small rodent for dinner. Mummy snapped it just as it took off (making it somewhat a nice photo) and it was gone.Obviously it missed this lava lizard modelling on a tiny rock. This one looked like it was happy to get all the attention from us. Not even bothering to move.The further we walked along the rocky path, the higher we climbed and we then came to some cliffs.

There were a lot of Nazca Booby’s with their nests. This must be a popular spot as they were quite a lot of them.

There was also this natural blowhole that was great to watch. El Soplador, an old lavatube that sprays seawater like a geyser 30-40 feet into the air.Then we finally come across the largest bird in all of the Galapagos islands – the Waved Albatross. We were fortunate that the mating season was on and got to see their interesting mating ritual.

It looks like a choreographed dance with lots of bill clicking. They make life-long partners so I guess you want to make doubly sure. Of course, the blue footed booby made an appearance too.

Rully is right, there are lots to see at Punta Suarez. From sea lions, iguanas to the booby birds and the albatross. We even saw a snake! And what is it called? Wait, wait, wait for it — The Galapagos snake. How did you guess?! It is quite small and no Mummy did not hang around for a photo.

The Seafaring Iguanas of Galapagos

You might be asking, so where are the famous marine iguanas of the Galapagos? The only iguana in the world that can swim and forage for seaweed, making them the only seafaring lizards alive. Well they are everywhere actually on the Galapagos. But we got a giant dose of them on Espanola island, the southernmost island of the Galapagos. (Warning: Graphic Content of hideous looking lizards)

Rully told us Punta Suarez is one of the most sought after locations for wildlife in the Galapagos islands. He assured us we will get to see lots of wildlife! Even them, I don’t think we were quite prepared when we landed at Punta Suarez. As usual. there were plenty of Sally lightfoot crabs disappearing into the rocks when we did our dry landing. There was also the odd iguana or two basking in the sun, their black exteriors absorbing the heat after their foray in the cold waters of the Galapagos.

Despite their fierce some looks, iguanas are vegans. They spend all their life eating seaweed and algae. (And it is only the green algae too!) So, it is not uncommon to see them with white salt encrusted patches on their heads. I guess if you spend that much time in the ocean, it would be expected.

They also have a habit of sneezing frequently to expel salt from their noses. Quite a disgusting sight. Apparently, their bodies have not quite adapted to the copious amounts of salt they swallow.

And finally, the most yukky sight of all which caught us unawares is that they cluster. Not in genteel polite groups of 3 or 4 but in huge groups! They do this iguana style. Like a smorgasboard. And that is what freaked us out. They were everywhere!

There they are, iguanas all around as you sidestep your way around them. Once in a while, little streams of water will jet out from an iguana here or there. And we are trying to be careful not to step on a tail or something. Like walking on eggshells. Trying not to break into a run for fear it will wake the whole village up!

And then, imagine the ground covered with freaked out lizards scurrying in all directions panicking thinking that the sky has fallen in. I would have just fainted (together with Mummy)

(A marine iguana coming in from the ocean onto the beach) 

So, it was with quite a relief when we made it past “iguana city” on Punta Suarez without an incident. Mummy was just happy to get out of there as quickly as possible! One place we would be happy to forget.

 

Galapagos Sea Lions or Seals

So were there any sea lions on Lobos island? (Other than birds). Ah funny you should ask because there are so many, you could have tripped over one.

Or even run into one as some will even come up closer (like the one below) just to see if this teddy bear is friendly.

Most of the time they are happy lying around not even batting an eyelid when you walk past.

So what is the difference between a sea lion and seal? Rully, our guide, ran through this at length but I’ve already told you the attention span of a teddy bear is like the memory of a goldfish. One thing I do remember though is Sea Lions have ears! Who would have thought.

You can see it better on these baby sea lions. They are the absolute cutest little things and we were there at the right time to see them.

A lot of them stayed close to their mummies but they did pose for our photos. You really do feel like giving them a cuddle.

As we clicked, videoed, selfied and fawned over the baby pups, Rully was all the while making sure we didn’t go overboard. He also made sure we moved along as the sun was setting quickly.

Our first full day on the Galápagos Islands was coming to a close and it had been packed. Snorkelling at Kicker Rock, Panga Ride to Darwin’s Window, Cerru Brujo Beach, swimming, more snorkelling and finally Lobos island. Phew, I feel exhausted. (And I did only half of them). Mummy is ready for some G&T. I’m going to bed . . .

The birds of Lobos Island, Galapagos

 Just off San Cristobal is a small island which was our afternoon tour for the day. It is called Lobos island. Rully said this won’t be a wet landing so no need to put on our wet suits to get off the pangas! He also told us what what we expect to find but I must say I often doze off during those sessions on the boat. Something about birds . . .

Barely ten steps in on a rocky path, we’re stopped in our tracks as we’ve come upon a Frigatebird’s nest. This is the Magnificent Frigatebird. (No really that is their name!)

Frigatebirds are aerial acrobats. And they use it to their advantage. Nicknamed pirates, they steal food from other birds. Sometimes in mid-air, chasing them, teasing, harassing . . not unlike street vendors in a Moroccan souk. And just as were talking, swooped from overhead and stole something from the nest we were watching. So cheeky!

Here mummy is lifting me up to have a closer look at one of them. This one is still growing up. She still has a white feathered head.

Here’s another one. I think it just pooped. Ugghh. With a wingspan of almost 8 feet across, these birds can spend days and nights in the air continuously. We also saw a male Frigatebird showing off its big red puffed up chest to potential mates. Like a big red balloon, he swings it left and right saying “Check this out!”. We held our breath in anticipation but nope, no takers today.

Walking a bit further, we finally came across the very cute looking Galapagos Blue Footed Booby.

These fellas are the celebrities of the Galapagos t-shirt industry. How can anyone say no to a t-shirt with a blue footed booby. (Mummy bought two!)

So, the blue feet is because of the fish they eat and the ladies adore it. Mates are chosen based on how blue it is. (Is is also a sign of how healthy he is too). And that is a baby blue footed booby. Err . . . we tell by its white feathered head?

By this time, Rully had gone quite a bit ahead of me so when I came upon this spectacular looking bird below , I have no idea what it is. Based on what I have learnt today, it definitely is an adult since it does not have a white feathered head? (Rully would have rolled his eyes if he heard me!)

Notice how white the rocks around these boobies are? I wonder if this is the local public wc.