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Capybaras and cattle, killer whales and cloud forest : Pantanal, Galapagos and Peru in 2010


Treepol

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Treepol

Tandayapa Valley

 

Oz from Nuevo Mondo tours met us at the airport and did a great job shepherding us through Customs and Immigration and then whisking us off to the friendly, family run Los Alpes. I enjoyed my stays here, mostly because of the friendly family hospitality. Claudio Snr and Claudio Jnr managed the place - Claudio Jnr spoke good English whilst Claudio Snr gave my very basic Spanish (learned during a 20 hour Adult Education course) a good workout. Even though the communication was difficult, I really enjoyed talking to Claudio Snr. as he was always friendly and infinitely helpful - I think we both regarded the Spanglish communication as a fun pastime. The Los Alpes kitchen was limited but adequate - the dinner menu listed simple choices of pasta and sauce, steak and salad. Breakfast was cereal, fruit, eggs and toast. The décor is funky Spanish colonial with crocheted carnations in a variety of colours serving as keyrings. The free and fast Internet was a definite bonus.

 

Next morning we transferred to Tandayapa Bird Lodge which was about 90 minutes drive from Quito. The driver was very attentive to other road users and made frequent use of the horn when overtaking other vehicles and when around pedestrians. The city traffic was heavy and slow-moving as vehicles funneled through the narrow streets. We arrived at the lodge in time for lunch. The lodge is a wonderfully quiet and friendly place situated high in the valley where the mist swirls late in the afternoon. There are four picture windows in the dining area, two of which are focussed on the fruit feeder where Mountain Tanagers are frequent visitors. The Lodge gardens attractively planted in a casual style that emphasises colour, texture and foliage. The Lodge owners accept volunteers to work around the property – they wait on tables, do general maintenance and accompany some of the bird activities. Andrew Spencer from Tropical Birding was our guide and Nick Leseborg from Brisbane was a volunteer who accompanied us to Milpe – we teased Andrew about being the luckiest guy in Ecuador because he was surrounded by 3 Australians.

 

Most of our first afternoon was spent on the hummingbird terrace enjoying the peace and quiet of rural Ecuador.

 

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The feeders are constantly busy with the tiny birds, some the size of a thumb.

 

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I tried in vain to get a good photo of the Booted Racket-Tail, the Western and Andean Emeralds were more obliging.

 

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A Crimson-rumped Toucanet showed well during a short trail walk near the lodge.

 

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During the last week a Giant Antpitta has been living close to the Lodge and her afternoon appearance diverted attention from the hummingbirds.

 

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Andrew and Nick were keen to get a photo of ‘Rosita’ for the Facebook page

 

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Our first full day began at 5.30 and included two outings in the Tandayapa valley where Turquoise jays were amongst the more colourful birds sighted.

 

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The next day we drove one hour to Milpe where an early feeding flock included a Trogon, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and Pale-mandibled Aracari – all flashy birds. The feeders attracted a constant parade of colourful birds, especially Golden Tanagers, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers and Thick-billed Euphonias.

 

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Lunch was at the Mirador Restaurant where we were lucky to have the table closest to the feeder that was visited by Golden, Blue-grey and Palm Tanagers the Blue-grey were the most aggressive repeatedly driving off the mild-mannered Golden Tanager, the Palm Tanager however did not give up easily.

 

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The brilliantly coloured Blue-naped Tanager also got a look-in when the other birds weren't paying atention.

 

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We also saw this '88 butterfly' and Andrew spotted this tiny frog on a muddy trail.

 

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After Milpe we returned once again to Los Alpes in Quito and had time to reflect on the sights of rural Ecuador. The Tandayapa Valley and its myriad birdlife created timeless memories of iridescent hummingbirds and brightly coloured tanagers, trogons and aracaris - its also a place where families work together at the roadside, wash dishes at the village tap and sell an array of fresh fruit to passing motorists. Children walking to school were seen most days and another common sight was women and children walking with the family dog.

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AdanFlores

Thanks Treepol,

I was in confusion how many days and where we should spend and you trip descriptions with all that natures pic is increasing my excitement. I am going there soon with my friends still date not fixed. Just have talks with a travel agency as "Reachecuador". Do you wants to give us some suggestion about that place?

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Treepol

@@AdanFlores sorry for the late response, I have been travelling for work. I'm afraid I haven't heard of Reachecuador, I booked the Tandayapa Lodge direct and I would think that 2-3 nights were enough for this area. If you really like birding maybe 4-5 nights.

 

Otavalo

 

The next day we went to Otavalo with Oz. We made a couple of stops along the way, the first at a bread dough ornament shop with strong religious themes. The pace of life outside Quito was much slower, we took our time to view the countryside and at one stop Oz made a natural needle and thread from sisal. This was a day for many wonderful sights – both scenery and people.

 

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The morning tea stop was at a place with clear views of a dormant volcano overlooking a lake while just along the street a family were husking corn.

 

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We enjoyed corn and anise biscuits with mozzarella like cheese at morning tea. Back on the road, we turned off the Pan-America Highway to travel on an old cobbled road which was good for photos of local people, including the communal laundry.

 

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The first stop in Otavalo is the fruit and veg market followed by a stop at the Otavalo cathedral.

 

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We drew money from an ATM and then headed for the handcraft market for silver and textiles before having a late lunch and driving back to Quito through heavy traffic.

 

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Tomorrow we fly to the Galapagos!

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Treepol

Oz collected us the next morning at 7.40 am to deliver us to the airport for our Galapagos flight. We arrived on San Cristobal Island and completed immigration and Customs formalities as well as purchasing a National Parks pass after which we were met by Pat George from Casa Iguana. After settling into our rooms, we wandered into town for lunch and a look through the shops and of course the Internet cafe. Pat warned us about treading on sea lions that look like rocks when walking along the beach to town, a fairly common accident on San Cristobal. There were sea lions everywhere, on the beach, steps, under boats in the shade and even on a waterfront bench.

 

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Boats bobbed at moorings in the harbour and a yellow warbler hopped along the beach in front of us on the way home. San Cristobal Island has a pleasant, feel-good laid back air and the afternoon sped by.

 

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Casa Iguana is situated half a block back from the beach and 5 minutes walk from town and has a commanding view of the harbour. Its the white three storey building at the centre back.

 

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The B&B is tastefully decorated with Galapagos themes, I am staying in the tortoise suite. My room has a table and chairs outside on the terrace which has been great for writing postcards and my journal and a small lounge area inside. Here's a view of the harbour from outside my room.

 

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The windows are not glazed, but covered with mesh with wooden shutters. Its great to sleep with the shutters open and wake up with the dawn as the harbour and town come to life. The breakfasts are substantial and each day there is something different, pancakes, bacon and maple syrup or scrambled eggs and bacon. Juice, tea, fruit and cereal is also on offer. Pat is very welcoming and guests are OK to help themselves to tea and coffee during the day, and to join her for a drink after 5.

We have a full day before the cruise departs and Pat has arranged for Pico, a local guide to show us around San Cristobal. Pico describes himself as ‘endemic’ to the Galapagos. Before becoming a tour guide, (travelling to Quito to get the qualification), he worked as a fisherman out of San Cristobal. Our day started with a slow drive through town where we saw fishermen mending nets, some very grand homes on the hill at the back of town and a more familiar sight, a queue at the ATM. We drove past the power station and Pico told us that 50% of the island´s power is generated by diesel and 50% by wind power. Like mainland Ecuador, some of the islands are very fertile and a great deal of food is grown on San Cristobal - oranges, banana, avocado, guava, pawpaw and the mora berry which is a lighter version of our blackberry. Mora juice for breakfast is delicious. The highlands of the Galapagos experience garua which is a misty rain on an almost daily basis. At this time of year we have been told to expect 2-3 hours of garua each day after which the weather lifts and blue sky appears.

The first stop was a tortoise sanctuary where a breeding program aims to increase the number of tortoises on San Cristobal by returning the captive bred tortoises to the wild. Its a pleasant 1 hour walk around the sanctuary mostly on a raised boardwalk. Chatham mockingbirds, small ground finches and yellow warblers flutter alongside as we walk around.

 

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There are special pens to protect the young tortoises from cats and rats between the ages of 5 months to 5 years, after which they are released into a fenced outdoor compound.

 

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The work that has been done here is a great return on the $100 US park fees that we paid on arrival at the airport. Next stop is the beach at Puerto Chino which is accessed by a raised concrete path. Here is a shot of the landscape close to the beach.

 

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A group of volunteers from the UK is busy planting endemic cacti along the path - they are camped on the beach together with the ever-present sealion ´volunteers´.

 

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I wrote my notes sitting on a headland overlooking the beach from where I can see along the rocky coast. There is a brown pelican fishing below, lava lizards are my companions on the rocks and dragonflies are hovering nearby.

Lunch was at a local restaurant and began with platters of home grown fruit followed by chicken in mushroom sauce, salad, and cold veg. Dessert was chocolate ice-cream. The garua lifted long enough for a quick walk through the banana plantation, however, the mist was too low to walk to the crater lake. Instead, Pico took us to a lookout from which we could see Kicker Rock and Los Lobos, our first stop on the cruise this afternoon. Later we went to the coast near the airport to see our first marine iguanas and more sealions.

 

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This sealion seemed to be pracising synchronised swimming moves.

 

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Pat tells us that Captain Peter from the MV Eric (an Ecoventura vessel) called in to Casa Iguana to check that we would be ready to leave at noon the next day - would we what! Another couple staying at Casa Iguana are also on the same boat - nice to know some of the passengers already. Our stay on San Cristobal concludes with pizza and Pilsener at the waterside Miconia Hotel followed by a 'risky' walk home along the beach dodging sealions that look like rocks.

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michael-ibk

I have often been thinking about visiting the Galapagos, so I´m really glad you are covering them in this report. San Cristobal with all the sea lions looks wonderful. :)

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TonyQ

@@Treepol

It is great to see Otavalo again (we went about 20 years ago!) - very colourful.

And lots of great photos of birds. I am enjoying seeing the sea lions and amd looking forward to your Galapagos cruise - I am sure it will bring back a lot of memories.

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Treepol

@@michael-ibk and @@TonyQ thanks for reading along. Tomorrow I'm heading off to Bruny Island for a long weekend so the report of the cruise will be a few days away. Hoping for dolphins, fur seals, wombats and lots of birds.

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Alexander33

@ Treepol

 

Just want you to know how much I'm enjoying this report. South (and Central) America are so much easier to travel to than Africa for those of us in the U.S. that it seems a shame we don't take advantage of it as often as we could (not that I'm giving up on Africa, not at all). Wonderful photos -- for me, I have to say I never tire of the hyacinth macaws. Love them.

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Treepol

@@Alexander33 thanks for reading along and for your kind comments.

 

 

Galapagos Cruise

 

Our cruise boat is the MV Eric, one of 3 boats operated by Ecoventura. We boarded at noon after a small drama getting the bags from Casa Iguana because the streets were closed off due to a marathon and the taxis couldn´t get to either the B&B or the dock. Once resolved, Orlando the Ecoventura naturalist gave us a short briefing before we went to find our cabins. Fortunately, we have been upgraded to single cabins and I have a triple all to myself, what bliss.

Lifeboat drill occurs after lunch followed by our first wet landing at Playa Orcha, a ´sealion beach.´ Back on board we are heading for a sunset circumnavigation of Kicker Rock before beginning a night sail to Genovesa Island.

 

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There were welcome cocktails with the Captain during which we met the crew. There are 11 crew to look after 14 passengers and we noticed that most people have 2 jobs - a freelance guide Javier has been employed for this trip as well. For example, the cabin steward drives the boat usually around 6-9 pm and the 1st and 2nd Mates drive the zodiacs for shore landings.

Boat routine - most mornings the wake-up call is 7 am followed by 7.30 breakfast and a shore visit at 8.15 am which lasts until about 11 am. Lunch is served at noon and the afternoon excursion is at 2.15 until about 4.30. There is an evening briefing to tell us where we will be going the next day at 6 pm followed by dinner at 7 pm. Shore landings are either wet or dry, with wet landings being straight out of the zodiac onto the beach and dry landings onto steps or jettys - mostly very slippery.

 

This morning was a wet landing at Genovesa Island where we walked a short trail to see lava gulls with chicks, Galapagos mockingbirds, Nazca boobies with chicks, red-footed boobies, Great Frigate birds with chicks, yellow-capped herons and brown pelicans. Sealions lounged on the beach of course!

 

Great Frigate bird chick

 

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Juvenile and adult yellow-crowned night herons

 

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Magnificent Frigate Bird

 

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Nazca Boobies with young chicks

 

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Lava gulls with chick

 

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Galapagos Mockingbird

 

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Red-footed Booby

 

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During the afternoon we called at Prince Phillip´s steps where we saw storm petrels, 2 short eared owls and red-billed tropic birds.


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Thank you for posting your trip report! My friend and I are starting our planning for A South American adventure and are trying to figure out where to go. She wants Machu Pichu and I want a Amazon experience with Otters, Jaguars and canoeing through the jungle. We also both love visiting small villages where life is still simple. Plus the Galapagos is a big pull for me. So your report is a great help! Thanks!

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michael-ibk

Love the bird pics, Treepol, my favourite is the frigatebird chick. :)

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Treepol

@@Tania it might be tricky combining Machu Picchu with jaguars, otters and traditional villages. The Pantanal is great for jaguars and otters, you might be lucky in Manu as we saw both in 2013, and we passed through some small villages on the way to the Madre de Dios River. This would combine well with Machu Picchu out of Cusco. The trip report fro 2013 is available here. Good luck with your planning, its always half the fun.

 

@@michael-ibk thanks for the encouragement - how many days to India now?

 

 

 

Fernandina and Isabela Islands and Bolivar Channel to Santiago Island

 

The morning excursion to Fernandina Island revealed another unique landscape with black lava coastline, mangroves and crystal clear water.

 

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The marine iguanas are the main stars here, and we saw brown pelicans, flightless cormorants, Sally Lightfoot crabs, green sea turtles and eagle rays.

 

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The afternoon excursion is a short walk high on Isabela Island with great views over the lagoon and Tagus Cove below where the boats are moored.

 

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A zodiac ride along the cliffs revealed the first Galapagos penguins, brown pelicans (one nest had 3 large chicks straining to stay put), green sea turtles feeding below, a great blue heron, blue footed boobies diving for fish, flightless cormorants drying their wings in the late afternoon sun and our first noddy deep in a sea cave.

 

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This zodiac ride, more than anything else epitomises the Galapagos as I had imagined them - teeming with life that is easily visible in the crystal clear water, the blue skies above or crawling on the shore. The Galapagos teem with leaping, swimming and flying wildlife and as Javier says, ¨If the rock is moving, do not step because it is a sealion or a marine iguana.¨

Nature was really showing off for us on the trip to Santiago Island - a pod of killer whales played around the boat for about 45 minutes, a rare and beautiful sight.

 

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The Captain has been sailing in the Galapagos for 17 years and had never seen orca. Here is Captain Peter joining in the fun.

 

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The crew, engineer and kitchen staff joined us to watch the orca - I wondered who was driving the boat? Sharing this amazing sighting with the crew created strong memories of this cruise.

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Big_Dog

Fantastic birding, and the Galapagos look quite incredible. Love the sea lions everywhere! And, I believe, incredibly lucky to get orcas too!

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TonyQ

Amazing to see the Orca!

I love the picture of the sealions and iguana soaking up the sun.

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Treepol

@@Big_Dog and @@TonyQ thanks for reading along

 

This morning was a wet landing on Santiago Island onto a black sand beach. Typically Galapagos, the black lava rocks, marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs and some inviting grottoes made for a scenic visit.

 

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We motored for 4 hours at midday and stopped for a short walk on a small island called Chinese Hat, an attractive small landfall near Bartolme.

 

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Treepol

Bartolme was one of my favourite stops as it was a very scenic island with sandy beaches and amazing birds. We landed on Bartolme at 6am in order to start climbing the 364 steps to the lookout for views over the beach and Pinnacle Rock. Here is the first boat leaving the MV Eric in the pre-dawn light.

 

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This spectacular view awaited us.

 

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After we recovered from the trek back down the 364 steps there was time for a wander. A few of us went with Javier over to the ocean side of the island where we saw blue-footed boobies dive-bombing into the sea after fish. Frigate birds (the pirates of the sea) circled over head searching for an easy meal, and a lone sea lion and 2 marine iguanas seemed a bit surprised to have visitors on this usually deserted beach. A curious great blue crane escorted us for part of the way.

 

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After a short stay on bartolme we motored to Baltra to refuel and then travelled to North Seymour for a walk to see land iguanas, magnificent frigate birds with inflated neck pouches and nesting blue-footed boobies.
This magnificent frigate bird perched on the rail for a free lift to North Seymour.

 

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Here is a typical shot from North Seymour, birds everywhere.

 

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These boobies were a bit sad because the female always lays 2 eggs and the one that hatches first usually survives while the last one to hatch usually dies as a result of neglect and bullying by its sibling. I was saddened by the many ill-fated chicks I saw that day. However, Javier kept telling us that this is the survival of the fittest in its rawest form.

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Zim Girl

Great Blue-footed Booby pictures

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Treepol

@@Zim Girl I really liked the Blue-footed Boobies, they were very entertaining.

 

A day ashore! The zodiacs dropped us at Port Ayora on Santa Cruz Island where a bus took us to the highlands. Unfortunately the garua hampered visibility at the sink holes, the National Parks Giant Tortoise sanctuary and during the visit to the lava tubes. The Giant Tortoise Sanctuary is well-populated with these slow moving creatures, they liked to congregate around the edge of the pools and enjoyed their meal of fruit and grens.

 

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After a tasty lunch in town we walked up to the Darwin Research Centre to meet Javier who is the guide this afternoon - he is always entertaining and good value. I saw Lonesome George, the last survivor of the Pinta Island tortoises together with hybrids that had been kept as pets and returned to National Parks for safe keeping.

 

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The rangers were collecting tortoise eggs from one of the compounds and these would be raised in incubators, hatched and kept in special pens until they could be returned to the wild.

 

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The afternoon finished with more free time in town before the zodiacs returned at 6 pm.

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TonyQ

It is amazing seeing all of those baby tortoises!

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Treepol

The day started earlier than usual for the visit to Espanola Island because we wanted to avoid landing at the same time as 100 passengers from the Santa Cruz. Here, the marine iguanas have a reddish colour to their skin.

 

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There were more blue-footed and Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and the real drawcard - the waved albatross. These are big birds with a 2m wingspan that raise 1 chick per year.

 

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We were lucky to see several courtship dances which involve lots of curtseys, bill rattling and wing flapping.

 

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Javier showed us the ´landing strip´and the ´flying school´ where there is only one chance to do a perfect takeff before a fatal fall to the rocks below.

 

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The blue-footed boobies were also dancing here, a funny lop-sided waddle more than a dance with lots of curtseys and wing flapping.

We visited Gardner´s Bay in the afternoon a beautiful white sand beach that had attracted 96 basking sea lions and some cheeky mockingbirds. One of the sealions had built himself a sandcastle from which he could oversee the others and there was a baby that looked to have been abandoned (I know survival of the fittest) as it was very skinny and very quiet.

 

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Walked along the beach watching the activity in the turquoise water where the beachmaster was patrolling, prepared to defend his harem against incomers. A brown pelican was diving for fish very close to the shore and boobies speared into the waves in search of food. A very appropriate farewell to the Galapagos.

 

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Treepol

The cruise finished with a visit to the Interpretation Centre on San Cristobal Island. Unfortunately, we had a longer stay than expected due to a problem with an incoming plane that had to return to Guayaquil. This meant we were 4 hours late getting back to Quito, however it was pleasant having lunch at the Miconia Hotel overlooking the bay and watching the sealions that ventured into town. Thank goodness Ecoventura made the arrangements for transport back to town and liaised with the airline about the delayed take-off.

After returning to Quito from the Galapagos we had one night in Quito and did a half day tour of the old city where we saw the changing of the guard ceremony at the Palace which was attended by the president.

 

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Lots of band music, uniforms, flags and horses - it was a very colourful show that occurs every Monday at 11 am. Much of the old city has been carefully restored and it is a pleasant place to spend a few hours during the day. Had a lazy afternoon before the evening flight to Lima where we stayed at the Ramada Costa Del Sol Hotel just across the road from the airport.

 

Next morning we flew to Iquitos which is on the Peruvian Amazon. Once again we flew over the Andes and when we left the peaks behind I could see the serpent-like rusty brown Amazon winding a slow trail eastward through the rainforest. Looking back to when I was planning this trip in 2009, I now cannot believe that I only included the Amazon as an after thought and because friends told me that they had missed the river and now regretted it. Just as well we decided to include this side trip because the Amazon was one of the highlights of our time in Peru.

 

The weather in Iquitos was hot and humid and our guide Abelardo Flores was waiting at the Explorama Ceiba Tops meeting place. Drove through town on the Explorama bus and enjoyed this first view of Iquitos, an isolated river town that is dependent on air and river transport as it is not connected to the road network. The town was very busy with motorcycle rickshaws, shops and restaurants. The bustling waterfront is the centre of activity and we soon set out on the half hour boat ride to Ceiba Tops for a late lunch. I was fascinated by life on the Amazon mainstream where all types of rivercraft from village cargo boats, to locals fishing from canoes to small boats not much bigger than a surfboard.

 

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Our first visit was to the Monkey Island which is a private sanctuary. A local guy provides a home for native birds, monkeys and reptiles which have been kept illegally as pets in Iquitos and cannot survive in the wild. The animals and birds roam freely around the island, however they are keen to climb on visitors which the staff do their best to discourage. There were yellow and blue and scarlet macaws and the monkeys included a brown common woolly monkey, black-fronted and white-fronted capuchin monkey, yellow-bellied and spider monkeys. Also saw a 3 toed sloth, an anaconda and a red-bellied boa. It was very hot and humid and I was pleased to get back to the Lodge for a beer and a shower.

 

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Treepol

Next morning we were taken fishing and to look for both pink and gray river dolphins. Once again the parade of rivercraft was fascinating and Rinaldo told us about the crops that the locals grow once the high water subsides in June. The staple is rice, but corn and fruits are also planted.

 

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The fishing was unsuccessful with the only catch being a 10 cm bagre catfish that had a magnificent set of whiskers.

 

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We did see the pink and gray river dolphins and just when I was beginning to think these were `for the eyes only` I managed a quick photo of the back of a departing gray dolphin.

 

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Birds seen included trees laden with purple martins,

 

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dusky-headed parrots, yellow-headed caracaras and a white headed marsh tyrant. 2 tree iguanas were spotted close to the dock. The afternoon visit was to a local village for a touristy cultural show and blow-pipe demonstration. Later we walked to a waterhole to see the giant Victoria waterlilies and were lucky to see a beautiful owl butterfly.

 

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A light shower of rain cooled the afternoon which was nowhere near as hot as the previous day.

 

Next day there was a 5.30 am wake-up call for an early start to the Explorama Napo Lodge where we were to climb the Canopy Walkway. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily (there is no rainforest without rain as we say in Tasmania) and we donned our classy pink plastic ponchos and waited for a covered boat for the short trip downriver to Indiana. Indiana is a town of about 3,000 people and there was a local market starting up as we arrived that looked very interesting. Motorcycle rickshaws took us overland to the Napo River where we motored for 50 minutes to the Lodge for breakfast (still raining). Later we set off for a walk through virgin rainforest to the canopy walkway and saw a black and yellow poison dart frog along the way (still raining.)

 

The Canopy Walkway consists of 11 platforms of varying heights that reach about 30m into the treetops.

 

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I saw a pair of Couvier`s toucans, a monkey, giant philodendrons and many bromeliads and epiphytes from the Walkway.

 

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At last the rain stopped and on the return walk to the Lodge we saw a yellow-throated woodpecker and heard monkeys high in the canopy. After lunch I walked around the Lodge and found a brilliantly coloured blue-headed parrot and a mealy parrot.

 

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There is also a gray winged trumpeter which grazes close to the Lodge.

 

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The afternoon became quite hot and soon it was time for the 2 hour boat ride back to Ceiba Tops. This was another wonderful journey on first the Napo and then the Amazon Rivers. The usual mix of river traffic included ferries, fishing boats and local canoes which was complemented by riverside community activity where it was possible to see laundry, fishing and bathing all taking place at the river`s edge.

 

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On the last morning we hired a private boat with Abelardo as guide for birdwatching and general Amazon exploring. Saw some flashy birds which included a red-breasted blackbird, boat-billed flycatcher and a yellow-hooded blackbird. This was a very relaxed morning during which Abelardo tried twice to get to a lake behind the mainstream, however the water was just too low. Motoring slowly along the bank we saw many small details of river life that are not visible from the mainstream. There were small boats and canoes tied up at the river`s edge which were accessed by rough steps down the river bank, sometimes marked by a thin ricketty handrail. Families were fishing, ladies were doing laundry sitting in canoes and one man was washing his dog - all of this life at the riverside. Sadly, we also saw 2 timber barges heavily loaded with Amazon logs headed for export from Iquitos.

 

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After a last lunch we left Ceiba Tops at 4pm for the return journey to Iquitos.

 

Explorama offer a range of lodges with varying levels of comfort and exposure to the jungle. I was happy to stay at Ceiba Tops which was described to me as Amazon light. This lodge has electricity, air conditioning and high quality buffet meals. We booked a 3 night package for $700 US that included all transfers, FB and 2 activities per day. The ExploreNapo lodge offered an experience much closer to the jungle with mosquito nets and shared facilities. The activities last for 2-3 hours and offer a range of experiences that include visits to a number of local communities, the Canopy Walkway, fishing and searching for dolphins. The Monkey Island was an extra $10 for the 3 day package and some other guests visited a local school where they played soccer with the students. Explorama have been operating in the area for 46 years and employ many locals. They seem to have good relations with local communities and are happy to do custom itineraries where boats and guides are available.

 

Moving on, all was looking good for our 30 minute window to connect with the Cusco plane in Lima, however it was not to be. The plane wouldn`t start, and after sitting in our seats for an hour we were disembarked and told it was a problem with high wind. Well there wasn`t any wind and planes from both Star Peru and Peruvian Airlines landed and took off during the next 2.5 hours we waited in the lounge. Finally, the engineers got the plane going and we were able to fly (with great trepidation) to Lima. LAN had to accommodate 21 people who had missed the connection so we were bussed to the Hotel Sol de Oro in Miraflores for the night. This was a fine hotel and I am only sorry that I got to sleep there for 4 hours before the 2 am wake up call to go back to the airport in time for a 5.30 flight to Cusco.

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michael-ibk

Very much enjoyed these latest posts, especially the Galapagos part. And great pictures of the Sloth and the Anaconda.

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Treepol

@@michael-ibk welcome back from your tiger safari and thanks for reading along...

 

 

Finally arrived in Cusco around 7 am after a night`s accommodation in Lima courtesy of LAN.

 

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Our guide David Choque was at the airport to meet us and took us back to his home where we had our first coca tea. I won`t write too much about this sector of the trip as we did a very standard trip of Cusco and the Sacred Valley that included Machu Picchu. The first stop was Sacsyhuaman which is an historic site that overlooks Cusco.

 

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We walked around there very slowly and after 2 hours David decided that as we weren`t feeling the effects of altitude we were unlikely to be troubled by altitude sickness. Stopped for a short time at the Christ statue that overlooks Cusco which is also a good vantage point for photos over the city.

 

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Our second stop was at Quenquo where the Incas used to sacrifice llamas,

 

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after which we drove to Awani kawa to see llamas, vicunas, alpacas and guanacos. This is a community managed weaving centre where traditional techniques are used to make items which are for sale in the onsite shop.

 

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We departed for Pisac, stopping along the way for photographs, particularly as we neared the very scenic Sacred Valley.

 

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After lunch we visited Pisac Market and stopped to watch a dance show performed by locals before driving through the Sacred Valley to the Hotel Pakaritampu at Ollantaytambo.

 

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Monday was Machu Picchu day, a visit I had really been looking forward to. Caught the 7.45 train and finally arrived at MP around 10.30.

 

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The first sight of the city took my breath away, here was the legendary city of the Incas which appeared much larger than in photos.

 

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Guido was our guide and he walked us slowly around the site for the rest of the day. Beginning at the caretaker's cottage we had panoramic views over the city and Huayana Picchu. Walking down to the Sun Temple and then up to the observatory provided magnificent views over the Urabamba River valley.

 

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The walls here are very, very high and the steps were very narrow and there were no handrails, however, I eventually negotiated the steepest sections of the stairways and emerged in the main ceremonial ground after which we visited the Temple of the Condor.

 

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There was a final opportunity for last photos before returning to Agues Calientes for a quick snack, a wander through the market and to catch the train back to Ollanta.

Up early the next morning so that we could explore Ollanta before leaving for a day`s tour through the Sacred Valley which included Moray and the salt works at Maras. Had a look at the Ollanta ruins and stopped to hear a blind man busking by playing wonderful music on a traditional instrument.

 

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Walked back over the bridge to the main square and turned up some side streets into the residential area where it was possible to observe village life at close quarters. There were also great photo opportunities as the locals went about their daily routine.

 

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Took a walk through the fruit market where there was a large variety of potatoes in all different shapes, sizes and colours. There were also some ladies selling barley which our guide later told us is fed to guinea pigs.

 

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We had expected David to be our guide today as this is what we had booked. We were surprised when he took another group and left us with another guide. This turned out OK, although we did have to insist on a full day tour as booked rather than the half day the stand-in guide expected to deliver.

 

The drive through the Sacred Valley revealed many panoramic views during this day.

 

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The agricultural terraces at Moray have been well restored and current thinking is that they were an agricultural laboratory for Inca agronomists.

 

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The salt works at Maras rely on a salty spring to deliver water to the pans which when evaporated leaves the sparkling salt crystals that local people harvest. A bag of this salt costs 12 sols or around $4 US and is used in stock feed and industrial processes.

 

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After some discussion David added a visit to Chinchero to the afternoon and this was really interesting. It wasn`t a market day so the town was very quiet. Our first visit was to a local weaving demonstration that used some of the Maras salt for fixing the dye into the wool. This was a prelude to the shopping where I bought a couple of pieces and felt rather awkward as the ladies who had made these came along to witness the bartering while others pressed their own items into our hands.

 

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There is an historic church at the top of the village around which locals sell handcrafts, play volleyball and generally socialise.

 

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Arrived in Cusco around 4 pm and immediately checked into the Rumi Punku Hotel which is only 2 blocks from the Plaza de Armas. The Hotel is very comfortable, has lots of hot water and is located just up the street from Inka...fe Cafe, a great little eatery that does fantastic frozen lemonade and iced tea made to a secret recipe. Today was a rare free day for shopping and relaxing. After a late start we wandered into town to see the cathedral, sit in the Plaza de Armas and do some last minute shopping for t-shirts, textiles and silver.

 

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Some people who were on the Galapagos cruise spotted us in town, so we stopped to talk and heard about their trip to Manu. We leave tomorrow for this famous reserve.

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