So I’m pretty sure we were witness to some sort of illegal smuggling on our bus from Mancora to Guayaquil across the border in Ecuador. The bus stopped to allow customs officers to carry out an inspection which was not overly strange as this had happened on many buses throughout South America however on this occasion, the officer looked under the seat of the lady opposite us, who had a large bag full of what “appeared” to be packaged clothing items. This probably wouldn’t have bothered us too much if we hadn’t looked under our own seat and seen that there was a similar bag stuffed beneath us! As the customs man walked off chatting to another co-conspirator we attempted to ask her about it but she simply put her finger to her lips telling us to be quiet. Who knows what was actually going on, or what was actually in the bags but we did watch a few $100 bills exchange hands between the lady, possibly the customs officer and definitely the bus attendant!
We were travelling to Guayaquil by bus in order to catch our flight to the Galapagos Islands. It was a strange feeling when we were finally boarding the plane to Santa Cruz, the second largest and most populated island in the Galapagos. For so long it had been something to look forward to, far in the distance and now we were suddenly here! We touched down in the remote airport, paid the hefty $100 tourist fee and were transferred to a small boat that was to take us to the main section of the island. It was here that we had our first view of the crystal-clear, vibrant blue water surrounding the island and we wanted to jump straight in!Arriving at our accommodation, we were greeted by a big sign with my name on it before meeting Kevin the owner who took us on a short tour of the main section of town. My tour was exceptionally short as I was once again struck down with a horrible 24-hours of food poisoning which had me say a quick goodbye to the boys and running back to our room. Will continued on, watching local fisherman fillet fish on the waterfront while sea lions and pelicans waited patiently for any scraps that may get thrown their way. Boats lined the marina however we were slightly surprised at how little tourists there seemed to be on the actual island. After our “orientation day” (and after I felt confident in leaving the bathroom for more than half an hour!!!) we were ready to explore Galapagos and set off to Tortuga Bay, one of the main attractions of Santa Cruz Island. Unfortunately the sun had forgotten to grace us with its presence and we walked along the path to the beach hoping it would miraculously break through the thick cloud cover. The path was lined with the most bizarre tree, endemic to the Galapagos (as many species are), it has a bark-like wooden trunk but also cactus leaves and branches at the top.We continued on, reaching the beach front and admiring the white sand and transparent blue water around us which would have been completely illuminated – IF ONLY THE SUN WOULD COME OUT!!! Near the mangroves, iguanas baked in the sun, seemingly oblivious to our presence as we walked around them.Arriving at Tortuga Bay, we did our bit for evolution, allowing the Darwin Finches to eat the crumbs of our Doritos before taking a kayak out to look around. Within moments we were floating next to a group of white-tip reef sharks and as we paddled out, rays swam next to us and turtles poked their heads out of the water as they too swam along. The amount of marine life we had already encountered was incredible and this was only the beginning.There was still no sign of the sun but we continued to explore, heading to Las Grietas, a volcanic rock formation resulting in two large rock walls with water below. We walked across toe-stubbing volcanic rock, past pink and white salt lakes before arriving at Las Grietas where the water was the most vivid blue and clear like glass. Will climbed a section of the rock wall and jumped into the cold water before two local boys showed off by jumping from twice as high.Our next morning we awoke to a cloudy, average day but luckily had the perfect solution – exploring underwater where the clouds and rain are less of a concern! It was an early start in order to go diving near Santa Fe island and we were not disappointed as we swam along the reef, surrounded by schools of fish, rays and white tip sharks. The marine life simply do not seem to care as you float amongst them and there is just such an abundance of fish of all kinds – it is truly spectacular. We had our first encounter with sea lions whose curiosity far outweighs any fear they have as they swim right up to you before darting off to the side. We dived in two different sites and would happily have stayed down longer if we were allowed!After our dive we returned to the mainland and sat by the water enjoying some fresh seafood and surprisingly – the sun did come out!!! We watched as as a grey heron stalked small iguanas and were impressed, yet slightly terrified when in the blink of an eye the heron snapped up an iguana whole! With lunch finished (including for the heron), it was time to leave Santa Cruz and we boarded the ferry to Isabella Island, our next stop in our Galapagos adventure!
Our first swim in the ocean on our South American trip so far – FINALLY! Another overnight bus trip had left us slightly weary but unlike on other occasions, we didn’t have any colonial cities to explore, museums to visit or lookouts to climb to – this time all we had to do was relax on the beach!We arrived in Mancora and more specifically Loki del Mar, our hostel for the next few days. Loki hostels have a reputation in South America as the “party hostels” and their hostel in Mancora certainly lived up to its name. We were shown to our room upon check-in only to find smashed beer bottles everywhere, beds unmade and a horrific mound of toilet paper in the bathroom. This was followed by a quick “woops, sorry perhaps your room isn’t actually ready yet”! We kicked back on the beach as well as Loki’s fabulous pool and bar area. Come night, we drank at the hostel as well as the local beach bars which are far from classy establishments but a bit of fun all the same. After a couple sleepless nights at Loki though we were ready for something a little more relaxed and headed further down the beach where we had our own beach bungalow. This place was fantastic and for what you were getting – fantastically cheap as well! We swam, walked along the beach and enjoyed some more incredibly fresh ceviche – if you are a lover of seafood, the Peruvian coast has you sorted!A few more days relaxing and it was time to say goodbye to Mancora as well as Peru. We lied in the hammocks outside our bungalow and watched the sun go down one last time.
We didn’t really know what to expect from Lima – many of the backpackers that we encountered in Southern Peru had not seemed overly enthused. For us however, it was a refreshing change from the various colonial cities we had been visiting as the touristic Miraflores district was quite modern and westernised in comparison. Not only that, it was the first time in 4 months that we had seen the ocean which was very exciting after being inland since almost the start of our trip!We walked down to the cliff face where we were surrounded by views of the ocean while enjoying the park areas and sculptures along the esplanade. We passed the Parque de Amor, or Love Park where a large sculpture of a couple making out certainly gets your attention!Our time in Lima was also made a lot more enjoyable by our Peruvian sisters Grace and Paz who we had met in Chile where they were also traveling. On our first night they picked us up and took us to dinner at Panchita, ran by one of Peru’s most celebrated chefs. With no real idea of what dishes to order we left it in their hands as they ordered a selection of Peruvian delicacies for us to try. The first of these delicacies was cow heart which I can’t say sounded overly appetising but we both really enjoyed. Prominent other features of their cuisine include potatoes (Peru has close to 4000 different types of potatoes!!!!) and of course ceviche, yet this was to be saved for another day! After dinner the girls drove us along the waterfront and down to the Barranco District, a very modern and buzzing area of Lima full of restaurants and bars. We went to Ayahuasca, a huge mansion-turned-bar, well, multiple bars in fact with each room almost feeling like a different venue – definitely worth a look if you are ever in Lima.With our second day we caught the bus to downtown Lima where we set off to explore the historical centre. We hopped off the bus a little too early which then saw us walk in about four different directions on the advice of various locals before we eventually arrived at the Plaza de Armas, Lima’s main square. Waiting patiently for our arrival were Andy & Laura, a couple from the UK who we had last seen in Argentina. It was fantastic having the opportunity to catch up with them once again and we chatted about we had been up to over breakfast before continuing to explore.The large, old buildings surrounding the square were still in great condition and we walked around admiring each of them before stopping for some lunch. On recommendation from the girls we sat at Tanta where we enjoyed Pisco Sours (Peru is famous for Pisco) and I finally had some ceviche which was wonderfully fresh!We continued on, visiting the Convento de San Francisco, a 17th century church with catacombs below containing up to an estimated 70,000 burials. There is something exceptionally creepy about walking underground through rooms containing actual human skulls and other bones. The bones line the hallways, placed in various piles and in some instances arranged in different circular patterns – super creepy. I didn’t take any photos as you weren’t allowed to inside the church (plus it would have felt a little weird anyway) but I have included one just so you can understand what I am talking about!Finishing our time in Lima, we met up with Grace and Paz once more and they took us to Embarcadero41, a restaurant down on the water for one last gastronomic treat before our bus departure. We once again left it with the girls to order some food and once again, we were not disappointed! It was so refreshing to be trying new local food but also food of such a high quality after many substandard meals throughout our South American adventure. Ceviche, grilled seafood, more Pisco Sours, desserts – perhaps the people that hadn’t enjoyed Lima didn’t really like to eat! The girls drove us to the bus station and we said our goodbyes – until next time Peruvian sisters, thanks again for the good times!