Original of the Species

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
La Casa de Pepito

Flag of Ecuador  , Galapagos Islands,
Friday, January 8, 2010

It's been a while since our last update, and no we haven’t dropped off of the edge of the Earth, quite the opposite in fact. As it happens, we are pretty much slap bang in the middle of the planet, latitudinally speaking, having spent the last few days in Ecuador (sounds like "Equator" for a good reason). But before I get into the wonders of Ecuador, let’s update you on our last few days in Costa Rica.

Luis, our (new) friend and manager of Gran Arenal hotel, drove us to the Tree Houses Hotel, about half an hour south of La Fortuna. We were soon checked in and checking out our new temporary home up in the trees….our tree house had a main bedroom with double bed (and fridge and coffee maker), a loft with another double bed and a small separate mattress, a shower room and a small bathroom with toilet and wash basin – not bad for a treehouse!

We set off to explore the rainforest around the treehouses and walked about 1.5km to a small waterfall which spilled into 3 cascading pools where the kids had great fun splashing around. In the evening we decided to try our luck on the local buses and ventured out to Santa Clara – a small town that probably doesn’t see too many tourists and virtually no English seems to be spoken. We managed to get by with our limited Spanish and some creative gesturing and found the people to be very friendly and helpful (as they have been everywhere in Costa Rica). The owner of the internet café insisted on taking the kids to his house to meet his daughter and show us their pet rabbits (we didn’t understand the Spanish for rabbit, but “Bugs Bunny” with accompanying dental gestures did the trick). We had a traditional (chicken/beans/rice) dinner and then waited for the next bus back towards the Tree Houses. While waiting, we attracted the local drunk (I say local, but it turns out he was from Nicaragua) who was determined to talk to us. He was trying very hard to ask for “money”, and repeatedly tried pronouncing “money’ in different ways to which Derek took great delight in pretending to not have the slightest clue what he was trying to say! We left him questioning his sanity (or at least where his next drink might be coming from) and caught the bus safely back to our treehouse.

It was an early start the next morning as we were awoken at 5:45 by a chorus of parrots and howler monkeys! After a breakfast spent watching the colourful array of birds (hummingbirds, motmots, flycatchers, honey creepers, woodpeckers, robins, etc) that visit at breakfast time, we decided to spend the day walking in the rainforest, paying a visit to the local river along the way. There we found some wild cat paw prints and several poison dart frogs, but alas no tree frogs. We also found a recently dropped coconut that (my hero, sigh) Derek hacked into to quench our thirst …very refreshing!

Our second morning was a little quieter on the wildlife front, but we were soon to get our fill … a last minute tip-off sent us to Proyecto Asis, a project for the protection and rehabilitation of native species. We had tried to visit the project from La Fortuna, but had not been able to make it work, however the project is five minutes from the treehouses and Mark (who runs the treehouses hotel) was kind enough to set up the visit and drive us to the project. We arrived just in time to find three raccoons fighting in the reception area! … as it turns out, the new raccoon, Julia (Hoolia), who is blind and figuring out where her territory is (or trying to play on her disability) was pushing it a bit too far with the incumbents. Who knew raccoons were as territorial as dogs?

The timing for our visit to the project was ideal ….they had recently received a baby anteater (whose mother was killed by a car….the baby was still clinging to the dead mother when it was brought to the projectL). The project vet had determined that the anteater had learnt enough from it’s mother to be able to find it’s own food, and so was being released into the wild and we were able to watch the big event. We also saw kinkajous (small bear like creatures, one of whom was extremely attracted to Derek and had to be peeled off of his shoulder!), a toucan, red-lored parrots, a white-faced monkey (a real show-off who seemed to love making a racket if anybody was watching), spider monkeys (who loved to gently hold hands with any passer-by, but became much more lively when the bananas appeared….), a scarlet macaw, white lipped pacaries (smallish hairy pigs), a turtle and two owls. After touring the animals with Hannah (a long term volunteer with the project) we were free to go and revisit any of the animals. We wondered back to the spider monkeys where one of them was reaching out to hold hands and so Derek obliged and all was good….until Lauren approached when the monkey got all freaky, grabbing her hat and trying to pull it through the net. After retrieving the hat, it decided to attack Lauren grabbing and pulling her hair, creating a sort of primate tug-o-war. We’re not sure why, but Lauren seems to illicit considerable reaction from Monkeys…..

Back at the TreeHouses we bid farewell to Mark and Lucy and the dogs (which the kids were very sad to leave) when Luis (yes that Luis, the amazing owner of the “Gran Arenal” [shameless plug] ) arrived to pick us up and drive us to San Jose. We stopped en route in “Los Angeles” for coffee and a local speciality called “Queso Palmito” – cheese that comes as a ball and pulls off in strips kind of like string cheese. Getting dropped us off at our accommodation near the airport, we were sad to say “adios” to Luis who was so kind to us during our time in Costa Rica. If you are thinking of visiting Costa Rica, we would definitely recommend staying at Gran ArenalJ. Our time in Costa Rica was wonderful and I believe that we will definitely return sometime in the future. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you visit this wonderful country.

Next stop: Quito, Ecuador. We spent two nights in Quito at the Travellers Inn Hostel. Quito is a very large city with some very interesting areas. Quito doesn’t feel as safe as Costa Rica, but that’s maybe the contrast between a big city and the small towns we frequented in Costa Rica. We spent most of first visit to Quito wandering through the streets of the old town and through “Mariscal”, which seems to be the chic-but-touristy region of Quito with tonnes of bars, restaurants and internet cafes! (Not enough electricity to keep the lights on all day, non-potable water, no bathroom tissue in the toilet…. but more internet cafes that anywhere else in the World!)

We left Quito to fly to the Galapagos Islands. a long-time dream of Sarah’s. We decided a long time ago that we would forego the “normal” way of seeing the Galapagos Islands via cruise and try doing it land-based. The decision was based on numerous factors, including price and kids on yachts for days at a time….. We are staying on the main island of Santa Cruz in a house belonging to a couple of naturalists. We will be doing a couple of day trips to other islands and spending the rest of the time on Santa Cruz.

So far, so good. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the fee for kids to enter the national park was half-price –I only mention this since despite all of my research before leaving, I had not discovered this and $100 saved is worth mentioning! Our house is just a two minute walk from the main sea front/beach/street and ten minutes walk from the “Charles Darwin Research Centre” – home of “Lonesome George”. Puerto Ayora is the main town on Santa Cruz and is also home to the largest concentration of people in the archipelago. First impressions are that it is very much a tourist town; inflated prices and overrun with souvenir shops and tour operators. On our first afternoon, we walked through town to find the grocery store. At the nearby harbor area we found some “Sally Lightfoot” crabs (large bright red crabs), marine iguanas and pelicans and watched some sea lions from a distance. On our way home, we stopped at the point in the bay where they bring the fish in from the fishing boats and fillet the fish as you watch. While I was watching and trying to figure out whether or not I could buy a little something for dinner, I felt something push at my leg and looked down to see a sea lion leveraging off my foot trying to sneak in and steal some fish! One of the larger sea lions was less subtle and was standing between the fishermen resting it’s head on the whichever fish was being filleted, savoring the aroma I’m sure! It’s worth noting, that basically the animals rule in the Galapagos….you cannot (or should not) approach or touch any animal, but if it chooses to approach or touch you then all is fine….

Today, we went to the “Charles Darwin Research Centre”. Not quite what I had expected, but definitely better. The research centre is where they run breeding programs for giant tortoises, in particular. It is also the home of lonesome George, quite possibly the most famous real animal on the planet. We did see George and sitting in a shelter all by himself he looked quite….lonesome! We also spent time with some other Giant tortoise up close and were all quite impressed with just how large they are. They also have some Land iguanas at the research station much to Lauren’s delight.

Tomorrow we will take one of our day trips…more to follow soon….
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MIke T on

It must be something about girls and monkeys, because Miranda Mewhort had similar problems with monkeys in Malaysia when I visited in '05.

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