Guayaquil turned out to be quite a surprise. Loads of beautiful public spaces – it is located on a very large river/delta.
What was really cool was, although it just looked like a wide muddy river, it had a current that floated big chunks of water hyacinth – the same plant that was so detrimental to Lake Chapala in Mexico, in one direction and then when the tide changed many miles away, the current changed directions and the foliage went the other way. These things are the types of phenomena you get to be fascinated with when you have lots of time.
While staying at our guesthouse we met a guy from Norway; Siggy, and he showed us his pictures from the Galapagos Islands. He had just returned and was so excited about the experience it was impossible not to take note. Siggy has also been travelling around the world for a few years so when someone like that is blown away – I take notice. Since Guayaquil is the jumping off spot for all flights to the Galapagos, Carolyn and I headed down to the last minute deal place to see if we could score a deal.
The Galapagos Islands are accessed by a minimum $375 flight, are pretty much controlled by the tour operators and most space is sold months and years ahead. There was no way around the huge expense it costs to go. Offered were 4, 5 and 8 day trips, all fully escorted with naturalistic guides. Some of the islands are national park and that is an extra $100 for entrance fees. The decision to spend the big bucks was based on the fact that we knew that this opportunity might never come again – most people save for a lifetime, plan this trip for years and make a huge investment in time and energy to make it work. We were in already at the jumping off point, had a few choices for dates and figured we would have big regrets if we didn't jump in with both feet. The negotiations took so long that we missed our bus out of town and ended up staying an extra day. We bought an eight day trip – when you think getting there takes half a day each way and the flight was a good chunk of change, we figured we spend the extra $400 and stay for 8 days. So we are booked to go, leaving Quito on the 18th of February – we will fly back to Guayaquil to catch the flight. Our boat is a luxurious??? vessel, sleeps 16 (hoping for a smaller group) with supposedly great food and a chance to see most of the islands. As with most excursions like this, it is the group that makes the trip, so here’s hoping. At the booking place we did meet two new friends – a couple from Fort St. John who are travelling around for a few months – they had flown in from Mexico to catch their boat but their plans (with a different company) had been lost in translation and they were rebooking. We had dinner with them – wished they were on our boat but they had found a cruise leaving earlier than ours.
All in, the Galapagos cruise costs us a $400 flight, $100 National Park fee, and $1400 for the eight day guided tour. I better see some magnificent penguins and other cool animals!!! Then the really difficult problem presented itself. Paying for the whole thing. Using a credit card in Central and South America comes with a minimum of 5% fees and I didn’t want to incur those on top of everything so……we brokered a deal to pay directly into the guy’s account. Before leaving I put small limits on my debit cards so this is going to be an ordeal – multiple day debits and then deposits. That was the original plan until we realized we cannot seem to use our cards….stay tuned – the plan is not coming together and we are starting to get short on real cash. Here in Ecuador, like Panama, they use the American dollar as currency – seems very weird to me to pay in greenbacks. Also here in the country, because of the number of ATM robberies and kidnappings, the government has put a limit of max $600 withdrawals per day. My credit limit is far below this so it is going to take me a whole lot of trips to the ATM’s to come up with my payments…that is when they work…….
Anyway, we finally got out of Guyaquil, headed for the beach at Montanita, about 4.5 hours away by public bus. The bus, once we found it at the very massive Guayaquil terminal, was hot and crowded but I was happy because our bags were under the bus and not on top and I got a seat – the whole way!!! When we finally pulled into Montanito, a famous surf town, we were met with hordes of drunken partiers, still whooping it up in the rain. Thank God we had gotten tied up in Guayaquil with the bookings and missed the Saturday bus. A week long surf championship was just ending and there was no way we would have found lodging on the Saturday night. Still it was a bit of a madhouse, was pouring rain and we were lucky to find a nice place out of town by about ten minutes. The surf contest were the Latin American Championships and the party had been going for 7 days. Think Sturgess, Daytona Bike Week, Spring Break surfer style – this was one big party in a pretty small town.
The cabin we found was right on the beach – in the exact spot the competition had taken place. So for the next couple of days I sat out on the upper balcony and watched some of the best surfers in the world and some of the worst.
Montanito is a big surf school town and it was as much fun to watch people get up for their first time and then look to a different break where the big boys and big girls were still doing their thing – expert style. I had not really watched surfing before and, even though it rained on and off for the couple of days we were there, it was still a treat.