And the winner is....
Trip Start Feb 22, 2007
27Trip End Aug 22, 2007
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If I could choose a longer title, it would be:
"My favourite animal, the animal that almost gave me a heart attack and why it looks like I have flesh eating disease on my middle finger"
When you're snorkelling and you look down to see five penguins diving for fish just an arm's length below you, that's a once in a lifetime opportunity. When you get to look straight into the eyes of an iguana found only in the Galapagos, ditto. When you get to swim with playful sea lions or watch hordes of them sleeping, feeding and yelping just two steps in front of you, that's amazing. So while I wasn't thrilled about the high costs of the Galapagos trip, I thought it's something that you just have to do if you're already going to be in Ecuador.
(Sidenote... I obviously have low expectations, considering the previously-mentioned gifts given to me by Steve. Last year, he flew to Washington for my birthday, saying that his presence was my present, despite the fact that I flew to Toronto many times on my own dime for no occasion. Hmph. I've already told him I'm expecting something this June 22, while we're in South America.)
While Steve wrote his blog entry, I was once again relegated to uploading our numerous sea lion and iguana photos to
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbrunetti (any chump can take great photos with that kind of access), and Steve once again claimed all of the funny stories to write about. So I'm left with trying to decide which animal was my favourite. Here's the breakdown of the front runners....
The sea lions were the most plentiful so by the end of the week, you're thinking, oh just more sea lions. And they smell. But on the plus side, they are fascinating to watch for any length of time. You have some coming in from the water, some sleeping, babies feeding (and you can hear the sucking sound), the dominant male scaring off people and other sea lions, some babies far away from the group because they lost their mom and are dying of hunger, some sleeping right next to iguanas.
Their drawback is how little and how slowly they move. The quickest we saw them move was when a hawk arrived on the scene. They scuttled like no iguana has scuttled before. And luckily, neither of us stepped on one while walking on the trail.
Sure, big turtles are cool. They have an ET-like head with a massive shell on their body.
But if iguanas are slow, the turtles take days to move. We saw sea turtles while snorkelling, we caught a glimpse of the famous Lonesome George at the Charles Darwin Research Center, and we saw the giant turtles too (Cue Steve's joke for the picture of me with the giant turtle, about how the turtle has finally met its match in a race)
Just once, we saw many dolphins swimming near the front of our boat. It was quite an amazing moment. Although, in my haste to get to the front of boat while people were yelling "dolphins! dolphins!", I wiped out on the deck and scrapped my knee and middle finger, including scraping away my nail right to my nailbed. No serious harm done, but ouch. Luckily the dolphins waited for me. I didn't take any gross-out photos, but this is why my middle finger looks like it has flesh eating disease. When we left the boat, the Captain said that we were definitely going to remember our trip to the Galapagos, me with my cuts and Steve with his black eye.
I've seen one shark before, a small one while diving in Cancun. It scared the crap out of me. Imagine my surprise when we were about to go snorkelling near the rocks of one island, and we see a sea lion with a big bite out of him. (He was ok, but Wilo had to explain to everyone about that's just nature, sharks were at the top of the foodchain). And you could see a small shark or two circling. Wilo assured us that these small white-tipped reef sharks were "vegetarians" and did not bite the sea lion, that it must have been a bigger shark. (And that's supposed to be comforting???)
A few people didn't snorkel but I thought it would be cool to get a glimpse of another shark. Well, did I get my wish or what - we must have seen 20 plus sharks under that water. At first, I thought it might be the same three or so that were following us around. But on our return to shore, I swam (very quickly) past so many sharks. At one point, I looked over at Steve, who of course was swimming closer to the rocks, and I saw a massive shark swimming directly below him. I think both of us almost had a heart attack.
The worst part of all this was that I'd be snorkelling, absorbed in the underwater life but still wary of danger. And Steve would come up behind me and give me a pinch or poke and I would think it was a shark. Everytime. He could do it 2 or 3 times a snorkel, and he'd get me everytime. On the day that we saw all the sharks, I could see Steve swimming ahead of me and I felt something pinch my leg. I figured it must be shark, if it's not Steve. I screamed in my snorkel and swam away as fast as I could, only to look back and see our guide Wilo laughing at me.
I know that's not very specific, but birds are probably the least exciting creatures we saw. The only reason that I'm mentioning them at all is that we saw 2 cool birds on the very last day... lots of close ups of blue-footed boobies (Galapagos' famous bird) and the frigate bird about to mate (notice the red pouch on his neck). And we did see some flamingos one day, albeit from far away. Worth a mention, but not worth the gold medal.
So, the long and short of it is, the penguins win. The sharks were pretty cool but too scary, the sea lions were cute but too plentiful, the turtles and iguanas were too boring and the dolphins lose because of my tumble on the boat. Feedback on this decision is welcome....!!!
Lastly, three of you lucky readers can expect a postcard from the Galapagos, and I didn't even have to pay for it. You drop your cards in an old mail box on one island, where other tourists thumb through them to find locations close to them. Then, when they're done their week in the Galapagos (most people are just there for a week vacation), they put it in the mail or even hand-deliver it. I mailed 2 postcards to the addresses that I know by heart (sorry sister Katherine, I don't know your new address yet - next time) and Steve mailed the other to the one address he knows by heart.
I almost wish that we did the Galapagos right at the end of our trip, because we were living in luxury with the american-style food, the organized tours, the amazing sights and the beautiful, hot, Equator-like sun. Now it's back to finding a place to stay, a place to eat, a place to go, etc. We've just endured a 28 hour bus ride from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima, Peru. Since our main source of travel advice is from travelers we meet on the way, it sounds like Peru will provide us with great material for our next email....