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Ecuador: An Evolutionary Trip

By Sandra Scott


Before leaving for the Galapagos Islands we toured Quito visiting churches and monasteries that were built before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Walking up and down the hills of Quito, located in a valley of the Andes at 9200 feet, is laborious due to the oxygen-thin air. It is best to go slow and start the day with a cup of coca tea, which, according to the packaging, is a panacea for fatigue, diarrhea, and altitude sickness. After a few days at altitude most people acclimatize.

On board
In 1835, Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands where his observations of the birds and animals, each with specialized adaptations, supported his theories on evolution. The Islands surpassed my wildest expectations, and to think we seriously considered not making this part of the trip because of the expense. Five days in the Galapagos cost nearly as much as the other 20 days. To save money, I purchased the package in Ecuador and booked one of the cheapest boats. The accommodations are far from luxurious and in no way can be compared with a cruise liner. Besides the price of the boat, the RT airfare for the 600-mile flight to the Islands is $400, plus there is a $100 entrance fee to the Galapagos National Park.

Our boat, The Discovery, is a much-used motor sailboat with 21 passengers, mostly from Europe. The only other Americans are the Lazeroffs from Rochester! Each day includes two shore trips to various islands and snorkeling. Each night after dinner we get a briefing for the next day including a chalk talk with sketches of the islands showing the trails, resident animals and birds, and whether the landings will be dry or wet (wading ashore from the dingy).

On Land
The biggest problem while hiking is trying not to step on the animals and nesting birds because they are so numerous and do not flee when approached. The seals, found on all islands, allow visitors to come close enough to touch; however, any human contact is strictly forbidden. Only the bull seal lions, as part of their normal territorial behavior, give a threatening bark when approached. Amazingly, we saw seal pups with their umbilical cord still attached.

Acres, high atop the cliffs of Esmeralda Island, are covered with nesting blue-footed boobies, masked boobies, and albatrosses. A personal favorite was watching the courtship display of the large albatrosses, which includes dueling with their long beaks.

We sail followed by the opportunistic frigate birds, the pirates of the sea, occasionally accompanied by dolphins. Last night we sailed under a star-studded sky marveling at the bioluminescent sea organism sparkling in the wake of the boat. Luckily, we did not experience any of the mal de mar that afflicted half of the other travelers.

I was not prepared for the spectacular beauty or the uniqueness of the islands we visited. One was covered with green cactuses and reddish ground cover; another edged with soaring cliffs, another with sweeping, powdery white sand beaches.

Quito and More
Tomorrow we return to our "home" in Quito, Hotel Sol de Quito, a small hotel with traditional Ecuadorian décor and friendly employees attired in colonial costumes. The people of Ecuador want visitors to love their beautiful country as much as they do. We were on a city bus that went to the top of a hill in Quito where the Virgin of Quito looks out over the city. When the bus driver realized we had not visited the monument he held the bus while the bus attendant escorted us to the best viewing and photographing spot.

For such a small country, Ecuador offers a variety of travel opportunities including Inca ruins, colonial cities, cultural diversity, and plenty of adventure. We concentrated on the natural aspects of the country and thoroughly enjoyed our time in Ecuador even though our busy schedule led John to quip, "I feel like I am in the Marines on maneuvers."

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