Monday, November 28, 2005

Our second week in Cuenca

Second week in Cuenca.. feels like we have been here for ages.. and def feel like i could stay longer! Went to mass at the cathedral again, just love the fact you can get anything you want right outside the church steps, from toffee apples and icecream cones to giant candles and rosary beads that would take a strong man to carry...also if you ever need a shoe shine in Cuenca, Parque Calderon is the place to go.. there are tons of them all around the square, patiently sitting in the sun, or shade, awaiting the next pair of muddy shoes to come along for them to shine!

Sundays are great here. After church, everyone hangs out in the square with their families, sitting chatting, getting photos taken (a typical favorite is for adults to sit on wooden horses wearing silly giant sombreros - sorry, didnt manage to get a pic of that!)... eating fresh pineapple or melon slices from the carts, balloons are everywhere, its all go, with a great atmosphere.. i love it!

Rest of the week busy as usual.. us long term travelers dont have time to sit around and just hang out, you know! Tuesday night was our new friend Christoph`s, last night, so we all went out to bid him a fond farewell (of course that was AFTER Dominique and I had our 2 hours of Ecuadorian folk dancing lessons, with, guess how, yes Marta!). Wednesday saw Joe, Dom and I head off to Baños, a different town than i have written about before (hot springs pueblo about 40 mins from Cuenca!).. very relaxing.. Thursday was our last day at school ...awww ..Had class for 4 hours in the morning - my wee head was exhausted...then off for drinkie poohs with Marta in the afternoon. Great chat - yes, mostly in Spanish!!! and then fond farewells. Then a wee pub crawl around some of the fun pubs in town- Wunderbar, Cafecito of course... with our Spanish class pals.. good fun!

Funny story - we (no surprise!) had been hanging out at a couple of internet cafes over the last week or so, and in one of the cafes, a young man by the name of Julio very nicely asked us to go to a fiesta... of course i asked what the fiesta was called, cos after speaking with Marta, i thought it was a grand affair, usually in memory of some saint, or womans program or something of that nature! Hmmn....after Dominique translating it became clear that a "fiesta electronica" was a club aka disco!! So we decided, hey yes, we are hip young things, we can dance with the best of the Ecuadorian youth, so went along and had a great laugh that night, dancing away to salsa, rigatone, Michael Jackson and so much more!! Cuenca is quite a small city and you do bump into people you know quite regularly, like the whole El Cafecito bar gang, who were also shimmying on down at the club that night...

On Saturday, we decided to take on yet another hike.. this time to the waterfalls at Giron, about an hour outside Cuenca.. Joe, Dom, Brie (another Spanish school pal) and another friend, Renato (a character and a half!!) met up and set off together. Renato is a nut case- i can say this with lotsa love and affection. He is 18 and a real New Yorker from Sleepy Hollow, although he is Ecuadorian and over here visiting all his family.. and improving his already impressive Spanish. He was good enough to be our guide to Giron, where some of his family lives so off we set. Renato and I really clicked ....hmmn think it might have been because we both like to talk - ALOT - and also when we were chatting in the pub the night before and we all found out how old he was (to be fair he does look a wee bit older than 18!) i had joked with him, hey I could be your mother, then he told me (with great aplomb!) that his mother is in fact younger than me!!AAAAAAAAAHHhhhhhh. Nah, we had a great laugh that day- check out some more pics....ahh our last hike in Ecuador, oh well have to move on.
Dinner was at Cafe Eucolyptus where we met up with Francisco, our salsa teacher, and his pals, the house band playing that night. Wish i had had my camera. The dancing was incredible, so beautiful - mainly salsa, both couples and groups, all seamless and looking just fantastic. Poetry in motion (unlike our salsa classes let me tell you!).. When you meet people from other Andean countries like Peru and Bolivia, as well as Argentina, they all say the people of Ecuador have music and dancing in their blood, and it is so true... it seems to come so naturally to them and looks so beautiful, every time i see it, i love it more!

Anyway off to Quito tomorrow then we fly out to La Paz, on Monday Dec 5th so its goodby Ecuador, hello Bolivia!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The crazy hike ....

Well, today was an interesting day! It`s Saturday and a few of us decided we`d like to go to Parque Nationale de Cajas for a good ole` hike! So with Florian as our guide (yup, that´s him below, one of our German friends from Spanish school who has been on this hike a few times but admits himself this isnt his chosen profession!), Amber, Joe, Dominique and I headed off.. (having NO idea what was in store for us!).

Took the bus about an hour out of Cuenca; you could see the landscape getting more and more beautiful! Found our "hole in the barbed wire fence" - literally - which was the beginning of our hike and so we headed off. Two men we met said to be careful as they found ice in the streams which meant it would be getting cold earlier than usual on the mountains,(some people have died in this park area due to hypothermia as the afternoon mists come in very quickly and dioriente you from seeing the bottom of the trail!). Gulp! But actually it was a beautiful, hot sunny day and we were all in great form, chatting away as we headed up the mountain (oh did i mention i was huffing and puffing as usual, dont know if im a blob or its altitude sickness a little bit but i am one SLOWWWWW hiker.. )
Anyway, after lunch we continued up the mountain, seeing some beautiful views of up to 10 different lagoons in the park, so all was going well, if a little steep! As we were nearing the top of the mountain (Cerra Amerillo -Yellow Mountain - at 4,451 metres the highest i had ever hiked to so far!), we came upon a particularly nasty section of very loose rock and nothing much to hold onto, and we had to get across this to reach the top- there really wasnt an alternative! Joe and Amber went first and said, "Be careful, its really dangerous" which of course made me immediately nervous! So I tried to follow their path and inch my way across this narrow section of scareyness....BUT... (and remember we are on the edge of a bluudy big mountain at over 4,300 metres at this point and if you fall, you pretty much fall off the side of the mountain!) my feet didnt really get a good grip, and i started sliding down. I´m not kidding, i thought i was a goner... seriously folks! I managed to grab a big rock with one hand and with Amber and Joe giving me directions and encouragement i finally managed to scramble across the dodgy area.. but i was like jelly! AND they both said after the fact, they werent sure if i was going to make it (phew - thank goodness they didnt tell me that till later!). But in case you think i was the only loser, it wasnt just me - Dom also had a scary moment when she couldnt get a grip and she was holding on with just her hands, but she managed to pull herself up too... so a bloomin` scary time for all.But i will say once we got to the top it was really amazing - check out the pics. Hope you agree.

We then quickly headed down the mountain to get ahead of the fog clouds, and hitched a lift back to town in the back of a pick up truck (what fun the driver had with his pals going about 100 miles an hour on the worlds curviest road to have a laugh at the gringos!) Nah, actually they were really nice and wouldn´t even take any money from us for the ride down the mountain... awfully good of them!

So another wild but fabulous day!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Starting Spanish lessons, and so much more!

Started Spanish lessons this week, and "Buena Suerta" (AKA lucky me!) i got the best teacher in the school - Marta, who is fantastic!! Routine is quite busy now with classes from 8:30-12:30, time for lunch with new found friends from the school -Joe from London, Amber from Chicago, Patricia from Switzerland, Mark from Erskine (a St Mirren fan!), Christoph and Florian from Germany. Korin from Norway and many others...

As part of our Spanish classes with the Simon Bolivar school, we get all these great after school excursions, e.g. a tour of the city (with who else but Marta of course!) which included visiting the Panama Hat museum and store (very tempted to get one for myself!). What do you think of the giant one outside the building - teehee). The owner, Isabella, took us around the museum and we had a lovely celebratory drink (again with the vile cane-syrup stuff that burns your mouth off!) for Dominique`s birthday (AND Dom kissed this lucky piece of wood, which if legend holds out, means she will be married within the year.. 364 days and counting.. but hey no pressure).

We also tasted the famous "Agua de Pitas". This water is specially fermented by the nuns in the adjoining convent, who are completely cloistered and speak and see no-one. They make this "tonic" water from many medicinal plants and flowers and there are two kinds you can have - white for those with more nervous or emotional afflictions, and red for those with problems of "la corazon" (the heart"!). We had a "mixto" combination of both, and you basically chug it in one (Marta loves it and people have a glass every day to keep them "happy", but we thought it was like drinking 3 day old flower water... which it kind of was.. but oh so restorative!!).

Tues and Wed we have salsa lessons with Fransisco, an artist who has an evening gig teaching gringos with absolutely no rhythm, the basics of salsa. A tad frustrating for him shall we say..esp. as he is a really good dancer, he must get fed up saying (izquierda, derecha, uno, dos, tres) AKA left,right, one, two, three - and we would still go the wrong way! Thursday we visited a fabulous pottery business where the family are now 3rd generation potters...Mark (my new found Scottie friend!) and I took a shot at the ole` "potting" -hmmn didnt do so well - those potters know how to make it look way easier than it is....!!!

Funny thing - Ecuador is well known for its coffee, in fact its top 5 exports (in no specific order, are petroleum, coffee, people (emigrating to work in other countries esp. US, Canada and Spain), flowers and bananas... Well, every day Dominique hoped with bated breath, that she would get a good cup of coffee " cafe con leche por favor, con poco leche, y con leche separado por favor". Not much to ask, coffee with milk, just a little milk, on the side please.. but ahhh for some reason, the majority of coffee you get here is from a Nescafe tin and is made in Columbia, and the milk, well, it usually has blobby bits of overheated milk floating in it, so poor Dom and her cafe cravings are always a little shell shocked as she goes to class. There´s a lot to be said for ¨te negro, solo, gracias¨ tea with nothing in it thanks.. you cant go wrong with that!!!

So back to Marta, she is quite something. As well as teaching me Spanish, she fills me in on many cultural things about Cuenca and Ecuador in general. We have passionate conversations about the current government and the corruption problems, the fact most people in South America dont like George Bush, although they do still see America as a place to become succesful, and they are also very comfortable with American tourists, its just George that no-one is very fond of. She is quite the revolutionary (and apparantly thinks i am too in my way of thinking - how cool is that!), she explains how Cuencaños are so passionate about their city, how the people from the countryside, the camposinos, still live the way they have for many years, and still have between 12-14 children even today, and oh yes, of course how people here although they are very very Catholic, still strongly believe in the spiritual traditions of the Quechua people..

For example, you can still find "curanderos or chamenes" (shamen doctors) today, who can get rid of any negative energy in your body. Typically, children are brought to the chamenes, for minor ailments but adults also go sometimes for bad backs or headaches. So on Friday, after a few hours of grammer,(we have to do some work!), we headed off into the Parque Calderon, first to see a HUGE demonstration against violence towards women, both in the home and at work!. You wouldnt believe how big it was! The demonstrators were school children in marching bands,college kids, people from the country, street vendors, bank tellers, you name it - and tons of men too! Hmmnn a tad ironic as domestic violence is a big problem and does kind of involve them, but good to see them embracing change, I suppose!

Then it was off for my own private city tour- down to see La Iglesia de San Blas, (a big fave for young people getting married), then on to the outdoor Mercado for my "cleansing"! Yes, its true.. not that i had any real negative energy according to Marta.. but definitely an experience i was intrigued by, and decided "hey, why not try it!". There is a whole section in the market, set aside specifically for the chamenes (a less kind description is witch doctor, which isnt correct, but gives you the idea..). Typically those being "cleansed" are children, who are brought by their parents to get rid of colds, lazy eyes or a number of other ailments.. they also go to the doctor of course, but the chamenes are usually the first stop! The children sit in these wizened old ladies laps, and are swished with bunches of invigorating flowers and greenery, then the tradition is that once you are swished (alot more energetically for adults let me tell you!), the chamen lifts your shirt and spits (yes spits!) holy water (made from medicinal plants and water) on your tummy and your back, and of course your face!. Then she rubs a fresh egg all over you (not broken tho´ thank goodness) Lastly, she makes the sign of the cross in oil on your forehead and hey presto, you are cleansed! Amazing, excilerating.. and cleansing of course! Loved it! Then it was a fab trip around the rest of the market with Marta - who knew pretty much everyone there...then off for coffee and chocolate croissants and a brilliant chat.. what a fab day!

And it wasn´t over. Did I say Marta was the best? She also does most of the evening events - and this night was no different.... she took a bunch of us for drinks to Figaro, (not the best mojitos but the company was great!) with the one rule that we all only speak Spanish to each other in a social situation! So I of course was very quiet (for a change!)but it was a great night. We then went onto another great bar called Traffic and danced the night away with some "hombres" who became not only our "amigos" but also 4 very helpful salsa teachers...again with the Cuencaños loving their city- when they ask what you think and do you like Cuenca "te gusta Cuenca?" and of course you reply "si, Cuenca es muy bonito, muy lindo" they love to say "chevere" which means, "great, they are happy, so happy that you like their city!!!" So a great end to a great day and a great week!!!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

First few days in Cuenca...

We arrived in Cuenca late on Saturday night after our usual hilarious bus journey (ok so this one was slightly less hilarious due to the 9 1/2 hour length) but still, we do love the entertainment the bus provides. It`s hard to explain without a hidden camera but at every stop, someone comes on selling their goods (and usually with a good pair of lungs on them if you know what i mean - no need for microphones here!), whether its a suitcase full of leather goods, fresh fruit, ice creams already made up in the cones just ready for you to eat (strangely these ice creams never seem to melt?), or even the odd Christian book and matching crosses on necklaces set - you name it, they sell it on the buses in Ecuador. Dominique and i always like to take bets on who is actually going to buy some of the stuff, and we are sometimes quite surprised....anyway i digress..

As the travel guides say, when it comes to colonial splendour, Cuenca arguably reigns supreme in Ecuador. With narrow cobbled streets (some of them original to Inca times), whitewashed red tiled buildings, many, many beautiful churches, and of course the lovely Rio Tomebamba that runs through the city where women still wash and dry their clothes......Cuenca has it all! It is Ecuador´s third largest city (if you dont count New York, USA which technically is the third largest city with over 500,000 Ecuadorians (or is it more?) living there.. they proudly say that people dont know that fact ´cos Ecuadorians dont cause any trouble so you dont hear about them in NY!

Cuenca is a beautiful city.....check out the pics of the Parque Calderon in the heart of the city..

Anyway, we stayed at El Cafecito, a hip and trendy hostel (of course!) with a great bar/restaurant for a few days .. We really liked it and the guys who worked there were all great and named us the "sangria girls" (their sangria was def the best in town!) but we had to leave cos it was so bloomin´ cold in our room that we wore 3 layers, hats and gloves and it was still freezing (oh yes and there was a tree growing through the wall into the room too!!! Anyway we moved onto another hostel round the corner - the Sante Fe, which was slightly more grannyish in feel, and where they locked up for the night at 10pm and you had to ring the bell (which was loud enough to wake the whole city up) to get in, but the folks were very nice, especially their 3 yr old son Nicolas, who liked to pop by and chat to us most mornings as we got ready for school!, and the room was warm, so we were happy campers!

We met up with the fabulous and newly married couple, Alejandro and Laura to share their honeymoon with them (yes, talk about cramping their style!). No - seriously they were just lovely, and we had a great time with them over the weekend and next few days! Not only were they brilliant fun, but they were ridiculously good to us - taking us out for dinner to wonderful places, celebrating Dominique´s birthday and buying us beautiful presents - Cuenca was definitely less bright once they had left us....

But before that happened, we decided to venture out of town to the Sunday markets, so after mass in the incredibly beautiful "new" cathedral (which was filled to the brim -and its a GIANT church, with people from all walks of Ecuadorian life, the camposinos who come in from the country, the hip and very western looking city folks, and everyone else in between), Alejandro, Laura, Dominique and i took a local bus (yes that was our bus!) out to the mercados of Gualaceo and Chordeleg.

Hmmn - we all collectively decided the guide books promoted these markets a little too much- dont get me wrong they were very interesting and Alejandro and I particularly liked the roasted pig and "cuy" aka guinea pig BBQ´s, but Dominique and Laura felt a bit squiffy at some of the stalls.The markets are very interesting in that you get a great sense of the "real world" rather than the slightly more sanitized city life. You can really find anything you want here- from clothes, toys, jewellry and of course food! Check out the before and slightly more appetizing after shots of the guinea pigs being roasted on the spits outside the market. Still havent tried it - and somehow dont think ill make it ..

Also, I´m sure you all know but the panama hat was actually invented in Ecuador so i liked this shot of a little old man´s store - he was happy for me to take it and explained that every panama hat is hand made and measured for the individuals head size (well, in his shop anyway!). So a good time was had by all!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Our last day on Galapagos - dont want to leave!

The last day has arrived. After all the fun and excitement of yesterday, today is a little more subdued- due to a number of reasons; the wedding is over, its our last day together as a group and we are all quite bummed about that, oh yes and maybe ´cos a few of us are a little "chuchaqui" (Spanish for hungover!)....

We have an early morning excursion today (6:30am!) to North Seymour Island.
This island is marked with many mud red trees, salt bushes, red and black volcanic rocks and multi-colored sand.

We saw pelicans, again with the sea lions, but to be honest you can never see too many sea lions. Whether its seeing the teenagers play in the water,

or watching the babies flopping around , or seeing them just hang out with their mums, they are all fantastic!

The big draw of this island is to see the Magnificent Frigate Bird. This bird is quite incredible, it has a red sack in its throat area, which it puffs out during mating time (and yes its only the male that has this element, cos he needs to show off all the time!). When it is mating time, he can fly and eat and do pretty much everything with this red sack puffed out so much it almost looks like it will burst!

And of course the iguanas have to make a final appearance too!

As the sun sets on our trip and on the Galapagos, I can truly say this has been the experience of a lifetime! Or as I would say in Spanish "Pienso que fue excelente, fantastico y bonita"!!! (I thought it was excellent, fantastic and of course beautiful!).

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Day 7 - Romance is in the air!!!

Today,we wake up to the island of Floreana, and of course today is also the big wedding day. Who has time for excursions when we have so much to do? Oh dear, im forgetting myself... we are in the Galapagos after all, wedding or no wedding! So the morning brings us to Post Office Bay, an interesting site which was originally set up (over a hundred years ago or more) for traveling sailors to leave notes for friends and family to let them know they were safe. Nowadays, the tradition is for those cruising the Galapagos to leave their hand written notes or postcards, and to pick up one that is close to them in their home country and to hand deliver it to them! I found one from a Paul Simon (dont think its the famous one but who knows!) who lives in Arlington, MA, so when i get back to Boston, I´ll need to look him up and bring his postcard to him in person!

Had a beautiful walk around the island - see the beach team below - and then back to the boat for our daily snorkel. We sailed to Devil´s Crown, saw beautiful fish, amazing starfish in so many different colors and sizes, and some more sea lions,but really strong current and really cold here so an hour was definitely enough for once!

Afer lunch and before our afternoon adventure (yes, so much packed into one day!), we helped the bride and groom pick out their wedding wardrobes (Laura decided on a beautiful two piece, black lace ensemble, and Alejandro would be ship shape casual in a gorgeous deep blue shirt and blue shorts!) and get all the decorations ready! Carolynn did a fab job of creating a beautiful bouquet from toilet paper, straws and some plastic bags.. also made a lovely flower for Laura´s hair. And we cant forget Ruth who ironed Alejandro´s shirt just perfectly! I know it sounds mad, but everything looked just perfect! So the bell rang (the sound used to alert us (AKA produce a Pavlov-dog type reaction from us) to either a) a meal being served b) time to get on the dinghy for an excursion or c) an alarm that we were sinking (thank goodness we never heard it for c)!

We headed off for Punta Cormorant for our afternoon trek. The weather was scorching, we visited a land locked lake that was very swamp-like where flamingos lived and bred, we walked along yet another incredibly beautiful beach with lots of sea lions and babies, silver holy stick and frankincense trees grew up the sides of the hills. It may sound trite but these islands continue to be gorgeous and wonderful and different- its amazing. Love them all! And speaking about love, thought it best to introduce you to the soon to be happily married couple!! I found a heart shaped rock to give to Laura and Alejandro as a substitute wedding pressie (of course they couldnt take it off the island as that would be a $1,000 fine... a rather large and not so fun wedding gift!) so they posed beautifully with it and then did the "right" thing, and left it right there on Floreana!!!

Before (to the left)

After (the right of course!)

Got back on board and everyone rushed to get ready! When Laura walked up the stairs to be met by the crew (all in their official dress whites!)she looked so beautiful. Paul, the best man, walked her up to the middle deck where Alejandro was patiently and a little nervously waiting! (along with the rest of the ship!). Ole had the music set up, i think it was Wagner.. (did i mention he was also the official musical co-ordinator!). So Capitan Jimmy read the vows in Spanish, Dominique and Paul gave incredible speeches in English (I totally choked up at Paul´s - he was quite delighted later, that he had made me cry!). And we all celebrated together - in the language of LOVE!!! Yes, I know I am a complete romantic but i dont care!

We celebrated with lots of photos on the top deck as the sun was setting... so beautiful. Dinner was a grand and happy affair, as we made the happy couple kiss evey few minutes (teaching them a new tradition that when you clink your glasses, they have to kiss - they were very obliging of course!), and the crew had made a beautiful wedding cake for them. We all sat upstairs after the sun had set, listening to great music, and reminiscing over a perfect and wonderful day! Three cheers for the happy couple!! Hip hip hooray.. hip hip hooray.. hip hip hooray!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Day 6 - Españonala - incredible!

Today we visited Española - probably our collective favourite island because we saw so much here.. our day started on Baha Gardner.... this may sound familiar but we saw tons of sea lions and iguanas (some of these ones were very red and apparantly ready for mating!). The mocking birds were so cheeky - pecking on your water bottle and trying to get into your backpack.. no fear for them! The water is so blue and clear, absolutely beautiful.. but still freezing!

The afternoon took us to Puenta Suarez, and there was something around every corner, the most amazing of which was when we saw a sea lion giving birth! It was an incredible thing to see and our guide, Fatima, had never seen it herself and said it was very rare to see the sea lion in the open, usually they go to their beds under the mangrove bushes, but we came upon this mother lying directly in our path to the beach. It took almost 40 minutes but then a lovely wee baby sea lion popped out .. it was quite a strange time. Everyone was very quiet and taken in by this happening, but it was just another amazing part of our Galapagos adventure.

Other exciting attractions - the albatrosses who hang out on Española ´cos the climate and the wind factor (its def quite windy in parts) works for them. They are amazing birds and can travel for up to 4 years, flying and when they need to land, just sleeping on top of the water, so when they are ready to mate, they come back to Española!

And of course, my all time favourite, the blue footed booby, was hanging out as usual! It was great to see the sea lions and iguanas just chatting it up, nature working in perfect harmony... ahhhhh the good life!

The other HUGE piece of news that we found out when back on board, was that Laura and Alejandro had decided they wanted to get married ON THE BOAT - WITH ALL OF US! It was wild - we were convinced at first that they were just joking but no, this was serious stuff! How exciting and romantic. Official duties were handed out - Paul, a 20 yr old student from New Hampshire was to be best man, Dominique maid of honour, I was to write the vows and Ole would be the official photographer. Carolynn was in charge of the bouquet and decorations, all to be made out of toilet paper and multicoloured plastic bags. Oh yes - and Capitan Jimmy would oversee the blessed event!!! He started it off by having the happy couple pick out their rings from his box of plastic washers, oh yes, and he got a bit excited by the news and decided he wanted to be part of it himself - so asked Dominique to marry him! She of course accepted immediately, thinking this would make for a great blog entry! .. A wild night of romance and excitement aboard our very own Love Boat!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Day 4 and 5 - Tortoises everywhere....AND we swam with sea lions!

Day 4 meant we were back in port on Puerta Ayora... the capital of Santa Cruz Island. Today was the day to see giant tortoises. We chose to go to the official Tortoise Reserve in the morning so we could see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. Some of them are over 170 years old , and they look incredible; they barely move when you get close (except for their heads and necks popping back inside their shell i.e. "go away, i`m shy!"..imagine ET in slow motion. Notice they are very toilet trained too, as you can see one of them heading off to the loo!

In the afternoon, we visited the Charles Darwin Centre in town, where for years now, biologists have been working to expand the number of tortoises in the centre, by rearing them and then putting them back into the wild once they reach a few years old. In the past, these animals were killed for their meat, shells etc. so for a while there was a great fear that they would become extinct. However, nowadays, this program is doing really well and the tortoise communities on the different islands continue to grow in leaps and bounds...

There is a funny story about Lonesome George, the famous bachelor tortoise who is the last in a particular type of tortoise from one of the outer islands. Scientists were puzzled as to why he hadnt "pro-created", even after about 80 years, and as time went on, and he became the only one left of his type, they brought him into the Darwin Centre; even provided him with a couple of girly tortoise friends, but all to no avail! There has been much discussion about whether to provide George with some viagra (seriously) or potentially clone him to help study and protect his DNA for the future. Poor George -looked like he just wanted a quiet life and to be left alone.. oh well!

We got some new recruits today as some folks only did the 4 day cruise so left the happy band; our new shipmates included the fabulous Ellis and Keimpe from The Hague (best salsa dancers in Holland - did you know salsa was very big there?), Vincent from France who lives in Barcelona, Kiara from Canada who lives in France (they both work for Backroads travel company, and were organizing a new trip for their clients, hence checking out the Galapagos!) and 2 ladies from France who didnt speak any Spanish and "muy muy poco" English. Our briefing was hilarious with everyone translating info into 3-4 different languages....later on it was back to Limon Y Cafe for some drinkies and a bitta´salsa. Quite fun getting into a dinghy when you are a wee bitty tipsy but we all managed to make it back on board in one piece, if a bit damp!

Day 5`s itinerary included us visiting 2 small islands - Plazas and Sante Fe. On Plazas, again the landscape was incredible, very different and "other-planety". We`ve seen everything from pure white beaches, to black volcanic sand with lots of colored minerals through it, golden blond beaches, barren red earth, lush green mangroves and salt bushes, holy trees and cacti .. so so beautiful!

Lots of land iguanas that come in brilliant hues of yellows to try and blend in with the sand and surroundings.. - dont get too close, they like to spit when annoyed!

Two HUGE colonies of sea lions here (did i mention the difference between sea lions and seals is that seals have exterior ears and sea lions dont-- hhmnnn or is it the other way around!! Anyway there are tons of them behind Dominique and I.. and I mean tons!

Talking about sea lions - we went snorkeling after lunch (check out the swim team!)! and we really did swim with them! Apparantly, the "teenage sea lions" like to have fun and swim with us humans, and they did, and so close.. it was incredible, you could literally touch them as they swam round and about us; it looked like they were almost copying our movements.... definitely one of the best experiences of the trip, and something to behold. Nature really is amazing
More new "stuff" after snorkeling - we went to Sante Fe and saw tons of white tipped sharks right in the shallow water as we got out of the dinghy! They weren`t too big and apparantly were as frightened of us as we were of them.. I couldn´t help it - just kept hearing the "Jaws" soundtrack in my head .....Tons of massive sting rays here too....

Ahh the pleasures of Galapagos.. love this place!