Wednesday, July 1, 2009

these stories need to be more engaging

Close friends knew that we were either coming back from this trip engaged, or flying back on separate flights. Fortunately for us (and everyone else!) the former has happened.

On a memorable Canada Day in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, Andrew popped the question to Julie.


we’re engaged!

We were on a harbour front dock patio at the Red Mangrove restaurant sharing the evening with a single Heron, who was fishing for his dinner as we finished ours. Andrew pulled out the box but didn’t want to take the ring out as the dock had slots to the water.  He asked me if I would marry him timidly. With the ring on my finger and the appearance of our waiter we had this picture taken. Happy and excited to celebrate our engagement and Canada Day together, we headed off to a local bar to dance the night away :) -Julie

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Galapagos the good

Aside from the disaster that was our lodging, we had a pretty good time here. On our first foray into town we ran into a couple of off-duty tour guides who gave us a few hints on what to do and where to go in town. We'd run into them numerous times over the 3 days.
Puerto Ayora is the biggest town in the Galapagos Islands and has everything you need. All along Avenida Charles Darwin (the main drag along the harbour) are loads of tour operators, restaurants, dive shops and souvenir stores. Avenida Charles Darwin, near the pier
At one end of town is the Charles Darwin research center. We wandered through and weren't all that impressed at the sight of a Julie and a giant tortoisefew pitiful examples of tortoises and lizards but we're sure that we missed the major attraction of the place in the tortoise breeding centre. 
At the opposite end of town is the pier where you can easily get a last minute spot on a boat tour of the harbour if you hang around either at 8-9am or 1-2pm. We booked our tour ahead of time, but while waiting for our allotted time slot I got asked a few times to "come on my boat - nice boat!".  The tour of the harbour was alright. We went out to an island off-shore to snorkel around a bit. The water's pretty cold - definitely refreshing!  It was a little scary jumping off the little boat into the ocean's waves near where they crashed onto the jagged lava rocks, but we went in anyway.  Saw some fish, maybe a ray down below somewhere but not the marine iguanas we hoped to see feeding on the algae below.
On our way back to harbour Andrew spotted a bigger boat with a man standing on the top level waving a white t-shirt. I pointed at it but our boatman said it's probably just the signal for divers to come Towing a stranded dive boat back. I said no...that's usually an orange flag or something. The guy waved his white t-shirt again and this time our boatman saw it and realized that something's up. We zipped over to learn that their boat had run out of gas. Our guy handed over a big jug (good to see we had lots to spare!)  but then they realized that they needed an oil-mix so we ended up towing the bigger boat back to harbour. Needless to say we were getting a bit wary of the dive operators here in Galapagos.
Anyhow, we let the boat go and continued our tour. At the next snorkel spot the captain sent us into this channel that narrowed up as it ended in a small lagoon. The water was fine when we got in, but it got murkier and murkier until it was a solid yellowish green. We couldn't see much until I suddenly saw a flash of a fin in front of me. Startled I put my head above the surface at which point Julie's done the same ahead of me.  "Was that a shark?!" she exclaims.  While we're above water, the captain and the other couple on our tour are yelling at us to come forward to them across the lagoon. We're obviously a bit hesitant since we just ran into a shark! But the captain says don't worry, just go slow and quiet and you can see 4 MORE!  We put our heads down underwater and can't see a thing. Back above water -"where?".  "Over there in the middle, there's three of 'em." Back underwater - nothing. "10 feet that way." Ah forget it I think to myself; they're getting a better view from up top than we are here in the water, so I make my way to the rocks on the shore to get out.
The tour finished off with some good sightings of marine iguanas (both resting on land and swimming), which was pretty cool.

Marine Iguana

We tempted fate and ignored the stranded dive boat that we saw and booked a dive tour after being recommended to a dive shop by our trusty tour guides that we ran into on the street.

The dives themselves were quite strenuous: rough seas near a rocky outcrop in the ocean, back flip off of the boat on the captain’s command and dive straight down and grab onto a rock near the guide in order to get out of the wave action currents. Julie had a tough time on the first one: the boat surged over top of her after she went in and she bumped up against it. No harm done though!  The point of diving out here at Gordon Rock is to see the schools of hammerhead sharks swimming above you.  Unfortunately we dove during a period of poor visibility and saw nothing. The sharks could’ve been only a few metres away but we would not have known. It was a bit of waste of effort to travel all the way out here in rough seas, perform a hard dive and then see nothing.  On our way back home we passed Albatros Divinganother dive boat who waved us over.  Guess what – they didn’t have enough air tanks on board!!  Yowza. Julie salsas with our dive guide

We were pretty happy with our boat and the dive masters. Later that day we ran into them at a bar downtown and tried some salsa dancing.

Photo album of Galapagos:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Galapagos the bad

I'm not sure what to say about our little trip to the Galapagos. We got partially scammed upon arrival so that put us down. Had a bit of trouble finding a place to stay but happened to find an apartment for the same price as a hotel room. Then we saw a bunch of wildlife Puerto Ayora fish marketdown at the fish market which was super neat and had a great, dinner at FreeSoul Cafe cheap




dinner at a small restaurant [FreeSoul Cafe] raising our spirits. We picked up some groceries and headed into the 'burbs to our apartment, following the "X" on the map that the lady had given us.
At this time it was dark, and as everybody knows, things look a lot different in the dark! On our first try we couldn't find the place. We retraced our steps and tried again. still no luck. So we went all the way back to the beginning and followed the map once again. Nothing. We started questioning the map (it was one of those tourist ones that usually don't show all of the streets) thinking that maybe the place was on a road that wasn't on it. We got a taxi and asked the fellow to take us to a road called "something Maria". Puzzled at us tourists, he drove us around in a circle a couple of times before we let him go. It's about 11'o'clock now and one of my grocery bags just sprung a leak: one of the big bottles of beer broke through and smashed on the pavement, prompting lights to come on in the apartments around us, sending us scurrying away into the darkness.  Stress levels are rising and we're getting frustrated - how did we manage to go around the world and never get lost and now here we completely lost track of where we are staying!? All of our bags are in that room. Julie's contacts are bugging her and she's not keen on the idea of getting a different place to stay for one night. We've tried to call the lady's phone to get directions but she's not answering.  Then around midnight a motorcycle pulls up alongside us and the big fellow says "hey you guys!! why you wandering around late at night?".  Aww, for crying out loud - it's the tour operator who we ditched earlier in the day after he wouldn't let us go for less than $90. Coyly we said that we were just looking for our hotel after having a late dinner in town. He asked which one and we said it actually an apartment. Then he offered us a ride but we declined saying that it's just close by - no worries, so he zipped away on his motorbike.  We kept on wandering around, every so often coming across our broken beer bottle and using it as a landmark. A while later we heard a motorcycle approaching and sure enough it was fat man again. We had to fess up that we couldn't find the apartment. He offered to speed up our searching process by giving Andrew a ride on the back of the motorbike and search the streets while Julie made small talk with his son at their house. It was awkward for both of us as nobody likes to ride on a motorbike sitting behind a fat man. Either way we didn't find it. We thanked him for his help and walked back into town. Julie was dedicated to finding the place, but I'd given up. At this time of the night we're not going to wander around forever so we might as well just go get another hotel room for the night and at least get some rest. So we woke up some old fellow at a hostel and slept a few winks.
In the morning Andrew got up early and went to find either the lady who rented us the place or the place itself. On my first attempt I found the place - no problem at all, mostly because in the daylight I could see the building standing out amongst the others.  Triumphantly I returned the hostel with Julie's toothbrush  and a clear sense of where the place was. While I was gone a text msg showed up from the lady saying that her phone died last night and didn't get the message - here's the address. 
So, does the story of this apartment end here?  No. When something goes awry in Ecuador it stays that way. After getting settled in the apartment we try to use the stove, but it doesn't work. No gas it seems. Then Julie wants to have a hot shower. No hot water, because there's no gas. We call the lady again and tell her that there's no gas. She says she'll call the gas company but it might take until tomorrow to deliver. Julie insists that it arrive today.  So we get a call later on saying that the gas has arrived but we have to hook it up - the connections are in the back of the building. What??!!  Why do we have to hook it up - the gas company should do that! She says no, they just deliver. Well, it's her house, she should come hook it up. No, she says it's not her problem. Oh my word. 
We happen to run into a neighbour in the apartment building and ask him about whether the gas company hooks up the gas. He says yes, the gas company hooks it up - he never touches his connections because it's gas and he doesn't want to blow something up.  No kidding, neither do we!  So we call the lady back and say she's gotta come over here and take care of this. We paid for an apartment that has a stove and hot water so make it happen. She came over, tinkered with the connections and declared that it works. But it didn't. She tinkered some more and then declared that she must call the company tomorrow. one and only photo of our cursed apartment Well, that's our last day and we won't need it - could we please have a discount on the room?  No. Why not? Because we used the place. Yes, but only 2 nights of the 3. Not her fault we got lost. But you drew the map! Not her problem. OK, but there's no hot water and that was her selling point! Again, not her problem. This lady made us so intently upset that we were on the verge of purposely wrecking the place. And if she didn't come in to clean up so early on the morning we were to leave, I'm sure that we would have left a dead fish in one of the closets or at least given away her DVD player.  So we learned our lesson: once an Ecuadorian has your money, you're screwed.  It's a lesson that we'd learn again, and again.