We had a bit of time before we got on the flight to Quito, so we packed up and wandered into town where we grabbed a bite for lunch at a local burger joint and then got into the God awful line at the airport.

By far, this was the most inefficient airport that we were at.  There was a mass exodus of people off the island while there was an influx of people on one of the two or three flights that arrived each day.  I won’t bore you with the details of the line up, but we were glad we arrived with the two hour window for departing flights…we were at the end of the line too!

Once on the plane, we settled in and had a pretty uneventful ride to Quito, Ecuador where we landed and were greeted by a man who was holding a piece of paper with our name on it.  This was a surprise as we weren’t really sure of the transportation arrangements that we had all lined up when we got to this destination.  He took us to our accommodations for the night, which was an cute little BnB that was nestled in, well, the “nightlife zone” of Quito.  Lots of clubs, lots of restaurants, and lots of sketchy people to go along with it.  Regardless, we went inside and we had the place to ourselves which was awesome.

It was raining, so we opted for a “lay low” time in the room rather than venturing out to see what was going on…plus it was late afternoon.  The room we were in had a loft where the kids could go and hang out while Deb and I slept in separate beds down below…for a little while.  Lulu put on a dance show for us, and then on one of her trips down the stairs, she jumped onto my bed and broke the frame.  Kerplunk.  Mattress was on the floor.  So, thankfully, the manager just gave us another room, and the fam stayed in one room and I had a little private room to myself across the hall.

We headed out that night for a traditional Ecuadorian meal of burgers, pizza, chicken wings and beer at the only craft brewery in Ecuador.  It was really good, and the beers were just like at home.  Strangely, this awesome place was established by three Americans who decided to escape the rat race and move to Quito and follow their dreams.  Nice.  Beer dreams!

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast, then caught an Uber downtown, which was the cheapest ride we had yet.  Something like $1.50 for a 15km ride.  Not too bad.  This place is far from expensive, but it only cost us an around the world plane ticket to get here ;).

We met up with our guide who was running a free walking tour of Quito, which took us to some of the historical sites in downtown Quito, and I will let the pictures and captions below tell the tale…

It was along streets like this in the downtown where serenading women originated. Men would come out at night if they fancied a woman, and play them a tune up on their balcony. If the woman enjoyed the music, she would throw down a handkerchief, and the man would bring it by to the house the next day to show the father. This would allow him to come into the house and sit down on the couch beside the woman for “the interrogation”.

Serenading became such a fashionable way of wooing women that, with an underabundance of musically talented men, an industry of serendists developed. Yup…hire someone to sing and play for you while you stood there. I wonder how many handkerchiefs were meant for the musician rather than the man. Haha.

Villagers from the moutnains would come down with wheelbarrows or the like full of goods to sell. They would come in by train, and then wheel down the streets of Quito.

The buildings were all very brightly coloured with lots of flags and decorations which kind of gave it a permanent feel that a party was going to break out.

The oldest of all of Quito’s churches, the Church and Monastery of San Francisco began construction in 1534, and continued for 150 years. The curved steps leading up to the main entrance were originally designed for the Belvedere of the Vatican, before the plans were utilized for this structure. In the downtown core of Quito, there are over 17 churches in a 1km x 1km area. Most of them are Catholic churches and everything is super ornate.

This is a typical lunch spot for the locals in Quito, called comida típica. You hop in and they serve you up a “this or that” menu. We started with soup, then had a meat and rice meal, and a small dessert. There was a wandering troubador playing an accordion who we dropped some money into his hand…didn’t want to touch it as we were eating and it didn’t look like he had washed his hands, or any other part of himself, for weeks….

Much like Vietnam, most of the stores were small and had a limited range of goods. This store just sold eggs. Brown eggs. White eggs. Large eggs. Small eggs. Just eggs.

More buildings decorated up just looking like there was going to be a party that broke out at any minute….but that was just the way it was. Jovial. We were warned about pick pocketers in downtown Quito, but didn’t see any. But there were a lot of “mountain people” hanging around, which looked gypsy-esque, but didn’t want to stereotype. Most places, if not all places, we found were safe and didn’t have a lot of shady characters. Just perceived shady characters as they “looked” like they were someone who would pick your pocket.

It was awesome to walk through the downtown of Quito as the colours were bright and cheerful, and it seemed so neat how the town was nestled into the rolling hills (well mountains) of the area. The bright primary colours contrasted the lush greens of the surrounding forests and farmland that it made everything just pop. Another thing was that the architecture of the colonial years was maintained throughout. Their government mandates that any new builds or restorative work needs to be in line with the traditional designs so that their architectural heritage is preserved.

I guess that taking a leak in the public gardens is sometimes enough of a problem that they had to put a polite sign up about it!

Having recently travelled to Europe, it was easy to see the similarities of the interior structure and design of the catholic churches. However, the colours were certainly in keeping with the area. Lime greens, sky blues, terracotta reds….

The produce depot was right downtown, and locals from the surrounding villages would come into town and buy a bunch of fruits and veggies and then go sell them on the street. You could see them get creative in transporting their goods in the streets that stemmed out from the station, and the further that someone was able to transport the goods by whatever means, the less competition they had. So people got creative, or just grunted it out…

Outside of the Church of San Fransisco, there was a large cobblestone communal area where thousands of pigeons were permanent residents. People were running and walking through the square while the pigeons flew up like plumes of smoke, and then settled back down to graze on the ground again.

The exterior the Church of San Fransisco. One thing that our guide brought to our attention, that I didn’t know, was that Catholic churches were designed symmetrically. This certainly demonstrated this fact. Right down to every little detail. However, in laid statues were different to represent different saints and religious figures.

On our last night in Quito, we decided to go out to dinner at a “traditional Ecuadorian restaurant” that was recommended by the owner of the BnB that we were staying in.

So, when the supposed pork chop arrived at my plate and they served it with gloves so I can pick it apart, and the thing in front of me has tinfoil booties, I have to be concerned a bit... At the end of it all, however, it tasted like chicken. There wasn't much in the way of meat on the guinea pig, so I could have used a bit more food to go with the little guy.

So, when the supposed pork chop arrived at my plate and they served it with gloves so I can pick it apart, and the thing in front of me has tinfoil booties, I have to be concerned a bit… At the end of it all, however, it tasted like chicken. There wasn’t much in the way of meat on the guinea pig, so I could have used a bit more food to go with the little guy.  The kids were mortified given the fact that some of our friends had guinea pigs at home, and the kids were crying out “Freddie, that is little Freddie!  You are so mean for eating him!”.  It was nothing personal.

Flight number 22!

We caught the flight from Quito to San Crisobal island where we would be catching our boat, Coral II and head out on our 5 day, 4 night tour. As we flew in, it was interesting to look down at the islands below which showed the volcanic origins of all of the islands at various stages. The interesting thing is that the islands have been in continuous production for millions of years. There is a tectonic plate that exists and there is a volcanic channel from the deeper regions of our planet.

This plate moves towards South America, so what happens is that new islands are made intermittently and then the tectonic plate moves at a rate of 50cm per year. As it gets closer to South America, the islands become less stable to maintain the geologic formations since they really are just islands that are made up of lava and volcanic ash. So over time they crumble. Which means that as they get closer to South America, they slowly disappear into the ocean. In fact, there are a lot more islands that are/were a part of the Galapagos that are under water and you can’t see them.

The native animals were everywhere around town. On the beach, the playgrounds, the park benches, and they were just lounging around as if life was normal.

From the airport, we caught a bus that took us to the Gianni Arismendy Interpretation Center which gave a good overview of the islands and a walk to look at some of the vegetation that exist in the area.  Our guide, Jorge, gave us a great walking historical of the island and how the island flora and fauna came here.

The current theory of how stuff got here was by two means.  First, by water.  It is thought that reptiles (small ones) arrived on vegetation rafts that followed the currents that came this way.  The animals were able to crawl off the vegetation rafts onto the peaks of these islands about 5 to 10 million years ago.  Then they diversified into the marine reptiles that are here.  There are no native amphibians or mammals to the area.  For the vegetation, the species that are on the islands came from seeds that travelled in the water that were salt water hardy, and then found their way to the volcanic dirt on the islands.  And because there aren’t any bees or pollinators, there aren’t very many if any flowering plants.

This was the map of all of the different itineraries that we could have taken on the Coral Yachts. We were doing the South Circuit. Now that we have been down there, we found out that the Galapagos is quite different than what we had thought it really was like.  We had thought that it was a small group of islands, and that the animals that lived there were there all the time and they were all together.  Unfortunately, they weren’t.  They follow normal migration patterns, and they have their own territories.  We were hoping to see albatros which the Galapagos are known for, amongst other things.

It turns out that certain animals live in certain parts of the islands, and, as mentioned above, are there at different times of the year.  The penguins are up on the west coast of Isabella island, where the hammerhead sharks are down by Santa Fe island, and the boobies…well, they are everywhere.

We finished our tour around the information building and then headed “downtown” to take a look around, buy some souvenirs (there aren’t any stores on the islands, and you can’t take any rocks or plants with you….), and of course, grab some ice cream!  They even had a playground to play on with the kids.

Wilson and Lulu were the only kids on the boat, and you could certainly see in the eyes of the vast majority of the retirees that were on board that they were wondering what their vacation would be like with two young kids.  They were in for a surprise!

After touring around in town, we met up on the pier with the rest of the Coral II gang, and headed out to the ship.  We climbed aboard and much to Deb’s chagrin, we were under deck in two rooms at the front of the boat.  Being down below is not very good for someone who gets sea sick.  So, there was a lot of hesitancy about how well this was going to go for four days.  The rooms were smallish, but the beds were comfy, the hot water was plentiful, and there was air conditioning for the heat.  Perfect!  We had the mandatory safety talk with lifejackets and all, hoping that we would not need them.

We went up to the top deck to enjoy a little bit of refreshments with the rest of the crew, and then went off to dinner.   The food was really good on the ship, with a mix of local flavours, and standards that were good and most importantly, was acceptable to little Lulu.

We headed off to bed and we were lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the boat.  Deb had her Sea Bands firmly clamped to her wrists, and so far everything was good….

The next morning, we got up and headed onto the top deck for an awesome breakfast and then into the zodiac boat to get onto the other side of San Cristobal island for a hike along the beach.  We got onto the beach which was much like stepping onto a deserted island.  We were the only ones there, and after a quick wander over and around some lava boulders where some seals were sleeping, we made it over to where a whole bunch of blue footed boobies and pelicans were zooming around us and dive bombing into the ocean for food.

The water was so clear and calm in the bay.

Wilson and Jorge built a sand pelican on the shore…the sand was so soft and fine that it was like playdough… and voila…the final sand pelican!

The pelicans were soaring above and you can see the boobies and the friggats dive bombing in the back of the photo. The cool thing is that the boobies dive bomb like a bullet into the water and then they actually catch the fish as they come back up rather than trying to get it on the way down.

This is a track from a sea turtle that had walked up the beach to the back of the beach to dig a hole and lay their eggs.

After a bit of time at the beach, we headed back to the boat for lunch and a bit of down time.  Wilson really enjoyed hanging out in the hot tub that was on the boat.  It was kind of his own area, since most of the other people didn’t want to go in there.  It wasn’t hot, and it wasn’t full of water…if it was, it would splash everywhere as the boat rocked from side to side!

The upper deck of our boat…it was very nice and comfy!

After lunch, we grabbed our gear and headed towards the zodiac to get off at a different spot on San Cristobal island.  We were warned that this was a hike for fit people, so we thought we would be up for it, and it was glorious and sunny so I couldn’t think about sitting on the boat when there was so much to explore on the island.  It was a great hike where we were able to climb up the side of the mound of volcanic ash to reach the top of the island where there were a number of blue and red footed boobies keeping to their respective zones.

Jorge was explaining to us the way that the local population work together to help preserve the islands through regulating how many boats and how many people visit the islands. He also explained that he was involved in the construction of this particular hiking path and stairs to the top of the island you can see behind him, over 30 years ago.

This was really cool….this is a nest of a blue footed booby. They mark their nest by a ring of poop. And that is their area. Other animals can walk around the perimeter of the circle of dung, but should they cross that line, they are asking for it!

Not much vegetation…just a big pile of layered volcanic ash and rock. But it is strangely beautiful. Things don’t always have to be lush to be beautiful.

These little lava lizards were everywhere. Super cute and super skittish, unlike the marine iguanas who were looked quite mean with their inch long claws and menacing looks on their faces.

The blue footed boobies keep their eggs in between their feet. Their legs are so aquamarine blue that it didn’t seem to be natural. But, alas, it was!

We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do the kiss up here!

These crabs were so cool. The spent their time on the rocks flitting around…curious when you got close, but not too close. The young crabs were black and they lived more on the lava rocks so you couldn’t really see them. They have evolved to be black so that they weren’t easy prey for birds before they got old enough to protect themselves.

There were a lot of wonderful people on our boat. A group of folks from Alaska who travel a lot together. A nice couple who just got married from the GTA. Some folks from Colorado, and then some folks from Europe. A nice smattering, but all really intrigued by all that the Galapagos had to offer.

What a poser. Postcard perfect!

Wilson and Jorge were like two peas in a pod. Wilson even carried his backpack for him.

We headed back to the boat for a nice dinner and a meeting of what we were going to do the next day.  One thing that was amazing to see was that our kids were holding their own.  They were reaching out and engaging in conversations spontaneously with the people on the boat.  We would not have seen the kids do this, especially Wilson, early on in the trip.

Before we left on the trip, Wilson and I had a conversation about the trip, and I told him that I thought that he probably was going to be the one out of the four of us that would discover the most about himself, and grow as a confident young man.  And I think I was right.  At the beginning of the trip, he took 2-3 days to feel comfortable wherever we were.  However, by the final leg, he was comfortable right from the get go…getting on and off of the plane, getting bags, talking to people, and initiating things on his own.   It was nice to see Wilson out talking to other people on our boat all by himself, engaging them in stories about the trip, about school, and about home.

Up close and personal with a marine iguana. Look at those claws!

We headed out to the beach where we could go and swim/snorkel around in the water.  The sun was super hot, and it was a bit choppy.  So, it took a bit to swim out to the big volcanic mound that was peeking out of the water just offshore to see what lurked around there.  There was a lot of beautiful fish, and I saw a white tipped shark sleeping under a rock ledge, not moving anywhere, so felt comfortable to get down closer for a look.

The visibility wasn’t that great, so the snorkelling wasn’t great, and the kids and Deb didn’t want to come out to the deeper area, so I swam back to the beach where they playing in the waves.  There was a small group of seals with young ones that were playing on the beach just down from us, which was a lot of fun just to see them up close and personal.

On the shore there was a skeleton of a pilot whale that had washed up on the beach a while ago, so it was cool to get up and close to see the skeleton.

It was crazy hot that day so it was just nice to be in the water and not hiking around.  There were some seals that were playing on the beach, so we had the chance to get up and close to see them waddling around the beach.

We hopped back on the dingy, and we went back to the boat, where they had a snack set up for us (as they did after most excursions).  This time it was an ice cream sundae bar!  That was perfect and the kids were more than happy to make sundaes.

To top it off, when we were just pulling out, there was a large pod of dolphins that swam in between our boat and our sister boat.  They were jumping super high and doing circus tricks.  Deb was taking a photo of Lulu and one just jumped up in the air right behind her!  Dolphin photo bomb!

We pulled away and the dolphins followed us for a while, and we went up to the top deck to enjoy the sunset.  We weren’t alone as there was a red footed boobie was resting on the railing at the front of the boat just enjoying the setting sun.  Perched up on the top of the communications equipment on the top of the boat were some friggats enjoying the free ride.

That night we had our dinner and evening briefing as usual, and then one of the staff yelled out that there were a bunch of sharks out in the water circling our boat.  So, we all ran out to see.

There were probably 3 or 4 sharks (white tipped, big ones) out there swimming around our boat.  It was pretty awesome to see, but just to think that we were just jumping into the water earlier on in the day!  Haha.  Good thing that they weren’t too hungry at that time!

The next day we got up and headed over to Espanola Island which is home to the majority of albatross in the Galapagos.  We hoped off the boat and walked along a path and got to the albatross nesting area, but Jorge told us that the birds had recently left as they were on their annual migration south to points in Chile and Argentina.

Little birds feeding off of the insects on the surface of the water.

It was funny since we thought that all of the birds and animals were pretty much residential to the area, not transient.  But, alas, that was not the case.  Many of the animals and birds aren’t there all of the time, and even at that, they aren’t evenly distributed around the Galapagos.

Our taxi…

The penguins were at a certain place in the Galapagos.  The hammerheads were in a certain place in the Galapagos.  The giant tortises were on a particular island.  That solidified the fact that we will need to come back to the Galapagos again to see the rest of the islands!

The marine iguana was hiding in the shrubs just off the path on Espanola island to hide away from the sun.

We meandered along the path through Espanola island and came to a place where there were some massive blowholes as the waves crashed in, and there was an abundance of marine iguanas on the shore.  It was mating season, so all of the males were in full colour as they are red when it is time to mate.

We made it back to the boat for a little break before lunch and our transfer to the other side of Espanola Island.  I asked the crew if I would be allowed to jump off of the top of the boat (three floors up) into the clear blue water below.  I figured that it was going to be a no go, but they didn’t seem to have a problem with it (I wasn’t allowed to do it in Vietnam on Hao Long Bay).  So, I jumped off …. about 9 times, and came flying down past the windows in the lounge where the kids were.  That was a lot of fun.  I couldn’t get any of the kids to jump off with me, but understandable.

After lunch we had the chance to head over to a Post Office Bay to see if there was any mail for us to take home.  This bay is where boats that originally sailed to the island, and early settlers, would come to drop off mail from places around the world that were trying to communicate with settlers, and then the sailors would take letters from the settlers back to wherever they were headed.  If they weren’t going that way, they would leave the mail for other boats that might be going to the address on the letter.

It is a wood barrel tucked just off the beach, and we had written post cards to leave in the mailbox so that we can see if and when we would get it in the future.  Like other ships that visit the area, we sifted through the postcards there to see which we could take back with us to Canada to mail to the people that were on the address line.  The one rule was that the person who took the postcard would hand deliver it to the recipient.

We then went out to the beach to snorkel around, and this was a place that was well known for sea turtles.  So we went snorkelling around and saw a number of turtles feeding off of the vegetation that was on the lava that was just under the surf on the shore.

It is amazing that these massive creatures can feed as the waves are pushing and pulling them in and out of the area constantly.  Maybe that is part of the reason why they have thick shells, so they don’t get cut by all of the rocks they bang into.

The next day was our last day of cruising around.  We had a friend that was waiting for us on the back deck of the boat who hitched a free ride over night.  Once he knew that he wasn’t alone, he was quick to try to figure out a way to get off of the boat.

It was a grey day, but we can’t complain since we have had nothing short of fantastic weather on this stretch of our trip.  Not to mention the overwhelming majority of our trip.

We climbed aboard the zodiac boat and headed over to Floreana Island where there was a shallow lake where the pink flamingos were found in the Galapagos.  They were pretty far away, so we were lucky that there were some folks who brought binoculars along, which I figured out that it can act like a pseudo telephoto lens.

We took a hike over a hill and headed onto a beach which was a spot where turtles and rays played in the waves, but it was also a well known place where ocean garbage collected by virtue of the ocean currents.  Every boat that comes to this beach encourages their guests to walk along the beach and collect garbage and then put it in the big pile that is accumulating on the beach.  Periodically the local government comes and collects it.

It is pretty sad how much garbage there was, and that this still happens.  Chucking garbage in the oceans is not cool, but I guess for some folks it is perceived to be easier that putting it in the recycling bin, or places in the world still haven’t gotten onto the recycling band wagon.

We headed back to the boat for lunch, and then we went out on a snorkelling  tour that was a deep water start and so we had to jump in off the side of the boat.  Initially both kids were not keen on a deep water start, but eventually Wilson jumped into the water with us, but Lulu didn’t want any part of this part of the trip, and she was fine with it.

This was probably the place that had the most abundant amount of fish swimming around, and seals swimming in the water.  It was really cool to snorkel there with all of the seals frolicking in the waves and swimming all around you.  That was a magical moment for us.

We headed back to the boat to pack up and have our last supper on the boat.  Kind of bitter sweet as we knew that the in a couple of days we would be at home.  But what a way to end.

The next morning we got up and headed to the zodiac which took us to Santa Cruz island, where we hopped on a bus that took us to a sanctuary for giant tortoises.

These things were massive!  And they moved super slow, so it was a good thing that they had incredibly thick shells.  If they were being attacked, they just had to pull themselves in and they were good.

We had the chance to climb inside a shell of a tortoise, and the shell was incredibly heavy!  It was hard to push ourselves up to try to walk around!

Once we were done at the sanctuary, it was time to head off to the airport to start our journey home.

Our flight kept getting delayed, but eventually it came…just gave us more time to shop around and spend our last bit of money to get some things to bring home.  But we were on a bit of a time crunch as it was Super Bowl Sunday!  We wanted to get back to our Air BnB in Quito so we can watch the game.  Deb had checked ahead of time to make sure that they had American channels so we could watch the game, so we were all good.

We wanted to make sure that we had the chance to enjoy some wine while we watched the game, so when we got the airport and jumped in the cab, I used the Google Translate app to ask the guy where we could go buy some wine on the way out to the AirBnB.  Given it was Sunday, there wasn’t much open, other than a gas station that had a smattering of wine that was perched up on a shelf high and out of the way.  It was pretty obvious that they didn’t sell a lot of wine!

We got to our place just in time for the opening kick off, and then we headed off to dinner, and then we watched as much of the game as we could, but we knew we had to get up early for our flight back home.  Like 3 A.M. early.  So, off to bed we went and we would watch the highlight reel on the internet the next day….and it turned out that the New England Patriots (my team) won yet another Super Bowl.  They are on a good run!

The flight home the next day was pretty straight forward.  On our last flight that we caught out of Guatemala, I was sitting beside a young boy that was the same age as Wilson who was flying by himself to go visit a family member in Winnipeg of all places…and in the middle of the winter too!  Boy, he was in a shock since he has never see snow before…

When we got home to Toronto, it was funny to think that just 184 days before, we were on our way out.  The time flew by, and the trip was nothing short of spectacular.

There were times that it was tough as a family, but I think we all learned a lot about ourselves, and about each other.  This was a trip of a lifetime that nobody can take away from us, and has strengthened us as a family together.

Much to Deb’s chagrin, I carried this Clif Bar the whole 6 months, and I ate it on the last flight home….patience….patience…

25 flights!!! And it was only 30 minutes from home when we encountered our first “Is there a doctor on board?” overhead call! For a woman who had a sore throat, but didn’t want to do anything about it…jeez….

Out of the doors of the arrivals area, Larry and Evelynn were there waiting for us as we hadn’t seen them for a long time, and they were headed out the next day to go to South Africa for 2 months, so home on Trillium Point Road would be quiet until they got home.  John had come down to pick us up in our truck that he had had for the last 6 months.  It was nice to travel, but it was nice to be home.

Lulu was literally overwhelmed with joy to have bearie and blankie waiting for her in the back of the truck…so cute!

The drive home was a pretty hard slap in the face with the weather!  We had just enjoyed 184 days of summer, most of which were sunny blue sky days.

We pulled into our house where our friends and neighbours had decorated our house with balloons and welcome home signs.  It was a glorious way to come home.

Walking in through the front door reminded us of how incredibly lucky we are to have amazing family and friends, and a fabulous place that we call home.

The next morning, Wilson got up early with us and he got into his snow suit, and jumped right in the snow as he was so happy to be back in winter.  Deb and I hopped in the hot tub to start our morning ritual again with a cuppa joe while Wilson tobogganed down the back hill and Lulu slept.  And it was just 6a.m.

Life is back on track now, and we have a lot to be thankful for, and we have a lot that we learned….but that is for the next post…

Life is an adventure if you treat it like it is.  If you plod along day to day, and you don’t stop and look around you to see how beautiful the world is and for everything you are grateful for, no matter how big or small, then it is time wasted.  Carpe diem is so true.  Seize the day.  Every day.