Back to the homeland: A weekend of old and new in Anchorage

As the t-shirts say, I was “Alaska Grown.” When I moved south to Gig Harbor at age 12, I constantly threatened my family I’d return to UAA for college and there was nothing they could do to stop me. (I apparently got over it by the time I was 18.)

But I haven’t been back much, and with the convenient excuse of The Shins playing a set in the parking lot of a pizzeria, Jerry was not only onboard – he was the instigator.

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Moroccan Adventure

I was getting restless during my second stay at the W Santiago. Using the blissful high speed internet – the first halfway decent internet access in two months – I decided to plan out the rest of the trip. This was early September, and I needed to be in Rome by September 21.

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Easter Island/Isla de Pascua/Rapa Nui

For the most remote island on earth* Rapa Nui certainly doesn’t feel isolated when you step off a shiny new 787. At first, it feels like a less developed Hawaiian island. But just as you start to get comfortable, you stare out to sea and everywhere you see nothing. It is a harsh reminder that you are five hours away, by air, to the nearest airport in Santiago and more than 1000 miles away from the nearest island. Read more

Off to the Salt Flats

Despite the guidebooks uniformity listing Salar de Uyuni as a top highlight of South America, I was initially planning on skipping it. That would have been a big mistake. But after the Jungle trip, three more days in a car sounded miserable. To top it off, the interwebs is awash with stories of drunk drivers, sub-standard accommodations, and warnings to bring your own provisions. Hmm, this didn’t sound so fun.  Read more

Off to the Jungle (and Savannah)

Brother Steven and Cousin Ben get bored, extremely fast. After they had a single day in the city of La Paz (with two day trip outings, golf and biking) they were ready to get out of town and suggested we head to the Amazon. I considered staying in La Paz in order to take a week or two of Spanish, but since we were going to be able to get back to La Paz by Sunday (tours typically are two nights), I figured I would join them and check out the rainforest.  Read more

Holy Galapagos Part 2: We’re on a boat!

This is a follow up post to my first Galapagos post, here.

First, a huge thank you to everyone who gave us advice on the Galapagos from Facebook. It helped us immensely once we got to Quito and started to seek out a boat. I started and ended with the tour agency attached to our Hostel, Carpedm. They seemed pretty well reviewed online and in Lonely Planet and had a wide range of tours (I also used them for a day tour to Otavalo and walking tour of Quito).

The first decision when selecting a Galapagos boat is whether or not you want to dive, and dive all the time. Boats are prohibited from doing combined diving and land tours, so there are a small handful of purely dive boats (~$5k USD per week). Steven was initially inclined to dive, but given there were no land stops, and I wasn’t thrilled or skilled to do multiple daily dives for seven straight days, we agreed to go early and dive from land, and then do a non-diving boat trip – on the condition I could find one that was a good value Steven would go on. Initially we were thinking trips might be $3500 a week, which pushed him towards wanting to upgrade to diving.  We ended up finding something for much, much less.

Aside from dive boats, there are four types of tourist boats in the Galapagos. All boats are smaller than 100 passengers, so don’t expect large cruise ships. The two types of boats that most reading this blog would consider are the Tourist First or Luxury, the higest end  categories. There aren’t a ton of differences between these, but you need to get to this level to get a private bath, hot water, and passable food. Most importantly, the quality of the guide varies, and these levels offer a higher quality guide, which can make or break the trip. Oswaldo, our guide, was fantastic. Many luxury boats do not sell their rooms at a discount, so I set out to find the nicest boat I could, available last minute, and at a significant discount. Given we were going to be stuck on the boat for seven nights, it had to be something I wouldn’t want to get off on day 1.

The other consideration is the size. Having 100 people doing a cattle call didn’t appeal to me. I am sure they figure out how to do it well, but we wanted something more intimate. Most boats we looked into were 12-40 people. However, the smaller the boat, the more rocking and rolling you are going  to be doing at night when transiting between locations. More on seasickness below.

After about an hour going through the options, the best bet for us looked to be the Nemo II doing the Northern route, a 15 passenger sailing catamaran. I called Steven to sell him on this option and he gave the green light. We (to his credit, Steven, not me) then spent a few days convincing a bank to wire funds to Ecuador to secure our spot.

Fast forward to embarkation day (for what happened in the mean time, see my first Galapagos post).

If you remember, Steven decided to get up before dawn to catch the puke boat. I decided to be adventurous (and not frugal), and avoid the four hour ferry/bus/vomit trek by taking a small plane between islands.

When I got to the “airport” I was all alone. Not a soul there. It was a sad scene of something that had been built for much more than it was.

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Arrival at the eerily empty airport

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Empty airport waiting room. All open to outside. I could have walked on the runway.
 

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The plane – with a passenger in the co-pilot seat. Unfortunately I didn’t get it.
The flight was quick, but clouds prevented it from being awesome. We arrived at the main airport in Baltra, where I waited for Steven and had a few hours to kill before the rest of the passengers arrived. Luckily the airport has decent facilities and I was able to have a coffee and read my Kindle.

We finally rounded up the whole group and set off for our home for the week. We were a family with three college age kids from the UK, an older Dutch couple, a young Danish couple, a couple our age from Italy living in Germany, and a hilarious dating duo from Miami/Chicago.

The boat lived up to and exceeded expectations. While small, the rooms were very functional. We did have hot showers, and Steven even had a full bed (we negotiated he got the bunk as I still had hip issues, but it was a bigger nicer bed). The food was passable for a boat, and there were lots of veggies which was nice.

Here is the boat from the outside. I don’t have many inside, but you case see more on the boat here.

Days on the boat were pretty much the same. Nearly every day was a 7 am breakfast, 8 am walk or snorkel, and a 10 am walk or snorkel. Then lunch, and back at it with another nature walk and snorkel. The walks were all very leisurely, but some had tricky terrain. It was also very cold in the water, so a wetsuit was used by nearly everyone (guess who didn’t wear a wetsuit – mi hermano). It never got old as every day brought new animals.

The snorkeling was generally good. Visibility wasn’t the best, but there was a lot of wildlife (mostly big wildlife as opposed to lots of colorful fish since there isn’t a coral reef). By the end of the week, no one blinked an eye at massive turtles or white tipped sharks. I don’t have a ton of pictures since I didn’t have the Go Pro, but go to steveleavestug.com for more pics and video.

The walks were amazing. We saw all kinds of wildlife, none scared of humans. It was also breeding season for many of the animals, so we saw just hatched chicks, baby sea lions, etc. Every island has its own ecosystem and animals. For example, the finches and tortoises differ by island. It is an evolutionary wonderland.

Here are some of the best pics. I have hundreds, but a very limited bandwidth everywhere here in Bolivia.

So amazing. Unlike anywhere on earth.

After this, we boarded stupidly expensive flights to La Paz, and 12 hours later we arrived. We even made it through immigration. More on that in the next post.

Know before you go:

Great information is available from Frommers and from this link for anyone looking to plan a trip. Make sure to review the weather, we went in the dry winter, and daytime temperatures were a perfect 70 degrees. It was cold at night, and in the water. We had zero rain.

Seasickness: Small boats, rough water. One night I may have been the only one not throwing up. I bought some local medicine before getting on the boat, but you can get much better stuff from your doctor at home. I don’t get seasick, but I didn’t feel good multiple nights on the boat.

Suggested reads: links to Amazon Kindle editions – you will want – stet that, need – a Kindle for the boat (and life in general – who doesn’t have a Kindle?). Get one with a lit screen and 3G – I was able to download books in the jungle where we couldn’t get data on phones. Amazing. Also, in the spirit of dogfooding, I have signed up for Amazon Associates, so clicking on these links helps fund this trip 🙂

Kurt Vonnegut – Galapagos (fiction, weird, good). Free with Kindle Unlimited (highly recommended for travelers, most of the Lonely Planets are available with a Kindle Unlimited subscription).

Henry Nicholls – The Galapagos, A Natural History. Good history of the wildlife.

Jonathan Weiner – The Beak of the Finch. Currently reading. Non-fiction story of Princeton researchers in the Galapagos. So far, so good.