Friday, 15 April 2011

Amazonia and Galapagos

This the Manatee Amazon Explorer on the Napo River in the Amazonian Rain Forest, Ecuador, where we spent five days and nights journeying down the river exploring the jungle. It is a flat bottomed boat that can accommodate thirty people but there were just seven of us from the UK sharing the experiences. It may be called a rain forest but it was jungle; steaming, humid and mysterious. Life on the Manatee was gorgeous, delightful crew and delicious home cooked food with a sun deck and a barman who knew how to make cocktails. The cabins were small but perfect with air conditioning and comfy beds.

This is the view from our cabin door. Told you it was jungle.

This is a Caiman at night. To me this is a huge Crocodile though technically it's an Alligator. We were in a small motorised canoe exploring the river banks. I should tell you now that I can't swim and deep water and small boats frighten me. Keep this information in your head as I tell you all I could imagine was this large animal with big teeth and huge eyes  making one lurch towards our small canoe and tipping us over. At the same time Bats as big as seagulls were swooping past our heads scooping up the zillions of insects for their late night feast. Glow-worms lined the banks in their thousands twinkling like fairy lights.

The young man on the left was our canoe driver. I did wonder if our holiday insurance covered us for being driven in dangerous circumstances by a ten year old. Earlier in the day we went to The Piranha Lake and saw Pink River Dolphins but then invited to swim in the lake -the lake full of Piranhas. They eat you. But only if you have an open wound. So glad I had an excuse not to go in and even if I could swim I could never get into a lake full of fishes that eat you.
Ooh look. He's looking at me. Twice a day, early morning after breakfast and then after lunch we'd disembark and get in small canoes, travel to the river banks and explore with our guide, seeing monkeys, birds, tapirs, native villages. No place for glamour here as we wore heavy wellies, rubber capes and life jackets because it isn't called a rain forest for nothing and downpours and storms can roll in at any time. Hence the steaming humidity.
 By contrast this is our luxury boat, the M/V Galapagos Explorer, where we stayed for five days and nights as it cruised The Galapagos Islands. This boat accommodates one hundred passengers in luxurious cabins as big as hotel rooms. Again, twice a day we disembarked after breakfast and after lunch with experienced naturalists for shore expeditions to seek out wildlife and understand the natural history of these volcanic islands. The biggest impact walking around the islands is how the wildlife take no notice of humans as they have no fear of them. So we were able to step over Iguanas as they lay basking, get close enough to seals to gaze into their liquid eyes, exotic birds stayed where they were so we could see their beauty.
A view of the islands and a pretty beach where others snorkelled and swam in 24 degree warm sea. For those who love the water there were opportunities to swim and to snorkel every day as motorised dingies took them out into deep water. One morning as we were disembarking for our morning trip on the dingy to the shore I was standing on the deck looking down and saw a family of six reef sharks circling the dingy. Circling the dingy that I was supposed to be boarding. I couldn't do it. I couldn't climb down the steps and into the dingy, the dingy that bobs up and down, with sharks within touching distance.
 A Pelican Preening.
There Be Dragons. The Iguanas have evolved to take on the colours of their habitats as all the islands vary in foliage, lava rocks, sand so they are all different. The Iguanas on the islands that are mainly black lava rock are black and indistinguishable from their surroundings. This one lives on a sandy island and blended in with the sand and the sea.

This trip was nine air flights , international and internal, two cruises and three nights spent in two cities in Ecuador. Two nights were spent in Quito the capital of Ecuador over 9000 feet above sea level and very near an active volcano in the Andes. Such a pretty city and great to explore. One night was spent in the city of Guayaquil the main port and a delightful surprise as it has a beautiful river waterfront and many small parks with City Iguanas. They had adapted themselves to blend with the urban surroundings and had long tails of green and brown stripes and mottled bodies so as they ran up the trees in the parks they were invisible. They were more twitchy than their cousins in The Galapagos and shied away from humans - typical city life eh?

This was the most adventurous holiday I have ever experienced. I am proud that I'm not as scared as I was of small boats and deep water be it a river or the ocean. Just as well because I estimate I got on and off small canoes and dingies around thirty times.

It was good to meet lots of young people backpacking their way through South America taking Gap Years from education or in-between jobs, couples making that one last trip before they settled down to make a baby. It was good to travel with people of similar ages to us who never had the means to do such things when they were very young - like us. It was good to meet so many nationalities in the Galapagos, Finnish, Russians, Americans, Swiss; Everyone eager to seek and to see and discover the world.