Archive for May, 2012

Galapagos, Day 6: Settling In and Giant Tortoises In The Wild

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Where did I last leave you? Oh, right. On board the plane descending to Guayaquil to pick up more passengers headed for Baltra Island in the Galapagos. (Scroll down a few posts if you want to start at the beginning).

Baltra is one of two islands in the Galapagos with an airport intended for transporting tourists back and forth to the Galapagos National Park. The other is on San Cristobal. All flights into the Galapagos land and/or take-off from one of these two airports. I have no idea what the airport on San Cristobal is like, because we came and went through Baltra Island.

Baltra Island basically doesn’t have much of anything on it (for tourists) other than some remnants from World War II, when Baltra was a U.S. Army Air Force Base. The U.S. Army cruised for enemy submarines and were assigned to protect the Panama Canal. Don’t believe me? Check Wikipedia.

Getting onto our boat for the 2-week cruise was a challenge. Like our guide said, we had to be flexible, and the airport experience was a reflection of that. We landed at the airport, and there we met other travelers intended for the Cormorant, our home for the next 14 nights. There were a ton of other people heading for other boats, so it was a bit of a cluster-F, if you know what I mean. And the guides were separated from the other cluster-F’ed people like us wondering where our luggage was.

So, naturally, the first thing I did was leave the gathering area to try and figure out what was going on (the jury is still out on whether I did this out of stupidity or boredom). An Ecuadorian Galapagos guide, who recognized me by my Cormorant sticker, said, “Hi, I’m Harry.” We shook hands. “Hi, I’m Cindy.” (That’s me replying).

Harry wears Cool Hand Luke mirror sunglasses, so before I got to know him I could never figure out what he was thinking. Probably that I was a class-A airhead. Because the next thing he said was, “Where’s your luggage?” My intelligent answer? “I don’t know.” (That’s what I wanted to find out!) Cool Hand Luke gaze from Harry. “You have to go back and get it.”

Well, that was good to know. See, without wandering around like this, one doesn’t discover the important stuff!

Travel Tip! Don’t leave the luggage area after paying your entrance fee for the park without first retrieving your luggage, I don’t care how many airheads are making the same mistake before you decide to. Get it together. Keep up!

So I returned to the Cormorant Crowd and informed at least one of them, probably My Liege, that we were not allowed to leave until we had our luggage.

Much futzing about ensued. Eventually, everyone got their luggage, and our guide escorted us out of the airport. From there, it’s a mad dash to the buses as each guide tries to get their group of 16 or 20 or what-have-you ALL on the same bus. Once you’re all on the same bus, it takes you from the airport to a little ferry that transports you to Santa Cruz Island. You see, our catamaran, The Cormorant, was docked in the bay of the main town on Santa Cruz, which is called Puerto Ayora.

Not the greatest photo. But it shows the buses you ride down from the airport (see that blue blob behind the blue overhang thing?) and then the docking area for the ferry that will basically transport you "across the road." You know, if an ocean were a road.

The ferry, which took all of ten minutes.

You know, I really hate having the date stamped on my pictures. It looks dumb in a photo album. Thank you to BP who eventually got rid of the feature for me. Photo credit: Me!

That’s the only photo credit you’re getting this entry, because it’s kinda longish.

Once the ferry docked, we were lumped onto another bus and then traveled 40 or 45 minutes to Puerto Ayora. There, we were instructed to put on life jackets so we could board the pangas (like Zodiacs or dinghies that held 8 people each, the guy working the motor, and Harry, if you happened to be in his panga).

I hadn’t put on a life jacket in a while:

Just don't say anything. Just. Don't.

Heading down the gangplank to board the pangas:

Now, here’s the thing, I get motion sickness. I could write an entire blog post on how to discover you get motion sickness. Maybe someday… However, this trip, I knew about my sea sickness in advance. I would NOT barf all over someone’s sandals on this trip! I came prepared. And you know what that means.

Travel Tip! If you know you suffer sea sickness, either (1) don’t choose a yacht or catamaran that only carries 16 passengers and the crew. The smaller the boat, the more likely you are to suffer. But I didn’t want to cruise the Galapagos on a boat with 90 other passengers. I didn’t even want to cruise the Galapagos on a boat with 30 or 40 other passengers. What if I hated everyone, or they thought I was weird? I figured the odds were better if we chose a boat with only 16 passengers. So, you can (2) go ahead and choose the smallest boat you want, but arrive with an assortment of: (a) scopolamine patches (b) those wrist bands with the pressure points and/or (c) fresh ginger root, which another passenger was kind enough to supply me (you chew a bit of it and then swallow the juices). (It’s really bitter.) (Drink ginger ale!)

I went with (a) and (b), the patches and the wrist bands and sometimes the ginger root. And did I ever need them all, particularly the patches. I had placed my patch behind my ear that morning in Quito and it hadn’t quite kicked in when we reached our boat. So I wasn’t feeling great those first few hours. But I wasn’t barfing, either.

The Cormorant!

Our room was on the main floor on the other side. Cabin 1.

Getting off the pangas.

See that space under the boat? The panga drivers (First Mates, they’re called) love to drive you underneath them. But that was a treat for another day. For now, we settled into our rooms, introduced ourselves to each other, and then were fed an absolutely massive and delicious “lunch,” complete with dessert. It was well after noon, so we thought this was an early dinner. Nope! We were fed just as grandly again that night, after our first excursion.

Our room on the main deck.

The rooms on the Cormorant are spacious and comfortable. I had requested the main deck because it’s more stable if you’re prone to motion sickness (Travel Tip!). BP and LP were assigned a room on the upper deck, which had more storage space than ours did and had a double bed. All the rooms also had balconies and double-wide showers with fantastic shower heads. I came to really appreciate the location of our room after my first totally unbalanced trip up to the sun deck (two levels up).

The Cormorant also has two suites on the main deck. We poked our way into one, and it had a living room and a much fancier shower than ours, with a door instead of a shower curtain. But, hah, everyone has to use a “marine toilet.” This means putting ALL your toilet paper in a garbage can beside the commode (don’t worry, someone empties it twice a day and ours honestly never smelled).

Travel Tip! How do you choose a boat for your cruise? The way I did it was first to research the type of boat that would best suit me. That was a catamaran, which are supposed to be more stable than the small yachts. Then I found out what boats were available for when we wanted to go (February). Then I discovered that the boat I wanted, the Cormorant, was fully booked until April. So we changed our travel plans.

Travel Trip! If you want a specific boat in February, don’t wait until November to book. Especially if you’re booking the entire two weeks and don’t want to have to change rooms (M.L. and I got to stay in our cabin the entire trip but BP and LP had to move from the upper deck to the main deck for week 2, which we knew about in advance, as their room was already booked for week 2).

I wanted the Cormorant, plain and simple, because of the 15 Day/14 Night itinerary, which you can view on-line. (That link provides links to the Cormorant’s other itineraries, as well). Every boat in the Islands is assigned an itinerary that must be approved by Galapagos National Park. Every boat in the Islands is now, as of February 2012, only allowed to “land” (that is, the people on the boat travel by panga to an island and get off to explore) at any given tourist point once every 14 days. Once I learned that, I figured out that if we only went on the Cormorant’s Itinerary A or Itinerary B, we would only see half of what we wanted to see. So we went for the whole shenoodle. Other travelers with us were only there for A or B, not both. A couple from Australia was there on another, shorter itinerary a few days before us. We changed passengers after the first week (except for our Pack of Four) and then, in the last three days, another four switched on and off. There are a variety of tour possibilities, and you can combine to create the one that’s best for you and your interests. I wanted plenty of snorkeling opportunities and I wanted to hike up a volcano on Isabela Island. The Cormorant offered both options.

See how helpful I’m being? I’m not mockingly suggesting that you just “search the Internet.” Who would be so crass as to do that?

Remember I said we had “lunch”? We thought that was it for the day. We had arrived late and didn’t expect anything to be on the agenda for the “afternoon.” But something was. According to our itinerary, we were supposed to visit a place called Twin Craters on Santa Cruz Island. Instead, for whatever reason, we visited tortoises in the wild. It was super cool because the visit was totally unexpected (the Pack of Four hadn’t yet figured out that we were starting with Tour B and not Tour A).

We had to board the pangas again and return to the island, where we had to board a bus again and head back toward the airport! Because the tortoise ranch wasn’t on our agenda, I don’t know where we exactly were, but we all donned rubber boots and walked through tall grass to these mud holes where the giant tortoises were quite happily mud-tubbing.

Steve heading toward a tortoise.

Really big tortoise. He doesn't want to show his head.

I nabbed him via zoom lens. Everybody say, "Awwwwww."

This blog post is really long and not that exciting. But I wanted to include information for those who are planning their own trips to the Galapagos and want all the information they can get. That’s how I was, and I still messed up. Ie. when the packing list from your travel agent says, “pack a long-sleeved shirt,” they don’t mean one to keep you warm (even if they say, “one to keep you warm at night.”) It means a shirt that will protect you from the sun. This was a lesson My Liege and I had to learn the hard way….

Chatting With Medieval Historical Romance Author Diana Cosby

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Happy Memorial Day to my American friends!

I have a new interview up on my Articles page, with historical romance author Diana Cosby. Diana is retired Navy and donates 10% of her royalties to several worthy causes, including those that benefit American servicemen and servicewomen.

Visit Articles to read the interview. No, I’m not posting it here, as well. You have to muster the energy to click the link. If you can’t muster that energy, you don’t get to read the interview. Instead, ten push-ups!!!

Argue with me and I’ll make it ten thousand. And two chin-ups.

Here’s the link to the interview again.

Newsletter Issue Fixed. Phew.

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Thank you very much to my Gmail guinea pig! It turns out that, yes, Gmail users CAN join my newsletter. Something wonky was going on with a specific reader, but that reader has now successfully signed on, too.

Remember, the way Yahoogroups works, you enter your email address in the sign-up box on a website (like mine in the sidebar of this blog) or by clicking a link that opens your email program. Do not put anything in the subject line. Just send off the email.

You will receive a confirmation email that you need to hit reply on, or Yahoo won’t subscribe you to the newsletter. Keep a look-out for this confirmation email, because it might go into your spam box, depending on your ISP’s settings.

Over and out!

Newsletter Issues – Any Gmail Guinea Pigs Out There?

Friday, May 25th, 2012

A reader with Gmail let me know she’s having difficulty signing up for my newsletter at Yahoogroups, which I send out when I have new releases or major news. I’ll have occasion to send out a new issue mid-June, so I need to get this sorted out and am looking for a couple of Gmail users willing to help me out. The reader can’t seem to sign up for the newsletter from my website, and when I sent her an invitation from Yahoogroups, she didn’t receive it. A reader with an ISP email address tested signing up for me and she had no problems. So I’m wondering if Yahoo and Gmail are having some sort of argument, and they very well might be. I just checked the membership list and there isn’t one single Gmail subscriber on there.

If you’re willing to help me out but don’t really WANT to belong to my newsletter group, have no fear, I will not behead you if you unsubscribe after letting me know that you’ve successfully signed on. This isn’t a campaign for more subscribers (although that would be nice), but an attempt to help the reader having trouble.

So here’s what I need you to do.

If you’re with Gmail, please attempt to sign up for my newsletter either through (a) Yahoogroups, (b)OR by inputting your email  address into the Newsletter Sign-up box at the top right of my blog, (c) OR by clicking the Sign Up For Cindy’s Newsletter graphic on the lower right of my home page (just above News) and then following directions (you’ll need to confirm that you want to sign up). Clicking that graphic should bring up the subscription address in your email program and you hit Send on a blank email from there. There should be no message in your email. Just the subscribe to address in the Send To field. (d) OR, there’s also a click-able link on my Contact page that should also bring up the subscribe to email address in your email program of choice.

See? Four ways to do it. I’m nothing if not accommodating, right?

After signing up, please email me privately and let me know that you’ve tried to subscribe. I should get a notification from Yahoogroups if the subscription is successful, but I have no way of knowing if you’re signing up because you want to receive my newsletters or if you’re signing up to help me with the Gmail issue. So please don’t forget to drop me a note and let me know you’re with Gmail and have tried to sign up.

If I get a couple of successful Gmail subscribers, I’ll let you know through private email that you’re on the list and then you can unsub if you want. Not an issue there.



Galapagos, Days 4-5: Day Tripping

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

One of the reasons we spent three full days in Quito was because I (the travel coordinator) wanted to make sure The Pack of Four arrived for our Galapagos cruise refreshed. In 2010, when My Liege and I went to Peru, our plane from Houston to Lima was delayed 5 hours, making for an 8-hour layover. By the time we arrived in Lima, it was 4 a.m. and we were beyond exhausted. We spent a full day seeing the city, then had to get up ultra-early the next morning to catch a 7-hour bus ride to Nazca. I figured, this trip, I’d add an extra day just in case a flight was delayed again. It wasn’t. So we used that extra day to day trip. Our B&B, Casa Aliso, arranged a driver and van for us, a very nice fellow who picked us up bright and early on Day 4 and drove us to Otalavo so we could visit the Indian markets.

Travel Tip! There are many tour companies which offer full-day excursions to Otalavo and Cotacachi, the leather town we also visited on Day 4. The benefit of taking one of these tours is that you’ll have a guide as well as a driver, or maybe a driver who also acts as a guide, and the guide will describe the countryside and customs, etc. in great detail as you’re proceeding to your destination. The benefit of just hiring a driver is that you’ll pay far less. And, if you’re nice like us, you’ll buy him lunch.

Our driver let us out at another equator crossing site, stopped to show us the volcanoes (too bad it was such a foggy day), and also a very lovely lake. I was blamed for the fog, by the way. And any rain we encountered throughout the trip. Let it be known that travel coordinators are in charge of such things! We are, after all, minor gods (or goddesses, take your pick).

Finally, after enjoying the tour through the lovely countryside, we arrived at Otalavo just as the market was opening. This market is, of course, primarily for tourists, and it’s fun haggling with the Ecuadorians, whom we found to be thoroughly pleasant and enjoyable people. The price starts higher than both you and the vendor know you’re willing to pay. For example, My Liege (see blog legend if you’re confused) wanted a pair of light cotton pants to wear on the cruise. The bargaining begins!

She wanted ten bucks. But what if the pants didn't fit?

Not a problem for Steve! He tried them on. Wow, did her price ever drop as soon as she saw those legs.

Travel Trip! Don’t drop your drawers in an artisan and craft market unless you’ve been running three times a week and have “nice shins.”

I was so embarrassed by Steve’s actions that I had to hide:

Yes, I'm wearing purple. Deal with it.

Travel Tip! There’s nothing wrong with purple. For ease of packing the fewest clothes possible, it makes sense to color-coordinate them. Yes, it does! Don’t argue with me! Although, next time, maybe try something less noticeable and not as apt to attract teasing. Like scarlet.

For those of you wondering who I’m talking to, it’s my muse, Elle. She’s the graphic up in my website banner. See her taunting me with her svelte self? She has a whip, but it’s invisible. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to use it. I can assure you, she does.

After buying a ton of stuff in Otalavo, our driver took us to the nearby town of Cotacahci, which is devoted almost exclusively to selling leather products. I mean, there are streets of ONLY leather shops. Shops filled with purses, jackets, and footwear. Thankfully, there was also an ATM. I bought a new purse, and the rest of The Pack bought leather jackets. I thought, “Fools! How will they get them back home?” Easy. They wore them. Ha, joke was on me. The Pack tried to get me to buy a pistachio green (not purple) leather jacket at the last minute, but I couldn’t handle the pressure.

Cotacachi was great fun. If you’re in the market for leather while visiting Quito, don’t miss a trip to Cotacachi. We bought our driver lunch there and then it was time to head back to Quito. On the way back, it POURED.

Proof that I'm not lying. Would I lie about rain?

We arrived back at Casa Aliso with everyone except moi complaining that their rain jackets weren’t rain proof. But guess what? My purple rain jacket was! Take that, Rembrandt.

The morning of Day 5, we hopped another taxi to take us to the Teleferico, a cable car in Quito that whisks you from 2900 to 4000 meters above sea level in 8-10 minutes (Americans, do the math—that’s high!).

Oh, fiddle on a frog’s lips, I forgot to give Rembrandt (otherwise known as BP) photo credit for the rain picture up above. You know, this photo credit stuff is way too much trouble. I’m giving it up.

Travel Tip! Try to visit the Teleferico on a blue, sunny morning. Then you’ll have wonderful views, and maybe it won’t hail on you when you’re trying not to pass out while hiking at high altitudes. On the other hand, if the day looks like it might hold a bit of rain and fog, just pack your trusty purple rain jacket in your day pack, make your husband carry the pack, and you’ll be set.

View of Quito as we ascend the Teleferico. Photo credit: Someone Other than Me.

We got off the Teleferico in time to catch some lovely views.

Soon, however, this is what it looked like:

LP, otherwise known as SIL (for sister-in-law) (I know, it's brilliant), just before the rain attacked us, forcing us to run for the horse paddock, which had little wood tables, seats, and cover!

Returning to town after riding the Teleferico back down proved a challenge. Our taxi had disappeared (not that we had asked him to stay), and, it appeared, none wanted to make the trip up to get us. Honestly, it was as frustrating as being on The Amazing Race. We had two chances at taxis, but gave up the first one to the people first in line (Canadians are so polite) and then gave up the second one to a family with a mother who REALLY needed us to let her have the taxi, or her husband might not have survived the night.

Eventually, a tourist van rescued us and took us to the vicinity of the Central Bank National Museum, which is well worth a visit. We were hungry and the restaurant was closed, so we ate with the Ecuadorians in a little cafeteria around the corner. Not sure what we ate, but it went down and didn’t come back up, so all was well.

The next morning, we boarded a plane for…ta-da!…the Galapagos!

Coming down for landing in Guayaquil, where we picked up more people on our way to Baltra Island, Galapagos. Photo Credit: BP or LP.

Oh, dear, I’ve stumbled onto Day 6 with the above picture. Bad blogger. I shall have to stop now. Nothing like a cliffhanger to keep them coming back, don’t ya know? 😉

Galapagos, Days 1-3: We Get All Wet at the Equator

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Ha, betcha never thought I’d get my pictures organized, did you? Betcha never thought I’d write a travel blog post ever again. How could you doubt me?

Okay, the pictures are nowhere near organized. Because I’m not just going off my camera. First, I took two cameras, then my dh took his Blackberry, which can take some mighty fine pictures. Then, between our two travel companions, we had another three cameras. I had to wait to get pictures from everyone before I could select pictures for my blog.

We went to Ecuador this year—a trip for which I’ve been saving since we returned from Peru (which answers the question of whether I’m independently wealthy. Uh, no.) We invited Steve’s sister and brother-in-law to come along. They did, and we had a great time together. I’d love to travel with them again some day. Especially if they pay for it and I just show up. That would work out “wanda-ful!” (More on that several posts down the line).

For the purposes of my Ecuador and Galapagos blog posts, my sister-in-law shall henceforth and hitherto, in between and upside down, be known as LP. And her husband shall be known as BP. Steve only gets one letter, because he insists on having a last name that starts with a K. He shall be S. I shall be known as CP or me, myself, I, The Wonder One, or whatever else pops to my beleaguered mind.

So let’s get going.

It took us a long time to get to Quito because first we had to overnight in Seattle (all hail the marvelous dinner we shared with friends there) and then the next morning, Tuesday, April 17th, we flew two planes to Quito. Santiago, our cute representative from Adventure Life (we booked our Quito B&B and Galapagos cruise through Adventure Life in the U.S., and they did a great job), picked us up from the airport and took us to Casa Aliso, a B&B I would heartily recommend. Casa Aliso gets great reviews on Trip Advisor, and, after staying there, I can understand why. The house is lovely and the staff very helpful. They serve a fantastic breakfast and are within walking distance of several good restaurants. For our first day in Quito (the Day 3 referenced in the title of this post), after a nice sleep we caught a taxi outside the B&B and made it to Old Town for about $5.

Travel Tip! Ecuador uses the American dollar, but they also have their own coins, so sometimes you’ll get change back in U.S. paper money, sometimes U.S. coins, and sometimes Ecuadorian coins. But never, ever will they give you Canadian coins. Or Euros. Or stones. So just stick with the U.S. dollar and you’ll be fine.

Travel Tip! How do you choose a travel company through which to book your Galapagos cruise? I don’t know. Search the Internet.

You missed my travel tips, didn’t you? Go on, admit it.

Okay, well, whatever. Maybe you’ll get more Travel Tips as we progress. Or maybe not. It depends on how generous I’m feeling at the time. For now…

Piccies! (Unless I give someone else credit, I’m the primary photographer. Everyone else was my secondary photographer. They just didn’t know it at the time.)

Me being my usual demure self in Old Town, Quito. Photo Credit: BP, otherwise known as Rembrandt.

Once in the main square of Old Town, we were quickly swarmed by several fellows wanting to act as our unofficial tour guide. So, memories from 1981 (I was 11 months, just advanced for my age) of getting chased through the streets of Tangier, Morocco after not hiring a local guide in mind (I’ll tell you about it someday), we hired the first fellow who came along. His name was John, and he once taught in B.C.! Also San Francisco, Toronto, or Pittsburgh, depending where you said you were from. But he showed us a great time, quickly scuttling us around for an hour, pocketing our money, and zeroing in on his next customer.

John, escorting us about. A very nice, industrious fellow we were happy to oblige.

The interior of one of several churches and cathedrals in Quito.

Travel tip! (That didn’t take too long). If you want to know everything about everything in Quito, hire an official tour guide from an official tour company. Otherwise, John works just fine. And we were hungry. We wanted lunch.

But, first, some people-watching in the square. Here are some super cute school kids exercising nearby:

We had lunch in a super nice (super cute!) restaurant across the square from the school kids. If that’s not effective direction, I don’t know what is. Really, just sit in the square, wait for the school kids, watch them exercise their cute little hearts out, then turn around and look the other direction. Step into an atrium-like structure from which stem several restaurants. Choose the one overlooking the square. Order Club beer. It’s better than the other stuff. Would I steer you wrong? (I’d call that a Travel Trip, but then I’d just be spoiling you. You’d expect them every other sentence, and I’m not that accommodating.)

After lunch, we caught another taxi and headed to the equator. The GPS-defined equator. So of course it began to pour rain (in the form of Oregon-like sheets of rain) down upon our heads. So The Pack of Four (new nickname, short form “The Pack”) quickly assembled for the obligatory “I stood on both sides of the equator at once!” photo.

From the top, that's BP, S, LP and CP. Oh, that poor lonely S without a P. Photo credit: BP. Except BP is in the photo, so who really took the picture? Sasquatch. Yes, honest.

Travel tip! (last one this post, I promise). Choose a bright purple rain coat for your trip to South America. Because then your group will never lose you. Of course, you’ll also get teased mercilessly for being The Purple Lady once it’s discovered that nearly every other item you packed is also purple. And then you might recall that, in your family, there really was a Purple Lady who had the audacity to pass away a week before your wedding. She even wore purple in her casket. And now you might be in danger of turning into the new Procter Family Purple Lady! If this is too much to bear, you can’t handle the responsibility, then go ahead and pack navy blue.

After a soggy trip to the equator, everyone deserves a nice glass of wine in a wonderful Ecuadorian restaurant that I would thoroughly recommend if I could remember the name. Great music, and I ate a bit of deep-fried pig’s feet, brave soul that I am :

Moi and the DH. Otherwise known as "Cindy and Steve." Here's to our first full day in Ecuador! Photo Credit: BP or LP. If this keeps up, I might have to give up the photo-credit assignations altogether. Awwww.