Tag Archives: Galapagos Islands

Hammer time!

In retrospect, I feel like I didn’t give Ecuador enough time. It’s such a geographically diverse country for its size. There were so many places I didn’t get to.

And I could have stayed longer if I wanted to. I turned down a ‘job’ offer teaching English on the Galapagos Islands. Essentially volunteering in exchange for accommodation & a bit of lunch money. I would have had to get a 2nd job to make ends meet, let alone make the most of everything the Islands had to offer.

I’m not 100% sure why I didn’t take it. But put it this way: I was focusing more on the reasons why it wasn’t a good idea rather than the reasons why it was. So I went with my intuition. I’m sure the reasons will reveal themselves in time.

So, exactly 12 months after leaving Aus, I booked my flight home. I admit to having troubles hitting the ‘Confirmation’ button. There was such a big part of me that felt like I wasn’t done. So much more to see. Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina. But it felt like time. I was missing my mama’s cooking, my friends, babies I haven’t met yet, and our beautiful beaches. And besides, I needed to get a job, pull some more savings together and try & be a proper grown up. Enough of this gallivanting around the world with just a backpack to my name & no real plans to speak of.

It was Mother’s Day back home, so I called Ma to let her know. She burst out into tears, she was so happy. Bless.

There was one more thing I had to do before I felt I could leave the Galapagos. I had been chasing hammerheads since Nicaragua in November. The only issue was the next available dive was on Sunday. Same day as my flight out to Guayaquil. Everyone reassured me that getting on another flight on Monday wouldn’t be a problem.

I decided to go on the dive. I had to see these dang sharks. I’ve racked up 44 dives in the past 12 months. This was a pretty hectic dive. For starters, the water was cold. Maybe 18 degrees at depth. We were fitted with 7m wetties which make you feel like the Michelin Man. There was a lot of surge. And the visibility in some places wasn’t all that great.

We came up from the first dive. No hammerheads. And of course the other group came up chattering excitedly like schoolkids. I couldn’t help but be quietly petulant. We had seen some amazing things on our 1st dive. But it wasn’t what I had come here for. I looked down at my wrist: “Gratitud”. Mmmm.

We went down for our 2nd immersion and then my DM started pointing his fist very deliberately. I scanned the deep blue waters & saw what looked like pretty much your run-of-the-mill shark. But then I saw his head. I could not believe my fucking eyes. Shaped just like a big flattened hammer (I’m gunna say his head was close to a metre in width) and with big bulbous eyes on the ends! What a peculiar looking beast. I was spellbound. Then into my peripheral vision swam two more. I looked up and around and saw we were floating in amongst a school of maybe 12 of them. Unlike most sharks, hammerheads usually swim in schools during the day, and become solitary hunters at night.

Up there with one of the most amazing dive moments of my life. I came up from that dive happy as Veruca Salt when she thinks she’s going to get her golden egg-laying geese.

The “next day, ‘nother flight, no worries” actually turned out to be quite the opposite. The only flight with my carrier on Monday was full, and so I had to wait another day. This meant I would be really pushing it to meet my dear old friend Michelle in Peru on time. Shell was coming over from Aus so we could do Machu Pichuu together.

Flights from Guayaquil to Lima were nearly $500 one way, so that was out of the question. I spent a bit of time hunting around & found a cheap flight from a little town just south of the border. I could catch a bus to there and be in Lima on Wednesday morning. Michelle could get a good night’s sleep from her long haul over & we could get on with it.

Well, 4 buses, 2 planes, 2 taxis, 1 boat, 1 tuk-tuk, 1 lost Kindle (GUTTED), 1 scary motherfucker wearing army fatigues, a balaclava & waving a machine gun around, plus another night-time border crossing but this time UTTERLY on my own –

And 26 hours later I was having a good old giggle with one of my besties in the foyer of her fancy hotel in Lima.

Hello Peruuuuu!

Higher ground

I had underestimated how long it would take me to get from Colombia to Ecuador. As a result I wouldn’t be getting into Otavalo until late Saturday night which unfortunately, meant I would be missing the biggest market day.

The famous Otavalo Markets draws talented local artisans from miles around to flog their wares and in turn, hoards of haggling tourists from all over the world to hunt for a bargain.

I figured I might have troubles finding a room. So I decided on trying my luck in nearby Ibarra – a decent sized town just a few k’s north.

Around 11pm, I found a very cheap room in a huge old hotel which was eerily deserted. It could have easily been the scene for a horror film. I tried not to think about it as I padded down the creaky hall to the shared bathroom before bedtime.

The next morning I set off for Otavalo. I convinced the boys at the bus terminal to ‘watch’ my pack in a very open & most unsecure office – while I ambled off for a bit of retail therapy.

I did quite a bit of damage in just a few short hours. I bought a super soft alpaca-wool throw, a stack of stylin’ scarves, and other bits & bobs. The piece de resistance though, had to be the purple hoodie with llamas all over it. Boom! And all for under $100. The throw alone would cost maybe double of that, back home. One very happy customer.

After a delicious almuerzo, costing just $3 – I caught the bus onwards to Quito, getting in late afternoon with a cracking headache: Altitude sickness. One shower, 2 Ibuprofens, 3 beers & a lil kip later and I was good to go.

I had to go out that night to get some cash as I didn’t have enough to buy dinner. I walked around for about an hour in the Sunday deserted streets before I found an ATM.

Over breakfast the next day, I learned how lucky I had been not to have gotten mugged.

At least 3 tourists from the hostel had been robbed in the last 24 hours. One girl was having a coffee in a cafe – only to have a little old lady with a baby on her back come in, and shove her hand down the girl’s bra to swipe an iPhone she had earlier stashed down there.

After that – it’s all I heard: more & more stories of tourists getting done. Bags getting slashed. Pickpocketings. Taxi hi-jackings. Gun & knife-point robberies at ATMs. And so, I would just like to give a shout out to my guardian angel for watching over me: “Gratitud.”

Next day, I went to the Mitad del Mundo (aka “middle of the world”, aka the Equator) with a lovely Irish couple. We took a fun tour around the Intinan Museum, where they performed a raft of cool experiments: we saw the water in a sink swirl around in two different directions depending on which hemisphere the sink was moved to; and we each balanced a boiled egg on a nail on the actual equator line.

I then had a fun afternoon in the post office, trying to send my box of Otavalo goodies home to Aus. Lucky I had asked my taxi driver to wait for me. It went like this: Line up for 10 mins. Get back in the cab to buy my own box from the nearby supermercado. Line up for another 10 mins. Go to store across the road to procure my own tape. Line up for a further 10 mins. Go back across the road to obtain 2 copies of my passport.

My Spanish is now good enough to get by, but clearly there was a major communication breakdown. Sometimes the simplest things can be so time consuming.

My driver was the same dude who had driven us to the Equator earlier that day. One of the 5%. (See earlier posts for my theory that 95% of taxi drivers are c#*ts). He drove me around to get said items required to post my things and in the end came into the PO with me, to ascertain if there was anything else. He spent more than an hour with me. And he only wanted to charge me $10 for his troubles. I gave him $15.

That night, a bunch of us had dinner at the hostel & drinks by the fire on the rooftop balcony of the hostel, which afforded us amazing vistas of a lit-up city. It was a shame Quito was in the habit of scaring its visitors. I would have liked to have gone out & explored but no one was game.

The next day I went Cotopaxi. It was a scenic if not back-breaking 3-hour drive to one of the highest peaks in all of Ecuador.

Secret Garden Cotapaxi had come highly recommended by a lot of travellers I had met along the way. Everyone said it was completely worth the expense. And it was. When we got to the lodge, I let out a little squeal. It reminded me a bit of La Serrana. But with a Jacuzzi and a fireplace! We were welcomed by some friendly faces and a glass of warm wine. I just chilled out that afternoon. I felt like I had been racing around like a blue arsed fly since leaving Salento.

The next day I went with a lovely Argentinean girl, Vanessa (who only spoke Spanish) to walk part of Cotopaxi – a snow-capped conical volcano which is the 2nd highest peak in the country at 5,900m (and about 2 & ½ times the size of Mount Kosciusko). We were driven to 4,300m and then walked to the Refugio at 4,800m. It took us an hour & a quarter ‘cause it was so steep and a bit slippery. When the clouds cleared, we were treated to a spectacular view of the peak. We had a hot chocolate, and I decided I had it in me to walk an extra 200m to see the snowline. It took nearly 45 mins for the round trip. Basically 10 steps at a time – stop & catch my breath. The air was so thin.

When I finally got to the snowline, I felt a little sense of personal achievement. And I was lucky to get the whole place to myself. I couldn’t help it: I had to throw a snowball at my guide. He good humouredly threw one back at me. We powered back down the volcanic sandy bits and were back at the lodge in time for lunch. What an amazing morning it had been.

The next morning Vanessa & I went for a short walk through the fields and to a nearby waterfall. The place reminded me a little of Cooma, NSW. After lunch, we shared a cab back to Quito. She for her flight back to Buenos Aires and I for my flight to Guayaquil, where I spent a fairly non-descript night.

Next morning I was on an early morning flight to fulfil a lifelong dream: visiting the Galapagos Islands.

Keep on moving

On the morning of Wednesday 25th, I shed a few tears saying goodbye to the staff of La Serrana & my little friend Niamh. And then some more on the bumpy old ride into town.

It was just a happy accident that I got to see Jon and Big Mike on my way out. We had already said our goodbyes on Monday morning after my last Ayahuasca, but it was super to be able to give them one last hug in the middle of the dirt road I’d walked almost every day.

I’d gotten quite used to having Big Mike around. Big Mike is a bit of a lone wolf from The Yukon: An exploration miner. His work involved getting dropped out into the middle of nowhere by chopper and then he’d go out in these wild unchartered lands on his own – for days, weeks at a time to look for mining opportunities (oil that is, black gold, Texas tea). He’s a man with a lot of stories. A little bit of darkness. And a big big heart. He saw me. And had my back when I needed a friend. He reminded me a bit of Rog. He loved The Rolling Stones. And was forever bashing away on his guitar. I have a lot of time for the man & I hope to see him again one day.

I remember looking through the back of the Jeep and seeing La Serrana getting smaller and smaller. And I remember thinking, ‘I want to hold onto this memory forever’. Sometimes I worry I’ll forget.

We all come in the same way, and we all go out the same way. And all we take with us is knowledge (& hopefully some wisdom) gained from relationships and experiences. I know I got a while to go yet… but sometimes I fret: What if my mind goes first?

What becomes of amazing experiences when they get forgotten? Do they still exist?

 

Pravin was a beautiful young Sri Lankan boy from Melbourne who had (no questions asked) helped me out of a banking pickle by lending me a few hundred dollars (– there’s a long boring story attached to this where I yell down the phone a lot to various bureaucracies in Australia & in the US to people who either don’t have the capacity to solve problems or aren’t empowered to do so, and so don’t. Do not get me started!)

Anyways, Prav & I went to Cali together for a couple of nights. And it was there I got my tattoo. We tramped all over town meeting artists – none of whom particularly grabbed me … until we walked into Zebra Studios. Stylish. Professional. Clean. And the artist was a dude. Crazy. But in a good way. I had agonised a bit over the placement of it, worrying that putting it on my wrist might mean limiting future professional opportunities but I figured I’m supposed to be creative. And I probably don’t want to work for the sort of organisation where that’s a problem anyways. I could cover it up if I absolutely needed to. Besides, I stand behind the words & their significance to me.

The day after I went to pretty Popyan with its big wide cobblestone streets & clean white washed walls. The trip there took twice as long as it should have, due to a savage accident. When we later saw one of the cars, it seemed unlikely there would have been any survivors. Many of the passengers on my bus made the sign of the cross, as we inched slowly past. As a result I got in late in the evening and only had the morning to have a quick look around. I wished I had more time there.

But I was now a girl on a mission. I still had a bit I wanted to see & do in Ecuador on the way down to the Galapagos Islands. I had a flight booked for the 4th – which gave me just 6 days.

I had a dream, Joe

“Everyone believes that the main aim in life is to follow a plan. They accumulate experiences, memories, things, other people’s ideas, and it is more than they can possibly cope with. And that is why they forget their dreams.” Paulo Coelho

I read this today with some interest. I’m not sure if i’m taking him too literally but it caused me to ask, ‘How would I define a dream?’ I think a dream CAN be about an experience (scaling Mount Everest), be associated with things (to build a school) or inspired by other people’s ideas (to travel into space)… I also believe that if a dream becomes a goal, then it will need a plan of sorts.

Does Paulo simply mean that we need to be crystal clear on what our dreams are.

If we have only one… Does the dream become a passion?

I’ve had two close encounters with people with a passion. I was in a long-term relationship with a musician, who couldn’t wait to get home every day to spend a good hour or 3 mucking around on a guitar that he made himself. I used to love cooking dinner and listening to him sing. I also dated a guy who was mad about machines. Cars in particular, and he would bore everyone senseless with the finer details of how things worked. It drove me balmy, but i loved that he just didn’t know when to stop.

I’ve always envied those who are really passionate about just one thing. It’s that primary reason why they race home ‘after school’, why they want to turn off the television, why sometimes they don’t even want to go out. They would rather gain more knowledge or practice their craft.

I’ve always considered myself a passionate person. But I’ve never had a single passion, a one thing that keeps me focused, and that absolutely drives me. The upside is I can and do have many dreams.

Do people with just one all-consuming passion, have to sacrifice having other dreams?

Is there such a thing as too many? I started making a list of things I’ve dreamt about doing. It looks like a Bucket List. Which is more of a To Do Before I Die List. Is the Bucket List just new nomenclature for Dreams? Or are we talking something different?

Anyway, in no particular order, these are some of my Dreams. Maybe my Passion will find me in this list.

Travel around Australia in a caravan with the love of my life when I’m old & crinkly
Finish seeing all of Malaysia
Do some further traveling around South East Asia (eg, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia)
Live in QLD
Work & live overseas in a major city (eg, NYC or maybe Dubai)
Be able to hold a conversation in Spanish
Learn Italian
Get published.
Build a house for someone
Try my hand at teaching / training
Go to the Galapagos Islands
Learn how to fly a chopper!
Learn how to play a musical instrument
Take singing lessons
Produce art for my own amusement
Make a human
Help them become good at being human
Be better at it, myself.
Learn the Argentine Tango
Do the world’s finest off the back of a hot Columbian boy
Dive with Beluga whales
Take the Trans-Siberian Rail
Incorporate yoga / pilates / some other gentle core strength building exercise into my life
Dine at Tetsuya’s
Help celebrate Martin’s 40th in Scotland
Take one of those fancy pants cycling tours in the Italian wine country with some friends for my 50th
Master cooking the national dish of 7 of my favourite countries
Spend the night in a lighthouse
Go to Burning Man
Hire a house in Spain for a month
Try my hand at set design in an amateur play or short film
Try heli-skiing
Spend an entire week in a lush spa resort with Lynnie
Sponsor a child’s education
Learn to cook my mama’s laksa, curry and satay
Get Dad using a computer & try diving
Learn how to make my own earrings
Do a Voice Over course, get a showreel and and earn money from it
Go to Tamworth Country Music Festival
Learn how to invest
Print and organize my photos
Dive in the Great Barrier Reef
See the Rolling Stones before Keith dies
Swim in all major remaining bodies of water (the Atlantic Ocean, the Southern Ocean and the Arctic Ocean)
Rescue a Really Cool Dog
Visit the place where my Chinese grandparents were born
Record their story as told by mum
Swim with dolphins in their natural environment quite by accident
Fall in love one last time

These are some of the things that I’ve already accomplished that would have made this list had i created it alot earlier. Plus a few cool things I didn’t know I wanted to do, until I did them.

Go to Europe, starting in Turkey and ending in Morocco
Give up smoking
Learn how to scuba dive
Swim with Whale Sharks
Go sky-diving
Bungee-jump
Dive with colonies of sharks
Dive with seals
Take up ocean swimming
Complete a sprint triathlon
Complete a 5km swim
Complete a 11km run
Cross the Nullabor by train
Volunteer with seriously ill children
Shave my head
Go to Gracelands
Go to Glastonbury
Take surfing lessons
Take art lessons
Live on an island
Publish a book of poetry
Organize a major fundraiser
Go hang-gliding