I am now back in Puene 3 staying at Marianas. I am still suffering from an infected throat which makes me cough violently without warning. This illness has plagued me now for almost three weeks and has made life very uncomfortable at times. As usual it is pissing with rain in Quito and there are nightly thunderstorms. Apparently in May it will improve.
A few days before I returned from the Galapagos, Maria’Jose, the 13 year old daughter of Mariana, was robbed at gun point whilst in her school uniform, on the way home from school. The two guys (really tough guys, obviously), stole 65 cents. Welcome back to Quito!
In Ecuador I don’t think there is a social welfare system to speak of. Seven out of ten kids finish primary school and only 1 out of 10 do any further education, according to the news here. Robbery, especially of tourists is common. As with many countries in Latin America, government corruption is reportedly, rife. The majority of wealth seems to be held in the hands of a very few. The need for education and other services is obvious.
I volunteered at a community project here helping street kids with their homework and other school tasks. It is a difficult environment as the kids range from 4 years to about 18. Usually the 16 to 18 year old women also have children of their own. I recall a 16 year old guy trying to learn how to read and write in Spanish. Unfortunately the project does not have a Spanish dictionary, so when he came across a new Spanish word, he was unable to ascertain its meaning. Many kids are out working on the streets, shining shoes or selling all manner of things from the age of about 5. But I digress and should write something about the Galapagos
The Galapagos are a set of volcanic islands situated approximately 1000 km east of Ecuador on the equator. The islands vary in age, with some covered in lush vegetation and others completely black and red from fresh eruptions of volcanic lava. The islands were discovered in about 1550 and became the domain of many pirates, due to their proximity to the Panama Canal and passing Spanish gallons, filled with South American gold. Every island was inhabited by its own unique species of animals, including the enormous Galapagos Island tortoises. These animals live up to 200 years of age. They can also survive a very long time without food or water. For this reason, the pirates took 200,000 of them from the islands for sale and for food, as they could survive for extended periods on board ship.
Our journey began on Baltra, a small island just north of the main settlement on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. Baltra was an American military base in the second world war. The American soldiers killed nearly all land iguanas on Baltra island, mostly shot out of boredom. All there is really now on Baltra is an airport.
From Baltra we travelled to Santa Fe Island, Floreana, Rabida and Santa Cruz. There were 16 of us in total, but no English and only two young American girls, initially. I think we were all on the cheapest boat, and were a fun youngish crowd, or at least young at heart. The English and Americans, usually retirees, tended to stick to the bigger and more expensive boats. Some paying $12,000 USD per week. Our group was a very interesting bunch to talk to about all manner of things. I made particular friendship with Eduardo, a Mexican, and his partner, Marie, from Belgium, and also with Robert, a 40 year old from Hungary, and a French couple, Celine and Emmanuel. Eduardo and Marie had been living on the Galapagos, in Puerto Ayora for 1.5 years.
Eduardo is an engineer working as an middleman between a german company and the Ecuadorian government, installing solar and other energy systems. He explained the difficulties of the position. The Germans wanting progress and facilitation of the project on certain timetables, and the Ecuadorian bureaucrats, who he said didn’t care about whether the system actually worked or not, but only for the image and photos. For example, a reservoir was required for cooling a power generation system. The Ecuadorian politicions wanted the reservoir to be a public swimming pool as well! Eduardo also commented that the Ecuadorians cannot take responsibility for any problems and it is always somebody elses fault. A variation on ´saving face’. The Colombians and the Americans are the usual scapegoat for all problems here.
Robert, the Hungarian, is a cameraman and photographer for film and television in Hungary. Coming from Hungary he has filmed just about everything under the sun from sports, documentaries, wildlife and pornography. He had some amusing and sometimes frightening stories to tell about his last 9 months of travels around South America in some of the more dangerous places in Brazil and the Guianas (and about the artificiality of the Hungarian porn industry). He was a good man to share a wine or beer with and a good story teller in his thick Hungarian accent. We later took a boat to Isabella together after our cruise and road on horseback to Sierra Negra, the second largest crater (without water) in the world. The wildlife and beaches on the Galapagos are beautiful. The volcanoes in the centre of Isabella look a bit like the central plateau. Masked boobies look pretty much the same as gannets at home too. The diving at the poor nights, in my opinion, was also prettier with more plant life, but the diving here, if the water is clear, is different) being mostly barren volcanic rocks) and also beautiful. I did find a few crays…mmm crays..
I found the snorkelling nice, but not spectacular, with the exception of the ´Devils Crown´, which was a fantastic snorkel with millions of small colourful fish, sharks (up to 3 metres), marine turtles and sea lions. The sea lions are great, and swim right up to you and want to play a little. Truly gracious under the water. Not so gracious on the land. But the lost pups are cute, trying to find their mothers amongst the 100s of mothers on the beach.
Unfortunately I did not get to scuba dive because of my infected lungs, so I never got to see large schools of hammerhead sharks. But many times on the scuba trips, which are expensive, the water can be very dirty and the current strong so I don’t think I really missed much. It would have been great to see a whale shark though.
All an all a wonderful trip and I have made many friends I hope I will keep and maybe visit when I am in Europe. But for now I am back in boring run down shitehole called Puente 3 and half heartedly trying to learn Spanish.