SOUTH AMERICA 2022

In August of 2022, Stephen and I headed to South America for the adventure of a lifetime! Rebecca joined us for the first week as we spent a few days in Quito, Ecuador and environs, and then spent a handful of days of a boat touring around the Galapagos Islands and snorkeling with sea lions. Then Stephen and I continued on to Peru, where we visited the 11,000 ft. high city of Cusco, and toured the infamous Machu Picchu. Below you will find many many pictures (but these are only a portion of the ones we took) with some captions to take you on our journey with us. After each day’s worth of pictures, you will also find a more detailed description of the day in text, and also a handful of videos from the day.

NOTE that although ALL of the pictures look even more amazing if you click on them for an expanded view – if you see that the description is preceded by the symbols **, that means that particular picture is either very wide or very tall, and you will want to click on the picture to expand it and get its full spectacular beauty.

TRAVEL & DAY 1 – QUITO, ECUADOR – Middle of the World and Quito City Tour

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After flying from LAX to Atlanta, and then Quito - we arrived at our hotel - the Vieja Cuba - at about 9pm. (We were on the third floor rear - so the climbing started right away!)
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Rebecca didn't arrive until after midnight - but she was still up by 7am to have breakfast with us in the hotel - and then head out to catch our bus for our first tour.
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Just a five minute walk from our hotel, we met our old-fashioned red tour bus - and we climbed aboard!
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Rebecca too!
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The streets of Quito are lined with fascinating and colorful art installations.
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And off we went in our tour bus/street car... (with just five other folks).
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With our tour guide - Daniel.
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We drove about 15 miles north of the city of Quito to the "Middle of the World".
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In Spanish it is called "Mitad del Mundo" and the grounds contain the Monument to the Equator, which highlights the exact location of the Equator (from which the country takes its name).
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The 98 foot tall monument was constructed between 1979 and 1982 to replace an older, smaller monument built in 1936.
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We were thrilled to have such glorious weather since all the weather reports before we left home said it would rain the whole time we were Quito!
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Rebecca straddling the Equator - one foot in each hemisphere!
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And then Elise took her turn.
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Our guide told us that the Equator is one place in the world where you can balance an egg on a nail head - and he proceeded to show us how.
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Rebecca gave it a try, but to no avail! (Actually, if you look this up online, it is said to be a myth.)
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Stephen also failed. (Truthfully, balancing an egg on a nail head is difficult, but can be achieved anywhere - not just at the Equator.)
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It is indeed very difficult, but somehow, Elise managed to pull it off!
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Then we all took turns posing for the obligatory "straddling the Equator" photo - starting with Rebecca.
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Then Elise ...
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And finally Stephen.
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Truth is, though, that this spot is NOT the actual "middle of the world". Modern GPS has proven the Equator actually lies about 790 feet north of the marked line.
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But mistake or not, the pyramidal monument, with each side facing a cardinal direction is topped by a globe which is 15 ft in diameter and weighs 5 tons.
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*And here is Rebecca holding up that five ton globe!
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And the whole family poses!
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Next we climbed up to the top of the monument to admire the views! (Why didn't we take the elevator? Only Daniel knows...)
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We could see the little replica of a colonial village (where we would later have lunch) on the grounds.
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A panorama of the view - then we headed back down, visiting the displays of Ecuadoran culture placed at every landing.
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Then we had lunch on the balcony of one of the restaurants in the Disney-land-like colonial village.
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We had a lovely view of the town square where they were setting up for a dance and music display (which we didn't get to see because we had to head out before they were ready!)
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Lunch was yummy! Tamales, empanadas, and other standard local dishes.
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Then our little group got back in the bus to head back to the city for a tour of its many beautiful churches.
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First stop was the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest of all Quito’s churches, inspired by Bourges Cathedral in France, an awe-inspiring edifice with towering spires.
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The largest neo-Gothic cathedral in South America, construction began in 1887 and was largely completed by 1909.
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The grounds are extensive - including a huge internal courtyard with a cafe, restrooms, and a musuem.
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There were also stairways leading down to the crypts below.
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The basilica remains technically "unfinished." Local legend says that when the Basílica is completed, the end of the world will come.
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Next, we passed San Agustín Church, a temple run by the order of St. Augustine. Its construction began in 1606 and was completed in 1617.
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As we walked from church to church, we got to see the lovely streets of the Old Town area.
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We also got to peek in to a typical Colonial style home which is now being used for many different restaurants and stores.
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Independence Square (or Plaza Grande) is the principal public square of Quito. Its main feature is the monument to the independence heroes of August 10, 1809.
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This is the Carondelet Palace, the seat of government for Ecuador, and one of the five buildings that flank the square.
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The square also has beautiful blooming trees!
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And it also had mounted police making their rounds on horseback.
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Every now and then, we old folks need to sit down and take a rest.
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Then we continued our walk to the next church - La Iglesia de El Sagrario (Church of the Sanctuary) - which is a Renaissance Catholic temple built between the 17th and 18th centuries.
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The interior main gate, the work of Bernardo de Legarda, is considered one of the richest manifestations of Quitoan Baroque.
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We approached the "high altar".
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The carvings and ornamentations were breathtaking!
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And there is more everywhere you turn!
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And heading out, we got to see the other side of the impressive front gate.
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We walked past La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, but didn't go inside.
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On the way to the next church, we passed some street musicians and dancers in full native garb.
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We were able to catch a glimpse of a statue on the hilltop far in the distance (which we would visit later).
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Finally, we arrived at the Plaza de San Francisco, which hosts La Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco (the Church and Convent of St. Francis).
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Before heading inside the church, we posed for a family selfie!
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The church is the oldest and most significant religious site in Ecuador.
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*It is considered a jewel of continental architecture for its mixture of different styles combined throughout more than 150 years of construction.
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Inside the church there are more than 3,500 works of colonial art, of multiple artistic manifestations and varied techniques, especially those corresponding to the Colonial Quito School of Art.
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In other words, it is drop-dead magnificent!
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This church is our guide, Daniel's, favorite - so he had lots to tell us.
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And I had a little fun of my own...
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*On the way out, we got a good panoramic view of the square.
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For a refreshing pit stop, we got a lecture on chocolate manufacturing from "Yumbo's Chocolate".
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And got to sample several varieties of their artisanal chocolates (which they actually manufacture in nearby Mindo) and buy some as yummy souvenirs!
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Then we headed back to the bus...
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And headed up the hill of El Panecillo, a loaf-shaped hill in the heart of the city...
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... and up ...
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*To the Virgin of El Panecillo, also known as the Virgin of Quito from the sculpture of the same name (which is a very small sculpture, made in 1734, that is in the San Francisco Church).
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It is a VERY popular tourist spot and was really really crowded!
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And it has a really beautiful view of the city of Quito below!
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*The statue is 135 feet high including the base, it is the highest statue in Ecuador and one of the highest in South America.
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*It's also the tallest aluminum statue in the world.
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*
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Then we hopped on the bus to wend our way back down to the city below...
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...enjoying the view on the way down.
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After a long and tiring day, the bus dropped us off near the restaurant "Miskay".
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Where we had an okay dinner. (After our first three meals in Quito, we became aware that Ecuadorans don't seem to be very interested in using any kind of seasoning....)
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Stephen's carrot cake was a bit more flavorful than my figs...
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We were happy to get back to our hotel, climb the two flights of stairs, and get a good night's sleep!

DIARY - DAY 1 (click toggle to expand)

TRAVEL & DAY 1 – QUITO, ECUADOR – Middle of the World and Quito City Tour
Saturday/Sunday, August 13/14, 2022

Friday evening (August 12, 2022), Rebecca spent the night with us so we could get a very early start the next day.

Saturday morning (August 13, 2022), we got up at 3:30 and took rideshare to our two different terminals (Stephen and Elise were traveling separately from Rebecca because she had only decided to join us on this trip after we already had our reservations).

Stephen and I had a light breakfast at Starbucks and then an uneventful flight to Atlanta. While we were having dinner at TGI Friday’s during our layover, Stephen accidentally rebooked himself for a continuing flight the next day (the website prompts were very confusing) and when we realized the mistake and went to the gate to fix it, the very unsympathetic gate steward told us the flight was overbooked and they couldn’t switch Stephen back! Stephen spent the next half hour on the phone with Delta customer service and, after lots of coaxing (and even having the gal on the phone have a word with our unrelenting gate steward), Stephen wound up being the last person on the plane!

We arrived in Quito around 8pm, and were met by Walter who drove us the 45 minutes to the hotel. We had to ring a bell to get them to open the front gate and check us in, and then climb up two flights of stairs to find our room and finally get to bed a little after 10pm. Rebecca had her own drama as her flight from Florida was delayed, and she didn’t make it to her room (right across the hall from us) until about 1:30am!

Even though our alarm didn’t go off, we were up by 6:30am, and had breakfast at the hotel of cereal, juice, eggs, and fruit. (This was also our first introduction to the surprising fact that Ecuardorans in generally don’t seem to use any kind of seasoning on their food!). We then walked about five minutes to the nearby Holiday Inn Express to meet our first tour guide – Daniel – and to hop on our red tour trolley. We picked up another family (A couple and their adult daughter from Mexico – who were all doctors); and eventually another young couple from South America. That meant that Daniel had to spend the day giving his tour spiels in both Spanish and English.

We headed north out of town to to the “Middle of the World” – or “Mitad del Mundo” – which contains the Monument to the Equator, which highlights the exact location of the Equator (from which the country takes its name). We walked around the grounds, climbed to the top of the monument, learned a lot about the local culture, and tried an experiment with an egg. Legend has it that only at the Ecuator can you balance an egg on a nail head. (This apparently is not any more true than the myth that water flushes down a sink in different directions depending on which hemisphere you are in – not true!). We tried the egg experiment anyway – and Elise was the only one who was able to do it!

We then walked into a little village on the grounds that feels a bit like a Disney version of a Spanish city – and we had lunch on the second floor balcony. We also passed a spot where we got to do a beer tasting, and a “pan” ice cream tasting.

After lunch we headed back to the city and drove to the old town area and worked our way from the Plaza Grande to the Plaza de San Francisco – passing by and visiting many churches along the way including the Basilica del Voto Nacional, San Agustín Church, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito, La Iglesia de El Sagrario, La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, and La Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco (our guide’s personal favorite!). The interiors of the churches were very ornate – and many were covered in both old Incan and shiny new gold.

We made a quick stop at the tasting room for Yumbo’s Chocolate (and also bought some chocolate to bring home) and then took the very busy and winding road up the hill of El Panecillo in the heart of the city to see the statue that overlooks the city – the Virgin of El Panecillo, also known as the Virgin of Quito (from the sculpture of the same name – which is a very small sculpture, made in 1734, that is in the San Francisco Church). The statue is 135 feet high including the base, and is the highest statue in Ecuador and one of the highest in South America – as well as the tallest aluminum statue in the world.

It had been a long and busy day – with an awful lot of walking – and we were happy to wind up at Miskay Restaurant for dinner. Stephen had steak, I had white fish, Rebecca had a veggie version of my dish. Stephen had carrot cake for dessert and I had figs. (Once again, though, we were pretty underwhelmed with the seasoning!).

We walked home from the restaurant and were happy to put our tired bodies to bed!

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 1

1 – We didn’t go crazy with videos on Day 1- just this one as we came out of the San Francisco Church and surveyed the square (and our guide, Daniel, giving his explanation in Spanish to the rest of the group, complete with his signature gesture of writing numbers in the air).

DAY 2 – QUITO – The Teleferico

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Breakfast - Rebecca's Ecuadoran omelet at Cafe Nativa.
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Then we took a taxi to the start of the Teleferico - the cable car that heads up to the top of the volcano that towers over the city.
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Jumping in to our car on the Teleferico...
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And we enjoy the trip up the volcano!
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Rebecca too!
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It was pretty chilly and windy up top - but the "Mirador de los Volcanes" was spectacular!
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As we walked along the trail, we ran into someone who was letting people take pix with Pedro and Paco (for only $2!)
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Elise got a llama kiss...
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And so did Rebecca!
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More beautiful views!
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Rebecca tried out the Columpia en las Nubes (Swing in the Clouds)...
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Then Elise took a turn!
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Whee!
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Picture perfect!
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Stephen found a treat...
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And we enjoyed a fresh empanada!
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More views!
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And a great chair from which to enjoy the view!
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Then back down the Teleferico...
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And then we taxi'd back to the old part of the city...
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After a pit-stop for the intriguing (and actually pretty good!) Helados con Queso (ice cream with cheese!)...
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We bought tickets to go up to the Cupola of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito (back in the Plaza Grande)...but we had no idea what kind of a door we would have to fit through...
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It was quite a climb!
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But the view was worth it!
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A bird's eye view of the Plaza Grande...
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Stephen wasn't too keen on Rebecca and Elise climbing around ...
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But we were having a blast!
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Stephen awaited on slightly firmer ground ...
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And then we headed back down.
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Stephen is pointing up to the roof we were just climbing all over!
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Before heading back to the hotel to clean up, we stopped at a fancy store to pick up some souvenirs.
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Then we headed to Zazu for dinner - starting with some fancy mixed drinks...
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Stephen had done his research - and this restaurant boasted a "Vegetarian Experience" with wine pairing!
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On even on the 7-course menu was the yummy amuse-bouche!
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Next was the Andean Ceviche - with lupin beans, maize, organic avocado emulsion, and toasted corn!
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Next up was the Heart of Palm Crudo (fire-roasted heart of palm, almond sauce, and red quinoa).
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Followed by the Tomato-Zucchini Tartar (Heirloom tomato, sun-dried tomato, charred zucchini, smoked cheese, and mango coulis)!
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Then came marinated and roasted cauliflower, pumpkin seed miso, cumin infused red beets, parsley cream, and toasted almonds.
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Of course, our server explained every course to us - as well as telling us about the wine that was paired with each course.
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Then came a Camote of grilled sweet potato, asparagus, and caramelized pumpkin risotto...
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Everything was absolutely delicious - but the risotto was pure heaven!
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Yum!
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Rebecca was nursing this lovely cocktail much of the evening...
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And the awesomeness continued with the "Hongos" - Chawanmushi, cayambe mushrooms, portobello, shiitake, crimini, and rhubarb relish (and we had to dump the board of food into the awaiting bowl!)
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Dessert was Peanut Praline, chocolate cremoso, cacao bizcocho, white chocolate crumble, and whiskey-chocolate ice cream!
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And because it was our official anniversary (August 15) - we got an extra dessert!
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What an amazing evening - truly one of the best meals we have ever had in our lives!

DIARY - DAY 2 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 2 – QUITO – The Teleferico
Monday, August 15, 2022

Monday (August 15) was officially a “free” day – so we slept in a little bit, and then went for breakfast to the nearby Cafe Nativa. Stephen and I had Tradicional Frances which turned out to be whole wheat croissants with dry scrambled eggs and tasteless fruit but interesting sweet tomato jam (tasted a lot like marmalade). Rebecca had an Ecuadoran omelet with cheese and something green topped with popped quinoa and served on a banana leaf and with yummy garlic toast. Stephen was pleased that the coffee was good!

We then hired an Uber to take us to Teleferiqo – a gondola lift running from the edge of the city centre up the east side of the Pichincha Volcano to lookout Cruz Loma. It is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 10,226 feet to 12,943 feet in about twenty minutes. On the way up, we chatted with a man and his son who were visiting from Seattle.

It was cool and windy at the top – but there were gorgeous views in every direction. As we walked along, we passed a local man who had two llamas with him and was offering to let people take pictures – which we did (for a $2 fee!). Rebecca and Elise then took turns on the Columpia en las Nubes (Swing in the Clouds).

A little further along, Stephen found a little shack where he was able to get fresh hot empanada. We saw horses, but opted not to ride them (or hike!) further up. Instead, we headed back to the cable car station for Chai lattes and a tasteless cheese ball (Rebecca and Elise) while Stephen had an Americano and carrot cake.

We headed back down the volcano, then took a taxi back to the Plaza Grande in the old town area. We paid to enter the Cathedral of Quito for the cupola tour – but then found out it wouldn’t be leaving for about 20 minutes – so we headed back out so that Rebecca could try something we’d been seeing signs for everywhere – Helados con Queso (ice cream with cheese). They actually sprinkle shredded cheese on top of the ice cream … sounds weird, but it’s actually pretty good!

Back at the Cathedral, we were led to a tiny little door that we had to literally squeeze through, and then wound our way up a dark, scary, tight, and awkward set of stairs to climb up to the cupola – for the most amazing views that were totally worth the climb!

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a little shopping mall (the same one where the day before we had tasted exploding candy and caca de perros!) – but this time we stopped at a fancy gift shop and wound up buying some souvenirs. Stephen got a ceramic mug; Elise got a tin mug and a pair of lapis earrings, and Rebecca got silver earrings and a bracelet and a pair of shoes with artwork by the famous Ecuadoran artist and sculptor Oswaldo Guayasamín.

We took a taxi home to rest for a bit, and then we walked to Zazu Restaurant. Stephen had researched the restaurant for our anniversary dinner – and it did not disappoint! It was one of the best meals we have ever had in our lives – a seven course “Vegetarian Experience” that was as beautiful to look at as it was amazing to eat!

Considering that we also had the wine pairing, it was a good thing we had to walk home before climbing the stairs for another well earned rest!

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 2

1 – The view from the top of the volcano after riding the Teleferico
2 – Rebecca on the Swing in the Clouds
3 – The view from the Cupola once we climbed up the scary stairs!
4 – More of that view

DAY 3 – OTAVALO – Cuicocha Lake

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On Tuesday, our tour's first stop was a cafe in Cayambe, where they were baking a fresh batch of goodies.
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This town is renowned for baking a buttery, flaky pastry known as Bizcocho - and nearly every shop in town sells the biscuits which are served with dulce de leche and cheese.
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A little more driving and we were at the actual "middle of the world" - 0-0-0!
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We picked up a couple of traditionally dressed indigenous ladies ("friends" of Fernando's) who sang us a song, and then started selling their crafts.
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Rebecca bought a long, hand-made woven tie, and the lady showed her how to use it to tie up her hair.
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Next we went to the Otavalo Poncho market (but we didn't take any pictures!) - and then the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve (about 87 miles north of Quito).
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And, along with our guide Fernando, we started the long climb up the volcano.
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Til we reached the beautiful Cuicocha (Guinea Pig) Lake - a crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano.
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The views were breathtaking on this beautiful day!
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*
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The elevation was making us short of breath - but we kept climbing anyway!
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* And climbing!
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And we made it!
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Yay!
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**
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**
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Then it was time for a group lunch!
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Next we walked along a street known for leather products (very expensive ones!) which we didn't buy ...
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Then back on the bus for more info from Fernando.
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Next we arrived at Cascada de Peguche (Peguche Waterfall).
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We passed some small craft stores along the way ...
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And then we arrived at the beautiful waterfall!
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**
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**
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Before heading back to Quito - we passed some wall art...
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And some roosters!
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Back in Quito, dinner was at "Spaghetti" - but we ate it too fast to get a picture!

DIARY - DAY 3 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 3 – OTAVALO – Cuicocha Lake
Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Tuesday morning (after having breakfast at the hotel), we headed to the Holiday In Express again to catch another bus – with another guide (Fernando), and a new contingent of folks from all over the world (including Germany, Switzerland, and Majorca).

Our first stop was a cafe in Cayambe, a town renowned for a buttery, flaky pastry known as Bizcocho. Yum! Shortly after that, we arrived at the actual “middle of the earth” (exactly 0-0-0 on the GPS!).

Next, we stopped along the way – supposedly to take a picture of a lake – but (considering it wasn’t a very good viewpoint) – it was clearly an excuse to pick up two indigenous sisters who explained their traditional clothing, sang us a song, and offered us some crafts for sale. Rebecca bought a long handmade tie for her hair, and one them showed her how to use it.

We dropped the sisters off at the Poncho market in Otovalo. We walked around the large market where we were given a very hard sell by many of the dealers. Rebecca bought some artwork, Elise bought a Peruvian style hat – but for some reason, none of us took any pictures at all of the market itself!.

Next, we arrived at Cuicocha Lake – a two mile wide caldera and crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano. Its name comes from the Kichwa indigenous language and means “Lago del Cuy” or Guinea Pig Lake in English. It was given this name due to the guinea pig shape of the largest Island in the middle of the laguna. The caldera was created by a massive eruption about 3100 years ago. In combination with other eruptions from nearby Imbabura, Mojanda, Cotacachi, and Cayambe, Cuicocha is responsible for the fertile soil of the Otavalo Valley. The lake is highly alkaline, contains little life, and has no known outlet.

It was a tough walk up to see the beautiful lake – Elise was breathing hard – but it was worth the trip! Then it was back on the bus to a nice place for lunch with the whole group. Stephen had trout, and Rebecca nd Elise shared corn-many-ways. After lunch, we walked down a street filled with upscale leather stores (Stephen tried to find a leather coat, but couldn’t find what he was looking for.

Then we drove to a spot where we walked through a magical woods to arrive at the beautiful Cascada de Peguche (Peguche Waterfall).

After a very long drive home, we wandered around trying to find an Italian restaurant and finally found “Spaghetti” – right next door to the Holiday In Express we had already been to twice! – and we had a lovely dinner. Rebecca and Elise shared shared gnocchi with mushrooms and four cheeses, and Stephen had pesto spaghetti.

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 3

1 – A song from a couple of local women
2 – One of the women braids Rebecca’s hair with a hand-woven strap
3 – The view Cuicocha Lake in the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve

DAY 4 – MINDO – San Tadeo Birding

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We had thought it was going to rain every day - but the next morning was spectacularly clear and beautiful!
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We walked to a nearby bakery at 6am to get egg-and-cheese croissant sandwiches (which inexplicably wound up containing ham!)
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There was a bit of delay - we heard from the tour company that our driver was delayed - so we ate breakfast in the hotel lobby until the bus arrived about an hour late...
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It wound up just being the three of us on a bus with our guide, David, and our driver, Luis. Not too far outside of Quito, we made a pit-stop at a little town called Nanegalito...
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Where David bought us some lovely local fruit for a snack!
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Bananas, tangerines, and gum fruit - yum!
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The bananas in this area have an orange-y inside color, and are a bit smaller and sweeter than standard bananas.
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What David called "gum fruit" was small, with a heavy peel, and had a gooey inside and a nut that reminded me of Sitaphal (custard apple) - but I can't find anything on Google about "gum fruit!"
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There were many different birds, and even a squirrel, but the main attraction was the hummingbirds.
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There was an upper sheltered area with many birds - and a photographer with a high powered lens looking for just the right shot.
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We were pretty happy with these glimpses at beautiful "giant" hummingbirds but then...
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We discovered there was a lower section - with a huge platform looking out at the cloud forest ...
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**And very active hummingbird feeders all around!
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We marveled at the view...
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Then one of the workers gave Rebecca the bottom of a feeder to hold ...
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And things got really magical!
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The hummingbirds would actually sometimes land on your fingers when they were feeding (which tickled!)!!
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And as they zoomed in and out, we could hear and feel the beating of their wings - like little jet planes!
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We were all thoroughly enchanted!
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And we could have stayed there forever!
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But soon it was time to get back in the bus and head up a mountain - along with a major crush of traffic ...
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To board the little yellow "tarabita" (cable car) that runs over the Nambillo River to a mountaintop...
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A short but noisy trip!
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With - of course - a beautiful view!
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And after disembarking - we started the climb ...
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...DOWN the other side ...
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Past beautiful, lush vegetation (and it was very HOT and HUMID!!!)
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**Don't let our smiles fool you - we are DRENCHED with sweat!
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But we did finally make it to the lovely Cascada Nambillo.
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We crossed a bridge to the other side of the river...
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And Rebecca and Elise took a refreshing wade in the icy water!
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Then a hot and sweaty climb back UP through the lush vegetation and back across the gorge in the cable car ...
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To an "extreme sports" compound where we chose the activity of zip lining ...
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**Check out the video section below to see us flying through the jungle!
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Here's a shot of Elise on the zip line...
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Then we headed into the actual town of Mindo ...
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And had lunch at a tiny little place called Charley's (with big glasses of cold passionfruit juice!)
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Next we headed to the Yumbo chocolate factory (the same company we had already sampled while in Quito!) and got a fascinating lecture about the transformation of the cacao bean.
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We sipped on very yummy hot chocolate...
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Tasted the raw cacoa bean pulp...
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...sampled several kinds of chocolate and then finished with the most amazing fudgey brownie!
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We were very happy campers!!
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Then we were walked through the whole process of fermenting the beans...
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...husking them to get to the nibs...
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And the rest of the lengthy process to get to chocolate bars (which we bought more of!!!)
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As if we hadn't already had an action packed day - we next went to a Butterfly Sanctuary that was also a hothouse of many different varieties of orchids...
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(You're really going to want to expand ALL of these orchid pictures to get a sense of how amazing they are!)
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And bunnies!
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And a koi pond!
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And more orchids!
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We finally tore ourselves away from the orchids long enough to get a lecture on the life-cycle of a butterfly...
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Then we went behind the curtain to the "flight" room where the butterflies roam free among the flowers...
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One butterfly even landed on Stephen's hand for a while!
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Back to some orchids...
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And then the two hour drive back to Quito - through the literal Cloud Forest...
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And after rejuvenating showers, we got a rideshare to the second restaurant Stephen had researched in Quito - the amazing Urko.
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Urko is a very classy place that sets a beautiful atmosphere...
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The presentation - and taste - of everything was spectacular! The first course was little bites of potato & quinoa; trout/watermelon, strawberry, and ravioli with carrot (paired with Andean vermouth).
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(While we ate, Rebecca was busily trying to write everything down in a little "passport" they had given us.)
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Next up was Beet, carrot, radish, and mushroom soup, paired with Manzanilla (Spanish sherry).
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This was not an exclusively vegetarian menu - but they went out of their way to prepare equally delicious substitutions for Rebecca as needed!
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We also very much enjoyed the wine pairings!
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Next was Fried plantain with cacao pulp glaze, cheese sauce, shiitake, and sorel - paired with white wine.
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(I don't swear by all these descriptions as I'm trying to interpret Rebecca's squiggles.)
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The staff was also amazing - explaining everything to us along the way!
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We were having a great time!
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Even the lobby was gorgeous and inviting!
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Next up was Argentinian Ceviche with roasted cherry tomatoes, jicama, cucumber sauce, lemon grass "snow", and plantain vinegar (paired with Sparkling Blanc de Blanc).
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This one took some participation as we had to pour the sauce down the little groove in the specialty bowl (which melted the "snow"!).
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Then we had a palate cleanser - a spoonful of achote jam, tamarind, and herbs...
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We polished that off - along with the paired Chilean Rose!
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The sixth course was a "Pampa mesa" - chicken with pate (or eggplant and lentil pate for Rebecca); bone broth, chicken skin, carmelized yeast sauce, and brioche (paired with Morancle Gewurtzraiminer).
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The staff spent some time explaining this course, and pouring the sauces over our plates...
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The first dessert course was Fig tree and honey Cotopaxi, with roasted blackberry, hibiscus and honey parfait (there was probably a wine as well, but it didn't get written down).
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The second dessert course was Genoese cake with chocolate and toasted corn ganache, and pumpkin and passionfruit sorbet (with another sparkling white wine).
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An old friend of Rebecca's from her D.C. days - Porter (who is currently stationed in Quito) - was able to join us for the final couple of courses.
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Even though we were full (and a little drunk), we were offered an extra course of a special Chocolate Tasting Experience with our cinnamon and mint tea...
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And we took advantage of that offer to end our dream evening with a chocolate bang! (This ALSO goes down as one of the best meals we have ever eaten!)

DIARY - DAY 4 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 4 – MINDO – San Tadeo Birding
Wednesday, August 17

We got up at 6:00am to go to a nearby bakery to pick up croissants with egg and cheese (and then discovered that they had put ham in them!) and OJ and coffee to take back to the hotel so we would have breakfast when we got picked up at 7:00am for our next tour.

Our ride didn’t show up at 7pm (we paid extra for hotel pickup) – and we found out through WhatsApp messages that our tour guide for the day – David – would be late because of traffic, and a problem with the car we were supposed to use for the day. We had paid for a private tour to nearby Mindo – but because the car was apparently not working, David eventually showed up in a small bus for just the three of us (and David and our driver Luis). While we waited for them to show up, we ate our breakfast in the hotel lobby.

They showed up about a half hour late and we finally headed north out of the city (passing Mitad del Mundo). It was a spectacularly clear day and the mountains around the city were beautiful. We stopped in a little town called Nanegalito where David bought some fruit for us to try: gum fruit, tangerines, and red bananas.

We were headed for Mindo – which Google says “is a village in the Andes Mountains of northern Ecuador. It’s known for the many bird species, butterflies and orchids found in the surrounding cloud forest, part of the Mindo-Nambillo Reserve. A tarabita (cable car) runs over the Nambillo River to a mountaintop, where trails lead to several waterfalls, including Cascada Nambillo. Zip lines run through the forest canopy.”

Little did we know we were going to experience EVERYTHING Google was saying about Mindo in just one action-packed day!

Our first stop was the San Tadeo Birding sanctuary. The first level was filled with lots of birds and hummingbirds and a squirrel – as well as a man with a very fancy camera who was patiently waiting for just the right shot. It was so lovely, it seemed like it was everything we needed, but on the way out, we realized their was a second, lower level made up of a big platform sticking out into the cloud forest where there were many hummingbird feeders and even more hummingbirds – of every size! We took tons of pictures, and then Rebecca was handed the bottom part of a feeder to hold so the hummingbirds would come right to her – which they did! Elise got a turn as well and it was amazing! The hummingbirds were so close we could hear and feel their wings flapping…it was extraordinary!!

We eventually tore ourselves away and got back on the bus to drive way UP the mountain (in a bit of a traffic jam) to finally take the little cable tram high above the river. Then we had to hike way DOWN to get to the waterfall where Rebecca and Elise waded a bit into the icy water. And then a grueling hike back up, and the cable car back to where we had started (although we were decidedly more moist since it was very hot and humid!). The waterfall we got to – Cascada Nambilla – was actually a little less impressive than the one we had seen the day before – but it was still pretty gorgeous.

Next we went to an “extreme sports” compound where we had our choice of many different sports options – including bicycling across the tree canopy and white water rafting! We chose ziplining and had an absolute blast – although Stephen wound up going backwards on one of the runs and bumped his head on the stopping block on his return (causing a bump which he had for the rest of the trip!)

Then it was back on the bus and down the hill to a tiny little lunch place called Charley’s where the chef insisted on giving David a huge plate of shrimp even though he has been on a diet for two weeks!

After lunch, we went to the Yumbo chocolate factory – the same company where we had done the tasting in Quito. Our Persian host taught us all about cacao beans and walked us through the entire process (including the fermentation period when the beans were covered in fruit flies!) And then we had a tasting with hot chocolate and several different types of their chocolates and a scrumptious brownie that was like molten cake! Then we bought more chocolate in their store.

Because David wasn’t quite done showing us Mindo, we headed to a butterfly sanctuary and learned about the stages of butterflies and then got to walk through the “flight” room. There were also many many different kinds of orchids, and a butterfly landed on Stephen’s hand. It was truly magical!

While we did all this, poor Luis (our driver) was patching a hole in the tire of the bus, but it was done in time for us to start the nearly two hour journey back to the city.

Once back at the hotel, we hurriedly showered and tidied up (the waterfall trip had us drenched with sweat) and then took a cab to the second restaurant Stephen had researched in advance… Urko …which had a prixe fix menu based on the quarter of the Incan Calendar. In their own words, “Urko is a seasonal local food restaurant, where every three months there’s a new menu and the previous one is gone forever. We do this for two reasons: We believe in respecting the natural cycles, which have been part of the life and culture of our ancestors in the communities of Ecuador through the celebration of the Raymis; and it is our way to stay creative and constantly evolving, seeking to overcome our own limits. It will always be a new experience to visit Urko.”

And “The Raymis are celebrations to nature and the astral cycles, fundamental pieces in the cosmovision of the andean communities. These define the agricultural calendar and provide the products that are obtained in each season, giving sense to our four annual menus.”

The “Raymi” we experienced was “Raymi Inti” (June to September) – or “Harvest”. And OMG what a spectacular dinner! Rebecca filled out a passport with details of all the extraordinary courses.

By the time we got to our first dessert course (there were 8 courses – each with a wine pairing – we got a little soused), Rebecca’s friend from Washington – Porter – who works for the State Department and is stationed in Quito, joined us and we had such a blast!

Eventually we got a taxi home and got to bed knowing that we would have an even earlier morning because it was time to say goodbye to the Quito area!

(Just a note to say that this day wasn’t on our itinerary – it was just a free day. We googled around and hit on the idea of a trip to Mindo, and booked with a tour group on a whim without knowing much about what we were getting in to … but it turned out to be possibly the very best day of our entire South American trip!)

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 4

1 – The upper level of the San Tadeo Birding Sanctuary
2 – The lower level – a platform with a spectacular view!
3 – Rebecca feeds the hummingbirds
4 – – continued!
5 – Elise feeds the hummingbirds
6 – A cable car across the gorge (to the waterfall – not seen)
7/8 – Rebecca zips – leaving and arriving!
9/10 – Elise’s turn!
11/12/13 – Stephen’s turn (and you hear him say “Oh no!” as he turns backwards)
14 – The Butterfly (and orchid) Sanctuary
15 – A close up of a beautiful butterfly
16 – A cloudy drive home
17 – Rebecca pours the broth for her soup
18 – Our server at Urko explains our entree

DAY 5 – GALAPAGOS – Santa Cruz Island

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We were up at 3:30 the next morning to catch our ride to the airport (note that South America is VERY SERIOUS about Covid protocols after having lost two years of their tourism industry!)
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We flew south first - about half an hour - to the coastal town of Guayaquil (where we did not get off the plane).
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Then another 90-ish minutes in the air flying over the ocean to the islands of the Galapagos (about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador).
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Baltra Airport is pretty small - with all planes landing on the tarmac. We had to walk down a set of stairs and start the walk to the terminal.
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There are a lot of rules and regulations on the islands - designed to minimize the impact of the thousands of tourists who arrive there every day ...
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We all had to wait to pick up our bags until they were checked by Canine Security!
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Then we started a complicated journey ... first everyone boarded a bus to take us out of the airport area (no other vehicles are allowed near the airport!)
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Then we arrived at a dock where various boats were waiting to transport people from the island airport onto the mainland of Santa Cruz (the biggest island in the Galapagos).
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We took a short trip in a small, semi-open boat - with our luggage loaded on top by the tour operators who had met us at the airport.
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We still had a long way to go today - as Baltra Island is at the north tip of the large Santa Cruz island ...
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After getting off the airport ferry, we were taken to a car by Freddie (I think?) who started us on the drive ...
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Santa Cruz has the longest paved road in Galapagos, north-south across the island, from the airport ferry at Itabaca Canal on the north coast into the highlands and through a few smaller towns ...
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...finally arriving in Puerto Ayora, the island’s largest city located on the southern coast of the island in Academy Bay.
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There we were met by our official Galapagos tour guide - Hanzel - and a couple of crew members who hustled us (and our luggage) down to the pier...
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We were suited up with life jackets...
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Walked down the ramp...
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Loaded into a dinghy...
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And motored out to the Yacht Angelito II...
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Which was to be our home for the next four days...
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This small, family owned yacht has eight double state rooms with their own bathrooms...
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Which means it can hold up to 16 guests ... but Hanzel informed us that another party had canceled just the day before...
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So besides Stephen and me in double room #3 ...
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And Rebecca in double-room #1 ...
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Each room with a private bathroom ...
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It was actually just going to be the three of us ...
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Spreading out in the lounge/dining area...
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And we started out with lunch ...
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**And we were being taken care of by a crew of seven (not including our guide, Hanzel)! (This board was not entirely correct...)
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After lunch, we took the dinghy back to the mainland, and then drove to a Tortoise Reserve where we donned big plastic galoshes...
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Rancho Primicius is a private ranch where you can see the giant Galápagos Tortoises roaming freely throughout the ranch.
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And they were indeed wandering around everywhere!
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It was very cool!
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Hanzel took a picture of the three of us...
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They didn't seem to care at all about all the tourists around them (although we were told to stay six feet away!)
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**
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Then we headed back to the little town of Puerto Ayora..
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Posed for a few pictures ...
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**
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Admired the bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs...
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And the sea lions lounging on the benches ...
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Then took the dinghy back to the Angelito, where we rested a bit on the upper lounge deck...
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Before being summoned to the dining room for our "briefing" from Hanzel (which became a daily occurence) where he told us the plans for the next day and showed us some videos.
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The lounge had a map of the islands we could study ...
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...and a whiteboard where Hanzel would write up our exact schedule for the next day (all of which is very controlled by a central agency to control the crowds on the smaller islands).
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We were then served a lovely dinner prepared by the chef, Renee, and the sous-chef, Omar.
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Renee and Omar took a lot of time and trouble to cook us good food that was also artfully cut and arranged! They were solicitous of vegetarian Rebecca...
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...but were a little stumped by us and served us shrimp for our first dinner. (But quickly whisked it away and changed it for fish!) And Tres Leche cake for dessert!

DIARY - DAY 5 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 5 – GALAPAGOS – Santa Cruz Island
Thursday, August 18

We got up at 3:30, picked up a boxed breakfast, checked out of our hotel, and were picked up to head to the airport for our flight to Guayaquil. We were met by Tony from the tour group who had all our paperwork ready to go and sent us quickly through security. Then we had over 2 hours to kill! Then onto the plane for 35 minute trip to Guayaquil; about 45 minutes on the tarmac while we refueled and got new passengers and took off for the Galapagos. About 90 minutes later we arrived at Baltra Airport on the tiny Baltra Island. We paid our $100 entrance fee and waited while a dog sniffed our bags. We were met by another tour worker who shepherded us onto a bus across the island and then onto a small transit boat that took us to the larger neighboring Santa Cruz Island.
There we were picked up by Freddie who drove us in a van across the island from the north to the southern city of Puerto Ayora which is a nice little town (apparently the largest in all the islands). There we were met by Hanzel, our naturalist guide, and some of the crew for a dinghy ride to the Yacht Angelita.
After settling into our two cabins and realizing we would be the only guests! We met the entire crew
Marie (server)
Renee (chef)
Omar (sous chef)
Willian (captain)
Juan and Santiago (1st mates)
Fernando (engineer)
Then we had lunch of asparagus soup and fish and potatoes and broccoli (meat substitute for RR). They tried first to serve us shrimp but quickly recovered when we re-explained our restrictions).
Then we had a “mandatory nap” then on the dinghy to shore and onto a tour bus to go to a ranch with tortoises (name? Divine family?).
We put on big rubber boots and wandered around the grounds marveling at all the giant tortoises as Henzel told us lots of fun factoids. (Santa Rosa?)
RR wasn’t feeling too well so after a short browse through the gift shop (RR bought a Galapagos cap and a small turtle for Carl) we headed back to town. We got more cash out of an ATM, the went to a pharmacy where Stephen got some pepto for himself and RR). Then back on the dinghy to the boat. We had a practice drill to learn about our life vests, then a briefing from Hanzel with more facts and an explanation of tomorrow’s schedule. Then dinner of potato soup, carrots (cut in pretty shapes), chicken (mushrooms and zucchini) and Tres Leche cake. We sat around the dining room for a bit and then headed in for an early night.
We got up at 3:30 for a 4am pickup to go to the Quito airport (the hotel gave us “box” breakfasts that were a bit tastier than the regular breakfast!).
We flew the 30ish minutes to Guayaquil and sat on the plane as they refueled and cleaned and loaded more passengers and then we flew another 90ish minutes to Baltra airport on Baltra Island, Galapagos.
We took stairs off the plane and walked a long way to the small terminal building and were met by a tour person (Freddie?) who shepherded us quickly through immigration and security and customs. Then we waited for a dog to sniff all the baggage (we were only allowed one carry-on so had to check our roller bags). Then we and our luggage were hustled onto the public bus that transports all arrivals to the dock where we got a boat ferry across the narrow stretch of water to Santa Cruz Island, the biggest inhabited island. (Our luggage was hurled on top of the boat!). Then we were transferred to an SUV which drove us from the northern tip of the island to the southern city of Puerta Ayora a touristy little town where many people start their excursions. Here we were met by Hanzel Martinetti, our guide, who informed us we three were the ONLY guests who would be on board the Angelito 1 with a crew of 7 (plus Hanzel)!
Hanzel took us to the dock where we were met by the Angelito dinghy and taken to the boat and assigned our rooms and fed lunch in the dining room and met the crew.
Then back on the dinghy and on a bus for a trip up to land tortoise farm to put on big rubber boots and walk around seeing lots of tortoises and being given lots of info from Hanzel. RR wasn’t feeling too well so we skipped the childish opportunity to take pix inside of tortoise shells and headed back to the port where we got more cash and some Pepto.
Then back to the boat for a mandatory nap, then a briefing on the next day’s schedule, dinner, and early bed. (All tours must have a certified Ecuadoran naturalist guide, and all itineraries are strictly monitored centrally to make sure there are never too many people at once at any one spot).
Dinner was chicken (meat substitute), rice and fancy cut carrots (first asparagus soup and salad and always fruit was there dessert the first night? Was it tres leches cake?)
While we slept, the boat traveled 5ish hours to the southern remote Espanola Island (RR had a rough night with up and down motion, SG and I took ambian and did okay although I was up many times as usual.

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 5

1 – Canine security check at the Galapagos airport
2 through 6 – Tortoises (and Hanzel’s explanations)
7 – Our first glimpse of the brightly colored Sally Lightfoot crabs

DAY 6 – GALAPAGOS – Espanola Island

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We were summoned at 7am by a tinkling bell for our breakfast of juice, cereal, yogurt, fruit, then eggs and sausage (which got replaced when we reminded them we don't eat pork!)
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Before heading out for the day - we enjoyed watching the birds fly over our upper lounge deck.
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Then we headed out in the dinghy, and were dropped off ...
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On a beautiful, pristine, nearly deserted beach in Gardner Bay on Espanola Island!
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We had arrived for our "wet landing" in bare feet, as requested!
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It was a beautiful morning!
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Hanzel showed us a set of bones, and generally gave us all kinds of interesting information about the area...
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**It was just the four of us on this beautiful, tranquil beach!
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Even Stephen got his feet wet!
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And Rebecca...
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Then we were joined by a playful sea lion...
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...who was cavorting in the water...
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And got quite close to us!
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**We spent quite a long time just strolling...
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...up and down the beach ...
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Just enjoying nature!
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Rebecca was sporting her new hat from the Tortoise Reserve...
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Elise was using her binoculars...
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...the birds were ignoring us...
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**
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**Then it was time to say goodbye to this beautiful beach, head back in the dinghy, (have a lovely snack that was waiting for us!), change into our wet suits, and head back out ...
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To do some snorkeling!
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I sure wish we had an underwater camera...
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Because these above-water pictures can't begin to do justice...
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...to how AWESOME it was ...
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To have a whole bunch of young, friendly, sea lions ...
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... swim right up to us ...
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... somersaulting and barrel-rolling around us ...
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... darting around ...
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Looking absolutely adorable!
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Sometimes even biting down on our flippers ...
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... and giving playful little tugs!
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We hated to say goodbye - but we were exhausted, and ...
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A yummy lunch was waiting for us - with artfully carved beets!
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Then it was off in the dinghy again...
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..to be greeted by an iguana and a bird...
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...for our "dry" landing on Suarez Point (also on Espanola Island).
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There were so many Marine Iguanas!
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They piled on top of each other, and were completely undisturbed by our presence!
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**We were able to see young sea lions nursing...
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This part of the island was just gorgeous!
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More iguanas everywhere!
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We often saw signage like this "Stop" sign - which is all part of the attempt at crowd control!
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We spied a Galapagos Hawk...
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The terrain was incredibly rocky!
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And always more iguanas!
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A Nazca Booby
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And more sea lions...
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Some iguanas are walking up the same path we took from the dinghy!
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Our yacht - the Angelito - in the background!
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A pair of Albatross
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Mother and baby bird...
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We got to watch an impressive blow-hole spewing forth the ocean!
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**
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An American Oystercatcher...
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The sea lion doesn't look very comfortable!
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**
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The blow hole again!
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**
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After a couple of hours of enjoying this spot, we headed back to the pier...
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To meet our dinghy...
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Back on the boat, there was another snack waiting for us when we stepped off the dinghy!
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We had a bit of a break before dinner (time for a shower!) and then Rebecca grabbed a beer...
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...Stephen joined her...
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And we relaxed on the lounge deck until the tinkly bell summoned us...
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To our briefing about the next day's schedule (during which, to be honest, Elise was actually nodding off after our very exhausting day!).
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Dinner started with artfully folded napkins (very different from the tiny little squares of paper that pass for napkins all over Ecuador!)
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We started with a kind of bruschetta...
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Followed by fish (mushroom stuffed avocado for Rebecca) with cheesy cauliflower and green beans.
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Rebecca and Stephen having an earnest discussion before bed. (The boat travelled for three hours in the night and tossed side to side so much it spilled the contents of our bedside table all over us!)

DIARY - DAY 6 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 6 – GALAPAGOS – Espanola Island
Friday, August 19

We were summoned at 7am by a tinkling bell for our breakfast of juice, cereal, yogurt, fruit, then eggs and sausage (we had to explain we don’t eat pork..they had some trouble understanding our restrictions…they actually brought us shrimp for dinner last night but rather quickly replaced it with chicken).

We then prepared for a “wet” landed and headed out to the dinghy with bare feet to walk on a pristine coral beach (Gardner Bay) with birds (and bones) but only a couple of sea lions who stayed in the water.

Then back to the boat (and a quick snack!) to get fitted for wet suits, flippers, and snorkels and then we went to a different beach on the same island to snorkel with the sea lions and fish. Such fun! Rebecca and Elise outlasted Stephen but then he took a bunch of pictures.

Back to the boat to shower and rest and then lunch of (tough) steaks and fries with a gorgeous tasty huge beet shaped like a rose!

More time to rest, and then the dinghy to a dry landing at Suarez Point for a very rocky hike. (Elise was having some trouble keeping her balance with stiff sneakers – so Hanzel decided she needed to be led by the hand which was actually worse! Removing her insoles fixed this problem for the rest of the trip!)

We saw marine iguanas in literally piles everywhere, completely unafraid of us, sea lions catching naps anywhere and everywhere (also pretty unafraid of us) some of them quite far from the water over rocky terrain and cliffs!

We saw small lizards, beautiful landscapes, a hawk, albatross, some kind of dove with a fluffy white chick, a cool blow hole, a bird with red beak (American Oystercatcher), and of course sea lions before heading back to the boat to rest before dinner.

Stephen and Rebecca had beers on the upper sun deck before we were summoned to our briefing for tomorrow’s schedule (during which Elise was falling asleep because she was so exhausted from the day!) and then dinner (with artfully folded real dinner napkins instead of the tiny cocktail napkins we get everywhere in Ecuador) followed by bruschetta type appetizers; and then fish (mushroom stuffed avocado) with cheesy cauliflower and green beans.

That night while we slept, the boat traveled about 3 hours to Santa Fe Island and rocked so hard side to side that Stephen and Elise woke to everything on our nightstand rushing over and hitting Elise in the face and, later, our roller bags careening wildly across the room!

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 6

1 – A bird flying over our boat
2 – Sea lions playing near the beach
3 – Rebecca walking on the beach
4/5/6/7 – Snorkeling shorts!
8 – Iguana and crabs on rocks
9 – A pile of Marine Iguanas
10 – A nursing sea lion (and a bird!)
11 – Close-up of nursing
12 – Synchronized sea lions!
13 – Sea lions showing dominance
14/15/16 – more sea lions at play
17 – the coastline
18 – The blow hole!
19 – Back to sea-lions
20 – Baby bird!
21 – Albatross
22 – Blowhole!
23 – Quick blowhole!

DAY 7 – GALAPAGOS – Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands

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**The next morning, after breakfast, we headed out to Sante Fe Island...
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Where we were greeted by very curious and friendly sea lions!
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The sea lions instantly swarmed Rebecca and Elise...
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Almost seeming to line up to check us out!
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Getting particularly close to Rebecca...
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One of them was brave enough to sniff and nibble at Rebecca's leg!
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**Rebecca was thrilled! (definitely expand this one to see the sea lion at her ankle!)
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Elise also had fun communing with these friendly animals!
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Stephen too!
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Once the novelty of our arrival wore off, the sea lions went back to the business of relaxing on the beach.
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And of course we continued to get lots of fascinating information from Hanzel!
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On this island we were able to get really close to a majestic (and imperious) Galapagos Hawk.
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He let us get ever closer...
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What a beauty!
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Even Hanzel couldn't resist the opportunity to get some pictures!
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**Stephen got close as well...
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**And then our friend Hawk took off to start his hunting for the day!
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So we set off on a trek across the island.
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We ran into a Land Iguana - less colorful than the Marine Iguana, and also more solitary (and more wary of us).
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**Rebecca watching the iguana...
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Hanzel encouraged Rebecca to take a picture looking up at one of the huge cacti with really thick trunks.
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**An iguana eating some fruit from a cactcus...(expand to see the iguana!)
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Photographing some sea shells!
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Our old friend the iguana again (or a different one?)
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Sadly, there is a dead pup next to this mother sea lion...
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A farewell moment with our friend the Hawk!
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Another nursing pup...
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Rebecca photographing some sea lions directly on our path back to the beach...
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Stephen and Elise have to navigate getting past the sea lions without disturbing them!
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**Expand to see a panorama of this beautiful beach!
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** A tranquil father/daughter moment.
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Some friends came to say goodbye...
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We waited for the dinghy to come back for us...
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And we said goodbye to this island!
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Then back to the boat, where a lovely snack was, as always, waiting for us!
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The pause that refreshes!
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Then a short rest in our cabin - where Marie had folded our towels artfully!
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Then we headed out for more snorkeling! (today - just Elise and Rebecca!)
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Stephen acted as photographer again...
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Again - the sea lions were so curious and playful!
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And we had a blast again!
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Then back to the boat again to rest before lunch...
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** Up on the sun deck, we watched some birds ...
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Circling and wheeling above the boat...
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**Elise and Stephen had a nice rest on the "shade" deck...
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While Rebecca was on the sun deck!
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Then we had a lovely spaghetti lunch (you can see Sous-Chef Omar peeking out from the kitchen!)
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And headed out to South Plaza Island where we saw a Swallow-Tailed Gull...
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Another Land Iguana...
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And another Swallow-Tailed Gull.
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And a whole Swallow-Tailed Gull family!
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This island was covered with ice plant that was red (from lack of water at the end of the dry season) that made the landscapes really beautiful!
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**Expand for a beautiful panorama!
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These stones have been worn smooth by eons of sea lions sliding over them.
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Hanzel explained that this was a natural lava tube from long past volcanic eruptions.
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**
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We said goodbye to this beautiful island and headed back to the boat ...
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Where we were given a tour of the engine room, and then invited to visit the bridge...
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We enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the top deck...
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Then we signed the yacht's guest book - where Hanzel had already put a picture of us with the tortoises.
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We wrote our thank-you notes to the crew for how well they took care of us.
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We caught Omar in the kitchen!
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Then the whole crew surprised us by putting on their dress uniforms, and sharing Pina Coladas with us.
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Rebecca and Marie exchanged numbers so they could share pictures.
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Our schedule for our last day would be short - since we had to be at the airport in the late morning.
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Our fancy last dinner was served on placemats with pictures - and avocado tortillas.
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Followed by mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, and a tower of carrots and asparagus.
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For Rebecca, ratatouille took the place of chicken.
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And cake for dessert!
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Before we headed off to bed, we spotted a pelican on the back of the boat.
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**Rebecca enjoyed watching ...
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As the pelican tried to fish off the back of the boat.

DIARY - DAY 7 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 7 – GALAPAGOS – Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands
Saturday, August 20

Our 7am breakfast was pancakes – and then we were off to a beach where we saw blue Footed boobies and extremely friendly sea lions who swarmed us when we wet landed off the dinghy and nibbled a bit on Rebecca!

There were lots of sea lions on this beach, and as we headed inland for a hike, we first saw a majestic Galapagos Hawk on a monument – and even Hanzel had to take pictures because we were able to get so close (although he warned us not to approach if we were near a nest as they would peck our eyes out!)

This island had huge ancient cactus trees, and land iguanas (more solitary and skittish than the marine iguanas) and, of course, sea lions – in the most unlikely places (we watched one mother and pup make their way across the rocks and over the edge of the cliff and down to the water…they made it look surprisingly easy!) And we met up with our buddy the hawk again later, this time perched on a stick and hunting.

We ended our walk at a different beach (fewer sea lions) and were picked up by the dinghy to head back to the boat for juice and fruit and sweet potato chips (in fact, every time we returned in the dinghy – there were inventive snacks and juice waiting for us at the back of the boat t0 enjoy while we took off our life vests and shoes).

Then it was back to our cabins (which had been made up by our server Marie with fancy towel shapes) so we could change into our bathing suits and wet suits for another snorkeling trip! This time, Stephen opted to stay in the dingy and be our photographer – but he couldn’t really capture the joy happening under the water where 8 or 10 young sea lions (and the occasional huge older one) were having a grand time “playing” with Rebecca and Elise by zipping past us, looking us in the eyes, darting around, and tugging on our flippers. It was actually pretty hard not to touch them as they came so close. What an amazing experience and absolutely the highlight of our entire trip!

But eventually we were exhausted – and we headed back to the boat, had snacks, showered and rested, and hung out on the sun deck watching the beautiful frigate birds following the boat, and then had a huge Spaghetti and broccoli and hearts of palm salad lunch, with apple compote for dessert.

After a bit more rest (it was great how they built plenty of down time into an otherwise grueling schedule!), we were off to South Plaza Island where we saw Swallow tailed gulls (with a chick!), both land and marine iguanas, and gorgeous landscapes turned fire red by moisture deprived ice plants, a lava tube, and of course sea lions and Sally Light Foot crabs. This particularly island was really visually stunning!

When we got back to the boat, we were invited for a tour of the engine room (impressively clean and organized…they make their own water from the salt water!) and the bridge (where Stephen got to steer the boat because Captain Willian was on a break!)

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the sun deck, and then went to the lounge to fill in our family page in the boat’s guest book (where Hanzel had already placed his picture of us with the tortoises), and then had some more down time while the boat spent part of the afternoon speeding along to the northside of Santa Cruz Island (the same island where we had started out our journey).

When the bell summoned us for our usual pre-dinner briefing – we discovered that the crew had all put on their fancy dress uniforms and we all shared Pina Coladas (and we gave them their well-earned tips!!). Then our briefing (with just a very short schedule planned for the following morning) wound up just being Hanzel showing us pictures of his family and his own nature pictures that he has taken over the years.

Dinner that evening (with special placemats and napkins) was a fancy menu of avocado tortillas, roasted chicken (ratatouille for Rebecca), a pretty mountain of mashed potatoes, and a criss cross structure of carrots and asparagus, with chocolate cake for dessert.

Before heading to bed for the last time on the Angelito – we stopped at the back of the boat to watch pelicans fishing off the back of the boat!

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 7

1 – Arriving at Sante Fe Island
2 – Close up of Sante Fe arrival
3 – Stephen and Rebecca’s wet landing
4 – Rebecca makes some friends!
5 – More with Rebecca’s friends!
6 – Elise mimics a sea lion
7 – A sea lion crosses our path
8 – We stroll the beach
9 – Lots of sea lions!
10 – A trio of sea lions
11 – A Galapagos hawk!
12- Our hawk takes off from the ground
13 – Our hawk perched, and then in flight
14 – Sea lions head over the cliff (long shot)
15 – Sea lions head over the cliff (close-up)
16 – Land iguana on the move
17 – More iguana
18 – A bird family
19 – Cliffside view with birds
20 – From the sun deck
21 – Pelican with eel
22 – Two pelicans!

DAY 8/9 – GALAPAGOS – Black Turtle Cove / Travel to Guayaquil

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The next morning, we were literally up and boarding the dinghy by sunrise...
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Juan - one of the second mates - was piloting our dinghy.
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The sunrise was beautiful over Black Turtle Cover.
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The beautiful mangrove trees were covered with birds!
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We had our eyes on the clear water - and spotted a hammerhead shark!
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Hanzel knew exactly where sea turtles would be passing through these groves - and we watched many swim by ...
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**expand to see the sea turtle!
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Juan was enjoying helping us find sea turtles to look at!
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**
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**
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We spotted a spotted ray!
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You can't quite see - but in the distance there are two sea turtles mating in the water.
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And another hammerhead shark!
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What great fun it's been to travel as a family!
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After our beautiful and tranquil trip, we started to head back to the boat.
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Back on the boat for the last time, we had breakfast, and then packed up our bags and headed off in the dinghy one last time ...
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And we were dropped off at the dock where we caught the bus...
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To Baltra Airport where we had a two hour wait, and enjoying watching the bird hopping around the waiting room.
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But we did pay attention to the sign telling us not to feed the Darwin Finches!
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Then we left the Galapagos Islands behind...
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And we flew back to Guayaquil, where Stephen and Elise deplaned (but Rebecca stayed on board).
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Rebecca then flew back to Quito, and from there to Florida and then home to Los Angeles.
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We were just spending one night in Guayaquil while in transit - but our hotel room was very fancy!
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We had a lovely view out our window - because the hotel was right on the water.
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We were at the Wyndham Guayaquil - next door to this strange building that looks like a squeeze bottle...
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We took a stroll down the water-side esplanade.
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Where we also got a better view of the squeeze bottle building.
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Rebecca had mentioned that we saw lots of dogs in Ecuador, but hardly any cats - but Guayaquil seemed to have lots of cats!
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The residential area around the hotel was really charming.
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We had a lovely meal on our unexpectedly "Premium Economy" flight from Guayaquil to Lima.
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As we flew from Lima to Cusco - we could see the mountains growing beneath us!
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In Cusco, we were picked up by our guide (Ruben) and our driver (Jose) and taken to our upgraded boutique hotel, the Andean Wings, which had a charming central courtyard!
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And an equally charming lounge/bar area.
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Our room was pretty charming as well - and we were very happy to crawl into our huge bed!

DIARY - DAY 8/9 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 8/9 – GALAPAGOS – Black Turtle Cove / Travel to Guayaquil
Sunday/Monday, August 21/22

Our last morning on the boat, our wake up bell came early – 5:45 – and we were hustled onto the dinghy by 6am for an hour dinghy ride through the mangroves of Black Turtle Cove to see sea turtles, sharks, puffer fish, and tiger rays swimming by. It was ethereally peaceful as we glided along and watched the sunrise.

Back on the boat we had our final breakfast and were then brought to the bus terminal on Baltra for the trip to the airport. Hanzel got us to security and then hugged us goodbye. We had a two hour wait at the small terminal crowded with little stores (Rebecca bought a lovely lizard plaque) and then flew to Guayaquil where we said goodbye to Rebecca who stayed on the plane to Quito, then to Florida and home.

Stephen and Elise got off the plane in Guayaquil and were met by the Wyndham Hotel shuttle and whisked away to our swanky king-sized bed view-of-the-river room. Stephen sent all his clothes to be laundered, and we changed to lighter clothes (it was hot and humid!) and went for a stroll along the riverside walk passing restaurants, fountains, and quaint cobble stoned streets lined with art shops. The cool looking Porto restaurant wasn’t open (Sunday) so we ate a reasonable meal at the restaurant hotel and then retired for the night.

We got up late (8ish!), showered, headed down to fancy included buffet breakfast, then showered, got Stephen’s laundry, packed, and took the shuttle to the airport at 11am.

Another two hour wait (Stephen had a chicken sandwich for lunch, Elise just had tea). There was some kerfuffle checking in (Elise had forgotten that our travel agent, Klaus, had put her on a separate reservation – but we got it figured out and then discovered we were in Premium Economy! They were very roomy seats near the front – and came with a lovely meal on real plates with glasses and silverware and a fancy dessert!

There was some more confusion in Lima – finding our way through customs and then checking in again for our next flight – which was also Premium but not nearly so fancy (just snacks) and then we finally landed in Cusco, Peru!

We were met by our guide – Reuben – and driver – Jose – and taken to the beautiful boutique hotel Andean Wings to check in and have some coca leaf tea (to help us adjust to the altitude of over 11,000 feet) before getting to our room and settling in for the night.

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 8

1 – A sea turtle swims by
2 – And now a hammerhead shark!
3 – Two sea turtles mating!
4 – And a spotted ray swims by!
5 – Motoring to another spot
6 – More turtles (wait for it!)
7 – A very slow turtle poses for us!

DAY 10 – SACRED VALLEY / PISAC / OLLANTAYTAMBO

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The next morning, we got to see our lovely hotel courtyard in the daylight...
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We had our breakfast in the lovely (if chilly!) courtyard.
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We headed out for an early morning walk - this is the front of our boutique hotel - the Andean Wings. (We were upgraded at no cost because our tour company had heard some negative things about ...
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The hotel was just a short walk - on lovely old streets ...
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From the main square of the city of Cusco. Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, was once capital of the Inca Empire, and is now known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture.
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Plaza de Armas is the central square in the old city, with arcades, carved wooden balconies and Incan wall ruins.
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We walked past one of the ornate cathedrals flanking the square (there are two!) but didn't go in - we will have our official Cusco City tour in a few days.
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Back at the hotel, an indigenous woman had set up her wares (and her baby llama!) in our courtyard - so Elise bought a pair of knitted gloves and got this picture!
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Then we actually checked out of the hotel, and Ruben and Jose picked us up to start our journey into the Sacred Valley.
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We stopped at a viewpoint off the highway, and Ruben talked to us about the agriculture of the valley (and then someone tried to get us to buy the package of products Ruben had been holding!)
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We posed for a quick picture (Ruben LOVED to take pictures of us everywhere!)
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And we continued on to the Pisac Archaeological Park, a hilltop Incan citadel with ancient temples, plazas and the Intihuatana, a stone structure thought to have been a sundial.
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Looking back, we could see the twisting (and very poorly maintained!) road we had just climbed to get to Pisac.
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But the real feature, of course, was the rows of terraces that had been built in pre-Incan times (which can be seen literally everywhere you look all over Peru!)
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The Incas carved out these bench terraces, or andenes, to create level platforms for growing crops on the steep slopes of the Andes.
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Llamas can be seen all over as well.
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It was a lot of climbing to get to the top (and Elise was getting winded very easily at the high altitude!) but it was worth the trip!
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This happened to be Elise's Dad's 93rd birthday - and surprisingly we were able to put through a Zoom call and have a video chat while standing on the top of this beautiful mountain!
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One more view...
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And we made our way out through the throngs of people and tour buses and back down the terrible mountain road...
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We made a short pit-stop in a town I didn't catch the name of - where we saw a bunch of school children on their way somewhere...
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And an apparently typical Peruvian hairless dog ... just outside a silversmith shop where we got a display of jewelry making - and, of course, bought a bunch of beautiful jewelry!
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Then we passed through a little town that is literally known for Cuy (guinea pig) and advertised that in almost every storefront. (We had been warned off of guinea pig and never actually tried it.)
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Then we stopped at a beautiful colonial home set in a beautiful garden/river-side setting - with the mountains for a back-drop...
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...for a rather good and very expansive buffet lunch (this place was HUGE and clearly frequented by nearly every tour group on their way through the Sacred Valley).
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In the outside area, there was entertainment from a musician who was playing every single size of pan-flute available!
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Complete with llamas grazing...
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The back of the property was a beautiful garden that sloped down to the river...
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And a walk down to the Urubamba River that goes through the Sacred Valley, first utilized by the Chanapata civilization around 800 BCE for agriculture because of the rich soil.
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Then we reached our destination for the day - the town of Ollantaytambo - a living Inca town that remains almost unchanged despite the passage of time.
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Ollantaytambo has narrow cobbled streets and fast flowing irrigation channels. It was laid out in the form of a corn cob, and is one of the few surviving examples of an Inca grid system.
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**We spent the afternoon walking around this charming town, admiring the irrigation channels everywhere, and enjoying the colorful market.
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Many of the locals wear colorful and elaborate outfits which we were assured were NOT costumes for our sake.
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We checked in to the Sol Natura Hotel - where we were only supposed to stay one night - but an unexpected train strike kept us there for two nights.
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The central courtyard of the hotel was lovely - but it was a new establishment and they didn't quite have their act together ... (no TVs, heat wasn't working, etc.)
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** But the desk clerk recommended nearby Mawik Restaurant for dinner - and she was right to do so! (Expand to see Stephen's chicken entree and Elise's luscious mushroom risotto.)

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 10

1 – Driving to the Sacred Valley
2 – Entertainment during lunch
3 – Views of the Incan city of Pisac
4 – The terraces of Pisac.

DIARY - DAY 10 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 10 – SACRED VALLEY / PISAC / OLLANTAYTAMBO
Tuesday, August 23

We got up early had had a lovely buffet breakfast in the (cold) courtyard of the hotel. Then we took a stroll around the busy town of Cusco- walking to the huge and elegant town square with two huge and ornate cathedrals. Back at the hotel, a woman with a baby llama had set up shop in the courtyard with all kinds of wares. I paid her 10 soles for a pair of knitted gloves AND a picture of her and the llama (we had been warned by Ruben that we could be swarmed by women and girls with baby llamas wanting us to pay them for pix).

Ruben and Jose then picked us up around 8:30 (after we checked out of the hotel) and we started our drive to the Sacred Valley.

We stopped at a viewpoint where there were also people selling wares and Ruben told us about the many varieties of corn and quinoa grown here.

We then drove very high up and eventually reached the ancient fortress town of Pisac (lots of other tourist buses and vans here as well!) and started our hike up to look at the amazing ruins. The hillside is terraced for farming, and the ruins of buildings remain that Ruben says were there for centuries before the Incans came and took over.

It was a hefty climb and Elise in particular was definitely getting very winded – but would recover quickly with a short rest. (Elise also woke up suffering from a very stuffy nose – but realized later it was likely an allergy to the hotel’s feather pillows!)

There was crazy traffic on the VERY bumpy road back down the mountain – Ruben told us that the central government was supposed to pay for that stretch of road, but they hadn’t gotten around to it! We continued our way through the Sacred Valley, and then stopped in a little town to go into a jewelry shop for a quick demonstration of how silver is turned into jewelry. Elise bought earrings and a necklace that represent the Incan calendar. Outside the store, we also saw a Peruvian hairless dog. Later, Ruben wanted us to try guinea pig in a little town which seems to do nothing but and has huge guinea pig statues and every other house is a “cuyeria”. We didn’t.

Then we stopped at a beautiful huge colonial home in the middle of nowhere that is obviously the standard pitstop for all tourist groups on this trip. It is called Tunupa and is a huge buffet restaurant with many rooms of tables, lots of interesting foods on the huge buffet, a man playing Peruvian pan flutes of every size, and beautiful grounds by the edge of the river.

We had a lovely lunch – all four of us – and continued on our drive through the Sacred Valley with the mountains towering all around us.

By early afternoon we had reached the quaint little town of Ollantaytambo and we browsed the colorful market and explored the main square and Ruben showed us how this town still benefits from the pre-Incan system of aqueducts that move water throughout the town.

We then checked in to the Sol Natura hotel a fairly new and modern hotel that doesn’t completely have their act together yet in many areas (no TVs, no hot water, heater not working) but they are very attentive.

We rested for a couple of hours and then went to the restaurant recommend by the hotel staff – Mawic – who were short staffed and the beleaguered waitress kept literally running back and forth from the bar to the kitchen – right past our table – and shaking the old floor boards – with an unhappy look on her face. She also brought us a bill missing half of our items – which we pointed out and got fixed. But the food was wonderful. Stephen had cream of mushroom soup and a chicken entree and Elise had a luscious mushroom risotto and a kind of cannolli for desert.

Back in the room, we watched Netflix on Stephen’s phone for a while and then went to sleep fairly early.

As a side note – the weather in this part of Peru is pretty cold in the morning and evening (Elise wore a sweater, raincoat, Peruvian hat and gloves to dinner) but very sunny and HOT during the day.

Here is some more info on the Sacred Valley, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo from Wikipedia:

THE SACRED VALLEY and PISAC:
The Sacred Valley is a region in Peru’s Andean highlands. Along with the nearby town of Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, it formed the heart of the Inca Empire. Stretching roughly 60 kilometers, it’s an area of fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages like Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Pisac is known for its Sunday handicraft market and hilltop Incan citadel.

OLLANTAYTAMBO:
Around the mid-15th century, the Inca emperor Pachacuti conquered the town of Ollantaytambo and incorporated it and its surrounding regions into his personal estate. Under Pachacuti’s ownership, town of Ollantaytambo went through an extensive rebuilding and improving process starting with the construction of elaborate terraces and superior irrigation system. It is now a living Inca town and remains almost unchanged despite the passage of time. It has narrow cobbled streets and fast flowing irrigation channels. Furthermore, Ollantaytambo was laid out in the form of a corn cob. It is one of the few surviving examples of an Inca grid system.
Water— and the control of water—had a ceremonial function for the Incas. They were able to control the flow of water with great precision, often bringing the water from springs way up in the mountains via stone channels and aqueducts, and finally to fountains and waterfalls at important points within their religious sites.

DAY 10 – OLLANTAYTAMBO

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In the morning, we had breakfast in the hotel's beautiful breakfast room.
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Which looked out onto a beautiful garden with a mountain back-drop.
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Ruben met us at the hotel, and we walked to the Incan ruins on the edge of the town. It is a really huge complex, surrounding the city - and we certainly didn't explore the whole thing ...
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But of course we climbed up to the top of the terraces!
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We were amazed by the way the stones were carved - precisely and intricately - so that they could all fit together very tightly - often without any mortar at all - and even withstand earthquakes!
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"The Temple Hill is commonly known as the Fortress, but this is a misnomer, as the main functions of this site were religious."
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"The main structure of the whole sector is the Sun Temple, an uncompleted building which features the Wall of the Six Monoliths."
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The grounds also have several decorative fountains.
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For a break - we had some ice cream!
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Then Ruben took us to the REAL market - the local one, where the city residents go to do their shopping. It was a big and colorful affair with different areas for different types of goods.
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With lots of beautiful produce for sale...
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Not all of the stalls had a lot of customers...
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Outside the market, we saw locals in indigenous garb heading for the square.
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We visited the workshop of Eduardo Baltazar Huaman Aquino, who makes decorative ceramic pots entirely by hand! We bought one of his small pieces and he wrapped it up carefully for transport.
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Following an afternoon rest, we headed to Apu Veronica (which had been recommended) for dinner.
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**The food was really delicious - and it was served in unusual and heavy vessels that were reminiscent of the Inca rocks we had been seeing all day!
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The restaurant itself was on the second floor of this building.

VIDEO PLAYLIST DESCRIPTION – DAY 11

1 – Irrigation in the town of Ollantaytambo
2 – Lunch looking out on the main square.

DIARY - DAY 11 (click toggle to expand)

DAY 11 – OLLANTAYTAMBO
Wednesday August 24

In the morning, we discovered that our hotel had a lovely breakfast room that looked out onto a really beautiful garden. It was another beautiful day! Ruben picked us up and we walked to the site of the Inca ruins right on the edge of the city. The Ollantaytambo ruins is a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. Major sites within the complex include the huge Sun Temple and the Princess Baths fountain.

It was another long climb up to the top – for another spectacular view! When we headed back down, we wandered through the charming streets of Ollantaytambo and its craft market – and stopped for some ice cream!

Then we walked through the local produce market – which had all kinds of really interesting stalls selling a wide variety of products. Next, we stumbled into the workshop of a pottery maker (Eduardo Baltazar Huaman Aquino) who made everything completely by hand (even a hand powered pottery wheel!). We bought a small piece and the maker packed it up carefully for the trip home.

We bought Ruben lunch at a second-floor restaurant on the main square, and then we wound up back at the hotel for a rest (and more Netflix!) before heading out for dinner at Apu Veronica – where the yummy food was served on heavy stone-crafted vessels that were very reminiscent of the Incan stones we had been seeing all day!

DAY 12 – MACHU PICCHU

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We were up at the crack of dawn to walk - with Ruben - to the Ollantaytambo train station - which was crowded with folks also headed to Machu Picchu!
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We boarded the train for a 90 minute trip ...
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We continued to find that Peru (as Ecuador) is taking Covid precautions very seriously. We were admonished several times to keep our masks on during the train ride.
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The scenery as we traveled through the Sacred Valley was beautiful - including snow capped mountains in the distance.
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Then we arrived in super-crowded Aguas Caliente (also known as Machu Picchu Village)...
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We moved very quickly (along with the crowds) to the bus station...
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There were rows and rows of buses lined up - to accommodate the never-ending line of tourists! It was an example of organized chaos!
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And again - the 20 minute trip up the mountain was beautiful ...
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But also a bit terrifying as we speed past buses coming the other way, and navigated the sharp turns of the switch backs ...
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At the official entrance to Machu Picchu, we joined the lengthy line of tourists presenting their passports and tickets before being allowed to enter the grounds.
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We immediately started to climb UP above the actual main ruins ...
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Passing the ever-present rows of Inca terraces ...
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We definitely had to rest periodically (the elevation here is nearly 8000 feet).
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This sign-post gave us the option to continue to the "Plataforma Inferior" or "Plataforma Superior". Of course we chose to go UP!!
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Again - gorgeous views!
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**
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We passed a llama who was smart enough NOT to be climbing ...
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Then we started to begin to glimpse the famous ruins...
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As Machu Picchu came into view ...
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And then we were seeing the iconic view!
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Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar.