Oooh the Galapagos! It is with great relief that we reached the islands and our new home, the MY Beluga.
This followed a frantic day of extraordinary land-based events, including an excellent but somewhat Alice-in-Wonderland style delicious snack of Champagne on ice, olives, cheese and canapes served by the side of a rail track, in sizzling hot desert-like conditions at the side of a gorge, followed a while later by a minor derailment of our train and an ear-splitting welcome to Salinas by the school band. (They only appeared to know a couple of musical phrases, but made up for this deficit with vigorous repetition.)
Another excellent lunch in Salinas served by local youngsters overseen by a couple of tutors (it felt not unlike a community college dining room). The whole train project is a big investment in this area and is about a year old: it is designed to promote employment and increase tourist access to the Northern Andes. The excellent and distinctly Ecuadorian food on this trip was been a delightful surprise. They are very big into soups, which seems odd at the equator.
On the way back to Quito by bus, we made an unscheduled stop in Otavalo again to cash some travelers cheques at a tiny Western Union Office. The office may have been tiny, but the security guard certainly had a BIG gun (we didn’t have the nerve to ask to take his picture) and, by the time five of us had cashed out, the clerk was down to her small change. Cash is really to only way to shop; one or two tourist places would accept credit cards, but with a significant surcharge, and you couldn’t rely upon it working for you. Bank machines, too, were a hit and miss affair. Those that didn’t need cash seized the opportunity for a baño stop and a little more last minute market-grazing and alpaca yarn buying.
The remainder of the trip back to Quito took an age: we were held up by, and witnessed, the hideous results of a crash between a coach full of homeward-bound workers and a large transport truck on the highway. We were glad that we had been delayed in Otavalo and were thus not part of the action. Whilst stuck in the resulting traffic jam, we were both amazed and appalled by the number of instant vendors that appeared, on foot, along the road, selling snacks to the imprisoned motorists. Enterprising.
On reaching Quito once again, we all had to change gear (literally and mentally), divide our luggage into ‘staying at the hotel’ and ‘required for the islands’, and strip down to the essentials-only to meet the limitations on luggage for the flight to Guayaquil and Baltra.
Another early start, this was not a trip for those who wanted to lounge around in bed. We’ll sleep when we get home!