Nature overload: eight magical days in the Galapagos

Visiting the Galapagos has always been one of those big bucket list items for me. In fact, our whole trip was built around three must-dos: Rio Carnaval, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. Suffice to say, expectations were high. Sky high.

I could have set my expectations at the moon, and I still would have been blown away.

Our home for the eight days was the Yate Guantanamera, a tourist-class (read: pretty budget) ship that we booked via Oasis Overland. Most of the other people on board booked last minute in Puerto Ayora (one couple even booked on the day of departure!), so that is a very viable option for anyone looking to do ‘budget’ Galapagos. But we had limited time and wanted a guaranteed sailing date, so we planned ahead!

Even for a budget ship, Guantanamera provided everything we needed: snorkelling equipment and wet suits (it was the “cold” season in Galapagos, so swimming was more comfortable in a short wetsuit), clean (if very cramped) cabins and surprisingly excellent food. Plus, the itinerary was amazing. Over the course of eight days/seven nights, we sailed: Baltra-Bartolome-Genovesa-Isabela-Fernandino-Santiago-Rabida – the North/West islands.

P1030107

What surprised me the most about the Galapagos was the variety of landscape. I don’t know what I pictured in my head before, but I wasn’t expecting the mixture of beach paradises, lush forests, ancient calderas and barren lava fields that we came across. Each island is so different, and it makes me wonder what I missed out on from the places we didn’t see! Oh well, an excuse to go back…

P1020686

DSC_0737

Then, of course, the wildlife. We felt so lucky to see so much, but maybe it wasn’t luck – maybe it’s just the Galapagos? Still, on land, in the air and under the sea, we saw such variety of wildlife that it was pretty overwhelming, and sometimes even easy to get jaded. Oh, swimming with another turtle? Yawn. Was that a reef shark? Who cares. Is that a rare red-foot booby? Yes, but where are the blue foot? Haha, okay, we weren’t quite that bad, but it did feel like we kept upping the ante with every island we visited. For example, on Genovesa, we were told we had the chance to see a short-eared owl – quite rare, and normally only visible through binoculars on the rocky coast. We showed up, and there was one sitting on the bridge, just waiting for us. No big deal.

DSC_0667

A short-eared owl

P1020913

A pacific green sea turtle

P1020826

A white-tip reef shark

The coolest animals for me were the iguanas – both marine and land. We actually got a chance to swim with the marine iguanas, so that was pretty epic!

P1030025

A male land iguana

P1030101

Swimming with a marine iguana

But we saw SO much. Galapagos hawks within touching distance. Frigate birds with giant red inflatable pouches under their beaks. Galapagos sharks circling the boat. Hammerhead sharks (these were amazing – we swam with three). Eagle rays. Sting rays. Mobula rays in a school of hundreds. Sea lions lounging on park benches. Common dolphins leaping out of the water. Humpback whales. Giant tortoise. Thousands of varieties of fish – from puffer fish to king angelfish to neon-bright parrot fish. Three different types of boobies. Darwin finches (including the terrifying-sounding vampire finch). Flightless cormorants with useless, stubby wings. Lava lizards. Galapagos racers (snakes). Even penguins!

DSC_0563

A red foot booby

DSC_0134

Blue foot boobies fishing

DSC_0835

Photographing flightless cormorants

P1020998

Eagle ray

DSC_0770

Giant tortoise

DSC_0595

Hola! from a sea lion

DSC_0572

A great frigatebird

This was nothing like our Amazon or Pantanal experience, where we were only able to see a few animals. This was a safari on steroids. A feast for our eyes. And what was also amazing was the proximity you could get. Official rules state that you are only allowed to approach the animals at a distance of 2 metres, but the problem wasn’t us approaching the animals – but the animals approaching us!

P1030164

Hello mister sea lion

P1030136

Hello mister Galapagos hawk

All in all, a week was not enough. Top tip if you did have more time – our boat was offering discount prices if you stayed on board another week, so if you had the budget and the extra week, you could really see a lot.

I think if we went back, we’d try to get some diving in as well. We unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity and I have a feeling the diving would be incredible.

Last photo… A lava lizard perched on top of a smiling marine iguana, lying on a beach in the sunshine. It doesn’t get more Galapagos than that.

DSC_0947

Follow:

15 best under-the-radar moments in 15 weeks of travel in South America with Oasis Overland

So, in the last post I talked about the BIG highlights – the epic destinations/activities that get the most airtime on the blog or on Instagram. But the real beauty of 15 weeks of travel isn’t always in the big stuff… but in the under-the-radar wonders that get under your skin and stick with you for a long time. The stuff that people don’t talk about as much, that changes you in more subtle ways. There aren’t as many WOW photographs for this section, but trust me when I say the were epic in their own right. Andddd also, most of them are food-related. We love food, okay?!

Here are my 15 best under-the-radar moments from 15 weeks of travel in South America with Oasis Overland:

1 – Discovering acai (with granola and bananas especially) in Brazil… and never eating anything else. Shoutout also to the sellers of ‘Skol Beats’ on Sambadrome night – their constant cries became the refrain to our evening

IMG_8664

Doesn’t look like much… but this was the nectar of the gods

2 – Buying my personalized South America journal in San Telmo market, Buenos Aires. The man who owned the stall customized it just for me, and I love it. Sometims I am reluctant to buy things (especially as we have to lug them home!) but this was the perfect souvenir.

3 – Swimming under an Iguazu Falls waterfall at the end of the Macuco trail – while the main falls were, of course, the big attraction, it was nice to get a bit off the beaten tourist path and to refresh in the lovely water

P1010269

4 – Cooking our own steak in Argentina directly on the coals in the hostel in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. Going out for dinner is nice and all, but sometimes nothing beats a bit of homecooking. And the steak from the supermarket was so cheap and absolutely delicious.


5 – Coming up with our own ‘truck songs’ around a campfire with our resident former-rock-star, and singing them loudly at every opportunity (confusing anyone who happened to hear). Favourites included ‘Dos Banos con Hobos’ (inspired by some… interesting campsites with special residents), ‘Why don’t you come on over, Pascaline’ (to the tune of Valerie) and ‘Andy’s Full of Meat Again’ (an ode to our closest near-death experience)


6 – Llamas. Llamas everywhere. Baby llamas in the arms of cholitas. Big llamas on Machu Picchu, minding their own business. With such big beautiful eyes, they totally made my heart melt.

DSC_0304

DSC_0186

7 – Random karaoke nights in El Calafate, Argentina and Otavalo, Ecuador which led to singing and dancing with locals


8 – Campsite pets – peccaries (Pantanal) and doggies (everywhere). South America is not the place to travel if you dislike dogs. At some point they were like our personal bodyguards, accompanying us to and from our campsites!

image


9 – Designing our own truck T-shirt. This was great fun, and a great memory too! We were able to put together a design for a truck T-shirt (Eat, Sleep, Truck, Repeat) which was properly drawn by our resident costume designer, the incredible Pascaline (who was also the oldest traveller on board – overlanding not just for the young’uns!). Not pictured: the back, which is a ‘word map’ of our destinations in South America designed by Lofty!

Me wearing the truck t-shirt on the equator

10 – Chilling out, watching some amazing sunsets with a beer or pisco sour – over Rio and Arequipa especially

IMG_8688 image DSC_0340

11 – The awe-inspiring frescos of the Huaca de la Luna/ Temple of the Moon, Peru – The Mochi culture was one I hadn’t heard of (much more under the radar than inca) and it was fascinating

p1020380 p1020381

12 – Truck BBQs on bush camp days – even in a quarry in the middle of nowhere, we still managed to eat incredibly well – thanks to the BBQ skills of our driver, Gareth and tour leader, Kim!

image image

13 – An unexpectedly beautiful fountain show in Lima – a bit of Disney-like Magic to spice up our evening


 14 – CANCHA, the unpopped popcorn snack of Bolivia/Peru/Ecuador. Gluten-free and salty… it became the ultimate snack

  
15 – Lack of wifi on drive days… which led to LOTS of reading, games of Mafia, Uno and looong euchre tournaments – my favourite card game – I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed playing silly boardgames with people

gopr0720

Okay, okay – I bet you’re all so bored of the good times… what about the bad times?

“Top” 3 lowlights of the trip:

1- THE BUGS. It’s to be expected when visiting the Amazon, but Lofty got properly eaten alive. I think we counted 70 bites on one lower leg alone. And they were ITCHY.

2- Bush pooing. Nuff said.

3- Traveller belly on drive days. Rather inevitable, and this is probably ’nuff said’ as well, but it wasn’t pleasant!

But considering all the amazing times… it was nothing we couldn’t handle!

Thanks for everything, Oasis. You were swell 🙂

Follow:

15 highlights from 15 weeks in South America – Oasis Overland Kingdoms & Carnivals

It’s almost impossible to believe, but fifteen weeks travelling with Oasis Overland are now over! We have arrived in Quito, Ecuador and are settling in to life off the big yellow truck. It’s a bittersweet moment – we know we have some great times ahead, but leaving the group behind is going to be really tough. If there was any room in our backpacks, we would tuck them in and take them with us for the next stage of the adventure!

DSC_0372

(If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll have guessed that I’m several weeks behind on the itinerary but I wanted to write this post while it was still fresh in my mind!)

For new blog readers, I’ve been travelling with Oasis Overland on their Kingdoms and Carnivals route from Rio-Quito. Visiting six countries and driving over 21,496km, it was one heck of a trip! There were definitely ups and downs (mostly because of the number of times we needed to cross the Andes!), plenty of extreme highs and some gut-wrenching lows but that’s what this kind of travel is all about – and I wouldn’t change it for moment. We’ve faced thefts, a (minor) stabbing, a disappearance, several near-death experiences (choking, seizures, falling down glaciers, face-planting on bicycles), a few incidents of dengue fever, a fractured elbow, a bridge collapse and been stuck in the sand… but we’ve also had too many perfect moments to count: camped night after night under a crystal clear Milky Way, watched stunning sunsets by the dozen, visited cultural and historical sites way off the beaten path, eaten fresh fish straight from the sea, skinny-dipped in fjords, hiked to thundering waterfalls, seen lava bubbling and glaciers collapsing and condors flying and poison dart frogs jumping… it’s been amazing.

I’ve struggled to choose but here are just fifteen highlights of the fifteen week tour:

1) Paragliding over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

G0012632

As a city, Rio at Carnival was everything I expected: hot, crazy, colourful, loud, chaotic. But even though we had loads of fun in Rio – at Sambadrome and touring Cristo Redentor – my favourite moment was paragliding high above its stunning beaches. From the air, it was so peaceful and I could really appreciate Rio’s deep connection with the mountains and the sea.

2) Snorkelling down Rio da Prata in Bonito, Brazil

P1000911
P1000853

Some experiences you have no idea about, and so when they happen, they absolutely blow you away. For me, this was snorkelling in Rio da Prata in Bonito. The river has absolutely crystal clear water and myriad fish with absolutely no fear. It was mesmerizing.

3) Fuerza Bruta and Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina

IMG_4196IMG_4169

I don’t want to post too many pictures of the Fuerza Bruta show in Buenos Aires because the surprise was part of the fun. It’s a touring show so we were lucky to see it – and for $12 a ticket it was an absolute bargain. This might be the best live theatre experience I’ve ever had. I won’t say more but if it visits your city, GO. The tango show was also brilliant, but in a different way – it was eye-opening seeing the acrobatic skill of the dancers, legs flying everywhere, and learning about the history of the dance. Add an amazing steak dinner and free wine on top, and you have a winner!

4) ANTARCTICA

TPD at Neko Harbour

I wrote a series of four posts explaining just HOW amazing this whole experience was – if you want to find out more about my last minute trip to the seventh continent with G Adventures Expedition, I suggest having a read!

5) Completing the W-trek, Torres del Paine, Chile

P1010659 G0130988

The whole W-trek was amazing, but there was nothing like celebrating in the posh Hotel Las Torres at the very end with a HUGE pizza and amazing cocktails. We were pretty merry by the end, but it felt like a huge accomplishment.

6) Turning 30 in Futaleufu, Chile – the white water capital of South America

IMG_9124IMG_4490

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday, and Futaleufu was the perfect destination! A campsite with beautiful cabin upgrades (of course we had to upgrade from the tent for my birthday), a fire pit, sauna and some amazing white water rafting… it was pretty perfect.

7) Seeing lava in Pucon, Chile

P1020042

Hiking the Villarica Volcano was always on the top of my ‘to-do’ list, especially after watching it explode on the news last year. It was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, but thankfully we were rewarded at the top with boiling, bubbling, bursting lava. EPIC.

8) Wine Tasting and Wine Ice-cream in Cafayate, Argentina

IMG_9228 IMG_9218

I’m not the biggest wine drinker in the world, but even I can get on board with a bit of wine ice cream! Cafayate in Argentina was a beautiful stop on the itinerary, home to dozens of bodegas (wine cellars) and heladarias. Their speciality is ice cream made from Torrentes (a delicious form of white wine) and Merlot (red wine) grapes. Very refreshing on a hot day! The Torrentes wine itself isn’t bad either… in fact, we may have picked up a bottle or two (or eight) to drink during the rest of the trip! The Nanni Torrentes (pictured above) was my fave.

9) Uyuni, Bolivia Salt flats day trip

IMG_9343

What can I say? This was another expected highlight that more than lived up to those expectations. This was so much fun!

10) Cycling Death Road in La Paz, Bolivia

P1020768

P1020708

This activity? I was actually quite scared about. I’m not exactly the world’s best cyclist and I was nervous about how I would handle the challenges of the infamous Death Road. But it turned out to be so much more fun than I thought! Yes, there were scary bits (and some people did hurt themselves…) but if you allowed yourself to trust the bikes then it was not too bad at all. Huge thanks to Mo at Gravity for making it a great day out! I also enjoyed that at the very end, we were taken to an animal sanctuary where we saw an ocelot – so cute!

11) Finishing the hike to Machu Picchu, Peru

DSC_0123 DSC_0244

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was bloody hard work – but once again, finishing was the best reward! This was another one of those ‘classic’ destinations that fulfilled its promise. You can’t help but feel the mystical powers of this wondrous place – and combined with later trips to the Nazca line and the Chan Chan ruins, it really gave me an appreciation of South America civilizations that I never knew about before.

12) Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

p1020321 p1020323

Adrenaline, bbq, unlimited pisco and a night sleeping out under the stars? Amazing. This was one of those perfect days which made the whole trip feel worthwhile.

13) Perfect beaches in Punta Sal, Peru

p1020366 p1020388 p1020395

After leaving Lima, we spent almost a week camping along the Peruvian coastline. With condors soaring overhead, wild surf and beautiful sand, it was an idyllic place to relax after the adrenaline packed activities of the weeks before.

14) Zip-lining, swinging over the end of the world and bridge jumping in Banos, Ecuador

vlcsnap-00020 p1020422 IMG_9659

Okay, let’s face it – I love the adrenaline! My proper ‘daredevil’ moment was a bridge jump in Banos (it didn’t hurt, but I looked like a broken rag doll!). Ziplining on the other hand was just pure fun – and I even got to do it upside down and as a couple!

15) Spotting a poison dart frog in the Amazon, Ecuador

p1020599

Finally, the Amazon jungle! My sole request to the universe was to see a poison dart frog and, to my surprise, the universe pulled through! The whole trip to the Amazon basin was wonderful – we went tubing down the river and did several night walks through the jungle to see snakes, spiders and other weird and wonderful creatures. Word to the wise: watch where you put your hands! You do not want a bite from a bullet ant.

Follow: