Las Islas Galapagos!

Monday, January 27, 2003
Hola mis amigos!! I finished my Galapagos cruise today. Wow, it was incredible! I knew there were animals here, but I had no idea that they are so friendly that the sea lions actually come up to you and try to smell you and your clothes. The animals have no fear here of people, since they don´t have predators. I swam with penguins and the sea lions too. The Galapagos National Park doesn´t allow you to tour the islands alone, so aboard our little boat we had our guide. We visited a whole bunch of islands and it was incredible! My new camera is absolutely great. I wasn't planning on taking so many pictures, but it is hard NOT to take a photo when you are sitting right next to the largest iguana you have ever seen.... and then he starts doing his predatory dance with the neighbor. Unbelievable! Darwin had the right idea when he came here for 6 weeks! Carla and I spotted some weird looking birds with funny beaks when we got here... we thought they were deformed, but no! They have adapted and because of their funny looking beaks they can get little bugs from inches under ground.

The other passengers were just as interesting - almost all the other passengers have already taken or were currently on a tour around the world. In comparison, my trip is short! How about 3 years?!? One guy isn´t returning back to Austria until his money runs out. I got lots of great advice on every place I might ever want to visit (including New Guinea) and next time I leave the country, I´ll be emailing Sharon and Bruce for tips about whatever country I go to since they seem to have been absolutely everywhere!

Right now I´m spending the day and early evening on San Cristobel... before I head off as a stow away! That´s right, you read correctly. I was practicing my Spanish with the crew of the boat I was on and when I asked them how I could get back to Santa Cruz (the island the boat originally left from) they said the ferry didn´t leave for a few days, then I found out the cargo ship isn´t full yet... and it only leaves when it´s full, and who knows when that might be. Just when I thought I might have to take a penga (scrawny little dinghy) for 6 hours or more to get back, the crew mentioned that there is another tourist cruise boat going there and maybe the captain will let me on! So, they took me there and it was sorted immediately. There weren´t any other tourists on the boat, and just when I was about to ask when the other passengers were going to return, they served lunch. I had lunch with the captain and found out the there ARE no other tourist passengers! The boat is on a little holiday from tourists this week, and it´s only the crew and a few of their friends and some of their family. Nothing like having your own free cabin on a boat in the Galapagos! What luck! I´ll let you know how the evening goes...

Are we in Cuenca?

Monday, January 20, 2003
Less than a week in Equador, and already so much to tell! We left from Los Angeles and a mere four flights later arrived in Cuenca, Equador. In the US the airports are complete chaos with the new regulations and government officials everywhere... once they take your bags you are not allowed to touch them again EVER. They even escort you to the check in line where there is an official bag monitor person who chastises you if you try to put your pocket knife in your luggage... because obviously knives are not check in material.

Thanks to Jeremy for our too short stay in Los Angeles. In the short time we were there we visited our friend... who we met at the bus stop in Santorini! He became my photography teacher, we met his roommates who made us special cookies, and had dinner with his mate at the local Lebanese greasy spoon. And lastly, Jeremy is the only person to have witnessed me actually embarrass Carla. In the fourteen odd years I have known her I have never been able to embarass her... well, it was worth the wait, at my expense no less, and Jeremy I am glad you were there to witness it!

Our fourth flight i 24 hours brought us to Cuence, Equador.... our first destination in South America. Unlike the United States, the rules are pretty lax arouns here about checking for identification and making sure you are a confirmed passenger. Case and point - we actually went to the wrong place!!! Carla and I boarded a flight we THOUGHT went from Quito to Cuenca. But actually.... we didn´t! We were waiting at the baggage claim and our luggage never arrived... because we were in Guayaquil!! For some reason I had an intution it just wasn´t Cuenca, so I asked the guard, Are we in Cuenca? He said no!!! We thought this was so funny that we weren´t even upset that it happened. Fortunately, there was another flight in 10 minutes. The stewardess gave us IN TRANSIT passes because she thought we were on a stopover... I didn´t have the heart to explain that we got on the wrong plane.

So, it´s a worldwide agreed upon thing - see paragraph one - that swiss army knives can not be taken on board a plane, right? Well, i forgot again. Instead of just confiscating it from me, they actually let me go back to the check in counter and check it as a second piece of luggage! They gave me a baggage claim tag and everything. I was dying to see it come around the bend on the luggage claim, but instead, the airline official wandering around the airport had it in his pocket. I can´t believe I even got it back!

Anyway, we went to Cuenca because Carla´s cousin married a woman whose mother is from Ecuador, and we ot an invitation to stay with the mother´s sister. I think they were the nicest people I have ever met! I know I always say that, but it´s always true. We spent 3 days with them and I now feel like I have an Equadorian family. We talked and talked and talked, and ate and ate and ate. Their cook made us every possible known dish known to Ecuador - humidas, motepapa, bola de verde, rompope y chisiopa to name a few. Yum! And after six years of studying spanish and half a year in Spain I finally got the chance to use my Spanish. I spoke almost only Spanish for 3 days. It was really helpful to be able to talk to everyone so much, we couldn´t have gotten to know them so much with it! I hope to see you all again someday soon.

A funny thing about Ecuador.... they used to have a currency called the sucre, but due to devaluation they ditched it about two years ago and now the official currency is the US dollar! Remember Sacajawea?? The one dollar coin that never caught on? Well, it caught on here in Equador! I received more Sacajawea coins today than I have since their inception! I´m glad they are getting put to good use somewhere.

Tomorrow I´m off to the Galapagos Islands to follow in Charles Drawin´s footsteps. Another boat cruise!!! Hope all is well with everyone, hasta luego!

Love, Alison

PS. Jeremy, I looked for James´ landlord on the flight to Equador, but could not find him - despite my shouts down the aisles.

PPS. There are crickets everywhere here in Guayaquil! There are tons of them under this computer desk. Some are chirping, others look dead. One even landed on me!

PPPS. Thanks Ingrid, for your Mom´s phone number here, I will call her soon!

West Coast Road Trip!

Sunday, January 12, 2003
Christmas and New Year's has come and gone and so has most of my stay on the West Coast. I spent New Year's in Vancouver and then met up with some friends that I met in Turkey! It was great to reunite - thanks for having us all up to Vancouver Island! Mr. and Mrs. Nicklin, thanks for the moose meat! Marnie, thanks for letting all five of us pile into your living room in the middle of the night! I miss you guys already....

I learned to snowboard for the first time at Mt. Washington where there was 12 feet of snow. The hydro electric power went out for the morning, but eventually came back on and the lifts were running once again. When our short Canadian stay came to an end, Carla, John, Caroline and I took a ferry over to Washington State. It was the ferry's farewell voyage... we felt lucky to arrive in one piece considering all the noise this boat was making. A little boy kept trying to give away all the food leftover in the snack bar; anything for a little entertainment, right?

On the drive back down the coast I stopped in at Seattle, Portland, toured Mt. St. Helens and hiked through trails in the Redwood Forest. Those are some BIG trees. Tonight I'm off to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch before I take off for Ecuador - first stop Macchu Picchu. Thanks for all the notes and emails everyone... see you soon back at home!!

Love, Alison