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Tue Apr 01 2014: Food Poisoning, Earthquakes and Tsunamis

We're going to the Galapagos Islands!

Neda is a huge wildlife buff and the perpetually sunny climate on the islands will be a good break from our rainy ride through the wet season.

More free advertising in exchange for a picture of the two of us :)

We needed a place to store the bikes while we were going to be away, so we dropped by Ecuador Freedom Bike Rentals to see if they could help out. Their mechanic, Diego, had a shop right across the street where we could park the motorcycles.

I needed to fuel up for the trip

Neda's been feeling a bit nauseous for the last couple of days, she suspects the ceviche she had before was the culprit. I was okay, so we found my favorite Central American chicken place, Pollo Camperos, and I pigged out on some fried chicken. This turned out to be a huge mistake.

That same night, I started feeling sick as well. Neda is usually the Distant Early Warning indicator for stomach illnesses. She gets sick and then 8-12 hours later, I do too, but 10X worse. I'm not sure if it was the food both of us ate the day before or the Pollo Camperos. I suspect it was the chicken. :(

We had an early morning flight out of Quito and all night I was driving the porcelain bus. Neda hovered over me like a backseat driver, and worriedly asked if we should cancel the flight. Unfortunately, it was a non-refundable ticket, so I would just have to suffer and hope the check-in desk would admit me on the plane even though I looked like death warmed over.

I got no sleep at all that night. It was still dark when the taxi rang up to our room and I picked up the phone before the first ring finished. Neda had to load all our bags in the back, and I stuck my head out the window like a dog the entire ride to get cold, fresh air on my face, and also to make sure that I would paint the outside of the car instead of the interior. At the airport, Neda checked us in while I rested on a bench, head down and rocking back and forth as if I was Rainman. Four minutes to Wapner...

Managed to get only one picture as we were landing on Santa Cruz island

I don't remember much of the trip to the Galapagos. Somewhere along the way there was a stopover, then we got on a bus, then a boat. Someone told me not to rock the boat so much. Four minutes to Wapner.

Sunny Puerto Ayora

We walked around the main town in Santa Cruz, the very touristy Puerto Ayora and knocked on a few doors to find a place to sleep. We found a nice hostel at the edge of town and I collapsed into bed and passed out for the rest of the day, completely oblivious to the fact that it wasn't raining anymore.

The next morning we shared our breakfast with a Darwin finch

We really didn't have a solid plan once arriving on the island. From the reading up we've done, most of the interesting wildlife is on the surrounding islands, which is accessible either by day trips on smaller boats or a multi-day cruise on larger ships. So we dropped in on the "Last Minute Booking" stores on the main strip of Puerto Ayora and found a good deal on an 8-day cruise that visited some of the more remote islands that were too far for the day-trip boats!

But since this was a last minute booking, the cruise only starts next week, so we've got to find other stuff to amuse ourselves while we're here. Hey, it's hot and sunny, I think we can manage.

A short boat ride takes us to Las Grietas, a narrow canyon filled with clear blue water

So much more fun than riding in the rain

Las Grietas' narrow canyon walls go all the way down into the water

We also visited the Darwin Research Station

I had no idea Charles Darwin only spent six weeks on the Galapagos islands. But he collected many samples and although the finches here are named after him, it was actually the differences in the species of mockingbirds on each island here that led him to write the Origin of Species book that outlined the theory of evolution.

I was really looking forward to visiting these islands now and seeing some of the things that he saw.

Giant turtle - not too Lonesome

At the Darwin Research Centre, we learned of the story of Lonesome George, the last remaining turtle of the Pinta subspecies. He was a symbol of the conservation efforts at Galapagos to save and preserve endangered species. However their efforts in trying to mate him with other turtles failed and he died childless in 2012, the last of his kind. Sad.

Now there's a clothing store named after him. Even sadder.

These guys weren't endangered - Land iguana. Fascinating to stare at. And they stare back too!

Watching the boats come in with their catch

There's a small impromptu fish market right across the street from our hostel. Every afternoon, when the fishing boats bring their haul on shore, they gut and filet the fish right away and sell it to all the local restaurants.

Pelicans and a sea lion are regulars here, taking advantage of the situation

In the evenings, they fry up everything they have left and you can have a fresh fish dinner right at the docks!

Making sure nothing goes to waste!

One evening we got a knock at our door. The owner told us there had just been an earthquake in Chile and they were evacuating everyone in the island to higher ground because of the threat of a tsunami. Holy crap! The largest tsunami that hit the Galapagos was back in 2011, when an earthquake in Japan caused the tides to rise 2 meters above normal, causing extensive flooding all along the flat coasts of all the islands.

Thankfully the speed of telecommunications is faster than a tsunami, which travels about 600 km/h. We were about 1,000 kms away from the epicentre, which gave us well over an hour to evacuate. We took all the essentials, our documents, electronics and most importantly, Neda's Kindle. We thought it would be an odyssey involving Land Rovers, the army and long lines of traffic leading away from the coast, but instead we hiked less than a km uphill to a stadium where people were playing a game of volleyball under the floodlights.

We only saw one pickup truck loaded with furniture race up the hill. Everyone else was strolling casually to the designated point for this part of the island. It seemed like they had done this many times before.

Some people bunkered down for the night

The stadium was fairly empty since there were other evacuation spots in the city and we were on the outskirts of town. People gathered inside and outside and made themselves comfortable for the next little while. The volleyball players must have felt like they were Olympic athletes with all the attention from their new-found audience!

Over the next couple of hours, everyone milled about trying to find word of the status of the people affected in Chile and whether the tsunami was developing underwater. Every once in a while a police truck would come by, blue and red flashing lights cutting through the night, and they'd give us a status update, but the best way to get information was to sit by someone with a portable radio. From there, we learned of the exact ETA of when a tsunami would hit Galapagos, as well as the magnitude of the earthquake: 8.2. Not small at all. Thankfully, it was just off the coast and the casualty rate was limited to a handful of people who died of heart attacks.

All this up-to-date information and still we would have to wait it out, wondering if an undersea surge of water was hurtling towards us or not.

Inside the stadium, trying to find ways to amuse ourselves

Time passed by slowly, but word eventually got around the stadium that no tsunami had hit the coast. It all seemed pretty anti-climactic, nothing at all like the Armageddon or disaster movies. The official alert ended 1 hour after the ETA just to be safe, however shortly after we found out, people started heading back down towards the shoreline. We shrugged our shoulders and walked back down as well. Aftershocks, schmaftershocks...

Everything is still dry down here

We returned to a darkened hostel. All the power was turned off in anticipation of the flooding and the owners still hadn't returned yet. So we waited outside a cafe next door and used their wi-fi under the street lights to let our friends and family know that we were okay.

What an eventful last couple of days!

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