Final Night in the Galapagos

On our final evening in the Galapagos, we took the pangas to the most beautiful beach we saw on the trip. The sand was white and the water was a vibrant shade of aqua blue. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and even a bit drizzly when we arrived, but by the time we left it had cleared a bit.

Sierra and I started off by running up and down the beach a few times, which felt really good after so many days of very limited exercise (all of our walks were incredibly slow!) We ran by a group of huge sea lions and stopped for a quick photo shoot.

While we were doing that, Cassidy and the other kids set about writing “Evolution 2022” in the sand using a mix of shells, seaweed, driftwood, and rocks. It’s hard to believe we are saying good-bye to this magical place…I just wish Noah could have experienced more of it with us.

The kids from our yacht with their sand creation

-Linda

The Birds of Española

This whole trip has been incredible, but they definitely saved the best day for last. Española island is one of the oldest Galápagos islands, and one of the prettiest. This, combined with the fact that we were there in baby animal season, made this my favorite day out of all of them.

The first thing we saw when we stepped off the panga was an adorable baby sea lion. It was alone on the beach- its mom must have gone fishing. It was strutting around, posing, and just being the cutest little animal ever!

The little baby sea lion!

The walk across the island was rocky and surrounded by shrubs. It was hard not to step on all of the lava lizards (which sound much cooler than they actually are). We even saw a small garden snake! The first really impressive thing we saw were the albatrosses. The type we saw were called Waved Albatross. They were huge! They had yellow heads and grey bodies with a white neck. They also had really funny eyebrows! Most were sitting on their eggs- or babies.

An albatross, seen through the bushes on the side of the trail

On one side of Española Island is cliffs that drop to the ocean. We were lucky enough to watch an albatross take off from the cliffs. It sat on the edge until the wind was perfect, spread its eight-foot wings, and jumped off the cliff. It was amazing! Unfortunately, landing was not so easy. Because the ground was so rocky and uneven, it’s really hard for such a big bird to land safely.

The cliffs of Española Island

One of the most famous things about the albatrosses is their mating dance, which we were lucky enough to see. After they mate, they do a really funny dance. They circle each other and bow their heads, clack their beaks, and then raise their heads upwards. They repeat it over and over again. It was really fun to watch!

Two albatrosses sitting in the middle of the trail

Albatrosses weren’t the only birds we saw. We saw all kinds of gulls and water birds, but the other highlight was the blue-footed boobies. They were everywhere, also sitting on their eggs and babies. The babies were white and fluffy- their feathers hadn’t grown in, and their feet hadn’t turned blue yet. We learned that boobies lay two eggs at a time, a few days apart, and usually only the older one survives because it gets all of the food.

A male blue-footed booby with two babies
A male and a female booby with two babies and the cliffs in the background
A female booby sitting on two babies

We did see cool things other than birds, however. One of the most impressive things about Española island was called the blowhole. The blowhole is a lava fissure with waves crashing into it. The result is a column of water and mist that can spray up to 30 meters at high tide. When the light shines through it, it becomes a massive rainbow. It was incredible.

“The Blowhole”

Overall, this was my favorite day. We saw so many unique and amazing things that I will never forget!

-La Niña Curiosa

Me and Cassidy with the boobies

Swimming with Sea Lions

Wednesday afternoon was probably the highlight of the whole trip. This was a bit of a different day over all for at around three o’clock, instead of going snorkeling, which we did every day, we had the option to go snorkeling or kayaking. Everyone on the boat went snorkeling except for me, Sierra, mom, and a girl we met on board named Lila.

Lila is going into seventh grade and lives in New York city with her mom, dad, little brother John, and twin sister Vivian. Lila wears glasses and she is allergic too contacts, so when she goes snorkeling she can’t see any of the sea creatures. So instead of snorkeling, she came kayaking with us.

Mom and Sierra shared a kayak while me and Lila took our own. We started kayaking around a fully red island with beautiful views called Island Rabida. We kayaked about a fourth of the way around the island watching the blue footed boobies and iguanas all around us. But the animal that kept our attention were the sea lions. There were probably about eight to fifteen of them!

Our guide that had come with us that day was Hernan, and he was riding in a panga boat following us so we could get back to the Evolution when we were done. Once me and Lila spotted the sea lions, we both agreed that we wanted to swim with them. We proposed our idea to Sierra and mom, both who answered happily, and kayaked over to the panga where the guide was. We asked his permission, and he said yes! We quickly pulled off our clothes so that we were just in our bathing suits and put them in the panga. Then, we jumped in!

The sea lions danced around us, thrilled to have new playmates, and jumped right in front of our faces. They circled the kayak that mom was still in cause she didn’t wear her bathing suit, and a one point grabbed the rope on the kayak and started pulling her away. We were laughing and smiling the whole time. When we got back into the panga, we thanked Hernan for the amazing time we had had, and headed back to the Evolution.

Cheers to another spectacular day in the Galapagos,

-Cassidy

Bartolome Island

This morning we took a panga to Bartolome Island, which is famous for its Pinnacle Rock and for its 360 views of other islands in this part of the Galapagos.

View of Pinnacle Rock

We started with a panga ride, where we got some great shots of penguins and blue-footed boobies.

Sierra with a blue-footed boobie in the background
Blue-footed Boobie posing
Galapagos Penguin resting with the crabs

We then hiked up something like 368 stairs (the kids were counting!), viewing lava tunnels and testing the weight of volcanic rock on the way.

At the top, we reached this spectacular view.

Panoramic View taken by Hernan (our guide)

All in all, this was definitely one of the trip highlights for me, as the views were iconic, and the weather was perfect.

-Linda

John, Zane, Cassidy, Lila and Sierra

First Full Day aboard the Evolution

Sunday, June 19, 2022

On Saturday we boarded our expedition yacht, called the Evolution. It is an absolutely beautiful yacht — it actually looks a bit like a pirate ship from a distance, but once you are on board it is quite warm and welcoming, with gorgeous polished pine wood, cozy deck furniture — lots of space on the decks to relax and take in the views.

We met our fellow passengers and guides — Bollo, Cristina and Hernan. There are mostly families in our group of 32 — and three of the other families have young kids (there are three 8-9-year old boys, a set of 12-year old girl twins, and another 12-year old girl). Seems like a great crew to spend the week with!

After cruising all night, we woke up in a lovely cove framed by a small island. The island – with its mix of various colored rock, topped with small green plants, set against the dark turquoise green water – was quite striking. We started the day with a panga (small motorized raft) ride around the coastline of Isabela Island.

The first spotting from the panga was the fin of a mola fish – a very large (6 ft +?) pancake-thin fish that almost looks like a manta ray swimming on its side. After that we saw loads of green sea turtles, lots of sea lions in the water, fur seals on the rocks, and a troop of at least 10 Galapagos penguins swimming alongside the panga and hunting for fish.

Sea Turtle in the water – we snorkeled with so many!

I loved the penguins – they are so much smaller than the other penguins I’ve seen, and so fast in the water.

Galapagos penguins swimming right alongside the panga

In the air and perched on the rocks, we saw Nasca boobies and blue-footed boobies, along with lots of pelicans. The blue-footed boobies are incredible how they dive – from at least 50 feet high, straight down to the water like a kamikaze fighter. There were also brilliantly colored crabs all over the rocky coastline.

Late morning we went for our first snorkel – we wore full length wet suits AND hoods, but it was still SO cold. Yikes – the water must have been warmer when I came 20+ years ago, or else I truly have gotten softer. Or likely both! I think I only lasted about 20 minutes in the water, and then Cassidy and I both got cold and went back to the panga. But it was super cool snorkeling with so many sea turtles, and we also saw puffer fish, parrot fish, I think some angel fish, scorpion fish…not sure what else. Those who continued snorkeling got to see marine iguanas and sea lions swimming underwater as well.

After snorkeling we had a lovely dip in the hot tub on board – boy did that feel good after being so cold! We have really enjoyed chatting with the other passengers and especially getting to know those in our group – we are the Dolphin group, and we are with a family of 4 from San Diego (daughter who just finished NYU, son is about to start college), and a family of 3 from Portland (9-year old boy named Zane who is a total character.) They are all super nice and seem game for anything. I was actually really impressed by the fact that I think all 32 passengers about the Evolution went snorkeling in the freezing cold water, and most actually seemed to last quite a bit longer than I did…

I think my favorite part of the day might have been our late afternoon walk on Fernandina island, which is apparently the youngest of the Galapagos Islands. It was so peaceful to be there with sunset approaching, and the temperature was perfect – not too hot, not too cold. We saw tons of marine iguanas, lots of colorful crabs, and some really playful sea lions.

Loads of marine iguanas on the volcanic rock
Sea Lion performing for us in the cove

The highlight was seeing a 1-day old baby sea lion sleeping next to its mama on the shoreline. It was absolutely adorable – hope some of our photos turned out well for Sierra’s friend Annie, who is really into seals and sea lions.

Mother and 2-day old baby sea lion

The weather cooperated really well on our first day – it was super windy at breakfast, but calmed down in time for our panga ride, and then the sun came out for the snorkeling. By the time of our late afternoon walk, it was calm, but not too hot at all, given some clouds and a slight breeze. The early evening light was absolutely gorgeous as we rode the panga back to the Evolution.

Cassidy and Zane on the Panga, Evolution in the background

It is definitely cooler here than I remember it being on my last trip. We have actually been wearing long pants and jackets in the mornings and evenings, and as I type this on the back deck, I am wearing my hoodie due to the wind.

All that to say, it might be a bit cooler than I would like, but for Noah and the girls it is perfect – low to mid 70s, though feels much hotter in the sun (if no wind) and of course much cooler when the breeze picks up. The water temperature is downright chilly at XX degrees. Makes me long to snorkel next in a truly tropical, bathwater-type destination!

-Linda

Chasing Views in Quito

I’m picking up where Cassidy left off from our day yesterday, during which we continued our quest to view Quito from all vantage points. After the Teleferico we drove to El Panecillo – a hill on the south side of Quito, crowned by a huge statue of the Virgen de Quito.

Again, amazing views – this time, looking down over old town Quito.

From there our driver took as into el Centro Historico – the colonial heart of Quito. We actually weren’t sure we were going to be able to get there, as we had heard many of the roads around the main plazas (where the Presidential Palace is located) were blocked as a precaution to prohibit the protesters from getting access.

There are currently large protests going on outside the city, led by some the indigenous groups around Quito, particularly to the north. These groups have been quite politically active in recent years, and they are currently frustrated with the current right-wing government for reasons including higher gas prices and a perception of deteriorating security conditions. Their form of protesting includes blocking the main arteries in and out of Quito, which is of course problematic for tourists, but more importantly for the economy in general.

In any case, we made it to Plaza San Francisco, where we started our self-guided walking tour of downtown. There were almost no tourists to be seen, and very few locals as well – but the Policia Nacional was EVERYWHERE. We had a hard time finding a place to eat lunch, as many places were closed due to the situation. We ended up eating in a very local joint that was filled to the brim with off-duty policemen — it was actually quite comical. I wish you could see it better in the picture below; there must have been at least 30 policemen…and us four.

Feeling Very Protected at Lunch with La Policia Nacional

After lunch we walked to Plaza Santo Domingo, and then on to the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, the most famous baroque cathedral in Ecuador. It was truly stunning inside – entirely covered in gold leaf.

La Compania de Jesus Cathedral

After Paul picked us up we stopped for some delicious maracuya ice cream, and then went to visit the Basilica, a truly spectacular Gothic Cathedral that is reminiscent of Notre Dame, though actually built fairly recently (started construction in 1890). Both the inside and the outside were quite impressive.

After a bit of shopping and some down time at the apartment, we finished off the day with our last view of Quito – this time from the East looking West, sitting on the terrace of Cafe Mosaico at sunset. WOW. Watching the sky darken and the city lights come on bit by bit, including many of the old cathedrals lighting up was such a special experience — highly recommend and hope to come back!!

View from the terrace at Cafe Mosaico

Quito from 13,000 feet!

Our day starts out by a restless sleep, being jet lagged, and getting up to walk to Cafe Jurgen for breakfast. When we arrive at the “cafe,” conveniently it’s not there. Feeling let down, we walk around until we find a cute cafe called Cafe Lab. (The theme of the cafe is items that you might find in a lab.)

After a good breakfast, a driver that mom had hired to drive us around Quito for the day picks us up at the cafe and takes us to where we would be getting the TelefériQo tram that takes us up the Pichincha Volcano, which is a 4,100 meter, inactive volcano!

The view from the TelefériQo.

When we arrive at the top of the volcano, we wander around for a while looking towards the East part of Quito. (But being so high you can really see the whole city.)

View from the top of the Teleferico

After seeking out our destination, a swing set right over the beautiful city, that gives you a stunning view of the Quito, we start our trek up to the swings.

On our way, we spot the most peculiar scene. Almost half way up, we pass a woman with three adorable alpacas! She tells us that she hikes for an hour to get the alpacas up to this spot on the mountain. The lady is offering pictures with the alpacas, and she has sombreros and ponchos for the pictures. My favorite was the baby alpaca named Blancita; she was one month and 18 days old, and if clouds weren’t made of water and condensation, they would feel like that baby alpaca fur.

The alpacas kissing Mom

When we get to the swings we have to wait a bit – when it’s our turn, Sierra and I climb onto the swings and stare out over the city at the gorgeous view.

Sierra and me on the swings

After that Sierra and I take pictures of Mom and Dad swinging.

-La Niña Obstinada (Cassidy)

Happy Birthday, Sierra! (Linda)

Yesterday my lovely firstborn child turned 12. Very hard to believe. I stayed up late the night before her birthday doing a watercolor painting for her card and writing her a poem. Cassidy also did a lovely watercolor card for her of a beach sunset.

On the morning of Sierra’s birthday we had to go get our COVID tests, as having a negative test is now required to board any international flight bound for the U.S. It was kind of a pain to get the appointments, but everything went smoothly once we arrived at Hospital Metropolitano in Quepos. We had to wait for quite a while to get the actual nose swab (ouch), but the girls did great, with some help from Rufus the stuffie. The best news is that we have already received our negative results — PHEW! Now I just need to figure out how to upload them to the United website.

During the day yesterday I attempted to use up some of our remaining staple ingredients by making homemade chocolate chip cookies. It turned out to be quite a science experiment, since our house has no measuring cups, no measuring spoons, no mixer, and a very confusing oven that I have not quite mastered. Let’s just say the cookies were the most unusual chocolate cookies I have ever made, but not bad for those who really actually prefer to eat cookie dough (e.g. crisp on top, raw on the bottom)!

The rest of Sierra’s birthday was spent – as most days – in online school. Bleh. But after school we went down to Playa Dominicalito for a lovely sunset.

We then drove into Dominical for sushi – Sierra’s favorite! – at Sushi Domincal. The sushi was pretty good, but it took FOREVER. Alas. We played many rounds of Hearts while waiting. We then rushed back for ice cream sundaes at home, which Sierra prefers to cake. The rush was because I had scheduled an 8pm surprise Zoom bday call for Sierra with some of her school friends, which was so special. Boy do we miss seeing everyone in person, but I know it meant a lot to her to see everyone on the screen. THANK YOU, FRIENDS!

This morning we went to Playa Linda and were pleasantly surprised at the excellent swimming and surfing conditions. I am going to miss morning beach swims so much, I am trying not to think about it!

View from Playa Linda looking South
Palm tree backdrop at Playa Linda

Cataratas Nauyaca (Linda)

On Sunday we got up early to drive to Cataratas Nauyaca (the Nauyaca Waterfalls). There are two entry points for the falls, and we drove to the more remote one that is a longer drive (about 45 minutes), but a shorter hike in. I’m so glad we did, as it was a gorgeous drive, and it was also less crowded on our ‘side’ of the waterfall – the Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park.

We started hiking by about 8am, and most of the hike was actually along a narrow, hilly dirt road that wound through farmland and eventually entered the rainforest.

We arrived first at the Upper Falls, and I think we were the first ones there. It was pretty spectacular.

Sierra and Cassidy at the Upper Falls

But the view from the Lower Falls was even better, as you could see both waterfalls, and there was a lovely deep green pool to swim in.

Cassidy looking at the Upper and Lower Falls (for scale, see the two people standing on the middle right?)

We were so hot the water felt amazing!

Sierra, me and Cassidy taking a plunge below the Lower Falls

The entire hike back was uphill, and the sun was definitely hotter than on the way down. We stopped about halfway up for a break at this spot.

We survived thanks to mentos, orange tic tacs, and playing the categories game. When we got back to the parking lot, we spent some time lounging at the lovely restaurant there and drinking jugos naturales. What a spot! If it had been a bit later we would have stayed for lunch.

From the restaurant you could see Diamante Falls on the opposite side of the canyon.

View of Diamante Falls

After the waterfall hike we drove to Parque Reptilandia, a pretty impressive place that has snakes, turtles, crocodiles, and a few frogs (I finally got to see a poison dart frog) — some native to Costa Rica, but many others that are not. They even had a Komodo Dragon! I’m not a big fan of snakes, but Cassidy took quite a few photos for her friend Elizabeth, who aspires to be a herpatologist. I can’t include them here or my mother would stop subscribing to this blog 🙂

Beach-hopping from Vista Azul (Linda)

For the last two weeks of our stay in Costa Rica we are living in a house up on a hill. For the first time since we have been here, we have to drive (vs walk) to the beach. As a result, we kept our rental car, and we have a couple of different options when we go to the beach. Here is a quick overview of the beaches we have explored so far:

  1. Playa Domincalito: This lovely beach is just south of Playa Dominical, but it feels much less touristy and more natural. The waves are also a bit smaller, as it is a somewhat protected cove. We went there one morning last week before school/work, and I really liked it. That said, even though the waves are not huge, they can pack a punch, so the girls didn’t love it as a swimming beach.
Cassidy reading at Playa Domincalito
Sierra and Noah at Playa Dominicalito

2. Playa Linda On Friday morning we made our first family trip to the beach named for me, which is actually the closest beach to our house. The waves are similar to Dominical — meaning rather strong, and what Noah calls “close-out”, which makes them not so great for surfing. Sierra and I started off by taking a long walk along the beach — which was longer than intended, as we got to chatting (about equity vs. equality), then totally overshot our car and walked pretty far in the wrong direction before realizing we needed to turn around. When we finally made it back to Noah and Cassidy we were SO happy to get in the water and cool off. We had fun playing a family game of freeze tag in the shallow water — boy is it tiring to sprint on water and sand!!

Noah and Cassidy heading toward the ocean at Playa Linda

Playa Linda is gorgeous, and totally undeveloped. It goes on for at least 2 miles in each direction I think, so is much longer and less rocky than either Dominical or Dominicalito. There was almost no one there on Friday morning, although Noah did say it was much more crowded when he went on Saturday afternoon. We have noted that Costa Ricans do head to the beach in droves on the weekends, and they tend to start early!

3. Playa Dominical: Dominical is a total surf beach/town, although Noah’s take (confirmed by some other surfers we met in Uvita), is that it really isn’t a great wave for surfing. I feel bad that he rented a board here but really hasn’t been able to use it much. Anyway, we went to Dominical for sunset on Friday and were really surprised at how crowed it was. Dominical definitely attracts a much more gringo crowd than Playa Linda, and I guess for this reason there are tons of vendors with stalls set up right by the beach — mostly selling sarongs, hats, and other cheap-o beachy stuff. It’s definitely not my favorite beach vibe, but the sunset was – as usual – spectacular!

Cassidy watching the sunset at Playa Dominical

4. Playa Uvita: Yes, if you’ve been paying attention to this blog, we actually spent the previous two weeks in Uvita, before we came here. But when we ‘lived’ there we would walk to Playa Colonia, a bit further south from Playa Uvita. We decided to drive back to Uvita yesterday (about a 30-minute drive), as Noah and Cassidy had not had a chance to walk out on the Whale Tail — a cool sand bar that is only accessible at low tide, and that (duh!) is in the shape of a whale’s tail.

We started with having breakfast at Vista Ballena – high up on the hill overlooking the Whale’s Tail.

View of the Whale’s Tail (in the distance) from Hotel Vista Ballena

Then we went down to the National Park to walk on the sand bar. It is absolutely gorgeous, though once again, we were surprised at how many Costa Rican tourists arrived – like us – just after 8am!

Cassidy walking up the Whale Tail at Playa Uvita
Sierra running into the ocean to cool off at Playa Uvita

After walking the Whale’s Tail and a refreshing swim, we found a lovely spot of shade under the palm trees to play Hearts. We are so psyched that Cassidy has returned to the fold; after playing TONS of hearts on our last big family trip, she has been boycotting the game for some time now. But the last few weeks she’s back at it, and she really holds her own (though she still objects to keeping score)!