Seeing the line marking the equator and giant tortoises are part of an incredible trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Traveling to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands was something my wife Bea and I had always wanted to do but thought it would never be possible. However, thanks to Barbara Jacobson of Flying Wheels Travel, we took a trip to Ecuador and San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. She told us about Juan and Pablo Maranon, who have started a company called Ecuador for All.
One of the interesting things we learned is that Ecuador’s vice president uses a wheelchair as a result of an assault and is working to make the country more accessible.
We flew from St. Louis to Miami, and then on to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. From Miami it is not a long flight—about 31⁄2 hours and is Ecuador is on the same time as Missouri, so there was no problem with jetlag.
Juan met us at the airport, where we transferred into a van using portable ramps. We soon discovered the van had me sitting up too high. We used it anyway to transfer to the Holiday Inn, which is completely accessible.
The next morning, Juan met us and we transferred into the front seat of his SUV. I cannot stand at all, but Juan was helpful and, after a few times, the process was done efficiently.
On the Go…
In Quito, we visited the Middle of the World Monument and Museum and saw the line marking the equator. The museum features information about the men who in the 16th century defined the equator’s location. Although GPS has since shown the line is in a different place, it was quite close for those years–just a few feet off!
Just a short distance away is the Inti-Nam Museum, on what GPS has shown is the exact equator. We watched a demonstration of the Coriolis force (water draining clockwise on the north side of the equator and counter clockwise on the south side). I watched as Bea balanced an egg on the head of a nail. We had a typical Ecuadorian lunch at a restaurant overlooking the crater of a dormant volcano.
Due to an imbalance of electrolytes, I unexpectedly spent the next 24 hours in a private hospital in Quito. The care there was excellent. The doctors and staff were efficient and knew exactly how to treat my problems. Juan stayed with us and was our interpreter when needed.
When I left the hospital, we traveled with Juan about 31⁄2 hours through the Andes Mountains at elevations up to 12,000 feet, to Huasquilla Lodge on the edge of the rain forest in the Amazon Valley. Built by Juan’s family, the lodge is managed by Juan and Pablo’s mother, Cecilia.
We stayed in a thatched-roof cottage that was completely accessible. They have worked hard to make everything so and are putting in a swimming pool with a lift. Meals were served in a beautiful open-air dining area. It was my birthday the first night we were there, and one of the native cooks brought out a birthday cake for dessert.
While at the lodge, we traveled to an indigenous village called Rukullacta. We watched natives make their traditional drink from a fruit called chonta. The women seemed to be doing all the work!
Jose, a member of another local indigenous tribe, came to the lodge and collected and showed us some plants his people use for healing.
The highlight of our stay at Huasquilla Lodge was a float trip on the Anzu River. This river joins the Napo, which then flows into the Amazon River just across the border of Ecuador in Peru. Tomas, from the town of Tena, was our guide on the river. He and his two helpers and Juan transferred me into the raft.
It was a wonderful ride. The river was wide and mild. Along the way we saw natives panning for gold, playing in the water, and fishing. We saw many birds and beautiful trees. The sun was shining, the clouds were high, the sky was beautiful, and it was a perfect day for a float. Of course, I got soaked (I think Tomas ran into a wave on purpose so I would get wet), but that was part of the fun! When we exited the raft in a small village, the craft was turned upside down and served as our table for a lunch of tacos.
The only problem with Huasquilla Lodge was that we were not there long enough! However, we had to return to Quito in order to go to Galapagos Island.
Back in the capital, we toured the historic old city of Quito, which has been well preserved and is listed by UNESCO as one of the World Culture Heritage sites. We saw a Catholic church whose interior is completely covered with gold leaf. It was spectacular! The old city contains the President’s Palace, comparable to the U.S.’s White House.
The next morning we left Quito and flew to San Cristbol, one of the Galapagos Islands. We were met there by Geovanny Sarigu, our host.
The town we stayed in was Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital city of the Galapagos Islands and the main city on San Cristobal. We transferred into a pickup truck taxi and went to Casa Verde, our home for the next three nights.
The porch of Casa Verde looked out over the bay, and the view was wonderful. We saw frigate birds and blue-footed boobies flying (frigates go higher than boobies) and watched them as they dove for food and then stole it from the boobies. In the mating season, a male frigate grows a bright red pouch under its bill that it inflates like a balloon and uses in its mating display.
The famous Darwin finches sat on the ledge of the porch of Casa Verde.
We were in walking distance of the downtown area and the restaurant where we had dinner. You don’t order dinner—they bring you the special of the day!
As we walked on the boardwalk in town we saw sea lions, sea turtles, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, and marine iguanas.
We had breakfast and lunch across the street from Casa Verde in the Sea Lion Cafe. Then we visited a museum telling the history of the islands and went to the beach, where Bea got in the water, swimming with the sea lions and lots of schoolchildren! I was pushed to the beach by James, one of Geovanny’s volunteers, an American from Indiana University in Bloomington.
Tortoises and More
We traveled through the highlands of San Cristobal Island to visit the Galapagos Tortoise Sanctuary, La Galapaguera. While the lower level of the island is dry, the highlands are wet and green.
At the sanctuary we saw many of the famous tortoises. A hatchery contains incubated eggs, and the young tortoises are confined until they are big enough to no longer be lunch for rats and feral cats.
Geovanny and Juan put together a special wheelchair that made it much easier for me to get around on this rough terrain. It is somewhat like a chariot—one person pulling on poles attached to the front, and another pushing on poles attached to the back. Again, James was Geovanny’s righthand man and did a lot of the work. I was very comfortable.
I enjoyed San Cristobal Island. Juan, Pablo, and Geovanny have some work to do to make the guest house (Casa Verde) more accessible. But I was willing to rough it a bit, and it worked out well for us. Bea and I have traveled extensively and are willing to put up with some obstacles.
Transportation was a bit of a problem on the island, as I had to be lifted into the front seat of a pickup truck. All taxis on the island are pickups; one day I even rode in the bed of one!
We returned to Quito for our final night. Juan took us to a restaurant high up the Andes Mountain, where we had a great view of Quito at night and a wonderful final dinner with our new friend, Juan. He and his family are gracious people. We will always remember all they did to make our trip to Ecuador a most memorable one.
Thinking of them is the best souvenir!