Updated: Jan 22, 2019

Isabella Island, Galapagos

As an exercise in imagination, I implore you to put yourselves in our position for a few minutes. You are kitted out in your snorkel gear and wetsuit, sitting on the side of a panga (a small motorboat). It's around 10:00 AM, it is 24 degrees Celsius, and it is a beautiful sunny day. A stunning morning to be drifting somewhere among the Galapagos islands. You spit into your mask, rub it onto the lens to make sure your mask will remain free of fog for your snorkel trip and take in the stunning geological display of hotspot volcanics. Your panga is approaching a sheer rock face that rises above the ocean thirty meters or so, and is a magnificent visual contrast of dark basalt and light earthy brown volcanic tuff. The ocean is a deep aquamarine, with a gradual fade to turquoise as your eye shifts toward the mouth of the cave a few hundred meters in front of you. The panga stops at the cliff face, you strap on your mask, hold your snorkel and mask to your face, look up to the bright blue sky and catch a glimpse of the soaring frigate birds as you plunge backwards into the water. Immediately you are brought to attention as the cold water soaks over your head and fills your wetsuit. Colder than any other spot you have snorkeled in the Galapagos, you remind yourself that this is the price you have to pay to snorkel with some of the most remarkable creatures of the sea. The reason for the cold temperature: the upwelling of cool nutrient-rich water, in what is called the Cromwell Current. A momentary lapse in appreciation and you find yourself cursing the guide for bringing you too this spot as all you can see is an abyss of deep blue water. You come to the surface, purge the water from your snorkel, and begin to make your way over the rock wall. Your eyes drawn to the rock face in front of you that is covered in brilliant marine life made up of neon greens, oranges, purples, blues, and pinks. The life reaches out from the wall, flowing in the current in an attempt to snag any plankton that may drift near. The thought of being cold has fled your mind as you absorb the spectacular marine flora and fauna. An assortment of large brightly colored Parrot fish lazily glide below you. Carefully observing you as you clumsily attempt to navigate the foreign marine environment. As you observe the beautiful life you can’t help but dwell on the fact that humans are incredibly poorly equipped for swimming and diving. As you lose yourself in thought, your mammal brethren of the sea, the Sea Lion, appears beside you, as if out of nowhere. Swimming well within arms reach you can't help but engage with it. It playfully chides you as it spins and dives around you. In an attempt to communicate through movement you dive down and swim with it. Your lungs pang with each movement under the water. A constant reminder of your need for air. The Sea Lion swims around you as you dive deeper and you try to mimic its movements, but as your lungs begin to scream for air you rise back to the surface. A couple more dives and the Sea Lion becomes impatient with your ineptitude to exist underwater for any reasonable length of time. You watch as it swims away, onto the next person to interact. A wondrous aquatic dance between two species.

You continue your swim along the cliff face and reflect on the beauty of natures wonders. Again you become absorbed in the diversity of marine life clinging to the rock face. An outstanding representation of the diversity of life on our planet. Crabs delicately navigate through fields of anemones and urchins, in search of any scraps of food which might be caught in the cliff face. Tentacles wave back and forth with each surge: a result of the friction between the wind and the surface of the ocean over thousands of kilometers. The waves are a product of the mixing of warm and cold currents, heating and cooling the air above the water, and ultimately resulting in the wind - a neat and tidy circular representation of the importance of all of Earth’s systems, which are the driving forces for life on Earth.

Again lost in the brilliance of our planet you are brought to attention by the screeches of someone yelling, “Mola-mola”! You turn around to realize that there is a three hundred kilogram fish gently gliding behind you. A meter from you, a prehistoric monster of the sea paddles by. This fish is unlike any you've seen. A very rare sighting. A once-in-a-lifetime thing. The sun glimmers around the enormous fish and illuminates the outline of the fish in a pure blue background. In awe, you don't move. You float motionless as to not alarm the Mola-mola. It glides by and retreats back into the depths, only to be lost in the deep blue below you. A tangible representation of prehistoric life - life which existed long before humankind. One of a handful of examples of life which has survived the tribulations of mass extinctions which has culled all but the most adaptable. The thought that prehistoric marine life such as turtles, sharks, and the Mola-mola evolved hundreds of millions of years before Homosapiens, enters your mind. You realize the magnitude of time that separates us from so many other species and an appreciation for the incredible set of circumstances which had to occur for hominids to scale down from the trees, stand up on two feet, interact with wolves, and capture the power of fire… All necessary progressions to allow us to grow our brains, and ultimately allow us to reach this point - to be staring at a Mola-mola, with a tube in your mouth so you can breath ten centimeters under the water. You wave bye to the Mola-mola and turn back to the wall.

You begin to approach the mouth of the cave and small Galapagos Penguins are darting around you. They pass by you without a care. Like torpedoes, they whizz around leaving trails of bubbles. From the perspective of the casual observer, they appear to be playing. You wish they would slow down for you to catch a better glimpse of their movement underwater. You wonder how they are able to propel themselves so quickly? On the surface, they bumble around clumsily but are perfectly adapted for speed and maneuverability in the water. Snorkeling with penguins - a first for you! You are sharing the tropical waters of the Galapagos islands with a creature you associate with Antartica. That's when it really hits you, you are in the Galapagos! An unbelievably unique part of the world. The place where Darwin, not so long ago, collected thousands of species from the islands; only for him to obsess over their subtle differences for decades, and layed everything on the line with his theory of evolution. A theory which is ubiquitous with modern biology, but barely a hundred years ago was ridiculed for its divergence from divine creation. Another penguin darts past and in a futile attempt, you try to keep up. No chance. No matter the biomechanical adaptations that we strap to our bodies, we are no match for creatures who have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years to thrive in this environment.

You reach the mouth of the cave and dive down to the sandy bottom, equalizing your ears and mask as you go. You are looking for White Tip Reef Sharks that might be resting on the bottom, but don't see any. However, you do see big unusually shaped rocks on the bottom - peculiar in an otherwise sandy area. Your curiosity is peaked and you dive down again, and on second observation you realize the rocks are in fact sea turtles tucked into the wall, resting. You continue across the mouth of the cave to where a steep pebble beach begins. Shadows lurk in front of you. Your limited visibility plays tricks on your imagination until the shadows begin to take shape. It can't be...it is. Hundreds of sea turtles are scattered throughout the water column, along the beach. These are not small turtles, they are easily the size of you, and many are larger. They are mostly Green Sea Turtles with a few Hawks Bill Turtles. They are barely moving as you approach, completely timid - they have not evolved in the presence of human beings, and as a result are not skittish around us. You slowly glide through the sea of sea turtles. Their fins are mere centimeters from you as you pass by. One after another, you observe the shape of their fins, their armored skin, and patterned shell, you observe that some have rounded belly plates and others are concave, you observe that some have long tails and others have short tails, and you observe that some have only a little algae on their backs and others are covered. These observations are indications as to whether the turtle is male or female. As the turtles float in the water column you are able to dive down and observe them from the bottom looking upward; they look like stars scattered throughout a magnificent aqua sky as the sunlight beams shoot past them and their dark silhouettes float around the surface of the ocean. Peacefully you glide by the turtles while using the subtlest of movements to steer. You've reached a state of nirvana as you begin to process the connection you have shared with the planet over the last forty-five minutes. The experience, something which you will draw back to throughout your life. Less than an hour, but the memory will last a lifetime.

Alas, it is time to retreat back to the terrestrial world. You reach the panga a changed person. Climbing up the ladder you realize that you had become so chilled that you are shivering and have lost nearly all your dexterity - another indication of how ill-adapted we are to the marine world. As you strip out of the wetsuit and remove your fins and mask, you reflect on the astonishing beauty that lies below the seemingly desolate surface of the ocean. You realize that although we have risen from the ocean, to become terrestrial beings, we have not lost the connection that we once intimately shared with the marine world. Long before our earliest primate ancestors, we were creatures of the ocean. You wonder is it possible that some aspect of our being, still earns to be apart of the marine environment? If there is nothing greater out there to worship you can be at peace with worshiping the divine beauty of the planet and all of the incredible forms of life that nurture at the bosom of mother Gia.

  • devon

Galapagos, Ecuador

A trip of a lifetime, in a trip of a lifetime, in a trip of a lifetime... It's starting to feel like we are living the storyline of inception... Except significantly less stressful.

We took a tangent from our regular South trajectory and went West, to Galapagos. Our itinerary would include ten full days in the Galapagos: seven days spent on a cruise through the North West islands and three days on Santa Cruz Island. We flew into Baltra Island a day and a half prior to our cruise and flew out of Baltra a day and a half after our cruise. In hindsight, we would have combined the days on the arriving end. It seems that most people fly in for their cruise and skip exploring the islands themselves. We really enjoyed spending a few days wondering Puerto Ayora, which has great opportunities for seeing a ton of wildlife. Spending time around here, you will soon become accustomed to Sea Lions using bus stop benches as their personal resting perch while they re-oxygenate their blood for another night of hunting (that's right, these Sea Lions are nocturnal). Your average water taxi, say over to Las Greitas (~5 min) will likely involve stingray and pelican sightings. A walk through the Darwin Research Station will be filled with Giant Tortoises engulfing Elephant leaves, hissing at you as you walk by, and observing hundreds of small Giant Tortoises who are growing (an incredibly slow process) to an appropriate maturity so their shells are hardened enough to withstand attacks from Rats when they are released back into the wild, which takes about seven years. When all of these animal sightings begin to become routine head to Tortuga Bay, an absolutely stunning beach, with powder soft sand, beautiful turquoise water, and hundreds of marine Iguanas wandering about. You will be able to observe them swimming around, and if you're lucky and have your snorkel gear, take a plunge around the rocky outcropping at the beach headland and you might even see them feeding on the algae. We observed all of this wildlife and we hadn't even stepped onto our boat cruise. An added bonus is the incredible Empanadas and an amazing pork soup that you will find in the market square (Calle 55 and Jose Joaquin de Olmedo). Empanadas are a $1 each and well worth it. Grab a couple/three and you're set for dinner. One thing that we were happy about, is Puerto Ayora wasn't wallet-busting expensive like we had thought it was going to be (except for the taxis which are unbelievably expensive). You can easily find accommodation for $40/night and good $5 meals.

I know I'm kicking a dead horse here, but the cheaper the food generally means the better. I know it sounds weird, but the expensive food which is geared to tourists is almost always terrible. It is a really poorly done version of what you're used to eating at home. Get out of the tourist's areas and sit down where the locals are. You won't regret it.

Excited to begin our seven-day boat cruise, we would make the forty-minute journey back to the airport to meet our tour group. We were a group of thirteen, assorted ages and nationalities, but all English speaking. Rose and I were eager to converse on a deeper level than we have been, as we aren't able to hold any meaningful conversations in Spanish. It felt unusual to be able to communicate so easily again. This is something which I miss the most while traveling. When you can’t speak the language you are left with a lot of time for introspection… Never a good thing.

I have begun muttering to myself as we wander through South America, so this opportunity to stretch my mouth and my mind couldn't have come at a better time.

If you're like me, you are going to obsess about which boat cruise to do when you go to the Galapagos. It is a mind-numbing process as you learn about the itineraries of each boat, the boats themselves, the availability, and the price. This took us a solid two days to hammer down and involved a lot of emailing tourist agencies and negotiating prices. Not fun. We booked our cruise a week prior, while we were in Quito, and after conversing with people on the boat, most other people booked around one to two weeks prior, too, which we were surprised by. We read countless TripAdvisor and other reviews and settled on a boat which we thought provided the best itinerary. We would learn later that the itineraries change every year, so don't put too much stock into the itinerary reviews from years past. In the end, we chose the NW route because of the reviews saying that it was better... We have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not it is, but we enjoyed it. That being said, the two highlight islands are split so the only way you can see them both is if you do a fifteen-day cruise through both itineraries, which I suspect would be way too much time on a boat for most.

Our days were filled with snorkeling, kayaking, and some short island walks. Our route was set up well, in that it worked us up to the highlights. Initially, we saw lots of red and blue footed Boobies - I know some of you are immaturely chuckling, Sea Lions, and Iguanas. As you progress through the cruise you realize that these animals are practically everywhere, and become a bit of joke.

Seven days of cruising through the Galapagos on a boat named the Beagle; we felt just like Darwin! And we experienced only minor bouts of seasickness! We made sure to stalk up on motion sickness medication before leaving Quito, which really saved us.

One of the nights, the boat was rocking back and forth so much I had to hold on in the top bunk while I tried to sleep.

In addition to the motion sickness, we might have lucked out on food poisoning, too. Likely because we have been traveling for several months, our stomachs are more resistant to illness-inducing bacteria, which saved us from a mild bout of food poisoning that was affecting the other passengers on board - a perk to eating street food!

We enjoyed the mix of people on the boat. It’s always interesting hearing perspectives of other travelers from around the world and travelers of different age groups. Expectantly, everyone's favorite topic is American politics, and specifically Donald Trump. It must be frustrating for American travelers who are constantly questioned on the subject.

The highlight of the trip was without a doubt the snorkeling. Generally, there would be an opportunity to snorkel twice a day; a welcome chance to stretch our legs and lungs. Everywhere we snorkeled was incredible. Here, you won't see any corals - the area is not conducive to reef growth, but you will still get brightly colored fish and tons of marine life. Read my next blog to experience what it is like to snorkel at the most magnificent snorkel spot on the planet!

Other amazing creatures we saw:

  • Penguins

  • Sea Turtles

  • Flamingos

  • Finches

  • Frigate Birds

  • Land and marine Iguanas

  • Tortoises

  • Crabs

  • Nazca Boobies

  • Lava Gulls

  • Galapagos Hawk

  • Mocking Birds

  • Lava Lizards

  • Dolphins

  • rose

Quilitoa, Ecuador

The longest bus ride we have taken so far was an overnight bus from Colombia to Ecuador. First we took a bus from Salento, Colombia to Pereira, Colombia, and from there we took an overnight bus to Ipiales, Colombia. Then we took a taxi to get to the border, walked across the border from Colombia to Ecuador, and then took another bus from Rumichaca, Ecuador, to Quito, Ecuador. We left Salento, Colombia on December 23rd at 7:00 PM, and arrived in Quito, Ecuador about 24 hours later around 8:00 PM on December 24th.

After this long treacherous ride, every single muscle and joint ached. We were dying for a shower and some real food. Although we were tired, the last thing we wanted to do was sit or rest more... but at the same time, we had no energy to do anything else. I had been experiencing some fevers and chills on the bus, but thought it was maybe due to the poor air quality control on the bus. Sadly, I spent the next few days in our hotel room in Quito recovering from a nasty flu! I did feel some warning symptoms in Salento before we left, so I don't think I got sick from the bus ride, although that probably should have been a big hint not to embark on such a crazy journey! Was it Dengue, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, or just a nasty run-of-the-mill virus? All I know, is that being sick sucks, especially when travelling.

Four days later, feeling slightly better, we actually got to see some of Quito! It's amazing how much appreciation you can have for what you can do in a day, when you are feeling well! We enjoyed walking around the Old Town, people watching at the local parks, and surprise surprise, we found a volcano to hike! We visited the "equator" which was a bit of a sham, as the tourist monument is actually a few hundred meters from the actual equator...but in any case, we were both excited to be the farthest south either of us had ever travelled!

After a few days in the city, we were ready to head into the mountains. We decided on the Quilitoa Loop, which is a fairly well-known multi-day hike not far from Quito. We hopped on a bus and within a few hours, we were in the mountains...and the air was thin.

The first day we hiked from Sigchos to Isinlivi. We were rewarded our first night with a hostel with a beautiful view, tons of windows and natural light, a yoga studio, and deliciously warm showers. We had a family-style meal that night with the other guests, and got to swap travel stories. The next day we hiked from Isinlivi to Chugchilan. By the end of day 2, I was struggling. As luck would have it, after the flu came altitude sickness! Wahoo! This was a whole other beast of light-headedness, extreme fatigue, and shortness of breath. My brother Jamie and I had been to Peru before and had experienced altitude, but at that time we both took an altitude sickness medication (Acetazolamide), so we had no troubles at all. This was the first time I really felt out of my element. Devon felt slightly short of breath as well, but lucky for him he didn't get hit nearly as hard. Altitude sickness feels like you’ve suddenly gained 40 years - it hurts to breathe. My head was pounding, I felt my heart racing, I was winded with the slightest exertion, and I all over just felt exhausted. I was beyond relieved to finally reach our hotel that evening! Our accommodation was a really unique and special eco-lodge the second night. There is nothing better than a hot tub after a day of hiking, especially when it is outdoors and you can watch the stars! We enjoyed the fire-fueled hot tub and sauna after dinner, and then read by the woodburning stove in our room. I actually wish we could have stayed longer to enjoy the yoga and reading rooms, and old fashioned games like horseshoes and darts. With no wifi or cell phone service, it was like the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature's beauty.

Devon continued on the third day but I decided to take the bus, as I wasn’t feeling well enough to face the uphilll terrain. We met at the hotel in Quilitoa that night. The view of the crater lake (which was conveniently right across from our hotel!) was really impressive.

Other than the altitude sickness, the Quilitoa Loop was beautiful and quite enjoyable! We used a GPS app (Wiki Loc) for the trail which was super helpful, as the trail was not at all well marked. Parts of the trail were on the road, parts of it we were literally walking through someone's backyard...there were a million little turn offs that were not very obvious - I am actually really impressed by hikers who did the trail just with a paper map/instructions rather than any help from a GPS! The locals seemed to be quite used to lost hikers, so every once in a while they would call out and send us in the right direction as well.

After being in the big metropolitan city of Quito, it was refreshing to see the countryside and hike through the mountains. Weed may be legal in Canada now, but we found a natural high hiking the Quilitoa Loop.