Galapagos Islands – Dare to Dream

One year ago today I was on my way for a three week adventure that would change my life significantly. I traveled to Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and all over Peru. I had no idea what an impact each of these places would have on me for the rest of my life.

I arrived in the Galapagos Islands, embarking on an independent land-based tour to see the mystical, magical creatures that call this beautiful and unique place, home.

I had struggles, adventures, laughs (many laughs), great food, fantastic photos, broken camera equipment and life affirming moments while I was there. All of this in just five days. It was truly amazing.

I dreamed of visiting the Galapagos Islands, but I never dreamed I would love it so much.

Now, I dare you to dream.

I will be hosting a free travel talk about the Galapagos islands on Wednesday, February 20th at The Adventure Travel Company – 5552 Kaye Street, Halifax, NS from 7 – 8pm. I invite you to join me while I take your imagination to the islands via beautiful photos, personal experiences and give you lots of information on how you can get there too!

Please RSVP as space is limited and The Galapagos Islands is an in-demand destination!

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Fresh Fish Feast – Photo Essay

February 2012
Puerta Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands

I was wandering along the waterfront one afternoon and came across the fresh fish market. I’m passionate about photographing people in their environment, working … what better place than a fresh fish market? The fisherman had come in off the boats not long before and they were preparing fresh fish for locals, on request. As with any subject, I started photographing from the front and then started to wander around to different vantage points. I’m so glad that I did because some of my favourite shots are the ones from behind the fish counter.

Hope you enjoy my photo essay of the Fresh Fish Feast!

How many crabs can you find?

Just a fun little hide and seek game …

How many crabs can you find in this photo that I took in the Galapagos Islands earlier this year?

Hint #1 – Some are red, but some are bluish!
Hint #2 – Click on the photo to bring it up larger.

Crabs in the Galapagos Islands

Crabs in the Galapagos Islands

If you are interested in reading about some of my Galapagos Islands adventures, check them out here.

Update: Correct Answer – 15 (see yellow arrows below)
Thanks for the guesses on Facebook & Twitter!
Winners are Gail-James Carpenter & @Galakiwi who will both receive a ‘crab’ photo by mail!

Colorful crab in the Galapagos Islands

Colorful crab in the Galapagos Islands

Did you know that I Did THAT?

When I sat down to start making a list of all of the fun, unique and adventurous things that I’ve done in travel since 2006, I was quite amazed at the list. Check it out!

** Updated Jan 1, 2016 – updates still in progress

Dominican Republic
White water rafting – Jarabacoa
River kayaking – Sabonita
Latin dancing – Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, La Romana, Cabarete and Sosua
Photos of Not for Profit School “Dominino” – San Luis district of Santo Domingo
Botanical Gardens, Santo Domingo
Visited Banos salt mines and the only sand dunes in the Caribbean.
Puerto Plata Teleferico (cable car) – 2555 feet – the highest cable car and manicured gardens in the Caribbean.
Horseback riding through rivers on Christmas Day 2014
Danced Merengue, Salsa and Bachata in a local barber shop – Santo Domingo
Survived local transportation in the form of carros publicos, guaguas, tour buses & moto conchos

Peru
Homestays – Luqina Chico & Ccaccaccollo
Lake Titicaca Boat Tour – Lake Titicaca
Rowed a boat made of reeds – Uros Islands
Volunteer Family Photographs – Ccaccaccollo
Incan Ruins – Machu Picchu, Pisac, Ollantaytambo
Hot Springs – Aguas Calientes
Train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu & return to Cusco
Ate local delicacy – guinea pig

Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
Lava tunnels – Santa Cruz Island
Snorkeling & swimming with wild sea lions – near Santa Cruz Island
Charles Darwin Centre – Santa Cruz Island
Boat tour & hike of the highlands – Floreana Island
Dolphins – Floreana Island
Teleferico (cable car) – Altitude 13 280 ft – Quito
Old town Quito private city tour – Quito

Poland
Old town Warsaw night tour – Warsaw
Packaging and delivering wishes to terminally ill children – Southern Poland
Majdanek Concentration Camp – Majdanek

Germany
Berlin Zoo – Berlin
Bradenburg Gate – Berlin
Checkpoint Charlie – Berlin
Train from Berlin to Warsaw

Mexico
Rapelling & Snorkeling in cenotes – Mayan Riviera
Zip lining – Mayan Riviera
Tulum Ruins – Mayan Riviera
Snorkeling with sea turtles and sting rays – Mayan Riviera
Coco Bongo – Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza Ruins
Learned to surf – Sayulita (2015)
Horseback riding

USA
Bayou swamp tour – New Orleans, LA

St. Pierre & Miquelon
Zodiac boat tour – St. Pierre
Wild horses – Miquelon

Cuba
Catamaran & snorkeling – Varadero
Swimming with Dolphins – Varadero

Costa Rica
Cable car & Rain forest Zip lining – Arenal
Leatherback turtles laying eggs – Tamarindo
Black sand beaches

Nicaragua
Masaya (active) Volcano tour – Masaya
Granada Islets boat tour – Granada

Bermuda
Sea do tour & snorkeling – Dockyard
5 day cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines – Boston to St. Georges

Turkey
Hot Air Ballooning over Cappadocia at sunrise
Learning (trying) to make pottery
Horseback riding through Cappadocia at sunset
Visited Troy / Gallipoli and Anzac
Visited Aya Sofia / Blue Mosque / Galata Tower

Belize
Swimming with sharks and rays
Climbing waterfalls
Listening to spoken word poetry from our local guide in the jungle
Jungle horseback riding

Thailand
Snorkeling off Koh Phi Phi Islands
Travel from Malaysia to Thailand overland (train / bus)

The Philippines
Learned to dive
Visited the chocolate hills
Saw Tarsier monkeys
Learned about sand bubbler crabs
Snorkeling at _______________
Visited El Nido – Island hopping / snorkelling
Tried a bite of crocodile

Malaysia

Argentina
Visited Iguazu Falls
Street Art Tour

Uruguay

Chile
Felt an earthquake while at dinner

Montenegro
Visited the islands with the church / museum

Slovenia

Italy

Greece
Treno Sto Rouf Dinner Theatre
Street Art Tour

Croatia
Hiking through abandoned villages

Vietnam
Visited Halong Bay
Learning (trying) to make pottery
Agent orange museum ??

Cambodia
Visited Angkor Wat

Singapore
Singapore flyer ride

 

Death of Lonesome George

Today a friend passed along the news to me that 100 + year old Lonesome George has died. He was the last remaining tortoise of his kind in the world, making his home at the Charles Darwin Station in the Galapagos Islands for the past many years.

I feel very lucky to have seen him on my travels to the Galapagos islands in February as there will never be another of his kind! Makes me appreciate once again the experiences in travel that I have had and how truly special each experience is! It also reminds me of how precious nature is and that we have to take care and preserve it!

Related news stories:
Bangkok Post
World News – MSNBC
Sangay

Charles Darwin Station - Lonesome George

Charles Darwin Station – Lonesome George

In 10 years, will this matter?

How to Make a Decision – Part 1

When making a decision, you have several options …

1. Don’t think, just do it (completely an impulse decision)
2. Follow your heart (do what you love, but not necessarily what is most practical)
3. Do what you think is expected of you.
4. Follow your head (do what you know is most practical, not necessarily what makes you happy)

Honestly, some people do the same thing every time they make a decision … others have a variety of decision making differences depending on the situation.

Me, well, I’m almost never a #1 or #2. I usually follow my head, except in love (this will be particularly funny to those who know me well!). I’ve just discovered recently that even more so than following my own head, I often do things because I think that is what other people expect me to do. (I’ll have an entire blog post on expectations coming soon!)

Since 2009 I have wanted to go away to learn Spanish. Originally I thought I would go for 1 or 2 weeks. As the years passed, my interest in learning Spanish has stayed strong, but the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘you can’t do thats’ over powered everything else. Over the years I researched Spanish schools in all kinds of different countries, tried to think about when the best time to go away would be … continued to travel for other reasons, but hadn’t taken any real steps to make a decision on learning Spanish.

In the fall of 2011 I decided to purchase a Spanish Learning program for my computer (Berlitz Spanish Premier – I got my copy at Costco in Halifax). I wanted to learn Spanish, in hopes of leading a group of photo enthusiasts on an adventure called Peru Through the Lens. I wanted to be able to communicate in Spanish a little on my own. Unfortunately, I really didn’t study enough to be able to put sentences together, but I did learn a lot of vocabulary. I was the Queen of the one-word sentence or question! I had the Spanish speaking level of a two year old. Yay me!

In December 2011, the trip to Peru was confirmed and I decided this meant that I also needed to travel to the Galapagos Islands. I mean, really, it was part of the neighbouring country of Ecuador and I might never get back there again, so I should do it now, right?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

It took me a good two to three weeks to finally decide to take the leap and go for the trip to the Galapagos. I had been thinking about the possibility since the summer of 2011 when we started planning for the Peru Through the Lens photo tour, but I didn’t put anything in place until I knew for sure that the tour was taking place. I did a lot of research. I asked my travel agent (Rose, at The Adventure Travel Company) a million questions about packages and pricing. I debated over land vs boat accommodations. Land won out fairly quickly due to my previous well known adventures in sea sickness!

What I am getting at here is that I did not take the decision lightly. I thought about it long and hard, but knew that I had to make a decision somewhat quickly (after confirming the Peru trip was going forward) in order to book my flights and tie them in to the beginning of the Peru Through the Lens trip.

I often get stuck when I am trying to make a big decision and I have come to realize many good and bad things about myself.
1. I always do research and a lot of thinking before making decisions. I’ve always been this way!
2. I like to think I have equal parts of head and heart participation in most of my decisions.
3. I am very influenced (or have been in the past) by what close friends and family members ‘expect’ me to do and how they will react to decisions that I make.
4. Sometimes I get so flustered and stuck in my own head that it stresses me out and I can’t make a decision at all. It is at this point that some people give up, drop the idea and run away. For me, it is at this point that I have a little chat with myself …

I ask myself – “Shari. What are you doing? You obviously want to do this (trip to Galapagos) … what is stopping you? If you want to do it so badly, you shouldn’t be stressed about it!”

I answer myself – “I’m scared that I don’t have the money. I’m scared that my business clients will find someone new to do their photography. I’m scared that my parents won’t understand. I’m scared that I’m going to love it and not want to come back. I’m scared that if I don’t go, I’ll regret it. I’m scared that I’ll never have another chance to see The Galapagos Islands.” Geeze! I’m a big ol’ scardey cat!

I ask myself “In 10 years, will this matter? Will you be in debt from it? Will you regret having traveled, learned, experienced new cultures? Will you regret it if you don’t go? Will you learn anything from it? Can you do this 10 years from now instead?”

I answer myself “Don’t be ridiculous … it is a couple thousand dollars, not millions! I can pay that off. The debt won’t be around 10 years from now. Of course I won’t regret the experience. Travel = education of a whole different realm than what most people learn in life. Will I learn from it? How could I not? Sure, I could do this in 10 years, but if I wait until then I might be married with kids and then I won’t have the money or time to do a trip like this … then I’ll regret not having done it while I had the time!”

Decision made.

Just after Christmas, I contacted Rose at the Adventure Travel Company and put all of the details in place for my five day adventure to The Galapagos Islands. Off I would venture, on my own, with the Spanish of a two year old, Vamos! (Let’s Go!).

Google Translate I love you!

One of the biggest and best things I learned while I was away traveling was the existence of Google Translate! Every traveler should know about this if they are going to a country where they don’t speak the language! It works for about 30 different languages.

As always, there is a story of how I learned about Google Translate. I was at Hotel Crossman in the Galapagos Islands and had been having some difficulties communicating. Let me just clarify that the staff were all very nice and willing to help, however I spoke pretty much zero Spanish and their English was very minimal.

One afternoon I came back to the hotel not knowing what my next tour or excursion was or what time someone would be picking me up. The guy at the front desk told me (or what I understood) was that someone would be picking me up in 30 minutes (at 1:30pm).

I went upstairs, got ready and returned to wait in the lobby for my driver. A couple of minutes after I had been waiting, the guy from the front desk came over and motioned for me to come to the front desk with him. On his computer he had pulled up Google Translate and showed me a message that he had written in Spanish, but it was translated into English.

The message explained that my driver would be there to get me at 3pm, not in 30 minutes. Wow! Was I ever thankful not to sit in the lobby for an hour and a half waiting for my driver. I was super excited that the staff member had thought about this and cared enough to try and find a way to communicate with me.

Further than that, Google Translate became my new BFF and translation miracle! Several times I typed messages in English and then ran downstairs to the front desk to explain something or to ask a question. Because of Google Translate I was able to better understand when and where my ‘included’ meals were, how to tell the restaurant who to bill and when my next tours were. Google Translate made a huge difference for me. I wasn’t really stressing over the communication challenges, but I didn’t shy away from a solution!

Google Translate also helped me get my laundry done, understand the price and when it would be ready … oh yeah and someone also wished me Happy Valentine’s Day by typing it in Google Translate. Awwww.

Now that I’m back in Canada I’m still using the program on a regular basis to try and learn new things that my Spanish program hasn’t taught me. I have a few people that I am trying to communicate with minimally in Spanish just to get practice. I can actually have full conversations with them in Spanish if I want, but I’m finding that doesn’t teach me as much because it takes all of the thinking out of of the process. It is kind of like cheating on a test.

Regardless, I love that I have the option to communicate in a language I don’t know! The downfall of course is that you need internet in order for it to work. You can also use it on your phone and I’ve now found out there are some really cool apps for translating although I haven’t tried any of them out yet. I’ll post about them when I find one that I love.

Go forth and try Google Translate! Communicate with people in other countries with other languages and enjoy great conversations with new friends!

Why I use a travel Agent

During the wait for my flight from Quito, Ecuador to The Galapagos Islands to board, I was speaking with a couple from Alabama. Unfortunately, the came all the way through to the gate and were turned back because they needed to pay more money. What had happened is that they bought their ticket to the Galapagos online for a great price. In the end, they got a ticket at the Ecuadorian price, not the foreigner price. Their only option was to pay an additional $350 to get the correct ticket. The man didn’t seem to mind the additional price, just the hassle. They had to leave the gated area and go back through security to buy their new tickets. Problem there was that there were a lot of tourists in the exact same situation. Many of them were angry and refusing to pay. I can understand this, as it is hard to really understand why locals should pay less than tourists. Can you imagine if Air Canada decided to charge International travelers more than Canadian citizens? There would be an uproar over that I’m sure!

In the end, the husband and wife had to go through security three times.
The first time, and then found out about the ticket problem.
The second time with the correct ticket just to find out that their baggage was all incorrectly ticketed. The third time, they made it through and I saw them on (and off) the plane, so I know they made it to the islands in the end!

This is one good reason why it is great to use a travel agent to book your flights. Did you know that most of the time (not always), if you find a deal online, your travel agent can often get that same rate for you? At least, that has been my experience!

I do quite a bit of flight research on the internet, but when it comes to booking, I almost always use an agent. It just helps make sure that you know everything. They are the experts … the companies on the internet don’t do things such as check to see if you are Ecuadorian before selling you an Ecuadorian priced ticket to the Galapagos!

I use two really fantastic travel agencies, depending on the type of travel I am planning. Rose at The Adventure Travel Company in Halifax has been fantastic to work with. Very knowledgeable, helpful, friendly. My entire South American adventure has been coordinated through The Adventure Travel Company, who then has made connections with the other tour companies that I’m using. As their name suggests, they mostly deal with Adventure travel as opposed to resort/all inclusive travel. They CAN help with that and they certainly can book you a flight anywhere you need to go for business or pleasure, but Adventure truly is their specialty.

For resort travel, and destination wedding clients who choose to go to an all inclusive resort, I love working with Jeannie from Limetime Travel / Club Cay. She’s booked my own resort trip to Mexico in 2011 and is working with one of my destination wedding couples coming up this April in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. She’s all around pretty super too. She’s more of a resort vacation travel company and she’s from the Bahamas, so she specializes in the Bahamas!

I am more than happy to recommend working with either of these companies, depending on your travel plans. I just suggest not trying to do it ALL on your own because sometimes the headaches in a far-away country are just not worth it.

Travel Tip – Storage at hotel

While I was in the Galapagos Islands, I talked to a couple of different travellers who were carrying very little luggage. I found out that because they were only on the islands for 4-7 days, they had actually left most of their luggage at their hotels in either Quito or Guayaquil so they wouldn’t have to carry it everywhere. They packed just the necessities for their short visit to the islands and didn’t have to worry about carrying everything the whole time.

I sure wish I had known this before I headed to the Galapagos! I could have traveled with a lot less over there for sure.

Funny enough, when I came back to my lovely hotel in Quito, Hostal Villa Nancy, the first thing they asked was ‘You were here last week right?’ … ‘Did you leave anything in our storage?’

Well, now I know for next time. If you are staying at the same hotel on both ends of a short trip, sometimes you can leave luggage with them in their storage room for short periods of time. Check it out as it might be useful to you sometime!

In fact, I may check it out today before I leave with Peru Through the Lens. There are certainly a few things that I could take out of my backpack to make it lighter while traveling for the next 12 days!

Leaving Paradise

Feb 16, 2012

Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

This photo was taken at sunset the evening before, but this is what I think Paradise looks like.

I got up early my last day on Santa Cruz island. Finished packing and then headed to the docks to take a few last photos in the early morning sun. By 8am though it is already harsh and strong. I snapped a couple of photos of the bay and boats, waved to a few of the guides that I had traveled with in the past few days and headed back to my hotel for one last breakfast.

My transfer driver came to pick me up at 9am and off we went for the 40-50 minute drive to the ferry to take us to Baltra Island where the airport is.

The ferries are funny … They fit about 50 people, all crowded in on the lower level with all of our luggage stowed (not so safely) on the roof of the boat. Once I was on the ferry I saw a familiar face, but couldn’t quite place him. I noticed him tell the man collecting the .80c fee that mine was covered, so I figured the familiar face was there to take care of me. The ferry takes about 7-10 minutes. I honestly think it goes extra slow just so that staff have time to collect everyone’s fees.

Once I got off, the familiar face was quick to help me with my luggage, show me where to stand and usher me into the shade. It was here that I asked his name … it was Darwin! The transfer driver who ate lunch with Mariana and I and who dropped us off at the Charles Darwin Station. How could I forget Darwin!

Darwin continued to get my luggage on the bus to the airport, push his way through to bus line with me in tow. The bus was so packed that we both had to stand up on the 10 minute twisty turny bus ride to the airport. Darwin once again took care of my baggage and showed me where to go to check in. All of this without speaking any English.

Check in went smoothly, he pointed me toward a small market to buy some souvenirs and showed me which line up to stand in to go through security. I gave him a hug and a small tip, said thank you and went on my way.

Once through security I sat for nearly 2 hours, drenched in my own sweat even though I was sitting still. The heat is almost stifiling. There wasn’t a dry person in that airport, all of us with glistening arms, foreheads and wet spots on our backs.

I ran into my friends Tanya and Victor who rescued me on my first day. I also chatted with Kate from one of my boat tours. Unfortunately none of that really seemed to help the time pass more quickly. It was like being in a sauna with a couple hundred people. Sound like fun?

Thank goodness for the air conditioning once we got on the plane. And, it was a beautiful day for flying, so flights leaving Galapagos, flying into Guayaquil for our stop over and then into Quito were all beautiful.