Dave woke up to hear that Kathy had made it to Fort Lauderdale, FL and was safely back in the US. Hooray!! She later made her flight to JFK. Then she has the short hop to Buffalo. Dave is still asymptomatic. He has TV (with all but CNN and Fox News in Spanish!), a laptop where he can surf the internet, watch Netflix, catch up on his email, and watch highlights of Sabres games. He also has a book which Kathy gave him for Christmas, a book of crossword puzzles, and a Sudoku book. He can also brush up on his Spanish with Rosetta Stone. He will try to get some exercise done in his room. He and Kathy can still keep in touch with texts, Wi-Fi calls (we hope at no charge!) and video calls on WhatsApp. Our new friend in Britain, Chris and Elena have said they will keep Dave from being bored as well.
Kathy and Dave got up early to get ready for their 8 AM COVID test. We were excited to be close to going home. As amazing as this trip has been, we missed our kittens back at home, not to mention the routine of being “home” again. We ate breakfast after the tests and then waited for our laundry to be delivered to the hotel. We also scheduled a taxi to take us to the airport at 7 PM. The laundry was late and so we had to ask for a late checkout, which the hotel accommodated. It arrived at noon, and we packed up to check out. As we dropped our baggage off at the front desk to hold for us until our taxi at 7, we were given an envelope. It had our test results. Dave slowly opened the envelope. Kathy’s results were on to and she was — negativo! Woo hoo! Then, he looked at his results – positivo! Oh, no!!
After a few stunned moments, Dave asked the hotel employee to verify the results, since they were in Spanish. Yup, Dave was “positive” and would not be traveling home. How could Kathy be negative and Dave be positive when they have been together 24/7 for the last couple of weeks?? As we gathered our wits, we began looking at our options. Dave could stay at the same hotel for $90/night (or $155/night with 3 meals a day delivered.) They could give Kathy a room next to Dave for another $90/night, but she would be able to go out and eat. They could not cohort Dave and Kathy since Kathy was negative.
We made the agonizing decision for Kathy to go back home by herself and wait for Dave to be cleared for travel. We have our kittens at home that Kathy needs to care for. Plus, it would be risky for Kathy to stay in Quito and possibly test positive when Dave was finally cleared for travel. We had planned on staying in Florida for a couple of days to visit Dave’s brother, Mike, and some old friends. We had to change Kathy’s flight to fly straight to Buffalo, and we had to cancel Dave’s flight. As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, trying to make these changes was extremely frustrating. We were disconnected twice (after which we had to wait another 30-60 minutes for someone to answer), we could not get anything done on the airline’s website or app, and we spent 5 hours trying to get this resolved. What should have been a few last hours to be together before Dave went into isolation, was instead spent in aggravation and sitting on hold. As each hour ticked by, the time for Kathy to take her taxi ride to the airport drew closer. Finally, at just past 6 PM, we got everything resolved.
Now came the crying. Kathy was heartbroken to have to leave Dave behind in a foreign country, in isolation in a small hotel room, and testing positive for a disease which has killed millions worldwide. She was also very nervous about having to negotiate the travel from a foreign country to her home in a relatively new area all by herself, without her compatriot and travel partner, Dave. A few minutes before 7 PM, Kathy said goodbye and headed to the airport. Fortunately, Dave has remained asymptomatic. He carries a thermometer and checked — 98.6. He ordered room service and the pizza TASTED great! No fever and no loss of smell or taste. Two symptoms checked. No fatigue, headache, body aches, runny nose, or cough.
Dave checked with the tour company and so far, no one else on the tour has tested positive. However, four of the others are traveling to the UK which does not require testing prior to flying. Two others are staying in Ecuador for another week. That leaves Katya. Dave emailed her to let her know of the situation and she told him her test was negative. Dave also asked the tour company if the boat crew will be tested since they are now all close contacts with a person who has tested positive. After messaging with them, he is still unsure if they will or not be tested.
Kathy and Dave took this tour of the Galapagos because they had a voucher from a previous tour that had been canceled. They chose the Galapagos because at the time, COVID was on the decline so much that Ecuador only required visitors to be vaccinated, not PCR tested. That changed after the trip was booked. We also felt more comfortable because the tour company required all passengers and crew to be vaccinated AND tested before getting on the boat. Being in a bubble of vaccinated and tested people for 14 days on a boat in a remote area seemed less risky than many things we do back at home in the US. However, two days before the end of the tour, we had an excursion onto one of the few islands which had a human population living on it. We visited the land tortoise recovery center for the national park and then had free time in the town. We were cautioned by our guide to avoid eating lunch in town. Another boat had had a passenger test positive and he felt that spending more time in town was risky. Disappointed, but agreeing that it was safer to eat back on the boat, we did as he requested. However, some of the crew, and our guide, live in the town. After dinner, they left the boat and went back to town. Some returned late at night, and from the sounds of the singing and carousing, it is assumed they had been drinking. Many of us were upset that they had broken our bubble and were concerned with catching COVID from one of them. Hmmm…
Quito is at an elevation of about 9,350 feet. We certainly felt the effects of going from the Galapagos to that elevation. But that wasn’t enough for us! We had scheduled a tour of Cotopaxi National Park for today. Cotopaxi is an active, snow- and glacier-covered volcano that tops out at an elevation of 19,247 feet. We piled into the guide’s car with two other passengers: Alexis, an Anthropology Professor living in San Diego, and Alberto, an economist from Lima, Peru. Both of them appeared to be in their 30’s. We drove up to the boundary of the park before being transferred to a 4-wheel drive truck for the rough ride to the uppermost parking lot on the north side of the volcano.
From the parking lot at about 15,000 feet, it is a walk up a volcanic ash and rock trail to Base Camp just below 16,000 feet. Kathy was really feeling the effects of the altitude and, discretion being the better part of valor, opted to remain at the parking lot while Dave, Alexis, Alberto and the guide began the ascent. Alexis dropped out rather quickly as she was feeling the effects of hiking uphill at that elevation. Dave followed the others, but at a slower pace. “Lente, como una Tortuga.” Dave told them. “Slow, like a turtle!” However, Dave actually made it to Base Camp ahead of Alberto. Our guide waited for Alberto, so Dave made it there in first place! At the camp, Dave got some good hot cocoa and rested a bit. The guide said we needed to go just a bit further to make it to the 16,000 foot level, so we slogged on ahead. That set a personal record for being at altitude for Dave. Walking on snow at the equator was also a first!
Dave made it back to Kathy at the parking lot only to find her watching an Andean wolf which was wandering by! She got a great photo of it on her phone. On the ride back down the mountain, we also spotted a pair of Cara cara falcons chasing some southern lapwing birds. These wildlife sightings were very much a surprise and delight for us, as was seeing some herds of wild horses.
When we got back to Quito, we had dropped our laundry off at a nearby Laundromat and were told they would deliver it to our hotel between 10 and 11 AM the next day, which was perfect as we had to check out of the hotel at noon.
The last little bit of the trip was a morning dinghy ride along the mango groves. We saw quite a few black and white-tipped sharks, amorous turtles circling the females, iguanas basking on the rocks, and a lone stingray skimming the bottom of the water in the sand and creating quite a stir. We also saw for the last time some blue-footed boobies and brown pelicans diving into the water for a snack, lava herons were waiting patiently for their breakfast to swim by and a great blue heron majestically wading in the water. While we have seen these all before, we were still enchanted. Tonight we plan on all getting together for one last dinner together in Quito after an uneventful flight. Tomorrow sees the group splitting up and going their various ways. Kathy and Dave will hopefully head to the Cotopaxi volcano tomorrow to climb a glacier.
Touchdown in Quito was uneventful and we were grateful to be on the next leg of our journey. Ed, our Canadian companion on the trip, had an excellent idea: how about dinner altogether tonight? One last hurrah for the group!! The nine of us walked to a local restaurant and ordered our drinks and meals at about 7:15 pm. Dinner and drinks came out in waves with the last dish for Elena not being received until almost 8:30 pm. She promptly tackled her with dinner ravenous determination. Her meal was especially late because she ordered a pizza, but with “no tomatoes” due to her allergy. When her pizza came out, hiding under the cheese topping was…..tomato sauce! Dave used his phone to translate to the waiter that Elena is allergic to tomatoes. The waiter grabbed Dave’s phone and left, puzzling the nine of us. He returned a couple of minutes later and gave Dave his phone back. Dave thinks he showed the phone to the cook, because when her pizza came out, it was not deadly to Elena. Hurrah! The dinner was quite a lively affair. Ed and Dave each sat at the “head” of the table and exchanged quips and jokes that kept us all laughing. Today, Chris and Janet, the retired dentists from the UK, head home at about 5 pm. Chris and Elena head to the UK via Madrid later that evening. Just in time for Chris to start a new job on Wednesday. Ed and Elizabeth from Canada have opted to explore Ecuador a bit more and will enjoy almost a whole week here seeing some more of the country. Katya will leave for DC at a decent hour on Wednesday to head back to her job at the World Bank. We enjoyed getting to know all of them and hope we meet up again.
I hope these “top” 60 photos enchant the viewer as much as we were enchanted during our trip.
The last full day sees us having a wet landing on Chinese Hat, an island in the Galapagos which looks like, well…you know. We walked a short trail where we learned about the history of the volcanic activity that helped shape the unique islands and contributed to the diversity of animals that inhabit the islands. We saw a penguin playfully calling out to find some friends and then actively chasing trying to catch some elusive fish. We saw the obligatory sea lions, crabs, and iguanas that always seem to be part of the landscape of the islands. Soon we were back on board where Kathy again showered while the rest of the group got ready to do their last snorkel of the trip. Kathy decided yesterday: no more, she was waterlogged and content with what she had seen and done. Today the group saw fish, sharks, and rays but nothing new. Kathy, on the other hand, relaxed and packed in order to get ready for the end of our adventures in the Galapagos.
After our lunch and siesta we set off for a power hike on the unpopulated side of Santa Cruz Island. We were lucky enough to see some bright mustard colored iguanas basking in the sun. The hike started with a dry landing where we walked over a landscape reminiscent of the mars landings with bright red sand dotted with jutting laving rocks. What started out as dry and rocky led to a white sand beach where some of the group decided to treat themselves with a dip in the cold ocean after the long, hot hike. Some of us decided to go back to the boat and enjoy the comfort of the rocking ocean. The boat seemed to rock a bit more than usual. Apparently there was a volcanic eruption off of the Tongan Islands. This created a small tsunami here in the Galapagos Islands. Fortunately, it was barely noticeable where we were except for a bit more energy in the waves.
While waiting for dinner and the farewell drink, we saw several large manta rays jumping out of the water near the boat. This last night we expect the going away drink along with the video of the 2nd part of the trip. The video, though, will not be the same without G, Irene, Prity, Pam, Jay, and Maria! We hear they have all made it home safely, for which we are grateful.
Hard to believe, but we only have two full days before we leave the boat to head back to Quito. Like usual we started the day early where we took a boat to a beautiful green sand beach. We hiked along a sandy trail where we learned about the endemic plants that inhabit the islands. We saw some endemic pintail ducks (a new bird for us) and marveled at the beauty of the bright pink flamingos loitering in the brackish pond. The walk took us up and around a small knoll where we ended up on a white sand beach. We were lucky enough to see a multitude of turtles laying on the beach or swimming in the shallow shoreline. We even got to see some marine turtles mating in the shallow shoreline. A little further along the beach allowed us to see female stingrays along the shoreline. We learned that the stingrays come close to shore to birth their young in order to minimize their risk of coming into contact with predators. Soon again we were back on board. After a short rest, it was time to get ready for snorkeling at Devil’s Crown. Kathy opted to shower and relax while Dave took pictures for her. Dave saw seven sharks, including a new species, the Galapagos shark! He also saw some small barracudas, a turtle, and some nice corrals. He also had a near tragedy. As he was climbing the ladder out of the water into the dinghy, his underwater camera which he had strapped onto his wrist caught on the ladder. The string broke and the camera went blub, blub, blub, down into the briny sea. Fortunately, Chris was swimming right behind and dove down to catch the camera. It took him a few grabs as the camera looked a lot closer when in the water, but he finally found success and saved Dave’s camera (and all of the day’s photos.) Meanwhile, Kathy was relaxing back on the boat!
What followed the snorkeling was lunch and the obligatory siesta for those tired swimmers. Kathy relaxed and listened to a book. The group, less Kathy, again went snorkeling but it was cut short as visibility was less than desirable. The group did manage to see multiple turtles swimming in the water and one manta ray so it was still a good day. A short break followed in order to shower and clean up before we headed to Post Office Island. There we will mail our postcards to ourselves, G, Irene, and Prity. I hope that a funny, respectable, and well to do man delivers G her card. We delivered our cards to the post office on Post Office Island, which really is a barrel with postcards in plastic bags. We thumbed through all the cards that were there to find some local ones that we could hand deliver. We picked up two, one from Akron, NY and another one that was about an hour away from us in Dansville, NY. Interestingly enough they were fairly current cards and it could be that Galapagos delivery system is quicker than the USPS. We shall see when they are delivered.
We walked along the beach and then watched the crew of the Yolita play soccer against the crew of the Archipelagi ll. The Yolita ll crew were the champions and our guide Omar scored the winning goal. A nice time was had by all and now it is time to relax for the next little while. The days are winding down and Kathy is looking forward to being on dry land!
Dinner was an exciting event. For the appetizer, we were given some sort of local vegetable with a little sauce on it. Kathy did not like the taste of the vegetable, but Elena told her to try it with the sauce, because it was better that way. Then, Elena started feeling her lips tingling and asked the crew if there were tomatoes in the sauce. Our crew asked the chef and she was told it did. Elena has an allergy to tomatoes that can leave her in anaphylactic shock – a condition which constricts her throat, cutting off her breathing. Fortunately, Dave knew of Elena’s allergy and had given her some of his Benadryl tablets when we first boarded the Yolita II 12 days ago. Elena ran to her room in a panic and took two tablets. In her rush, she failed to properly swallow the tablets, causing her to choke on them. As if anaphylaxis wasn’t bad enough! Fortunately, Chris helped her and she downed both pills. The Benadryl worked effectively and Elena did not have to use her emergency Epi-Pen. Had she had to use the Epi, she would have had to be taken to a medical facility for a follow-up exam and treatment. As you can imagine, there are not a whole lot of hospitals in the middle of the ocean around the Galapagos archipelago. Fortunately, she was spared from any need for further treatment. Thank goodness!