Monday, June 27, 2011


Patrick served a good portion of his mission in Guayaquil, Ecuador so while we knew it might not be the most picturesque stop on our trip, we needed to spend a couple of days there.

We were so lucky to be able to stay with a good friend of Patrick's from his Mission. Dario and his family, are some of the sweetest people I have ever met.

And we may or may not have tried to smuggle their daughter home with us this afternoon :)

Our first evening in Guayaquil, we went on a tour of the city, stopping at to the Parque de Iguanas,

the malecon (river boardwalk) and climbing 444 steps to a chapel at the top of the city in a neighborhood called Las Penas.

What a cool place.

On Saturday, we took a trip to Salinas, a beach town about 2hrs from Guayaquil.

It was definitely an experience. We were constantly being hassled by food/craft vendors

while lounging in our rented cabana (you can't escape them! We didn't even want the cabana and yet somehow ended up paying $7 for the honor).

At some point we were approached by a man offering to take us whale watching. He pointed out his boat, said we could hop in and go out to see the whales. Since it was pretty cheap, and whale season we figured oh what the heck let's do it. 1.5 hrs, three boats and two captains later, we were finally on our way. We saw several whales come up for air, and one flipped his tail out of the water, but unfortunately we didn't get to see any breach. Still a pretty awesome experience, and we had the benefit of being in a country where you can get super close to the whales without breaking any laws :)

After our whale watching tour, we wanted to grab a bite to eat. When we pulled up to the group of restaurants, we were immediately accosted by the waitstaff of several establishments, all encouraging us to come to their restaurants. That's been fairly standard on this trip, so it wasn't strange, the strange part came when we tried to sit down. They were literally fighting for us to pick a place to eat! I felt like wherever we chose, we were making somebody furious! Luckily once we chose a place, they left us alone. Delicious seafood after a day at the beach is always a good idea.

Today, our last day, we went to Church at the building that Patrick had gone to when he lived in Guayaquil.

He wasn't sure if he would remember anyone, or even if anyone he knew would still be there, so he was thrilled to see 5 of the 6 converts he had baptized all still in the same ward!

It was such an incredible experience to see how happy they were to see him and vice versa.

They all even still had their Book of Mormon where he had written his testimony! And one even had his picture! I loved meeting everyone as well, and only wish I spoke Spanish so that I could have heard all the wonderful things they had to say about Elder Larsen.

After church, we took a tour of the areas he lived. Check out his apartment!!

He says it looks pretty much the same. Can you believe he lived there? I think I would have died.

And look at the dirt roads!

In the largest city in the country, there are still dirt roads? Apparently 90% of the roads were dirt when he was there 8 years ago, but the city has done a lot to improve things and now most streets are paved, except in the most dangerous areas.

Although there have been vast improvements, that's still one rough town. I can't imagine living there. I think the thing that has been the strangest to
me is how mixed the living conditions are. There are nice apartments next to little shacks, next to huge pits full of trash. And everywhere is under construction/for sale. I don't think I saw more than 10% of the buildings that didn't have some sort of incomplete portion. And yet, people are still living in the houses!

And with that, we're finally at the end of the trip! I can't believe it went by so quickly! And yet, I'm definitely ready to head home. I thought I could handle months of travel, but it turns out, I am not the best long-term budget traveler. Big surprise, I'm sure :) but I am so glad we took this trip. I know it's one we will remember forever.

Next stop, India! I am so excited to meet up with Amanda and Lex at Rising Star!!

Getting to Guayaquil

After our bus rides to Cuenca and Loja, you'd think we'd be prepared for the one back to Guayaquil. But I guess a ten hr ride is a bit different from a four hour one. (if anyone can tell me how taking the same route as two four hour bus rides turns into ten hours, that'd be great. Oh wait, it's South America, no need to explain). We were on some of the windiest roads I have ever seen, complete with crazy people hopping on whenever we slowed down (which was pretty often) to sell random stuff. At one point, a man with no legs got on and crawled through the aisle begging for money. I still can't figure out how he got on in the first place, since we never officially stopped, but you better believe I gave him a dollar. We had one ten minute bathroom break, but other than that it was full speed (more like crawl, those roads were BUMPY) ahead.

Once we arrived at the bus depot in Guayaquil, we made our way to the taxi stand to get a cab to our hotel. Two problems though. First, we had read in the newspaper that two tourists were shot and robbed two nights before while riding in a cab, so I was slightly paranoid about making it to the hotel; and secondly, the cab drivers were selective about whether or not they would even take you where you wanted to go. They would slow down just enough to find out where you wanted to go, and then either pretend they didn't understand your request or just speed up and drive away.

At one point we were pretty sure we were going to spend the night at the bus terminal.

Luckily, we finally found a cab driver willing to take us to our hotel. When we eventually found it (after about 15 minutes of driving up and down the same street, what kind of hotel needs a sign out front, anyways), they explained that another guest had really, really liked their room so they decided to stay an extra night - which meant they had no room for us, even though we had pre-paid the reservation. How convenient.

After ten hours of sitting on a crazy bus, an hour trying to get a cab, and another 30 minutes of searching for the stupid hotel, our patience was gone. They claimed they were calling around for another hotel for us to stay at, but I was not about to risk being swept into the night to go to some sketchy motel in a 3rd world country. No way, Jose.

Taking matters into our own hands, we insisted on a refund and a ride to the Airport Sheraton. Shockingly, it worked! Next thing you know, we are walking into a QUIET, Air-conditioned, clean room. We were Wayyy too excited. And even better, the hotel was right across the street from a mall with a food court full of America. We were skipping across the street in excitement.

I told Patrick, while that may have not been my favorite part of the trip, it quite possibly was my happiest. So silly, the things we take for granted, but I'm telling you, after two weeks of "roughing it", nothing feels better than a belly full of KFC and a plush bed. Sheer happiness.

Not to mention, the breakfast buffet the next morning was awesome. Stale bread with margarine and jam gets old after about 2 days and we were on Day 13.

As excited as I was about heading to the Galapagos, I was tempted to just stay in that bed for the rest of our trip. We both agree it was the best $100 we've spent in a lonnnggg time.

The Galapagos

Patrick has been out of his mind excited about going to the Galapagos ever since we started talking about this trip.

We were there about five days, and it was not even close to enough time. What an awesome place! I have 800 gazillion pictures of iguanas, sea lions, birds, tortoises and yes, even some blue-footed boobies! and that doesn't even take into account what we saw while diving!

Everywhere you turn, it's swarming with creatures. It's kind of weird because at first glance, it seems like a bunch of desert islands without any habitation, but once you get a little closer, you realize just how wrong you were.

On our first day, after getting off the plane and taking a water taxi to the island,

we checked in to our fabulous hotel, Galapagos Suites, (which we highly highly recommend, loved it!!) explored the town,

and headed out to the Charles Darwin Research center.

(oh yeah and also got our passports back. Note to self, the super expensive island entrance fee is cash only, and if you don't have $200 on you, there are no ATMs at the airport, so they take your passports hostage. Wha?? Yeah well at least they still let you in. Can't figure out the no ATM thing though).

The Darwin center is basically a animal sanctuary so we saw tons of Galapagos Tortoises

and Land Iguanas.

Oh yeah and cactuses.

They are everywhere! And look like trees which is interesting. Have you ever seen a cactus that looks like this?!

Day two meant diving! Our goal was to see hammerheads, and lots of them, so we planned our first day of diving at Gordon Rocks, a dive site famous for Hammerhead sitings.

Although I was still pretty congested from my cold, I popped a few Sudafed and we were on our way.

We had heard the ride could be a but rough, so we took some motion sickness pills, but we are both pretty good at boat rides so we weren't super concerned.

Let me interrupt my story to say that both Patrick and I are pretty good divers. We've had our fair share of tough dives, and while not hard-core we aren't usually woosie either. I have ear issues, but other than that we hold our own.

Anyways, back to the diving. I made the mistake of chatting with a fellow diver as we began the 1+ hr boat ride to the site. A few minutes in, I knew I was doomed. The water was SO rough, and I kept praying for her to stop talking so I could concentrate on not barfing. Too late. I lost it, then Patrick, then me again, then Patrick. We took turns at the side of the boat pretty much the whole ride out. By the time we got to the first site, things were not looking good.

We finally made it into the water, and started to descend but I could not get my ears to clear for the life of me. Usually it's tough, but I eventually get them to clear and catch up to the group, but this was 100x worse than usual. The currents were so strong, the water had poor visibility and I was doing everything I could to just stay calm. Thank goodness for a great dive master, who stayed with me until I finally got down. Once we were at about 80ft, the sea life started to pop out. Next thing you know, there is a school of 30 hammerheads, followed by 6 eagle rays, two sea turtles, and 6 white tip sharks.
Then you turn the other direction and there is a school of 30 more hammerheads!

It was seriously UNREAL. The dive flew by. Just absolutely breathtaking. Probably the coolest stuff I have ever seen. It was like screens just kept being pulled aside and more things would appear.

Everywhere you turned there were sea turtles, rays and sharks.

So, I started to think it was worth the seasick and ear issues. Invigorated and excited to get back on the boat to talk about everything we saw, we prepared to climb up the ladder and all of a sudden I felt a stinging on my neck. At first I just ignored it, stuff like that happens all the time and it's usually nbd. But then my chin was on fire! A jellyfish had latched on and was stinging me everywhere!

By the time I finally got back onto the boat, I was a mess. Emotionally drained and in tons of pain, I basically just had a meltdown. The worst part was knowing there was still another dive PLUS another hour or so wait until we got back in the water AND our 1+ hr ride back. I was sitting in the corner crying, Patrick was barfing over the side, and everyone else on the boat was trying to ignore the two pathetic creatures they had gotten stuck diving with.

Not our finest hours. In fact, I'm not really sure why I'm even telling the Internet this story! Although, looking back, it is pretty hilarious. This picture pretty much sums everything up. One barfer, one baby.

We sucked it up, did our second dive, and survived the boat ride home. Yes, the dive was cool, yes we saw tons of awesome stuff, but I'm still not sure if it was worth such a horrific day. At one point I had to talk myself down from swearing to never dive again. Looking at the pictures will help remind me it's worth it, I guess.

So we went to bed early that night, and woke up not super thrilled to be heading out on yet another boat, this time on an Island/Snorkle cruise. Turned out to be fine (fun even!); we bought some extra strength motion sickness meds and slept the whole way there. Plus it was a bigger boat so that also helped. Plazas was a really cool island. Tons of marine and land iguanas, birds and sea lions. Like I said before, when you first see the islands you think there is no way anything lives there and then you are blown away by what you see! So incredible.

We were supposed to dive again on Thursday, but you couldn't pay me to get back on that boat. And Patrick wasn't so keen on it either. Throwing up 8 times and getting attacked by a jelly fish on the face will do it to ya, I guess. Wimps. So instead we hiked out to Tortuga bay, which was one of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen.

Oh! And we even saw iguanas swimming in the ocean!

And took a bay cruise

to see more birds, iguanas and fish.

Blue footed booby!

Lovers cove

Look at all the iguanas! Crazy!!

We ended up at this swimming hole, called the Grietas which was gorgeous!

The food was mediocre for the most part, fairly overpriced tourist stuff,

but we found a street full of authentic Ecuadorian food and ended up eating our last two meals there.

The shrimp encocado was amazing and the Carne aponada was awesome! I guess you cant go wrong with shrimp in a butter/coconut sauce and chicken fried steak, but still! We also had at least one (or two) Magnum bars daily. And I read three books. Always a good recipe for a great trip.

We are excited to someday come back to the Galapagos, now that we've kind of figured out how to do it. We definitely need more time, and want to stay on another Island or two. Definitely put it on your list of places to go!