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FLORES & KOMODO NATIONAL PARK - INDONESIA

This place is a dream come true! Literally ... it looks like paradise (beacuse it is), and I got to see Komodo Dragons in the wild!!!

sunny 40 °C

After a bunch of rainy days in Jakarta I flew all the way over to the island of Flores. I knew I would love this place even before the plane landed. The views from my tiny airplane window upon landing were spectacular!!! It flew over volcanoes and 100s of vibrant green islands surrounded by a ring of turqoise water!

The airport in Labuan Bajo is tiny. And by tiny, I mean they off-load your bags and leave them on the tarmac for you to pick up, lol! I didn't have any luggage to wait for, cuz I travel with only a carry-on size backpack, so I headed straight to where the taxis were waiting. The exit doors to get out of the airport were locked though ... but not to keep me in ... to keep all the taxi touts out! You should have seen them, it was hystercal! They were all pressed up against the windows, like children trying to peek into a toy store, lol! Their faces were smooshed up against the glass and everything. A guard unlocked the doors for me and I was instantly bombarded by every single taxi driver trying to get my business. You can definitely tell its low season and they are hard up for some business. I chose a driver and told him to take me to a beachfront resort. He took me to La Prima. One of the best parts about traveling in low season is the good deals. This fancy resort that was beachfront, had a big infinity pool with a swim up bar, massage parlor & spa, free breakfast & wifi, etc, was $120 a night in high season, but only $51 in low season :)

This was the fabulous view from my balcony!
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Turns out my taxi driver's brother runs houseboating tours to Komodo National Park, so as soon as I mentioned I was interested, he called up his brother who arrived in under 5min to give me his business shpiel before I even had a chance to bring my backpack up to my room! Once again I got a steal of a deal cuz of low season!! This has got to be the best deal of 'em all! I booked a 2 day/ 1 night houseboating tour to Rinca Island & Komodo Island for only $75!!! Regular $300 in high season (accordingly to my Lonely Planet guide)! I was smiling for the rest of the day :) After I gave him a deposit, I dropped my bag off in my room and headed to the pool/beach.
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So this next story I'm about to tell has never happened to me anywhere else in the world, but its happened over & over again every island I've visited in Indonesia ... random locals will approach me wanting their photo taken with me, or will be taking selfies but making sure that I'm in the background, or hide in a bush to take my photo! Some just walk right up to me while I'm tanning poolside and take my photo without asking! Its so annoying, I hate it! Has this happened to anyone else?! Do I look like someone famous (I dont think I do), or is just cuz I'm tall, white, and have blond hair??? Whatever the reason, it got real annoying, real quick. Now I 100% always ask a local if I can take their photo rather than trying to be sneaky about it, cuz now I know how it feels having someone invade your privacy. This is what African wildlife must feel like when a jeep full of tourists shows up and starts clicking away, lol!

My first amazing Indonesian sunset :D
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The next day I checked out of my hotel, but left the majority of my stuff there in storage (just took enough with me for my 2 day adventure), and promised I'd be back for it. My taxi driver's brother was supposed to pick me up at 6:30am to take me to the marina to join the other people on my houseboating tour. After 15min of waiting I was beginning to think I'd been scammed. But finally, around the 20min late mark, he showed up. I joined 5 other Canadians for the adventure of a lifetime :)

This was my home for 2 days & 1 night. The open part in the front was our sitting area by day with all our luggage piled in the middle, and our sleeping area by night. Thank goodness for perfect weather, cuz I wouldnt wanna sleep out in the open if it was raining! It was not the fancy yacht I was expecting, more of a beater putzing along, lol! But the scenery & company made up for it :) The captain & crew got bunkbeds; we slept in the open on the floor (more photos to come of our sleeping arrangements a little later). There was a toilet (squatty potty version), but no shower.
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Sailing away from Labuan Bajo.
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Our first stop was Rinca Island. It wasnt too far away, under 2hrs, but I cant remember exactly how long it took. I was too mezmorized by the scenery to pay attention to the time. Everything was so wonderfully green!
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Upon arriving at Rinca Island we were assigned a ranger / guide. This we found out, is not included in the price we already paid. Plus there was a fee to bring a camera. I cant remember how much the extras fees were since this trip took place 9mths ago, but it wasnt outageous or anything. Theres 4 people to a guide, so you split the cost between 4ppl, and you each pay your own camera fee.
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Right off the bat we spotted this Komodo Dragon snoozing in the shade near the ranger station!
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Before the 2hr hike began, we were given a quick safety briefing and a stick to ward off any dragons lurking in the tall grass. I'm pretty sure a twig isnt gonna save my life. We were told that twice in recent years Komodo Dragons had walked into the ranger station and cornered the ranger working in there! There is only one door, and so no way to escape. One bite from a Komodo will kill you! Not from venom, but from so much bacteria. Its a long, slow death. After being told that, me & my stick were on high alert!!

The first hour of the hike was more of a walk than an actual hike. We were taken to a Komodo nest to see where they lay their eggs in holes they have dug in the ground.

We spotted this baby Komodo peeking his head up above the grass, and another one lumbering down the very path we were walking on!
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The 2nd hour turned into an actual hike ... through a furnace! The first half was in the forest, which provided shade from the 45C heat (although its still about 37C in the shade)!! The second half was out in the open, no trees for any cover at all, and straight up a hill to a lookout point. It was honestly like being in a furnace. If you've been to Mexico or the Caribbean and think you know what hot weather is ... think again! Travel to the equator, and then you'll know what real heat is like! You know how during Canadian winters the cold & wind can freeze your skin in seconds ... thats how the heat is here! You burn in 2.0 seconds. And by burn I mean it feels like your skin is on fire! So wear a hat and preferable light linen pants/shirt unless you like sunburns :) And dont forget to pack sunscreen & water!

Hiking out in the open
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This was the lookout point we were rewarded with.
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Back at the dock we noticed 100s of teeny tiny Fiddler Crabs! The whole thing was no bigger than my thumbnail!!
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Back on board we were served a tastey lunch. The captain was also our chef, and if you could have seen the kitchen he was working in, you'd be amazed by the meals he put out!
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While we ate we sailed towards Pink Beach, which was our next stop for some snorkeling and relaxing on a beautiful beach.
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Pink Beach ... the sand has a slight pink hue to it due to the red coral offshore.
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Some locals chillin' on their boat anchored at Pink Beach
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One of said locals offered to lead me down a trail, and up a small hill to this lookout point over the beach.
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So guess what I did? I mooned the captain. By accident of course! After swimming we all needed to change into dry clothes. There's not alot of privacy on the boat, so everyone would try to find a corner and change with a sarong wrapped around themselves for privacy. So I did the same ... changed from wet bikini to dry underwear. Then I came out of my corner with my sarong still wrapped around me, to let someone else use that corner. As I was struggling to keep the sarong up, but pull on some shorts at the same time, I decided to just drop the sarong. Panties are no different than a bikini bottom ... unless your wearing a thong! OMG! I totally forgot what kind of underwear I had on, LOL! My back was to a wall, or so I thought, so no big deal, right? Wrong! The 'wall' had a window for the captain to look out while he drove the boat. And guess who happened to be looking out the window when I dropped my sarong? Yup, Mr Captain got a good view of me ars, lol!

After a few hours here, we sailed over to Flying Fox Bay where we anchored for the evening. We watched the sunset by climbing onto the roof of the captains bunk.
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We were told 100s of Flying Foxes (giant fruit bats) would fly across the bay at sunset ... there were 10. One at a time. Not the spectacle we were waiting for, lol! There were also a few of these birds fishing/diving into the water around our boat.
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Sunset from our boat
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So our sleeping arrangements ... not ideal. Near bed time we were told to drag all our luggage out on to the bow of the boat cuz we'd be sleeping on the floor! The captain dragged out 6 flat mattresses for us to sleep on. But only 2 sheets and 2 blankets (and 6 smelly pillows)!!! Luckily the 2 sheets were large enough to cover all 6 little mattresses. But the blankets were to fit 3 people per blanket! Um, what? I dont know any of these people, I dont want to snuggle with 2 strangers under my blanket! Thankfully it was 27C at night with no chilly wind, so I didnt even need the balnket. I just used my sarong to cover my legs a bit. Again, so thankful for perfect weather, lol! Here is a crappy iPhone photo of our 'spooning train'! Thats me on the end in the pink shirt.
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I actually slept really good considering. Sleeping under a clear sky speckled with stars in Indonesia ... awesome!! But bring earplugs, unless you enjoy listening to 5 other people breathing & snoring.

DAY 2
The next morning we were woken up by the rising sun, around 5:45am, grooooooan.
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We cleared out the mattresses & bedding, and brought our bags & benches back in while the captain made us banana pancakes for breakfast. Then we sailed to Komodo Island, only 10min away.
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Once again we were assigned a guide/ ranger, and had to pay extra fees for him (you cannot go hiking without a guide so you have no choice but to pay the fee) and for a camera. There were a few different hikes to choose from. We ended up splitting our group up into 2. Myself & the French couple did the easy 1.5hr hike, and the other 3 did the more strenuous 2hr hike.

My hike started along the beach where we waved hello to a few local ladies walking past from nearby Komodo Village.
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We saw 7 Komodos total today :) Two babies (which look alot like Monitor Lizards in Africa and are the same size too), 2 fully grown ones in the forest, and the rest were by the ranger station.
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In addition to the dragons, we also saw Roosa Deer (I'm sure I've spelt that wrong), and one cockatoo. This one was missing an antler??
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Costa apple growing on a tree
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After taking photos of the villagers, komodos by the ranger station, and deer, we headed into the forest. Our first stop was atop Fregata Hill for a great view over the area.
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I love the mountains here, they have a Jurassic feel to them ... quite fitting since the Komodos look like little dinosaurs :)
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After a short break at the lookout point, we headed back into the forest where we eventually came across 2 big Komodo Dragons! A little orange butterfly landed on the dragons nose!!! Brave!
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Anyone who was brave enough could stand behind a Komodo and the ranger would take your photo with it. Yes please! Thats me in the middle.
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All of the trails on Komodo Island were made entirely of broken coral & seashells!
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Guys working on the trails
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Filling bags with broken coral
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Our hike ended at the beach where we started. We had about 20min to wait for the other group to finish their hike. In the meantime I made friends with this little guy.
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The beach & pier in front of the ranger station
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Our next stop was Manta Point for some snorkeling with Manta Rays! (I didnt take any photos, no underwater camera). There were about 30 or so of them gliding effortlessly through the water.
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After about 40min here, we made one last stop at one of the many little islands for more snorkeling / swimming / tanning. This is my boat anchored at the beach.
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Paradise ...
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Two-tone blue water :)
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Thats it, thats all! By far my fave part of my whole month long trip, and definitely one of my Top 5 travel experiences ever!!! Then we sailed back to Labuan Bajo and said our goodbyes. I spent an additional 3 days back at La Prima Hotel relaxing poolside by day, and enjoying the incredible sunsets by night.
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One evening a storm rolled in. I watched it come for miles before it finally reached me. My balcony was covered so I was able to watch the storm and not get wet :)
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Well thats got to be my longest post ever! Hope you enjoyed all the photos & stories :)

Posted by ChantelleS 20:10 Archived in Indonesia Tagged landscapes beaches boats islands water boat ocean wildlife beach indonesia volcano cruise blue island sand coastline dock bay pool tropical lizard asia komodo Comments (0)

BARTOLOME ISLAND, GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Bartolome Island | Galapagos Islands | Ecuador January 18th, 2012

overcast 38 °C

The next day we boarded an even bigger yacht for the 2hr ride out to Bartolome Island. Breakfast was served on-route. Along the way we had dolphins follwing our boat, we saw sea turtles, a white tipped reef shark, and a manta ray jumped completely out of the water!!! I didnt even know they could do that!
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Here is a view of the volcanic Santiago Island along the way
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This is the volcano we climbed on Bartolome Island for the view of Pinnacle Rock. If you look closely you can see the path we took! Man was it a hot hike!!
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One of the views along our hike
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Black sand
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Ancient lava flows
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Lava Cactus
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Colorful Lava Grasshopper
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Another view along the way to the top of the craters
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The famous view of Pinnacle Rock from atop the volcano
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We then hiked back down, got back on the yacht and headed over to the orange sand beach we saw from the viewpoint. Kevin went snorkeling here ... this is where the penguins were supposed to be, but he didnt see any :( He did see tons of fish and a shark though! While he snorkeled I strolled along the beach and found some large seashells :)
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There was a sandy path that led to the other side of the island. There is another beach there, but swimming is not allowed cuz is a protected area for sea turtles. I saw 5 sea turtles swimming in the shallow water :) I had to climb this little sand dune to get there.
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View from atop that sand dune
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This is the 'beach' where the sea turtles were
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On the 2hr ride back we passed a few large buoys that direct larger ships into the bay ... every one of them had lazy sea lions snoozing on them :)
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Thats all for the Galapagos Islands! I sure wish we could've stayed longer than 5 days, I loved it here! One of my favorite countries :)

Posted by ChantelleS 21:06 Archived in Ecuador Tagged beach volcano galapagos ecuador Comments (0)

SANTA CRUZ ISLAND, GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Puerto Ayora | Santa Cruz Island | Galapagos Islands | Ecuador Jan 15-20, 2012

sunny 37 °C

On Jan 14th, 2012 (our 4yr wedding anniversary) we flew from Belize City, Belize to Isla Baltra in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Most people assume that the only way to see the islands is to go on a very expensive cruise. Not true. In the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island there are tons of hotels to choose from. Just book yourself a flight from Quito or Guayaquil to Isla Baltra (Santa Cruz Island) or San Cristsobal. $400 roundtrip with LAN Air. We stayed 5 nights at the Casa Natura Hotel for $150 per night. It had a pool & free breakfast. There were cheaper hotels, but we thought we needed a pool. Turnt out to be a waste to pay extra for the pool, as we were never at the hotel cuz we were too busy sightseeing. It was located 5 blocks from the main street along the ocean. Once there you can book yourself onto many excursions to nearby islands. Just do your research and figure out what you wanna see / do. From Santa Cruz we saw everything we wanted (except penguins ... there werent any when we went) ... sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, lava lizards, yellow land iguanas, blue footed boobies, frigate birds, beaches, volcanoes, lava tunnels, craters, etc. There is seriously no need for a $5000 per person cruise!

Our hotel was within walking distance to the Charles Darwin Research Station.
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These Cactus Trees were everywhere ... they have regular tree trunks, but cactus instead of leaves.
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Desert Flower
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There was a wooden boardwalk you had to stay on that meandered through the park.
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Giant Tortoises!!!
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Baby Giant Tortoises ... they were so tiny they coulda fit into the palm of my hand!
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Darwin's Finch
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There were also Yellow Land Iguanas here and lots of tiny Lava Lizards scurrying around
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Lava Lizard
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We walked along the main street that ran parallel to the ocean. Its lined with shops, restaurants, tour agencies, a marina, etc. We stopped at the Sol y Mar Hotel for a drink, and look who was snoozin' in the restaurant! A sea lion! All animals here are unbelievably tame! They dont run away, or growl, or anything. Half the time they dont even acknowledge you. Even the birds dont fly away! Its the easiest place in the world to get great wildlife photos, they practically pose for you :)
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I was so close to him I could smell his fishy breath!
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Another sea lion jumped out of the water right by Kevin, then proceeded to strut its stuff past the pool and onto a lounger and pose for some photos! LOL! There were several sea lions always in this hotel ... they seemed to own the place :) They'd be in the lobby, at the bar, by the pool, and in the restaurant. And no one seemed to mind. Same with pelicans & marine iguanas. They just wandered around like it was a hotel for wildlife. None of the hotel's employees ever shooed them out ... they were always free to roam wherever they pleased. I loved it here!!!
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Kevin hangin' with a sea lion by the lobby.
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Sea lion 'feet'.
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Me & a sea lion at the bar :)
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Sea lion, marine iguana & birds at the pool. You could approach them and they wouldnt move. Barely blinked an eye! So completely opposite of Kenya last year! I'm sure I could've laid down beside the sea lion all he woulda done is put a flipper around me :)
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Marine iguanas outside and inside the restaurant. You definately dont have to go in search of wildlife here! Its everywhere.
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HUGE marine iguana! Look at his claws!
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Little guy sneaking into the hotel
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Every day after sightseeing we'd head to the town's marina where the fishermen would be filleting their catch. Sea lions and pelicans would be lined up looking for scraps! Tourists were always gathered around taking photos.
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40lb Yellowfin Tuna
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This pelican managed to snatch a fish head! Theres no way it could physically swallow it, but he sure tried!
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Yellowfin Tuna
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One day we hired a taxi (all the white trucks you see everywhere are the taxis, not the traditional yellow cabs you see elsewhere) and ventured into the highlands to see the Giant Tortoises in the wild! Before we even got to where we were expecting to see them, we came across this guy on the road!
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There were about 30 Giant Tortoises roaming around!
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Me + Giant Tortoise
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Pond full of Giant Tortoises!
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Kevin and a Giant Tortoise
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Eating grass
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Tortoise bum :)
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You really had to watch where you stepped ... tortoise poop was everywhere! And it was the size of my foot!
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Tortoise foot
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Me inside a tortoise shell
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Kevin beside a tortoise shell
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Less than 5min from where we saw the tortoises, was a lava tunnel! Get your driver to drop you off, and then meet you at the other end. Theres lights along the way, but its still quite dark, and slippery. This is the entrance to the lava tunnel.
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Me inside the lava tunnel
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At one point we had to get down on our hands & knees and crawl through this narrow part! If you are claustrophobic, or quite large, theres a chance you wont make it through. But the good news is that this narrow part is only about 4 or 5ft long and then it completely opens up again.
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We spent 2hrs at Garrapatero Beach. Theres no shelter for shade here, and its incredibly hot (thats what happens when at the equator). Theres also no where to buy h2o, so be sure to bring some along. Our driver dropped us off and it was a 15-20min walk down a hot trail. We were the only people here! Now this is the kinda beach I like! I hate crowded beaches with fat guys in speedos and beach vendors hassling you to buy their crap non-stop! Get your driver to wait for you, or if you trust him to pick you up a a designated time, you can do that also. Theres no way to call another cab, we were literally in the middle of no where.
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Busy sand crab
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Marine Iguana struttin' down the beach
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Cactus Trees and lava rocks at the beach instead of palm trees
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Colorful Marine Iguana. They were everywhere in the lava rocks. At first we didnt see them, but if you look hard you will see them everywhere!
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Marine Iguanas are the only sea-going iguanas in the world, and they only live one place ... the Galapagos Islands :)
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Thats it for Santa Cruz Island. We did 2 boat tours to the nearby islands of North Seymour and Bartolome, but those will be in the next post :)

Posted by ChantelleS 16:56 Archived in Ecuador Tagged wildlife beach volcano galapagos ecuador Comments (0)

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