After almost two hundred days of travelling, we arrived into our penultimate destination (the last before home!), New York city on the 16th of December. Riona spent a summer working in Manhattan back in 2000 and I’ve visited a few times on short trips, so we were both familiar with the city and very, very excited to be back! It didn’t disappoint. The city had donned her festive attire for Christmas and she was looking lovely! I could have happily spent a few hours looking at some of the window displays, and nearly had to be pulled away from the windows of Bergdorf Goodman, the super-fancy department store at the top of 5th Avenue.
Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’
We’d spent a lot of time online researching the different options for Galapagos trips in the weeks before we went, and the message from the majority was to go on a multi-day cruise or don’t bother going at all. The islands are an expensive place to get to – the only real option is to fly, and the price is set at about $400 US for a return ticket from the Ecuador mainland, regardless of which airline you take. Add to this another $100 per person park entrance fee and you’re at $500 just to step foot on them. We wanted to make sure we got it right (plus we like being on boats!) so we booked a five-day cruise, even though we couldn’t really afford it at the time. The cruise was fantastic, but it turned out that the five days we spent off-board were equally as good.
On December 1st we left Quito for a ten day trip to the Galapagos islands. The islands, which are owned by Ecuador, have national park status and the primary reason to visit them is to see the wildlife and observe their behaviour. Wildlife experts may not agree, but to my mind this is the main attraction for the average tourist: not the variety of animals (as there really aren’t that many different types) but the fact that their behaviour around humans is so unique. They have no fear of us so you can get quite close to them, indeed at times you have to walk around them as they make it quite clear just who is in charge. On the uninhabited islands we visited, where tourists are only permitted to walk along certain trails with a guide, the iguanas and sealions who littered the path provided a constant reminder that we were mere guests in their territory.
We spent five days on the Archipel II and visited five of the main islands in the group: San Cristobal, Espanola, Floreana, Isabela and Santa Cruz. We had read online that the islands, which are all volcanic, are not that pretty and so were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the place as well as the excellent wildlife watching.
When our few days in the rainforest came to an end, we headed back to Quito to resume our search for a Galapagos trip that wouldn´t break us entirely. After two long days of traipsing around the many travel agencies of Quito´s Mariscal district (known as ´gringoland´) and a world of pain trying to withdraw money from as many ATM´s that would give us it, we had a five day cruise booked for the following week through the Happy Gringo travel agency (the first and last agency we went to – they were excellent and the cheapest we found). It was great to have it finally sorted. To make the most of the few days we had to spend on the mainland before heading off, we took a bus to Mindo, about three hours north of Quito.
About three weeks ago, we started out on what has been a wonderful few weeks of wildlife watching. After two days of shopping around among the many tour companies in Quito (and making definite progress towards securing a boat trip in the Galapagos islands), we boarded a night bus to Lago Agrio near the border with south-east Columbia, and then continued for three hours by bus and two by boat to finally reach Samona Lodge in the Cuyabeno Reserve.
Samona Lodge is the real deal, it´s definitely not a place to go if you´re shy of snakes or spiders or any kind of creepy crawlies. We spent four wonderful days there and both agreed that it beat our previous jungle trip back in Borneo by a mile. By the end of the first day we had already seen much much more than we had anticipated – gangs of squirrel monkeys crossing the river jumping from tree to tree, a huge Anaconda about 6 meters long, sloths sleeping on branches along the river bank, huge vultures and loads of other birds.
For about 8 quid extra each we decided to travel the 24 hours from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu in style; on a ‘cama’ bus. ‘Cama’ means bed and for all our bus journeys up to that point we had taken the ‘semi-cama’ option – basically a bus with seats that recline half way. But for this trip we went all out and what a treat it was: Spacious leather seats that turn into fully horizontal beds, personal tv screens for movies and first class food, drinks and service. When it was time for dinner, our trolly dolly drinks server began by offering us a pre-dinner aperitif and canape, which was then followed by a really good three course hot meal with wine, followed by champagne and shortbread biscuits. After watching a really good movie ´Mad Money’ (rent it!), we settled down for the night and when we awoke, a rather fancy breakfast was served. We almost didn´t want to arrive!
We’ve been a bit lazy on the blogging front for a few weeks and also a bit busy, but I wanted to write a bit more about Australia before I forget it all! So as Eddie wrote, we had a fab time with our friends Michelle, Justin and baby Molly for our first five or six days in Australia. We got picked up from the airport, went for lunch in St. Kilda’s in Melbourne, saw the beautiful Mornington peninsula (where Michelle and Justin live), visited some local wineries, got well fed in both the parent’s houses and got brought down the Great Ocean Road for a weekend trip (saw Koalas, Kangaroos, Whales and of course the 12 Apostles), dropping baby Molly off first with the grandparents. Suffice to say, after six weeks of roughing it in Asia, it was a real treat. We then spent a night with a relative of Eddie’s who took us up the mountains to her daughter’s house for another dinner. We were well fed and watered again!
We spent 2 days in Melbourne itself and loved it. It’s a very friendly city and easy to get around. There was a free tram and tourist bus which went to all the sights so it suited us perfectly! We got our rental car after that to begin our five day trip up the coast to Sydney.
So we are now preparing to take our leave of Borneo, after a fun few days checking out the oranguatans, snakes, birds and insects of the jungle on a Kinabantangan river tour and at Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. At Sepilok we stayed at Labuk B&B; a really lovely place with an outdoor jacuzzi and just ten minutes walk to the sanctuary. The jungle trip we went on to the following day was a two night/three day job with a company called Nature Lodge, and included four river cruises and three jungle treks; two at night time. It was pretty good; we were lucky enough to see wild Orangutans on the river’s edge and we saw some beautiful birds sleeping on the last night walk.
Here’s a couple of pics from our short diving trip to Mabul and Sipadan, off the east coast of Borneo. Apparently we didn’t get the best day of diving the area has to offer, but it wasn’t too shabby either – we saw loads of colourful fish (that we don’t know the names of) along with nudibranches, a good few turtles (including one absolutely huge one!), some sea snakes, lots of sharks and a pretty mean looking giant moray eel. The seascape around Sipadan itself is pretty spectacular – unlike most of the Malaysian islands, Sipadan doesn’t sit on the continental shelf but is the tip of an underwater volcano that drops around 600m to the seabed. The walls are spectacular to see with the trough between Sipadan and the other islands dropping to around 1000m deep!
We went with Seaventures, whose base is a converted oil rig just off the coast of Mabul. They were pretty good (just bring your own dive tables). The night before and after we stayed in the lovely Sipadan Inn in the poor (and smelly) town of Semporna. It cost a bit more than our usual accommodation, at 85MR per room- about 15euro- but was a great bit of luxury! We spent both nights relaxing in our room watching movies on HBO! Anyway, here we are in action!
Before we left for Lombok, we provisionally booked a place on a boat trip to Flores and back – the big attraction was going to be a trip to Komodo Island to see the dragons, but we reckoned the journey itself would be a bit of craic and there were going to be thirty others on the boat so it would be a good opportunity to make some new friends.
We’ve been and gone to Ubud since the last time we sat at a computer, crossed from Bali over to Lombok and are now on Gili Trawangan, a small island just a few kilometres off the north west coast of Lombok. Ubud was great, a very different place to Kuta – it’s the cultural part of Bali, and is the place to go if you want to see traditional Balinese dances or other performances. Altough it’s a popular tourist destination, you get the feeling that they’re really serious about their traditions there – all of the performances are done by local groups and all of the kids in the village seem to be out selling tickets – it reminded me off going to a play in the parochial hall in Ballyhaunis not so long ago! We went to two performances, both quite different. One was similar to something you would imagine seeing in China, and used two-man monster costumes, it was very well done and very realistic looking. The other performance involved a group of over 100 men doing a monkey dance – both were unusual but very enchanting!