Ecuador: The Journey to the Galapagos Islands

Although, the physical journey started on the 19 December 2018, the destination had been a dream for many years since I visited Darwin’s House (Down House) in Kent, England. The idea that a group of islands and animals of these islands could change the course of science meant that it would be dream destination.  Although I wanted to be the first of my family to make it here, the photos and stories of my brother and sis-in-law and my travelling buddy increased its order of importance in the ever-increasing travel list.

Galapagos-islands-map

After a frantic early morning of finalising work, I made it to Sydney international airport, along with what felt like half of Sydney who were all going on away for Christmas on the same day. After a civilised lunch with a celebratory glass of bubbly for Linda’s birthday, we boarded the flight for what would be the longest day ever…. The 12.5 hour flight (excluding what now seems to be obligatory delay at Sydney airport) left at 12:50 Sydney time and got us to Santiago airport at 11:10 am on the same day… the wonders of a crossing the international deadline.

The Chilean surprise that greets all Australian is a reciprocal entry fee of 117 USD for the privilege of entering the country. While steep for an overnight stay, it appears to last for the life of the passport. With a 5.30 am flight the next day, the airport hotel seemed to be the most sensible option when we were planning, and luckily it was. Somehow we managed to delay the jet lag and lunch to have a single meal at 6 pm, ready to wake up at 2.30 am.

Santiago airport at 3.30 am was a sea of humanity all queuing up to go somewhere with lots of luggage, wrapped large Christmas presents, new TVs. Confusion about lines, automated vs. manual check-ins and poor signage meant that we were unexpectedly ushered to a separate queue. Unlike other airports, clearing customs was the lengthy process with the custom officials rather than an automated passport screening machine while bag screening was a smooth and seamless process.

After a 4 hour flight, and a 2 hour time change, we landed in Lima with a 4.5 hour stopover. Without access to a lounge, we lasted till about 10 am until we sat down for an early lunch. After a 2 hour 20 minute flight we finally landed in Quito, Ecuador for a couple of days to explore the city.

The final Ecuadorian flight, started with a 3.30 am pick-up for a 5.30 am flight, after a minor quarantine incident where my passionfruit was confiscated while the rest of the group’s apples were passed through without a problem; we finally took off for Isla Baltra, one of the Galapagos airports.

Upon arrival at Baltra airport while our luggage was subjected to a canine inspection we were required to pay 100 USD for to the National Park and 20 USD for a transfer fee. Having left earlier than normal, we had a long wait for our guide to drop the previous group of passengers off and pick us up. A welcome coffee, a typical Ecuadorian snack of Huminta and the intermittent phone/wi-fi signal was how we spent the next 2.5 hours. The highlight of the wait was the warning signs not to feed the Darwin finches and spying on the food choices of the airport staff.

Eventually our guide Alexis met us for the bus transfer to the boat jetty. Despite the boat shelter being in the middle of construction, we still managed to spot some sally lightfoot crabs, a sea lion and a pelican from the jetty.

Finally our panga (zodiac) came to collect us for the short ride to the boat. Once on board, we were lucky enough to have our fourth and final “breakfast” of the day…. To be quickly followed by lunch 1.5 hours later….. And so the holiday begins 🙂

Travel date: December 2018

Grand Queen Beatriz.jpg

Switzerland: Montreux

The Cháteau dating back to the Bronze Age and was made famous by the Romantic poets including Lord Byron in the 19th century. If you are in Montreux it is definitely worth a visit and if pressed for time the bus is a more efficient option then the walk, as there are far too many distractions.

Our Swiss experience concluded with a couple of scoops of Movenpick overlooking Lake Geneva, a fitting end to a great trip.

Looking forward to the next Swiss adventure!

Travel date: 30 April 2012

Switzerland: Lausanne

Another amazing train journey from Broc to Montreux followed; with the train going along and through the mountains; descending into Lake Geneva and Montreux; this time sit on the left hand side!

View of Lake Geneva

View from Train 1

View from Train 2

We made a brief trip into Lausanne, the old town was a solid climb from the train station; after we almost got to Old Town; we found at least 3 different metro stations! There is a panoramic view of the city from just outside the Cathedral; all other sights will have to be part of the next visit.

Lausanne Cathedral

Lausanne Cathedral Garden

Switzerland: Broc Chocolates

Next stop, the chocolate factory of Cailler (at Broc Fabrique), the oldest brand in Switzerland, which has been owned by Nestle since 1929. Our tour included a history of chocolate, Cailler and a glimpse into the production process.

The highlight of the tour was of course the tastings at the end. Cailler offered unlimited samples of some of the chocolates that they make, a tip when you next visit; hold off until get to the Ambassador range – they are by far the best………..

Travel date: 29 April 2012

 

 

 

 

The best of their range

Switzerland: Gruyères Cheese

Finally, the day that we had been looking forward to most arrived, a chance to feast on cheese and chocolate at the factories in the heart of Switzerland.

Breakfast was described as “hearty” on the hotel website, what they omitted to mention was that it included the specialities of the region Guyere cheese and meringue. In the interest of research, we had to sample the various aged Guyere on offer and the meringue with fresh strawberries and “yogurt”, which looked surprising like the double cream we had the previous night!

The tour of the cheese factory at La Maison du Guyère was an audio tour with Cherry the cow as our “guide”, some interesting facts that we learnt:

  • Each cow eats 100kg of grass and 85L of water a day to produce 25L of milk
  • 12L of milk are used to produce 1kg of cheese
  • 7 million litres of milk is the certified AOC production of Guyere, of which 2/3 is consumed within Switzerland

We were able to see the cheesemakers at work through the various stages of production and the sample at the end was 3 small pieces of 6, 8 and 10 month Guyere… The group was split as to which was each of our favourites, so you will just have to try all of them and make your own mind up!

 

Ready to eat - Best part of cheese making!!!

 

Travel date: 29 April 2012

Switzerland: Guyères Town

The journey to Guyères took approximately 4 hours and involved 4 different trains; luckily this time the Swiss trains ran on time and all the connections were seamless.  Guyères was a lovely surprise, set on top of a hill; with cobbled streets and lovely main square.

Dinner was another fantastic fondue using Vacherin cheese and was topped off with the other Guyères staple of meringue served with double cream and fresh strawberries; luckily the food was shared. Sorry no pictures this time, you will just have to go and sample it for yourself!

Travel date: 28 April 2012

Switzerland: Jungfrau and Kleine Scheidegg

Dressed in our warmest clothes, we purchased our tickets up to Jungfrau; which in the end totalled 137 CHF (or 100 GBP)! We then boarded the trains to the highest station in Europe from 796 m (Interlaken) to 3454m (Jungfraujoch), the journey took about 2 hours; despite being able to see Jungfrau from our hotel balcony! As 2012 was the 100 year anniversary of the opening of Jungfrau, there was a special DVD played when we passed through the tunnels of the Eiger mountain; which was always designed as a tourist attraction and took over 16 years to build. I’m sure that today’s environmental impact statements would never see this built!

The views from Jungfraujoch include the main mountains of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, the glacial fields, the meteorological station called the Sphinx and the valleys of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald. Despite some of the terraces being closed due to recent snowfalls, we braved the snow, cold winds and hordes of other tourists to get some good pictures! The Ice Palace had quite a few ice sculptures and more opportunities for cheesy pictures! The best way to describe the experience is AMAZING!!!

After a hearty lunch of wurst and rosti at Kleine Scheidegg, we attempted to walk it off with a walk down the mountain to Grindelwald, however the paths were closed to walkers due to the volume of snow; so another train journey awaited us!

Grindelwald is a small town, larger than Lauterbrunnen however, most of the shops were also closed; luckily for us the chocolate shop of Läderach was still open! I definitely suggest the Champagne and Congac batons if you are anywhere in Switzerland.

The limited food choices of Lauterbrunnen saw us back at Hotel Oberland and the mystery of the Australian flag was solved when the owner spoke and revealed himself to be a fellow Sydney sider….

Travel date: 27 April 2012