The Andes + The Galapagos

Because there were so many photos to sort through, and memories to recall since we returned from Ecuador, it took me a bit longer than anticipated to prepare them all to share with you. But, in doing so, I am reminded of how many pinch me moments our travels in South America held:

Stopping my mountain bike at the cobblestones summit of the road to Cochas, sweat beading, heart thumping, smile broadening as I looked out over the Cotacachi valley below me, quilted in its fields of gold, green and brown. Above, the slumbering volcano Cayambe kissed the parting clouds, teasing with glimpses of her glacial peak and the bluebird skies beyond.

Witnessing the sunset from an open pasture nestled beneath the Cordillera, then pedaling and jumping like mad on my mountain bike over rocks and roots and through riverbeds to beat the waning light of the day back to the hacienda.

Returning from dinner to our colonial room at Hacienda Cusin only to realize that we were primed to embrace the waning warmth of the hot rum drinks enjoyed earlier because the staff had prepared a roaring fire for us to enjoy as we drifted to sleep.

Gasping with surprise and joy as a pair of Otalvo women emerged from the wheat field, gossiping (I imagine) giggling, and waving to us as we passed by on horseback, effortlessly draped in brightly patterned scarves, beautiful gold and red beads, and sporting bowler hats and the daintiest canvas shoes as they strode up hidden rocky paths carved into their homes in the folds of the cordillera.

Standing high on the black volcanic pier, warming in the sun with a naranjilla mojito as a recovery for a long day of hiking, and wave jumping in the chilly currents swirling around Isabel Island. Our yacht bobbed in the creamy green waters and my quickly drying curls whipped my cheeks as the sea wove its way into my soul again at last.

Hammerhead sharks circled below me at 80 feet below the tumultuous surface, almost dancing with the sea turtles and school of Eagle Rays also in transit on the current through the channel at Gordon’s Rocks off Santa Cruz Island. I had to remind myself to inhale and exhale tiny bubbles out to ensuring my scuba gear didn’t fall from my agape mouth.

Waking well before dawn by the light of the nearly full moon poured into the safety of Moreno Bay; 4am on the sky deck of our yacht afforded priceless views of the expanse of stars, endless quiet and obsidian waters on which we floated as the islands and all their life slept. And then the chill of the question – “what is going on beneath those inky black seas?”

Feeling the power and drama of these telltale rocks, jutting up and out of the sea with strength, and imposition. Our boat – massive enough to mask the tiniest waves – was dwarfed as we charted a course over the equator and around the northernmost point in the Galápagos – 600 miles from the mainland.

Savoring the playful envelope of dill, orange and pepper mingling with freshly caught octopus contrasting with the envelope of plush towel surrounding my as I ate lunch on the deck. Simple and good.

Wiggling my toes into the so-soft sands of remote Tortuga Bay that proceeded to  gobble up the footprints I left behind me. Might we be the only newcomers that have visited this place in the week, the month, the year? Only the sand will know.

Sea lions bark as dawn arrives in Puerto Ayora. The wooden slats of our patio are their favorite place to nap and I am happily wooed by their eyes opening to the sounds of me waking, and closing again as they nod back to sleep.

Stumbling upon a quiet café in the heart of Quito in which to enjoy our last hours in Ecuador. Mugs of hot chocolate arrived fragrant and deep, floral scents poured from the tiny kitchen into the street. Words poured out onto postcards and bars of unique, local chocolate made their way into my backpack destined for California.

Our lives are but an instant in the passing of time. These islands – and this place – born thousands of years ago have grown, evolving, and coming of age since our ancestors ancestors and they remind us that each of our moments on Earth are precious for they are, truly a blip in the true timeline.

Having the opportunity to see both contrasting landscapes on the same adventure is a privilege I would soon repeat – hiking and biking through the culturally rich, agriculturally plentiful Andes, and meeting her people is not an experience that I will soon forget. Nor was landing, after much anticipation in the Galápagos – a remote island chain steeped in natural and human history yet nearly devoid of modern-day human culture. This unforgiving landscape seems insurmountable from the air raw and primal and powerful. Yet, looking closely into her skies, forests, waters and scathed coastline, anyone can see that she is literally teeming with exotic, robust yet clearly delicate wildlife; animals that human eyes are very lucky to witness and even more lucky to appreciate.

To say that the trip was anything short of fantastic would be an understatement. And, like any good adventure, to say that it was devoid of lessons would be a dismissal. Human beings are wealthy the world over, so long as they appreciate the lands and powers that brought us life. And, certainly, we feel awfully rich to have had a chance to see, feel, taste and be imprinted by this place in our travels. On a jovial note, we were also reminded that treading lightly is our duty, that Derek should not pursue a career in any nautical vein, and that a ready supply of potable water and well-washed lettuces is truly a luxury we are pleased to afford. And so the adventure continues.

Of course, I couldn’t move without my camera, so we have thousands of shots of the trip. Here are (a large) handful of our favorite shots of the trip are below. Enjoy!