Navimag Ferry, Chilean Fjords, Patagonia

There’s nothing that confirms real life more than flicking through reams of holiday photos, quietly weeping into ‘proudly Scottish’ porridge while a cup of non-Colombian coffee cools at my arm.

Yet while the experience can be depressing, it also serves as a timely reminder that adventure really did happen. As pictures of bug-eyed sloths, endless multi-dogs, fantastically bright street art or fluorescent blue glaciers flick by, I’m reminded of the small details: the wonderful gringas served in a tiny Mexican canteen miles from anywhere, the local who adopted us on a street in Antigua and gave us our own personalised tour, the staff on one endless bus journey who opted for a game of bingo before serving us tumblers of wine and yet another ham and cheese sandwich.

And it was whilst I scrolled through thousands of photos that I was reminded of one of our last adventures in South America, a ferry trip through the Patagonian fjords in Chile. It being Autumn we’d gambled with the weather, and having had three unfathomably sunny days while trekking through Torres del Paine we assumed our luck wouldn’t last. As we boarded the ferry a stiff wind was shooting icy rain into the cargo deck,  it’s persistent howl mingling with the mournful lowing of the truly intended passengers. Yet by morning the clouds had passed and the ship set forth into stunningly bright sunlight, the first of the islands set to contrast against the luminous blue sky.

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Though the boat itself was no cruise ship – truly meant for cargo, there’s little in the way of luxury and the interiors all come in industrial pea green, or municipal wipe-down white – the unexpected weather let us spend our days out on deck. From here we’d watch gangs of sea lions pups tumble through the waves, tiny dolphins riding the wake and the effervescent clouds of spray from hundreds of reticent minke whales. With little in the way of entertainment, we’d spend our time watching the horizon, reading books or sleeping in the sun, our reveries only broken by the regular meals provided by young staff, where we’d join tables of fellow tourists or squeeze next to jovial drivers clearly enjoying their truck-free travel. Though made for many and decidedly simple (breakfast was, you guessed it – pan, queso y jamon) the food was surprisingly flavoursome, certainly providing enough fuel for another days’ sitting around.

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TripAdvisor will testify, this isn’t for everyone; those after plush bedrooms, private showers and constant access to the internet will not fare well. But for us, happy to watch the sun move across a series of snow-tipped mountains that built the channel of the fjords we sailed through, we didn’t need anything more sophisticated than a cup of coffee and somewhere to perch. And the photos, at least, are an excellent reminder of that.

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The Lighthouse Coffee Shop, La Serena, Chile

There are certain moments in life that signify proper adulthood. Home ownership, marriage or co-creating a tiny, angry version of yourself are some of the most ubiquitous (certainly where social media is concerned) but having spurned a career and our flat in favour of a year of travel, none of these are particularly within reach. But no matter. For me, there’s a much more significant indicator that I’ve become a proper grown-up: I’ve started to eat eggs.

This may seem insignificant to many, and it probably won’t make front page news. I doubt world leaders have gathered to discuss the economic impact of an extra half dozen eggs being bought every fortnight; the housing market and world population (other than for a handful of would-be chickens) will remain unaffected. Nonetheless, this is a large gastronomic step for me – for three decades I have spurned the oddly globular foodstuff that is such a staple for many. In part this was through necessity, as breakfasts throughout Central and South America will often be egg-heavy and it’s an undeniably cheap way to guarantee some sustenance at some point in the day.

However, things have gotten so out of hand that I now actively seek them out on menus. Where once I’d have to sigh and order another round of toast (an odd thing to do when you almost always have bread – and a toaster – at home) the world’s of Florentine, Benedict and Sakshuka are now open to me, though boiled eggs can stay safely in their shells surrounded by the crumby remains of their fallen soldiers, thanks all the same. It must also be said that my own cooked eggs would make Gordon Ramsay weep into his chin gristle, usually fried out of all recognition as a wobbly white is still a step too far, though I’m coming round to a soft-poached as long as there’s plenty else to mop up the golden goo.

Luckily there are lots of cafes offering to cook eggs pretty much any way you please. One of the finest examples we’ve found was The Lighthouse Coffee Shop in La Serena, a Chilean beach town that’s unfailingly popular despite (or perhaps due) to the giant malls, central screaming motorway and uninspiring beach. A quick internet search will proclaim The Lighthouse ‘best for breakfast’, and though the pitchfork-wielding hoardes of TripAdvisor are so often wrong, in this case they are undeniably wise.

The cafe and tea shop are secreted down a side street, away from the pedestrianised shopping centre and therefore far more tranquil. A small space indoors spreads out to a wood-heavy courtyard decorated with bright bird boxes and battered metal signs, upside-down umbrellas and hanging plants, and as the menus are delivered one thing is clear – they take their coffee very, very seriously. Coffee weight, temperature and milk proportions are listed to the decimal point, presumably meaningful to the better informed; either way, the coffee’s delicious. More exciting was the promise of brunch served until 4pm, and with a days’ worth of bus travel only just behind us, we set about it with gusto. Soon great plates of poached eggs, spinach, homemade bread and some unusually decent bacon and sausages were before us. They didn’t last long. After another coffee we left with an over-caffeinated wave and a promise of “hasta mañana” – little did they know we’d be back every day until we left town.

Best #brunch @lighthousecoffeeshop, La Serena.

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Hidden Gems, Arica to Santiago, Chile

Some might say (and often do) that I don’t have a good sense of direction. While my sister is known as a Scottish Sat-Nav there have been times when I couldn’t direct someone two streets from my family home. The Egg Poacher claims a better internal compass, but considering recent escapades that include getting stuck on the side of a volcano and taking a 45 minute detour to a pub around the corner, I suspect what he actually possess is an ability to sound like he knows where he’s going. A relaxed approach to research and our strange insistence on not using a map can mean we find ourselves wandering streets for longer than sanity or an amicable relationship normally allow. And yet we continue to eschew Google and turn our noses up at guides, for this haphazard manner can reveal hidden corners and unmarked paths – normally safe before nightfall. This was to be the case in Chile, too, where an itinerant approach brought us some unexpectedly excellent cafes (and there’s little more satisfying than a surprisingly good coffee after you’ve been walking the streets for hours).

Nusta Cafe, Arica, Chile

Our first stop in Chile was the strangely uninspiring Arica, full of promise with a long stretch of coastline that turned out to be somewhat lacklustre against the backdrop of high-rise hotels and arid desert. Despite a wonderful stay in Hotel Apacheta we were ready to move on, and with time to waste before our bus out we sought out a cup of coffee from the clapboard cafe opposite. Though tiny and boasting a highway view, Nusta Cafe was a surprise, offering fantastic coffee and a small food menu served by a friendly and generous couple.  It was here we’d experience the concept of ‘yapa’ first hand: the idea of a little extra for valued customers, usually offered by cholitas (stall owners) across the country, here embodied in the extra glass of smoothie I got, as well as a tour of the miniature space and its retro miscellany before our bus arrived.

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Diablo Cafe, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Our most common introduction to a town – the bus station – isn’t always the most appealing. Though San Pedro’s was nicer than some (no visible cockroaches, relatively non-scabby dogs, minimal shouting) we weren’t expecting much, but after a long overnight bus we decided to linger for a much needed caffiene injection before finding a hostel. There are a couple of cafes to choose from, but Diablo’s striking wall art drew us in; inside, there were soothing tunes and local crafts on the wall and an incongruous promise of WiFi from somewhere so obviously surrounded by desert. A gleaming machine produced decent enough coffee, while from the tiny kitchen came enormous empanadas and various continental breakfast options, all excellent fuel for the short but intensely hot hostel hunt that was to follow.

Excellent bus terminal #breakfast, Atacama

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Mackalo Cafe, San Pedro Atacama, Chile

Book-ending our trip through the Atacama and into the Bolivian Salt Flats, we’d returned to San Pedro before commencing our journey south. While waiting for our passports to be stamped at the nominal border post in town we spotted the ever-promising signs – chalk-covered A-board, gleaming chrome food truck – that suggested coffee was nearby. And so it was: a short menu offering various filtered options in Styrophome cups, it was expertly brewed and happily accompanied by crisp and delicious pastries presumably baked some distance from the truck’s diesel engine. There were plenty of cafe and restaurant options in the town itself, but few so unexpectedly good as this.

Amazing coffee at Mackalo Cafe, Atacama

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Cafe Forestal, Santiago, Chile

Through repeated experience we’ve finally learnt that the world – at least from a tourist’s point of view – closes on a Monday. Museums, galleries and parks are shut and despite the likelihood of a host of lost foreigners wandering the streets with nothing to do, restaurants and cafes often follow suit. During such a days’ amble past padlocked gates and ‘Cerrado’ signs we spotted the pretty exterior of Cafe Forestal, toying with us with its bunting, chalkboard walls and solitary Chinese cat waving from behind closed windows. When Tuesday came we filled our boots, visiting all the public buildings we could find and beating a path to Forestal’s door. And it was worth the wait – a tiny space with a few pine stools, the coffee was the best we’ve had in South America, with high-quality and Fairtrade beans shipped from Colombia and brewed with care. Coupled with some truly decadent cakes and a very friendly welcome, this unassuming little place would be on our map – if only we remembered to carry one.

The really very lovely Cafe Forestal, Santiago

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Hotel Apacheta, Arica, Chile

It feels slightly ridiculous booking treat nights during what is, essentially, an entire treat year. With nothing to do but head vaguely south, stopping when we find somewhere we like to drink coffee, wander streets or beaches and devour cloth-eared spy novels, it hardly seems necessary to spend more money on the building in which we sleep.

And yet there are times when a hostel just won’t do. When shared bathrooms of varying cleanliness, neighbours of alternating volumes and kitchens with a hundred spoons but no knives starts to wear a little thin. At times like these hotels towards the middle of the sorted price list start to look very tempting, and it doesn’t take much – “it was my birthday last month”, “we didn’t go on that dive in January”, “it’s, um, Wednesday”- to justify spending that bit more. Which is exactly what we did before making our way to Chile’s northern coast.

When we arrived in the town of Arica we weren’t overly impressed, the closed metal and chipboard buildings and huge motorways doing little to pretify the vast swathes of arid desert. There was sea, to be sure, but limp waves and a string of high-rise resorts didn’t make it all that tempting to spend a day on the beach. As we’d arrived late the night before our booking we chose to stay the first hostel we saw, a dark place opposite the bus station run by a monosyllabic man with a tribal neck tattoo. Our room fit two single beds at an angle and no more. But we didn’t mind much, as it would provide a stark contrast to the hotel we’d booked for the following nights. Or so we hoped.

In the morning we left the hostel early and made our way into town to wait it out until check-in. The centre was a bustle of pedestrianised streets full of shops, bars and cafes and we set about drinking coffees at a snails’ pace to pass the time. Eventually we were on the road to Hotel Apacheta, a place so fancy it didn’t even have a sign. Online we’d been wooed by pictures of sea views, minimalist designer interiors and promises of giant beds and drench showers. In real life, that’s exactly what we got.

Saturday afternoon

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Our bags were swept away by the owner, athletically rich in a former-banker–now-surfer kind of way who bore an uncanny resemblance to Prince Eric from the Little Mermaid. We took in the views of waves crashing all around, the building designed in a clever L-shape that means all the rooms point to the sea, blocking the view and the noise of the road behind. Safely in our room we launched ourselves across the huge bed and watched seagulls and a handful of pelicans bob on the surface of the water; as bigger waves struck, there would be an explosion of noise and feathers as they all took flight.

So unaccustomed are we with such settings that, once we’re in, we’re likely to stay. We decided we’d seen all that ‘town’ had to offer, so instead spent our days reading, snoozing and horizon-gazing to the sophorific melody of the tide. The only times we ventured out were for food, forcing our sluggish bodies down the road for dinner, or down the small set of stairs to our hotel breakfast – and it was here that we were most in our element. Bagging a table closest to the huge windows we’d watch for the resident sea lion as plates of food were brought by friendly staff. Granola, yoghurt and honey, fruit salad and scrambled eggs were all on offer, as well as individual caffitieres of coffee that I tried to deny made me feel fanciest of all. This would be life for three blissful days and on our last we eked out our breakfast for as long as possible. Finally we had to admit that the road – and its myriad hostels – was beckoning us on.

Breakfast at Hotel Apacheta

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Surprising Peru

While our expectations of Central and South America have generally been confounded in every way, Peru was particularly surprising. It started with our first long bus journey through the country, where for a pittance we were ushered aboard an incredibly plush coach, fitted out with WiFi, plug sockets and reclining chairs so huge my feet couldn’t touch the floor. The luxury was incongruous when streets lined with rubbish – and over-run with dusty or muddy dogs, depending on the weather – passed us outside, jarringly set to a soundtrack of 80s disco or the unfortunately ubiquitous loud, violent film. As we sailed through vast desert and gaped at the huge, sculpted sand dunes that lined roads blasted through rock, stewards would bring us hot dinners, precariously pouring soft drinks from strange angles as the driver took on road bends or passing vehicles at great speed. I would learn later that this luxury came at a cost: three of such journeys in there’d be a 100% record on dodgy bellies following our free feed; nonetheless, the coaches themselves made the vast journeys all the more palatable in other ways.

Our first stop would be in the coastal town of Trujillo. While nice enough there was nothing hugely exciting about our arrival – that was until we asked our taxi driver to take us to our hostel, the wonderfully named Hostal Wanka. As has become a habit with us, our driver knew nothing of it so proceeded to yell “Wanka? Si, WANKA!!” across the station forecourt. Things were looking up.

From here we’d explore the pre-Incan Moche ruins dotted around and inside the town. While simple in their design, the carefully crafted structures were covered in intricate decoration and found to be full of ceremonial pots, jugs and jewellery. From the dusty plains of Trujillo we then found ourselves in sparkling Lima, a world away from clay-carved ruins and full of busy highways, cosmopolitan neighbourhoods and all the American brands you could hope to avoid. While on the surface Lima seemed polished and impossibly refined, there were corners of alternative culture and grit to be found, especially in the Barranco district where fantastic ceviche canteens rubbed shoulders with homemade T-shirt shops, miscellany-filled pubs and some very excellent pisco sours.

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Our longest bus journey yet – 24 hours, which stretched to 27 – took us all the way to Cusco. We didn’t hang around, instead booking our passes for Machu Picchu and heading straight for Ollantaytambo, a town set in the valley of the giant mountains that lead the way to the site itself. From here we’d catch our first train, the well-appointed Inca Rail that was quickly (and maturely) renamed by me as the Machu Picchu-Chu. On board we were served warming muña tea as we passed through dramatic landscapes full of towering mountains and fast-flowing rapids, stopping alongside fields full of llamas and brightly dressed locals as trains passed the other way. At Agua Calientes we prepared for the next day’s trip to Machu Picchu then hid from the rain in a surprisingly authentic Parisian boulangerie, run by a French man also fluent in Spanish, English and Glaswegian.

Paris in Peru

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By 5 the next morning we were waiting for the first bus to the national park, suitably British in our eagerness to be the first there. And we were – as the gates opened we were third and fourth in and treated to the sight of a cloud-shrouded Machu Picchu awakening to the light without another person in view. Unable to hike (it being February, when the trail is closed) we nevertheless treated our legs to an excoriating work-out tackling Machu Picchu mountain, a 2-hour climb up a haphazardly steep staircase. At the top we were rewarded with the sight of… nothing much at all, the site being shrouded in very specifically placed cloud. Luckily the mist would pass, allowing as a short view of Machu Picchu in miniature before the steady climb down.

The great Machu Piccu

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Suitably awed by the Incas and their perseverance in building something so huge and beautiful on land so high we returned to Cusco, though not before sampling unexpectedly good coffee and cake at Cafe Mayu in Ollantaytambo’s station. From Cusco we travelled to Puno, a fairly uninspiring and shambolic town with the redeeming feature of providing a gateway to Lake Titicaca.

The lake would be our final surprise in Peru, and a wonderful one at that. On a whim we took a small boat to the Uros Islands, a man-made archipelago of reed islands inhabited by indigenous people who live off the water, its fish, and the boats that bring tourists keen to learn more. We were greeted by a handful of families all dressed in traditionally colourful dress, the women displaying long braids tied with fantastically bright pom poms. As we quietly baked in the scorching heat, we learnt about the islands, their reed houses and the solar panels that brought more modern capabilities, then browsed the stalls of handmade throws, mobiles and bracelets before trundling home – this time having learnt to duck the water balloons lobbed from the entranceway to the islands by laughing locals.

#hairgoals Isla de los Uros, Lake Titicaca

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The following day we booked a tour to Amantani Island, passing the Uros once again on our journey east. After a slow and stuffy boat ride we were greeted on the pier by a handful of women bedecked in traditional long skirts and head-coverings. Smiling Mathilde would be our host so we, along with fellow travellers Sol and David, followed her up steep paths to her home, where we were greeted with stunning views across the lake, a garden full of flowers and a small pen of sheep eyeing us suspiciously.

Catching up on the blog, this time about surprising and spectacular Peru – link in bio.

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Later Mathilde’s son Roger would take us to the great hills at the summit of the island, Pachamama and Pachatati. On the way we passed the ordered system of ‘parceles’, an allotment-like system used by all the villages on the island as a way of cultivating the right number of different crops. At the top we would take in the vast, still water of Lake Titicaca that spread as far as the eye could see. Later, as we sat down to dinner with the family, they would explain the self-sufficient nature of life there, and describe how each house and its surrounding land would be passed through the family, ensuring traditions were kept and foreign business avoided. Exhausted from our day and the altitude, we were in bed by 8, to be woken at dawn by the rising sun and the sounds of hungry sheep and braying donkeys.

Lake Titicaca

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Breakfast was once again with the family – warm quinoa pancakes, fresh muña tea, boiled eggs and bread. We said our sad goodbyes and promised to spread the word before Mathilde walked us down to the pier and waved off our trundling boat. The following day we’d be on yet another bus, heading for Bolivia. It would have a lot to live up to in comparison.

Amantani breakfast

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Eating like a local, Guayaquil, Ecuador

The guilt we feel for not eating purely local food is, of course, entirely of our own making. I’m sure no-one – local, tourist, or blog reader – really gives much of a monkey’s. Be that as it may, we were resolved to get back to trying more unusual food, shop in small tiendas and follow unsuspecting Ecuadorians into neighbourhood restaurants in the hope of finding new and exciting gastronomic experiences.

Our first foray came in the form of bus food; that is, snacks often sold by men and women who wander down the aisle between stops, baskets filled with pre-chopped fruit, deep-fried tamales, and mysterious packages wrapped in black plastic bags, usually served with scorching hot chilli sauce, or syrup (sometimes both). Long bus journeys are a bit of a necessity in South America, as the distances between major towns and cities are vast. As such, we were soon on the look-out for something to eat on our 14hr journey south from Quito, and it wasn’t long until we were rewarded. As five heavily-laden women squeezed onto the bus, the sweet aroma of freshly steamed corn on the cobs filled the air. These were served, piping hot, with a generous slab of fresh cheese (something like a cross between mozzarella and halloumi, and delicious). Later, we’d maintain our salt and fat intake by tucking into cheese tamales, bought as we passed through some of Ecuador’s less salubrious neighbourhoods which were heavy in both petrol stations and hopefully named ‘love hotels’. From a feeding perspective at least, things were going well.

Having arrived in Guayquil late at night, we were ready for a proper meal by morning. The town is a fairly standard urban centre, our opinion not helped by its immediate comparision to the hot and beautiful Galapagos Islands, and the fact it was pissing with rain. In a rush to escape the weather, we ducked into the nearest strip of food stalls we could find and took a seat. Tenedor del Oro is a chain, serving Ecuadorian classics from breakfast through to dinner. Having fared so well before, I opted for fried plantains with fresh cheese, while the Egg Poacher chose a ‘Guayaco’, much the same as mine, but the plantain and cheese are mashed together, formed into a ball and then deep fried. There was also a side of fried egg, while we both had what can euphemistically be called DIY coffee: a tiny cup of instant granules, a mug of hot water, and some sugar.

It can’t be said this was our finest meal – the cheese had a somewhat sour aftertaste, while the eggs had been fried a long, long time ago, the yolks sagging like collapsed souffles. We certainly weren’t hungry anymore (and unlikely to need to eat again for many days to come), but a pressing desire for vitamins drove us straight into the arms of the nearest smoothie stall – proving that, as with most things and despite good intentions, you can’t win them all.

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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

If we’d been asked what we thought the Galapagos Islands were like before we arrived, we might have mentioned Attenborough picking his way across exta-terrestrial terrain to shoot the breeze with Lonesome George, Darwin desperately trying to stop his crew from eating all the delicious turtules, or expensive cruises full of retirees in khaki cargo pants and fanny packs. For us it seemed unlikely we’d make it that far, what with our dwindling savings and time.

We knew the only way we could do it would be by ourselves, and had been lucky to find flights from Quito for $300 less than we’d seen elsewhere. Some trawling through travel blogs had given us a rough itinerary, and for once, we booked everything we could in advance so we had an idea of what we were going to do. But nothing could have prepared us for what it was actually like.

We set down in Baltra and after a short boat ride were soon driving through hot, flat desert towards Santa Cruz, the biggest island on the archipelago. By the time we arrived, a thick sea haar had rolled in but, undeterred, we set out for the famous Darwin Station. It wasn’t long until we were in amongst the wildlife: sun-baked sea iguanas that chose to sleep anywhere they pleased, trees full of pelicans, radioactive red crabs scuttling across black lava rock. At the station we met the great, giant tortoises, as well as startling gold land iguanas, fatter and far more regal than their sea-faring cousins.

Golden land iguana, Galapagos

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Determined to make the most of our time we set daily alarms to be up around dawn. The following morning we headed out or a days’ kayaking, packing breakfast and the ever-necessary sun block. With rough directions we made it across the busy boat thoroughfare and the worst of the waves, and were soon tying our kayak to the nearest pier. It was here we encountered our first animal intervention – a large, slumbering sea lion that blocked us from climbing the steps out of the water. In due respect to the native residents we scrabbled up the rocks instead, tiny red crabs disappearing into holes around our feet.

Gate keeper

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We took the short path away from the pier and emerged at Playa de Los Perros, a stretch of rocky beach and black lava outcrop. There were no other people in sight, but as we set down for our basic breakfast (bread, cream cheese, water) we were soon being eye-balled by great male sea iguanas as they ambled towards the shore. Once fed we took the path back to the pier and dug out the snorkels, following snaking lines of fish along the waters’ edge and encountering our first lazy green turtles, chewing on sea grass a few feet away.

On our way back we took a detour into a small inlet, paddling alongside busy iguanas crossing the water, and a solitary blue-footed boobie sitting on the surface. Soon the tell-tale splashes around us revealed two young sea lions, apparently keen to show off their best Eskimo rolls. Tackling the stretch across to the main pier proved trickier this time around, but properly soaked and seriously sun-baked, we pulled ourselves ashore.

Boobie

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The following day brought an early-morning dive, our group heading out to a crop of smaller islands on an impressive sailing boat. There wasn’t time to hang about  – the choppy sea and strong currents meant we had to descend as soon as we were in the water – but once submerged, the setting was altogether calmer. Minutes in, we saw what we’d come for: two huge hammerhead sharks an arms’ length from us. Later, the current would pick up and sling-shot us across the water; while I tried to remain roughly horizontal, Chris decided it was the optimum time to make the waggley-antennae sign for “lobster”. Needless to say, while travelling at 100 miles an hour upside-down underwater, I didn’t see it.

A 2 hour, bumpy boat ride took us across to Isabella island the following day. Once properly orientated we went to the local snorkelling spot, an inlet surrounded on one side by mangroves, and a working pier on the other. After picking our way past the obligatory iguanas and sea lions, we jumped in. At first swimming around great groups of flailing tourists, we soon found dark corners filled with fish, and a solitary ray. Aware of excitement across the bay, we set off at speed, stopping in our tracks and spluttering a gargled “look!” when two tiny Galapagos penguins dove past us at great pace.

Next we hired two old mountain bikes and made for the Wall of Tears, a monument-cum-torture instrument built by prisoners in the late 1940s. En route we were required to slow down for haphazardly stationed giant tortoises, enjoying the foliage along the path. As we turned back towards home we stopped at various signposted lakes and beaches, emerging from amongst the mangroves to spot blue-footed boobies, fluorescent pink flamingos, and a breeding centre filled with tortoises ranging from tiny to tremendous.

Thursday.

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Our final day on Isabella was spent heading out to Las Tintoreras, a volcanic island a short boat ride away. From there we could spot grey herons shielding young chicks from the spray, erratically tufted baby penguins and imperious pelicans dotted along the shore. Further in there were piles upon piles of baby sea iguanas basking on the rocks, as well as a sharp-eyed lava heron desperately seeking the magically camouflaged octopus below it. Later we made for the best snorkelling spots, swimming alongside great green turtles and giant parrot fish. Alone with just our guide, we spotted something to our left: a huge alpha male sea lion swimming directly beneath us, its face turned up to contemplate us as it passed.

Coming to the end of our trip, we took another bumpy boat to San Cristobal, an island famed for its preponderance of sea lions. Pavements, park benches, car parks and fountains were all fair game and our time there was accompanied by a symphony of barks, sneezes and grunts from our flippered friends. From here we set out for Kickers Rock, a well-known dive spot set into a natural slice between two rocks in the middle of the ocean. Once again the current was fierce, forcing us to grip on to the sea floor to keep from shooting backwards. Though visibility was poor, our second dive would bring an awesome sight: a wall of fish, more than 15ft tall, that would shift and glisten and envelop us to the point where, for a second, we couldn’t see our fellow divers any more.

Yesterday's dive site – Kicker's Rock

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Back on dry land we took a taxi to Loberia Beach, aptly named for its popularity with ‘lobo marinos’, the ever-present sea lions. In a small rock pool four babies played; keeping our distance, we sat a few feet away, though close enough for the bravest to have a sniff at our toes. As the day progressed the larger females returned from the sea. This being mating season, they were on the warpath – quickly discovered as one particularly grumpy female charged straight at me as I innocently sat on the beach.

Finally back where we started, we waved a sad goodbye as our plane headed back to the mainland. The following days would be spent on day-long buses travelling through busy urban centres – a stark contrast to the beauty and stunning diversity of the Galapagos, and much the worse for the lack of sea lions promenading down the motorway.

Baby sea lions, Loberia Beach

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