Monthly Archives: March 2016

Ecuador. It’s time to say goodbye.

This morning we packed up and sadly checked out of our majesticc spa retreat.  Our driver Paul arrived early to  drive us to the Quito airport for our flight back to Canada.  It’s a clear day and the view of the mountain scenery is spectacular.  Paul willingly makes quite a few stops so we can take photos. We pause to take in the sights once last time.

P1110410P1110411 P1110415 P1110417 P1110422 P1110425 P1110426 P1110428 P1110429Our journey home was smooth but very long.  We flew from Quito to Miami where we changed planes.  As we cleared security in Miami we each received a rose in celebration of International Women’s Day.  The ladies stopped to take a photo under a sign with a special message for the world. Another great trip comes to an end. We all feel a little richer for having had this experience.

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Ecuador spa, day 3. Fun in the hot springs.

The morning sky is clear allowing us to see the peaks of the snow capped Andes mountains in the distance.  Soon the clouds roll in hiding the the tops of the mountains.  It’s quite a sight to watch the clouds roll off the mountains and down into the valley around us.

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After breakfast Jacqueline and I took a walk along the roadway to the small town below. It’s not really a town, just a few houses, restaurants, stores selling bathing suits and water toys.  There are only few people in sight and a couple of stray dogs scrounging in the garbage.  One of the dog finds a treasure and trots down the road with it.  We had a good laugh at this, it looked like he was delivering a parcel somewhere. Its’ quite overcast today and the mountain air is much cooler.

P1110388 P1110382 P1110381 P1110387 P1110386 P1110385On this cool day the best place to be is in the hot springs. The springs are surrounded by spectacular scenery and landscaped gardens. The pools vary in temperature, some have cascading waterfalls and jets to sooth various parts of the body. We spent hours lounging in the thermal waters before enjoying more relaxing treatments at the spa.  Today I had an Andes mud wrap. The experience was absolutely delightful and it left my skin feeling as soft as silk. It’s going to be very difficult to leave this mountain paradise.

P1020670 P1020673 P1020672 P1020646 P1020648 P1020651 P1020660 P1020664 P1020662 P1020668This evening the waiter had the chef prepare a special menu for us and he included a glass of wine with our meal.  The staff have enjoyed speaking with the women from Canada and hope we come back one day.  We’ve had a fabulous 3 days of relaxation and pampering at the Termas  Papallacta Retreat in Ecuador.

Ecuador Spa day 2, horseback riding, river walk and spa treatments. Magical!

This was a great day!  My day began with a horseback ride, taking in the beauty of this scenic mountain paradise. Thankfully the horses are well behaved. Our guide lead us past his organic farm that supplies vegetables for the spa restaurant. The hillside, a grazing area for his cattle and alpaca.  I shared the ride with 2 lovely girls from Quito. On the way back our guide coaxed the horses to run. The girls were thrilled but the horses weren’t. Unfortunately one of the girls was thrown off the horse as it wheeled around to an abrupt stop.  She was taken to the nursing centre where they wrapped her ankle. Later she limped away with the help her friend. I felt so bad for her and was very glad it wasn’t me that was thrown.

Ecuador horseback rideP1020640P1020628 P1020629 P1020635P1020641I met up with my friends at the spa restaurant and enjoyed a  delicious lunch.  The healthy salad was loaded with fresh organic greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and avocados from the local farm.  After our hearty lunch we decided to take the river walk hike. This was the most amazing hike of my life. We strolled past the farmers fields, cows and lamas and through a rickety gate onto the path that led to the river.

P1110257 P1110258 P1110262 P1110271 P1110261As we continued along the path we passed flowering bushes, we crossed a bridge over the river where we paused to soak up the energy of the rushing water. We entered into a magical world of vines, flowers, tunnels and old narly trees.


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The river rushed past us. Around each bend and up each hill there was another scene that left us in awe of the natural  beauty surrounding us. The thundering sound of waterfalls was music to our ears and the misty spray refreshing on our skin. This truly is an enchanted forest.

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We crossed a bridge that took us to the other side of the river, through another rickety gate then began our decent back down to the spa resort below.  Passing by more flowering bushes, narrow forest pathways and the farmers prize bull.

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The path was lined with delicate wild flowers. Far up on the hillside is a watercourse flowing down to meet the river. We pause to listen to a lone horse calling out to the horses in the valley below.

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As we near the end of the path we stopped at a memorial marked with a large cross. We lay down on the grassy hill at the base of the cross, sitting in silence we take in the beauty of the mountains and valley before us. Our 2 hour hike comes to an end as we pass back through the gate near the farmers garden. We all agree this was one of the most beautiful hikes of our life.

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P1110364it’s time for a well deserved dip in the hot springs followed by a relaxing massage.  Life is great!

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Ecuador Spa day 1. Quito shopping, mountain drive , hot springs and spa.

We said goodbye to our Galapagos travel mates in Guayaquil as they de-planed to catch their connecting flight back to Canada.  Six of us stayed on the plane and continued our journey to Quito where we were met by a familiar face, tour guide Gloria. We transferred back to the Hilton hotel for a 1 night stay.  On the way we made a stop at a local grocery store to pick up snacks and wine for our stay at the spa.  We arrived at the hotel just in time for a cocktail followed by a delicious dinner at the gourmet El Dorado restaurant.  The following morning we visited the local handicraft market. There’s a large selection of goods; alpaca sweaters, scarves, tops, leather goods, trinkets and more. The prices are very reasonable  Yes, the ladies shopped a little bit or perhaps a lot. Driver Paul couldn’t believe how much luggage 6 ladies could have.

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9 am we departed for our 1 1/2 hour drive to Termas de Papallacata, a rustic spa nestled in the foot hills of the Andes mountains, 9,000 feet above sea level.  The scenery along the way is breathtaking.  Once checked in we took a stroll around the grounds. Our cosy cabins are just a few away from the hot springs. The gardens are filled with flowers that the humming birds seem to enjoy.
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We didn’t waste any time. After a light lunch we took a dip in the hot springs before heading to the spa for our first treatment of many. I opted for a relaxing full body massage. Just what I needed after an active week of hiking, swimming and snorkelling.  The spa is spacious and welcoming with a relaxing lounge area and many treatment rooms. After our relaxing day we enjoyed a delicious dinner, then back to our cosy rooms for a good night sleep.

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Galapagos cruise, day 7. Mangrove swamp, sharks, turtles.

This morning we woke at 5 am for an early morning panga ride through the mangrove swamp. it’s Sue’s birthday today, she’s celebrating in style.

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The sun has not yet peeked over the horizon. We made our way into the calm waters of the mangrove swam. Jonathan and Ivan shut the motors off so they don’t disturb the aquatic life. They quietly paddled the pangas through the swamp, which is home to a variety of creatures. A large pelican swooshes by. There are dozens of white tipped sharks and sea turtles of all sizes.


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As the sun rises over the horizon we make out of the swamp to open waters and back to our ship. The wonderful crew are always waiting to help us safely out of the pangas onto the ship.   We’re just in time for breakfast.  Sadly our cruise is over, it’s time to pack our bags and head to the airport for our flight back to Canada.  Some of the ladies are staying on in Ecuador and spending 1 night in Quito and 3 nights at a spa. Aren’t they lucky!P1110172

P1110156 P1110167 P1110175 P1110176 P1110183 P1110184 P1110185P1110187P1110189We transferred back to the dock to catch our bus to the airport. There were some interesting fish swimming around the dock, I couldn’t resist taking their photo. Juan took a moment to tend to Marlene and Barbara’s scrapes.  He’s such a wonderful guide, so kind and attentive. He’s become a great friend to all of us,  we will miss him. Once checked in at the airport Juan entertains us one last time. He certainly can play that guitar and he has a lovely voice.  What a great way to end the tour. Thank you Juan!

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Galapagos cruise, day 6. Dolphins, Equator Party, Charades

After lunch the captain set sail heading north towards the equator.  The only thing in sight is the deep blue waters of the Pacific ocean.  The captain spotted a school of dolphins in the distance.  Everyone scurried to the top deck, cameras in hand, to take in this spectacular sight. There were hundreds of dolphins swimming, and jumping high into the air. It’s almost as though they were entertaining us.  The captain circled around the pod so we could a get a closer look at these playful mammals.


This afternoon we crossed the equator. Our fabulous captain decided we are going to do this in style.  Everyone including the crew joined the captain in the tight quarters of the bridge for an equator party.  Tour guide Juan has his guitar with him and he gladly plays a few songs. It’s not long before the ladies are singing along and dancing.  The captain slowed the boat as we came close to the equator so we could count down the latitudes from 10 to 0 degrees. As we crossed over 0 degrees the captain blew the horn and we all toasted with Enrique’s delicious margaritas.


P1110057P1110071P1110070P1110073P1110059P1110065P1110066P1110068P1110064The party continues down below in the lounge. Juan has everyone draw a paper from the hat and asks us to prepare for our charade party.  The only problem was the charades were written in Spanish.  With much confusion and lots of laughs we tried to decipher what were were supposed to be portraying.  Each charade was one of the animals, mammals or birds we had seen during our Galapagos adventure.  There was a prize for the best actions.  The Captain won with his depiction of a male frigate bird trying to woo a female.
The crew dressed for the party,  Jonathan and Ivan were pirates, Juan was King Neptune of the sea and brave Ramirez was his daughter.  The ladies loved their creativity and they welcomed them with applause and lots of laughter. Enrique the bar tender was busy serving drinks and playing Spanish dance music.  Everyone was up dancing and enjoying our afternoon party at sea.  I’m sure we’ll be talking about this party for years to come.


The party ended, the crew went back to work and the ladies relaxed. Before dinner we enjoyed a cocktail party and the crew came back dressed in their traditional clothing. Ramirez aka King Neptune’s daughter certainly looks very different in his uniform. The amazing crew was acknowledged and thanked for their exceptional service; Chef Segundo, Captain, second in command Ramirez, tour guide Juan, panga drivers and deck hands Jonathan and Ivan.
Everyone agreed we couldn’t have had a better group of ladies as our travel mates or a better crew.   This certainly was a trip of a lifetime.

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Galapagos cruise, Day 6 Genovesa or “Bird Island’ and snorkelling

The Captain moved the ship during the nigh. We woke in a quiet bay off the coast of Genovesa island, also known as bird island because of the varied bird colonies which nest here. There are an abundance of frigatebirds and it is among the best place in the archipelago to see red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls,storm petrels, tropicbirds, Darwin’s finches, and Galápagos mockingbirds.  This morning we took a panga ride along side of the rocky cliff to view the  abundant bird life, iguanas and the Galapagos fur sea lion. Fortunately we saw most of the birds mentioned above and a few fur sea lions lounging on the rocks.

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We had a wet landing on to a sandy beach. On the shore there was a well preserved whale skeleton and many beautiful shells. Our hike took us past large cactus, a delectable treat for the Darwin finches.

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The mangrove swamp is home to hundreds of boobies, blue and red footed as well as nazca. There’s also a few herons nesting in the trees.


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The Boobies have become my favourite Galapagos bird, especially the wide eyed babies. They didn’t seem to mind the humans admiring them. I just couldn’t get enough of their inquisitive little faces.

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We stopped to watch a group of male frigate birds trying to win over a female. It’s quite amazing to see how big they can blow up their red throat to impress the female.

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There’s a calm inlet at the edge of the swamp where the water is so clear you can see the pan rays swimming about.  We continued our walk back to the beach area, passing various birds, crabs and lounging sea lions.

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Back at the beach we took a few moments to enjoy the magnificent scenery, the interesting sky and say our last goodbyes to the sea lions.  We boarded the ship to change for snorkelling.


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The horse-shoe shaped island has a volcanic caldera whose wall has collapsed, forming the Great Darwin Bay, surrounded by cliffs.  The calm bay is teeming with fish which made our last snorkelling expedition fantastically memorable. The rock wall is a feeding ground for large schools of colourful fish. Every now and then I’d pop up from the water to view the sea lions on the rock ledge above. One curious sea lion slid off rocks into the water to swim with us. It was difficult to leave this magical water world but alas, all good things must come to an end. Reluctantly we climbed into the pangas for our transfer back to the ship.

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Galapagos cruise, Day 5 Sombrero island; prisinte beaches, snorkelling, lava energy

The ship cruised through the night from the commercial island Santa Cruz to the quaint uninhabited island of Sombrero Chino. The island is appropriately named due its shape, like a sombrero. It’s a fairly new island, only 120 years old.  There rocks are a deep black in colour which signifies it’s newness. The early risers were on deck to catch the sunrise. After a hearty breakfast we cruised alongside of the island to view the plant and bird life and to our delight we spotted one lonely penguin. He didn’t stay in sight long enough to get a photo. There are sea lions and  a Galapagos Heron.

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We enjoyed an early morning hike to take in the spectacular scenery. We spotted a mother sea lion nursing her pup, Sally Light Foot crabs, iguanas, colourful lizards and young sea lions. Unfortunately these babies look very week. They are patiently waiting for their mothers to return to feed them. Wehope and pray they come back soon. The path is uneven so you must watch your step. Unfortunately Marlene stumbled and scraped her leg on the rock.  Juan quickly came to the rescue, cleaned off her scrape then dressed and bandaged her leg.  One can’t be careful enough with these mishaps.  It’s very important to carefully clean the wound to avoid bacteria from getting into the blood stream.

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The scenery on the other side of the island is quite beautiful. The waves crash on the rocks sending the crabs and us scurrying to keep dry. The view of the surrounding island and sea is magnificent. There are still many lava tube formations and Juan found a large piece of coral that had been washed up onto the island. After our hike we stripped down to our bathing suits and gladly entered the warm clear water from the pristine white beach. The water is so clear you can see the fishing swimming around your legs. It’s another hot day so a dip in the sea is very refreshing.

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P1100732 P1100725 P1100738P1100684P1100746P1100748P1100749P1100745We headed back to the ship for snacks and refreshments then changed into our wetsuits for a snorkelling excursion. The captain let some of the crew join us for some fun in the water. The visibility is amazing! So far this is the best snorkel sight  on the trip.  The reef is teaming with fish of all shapes, sizes and colour. We even spotted a white tip shark and a manta ray hiding under an overhang. There was a cute puffer fish, black and yellow angel fish and large schools of fish swimming around us.  No one wanted to get out of the water. The swimming and viewing was exceptional.  We headed back to the ship just in time for a well deserved lunch.

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P1020495 P1020497P1020511 P1020512P1020514 P1020523This afternoon Juan showed us an interesting movie about Evolution and the effects of El Nina and El Nino.  Currently El Nino is affecting the Galapagos, to our advantage the waters are warmer and there is little rain in spite of this being rainy season.  Our 4:30pm hike is on Isla Santiago, a young 120 year old lava island. As we stepped off the beach we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was like stepping onto the moon,.  Black lava rock layered over time by the flow of lava.  There are red and green streaks of iron in the rock, stunning swirly lava formations and lava tubes. This island is very different from the others we have visited. There’s very little plant or animal life. The surface is very uneven which requires quite a bit of climbing and stepping up and down.  Juan leads us to a smooth area and has us all lie down on the rock. He claims the young lava is filled with energy that charges the body.  we all laid down to test it out. The ladies decided to join hands and to Juan s delight, they broke out in song.  We sang Oh Canada, out of tune and with lots of laughs.  We are now dubbed the Crazy Canucks. We headed back to the ship for a little R & R before dinner. A few ladies took a refreshing swim off the boat. The water is glorious!

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Galapagos cruise, day 4 Darwin station, giant tortoise

This morning we woke at the island of Santa Cruz, the second largest island and the most populated of all the islands. We landed at Puerto Ayora which is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station.  It’s early so the town is just starting to come to life. Our walk to the Darwin centre is a leisurely stroll to take in the colourful scenery along the way.

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We enjoyed an entertaining stop at the local fish market.  The sea lions and pelicans are lined up waiting for someone to throw them a few scraps. There is a great variety of fish available at the market including yellow fin tuna. Perhaps that will be on the menu this evening.


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We continued our walk past interesting shops, which the ladies are looking forward to visiting and stopping to take a few fun photos.. The local people are so friendly and don’t mind us taking their photos. The children are adorable.

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At the Charles Darwin Centre  tour guide Juan talked about the history of the centre and explained about the research and projects taking place for the conservation of the Galápagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems.  Today we visited the tortoise and iguana section.  Over the years the centre has seen the birth of at least 2,000 tortoises. Diego, the oldest tortoise at 120 years old is responsible for at least 1,000 of those babies.  At the centre there are dozens of tortoises and some land and marine iguanas. The centre receives funding via the Galapagos Conservancy fund.  You can help protect preserve and Galapagos eco system. Click on the following link to learn more or to Donate.

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After visiting the centre we enjoyed free time to browse the shops, stop at a local restaurant for a snack , cool drink or to hook into their wifi.  The shopping is pretty good in this town with many interesting handicrafts and fun Galapagos souvenirs. The “I Love Boobies” shirts are quite popular. The town is a busy tourism hub offering a variety of B&B’s and small hotels, dive and snorkel shops and travel agency offering tours of the islands. After our free time we met at the local dock where our panga’s were waiting to take us back to the Beluga.

P1100512 P1100399 P1100400 P1100519 P1100520 P1100530We arrived at the ship just in time for lunch. Segundo always has a fabulous meal ready for us.  After relaxing for a few hours we get back into the panga’s for our transfer back to the island of Santa Cruz. A bus is waiting to take us Manzanillo Rnach where the wild tortoises have taken up residence.  We hadn’t travelled to far along the dirt road when we cam across a tortoise that was slowly walking down the middle of the road.  UP here there tortoises have the right of way.  We pulled over towards the ditch to go around him.  The ranch is a local farm now turned into a tourist sight. The wild tortoises roam freely on the land enjoying wild flowers, cactus and grass.



The farmer has rubber boots available to keep your feet dry and the bugs off.  It was fairly dry so most of us decided not to wear the boots, with the exception of Juan who looked fabulous in his bright yellow wellies.   Vino is happy to join us today, she had the chance to sit on a giant tortoise.P1100540 P1100541 P1100545

Our walk took us through in the open grass lands, to observe at least 20 large tortoise.  Past a small lake dense with azolla fern and home to moor hens and pintail ducks. Through a forest where the trees are covered with lime green lichen and interesting winding vines. Then back into the grassy area where there are wild pepper bushes and passion fruit trees. Its such a beautiful place. I can see why the tortoise have chosen this for their home.

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P1100583 P1100594During the drive out we came across another tortoise on the road.  The cows at the side of the road didn’t seem to mind sharing their land with these prehistoric looking creatures.  There was a great Tshirt in the shop with a quote from Darwin. After today’s visits it certainly resonated with me.

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Back in town the harbour area is bustling with activity.  The locals have gathered to watch a friendly game of volley ball.  Everyone is friendly and enjoy stopping to chat with us. The panga’s were waiting at the pier for us. We transferred back to our ship just in time for dinner.

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Galapagos cruise, day 4. Boobie world and blow holes

We had another rocky night on the ship and this morning isn’t much better. We awake at the small island of Espanola. Our ship is tucked in a quiet, calm bay. Due to the rough seas our morning plans are changed. We are not able to land on the beach so we revert to Plan B, a panga ride alongside the rock face to view the abundant bird life. There are pelicans, blue footed boobies and soaring frigate birds. The pelican’s seem to like being around us, they’ve claimed their resting place near or on the ship and the panga boat. Back on the ship we enjoyed a light snack of fresh fruit and juices then changed for snorkelling.

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The water is warm and inviting and the fish life abundant and colourful.  A few minutes into our snorkel some of the ladies spotted a white tip shark.  No need to stress, they are harmless. There are many variety of starfish, including the Mexican chocolate chip star fish. You can see how it got it’s name by the by the pattern and colour. Everyone enjoys being in the water and our snorkel expedition lasts for well over an hour.

P1020445 P1020470 P1020466This afternoon the captain moves the ship to Punta Suarez on the island of Espanola.  During the move we watched a movie about the people that settled on the island of Floreana in the early 1900’s. It’s interesting to learn about the struggles the people went through, the scandalous affairs of “Baroness” Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet and the unsolved murders. We enjoyed another delicious lunch prepared by chef Segundo.  This afternoon we had a dry lanking and hiked on the island of Espanola. There are many young sea lions, some laying with their mothers and nursing, others looking for their mothers.  Their haunting cries are disturbing. Some babies are separated for days and possibly weeks while their mothers go out to sea to hunt for food.


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There are many colourful lizards, beautiful birds and Iguanas lounging at the beach and on the rocks. Sue gets up close and personal with one of  the large iguanas.


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We continue our hike past a couple of white sandy beaches and onto a rocky path that lead to a scenic look out and a blow hole.  Along the way we passed a colony of Nasca Boobies.  There’s hundreds of  cute white fluffy babies.  At the top we paused for a while to take in the spectacular ocean view. The blow hole sprays high into the air and below us the sea lions bask in the sun on the rocky shore line.  We watch a few sea lions crawl up the rocky cliff. It’s amazing how they can manoeuvre themselves over the rocks and up the steep incline. One young lion was on the same path as us and wasn’t too pleased with us being in his way. He bellows at us for a while and then tour guide Juan intervenes so we could pass the young pup.

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We headed back down the rocky path, past the lounging sea lions, iguanas and sally light foot crabs to the panga dock.  We arrived back to the ship in time for a quick swim. After changing for dinner we headed up to the top deck to watch the sunset and enjoy a glass of wine.  After dinner Juan shows us his photos and videos from our day and reviews the agenda for tomorrow.  The ship cruised through the night, bringing us to the island of Santa Cruz in the morning.

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