Anyway, to make it easier for my family, I've decided to move my travel blogging over to my new site:
So if you'd like to follow my trip to Thailand, feel free to check it out. I fly out tomorrow!
I got singled out for extra security checks. They took my suitcase (actually Nicola's big backpack) completely apart, including slitting open a couple of the straps. I got a little pissed at that moment because its not my suitcase. I'll have to fix those before returning it to her. Then I got an additional carry-on screening as well, and a gratuitous wanding. I guess it's a way to pass the time. Boarding in about a half hour now.
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Last night, as we walked to the thermen along dirt and stone roads in the rain, I wondered how there weren't any ruts in the road. This morning, we had the answer. They flatten it. It was a strange sound to wake up to, not too obnoxious or early, though.
Here's our map... It's been well-used while we sorted out where to go and what to do. I wanted to share it, but of course my photo program won't let me rotate it properly.
Our room is lovely, but I don't like the proprietess. We had breakfast then returned to our room.
It is raining very hard outside. We enjoyed the cavern pool for a while then organized our things for our trip home and an afternoon up at the thermen up the hill.
On our way to the thermen, we stopped to have our last Ecuadorian meal. I ordered the same as I ate for lunch and dinner for most of our first 2 weeks, and Matt had grilled trout.
The rest of the day was spent in the baths. It was still raining, but who cares when you're lying in naturally heated mineral waters? We added it all up on our way to the airport and we spent more than 8 hours in a 24-hour period lying in hot water. Awesome. And look at the surroundings! Beautiful.
Around 17:00 we went back to the hotel and got ready to go. Matt had arranged a taxi to avoid any problems getting back, and it picked us up at 18:00. We were at the airport at 19:00, but check-in didn't start until 20:30. Our flight is scheduled for 00:30.
Security was amusing. This is the brand-new airport, and I think they're training new staff. They were even more rigorous and slow about everyone's carry-on luggage than right after 9/11. It was almost silly. But even funnier, they took one look at our millions of Amsterdam stamps and singled us out (doubled us out) for drug screening. It added an element of fun.
I'm going to call this a day now. It's only 22:20, but nothing much more can happen from now (I think). We land in Atlanta around 06:00, have almost a 6-hour layover, then to Washington Dulles, short layover there, then finally arriving in Amsterdam Friday morning. It's Wednesday night now, by the way.
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My valuables were inaccessible to thieves short of demanding them with weaponry, but Matt thought his zippered trouser pocket was good enough. Fortunately, his valuables are separated, and it wasn't his only stash. The thief got 2 of his credit cards, his Dutch ID card, and about $100 of the $300 that we'd just withdrawn. I had the rest. And still do. Anyway, it's pretty painful, but not the worst that could happen. Passports would have been worse. You can see the offending pocket in this picture we took of him with Derek's pack, just before we left the hostel.
Anyway, it took forever to get to Quitumbe, and the bus to Papallacta wasn't very quick either. We though we'd get in by 16:30 at the latest, but instead it wasn't until 18:30, and we weren't sure where we were going either. We started walking up hill.
I'm going to spare myself reliving all the details of why this day was horrible, but when we also had trouble with our reservation at the hotel, I lost it. The people at the desk got an earful of crappy Spanish explaining that I had had enough today with this kind of bullshit. We got a room. One of the bigger rooms, I think, but for the price we'd reserved for, $55, vs. what she tried to get off me, $98. Anyway, it's lovely: king size bed on the upper level with the bathroom, huge shower, and below, a huge natural thermal water hot tub (2 person size) and fireplace.
We didn't stick around to appreciate it. We headed right up the hill to the main thermen (hot springs/ baths).
We had another minor problem when we got there, but then we got into the water and after that ran into our travel companions from the slow intercity bus, a couple on their first month of a several month adventure. They were fun to hang out with, and we were all loud obnoxious American tourists for a while, which was strangely satisfying.
We were there enjoying the various temperatures in the pools until almost 22:00, then came back down the hill to our place, where we asked for curtains (our windows were missing them), beer, and bottled water, and hit the in-house thermen, also lovely. There's a big one right outside our door, and a hotter one in a little faux-cave just next to it. Meanwhile, the front desk guy lit our fire and ran our hot tub.
This one must come direct from the hotter spring, unmixed, because even after hanging out in the hotel pools for an hour, it's still just a bit too hot to take for more than a few minutes, so I'm sitting in front of the fireplace writing this. We're going to give it another hour or so and try it again.
Yeah, it was awesome, and the bed was super comfy too. Thank goodness for thermen. :)
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Picking up some rolls on the way, we got on the bus to Quito, one of our most convenient bus-boarding experiences yet. The bus was pulling away, they stopped and hopped out to see if we were going to Quito, opened the under-bus luggage, stated ours inside, and ushered us on. The bus began to drive away even as we sat down on plush seats in a nearly empty bus, already showing a James Bond film from the 80s. This happened a couple more times as we left town, for other passengers, but all in all, very smooth.
So smooth, in fact, that we were in Quito before we'd quite realized it. We were 3 hours earlier than expected to our hostal, the Magic Bean guesthouse in the Mariscal. Big thanks to our walk/dinner friends from 2 nights ago, Bob & Gayle, who suggested it. There are only 4 rooms on site, and they're big and clean. The bathroom is reminiscent of the 80's, but we're very pleased.
After checking in, we took a series of buses out of town to visit El Mitad del Mundo, the park and monument incorrectly marking the equator. Honestly, it was pretty stupid, but we probably wold have kicked ourselves had we not done it. We acted silly and got photos of us straddling the line, and kissing over it as well, but most of them were on Matt's camera, so not here.
Even though the park was dumb, we were glad to relax a little with nothing to do. We enjoyed some ice cream, north of the line. For the record, the only times we've actually crossed the equator have been flying here in the first place, going to Otavalo, and returning from Otavalo. But whatever. We also went to the monument.
On our way there, my phone rang. I answered it, and it was Jose, our host from our first few days in Quito! It was great to hear from him, and he wondered when we old b back in town. I felt a little bad, since we are already here and I hadn't thought to get in touch, but up until yesterday we thought we might go to Mindo instead. Unfortunately, he had other plans, so wasn't able to join us for a drink tonight. It was still really nice to hear from him.
Anyway, after our visit to the fake equator, we took the bus back and rested a littl while here in the room, before going out for dinner. Then we came back, hung out n the restaurant downstairs for a while with cocktails, and are back in bed.
The restaurant outside is playing music really loudly, but otherwise it's quiet. I'll need earplugs unless it turns off soon.
It doesn't matter too much, though. Our agenda for our remaining 2 days is pure relaxation. We're going to Papallacta and just lounging around for the entire time!
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Location:Juan Leon Mera,Quito Canton,Ecuador
Upon entering Cotocachi, many people got off at a stop clearly near the center, so we got off too. It turned out NOT to be the market, but we walked up to a church square and around the block, to find a cash machine. I find it interesting how many of the churches here have humongous Jesus statues on their steeples. There are lots of giant Jesuses on hilltops as well, reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro, although obviously nowhere so large.
We found a cafe, Serendipity, that also turned out to be an expat hangout and organic shop as well. We had a delicious second breakfast (if you count chuleros and coffee as first) there, and chatted very briefly with a friendly real estate agent, who gave us his card in parting. This guy may have one of the best names I've ever seen, so I'll put it here: Orburn Bloodworth. Amazing!
Although we were very taken with the ambience of Cotocachi in general, their market turned out to be a food market, with different sections for fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses, grains, etc. It was covered and very tidy, but the leather goods were nowhere to be seen.
The leather, as it turned out, was entirely in the shops along Calle 10 de Agosto. I was hoping to find a light leather jacket that I liked, similar to the fake leather one I've got, but which would breathe better. We went in every store. There were many options, but I liked very few of them. I finally found one I liked, but it was one of he most poorly-made I'd seen, and I decided I didn't need something that would fall apart so soon.
We had a little more of a walk around the center, where I saw this gorgeous door. This circle was about half a meter wide. And then we returned to Otavalo.
This time, we took the taxi straight to El Lechero first. I tried to get a picture of Otavalo from the taxi, but we were climbing up steep inclines with lots of sharp turns, so it's a little angled. Still, imagine living in this beautiful place!
The taxi didn't take us all the way to the tree. He took us to the bottom of the turnoff, and we walked from there. I'm not sure why, because other people drove up while we were there, and I was visibly limping from having twisted my ankle quite badly this morning. Still, it was pretty, and maybe it's just part of the experience.
I wanted to ask someone why El Lechero is magical, or why it is the healing tree. My guidebook only says that about it. I feel there must be a story. However, it is beautiful, and stands alone on a hilltop. As we arrived, a bridal couple were leaving, having taken photos there.
We took turns standing under it, alone and together, and mostly just appreciated the view. Someone burns things in the base of the tree. It was charred and smelled of recent fire. Yet the tree lives and looks vigorous. Maybe that's what makes it magical.
We weren't the only people up there enjoying the view. There was a family picnicking just below the tree looking out at Lago San Pablo and the mountains, and more arrived soon after.
After visiting the tree, we hiked up the hill another kilometer and some to El Parque de Condor. This was really hard on my ankle, and we were almost late for the show. On the way we passed an old woman who was carrying a huge pile of flowered plants on her back. We watched a young man help her stand up after tying them on, and we expressed amazement at her achievement as we briefly walked along together. She was laughing and friendly, but I didn't ask if I could take her picture, although it was quite a sight.
The condor center is pretty impressive, built on the top of a high hill and beautifully designed with stone paths and walls, lovely flowers, and huge enclosures for the birds. We went immediately to the amphitheater, which overlooks the valley with a good drop off, for the show. The birds came out in size order until the end, and all of them flew over the valley many times. Matt was very impressed with the colors on this little guy, who was the first one to be shown.
The center is Dutch-run, and I believe this guy was Dutch, although speaking Spanish for the presentation, because we clearly heard him chastise one of the birds with "kom op, kom op!" at one point.
Unless I'm remembering wrong, this one was the gringa, who was acquired from North America, although I didn't catch the whole story. The Spanish was fast, and a lot, and it was windy so I didn't catch everything.
I have a whole pile of pictures like this, because the birds were beautiful and I was playing with my zoom lens.
At the very end, they brought out an owl and two small kestrels (I think they were kestrels), and let anyone who wanted, especially the children, come forward and hold them.
After the show, we went around and took some glamour shots of the birds in their enclosures.
Here's the Andean Condor, of which there were two, in its cage. They didn't fly the condor for the show. Probably it's potentially dangerous for various reasons.
We took a taxi back to the hostal after walking around a bit, and Matt got some ice for my ankle. We rested a while, had dinner in the hotel restaurant again, because it's so good, and planned our last couple of days.
Tomorrow we leave for an overnight in Quito where we will check out a chocolate factory and take a day trip to see El Mitad del Mundo monument before heading off for a day and a half at the hot springs in Papallacta, to read before the journey home.
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My sleep was disturbed by 2-4 Germans most of the night then early morning too. However, I notice that their rooms are now vacant so I have high hopes for tonight. It would be nice not to have to use my earplugs.
The bed was comfy, the room seemed warmer, and we started the day with coffee from the excellent corner coffee bar, then yellow oliebollen (like doughnuts) called chulenos from one of the street vendors. It was 09:00 and the market was in full swing.
The center of the market is Plaza de Ponchos, but on Saturday it grows to encompass most of the center. I wanted to see the animal market first, though, so we headed slightly out of town, across a bridge and a busy road where I was nearly hit by a bus. Matt was angry at me, because I had been poorly estimating space in walking beside the road to get to the crosswalk.
At the market we saw all kinds of animals being sold: guinea pigs (cuy, a popular dish), rabbits, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, pigs, sheep, cattle, llamas, cats and dogs. I'm pretty sure the cats and dogs were not for eating, but I haven't seen such young ones for a long time. Against our travel doctor's recommendations, I couldn't resist petting some tiny kittens. (Apparently rabies is very common here, and we were warned that we were taking a risk even touching pets.)
In other areas of the Ecuadorian Andes, we have seen lots of people wearing partial or full traditional dress. Most of them were older and rural. Here in Otavalo, however, we see lots of young people, especially women, wearing traditional dress of this area. You can see it a bit in the woman to the right of this picture, a dark ankle-length wrap-around skirt, white embroidered blouse, colorful cinched wrap-belt, and various shawls that change purpose at different points of the day, becoming hats and sun-visors, as well as scarves and shawls and capes. The weather here in a single day goes from mild to hot to mild to chilly very quickly. The young lady in the left of the picture is doing something I also saw pretty often, mixing traditional and modern clothes. In her case, I think she may have been wearing a blanket as a skirt. I never saw anyone else draped in check.
After the animal market, we walked through the produce area to buy some fruit to continue our breakfast. The limes here are the size of softballs!!
Back in the full market, Matt was very successful with his shopping, buying another hat, and all kinds of other things. This market is gorgeously colorful, and vendors do try to engage you, but in a very relaxed manner usually. It's not very pushy, and haggling is relaxed. However, with so much choice and variety, I was struggling to decide. I was too overwhelmed even to ask prices to start getting an idea what I wanted and how much was reasonable to pay.
We came up with a solution: beer! It was just noon, and I enjoyed a beer and guacamole while Matt had some more coffee and one soup. A light buzz makes it easier to focus on one thing at a time, and to ask about things even without buying. I had my shopping successes after that, then we took a break back at the hostal.
At 15:45 we decided that if we hurried, we could make it up to the Parque de Condor in time for the 16:30 raptor show, and see El Lechero, the healing tree, on the way back down. We went out, picked up some rolls, and hopped in a taxi. Here is a view of Lago San Pablo as we went up. Gorgeous here!
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the Lonely Planet guide, the time of the raptor show had been changed to 15:30, and we had missed it. On their way out, however, were a couple we'd run into while shopping in the market. We walked the 5km back to town with them, which was a really beautiful downhill walk, challenging anyway due to the rocky terrain. We meant to stop at El Lechero on the way, but we missed the turnoff. We'll be back tomorrow anyway for the show, so we can catch it then.
At a line between two fields, an open truck was dropping off hordes of helmeted teenagers who raced down the hill between the fields at breakneck speed on their mountain bikes. It looked like a lot of fun.
When we finally reached town, we were all pretty hungry, so at my suggestion, we tried out an organic cafe near Plaza de Ponchos. It had a nice ambience, but the food was only acceptable, not some of the better that we've had. The company was good, though, and we had beer, so who's complaining?
After dinner we were beat. We walked over to the Ingress portal Matt's been hacking, hacked it again, then went back to the hotel. We passed a very cool-looking bar called Faun, but we were too tired and didn't really want any more to drink.
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Location:Pan American Hwy,Otavalo,Ecuador
Ecuadorian transportation failed us slightly today, but it was an adventure! It all started smoothly, with us waking up before our alarms at 06:00. At breakfast we learned we could share a taxi truck to the canal crossing to the airport, rather than taxi to the bus to the canal. Easier!
They were a lovely Canadian couple, and had lots of great travel stories to tell. They've both been in the Galapagos before, he 3 times and she twice. They were also visiting Costa Rica when Hurricane Rita hit, which was a great story! Better in retrospect. Anyway, I'm glad we got to share the ride with them (and some time in the airport as well).
So, the taxi dropped us at the canal, where we took a ferry across to Isla Baltra, where the airport is, then a shuttle from there to the airport itself. And that's where things go a little downhill. Due to the new Quito airport which has JUST opened, all flights leaving Quito are delayed. Therefore our flight going to Quito is delayed. When we get in, we learn that we'll have 3 buses to take just to get us to Quito's north terminal, where we can then get a bus to Otavalo. This new airport is about halfway between the 2 cities, so it seems ridiculous to spend 6 hours going somewhere 1.5 hours away. We look into options.
Car rental for our last week will cost $240, but would allow us freedom to do the little trips we are planning without bus schedules. A taxi to Otavalo is $60. I'm double checking that price at the service desk when Matt came on to tell me he'd found someone who'd agreed to take us for $25. I heard him repeat the price twice, but then when we got into the taxi and were leaving, the driver seemed confused that we were going to Otavalo. Long story short, we paid even more than we should have, but got into Otavalo before dark, where we checked into this lovely hotel and had a delicious dinner in the on-site restaurant. Here's the view from the roof terrace:
So far, I like this town. It feels like a real place, not necessarily a tourist place. We walked around looking for Ingress portals in the dark, and it was active but not dangerous-feeling. Sadly, though, the hoodies and warmer socks and boots have had to come back out. The beauty of the mountains makes that worthwhile anyway.
Tomorrow is market day, which I'm looking forward to, and which is one of th main reasons we're here. I'm going to bed now so that I can immerse myself in it properly.
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Location:Calle No. 10,Puerto Ayora,Ecuador
Actually, on that note, we probably shouldn't be out. We have an early morning tomorrow, starting with 07:00 breakfast and taxi to the bus station to catch the 07:30 bus. More on that tomorrow. Back to today!
We woke up at 08:00, and made our way to breakfast shortly after, when we also notified Judy that we'd like to stay tonight as well. Then we put on our swimming suits, sunscreen, and hats, and headed out to rent snorkeling equipment for the day.
Our first snorkeling destination was Las Grietas, part of a volcanic crevice that actually extends quite a way underground. Las Grietas itself was a deep chasm between the rocks, mixed fresh and salt water. It was so cold getting in! There were some fish there, and lots of mossy algae-like stuff all over the rocks, but mostly it was a little reminiscent of the crevice in Iceland, where you can see very far below in a narrow gap. This was nowhere near so deep, but it was very clear until a certain point where it became obscured by silty darkness.
I remember in Iceland, our guide told us that people who are afraid of heights have a difficult time snorkeling or diving in the crevice, because the depth is so extreme and clear to see. I was more freaked out today by those obscured depths, and by the confines of the tall walls surrounding the water. I swam the length out and back, and while Matt did it a bit longer, I climbed out and sat on the rocks to watch. I couldn't get to open water soon enough.
A local man arrived, swam a few laps of the crevice, then climbed up the walls in the middle to jump into the deepest area. I'd have happily jumped the same if I hadn't already imagined myself into a state about those depths. I didn't want anywhere near them.
When I was a little girl, I learned about hammerhead sharks, among others. In my imaginative dreams, or nightmares, they inhabited the lake in the park where we frequently went to swim and picnic, Millersylvania State Park. I was terrified, in my waking life, of swimming there for a long time. I remember clinging to the ropes marking the swimming area, hoping that they would obscure my presence somehow.
Here I am in the Galapagos Islands, hoping to see sharks, even hammerheads, while snorkeling in the ocean, where its indeed possible, but afraid of an inland crevice in which my imagination takes free reins.
After Las Grietas, we took the path back to the Angermeyer Point area, to return to town via water taxi. It's an interesting walk, past an almost private beach by the Finch Bay Eco-Resort and salt marsh. On the beach, a rope marked an area forbidden to humans in favor of its current use as a marine iguana nesting grounds. We watched some very busy digging, as an iguana dug its nest in the sand, which few behind it.
Once leaving the water taxi, we hopped into a taxi-pickup and went to the beach by the Darwin Station. It's a very small beach, with only a tiny patch of sand that actually accesses the water, surrounded by rocky outcroppings. We planted our things on a makeshift bench under the bushes at the back of the beach, added some sunscreen, and made for the water.
It was beautiful. We didn't see anything phenomenal, but there were lots of interesting fish doing their thing along the rocks. It was clear enough within a few meters, nothing so clear as it had been during our first snorkel excursion on the Santa Cruz. I loved the surf, which nearly dashed us, as well as our fishy swim partners, into the rocks a few times. We stayed out for longer than we probably should have, since I can clearly feel fresh sunburns on the backs of my thighs. Again.
Eventually, we got up from our shady place and re-entered the humid heat. We walked back into town, where we had a quick unremarkable lunch, then went back to our hotel for a siesta. We didn't leave again until 16:30 or 17:00, when we also climbed to the top terrace to see the view. Gorgeous. To the left we could see the Darwin Station and beach, to the right the port.
We'd seen a really cool-looking new bar-cafe, Buganvilla, at the bottom of our hill. It was decorated entirely with recycled and repurposed materials, and they were opening today, so we went there and had coffee drinks with cana liqueur. Yum. Check out the glasses... they are made from beer bottles, very cleverly done.
With a light buzz on, we went souvenir shopping, which is really the best way to enjoy souvenir shopping. We were successful, and also returned the snorkeling gear. After, we debated dinner. I had seen the Angermeyer Point Restaurant when we took the water taxi, and thought it'd be nice to enjoy its waterfront tables on our last night in the Galapagos. Matt took a little convincing, but agreed once we were there that the ambience and breeze on the water were worth it. Beer may have helped.
But seriously, look what I ate. Freshly caught fish with a sauce made up of other seafood. It melted in my mouth. Yum yum yum!!
After dinner we sorted a couple of necessities then hung out in an ice cream bar with ice cream cocktails until we were ready for bed. A fine last night!
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However, waking up at 07:00 again was torture.
It felt like a last morning. Everyone was subdued and the idea of leaving the comforts of the Santa Cruz seemed an insurmountable difficulty. We'd have to locate our own food and transportation! No one would be caring that my black coffee was already waiting for me when I returned from the breakfast buffet to my table! I will miss Ramiro, my usual waiter, who chased other waiters away when they tried to hand me the normal meals. He'd come running with my special pimiento-free meals. Always a smile and always my coffee before I could ask. Really nice.
So we had that last breakfast, vacated our rooms, and gathered in the salon bar for a slide show of photos and videos of ourselves this week. After the show, some of us went up to the top of the ship to enjoy the last views from the ship. By the way, here's the route our ship has taken these 5 days.
And then it was time to climb into the pangas for shore on Baltras Island, where the airport is. We sped to a dry dock, clambered onto a bus which took us to the airport, then grabbed our luggage, climbed back onto the bus, and left our fellow travelers and guides behind.
The bus took us to the canal crossing for Santa Cruz Island, which was short and easy, then we were approached by many taxi drivers. However, since the bus would cost us a dollar, and a taxi $18, we preferred to wait for the bus. This irritated the taxi drivers, who tried to explain to us how much better they were. In the end, a police captain on his way back to town offered us a lift for free. His name was Alex Ramirez, and he's from Esmeraldas province, near the beginning of his one year term of working in Galapagos. He was very nice and explained many things to us along the way.
Since he's new to the island, himself, he had no idea where to find our hotel. Streets may have names, but they don't have signs, so that didn't help. Eventually, even Alex got frustrated. At that time, however, the next person he asked pointed to a building just behind us. We had arrived!
Prices at Casa de Judy were more than double what we expected from the guidebook. When we looked aghast, she gave us a small discount, but even so it was pricey. We accepted for one night and thought we'd find something else. In the end we didn't, so will stay there both nights. Our room is 102a, just behind the staircase beside the pool.
We went into our room and, exhausted, fell fully clothed onto the bed. It was only about 11:00. We slept until about 14:30.
Eventually we woke, sweaty and still tired. We hadn't turned on the airco before we slept. We showered, applied sunscreen, and headed off to see the breeding grounds for giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Center, just downhill from our hotel. Matt will be submitting this monument as a potential Ingress portal.
It was hot. Really hot. We were dripping sweat in seconds. But even so, the information at the center was really interesting. There were displays about the Galapagos ecosystem, and there were the breeding grounds themselves.
We saw baby tortoises of varying ages, in pens with signs noting what island they came from and when they were born.
In another larger pen, they were learning skills like climbing. There seemed to be several ages mixed in this one.
Apparently, the adult tortoises weren't bothered by the heat. This fellow was pretty persistent, while his girlfriend occasionally wandered off snacking. He'd just clamber back on.
And here's the actual research station, although we didn't go inside. I'd read in the guidebook that tourists are requested to not go in and bother the scientists. A peek inside revealed offices, no visitor information.
There were also a few pens with land iguanas, but we've seen more of them in the wild, where they're far more interesting.
We were almost the only people there, and the heat was intense. We walked out to the road and hailed a taxi, a 4-wheel drive extended cab truck, to take us the very short way back to the pier in town, just to be out of the heat for a few minutes.
We ended up backtracking most of that anyway, looking for souvenirs and then lunch, but we still felt better. We watched boats from a little pier where the fish market is, and a few small rays then a giant manta ray went by. This guy was over a meter across! And he swam right below me!
Since we had lunch at 17:00 or so, it was also kind of dinner. After eating, we did more of the same, had cocktails at a bar, then picked up our clean laundry and returned to the hotel. And a swim! Then we showered and slept. Again! Did I mention we are exhausted?
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