19 Oct 2015

The Good, The Bad and the Disasterous


There is a lot of freedom for motor cycle riders in Ecuador, they wear no safety gear, they don't have to wear a helmet, they can go as fast as they like, talking on their mobile phone and they don't even have to look where they are going. It was just such a motorcyclist that smashed into the side of our truck 3 weeks ago, he ended up in hospital, the truck was impounded, his bike went in the bin and I narrowly avoided going to jail, but more of that later, first I will catch up from where we left of

we stayed on the cliff top for 2 more days debating whether or not to go to the Galapagos and doing some research into the options. Without coming to a conclusion we headed off again and stopped in a small National Park just outside Guyaquil for 2 nights. As we were leaving, having decided to abandon the Galapagos, as it was expensive and with potentially rough seas, we started talking to a guide, who spends most of his time on Galapagos, who persuaded us that in fact this was a good time to go. Apparently it is an El Nino year, which will mean seas will be very bad later in the year but now they are relatively calm, but there are less tourists at this time of year, so easier to get around and with better deals available. So, another days research and we booked a 6 day cruise (40% off normal cost), flights and 3 days on one of the islands.

We had a week to go so headed into the mountains to an Inca site called Ingapirca. The first day we went from sea level to 2,600m and for the first time I was affected by the altitude, we stayed here a second day to acclimatise before heading on to Ingapirca at 3,100m, but still feeling groggy and with a headache we did the tour and headed back towards Guyaquil (we had planned to go to Cuenca but this is 2,600m  so decided to go down.

Like magic, once below 1,000m my head cleared but by then we were in really dense cloud and I did not see a very tight bend until the last seconds, we were not going very fast, but enough to bump up a very large curb with the front right wheel, bending the rim slightly (but not damaging the tyre). The place we were stopping at was only 10 miles down the road so we wobbled on.

Next day we carried on to the next big town, La Troncal, looking for a tyre place, saw what we were looking for, but too late to turn in, so went on, did a u turn. The traffic was heavy, so I pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the traffic lights behind me to change, they turned red, road clear so pulled across the road and stopped for a fraction of a second waiting for the traffic to clear the other way (there were 2 wide lanes going in each direction, the equivalent of a lanes width in the middle, plus wide area each side to park. As I set off again there was an almighty smash into the side of the truck and realised a motorcycle had hit us. I had no idea where he came from and did not hear the usual screech before the impact.

The very flimsy Chinese bike he was riding no longer looked like a motor bike and the rider lying next to it, dazed but thankfully conscious. He was not wearing a helmet and lucky for him his head hit the rear door window dead centre, if he had hit anywhere else he would have been lucky to survive. It was also fortunate that he was on his own as they are often 3 and even 4 up.

Both police and hospital are just round the corner, so an ambulance had taken the guy to hospital in minutes and we were on the way to the police compound to impound the truck whilst they established whose fault it was. Give them their due, they did find a board to put in the window and got us to park up against a wall with an overhang, both for security and to keep it dry (which at least gave me hope that they expected us to get it back).

Whilst they tried to get hold of the British Consulate for us to tell us what was happening our guardian angle turned up in the form of a guy called Orlando. He grew up in Ecuador (his family is spread between El Troncal and Ingapirca) but has lived in London for the last 25 years and had come home for a few months. He passed the accident not long after it happened, noticed the UK plates and when he saw us again at the compound stopped to see if he could help. He told us not to worry and that he would stay with us until it was sorted, and he did.

The next step was to be taken to the police station for details, then the hospital to see how the guy was. His leg was badly broken, turns out it was pinned from a previous bike accident and this had compounded the damage, but other than that he was OK. Orlando's girl friend (Gina) was the doctor on duty.

Amazingly a number of witnesses had come forward to say that he was going far to fast, talking on a mobile phone and not looking where he was going (but I have still no idea where he came from!) and after another visit to the police station they took me back to the hospital to check that I was OK (I suspect they should have taken a blood sample as well, but Gina took me straight in, filled my details and that was it. Back to the police station again and they let me go, pending the accident investigation. It was now Saturday so nothing was going to happen until Monday.

Orlando has friends in the police and the court and managed to make things happen a lot quicker than normal. He arranged for an accident investigator to come from Cuenca on Monday afternoon (costing $150), we followed him to the compound to photograph the truck and what was left of the bike, then to the scene of the accident where he almost got run over trying to measure a very busy road. Whilst we were there a number of people that worked either side of the road said they had seen the accident and all mimicking driving one handed with a phone to their ear.

By 16.30 he had completed his report (in an Internet cafe) and delivered it to the court, they initially said it was too late to complete the paper work to release the vehicle that today, but another word from Orlando to his friend in the court and they rushed it through for us.

Next stop the police station, where they gave us a bill for car parking in the compound ($12), which we had to pay at the bank, just ducking under the metal gate as the guard was lowering it, but by the time we got back to the police station it was too late to get the final paper to pick up the car.

Whilst all this was going on we also had to come to a financial arrangement with the family of the injured guy, he has a young wife with children of 1 and 4 and there is no car insurance in Ecuador so is normal to come to a private arrangement. I will not go into detail, but they earn very little in Ecuador and although it was his fault we were happy to come to an arrangement for the sake of his wife and family to at least help with the cost of the operation. This also entailed visits to lawyers to put the agreement in writing. This was also taken into account by the accident investigator and the court in terms of releasing the vehicle.

The following day (Tuesday) we finally got the release papers and made our way back to the compound and got the truck back. Next stop a an accident repair place that Gina new, where they managed to remove the door and bash it into shape so it would open and close again and put a piece of hardboard in place of the window. At this point we still hadn't sorted the wobbly wheel so left it in Gina's back yard (like many families they had a number of houses around a large yard, hers, her mothers and her auntie) and we left it here and took a bus to Guyaquil to the Hotel we had booked close to the airport, ready for the 08.30 flight to Galapagos next morning.
 
Orlando certainly lived up to his word, put us up in his house for 3 nights and spent every waking moment helping us resolve our problem, had it not been for him we certainly would not have made it to Galapagos and I would very possibly ended up in jail, but the last we heard is that the guy on the bike was likely to lose his leg. 

Galapagos

After a traumatic few days the flight was thankfully uneventful and we landed on the island of Baltra, but by the look of the landscape we could just as easily have been on the moon. Time for a coffee before a few of the crew collected us and took us by coach and panga (small boat) to our ship the Santa Cruz. We had chosen one of the biggest vessels in the Galapagos, with 68 crew and 90 passengers. A little more expensive than some of the smaller boats, but figured it would be more stable, which proved right as the only time I was slightly sea sick was in a glass bottomed boat in quite rough water.

Our choice proved right for many reasons as they delivered everything they said, very comfortable cabin, excellent food (and certainly more choice than we would have had in a boat for 16 people). The ship only moved into rough water after 10 pm and was always anchored in calm water by 7 am, so a sea sick tablet and a couple of beers and slept like a baby. We had lots of trips on the pangas round the coast line, lots of visits to the islands and they even provided mountain bikes at one point for those that wanted them, all included in the price. We were split up into groups of about 14, each with a naturalist and leaned a lot about the formation of the Galapagos and the wildlife, how it got there and how it survived. Our group was the Dolphins a really nice group of people, mostly from the UK and one the spit of Jeremy Clarkson.

More of the cruise with the photos, but after 5 nights on the boat we spent 1 more night on the island of Santa Cruz (where the ship left us) and then took a 2.5 hour speed boat to the island of San Cristobal, this was evil, but dosed up with sea sick tablets I managed to make the trip without having to deposit the contents of my stomach into one of the plastic bags swinging in front of me.

The plan was to stay in San Cristobal 3 nights, until we got an email to say that our flight had been cancelled and had to re-book for the following day, so instead of another night in Guyaquil and a leisurely bus to La Troncal we had to dash from the airport to the bus station as Orlando had invited us to a BBQ. The good news when we arrived was that they had managed to save the guys leg.

Next day was Sunday, so we still couldn't get the wobbly wheel sorted, so spent the day removing everything in order to clean all the glass out. So on the Monday, we finally made it to the tyre place we were heading for when we had the accident, got everything sorted and finally got back on the road. We have still got a bent door (and step) withd plywood instead of a window, but there are lots of Landcruisers in Peru and Bolivia so we should be able to get second hand replacements there.

Since then we've spent 3 days in Cuenca and now in Loja, about 130 miles from Peru. More on Cuenca in the next blog which I will hopefully publish when we get into Peru.

Apologies for the lack of updates over the last month, but when we were not running around like maniacs we had no Internet, we did have Internet in Galapagos but it looked like the memory on my lap top had been wiped going through security, I tried a number of times with no joy, but as soon as we arrived back on the mainland it worked again - bizarre!

Ingapirca

Orlando and Gina
Temporary repairs (step already off)
Galapagos Airport
Passengers taken to the ship on to Pangas
Then it is our turn
First site of ourship, the Santa Cruz, built in 1997, we later learned that this is its last but one voyage before being replaced by a brand new boat and sold off for use ellsewhere.
Our cabin, very comfortable.
The bar and sun deck, everything clean and freshly painted.
First sighting - a turtle
In the afternoon a walk on one of the islands and a land Iguana
A male Frigate bird, with pouch blown up to attract a mate
Blue Footed Booby, they dive into the water like a spear and reach depths of 7 or 8 meteres to for fish



A Blue Footed Booby Whistling for a mate
Blue Footed Booby on a nest



A baby Blue Footed Booby
Answers on a post card - We have forgotton what this is
With its chick
This part of the island is coverred with all sorts of birds, and, like all the animals and reptiles, totally oblivious to people walking through, not a bit afraid.
Our first Galapagos sun set
Next day we start of by following some Orca Whales, a mother teaching its young to fish, we saw loads jumping out of the water, took quite a few photos of fins and unfortunately this was the best I got (a bit grainy it is enlarged).
Galapagos Penguin (tiny)
A Flightless Cormorant (they could fly when they arrived but have no need to fly on Galapagos so they have shrunk and can  no longer fly, they just walk into the water or slide down the rocks to fish.
Who said reptiles can't read! Look carefully and you will see dozens of marine Iguanas all piled up agaianst the stop sign
 Sally Lightfoot Crabs (named by early sailors due to there mating dance)


Passengers being ferried from thje ship to yet another island by Panga
This time for a walk up a volcano Darwin lake in the back ground



And Panga'd back again
Baby Sea Lion
And a slightly older one strutting scross the beach to find its mother.
A visit to the Tortoise Sanctuary


Then to the fish market, where this young sea lion was trying to get in on the act.
And the Pelicans lined up to grab what he dropped (which he did)
Up into the hills to see tortoises in the wild

And an area where you can try a shell for yourself
No, not a disused railway tunnel, this is a lava tunnel
A baby sea lion, not sure what to make of a crab
And on the beach, this mother is fed up with feeding!
But this one was content
Pink Flamingo
Chris Ready for deep sea snorkeling (I went for the Glass Bottomed boat)
A Last walk on the beach









Before Heading back to the mainland with team Dolphin
And to the other end of the island on the bus
Sea Lyons lining up to bask on a boat
The sea lions get everywhere, on benches
Blocking the walk way



First day of Lobster Season
We walk to a deserted beach (except for Iguanas and Sea Lyons)
This young Sea Lion came and lay next to me!







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