This volcanic archipelago lies 973km from the South American mainland. With it being so isolated and having no significant human history, the evolution of their animal species is unique. Here Charles Darwin studied the wildlife and based on his learnings, developed his theory on humankind writing the legendary Origin of The Species.
Nowadays the Galapagos Islands remain unspoilt, but are very much a tourist mecca with several flights arriving daily. The tourist industry is extremely well managed and coordinated, to minimise any impact on the wildlife and the environment. In fact you often feel like you are on the only boat on the whole of the Pacific Ocean.
I shall now impart words of wisdom and advice. Before you go on this budget busting trip research it thoroughly. Whilst wildlife is unpredictable, certain aspects can be planned. I hate to say it, but I was underwhelmed by the Galapagos Islands. My experience included poor visibility for snorkelling, rather choppy sailing conditions and no famous bird mating rituals. However there was stunning scenery, colourful land iguanas and lots of baby sea lions. If timed to perfection I think this could be an amazing experience……
So now for some interesting snippets of information:
- The scolopendra centipede inhabits these islands, and can be 30cm long. Its diet includes baby rats and lizards. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see one.
- Due to it’s perfect symmetry across the equator this is one of only two countries* which can boast exactly twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of night.
- When the Galapagos Island’s most famous inhabitant Lonesome George died in 2012 at an unknown age (thought to be 102 years old) this signalled the end of his species. George, a Pinta Island giant tortoise, was discovered alone and despite extensive searches across the islands no others of his genus were found. US$10,000 was offered to anyone who could find him a mate, but sadly despite this appeal none was found.
* For those quiz goers, the other country is Kenya.
…. so that’s two more sleeps till swimming in a lake full of jellyfish. Just because I can!
Sometimes life is full of wow moments, surely this will be another one of them – fingers crossed!
People’s reaction on hearing I am heading to Yeti territory tends to spark the question “Where is that?”. Well yes I like to discover the unusual, and yes I like to push the boundaries in terms of unique location. So I thought why not Bhutan?
I simply can’t wait to delve into this remote and relatively isolated country, that seems to attract the more hardy explorers, and is rather more upmarket than my usual destination due to the expensive government fees.
Oh and before I forget – Bhutan is nestled in the Himalayan region near Nepal. Initial research has brought up several interesting facts, but I’m sure there are yet more to discover.
How intriguing does Bhutan sound?? It’s going to be an awesome adventure.
Note – Just this month David Attenborough stated he believes that the Yeti does exist and is out there. Will I get to find him I wonder…..
Due to vast distances and a tiny population public transport doesn’t appear to exist. Making independent backpacker travel impossible! If you don’t have your own wheels you simply can’t explore the country. And if you do have your own vehicle you end up with a variety of hitchhikers tagging along – members of a nomadic tribe, villagers needing medical care in the closest town and those who I could only communicate with through a series of facial expressions!
“Think I have some sand in my shoe”
- Work those calf muscles and ascend sand dune after sand dune at the beautiful Soussusvlei. More importantly have oodles of fun running down them.
- On average there are two people per square kilometre. As I mentioned, it is seriously deserted in Namibia.
- I saw an anteater! Total highlight at one of the National Parks, who wants to see the Big 5? Something unexpected and interesting is much more my cup of tea.
- Travelling in a Kia Picanto following the wettest wet season for decades is NOT fun. The largely gravel and pothole ridden roads are tricky enough in a small car. Add copious amounts of water and you get mud, rivers across roads and lots of abandoned plans.
- Meet a Himba tribe. Due to the usually arid conditions there is insufficient water to wash; hence the tribal women cover their bodies with a mixture of red mud and herbs. This leaves them with a most distinctive colouring, which fashionably goes well with their animal hide minimalistic clothing. And no they didn’t smell………
I had no preconceptions about Botswana whatsoever, and was unsure exactly what gems it had to offer the visitor. However it turned out to be one of my favourite places to travel. It was pure and simple fun from end to end.
- The currency is called Pula meaning rain.
Watch out for hippos….
- The Okavango Delta is the world’s only inland delta. It is an idyllic, waterlily covered expanse of river and a haven for wildlife.
- I got charged at by a family of warthogs. This is not actually funny, the biggest was my size! Three of us were out trekking and looking for wildlife. After accidently passing too close to a warthogs burrow they charged. Obi (the guide) ferociously waved a stick at the oncoming beasts, and in the ensuing scramble to “escape” we all ended up in a heap with me at the bottom so I missed most of the action. Luckily none of us were hurt. I think they just wanted to scare us – mission accomplished!!
- Chobe National Park has no perimeter fences; instead locals have fences around their properties for safety. In town it’s not unusual to see an elephant outside the post office!
Yes it has a turbulent recent past. Yes it is set in deepest darkest Africa. But this country is amazing and it most certainly has a special place in my heart. I loved the people, the way of life and the beautiful tiered countryside.
Star of the show!
Spend a precious hour observing the endangered mountain gorillas. The authoritative silverback appeared very much in control, keeping a watchful eye on his family group whilst giving us sideways glances just to let us know he was aware of our presence. The youngsters, merely meters away, were playing energetically and chasing each other. I was lucky enough to see a two month old baby clinging to her mother. This expensive escapade is worth every cent if it keeps the species from extinction.
- Plastic bags are illegal. I kid you not!
- Personal space means nothing. Frequently I had members of the public sleeping on my shoulder on arduous bus journeys! It’s weird.
- At the peak of the genocide in 1994, in just 100 days 800,000 Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s were murdered. For non- mathematicians that’s 8,000 a day – devastating! Hundreds of people sought refuge in churches only to find themselves a cornered target, and unable to escape their horrific fate.
- Ginkongoro houses a unique memorial centre for victims of the genocide. It displays the preserved bodies of 482 people fixed in motion at the point of death. The horrific nature of their poses and evidence of machete wounds send shivers down your spine. Crouched foetal positions, curled toes and arms covering heads in protection stances. Screaming open mouths ensured you could visualise their terror. The idea behind this museum is to shock, and repel people in a bid to stop anything so inhumane occurring anywhere, ever again.
Heavy influences from relationships with the British and Caribbean nations ensure that Belize is a unique country in Central America. The food is spicy, people speak Creole and the Queen stares out from their currency.
- Search for the elusive manatee off the world’s second largest barrier reef. This endangered animal is one of nature’s slowest most docile creatures. Sadly it is hunted for its back muscle which is sold in Asia as an apparent aphrodisiac.
Interestingly El Salvador wasn’t on my list of places to visit. But in the true spirit of travel I thought when in the area why not? And I’m glad to say it was worth the detour.
- Stop press! Huge amount of excitement, I saw an armadillo. Unsure if it’s just me, but was thrilled to see one of these timid creatures scampering about in the wild.
Sadly I didn’t take this photo. Was too busy saying “look everyone it’s an armadillo!”
- Visit Suchitoto for their famous rock formation. Partially hidden behind the Los Tercios Waterfall are horizontal octagonal lengths of rock. They make a honeycomb pattern, similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Island; but with a 90 degree twist.
Nicaragua was somewhere that I felt sad to leave. The city of Granada was captivating, and I stayed far longer than ever anticipated.
- Enrol in Spanish lessons. So cheap to study here with native speakers.
- Cycle around sampling daily life on Isla de Ometepe. A beautiful rural volcanic island on Central America’s largest lake.
- Thoroughly check your bed for scorpions before getting in. A girl in my dormitory failed to do so, and her screams woke everyone up. Four inch black scorpions are commonplace here, whilst they are not deadly they look pure evil and their sting packs a punch.
- Experience the bizarre concept of most towns having a minimum of two main bus stations – cue confusion.