What is Happenning in Istanbul?

Turkey & totalitarianism control of our world. Please read this

İnsanlık Hali

To my friends who live outside of Turkey:

I am writing to let you know what is going on in Istanbul for the last five days. I personally have to write this because at the time of my writing most of the media sources are shut down by the government and the word of mouth and the internet are the only ways left for us to explain ourselves and call for help and support.

Last week of May 2013 a group of people most of whom did not belong to any specific organization or ideology got together in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Among them there were many of my friends and yoga students. Their reason was simple: To prevent and protest the upcoming demolishing of the park for the sake of building yet another shopping mall at very center of the city. There are numerous shopping malls in Istanbul, at least…

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One year is not enough…

Not in a place like this. A place so rich in everything, right down to suffering and poverty and perfectly less comfortable than the life of luxury I led back in Australia (it was too comfortable for me – that is one reason why I left). South America will captivate you in ways unimaginable. Unexplainable. I’ve been travelling for ten months now and have got to see Colombia, Ecuador and Chile very well. I just spent a month in Argentina. Summer in Chile was the best in my life. My main aim was Patagonia and I spent just over two months in what you could call greater Patagonia, from Pucon as far south as Punta Arenas, Chile and from Rio Turbio up to Bariloche in Argentina. It was an amazing, beautiful, challenging time.

Ever since I left Patagonia I’ve felt a bit lost. It started after Torres del Paine. I haven’t known where to go, what to do, with time running short my life of slow travel is coming to an end. With all the things I’ve done I’ve still not been to the Amazon, have only been to Lima in Peru and have not visited Bolivia. I miss those big, mad, Andean cities: the noise, the chaos, the food, the indigenous, the rawness, the bit of danger, the soul. So kicking and thriving.

I’ve even considered going back to Colombia. I want to experience that brilliant country now that I can speak (I am still learning) Spanish. One of my best mates just moved there. A girl I love is there. Colombia was one of the first places in South America that really helped me wake up, grow, realise what is important in life. Changed me for better. Forever. An amazing land full of amazing people. But I could say that about every country I’ve been to. South America has something we don’t have in the west. I can’t explain it, can’t put it into words. If you’ve been and you’re reading this then you know what I mean. If you’re wondering, don’t wonder any more – go.

Twenty minutes ago my Peruvian friend Julio sent me this brilliant video on Peru, it goes for two and half minutes, watch it here.

It almost made me cry. Nostalgia from the last ten months and my journey slapped me hard in my face. It took me back to my early days in Ecuador. In Quito. In Riobamba. It blew my mind. I realised I had missed a great land (Peru). Then I realised, I have two months, and this video is a few weeks in Peru. Chance moment? I think I’m going to Peru and Bolivia. Call it fate or something, call it whatever. But I think I am going to travel fast for once and spend a few weeks in these countries.

So a year, it’s been wild, crazy, fun, scary, challenging, demanding, loving, up, down and around again. Two would have been ideal, even a year and a half. I’ve never felt so alive as I have here in South America. So what is it about this place? I’ll go home soon, but I will be back. I love South America – it has shown me so much love and I will show it back, wherever I am in the world, and to whoever is in my company.

Thanks a lot Julio, it was timely, and touching.

After three days of waiting I’m going to get my bus across to Mendoza from Santiago. Paz.

The lower end of backpacking… long buses and borders

It’s not all amazing mountains, wild animals, raw nature and beautiful Pacific sunsets. If you’ve been following my activity on Facebook you probably only see my photos and rarely hear of the delays, long bus rides, being seated next to stinking toilets, people trying to scam you at borders, forgetting toilet paper (that’s breaking the number one rule :p ).

When I left Ecuador for Peru back in January, I said goodbye to one of my best mates, Jake, after a blinder new year and a lot of fun in Quito, Riobamba, Alausi, the coast. I got on a bus from Quito to Guayaquil at about 1pm. I plowed through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a few hours and listened to music, failing to drain out sellout Hollywood movies dubbed in Spanish and an Indian man who was singing loudly. I got to Guayaquil at about 10pm and had to take a taxi for two minutes to the terminal. The woman drove an absolute bomb of an 80s Charade or similar and tried to rip me off at $3. I had to do something between charm, beg and bargain with my poor Spanish to get her to lower the price. I got into the terminal and bought a ticket to my next bus off a suspicious character with a solid moustache. The bus was bound for Huaquillas, near the Peruvian border, where I would cross into Tumbes and then take another, long bus, to Lima. It was late, I was already tired, and had a long way to go. The bus was full of suss cunts, as we say in Sydney, or rather suspect people – all men, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, no woman. Lots of rats tails, mullets, men old and one, and young gringo. Me. There was an empty seat next to an old man with a crooked smile at the back of the bus, there was one more row behind, and an old man sat with his shirt covering his face to mask the shit and piss smell eeking out of the toilet. There were people standing, but the seat was vacant? I wondered if it was defective or covered in shit or something absurd. A young guy offered me the seat and I took it. Five hours next to a toilet. Nice. After some bullshitting about we left, I got some crappy sleep, clutching my backpack, hiking boots and other assorted items in another bag above me (I was carrying too much at this point). I was hugely suspect of the crossing  and have heard some stories. Jake advised me of this route, but before I left his mate from Otavalo had turned up and was laughing saying it was no better at this time especially. Jake. Haha.

I woke confused and stumbled off the bus at between 4 and 5am glad to be in fresh air, but was presented with a small and mostly deserted border town. I was tired. I was fucked really. A fat Peruvian changed my USD for Soles (at a shitty rate, I was half asleep and my sensible was too), I had forgotten to get my Soles out of my large backpack and wasn’t going to attempt to do so here. His mate, another Peruvian character was being super friendly saying he could take me to immigration and across the border. The other people on the bus had disappeared, there were no connected buses to get to the border. What was going on? In a haze, I agreed, and he took me into a gated property into a nice, almost new Honda. Wait, what the fuck am I doing? Why did I agree to this? The guy was friendly but I was in semi panic mode and started to wonder where I would end up. We got to the border, I took all my bags into customs with me cause I was not giving him the chance to drive off with everything, he said I could leave, but I deflated the situation saying my passport was in my big backpack. He had been asking me all these questions about money, cards, how I travel etc on the way in, so I felt hugely stupid for the situation I put myself in and massively suspect of him.

The border was full of sleepy travellers and families, and immigration officers who did not give a fuck about anything and didn’t even say hello or thanks. A sharp contract from the reception in Colombia. Anyway whatever. Signed out of Ecuador and into Peru. Buses full of smart people that had taken one single bus turned up, filtered through customs and left. Why did I not do this?

The driver had agreed to take me to Tumbes, where I could get a colectivo to Mancora and then a bus to Lima. When we got to the car he wanted $20USD. I got into an argument with him, took him back to a tariff notice at customs where he tried to mask the price at $20 per colectivo meaning $5 per passenger, in front of a Peruvian cop, who I asked what the price was – he wanted nothing to do with me, didn’t say a word and perpetuated the rip the gringo show. Fuck these people.

To be fair the cabbie had waited a while, but that’s the way it goes at borders. We had the shits at each other, I wanted to get to Tumbes and leave, so I offered $10 and no more. He took me to Tumbes and we sat in silence. To be honest I was super pissed too, after months in Colombia where everyone was so honest, my patience for this was slim. We got to Tumbes, I took my bags and bailed. He added more USD to his ever growing stash of paper and took off. Not a word was spoken. Dickhead.

It was now between 5 and 6am and I was in a dive Peruvian border town. A man was mixing some kind of drink for people on the street. There were a lot of construction workers eating at a street-stall. It was all typically South American. I had a while to go. I paid for my next colectivo. A black woman with several kids vomited rapid Spanish in my face but I asked her to slow down as I was learning. She was from Tumbes. She said there were too many mal gente around, bad people, and that I should be careful. We took off to Mancora. I was retarded from lack of sleep. The sun had come up and was blazing. I was in a large van rammed with Peruvians. I love the road but this journey was just total ass.

I was woken by the family in the back, who told me we were at Mancora. What?! I got off and took my bags. This is Mancora? It’s a small, very small, mainly one street town on the northern coast of Peru, popular for surfing. The place seemed full of people who also did not give a flying fuck about anything, locals, and travellers too. All I saw were waster gringos, drifter hippies and surf types bumming about. There was nothing going on. I spent hours trying to get a bus ticket to Lima while everyone tried to rip me off. The power in the town had gone out and all the booking systems were down. Goddamnit. Never before had I wanted to leave a place like I had in Mancora. Hours passed, hours and hours, I bummed around town tired and frustrated. I decided I would not commit to staying here a night and had to get out. Eventually I got a ticket at a reasonable price and the owners let me bum out on their couch until the bus came at 5pm. Power came back on at about 3. I had killed about 7 hours here and finally got a bus. Never before had the road seemed so appealing…

Though, I had an 18 hour journey to Lima ahead of me, and once again, I was seated next to the toilet. 18 hours. Not 5. 18 hours of people pissing and shitting in this thing. Damn man. I sat next to a filthy but friendly construction worker from Lima who kept waffling about things beyond my Spanish comprehension at the time. This time I had remembered to bring my Valium on board, so I ate something like 3 or 4 tablets intending to hit a state of heavenly bliss before drugging out to sleep for hopefully a huge distance. Fucking buses. Toilets. The smell of urine. Mancora. Border hounds fixated with hoarding USD and shafting gringos.

I had no idea the desert was so huge in Peru. The coast is littered with tiny fishing towns and many smaller towns a little further in land with no electricity, very basic, basic, sometimes only stick-housing or stick and board housing. The things I saw on that bus ride were crazy. People living like that. Among all the crap, it was incredible to see. Jake had said it would blow my mind. The desert, and its inhabitants up there really did. The sunset was ace too. I had to leave the window open all night to help ease the toilet smell but late on the air was damn cold. And loud. But I’ll take that over 18 hours of toilet smell.

At some point I fell asleep, waking up like an utter cripple about ten hours later. Not bad, about 8 to go and this ridiculous journey would end (I had to get to Lima to get my flight to Easter Island and I had fucked about having the time of my life in Colombia and Ecuador for six months haha, this is why I was rushing). Eventually, we approached Lima. Insane poverty and shack housing on the fringed of this incredibly massive city, huge, huge, huge, on the coast, surrounded by red desert. Chaotic street scenes, mental South American traffic. What a buzz. Buildings got bigger and more dense and we came further into the centre.

Feeling like a new man I got off the bus, having now travelled about two full days and spent  something like 36 hours in buses and colectivos. I played the rip the gringo game once more with a cabbie (I rarely take cabs, I usually walk or save money by using buses or whatever) as I was not getting on a packed Lima bus in a post-Valium haze and having to watch all my stuff when my guard was still so low. Finally I got to Che Lagarto. I was able to wash days of bus and scum and sweat off me and relax for a day before going to Easter Island. I met up with my friend Nicolle who showed me around Miraflores and took me to a see an excellent Afro Peruvian band play. Peruvians are a solid bunch. Lima was cool but my time was short.

Lesson? Get a bus that does all the crossing for you – not three or four buses and ridiculous AM border crossing when you’re a total zombie. That’s just stupid. I was lucky, sort of.

When I came back from Easter Island I took another lengthy journey – from Lima to Tacna on the Peruvian border with Chile, in order to cross to Arica and get to Atacama to meet Poliana from Colombia in the Atacama desert.

I didn’t have to sit next to the toilets but I almost missed my bus from Lima cause the girl at the hostel got the terminal wrong. I took a fucking wild, wild cab ride to the terminal with a cabbie wanted to hear about Colombia and especially its women. He drove like mad. But he got me there just in time. He tried to rip me but I laughed at him and told him I was not an ordinary gringo and paid him the normal fee plus a tip for his fine driving which got me onto my 20 (!!) hour bus to Arica. The woman I sat next to lived in Tacna, she was super nice, dug that I was learning Spanish and left me her number in case I needed anything. She said I could crash and eat with her family at the border but I wanted to move on and get to Atacama, get stoned and stare at the stars and not think of the smell of urine and of crossing borders, people trying to rip me, lengthy bus rides. At Tacna, she assisted me in getting a colective to the border. The drive was a woman who was also obsessed with USD. Fucking money.

I crossed into Chile. another full day behind me. From Arica I had to wait from about 11am to 8pm for my 8 hour bus to Calama. I spent the day trying as much Chilean beer as I could, remained on a bar stool for the entire time bottle after bottle talking to a bunch of friendly Chilean characters as best I could. The bar staff were awesome too. I’d heard Chilean empanadas were best and it was true. Anticipating another bus ride I hoarfed a Xanax before I got on. By the time I went to board I had a cigarette and was a floppy mess. I got on the bus and my head started spinning from all the beer. I almost yakked. Soon the Xanax kicked in and I blissed out and woke up at the freezing mining town of Calama in northern Chile. There were a lot of happy, friendly dogs at the terminal. After about 1.5 hours I got a two hour bus to Atacama and arrived at around 9am. It was quiet, cold, eerie. But I was finally in Atacama and could stay put for a while. More on Atacama later.

I am currently in Santiago, having come from Pucon (10 hours) yesterday, arriving at 8am, and having to wait to 9pm to get a bus back into Mendoza in Argentina (all this is actually cheaper than a bus from Bariloche to Mendoza). I crossed from Bariloche to Osorno (almost got caught with 5g of weed at customs – another story for another time) then took a bus to Pucon to get my USB and check in with my wonderful friend Anita for two days. Last night, after killing a day in Santiago I was told the border was closed due to snow. I checked into a hostel for the night. At 4pm I find out if the border is open.

In the end, none of this matters. I should have been a little more careful crossing into Peru, but it worked out. The road, as always, remains one of the most electric and exciting parts of the whole journey. Getting on a stinking bus full of crazies, Indians, even a chicken or whatever, and just going. All that really matters is that which is ahead. Whether I am on a bus, in a Kombie, hitched with a truckie in the south of Argentina or Chile, the road is always one of my favourite places. That point in-between destinations where I am taken back to my childhood, eagerly staring out the window and admiring everything around me, everything new, places I’ve never been before. Ten months in and I still love the transit phase. I always will.

I thought I would share a bit on the not so glamorous side of backpacking. The year thus far has been full of things like this. From the northern coast of Colombia to Punta Arenas in the far south of Chile, I traversed one entire side of the continent all by road. It’s been immense.

Stuck again, now in Patagonia, Chile.

I have been in Chile for 88 days, somehow that much time has lapsed. What the fuck. My tourist visa is about to expire. The idea of fast(er) travel is clearly a completely alien concept to me. The time has absolutely flown by. It was the best southern hemisphere summer of my life. Though, after close to almost eight months of summer in South America, the summer show is well and truly over. Here in Punta Arenas it is averaging about 5-10 degrees during the day and close to zero at night. I need to get into Argentina but that isn’t exactly evading the stronghold that the arms of Patagonia have on me.

I’ve been accommodated and fed by a wonderful Chilean family for three nights now. All my clothes have been washed but are still soaked wet on the line as the rain has not stopped in about 24 hours. Hopefully it clears and I can move tomorrow, otherwise it will be Wednesday. I’m getting restless again, and after the raw magic and power of Torres del Paine, recent days have been a bit boring. Spent studying Spanish, uploading all my photos, drawing and hanging around Punta Arenas which is beautiful and full of character.

I have three options; a) hope the navy can take me on a bare bones trip to Antarctica and back across a week while they move personnel and cargo between their research stations, b) get to Ushuaia, Argentina and then cross back into Chilean territory onto the real end of the southern world, Isla Navarino, with Colin from Washington who I met and hiked with in Torres, for one or two weeks of map, compass and machette hiking and fishing, getting lost and living off the land or c) bus or hitchhike to El Calafate from Punta Arenas and start moving north towards Peru and Bolivia while checking out more of Patagonia via places such as El Chalten, El Bolson, Esquiel, Bariloche, Perito Moreno. For a person with very little loose and every changing plans, this is all over thought. I need to buy a bus ticket, or get my thumb out, start moving, and get back into the flow.

I have no idea whether to stay in Argentina for the rest of my trip and get to know it as well as I have come to know Colombia, Ecuador and Chile, or to spend roughly a month each in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. It’s not the end, I know I will be back. I think I will get off my ass and hitch hike into Argentina or take a bus to El Calafate or Rio Gallegos and then commence hitch hiking my way north along the Andes, as the bus ticket prices in Argentina are phenomenally high and will potentially bust my budget and make me spend the last month of this awesome trip eating rice. Fuck that!

I know Argentine Patagonia is going to be as addictive and wonderful as Chilean Patagonia. No matter, Patagonia was the principal reason why I came to South America, and here I am. It is better than I ever could have imagined. Old Pat. Love her.

Galapagos Islands overall – good, bad & ugly

Should you go? Will you like it? Why would you go? What are the pros and cons? What are the bad things about Galapagos? Things I loved, hated and was shocked about. This is my last post on the islands, I hope everything has helped you out if you are reading this blog.

Good

The abundance of animal, plant and marine life and the proximity of them to humans. I don’t think you can get like this with animals and marine creatures anywhere else in the world and they are not scared of us at all, we are on the their turf. This makes Galapagos a completely unique place. Something very special.

You can visit the islands in many ways, if I had my tent and hammock with me it again would have changed everything. But it is a place that can definitely be done cheap. The main key to this is having a kitchen, being able to cook food. Eating out is expensive.

There is a huge range of tours, for backpackers, catering up to people who are filthy rich. So there is good diversity not only in the land and life but in what you can do and how you can do it.

Bad

$110 to enter the park for foreigners and $10 for locals? Come on. That’s it outrageous. And if they care so much about preservation and using the money to sustainably develop the islands then we all should be paying the same price. Ecuadorians also get cheap airfare so are able to travel to and from the islands very easily due to the governments fuel subsidiary.

The place is overpopulated for what it is. My guide-book, published in 2010 said the population in total was 20,000 people. Three years on and it is now in actual fact… 30,000. How far will this go? Still hard for me to imagine there are that many people and hordes of tourists passing through such a fragile place every year. It’s no secret we are the most destructive species on earth, intended or not. What will the population be in two or three more years as tourism continues to grow (Ecuador is one of the top ten destinations in the world now) and more locals flock to the islands for… mooooney.

UNESCO has labelled the Galapagos Islands as being in DANGER. So this is all serious business. What will prevail, preservation, meaningful, useful preservation and seriousness, or the dollar?

Ugly

The rubbish. How on earth can the Galapagos Islands be so untidy and polluted in some parts? Have we absolutely no respect for any environment at all? Even something as special as this? Do we need to fuck everything up before we learn? Anyway not going into detail, same shit, similar story across much of South America and much of the world but Galapagos? Baffled. Astonished.

Dumb ass westerners with no brains and too much money. They are everywhere. I am not sure everyone who visits the islands gives a shit about Darwin’s finches or sustainability, history, evolution or more. Galapagos should be a place of much learning and enlightenment, and it should be looked after, leading me to my last ugly point…

Full of shit people branding their company as being sustainable or eco-friendly but doing nothing beyond that – simply branding themselves so took look good, or like they actually give a shit about animals, plants, nature, the environment in total. It goes a lot further than making your company look green. And this is something that applies all over the world from food shops to boat companies to hiking business. Leave bullshit for Hollywood. They got it covered.

The above is a phenomenon I am so sick of seeing and really pisses me off. I see it back home in Australia, throughout South America, and even Galapagos. Come on. Pretending to be green isn’t going to solve anything, in fact, it’s only going to slow and already slow change that should be happening at a much faster pace and sadly is a global condition. Not a one-off.

So… Sure, you should go, but as my friend Lukas said, don’t go there looking for a cute animal experience where you can be all cuddly with seals and touch things that you would not normally touch, see or even be close to. Go there to learn, to experience, to respect and to widen your eyes and understanding of the world and something as raw and real as evolution and diversity which Ecuador is number one for, especially Galapagos. But be respectful, be mindful.

… And please, put your fucking rubbish where it belongs!

Free and inexpensive things to do on the Galapagos Islands

Hello. This is a list of all the free or quite inexpensive things to on the islands should you be looking to backpack around the islands for a few weeks, give or take, without spending a lot of money as I attempted to do (I stayed for ten days). I left all my maps and items at a hostel in Quito for someone else to take and/or use, so I may have left out a few places for each island, though I hope this gets you started.

San Cristobal

Playa Mann (free)
A great beach with few people and dozens and dozens of seals. Babies, females, dominant males, mothers breastfeeding their young. Free and a ten or fifteen minute walk from town depending on your pace. Great sunsets too. Many birds flying around at all times.

Centro de Interpretacion (free)
Also a short walk from town and highly informative, information in Spanish and/or English. A must see if you want to really understand the islands and their history.

Las Tijeretas (free)
This is behind the Interpretation Center, there are several paths leading to it where you can see much on land and in the water if you have snorkeling gear (rent it for the day, you can see sea turtles). The paths are nice to walk. There is also a good beach at Punto Carola. with more seals. Many bird species and masses of iguanas are visible too.

El Junco crater (free)
A lake in the crater of a now dormant volcano. You can take buses or taxis (very expensive) though I took a bike. I suggest renting a bike and allocating a day to get there, visit the site for a few hours and enjoy the downhill ride back. Its a few hours getting there, about 15km mostly uphill via the village El Progreso. Just hope the weather is good and that everything isn’t clouded over by mist and fog. Go to Planet Bike in town for a bicycle, see Luis, $10 for the day. Best price.

El Progreso (free)
A short bike ride or maybe 40 minute walk to this inland and very small town. See many species of Darwin’s Finches along the way as well as curious varieties of trees and very colourful plant and flower species. Nice to do, on your way to El Junco. Take a bike!

300 year old Ceibo tree and treehouse (El Progreso, free)
Ask for the house with the 300 year old Ceibo tree, which also houses a treehouse that you can stay in ($20 per night, sleeps up to three, had a double bed and one single, amazing little place). Owners have a large garden full of ducks and ducklings, geese and a few really cool dogs. They also run a restaurant. Call Maria Elena on 0994697733 for details or to book. The treehouse absolutely rocks. Apparently you can camo there for $5 so bring your tent! Don’t leave it at a friends in Quito as I did.

La Loberia (free)
Maybe 45 minute walk from town? A mostly rocky beach with some sand past the military base, with many seals and iguanas. Would have good sunsets too given its orientation.

Punto Chino (free)
A beach about 10km past El Junco if you have a bike and want to continue, or can afford the taxi. I did not get there so am sparse on details for this location.

Puerto Baquierzo Moreno (free)
The main town, its nice to explore, take photos, look at the plants and trees, see sunsets and sunrises, hang with the countless hilarious seals chilling out all over the main promenade and dock area. Talk to the locals. Get to know the island.

Playa de Oro (free)
Between town and Playa Mann, a smaller beach, with many people but also many seals too. A nice mix of life and a fun and close place to visit without having to go far at all.

El Cañon & Tongo Reef (free)
I did not get here but these are both free and accessible from behind the airport and military zones. El Cañon is meant to be a good surf spot.

Jacinta Gordillo Breeding Center for Giant Turtles (free)

Santa Cruz

Puerto Ayora (free)
This is the most touristic and developed island, you can walk around and explore the town for a while, it’s really tourist heavy though. The docks and wharfs are nice, and the town center is lively at night, and on the outskirts you can see many animals in human habitats. Of course, there are always many seals about the main wharf and promenade.

Media Luna (free)
Take a bike and ride there (about an hour to and via the town Bellavista) – once you get to the foot of the hill it is about a two-hour hike and will give you fantastic panoramic views of the mountain.

Charles Darwin Research Centre (free)
Fifteen to twenty-minute walk at most from town, just ask how to get there, it’s very close. Great place to wander around for a few hours, there is a giant tortoise breeding centre and iguana breeding centre, you will see countless iguanas on the way, and several of Darwin’s finches in the gardens and on the trails. There is also information on Lonesome George, finches in general, evolution and two small galleries/museums. I really liked the garden with many natural types of local fauna from the islands.

Shark viewing at ship ports during the night (free)
I did not hang around long enough to see any but the sharks are attracted to light so go down with a spliff and hang there for a while! Bring your camera for some night photography if its your thing.

Bahia Torguga (free)
Large expanse of beach for surfing, currents are dangerous so be weary. It is a short walk from town to the entry where you walk along a path for about 30-40 minutes – you will see countless species of finches, iguanas, insects, I did this twice as it was excellent and swimming after is nice and refreshing. When you get to the surf beach go right for another 15-20 minutes and you will get to the bay, which is very still and tranquil as it is closed off from the ocean by rocks. You can see turtles, iguanas, flamingoes, blue footed boobies, finches, even, if you are lucky, harmless varieties of sharks in the bay. One of my favourite sports. You can spend a day between the beaches and walking back and forth from town.

El Chato Tortoise Reserve ($3, or free?)
The women let us in for free. Continue past and to the right of Bellavista on your bike when you get to the main road of the small town for about 40 minutes or an hour? Can’t remember. It is a bit of an uphill slug but makes the ride back nice and cruisy. You will see an abundance of turtles, possibly mating. There are many bird species too. From here you can also visit the lava tunnels.

Lava Tuneles ($3 or free?)
Covered with the price of the turtle reserve the tunnels are located on the same area of land, there are two or three that you can explore – bring a light, the lights went off when we were down there and you will be in complete darkness if this happens making it super difficult to get out. There are nice flower species along the way to the reserves, as well as very old trees and interesting scrub growing alongside and on them.

Garrapatero Beach (free)
An excellent beach for swimming, that you can also camp at if you ask for permission. Follow the signs from Bellavista, though head right when you get to the main road of the town. There are poison apple trees, many birds, mangroves. Might take around three hours on a bike and make sure you allocate time to get back in the evening, otherwise you may find yourself stuck in the dark with a difficult ride ahead… on loose dirt and gravel roads.

Pan de Chocolate (50c)
This is a must try. When you get to the main fork in the road at Bellavista, go right, a few stores ahead on your right (of the street) will be a small bakery.Try the chocolate bread, i is divine!

Isabela

Puerto Villamil (free)
Soon, this town is going to change from a dirt road, underdeveloped quiet town into a busy and more expensive tourist hotspot. If you get there soon, walk around and explore the whole town on foot. It has such a quiet peaceful ambience about it. There is an amazing Panaderia somewhere in the centre that has the best cheese empanadas I tried in South America with sugar on the bread – look for a newly built shop, totally decked out in nice wooden panelling and detail, you will know it when you see it. Take the hammocks, chill with the locals, soak in the beach and the palm trees on this big but remote and somewhat isolated island. It’s very different to Santa Cruz.

Beaches (free)
Just off the main part of town are huge huge expanses of white sand, palm and coco tree-lined beaches, you will most likely have a big stretch all to yourself. Enjoy.

Laguna Salinas and surrounding Pozos (free)
Flamingoes, iguanas, ducks and more everywhere, and the ponds are really beautiful especially in the light of the sun both during the day and at sunset!

El Muro de las Lagrimas (free)
A wall built by prisoners who first settled and worked on the islands Isabela.

Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre (free)
Just outside of town near the pozos. I skipped this but head there if you are not sick of giant turtles already!

Volcan Sierra Negra (free, if you ride there)
I was not able to get there as I had injured my knee and was not spending $20-30 on a tour obviously, but if you get there and hike you get mad views of the island.

Volcan Chico (free, with bike)
As above. An active volcano that last erupted in the 1970s!

Concha de Perla (free)
About a twenty-five minute walk from town, or, if you are at the wharf, about five minutes or even less. One of the most beautiful bays, closed off from the ocean but still connected. Amazing for swimming. Jump in and don’t stop for 80m until you get to the rock edge! You can also snorkel here, there are many seals and varieties of fish.

Mirador (free)
Can’t miss it, its situated on the main beach, a good spot for sunset and photography, and to look at countless iguanas loafing about on rocks and moving around lazily.

Hammocks (free)
Oddly, the only islands with hammocks (what?!), take to one and relax, catch some sun, read or whatever. You will feel amazing. It was like being back on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. ;)