Buenos días, Perú! Máncora and Trujillo

08.10. – 14.10.2016

Our last days in Ecuador are over and we are very curious for Peru, especially because our plan is to spend minimum 5 weeks here – the longest time in one country so far!

We have booked an early morning bus from Cuenca in Ecuador to Máncora in Peru, a small northern coastal city. All in all it should take us 8 hours to get there, assuming that at the border it takes us probably 1 hour. We will learn what a wrong conclusion this was. 🙂 As we approach the border we first have to quickly change buses, since ours stays in Ecuador. Hurrying in the new bus, checking our stuff – good, we didn’t forget anything, what a relief… the last time we rushed out of a bus like this Jakub sadly left one lower part of his zipp off pants in the bus. 🙂 He still grieves for it…At the border we can already see the long line of people waiting for immigration – 1 hour is a very optimistic guess! In the end we would wait 3.5 hours. What was the problem? Let’s analyze it from a German perspective 🙂

  • no separation of citizens and foreigners
  • the line was not a line but more a circle and no one knew which spot one had
  • no arranged lanes or safety barriers (see example airport immigration)
  • police was there, but when people almost started a fight because obviously new arrivals tried to sneak in the line did not intervene
  • from 5 office workers who do immigration, 3 were women being more busy with chatting

If someone from the Peruvian border reads this: no offense guys, but from all the borders we’ve crossed in Central and South America you seriously stole the show.  😉

But hey, we have time and anyway cannot change the fact that we need this stamp. But the end was near and as we were back in the bus, the ride to Máncora continued an after 12 hours we arrived. And we learnt 2 days later from an English couple that you can even wait longer at the border: 11 hours!! Due to a blackout and no internet. Hell yeah, we were lucky.

Approaching Máncora we saw the sunset over the ocean and looked forward to a couple of days on O meters in altitude and sun! Since tomorrow would be Jakubs birthday my initial plan was to organize stuff once we arrive in Máncora in the afternoon… well, due to the waiting time at the border this didn’t work out at all, very disappointing. Luckily Jakub forgave me and we enjoyed a long birthday breakfast the next day, had some fresh juice at the beach and booked a whale watching tour for the next day (which was supposed to be his present for today). 🙂

At 6:30am the next day our driver picked us up together with another group of people to drive to the harbor. We were super excited and curious – would we even see some whales? There’s of course no guarantee for it, but reading more about the whales on the internet we found out that the high season is from July until end of October. During these weeks, the whale cows take care of their babies, feed them and teach them how to do jumps out of the water. By the end of October they migrate back further South were their feeding ground contains more nutrition. Sounds like we have a good chance! We start heading to the open ocean with our boat and spot all of a sudden a huge swarm of dolphins, playing in the water and jumping next to the boat, spectacular! But then… they are here… humpback whales, mothers with their babies, diving up to catch some breath and disappearing in the ocean again. What a spot!! These animals are enormous and can have a body length of up to 17m, the females being bigger than males. We are thrilled to see them diving up and down and catching breath. Suddenly, the boat goes faster and there it is: a jumping whale, just like you normally see it in documentaries on tv! 🙂 It’s a young whale and obviously he practices jumping with his mum, amazing. He keeps turning in the water as well and it appears to be a wave at us – a dance of the whales. 😉 The whole boat is excited and we’re so happy about this encounter. An amazing morning which ends with a visit of the museum and a lot of great information. What we really liked is that the company “Pacifico Adventures” had marine biologists on the boat who were very careful in the treatment of the animals and kept distance. Highly recommended if you are in Máncora!!

It's Sunday and everyone's at the beach!

It’s Sunday and everyone’s at the beach!

How many pelicans fit on one Fisher boat?

How many pelicans fit on one Fisher boat?

Dolphins

Dolphins

A humpback whale trying his first jumps

A humpback whale trying his first jumps

The rest of afternoon we spent packing and planning the further route through Peru – do we still wanna see the Amazon rain forest or head directly to the mountains…? Still not sure what to do we decided to take a night bus to Trujillo, another city at the coast.

We arrive at 7:30am in Trujillo after a surprisingly comfortable bus in which we’ve booked a cama seat. The buses here have different options, for example the cama seat (“cama” means bed in Spanish), on which you can lean back 160°, on the 1st floor of the bus and additionally, waitress service is included. 😉 The semi cama is 145° and of course cheaper and then there’s the super cheap option with economic seat.

Arriving at the hostel the nice lady offered us breakfast and gave us a detailed map and tips what to see. We decided to not lose time and visit the famous Chan Chan ruins close by. They used to be the capital  from an ancient culture called “Chimu”, who lived before the Inca conquered Perú. At peak times around the year 1300, approximately 60.000 people lived there. The UNESCO declared Chan Chan as a World Cultural Heritage, although it git destroyed mainly by the weather phenomenon “El Niño.”

Chan Chan ruins

Chan Chan ruins

Unfortunately, not a lot of information was given at the actual site (unless you wanted to pay a guide on top of the entrance fee) which is why we didn’t spend a lot of time there and took a bus to Huanchaco, a famous beach town. The weather was great and we felt sleepy from the night in the bus, so we relaxed at the beach and returned late in the afternoon to Trujillo. Walking through the city center we felt like coffee and stopped at the next restaurant to have one to go. Apparently the people here are a little bit confused when asking for a coffee to go, because the waiter looked startled and asked us to sit down. Then he brought two plastic cups and asked us to prepare our coffee by ourselves… okay!? He then brought a big cup of hot water, a big cup of milk and “essence of coffee”, as he explained. Which was cold..we were looking at each other, not knowing if we should either laugh, cry or run away. 🙂 So we started mixing and left quickly, missing the good old Colombian coffee times. *sigh* Oh, and another anecdote: if we ever thought that the we have found the city with the loudest and most honking cars, we were wrong. It is Trujillo. Reasons for honking can vary, but we think we found out a pattern when they honk: I’m coming, watch out, I’m leaving, watch out, go out of my way, stay there I’ll pass, Hola chica, you look beautiful!, you f%*”$# idiot! and many more. 😉

Our next day trip brought us to another well known site around Trujillo, the “Huaca de la Luna”. It’s a pyramid built by the Moche culture between the 3rd to the 8th century AD at the foot of the Cerro Blanco mountain. Here, we first visited the museum to learn a lot about the people and their beliefs, about the construction of the pyramid and the findings. Then we visited the actual site (with a guide, included in the price ;)) and were stunned by the paintings and the enormous size of it. Most of the paintings show mystic personalities, animal forms, anthropological creatures as well as stars, flowers and the sun. What we learned is that Peru is definitely not only about the Inca! 🙂

Huaca de la Luna

Huaca de la Luna

Beautiful painting on the inner wall

Beautiful painting on the inner wall

The outside wall

The outside wall

Bye Bye Trujillo!

Bye Bye Trujillo!

On our last day in Trujillo we finally made up our minds and decided not to head to Iquitos, the jungle city, but to continue down and see Huaraz, a city in the Andes famous for its trekking routes and beautiful nature. Up again on 3,100m!

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Galapagos Islands – a Miracle of Flora and Fauna

28.09. – 04.10.2016

Galapagos, here we go! We really did think about whether to visit these islands or not, since the costs are immense  – but we will never come back to Ecuador only to visit Galapagos, so let’s do it. We finally sit in the airplane which brings us to Baltra Island, where we are supposed to be picked up from our guide from our boat Santa Cruz II. Oh my god!! The famous Galapagos islands, and we are here! But what is so special about these islands? Here is a brief introduction:

The Galapagos Islands area situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the Ecuadorian coast. This archipelago and its immense marine reserve is known as the unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. Its geographical location at the confluence of three ocean currents makes it one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual plant and animal life – such as marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, giant tortoises, huge cacti, endemic trees and the many different subspecies of mockingbirds and finches – all of which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835.

The Galápagos Islands may just inspire you to think differently about the world. The creatures that call the islands home, many found nowhere else in the world, act as if humans are nothing more than slightly annoying paparazzi. [Source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1 and  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ecuador/the-galapagos-islands/introduction]

To be honest, we are really curious what the rest of the guests on the cruise might be like… in our imagination, we’ll be sitting at dinner with 70 years old ladies and gentlemen, being dressed fancy and watching us suspiciously. 🙂 We’re more than happy when we spy some other backpacks being loaded on the bus which transfers us to the dock to board the boat – more young people like us, yes! 😉

Day 1
With small boats, called Pangas we are being brought to the very big cruise ship, lying majestically a couple of meters away from the dock. On board, the crew welcomes us with a delicious Guanabana juice and we are being brought to our room. OMG. The second of many “OMG’s” which will follow. 🙂 Our room is great, with a huge bed, oceanview and a comfortable bathroom size. Right away lunch is served from the buffett – delicious, OMG. 😉 We enjoy choosing whatever we would like to eat and how much we want to eat. We are in food heaven! We sit alone at our table for 6, when the waiter points two girls in our direction: Martina and Eveline from Switzerland, our lovely company for the next 5 days. 🙂

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Our home for the next days

Our home for the next days

Our program, except eating half of the lunch buffet, is to see North Seymour Island in the afternoon. We already have our group with which we’ll be visiting all of the surrounding islands and additionally, our guide Henry who will explain us evey detail about Galapagos. The first island, according to Henry shows a wildlife full of bird colonies, blue footed boobies, sea lions, land iguanas and frigate bird. And wow, we saw each one of them, even the famous blue footed boobies, which are endemic species on the islands. This island set the expectations already very high and we cannot wait to explore more!!

Never leave the boat without the life jacket!

Never leave the boat without the life jacket!

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Sea lion

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Land Iguana

Our Guide Henry :)

Our Guide Henry 🙂

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Day 2
We cruised through the night to reach Isabela Island the next morning. We actually crossed the equator twice on our way! Our destination on the island is Punta Vicente Rosa, where we start exploring the coast by panga. Well, at least I’m sitting in a boat while Jakub discovers the under water world by snorkelling. We saw turtles floating through the water, sea lions playing in the water and again, the camera couldn’t capture these incredible moments. Returning from the boat ride the first thing I did was joining Martina and Eveline for the jacuzzi – so posh. 😉

In the afternoon, Fernandina Island (Punta Espinoza), the youngest island of the archipelago awaits us. It offers a very unique environment with black lava soil and mangrove trees. Black Marine iguanas take a sunbath on the hot stones, a Manta rey in a laggoon majestically makes circles, sea lions sleep ashore and we spot the flightless cormorant! Evolution at its finest, because the flightless cormorant regressed his wings to be able to dive depeer. A great day ends and although the program will be strict during the next day, we enjoy this cruise so much.

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Fernandina Island

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Birds Nesting Area

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Hiding Sea Lion babies

Hiding Sea Lion babies

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Manta Rey

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Day 3
This day we start on Isabela Island again at Tagus Cove. We disembark with the pangas at this island, which provided a favorite anchorage for pirates and whalers over the centuries. A short uphill hike to the rim of a crater allows us to see the Darwin lake, filled with salt water. Afterwards, we head to the snorkel area. Lucky us that the Santa Cruz offers wetsuits, since the water temperature is only 18C!! Everyone tells me later that they saw turtles and even pinguins in the water… I only saw rocks and later my goggles floating down to the ground…I lost them, grrr. 🙂 Moreover, we suddenly here through the speakers: “Room No 105, Jakub and Ellen, are you back on board? Please come to the reception!” Damn it! We forgot to sign back in after our disembark! 🙂 The Santa Cruz ship hung a magnet wall with all the rooms and the amount of people in the rooms on the wall you necessarily pass before you leave the ship. The magnets need to be put on when you leave and removed when back…we forgot to remove them… happened once and never again! 🙂
Later that day we check Urbina Bay, a fascinating result of uplifting of ocean floor in 1954 and do a light walk to see huge land iguanas. This evening, we learn that Eveline is an amazing musician! We sip some rum on the deck  and Eveline plays her guitar and sings…we hope this cruise never ends. 😉

Penguin!!

Penguin!!

Darwin Lake

Darwin Lake

Land Iguana...just doesn't care that we're there

Land Iguana…just doesn’t care that we’re there

Beautiful Turtle

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Day 4
Its already the 4th day on our cruise ship, time flies by! But we’re busy from morning until evening and really have to say: the itinerary and program are perfect!
Today we stop at Santa Cruz island, Puerto Ayora, the main island of the Galapagos islands. We disembark to visit the Charles Darwin Research station, which serves as the headquarters of scientific research as well. Here we see the giant tortoise breeding center and visit the museum.
Since we indeed enjoy the food on the boat and always eat a lot, we decided for some workout and do a bike tour to an ecological sugar cane farm. 😉 Our guides tell us all about the production process and the making of the strong sugar cane alcohol the farm sells, when we observe 2 Chinese guys from our boat holding 2 bottles of this alcohol in their hands. Okay, we have to admit: the alcohol is filled in small plastic bottles and might be confused with water… which obviously happened to the Chinese, because they take a huge sip and suddenly spit everything out! OMG, we’re almost dying from laughing!! 🙂 🙂 I know I know, it’s so mean to not warn these poor people, but “for the show” it was hilarious. 🙂

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Someone waits for fish :)

Someone waits for fish 🙂

Giant Turtoise

Giant Turtoise

As we head to the highlands of the island to have lunch, we pass many green fields and are stunned to see giant turtoises walking around! Just like cows on meadow in Germany, we see the turtoises here in the nature – so cool! Our day ends with a great live band in the evening, playing some folklore songs from Ecuador. Man, this cruise really knows how to make us happy. 😉

Day 5
Day No 5 is dedicated to Floreana island, where we head to the post office bay. Here we find a very cool place and love the story about it: there is this historic barrell where postcards are traditionally left for guests from other vessels to hand deliver them to their destination. Whalers and sailors used this system hundreds of years ago to bring news to their families. So whenever some ships stopped at the barrell the old sailors checked if the adresses of the letters are close to their home to bring it to the familiars – awesome! Of course we took some postcards with adresses of Stuttgart and also left one card… I’m curious when someone from Biberach stops by … 🙂

Post Office Bay

Post Office Bay

When might we get our Postcard...?

When might we get our Postcard…?

Afterwards, we kayak around the island and enjoy the warm sunny day on the sea. One last time we signed up for snorkelling at Champion islet and cormorant point. The water is actually crazy wild and the current strong, but once in we observe the wonderful marine life, we see sharks, turtles, sea lions, and colorful fish. We are so amazed by the wildlife and fascinated by it. The nature here is wonderful! Galapagos also taught us a lot about the protection of this sensitive eco system which we do keep in mind and are very careful when seeing animals. Watching is okay, but no touching. Keep distance to them, because you are the visitor, not them! But most of the animals were too curious and came very close!

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Curious Sea Lion

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He wants to steal our camera 🙂

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Elegant Sea Lion underwater

Shark!

Shark!

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The last evening on the boat offers a great program : we sing Karaoke!! 🙂 Of course I decided for a classic song: Backstreet Boys, Quit playing games with my heart. 😉 Thanks again, Eveline, for your wonderful voice and the support, haha!

Day 6
Nooo! Is it really over!? Do we again have to plan everything by ourselves?? 😉 Honestly, it was a welcomed alternation to our typical way of travelling and we did enjoy it a lot to not needing to take care of accommodation and trips for one week.

For the last time we appreciate the wonderful breakfast buffet, the ocean around us, the great people we met and even get to see a presentation of all the pictures the boat photographer took during this week.

We disembark together and say good-bye to the amazing week! All in all, this cruise was simply marvellous. Beginning with the great itinerary which allowed us to see the remotest islands, the guides who were so passionate about their job and the nature they wanna protect and ending with the new friends we have made and the “worry-free-package”. We have seen a whole new world and realized that this trip has also changed the way we behave in nature, giving each animal their natural space and carefully taking steps when being outdoors. There is always the option to explore the Galapagos archipelago on one’s own and plan day trips to the islands. However, we seriously enjoyed the planned route and trips and recommend doing a cruise to fully immerse in this miraculous world.

 

The Quilotoa Loop

19.09. – 26.09.2016

Alrighty, since we are already super professional hikers (not really ;)), and heard from many people that the Quilotoa Loop is on every hikers bucket list, we cannot miss it! 🙂 Basically, the 3-4 day loop takes travelers on a bumpy road into the area around the Quilotoa volcano lake, leading through several villages with indigenous people and through a beautiful landscape.

It took us a little bit of planning before we got started, because we needed to leave our luggage somewhere and pack only what was necessary. We also booked our hostels in advance, which turned out to be not really necessary – most of the hostels in the villages you pass have vacancies. The trek can be done either starting at the volcano lagoon Quilotoa and end up in Latacunga, or in reverse to end up at the beautiful lake, which is the tougher trek. Guess which one we chose? 🙂 Yes, the harder one!

At our hostel in Latacunga (called “Latacunga Hostel”) the owner offered us to leave our stuff we wouldn’t pack in his storage room for free . So friendly! And now the packing started – what do we need for 4 days hiking in a height of over 3.000m and very cold nights… actually everything we have. 🙂 But we had to be aware that our backpacks would be on our backs all day long, so packing light was crucial. 3 T-shirts, 2 pants, 2 long sleeves, warm socks, and of course a warm jacket! It was actually the first time for us that we hiked with our big backpacks for several days and so we thought we’re helplessly over-packed. 🙂 In the end, it turned out that everything we carried with us we did need and that you get used to the weight pretty quick. If I learnt something on our trip, it would be, among many other things of course, to pack only what I really need…so satisfying. 😉

Okay, here we go, ready for the first big trek! We took a bus from Latacunga to Sigchos at 11:30am ( here is another one leaving at 10:30am or 12:15pm). The bus dropped us off together with 4 other tourists who obviously planned to hike the loop as well. We came to talk and noticed that they had a good map. We had none. So we better walked all together. 😉 Good decision, because with 2 of the 4 we hiked the rest of the loop and it was a lot of fun – Sonja and Artur from Germany were the perfect match for our hiking pace and great company. The first part of the trail led us on a 3.5 hours hike through green landscapes and a river valley up to Isinlivi, a small mountain village. We checked in the first hostel (called “Llullu Llama”, highly recommended!) and fell in love with this place! The fireplace was already lit on, there was coffee and tea for free and from the dining room and terrace we had a spectacular view over the valley. The sun just went down and we enjoyed these silent moments… Shortly after, dinner was served, consisting of a soup as a starter, lasagna and cake as dessert. It was so delicious! After a comfy night in the dorm beds, we enjoyed breakfast: they served homemade granola, tons of fruit, delicious bread – just perfect for a long hiking day.

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Ellen still smiling on the first day 🙂

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The view from Llullu Llama hostel

The view from Llullu Llama hostel

Day 2 started with great weather and warm temperatures. We hiked on stony paths and encountered very aggressive dogs which were fought off by Artur with his walking sticks. 🙂 Luckily, we never got lost on our way, thanks to the great map we received from Llullu Llama hostel… okay, we also had a bunch of electronic help. 😉 The trek went uphill and downhill and lasted around 5 hours. We took several small breaks, for example when it suddenly started to rain and we hid in a small cabin or when we crossed a river balancing on a tree which served as a bridge. We’re living such a risky life. 🙂 In the afternoon, we arrived at Chugchilán and checked in the hostel “Cloud Forest”, which was unfortunately not as nice as the first one but served dinner and breakfast as well.

Rainy day

Rainy day

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Hello!

Hello!

The next and last day would be the longest hike for us, because we needed to go all the way up to the Quilotoa lake as high as 3.900m. This day was the most challenging one! We constantly walked either uphill or downhill, had narrow paths but also great views over the valley and the beautiful mountains and kept either putting one layer off or on due to the changing weather conditions. We passed 2 villages where we met some indigenous school kids, being very curious about the “Gringos” and being even more curious about our sweets and candy we were about to eat. 😉 We kept hiking up and up and up and after 5.5 hours, the lake finally revealed itself with all its beauty. We made it! Strong winds welcomed us up there and that stunning view over this huge lake. Wow. It was amazing and worth to hike this exhausting trek. But: it was not the end of the hike, because we still needed to continue to the village where our hostel was. Another hour of hiking, uhh. We were all happy and exhausted when we arrived at the hostel. The charming part of this accommodation was that we had our own small oven in the room which we fired up immediately – it was super cold!! This hostel unfortunately didn’t offer free coffee or tea…we started at the best hostel and actually ended at the worst. 🙂 Anyway, we slept like rocks and the next day we took a a bus back to Latacunga, grabbing our things quickly to continue to the next place, Baños.

Ready to hike?

Ready to hike?

School kids

School kids

Beautiful lake

Beautiful lake

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Quilotoa village

Quilotoa village

All in all, and my very personal resume of the hike: it was challenging for me. I am not a trained hiker and it’s not my biggest passion to steadily hike uphill. 😉 I had fights with myself, I wondered what the hell I’m actually doing and sometimes I also thought I reached my limits… but I continued (thanks to Jakub and chocolate bars ;)) and made it. So my personal lesson is: be aware of the physical condition you have and the requirements for the trek. And tell your brain you can go further. 🙂

Jakub’s comment: It was awesome, doable, fun 🙂

Here we aaaare!

Here we aaaare!

In Baños, a village known for its hot springs and the variety of outdoor offers we decided to calm down and enjoy relaxed days after the hike. Hence, the first evening we spent in the hot springs to relax the muscles and treated ourselves to a massage. The good life. 🙂

Hot Springs

Hot Springs

The next day we signed up for our first “we do it together for the very first time” experience: rafting! Meeting at 9am, we all got our wet suits at the agency, a helmet and shoes. Driving with the bus for one hour we arrived at the river and were assigned in different groups. Our guide told us where to sit in the raft, what the different orders he would be yelling mean and how to behave in case the river is to wild and the boat flips…which, according to the guide rarely happens. Well, we ended up in the water twice and found out that the guide purposely made the boat flip and laughed about it. Not really funny for us, exposing us to such a risk purposely, since the whole group was only beginners and for the first time in a raft. And I swallowed at least 5 liters of disgusting river water and totally panicked. Exactly the reaction our guide said we should avoid. 🙂 But the last hour was surprisingly fun (we didn’t fall in the water anymore), we rushed through the rapids and enjoyed the thrill. What an experience!

Jakub’s comment: It was awesome, doable, fun 🙂

Oh shut up, Jakub! 🙂 🙂

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In total, we spent 5 days in Baños, seeing the “Casa del Arbol” from which a swing takes you into nowhere…

Casa del Arbol

Casa del Arbol

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Wuuuiiiiii 🙂

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Juhuuuuu 🙂

…and visited beautiful waterfalls.

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Ahead of us, however, lies probably the greatest experience of our whole trip so far: the Galapagos islands!!! We are super excited for our boat and cannot wait to board. We’ll tell you aaaaaall about it when we return – now we’re on vacation. Haha. 🙂

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