Thursday, September 26, 2013

Passport Renewal and Tangara

When we started on this adventure to Cuenca three years ago (and all the paperwork that went with it), we never thought we would  live to see the day when we had to renew our passports. But it happened a couple of weeks ago and we had to take a trip to Guayaquil to renew Mark's passport -- mine doesn't expire for another six years.

Normally when we travel to Guayaquil, we stay at the Courtyard Marriott or HM International, but this time we decided to do something different and stay on the the Malecon del Salado side of Guayaquil at the Tangara Guest House.

The two Malecons: Malecon 2000 and  Malecón del Salado are located on opposite ends of 9 de Octubre. If I had to choose which one I liked better, it would definitely be Malecón del Salado because you can see a sunset and it's salt water (not muddy water from the Guayas). And at night there's nothing better than to watch the bridges light up and stroll along the river, have a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants, and feel the cool ocean breeze. The mangroves, the salt water and the boats of the Malecón made me think we were back in the Galapagos. We had such a great time enjoying the Malecón that I actually forgot what brought us to Guayaquil in the first place (PASSPORT!).

Malecon del Salado at Sunset

Malecon Harbor

Looking toward 9 de Octubre along the Malecon

The Malecon all lit up!

More Restaurants along the Malecon
Malecon Salado
One of the many restaurants along the Malecon
We enjoyed our stay at the Tangara Guest House and would definitely go there again. The owner, Antonio, speaks English and made sure that we were comfortable in our room and explained how to get to the Malecon. The Tangara is a block from the University of Guayaquil and thanks to a shortcut through the university, you can arrive at the Malecón del Salado in about five minutes (walking). Antonio also honored the voucher we received from Despegar, so our total bill came to $56 which included a wonderful "desayuno."

Courtyard at Tangara
Desayuno at Tangara with fresh juice, eggs, toast, fruit and choice of beverages.

Courtyard at Tangara
The following morning after a relaxing time in the courtyard of the Tangara, the staff called a taxi and took us to the Consulate.

The passport renewal process starts online at at the Consulate General website. You go to US Citizen Services and click on passports (16 years and older). Mark printed off the DS-82 form and filled it out. He printed two copies just in case (we've learned the hard way that it's always better to have more than less). The cost is $110 which you pay when you're at the Consulate.

You will need to make an appointment online at the website and print out the confirmation form (very important!). We made our appointment at 1:00 p.m. so we could have the morning free to explore Guayaquil. If anyone is going with you to the Consulate, you will need to put their name on the form as well (as a guest).

You will need to bring the following items with you to Guayaquil:
*Old passport.
*Passport photos 2 x 2, color, white background (matte).
*Application form filled out (DS-82).
*Money ($110) in cash.
*Appointment confirmation sheet.

Address of the Consulate:
U.S. Consulate General
9 de Octubre y Garcia Moreno
Guayaquil, Ecuador                                                 

The Consulate is located on 9 de Octubre right next to the Oro Verde Hotel. I got so excited when I saw the American flag that I whipped out my camera and took a picture. I suggest that you don't do that. It was the day before 9/11 and it was not a good time to take photos of the Consulate; there was heightened security and the guards "reminded" me to put my camera away! After that close encounter we headed to the first checkpoint.

Oro Verde Hotel next to Consulate

Sidewalk Cafe on 9 de Octubre

Hint: Do not bring anything with you except your documents; leave everything else at your hotel. I always carry hand sanitizer, my camera, and a "few" other things. I'm not sure what they thought of my Bath and Body pink grapefruit hand sanitizer, but evidently they were suspicious. I was asked to pour some on my hands, which I did and then they motioned to my chest, so I rubbed it on my neck and chest and then proceeded to rub some on Mark's bald head. I guess if we were going down, we were going together. Strangely, that didn't satisfy them, so I put some more on my hands.

Silly me! I forgot that my passport was located around my neck in a pink passport holder and "yes" that is what they wanted, so I handed it over. If you are a guest, you will need to bring your passport as well. My camera also received an inspection and the battery was removed.

Next came the wand lady (just like at the airport), so be sure to take everything out of your pockets. We were then directed to pass through the metal detector. My "confiscated" items were put in a box on the metal table -- ready to be retrieved on the other side. When entering the Consulate doors, the guard took my items (in the box) and I was  given a number that corresponded to the "casillero" where my items were placed. My reward for being a good citizen was a clip-on name badge that said "ACS" (American Citizen Services).

Once inside we were directed to go upstairs to the waiting room and listened for Mark's name to be called. When his name was announced, Mark went up to the reception window and turned in his application and surrendered his old passport. A few questions were asked and we were told to pay the $110 downstairs and bring back the two receipts. After turning in the receipts, we waited for about 5 minutes. They called us back to the receiving window and told us everything was okay and that a new passport would be issued in 10 days with e-mail confirmation. We went back downstairs, turned in my "key" and retrieved my belongings and were escorted to the exit area.

You will get an e-mail confirmation letting you know that your passport is ready to be picked up. But one of the representatives e-mailed us and said he would bring Mark's passport to Cuenca personally as he was doing a presentation at the school where we teach English. What a nice surprise!

After our appointment at the Consulate we celebrated with a chai latte across the street at Sweet and Coffee before we headed back to the bus station. We also ran into a few friends in Guayaquil and ended up having lunch together; it's a small world!

It was only 24 hours, but it seemed like a mini-vacation. We had a great trip to the Malecón, encountered some excitement at the Consulate, and enjoyed the ride back home through the Cajas while I got caught up on some Kindle reading.

Rainbow through the clouds...

Bus at night -- "Cuenca Taxi"
The first time we've taken the bus at night -- a whole new experience!
Of note, Mark picked up his passport from the Consulate folks who came to CEDEI school, but the residency page of his visa will need to be replaced in his new passport. For that we will need to make an appointment at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. It seems that you just can't rip out the old residency page and put it in your new passport. We'll keep you posted as to that process as well.

The passport renewal process was certainly easier than getting our residency visas and a lot more fun!

Until next time...hasta luego!


One of the books that I read while on the bus to Guayaquil was The Mapmaker's Wife which is an intriguing read. You'll gain a lot of rich history into Ecuador and the Amazon.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Is the Galapagos Worth It?

Sally Lightfoot Crab -- Santa Cruz
It's been a couple of weeks since we returned from the Galapagos and it seems that everyone has an opinion of the place. We've heard some say it was the best vacation of their life and others say it was just "okay."  I think it has to do with two things: expectations and cost. I can tell you right now, if we paid more than $25 per person for lodging a night we would have been disappointed. I only say that because we saw just as many -- if not more -- creatures at Isla de la Plata than we did in the Galapagos, except marine iguanas and tortoises. Of course, we went to Isla de la Plata (Poor Man's Galapagos) in July when the blue footed boobies and frigate birds were mating and the humpback whales were breaching. Our snorkeling experience was excellent as well -- enjoying a variety of tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins and sea lions.

The Galapagos is a different kind of experience; it's a mixture of Jurassic Park meets Marine World! And it's definitely not a lay in your hammock vacation, although I'm sure there are some who take it easy while in the Galapagos; we just weren't one of them. We literally dropped into bed every night -- going, going, going all day until we couldn't take another step.

We saw more than our share of creatures on the island, but they weren't all at the same place at the same time. You may be disappointed if you go to a particular island and only want to see flamingos, but you end up taking pictures of yellow finches because that's all there is to see. 

Taking the ferry from Baltra to Santa Cruz

Blue Footed Boobie

Santa Cruz Island -- Baltra to Puerto Ayora

That being said, we had a wonderful time in the Galapagos and want to go back! We flew into Baltra Airport and took the ferry to Santa Cruz Island (Puerto Ayora), which is the most populated island of the Galapagos with a variety of restaurants and hotels. We stayed in a small hostel that was right across the street from the Ninfa Lagoon and on the way to Tortuga Bay. It was a 5-minute walk into town which made it convenient, yet we were far enough away from the noise that we had a peaceful night's sleep. Breakfast was served at Hospedaje Germania from 7:00 - 8:00 a.m., but sadly I never got up that early. I ended up enjoying my veggie omelet across the street at Casa del Lago around 9:00 a.m. on their lovely veranda.

Breakfast spot!
We were on a mission to stay within a budget of $1,200 total for the entire trip, including airfare, two nights' stay in Guayaquil, meals and taxis (a total of seven days).  I'm pleased to say we did it! The average person spends anywhere between two to ten thousand dollars. You can find cheap airfare at for $279 per person on TAME and lodging for as low as $10 per night. Since August is considered low season, you can bargain with hostels. If you're a planner, you may not feel comfortable with that, so making reservations is a reasonable option.

The weather was perfect: 64 at night and 74 during the day with sun-filled days and no humidity. The water temperatures were fairly cool due to the Humboldt current, but we found it refreshing and in shallow water it was warm.

One of the biggest decisions you will need to make before booking a trip is to decide whether you are going to be land based or cruise the Galapagos. The cruise ships can handle anywhere from 16 to 100 people -- traveling at night and arriving in the morning for island exploration. Cruises can range from two days to ten days and each island has its own unique experience, so if time and money aren't a consideration then I'd probably vote for a cruise! Since we were "Galapagosing" on a budget, we opted to stay on Santa Cruz and do day trips.

Galapagos Sea Lion sunbathing with Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Yep, he's favorite little guy on the island!

Marine Iguana at Puerto Ayora

Tortuga -- 100 plus years old
There were two big surprises: The famous Tortuga Bay was not my favorite beach (Garrapatero Beach won my heart) and the tortoises -- I couldn't wait to meet -- were definitely not that great. But the marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs and Galapagos Sea Lions were mesmerizing and definitely ate up most of my "film."

Tortuga Bay with a "few" visitors! 
Panorama of Tortuga Bay
Marine Iguana
Sally Lightfoot Crabs at Tortuga Bay

Marine Iguana slithering around at Tortuga Bay
Darwin  Finch in the white sand of Tortuga Bay

Trail to Tortuga Bay --  2.5 km
Our favorite day was a trip across the island (14 miles) to Garrapatero Beach which can only be described as beautiful and exotic. For half the day, we had the entire place to ourselves which was amazing after fighting the crowds at Tortuga Bay. Overnight camping is allowed at Garrapatero and kayaks are available to rent for exploring the coves and inlets. We actually went there to see the flamingos, but ended up finding so many varieties of birds that we couldn't name them all. I would have gladly traded a few more days at Garrapatero and it will definitely be the first place we go when we return. They are in the process of making a bike trail from Puerto Ayora to Garrapatero and it should be completed by next year. However, we took a taxi (ida y vuelta) which was $25 and arranged a time for our taxista to pick us back up. The taxis are not yellow cabs like we're used to in Cuenca, but rather four-seater white Toyota trucks!

Santa Cruz in relationship to the other islands of the Galapagos

Garrapaterro Beach -- my favorite!

The waters of Garrapatero Beach
Kayaking at Garrapatero

Garrapatero's white sand beach

Marine iguana hanging around the lava rocks

Emerald and Turquoise Waters of Garrapatero
Crabby Rock

Opuntias (cacti) found everywhere on the island
Wear water shoes -- the lava rocks can sneak up on you!
The most memorable evening was my birthday which we spent at Angermeyer Waterfront Inn.  We took a water taxi (panga) from Puerto Ayora to the other side of the bay where Finch Bay Hotel and Angermeyer Inn reside. We had reserved seating right by the water and admired the colorful lights of Puerto Ayora and listened to the vibrant music coming from the yachts in the bay. The other nights we ate at Hernan's Cafe, Galapagos Deli or Il Giardino, but a special occasion called for one night's splurge. The staff of the Angermeyer is a class act and sang "Happy Birthday" in English along with complimentary dessert.

Sea lion lounging on the deck!
Puerto Ayora
Angermeyer Inn Restaurant

Yachts and Pangas
Pier at Puerto Ayora
There's more to tell about our trip, but I'll save that for next time. In my estimation, the Galapagos was an adventure of a lifetime and totally worth it. We did a lot of walking, hiking, trekking, swimming and snorkeling -- not much laying around in a hammock. We would fall into bed at night and not remember hitting the pillow -- only to wake up the next morning for more of the same.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely!

Until next time...hasta luego,

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