Travel Blog for Fredrik and Gunnhild

UNESCO World Heritage Site


The first 4 weeks of my 2 months South East Asia adventure will be spent in Sri Lanka with my good friend (and previously weekend trip travel buddy) Linda. I will meet my long time travel buddy Fredrik in the Philippines for the last 4 weeks. It is always a bit scary to travel with someone new, but so far it has been amazing although different. Fredrik and I usually move around a lot, and always have a lot of plans for things to see and do. Linda is teaching me to slow down and relax, which turns out to be pretty great too.

We arrived in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, after travelling for about 20 hours. Emirates were great, but none of us could sleep much on the flights, so we barely managed to stay awake until 7 pm before crashing for more than 12 hours. Our first impressions of Sri Lanka were that it was very green and that everyone are super friendly. Unawatuna is a small beach town on the west coast, known for its beautiful beaches and corals. Both were badly damaged by the tsunami, but the beach is still beautiful, and the coral reefs are getting better.

Our hotel, Prime Time, was located across the road from the beach. It had Swedish owners, but the manager and the staff were locals. Quite good value for money, but our backs were not too happy with the mattresses. We had peacocks, squirrels, lizards, birds and probably a lot more on the roofs and in the jungle around the hotel. Most if the time we had the shared balcony outside our room to ourselves (except the mosquitoes). We also had some drinks with staff and friends in the common area downstairs.

Most of our time in Unawatuna we spent on the beach
(or in the water actually) and in the many beach restaurants (preferably the ones with shadow and ceiling fans). It was warm and quite humid, and with 30 degrees Celsius in the water it was difficult to cool off. Sun beds were free if you bought some food and drinks, so we had
breakfast or lunch at the beach most days, and lots of fresh pineapple juice. A few people were walking around selling clothes, blankets, coconuts, souvenirs and offering tours, water sports and massages, but they were all very polite and actually took no for an answer. We got very fond of one of them, Auntie Coco, which we had a long talk with one evening.

There is only one street through town, and we walked parts of it several times every day. The tuk tuk drivers and shop owners all said hi, and when we didn’t want to buy anything they still wanted to talk or at least wish us a good day. After a few days it felt like we had friends all over town (even though they kept calling us madam). 😀 I also have to mention the quite annoying bread van (tuk tuk) driving around and playing Für Elise day and night.

We tried several different restaurants, and had so much great food. Even the more western dishes were served with some amazing local sauces, which made all the difference. Our favourite restaurant was without a doubt, Kingfisher. The first time we went there was in the middle of a thunderstorm, and we had water over our ankles on our way there. They had large, solid tents on the beach though, so we had a great time watching the rain and lightning. We even had a scorpion on the beach, trying to escape the water. All the dishes we had there were top notch, and especially their Brandy-zucchini sauce was to die for. The creamy pineapple daiquiri was amazing as a dessert, and the service was really great too.

As many of you know, we are fond of good craft beer. In Unawatuna there was only one beer available, Lion lager. Not a bad beer, but quite boring after a while. Luckily we were able to buy Lion Strong (just ok) and Lion Stout (surprisingly good) at the wine store at the main road. In the evenings we often had a couple of drinks instead of beer. Drinks made from fresh fruit are actually quite delicious, especially while lying in a pillow-filled bed at the beach listening to the waves.

We had a daytrip to nearby Galle fort. Our tuk tuk driver suggested a short stop in a herbal garden on the way there, and it was actually quite interesting. We got to taste, smell and try a lot of the different herbs and plants, and even ended up with a little shopping at the end. Galle fort was built by the Dutch in 1663, and is still a vibrant part of the city. It has lots of historic houses, churches, mosques and temples, but it was too hot for us to walk around, so we only saw a few of them. We also had a walk on the fort walls to the 18 meter high lighthouse. We had lunch in a hammock bar in the recently restored Dutch Hospital, a beautiful colonial building from the 18th century overlooking the small lighthouse beach. On our way back to Unawatuna we stopped at the spice market for some shopping and local recipes.

Another highlight was a deep tissue massage at The Sanctuary Spa. It really lived up to its name. The experience started in a beautiful and serene garden, and from the massage bed I had beautiful views of the surrounding jungle. The massage itself was really good (although a bit painful at times), and afterwards I enjoyed a fresh coconut in the peaceful garden. Lovely!

In between all the relaxation, I also had time for some scuba diving. I decided to go with Unawatuna diving center, which seemed more professional than most of the smaller places. They were very accommodating, drying and storing my gear between dives, offering free transport to and from the hotel, did all the heavy lifting and always had time for questions. They also had small groups (3 divers + guide), which was really nice. Since the water was so warm, I didn’t even need a wetsuit, just a thin rash guard. I did all dives in the morning, when the visibility was best, around 10-15 meters. The dive sites I visited was SS Rangoon wreck, SS Orestes wreck, Galle wreck and Goda Gala Diyamba. Lots of colorful fish, starfish everywhere, lionfish, cuttlefish, a giant moray out swimming and 5-6 large octopuses. Nice!

Hurghada, Cairo and Luxor

Time for a new dive trip, this time to Egypt. We ended up booking a charter trip, since that was the only direct flights to Hurghada, and we got a decent hotel for a very good price. Just 4 days before our departure we got an email from the charter company saying that due to few bookings our return flight was cancelled, and we had to travel via Copenhagen the day before instead. Not too happy about that, but not much we can do (except get some money back). Our flight from Oslo to Hurghada was not full either. Less than 50 of the 180 seats were taken, so we had plenty of space. We arrived in Hurghada around midnight, were the first ones out of the airport and were happy we had pre-booked a shuttle instead of waiting for the charter buses. When we arrived at our hotel (Triton Empire Hotel), we were told that it was closed and that we were moved to the beach resort instead. We got a nice room with a view over the beach and the pool area. Even though it was quite late, we went to a bar close by (Debbies) for a few beers before going to bed.

The next day we explored the resort area and the neighborhood. Our main goal for the day was to find a dive shop, and we stopped by a few different ones. We ended up booking 4 dives with Funny Divers who were very helpful, professional and flexible. We got the cash we needed for the next few days, bought beer and snacks for the boat trip, delivered our dive gear at the shop and packed the few things we needed for our next excursion, Cairo and Luxor.

The next morning we got up at 4.15, and were picked up 30 minutes later and taken to the airport. We had a 6 am flight to Cairo, where our guide for the day was waiting for us. We had a large van all to our selves, and got a lot of information while driving through Cairo. The French president was visiting, so the main roads were decorated with flags and banners, but the traffic was luckily not too bad. We started at the Egyptian Museum, and were the first ones through the gates when they opened. The museum has more than 120000 items, including the treasures from the tomb of king Tut Ankh Amoun.

Our guide showed us the highlights, explained a lot about the history and the culture, and thought us which signs and features to look for in statues and carvings to know what or who they represented. We were amazed by the details, and impressed by the condition of these very, very old treasures. The mask of Tut Ankh Amoun was one of many highlights.

Good food and great views, but way too much to eat as always. At 1 pm we arrived at the Giza plateau, and had our first view of the great pyramids. Wow! They are the most substantial ancient structure in the world and still surrounded by mysteries. They were built over the span of three generations from 2575 to 2465 BC. The great pyramid of Cheops/Khufu is the only remaining Seven wonders of the ancient world. We also visited the Great Sphinx, a limestone statue with a lion’s body and a human head, most likely representing Pharoah Khafra. It’s the largest monolith statue in the world. Our visit ended at The Valley Temple, made out of red granite and used for the embalming process.

As always we were quite efficient tourists, so when we finished we had a lot of time before our flight. We stopped by a papyrus factory for a short tour, and stopped for tea and coffee at a small coffee bar downtown. The plan was to eat dinner at the airport, but the airport was very quiet and all we could find was a couple of sandwiches and some Sakara beer.

We arrived in Luxor quite late in the evening, and were again picked up by a guide and a driver. Luxor was small, cozy and very green compared to Cairo. We spent the night at a beautiful 5 star hotel with great views over the Nile, and were picked up again at 7.30 am. We had a short stop at Colossi of Memnon, a temple ruin currently being excavated, and where two large statues were restored. In Valley of the kings (no cameras allowed) we visited three tombs. Ramses IV was very colorful and Merenptah was very long, but the most interesting one was Horemheb which was newly opened for visitors. It was very steep and closed before it was finished. Here we could really see the different stages from stone cutting to carving and painting. Really cool!

We visited Hatshepsut Temple, built for the queen that ruled as a king. Two of three levels were mostly restored, but a lot of the carvings were ruined by her stepson after her death, as a revenge for keeping him from the throne. We had an amazing lunch at Cafe Africa by the Nile, and went on a short cruise on the river in our own boat while crossing over to the other side (east bank). Nice!

The final and maybe best stop of the trip was Karnak Temple. The complex is the second largest temple complex in the world(247 acres), after the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia. The temples were built over several generations of pharaohs (around 30 contributed). There were several large obelisks, lots of carvings on large pillars and walls and the colors of the paintings were still strong in certain areas. The drive back to Hurghada took 4 hours and we arrived at our hotel around 6 pm.

It seems we ate something we shouldn’t have on the way back to Hurghada, because in the evening Gunnhild got sick, and Fredrik the next morning. Luckily it didn’t last very long, so we were still able to go on the two planned day trips with Funny Divers, but the energy level was not very high. We spent a lot of time between dives talking to a group from Belgium and The Netherlands, and it turned out that 4 of them stayed in the two rooms next to ours at Triton Empire. The dives were also very nice. We saw lots of Napoleon Wrasse, loads of giant moray eels, some beautiful nudibranches, bluespotted stingrays, cornet fish, crocodile fish, box fish and all kinds of colorful fish. We also had a filmcrew following us for a day, to take photos and videos for their webpage and Facebook. When we got back on the second day we had about 20 minutes to pack and get ready to be picked up for the liveaboard. Luckily we were almost done already, so we didn’t forget anything very essential.

Panama City and San Blas/Guna Yala

20150126-1-2Our divemaster drove us to Panama City after our second dive. We were allowed to keep our room until then, so we had time for a quick shower. We checked in to our hotel (Doubletree by Hilton), went out to get cash for our shuttle and sailtrip, and spent the rest of the evening in Istmo brewpub, which was located just a few blocks away. Really nice with some craft beer again! We went home early to repack and try to get a few hours sleep before our pickup at 5.15 am.

We left our suitcases at the hotel, and travelled only with small backpacks. Our shuttle was 45 minutes late, not at all comfortable and with too many people. The last part of the trip to Carti was on crazy steep, winding roads with quite a few potholes. 20150127-1-2And when we finally arrived, we had to wait more than an hour for the lancha (small boat) to take us to Banedup, where our home for the next three days was waiting for us. The lancha had several stops, delivering groceries and dropping off people on different boats. We were welcomed to our boat, Perle (Bavaria 41 ft), by captain Miro (Polish) and the two other passengers, Debora and Stefan (Argentinian). We had a small breakfast and a quick swim before sailing to Green Island. Debora and Stefan are sailing regattas back home, so they did most of the work and we could just sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Small paradise islands everywhere, palm trees, perfect white beaches and crystal clear water.

The San Blas Islands consists of nearly 400 small and large islands (only 40 are inhabited) on Panama’s Caribbean coast. They are home to the indigenous Guna Indians, who since the Tule Revolution in 1925 have controlled the islands and a narrow band of the mainland and have named their territory Guna Yala. No non-Gunas are allowed to live in this area, and they check passports of everyone going in or out. They have their own tribal laws, traditions and culture, and the 55000 Gunas are organized within a strict hierarchy of tribal leaders. Their main income is from coconuts, even though tourism is getting more and more important.


We spent more than 24 hours anchored outside Green Island or Kanlildup as it is called in the local language. It is surrounded by reefs and sandbanks, so navigation to the island is a bit difficult, but once you are there the waters are calm and the views amazing. We took the dinghy to shore a few times or just swam from the sail boat. It took around 20 minutes to walk around the entire island, and most of the time we were the only ones there. A few other boats were anchored close by, and some Gunas stopped there during the day to cook some lunch on the beach. We did some snorkeling in the area, but it was very shallow, so it was a bit difficult. We did see lots of small fish though, and even an eagle ray when we found a deeper area. On one side of the island there were hundreds of starfish close to the beach. Local fishermen stopped by the boat several times a day to sell fish, lobsters or fruit, and the first day we ended up buying 5 small lobsters, and had a great evening with wine and good food.

20150128-1Our first night on the boat was very warm, so we started the day with a refreshing swim. Some of us went to the island to try some windsurfing, while others relaxed in the hammock or went snorkeling. We also took the dinghy to an even smaller island (Waisaladup) close by. Paradise! We sailed to Western Holandes Cays, where we anchored outside another island named Waisaladup and the neighbouring Acuakargana. On the way there we saw several of the tiny Guna boats, where one person was holding the sail and the other one was struggling to keep the boat from filling up with water. 20150129-1And when we arrived we were met by a small cruise ship planning to visit the same island as us. Too bad! But while they built a small resort on the beach for a couple of hours, we went snorkeling from the boat, and they soon left so we had the island all to ourselves. The reefs here were much better, with loads of fish, a cool flounder, a barracuda and a trumpet fish. We bought some fish from a local fisherman and had another great dinner on the boat.

20150130-1On our last day we sailed back to Banedup where the lanchas where leaving from. Banedup is a tiny island with a bar, two docks and a few cottages for rent. We said goodbye to the others who were continuing to Portobelo (around 8 hours sailing), and relaxed on the beach with a cold beer while waiting for a lancha. Fredrik made a deal with some locals that not only got us safely back to the mainland, but also had a car waiting for us to take us back to Panama City. And we paid less than half of what we paid when booking through the hotel!

20150130-1-2We arrived at our hotel around 6 pm, and enjoyed the luxury of having internet and a real shower again. We took a taxi (3 dollars) to the old town, and had a light dinner and some craft beer at La Rana Dorada, a brew pub we knew from our trip 2 years ago. We were not really used to staying up late with lots of people everywhere after San Blas, so we went for a walk around the old town before heading back to the hotel. Our flight home was at 6 pm, so we had one last day in Panama City. We walked around in familiar streets, had one last craft beer at La Rana Dorada, did some last minute shopping, stocked up on snacks for the flight and tried to take in that our 2 month adventure was over. After 15 hours travelling, we arrived in cold Norway Sunday afternoon and were picked up by Fredrik’s mother, who not just got us safely home, but had prepared an evening meal for each of us to bring home. So sweet!


20150115-1We arrived in the tiny airport in Flores/Santa Elena at 1830 and took a taxi (3 km) to Isla de Flores, a tiny island in Lago de Petén connected to the shore by a 500 m causeway. We were welcomed by lots of men in women’s clothing, most of them quite drunk and wet after swimming in the lake. We stayed at Hotel Isla de Flores, a very nice hotel in the middle of town. Shortly after we checked in a lot of noise started outside, and the reception called to apologize. It turned out to be The festival of the Black Christ, a celebration of a holy statue in Esquipulas combined with a lot of Mayan traditions. 20150115-1-2This included several parades, marching bands, firecrackers, fireworks, conserts, markets, street food and somehow the men in drag, and a big part of it happened on the central square just a few meters from our hotel. Luckily the double windows were reducing the noise a lot, because they kept going most of the night and started again early in the morning.

20150115-1-5Our main reason for visiting Flores was Tikal, one of the biggest Mayan sites in the world (60 km2). The site is dominated by six giant pyramid-shaped temples up to 64 meters tall. In addition thousands of other structures, many not yet excavated, are found in the jungle of the Parque Nacional Tikal. The oldest buildings are from the 4th century BC and the city kept growing almost until it was abandoned in the 10th century. It wasn’t discovered until the 1940s, and declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. The Great Plaza lays in the center of the site, surrounded by two of the largest temples, the palace complex Central Acropolis and North Acropolis where the city’s royals were buried. The Plaza of the seven temples has seven almost identical temples on one side, a triple ballcourt and several palaces. We were able to walk into the courtyard of Palacio de las Acanaladuras, 20150115-1-4climb the Talud-Tablero temple, and see the amazing view from the top of Temple IV (new stairs built on the side of the temple). We were also lucky enough to see several spider monkeys, and an entire family of white-nosed coatis crossed the path right in front of us. Howler monkeys could be heard in the distance and birds were constantly flying over our heads.

We had plenty of time to explore the city of Flores, even though we were only staying two nights. The city has only a few blocks in both directions, and walking around the entire island doesn’t take more than 15 minutes. It’s a very charming city with narrow and steep streets, 20150115-1-3well-maintained colonial buildings in nice colors, people swimming in the lake all around and plenty of restaurants and bars. On our last evening, we ended up at a nice roof terrace (Sky bar) with a view towards the main plaza. This was the last day of the festival, and it ended with an amazing firework show lasting for at least 20 minutes. Great way to end our visit here!


20150111-1The owner of our hotel picked us up at the airport in Guatemala City, and we arrived in Antigua just before dusk. This is a small city (population around 35000) in the central highlands of Guatemala. It has an elevation of 1530 meters, which makes it quite a bit colder than where we came from. During the days it got pretty warm in the sun though, so after getting over the initial shock we enjoyed it a lot.

20150111-1-2Antigua is famous for it’s well-preserved Spanish Baroque influenced architecture, cobbled streets and several ruins of colonial churches destroyed by earthquakes. It has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979. The city is surrounded by mountains and 3 large volcanoes (Volcán de Aqua – 3766 m, Acatenango – 3976 m, Volcán de Fuego – 3763 m). Fuego had its last eruption in 2012 and is still issuing steam and gas several times a day.

We did a lot of sightseeing in the city center on foot, and had a 2 hour Segway tour where we also visited Santa Ana and San Christobal El Bajo, two small villages outside of Antigua.

20150110-1Parque Central is the heart of the city, with a nice fountain, benches, street vendors and a mix between tourists and locals. It is surrounded by nice buildings like Palacio de los Capitanes and the cathedral. Catedral de San Josè used to be one of the largest in Central America, but was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1773, and only parts of it has been rebuilt/restored. The Church and Convent of Capuchinas was well restored and we could see the church, gardens, bathing halls and private cells of the nuns. Santo Domingo Monastery was destroyed in the 1773 earthquake, and part of the ruins are now elegantly integrated into Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. La Merced Church is built in low height with wider arches and columns designed to withstand20150111-1-3 earthquakes. It has a barroque facade and the biggest fountain in Antigua. Arco de Santa Catalina is a famous landmark in Antigua. It was originally built to allow nuns to cross the street unnoticed, but now it’s a popular spot for tourists to take photos with Volcán de Aqua in the background. San Francisco Church was also badly damaged by earthquakes but is actually still in use.

20150110-1-2We visited several nice restaurants and bars, but kept going back to two places. Kafka had a great roof terrace with spectacular views towards the three volcanoes, and we loved hanging out here during the day. The evenings we spent at Hops & Tales, a wonderful little bar specialising in craft beer. We talked a lot to the owners, Marco and Ellie, and several of the other guests and enjoyed Salvadoran craft beer on tap (Cadejo). They also had beer from two local micro breweries and some other imported craft beers. As the beer geeks we are we asked a lot of questions, and during our first evening there one of the local brewers actually came down to share information about his brewery (Hops & Barley) and beers with us. 20150110-1-3Since we didn’t really want to leave, we ordered food from the amazing Argentinian steakhouse next door and ate at the bar. The next evening we had been through most of the beers, but the other local brewer (Belgian Brasserie) had brought 4 new ones for us to taste. What’s amazing place!


20141220-1Our shuttle from León to Granada took about 3 hours, and we arrived just after noon. We went for some “luxury” this time, a cheap hotel (Case de Alto) in the outer part of the city centre, with hot water, air condition and a balcony. The air condition was a good choice, because Granada seems to be even warmer than León. Granada was founded by the Spanish colonialists in 1524 and was the first European city in mainland America. It’s the national tourism hub, and it’s popularity has led to a large-scale restoration of the old colonial buildings.

20141219-1There’s not a lot of attractions in the city, but it’s nice to walk around in the colorful streets, with loads of tourist-friendly restaurants and bars. Parque Central in front of the cathedral looks very touristic at first, with horse carriages, market stalls and expensive cafès, but there are also street food stalls with plastic chairs popular among the locals. The main tourist street is Calle La Calzada, a pedestrian area with bars, restaurants, travel agencies and a few shops. It stretches all the way to the docks at the shore of Lago de Nicaragua. This part of the street is mostly empty, and the area by the lake is not much developed either. But with the growing rate of the tourist industry, I’m sure it won’t take long.

20141219-1-2We didn’t have too many excursions while in Granada. We enjoyed the amazing breakfast at Kathy’s Waffle House (twice), tasted the craft beer (lemongrass ginger wit) at Espressonista, relaxed in the many beautiful courtyards, watched several Christmas parades and something we think was a celebration of the Nicaragua canal, had a great time talking to a Canadian couple at a way to warm pub terrace, had some Nico Libre at our hotel balcony and a Nico Mule (local rum and home-brewed ginger beer) at Casa San Francisco, visited some churches (got a sneak peak of a wedding and a graduation) and watched some live music at Imagine.

20141220-1-2One afternoon we climbed the tower of Iglesia La Merced to enjoy the view of the city, the surrounding volcanoes and a beautiful sunset. We stopped by the tiny Doña Elba cigar factory, where we were shown the entire process and got the final result as a gift. We also bought some cigars for Christmas and New year’s eve. And on our last day in Granada we went on a canopy tour to Miravelle at the base of Mombacho volcano. It had 17 platforms, 3 hanging bridges and 11 zip lines, the longest 300 meters. Zip lines are always fun, but on this tour we also got to go upside down and superman style. On the last one the guides bounced the line while we were going down. Really fun!!



20141216-1After a short stop in Panama we arrived in Managua, Nicaragua where a driver was waiting for us. It took about two hours to get to Colibri hostal in the center of León, a tranquil place with a hummingbird garden and several hammocks to relax in. León is one of the oldest cities in Nicaragua, and is known for it’s colonial architecture. It was founded in 1524, but was moved in 1610 after being ruined by a volcano eruption. It is an important university city, and the tourist industry is still young here, so the city felt very authentic. They had some noisy traditions including church bells and drums, but the strangest was probably the air-siren going off at 7 am and noon every day. Our hostel was a few blocks away, so it didn’t wake us up (but we heard it), but we were close to the main square at noon one day, and it was so loud that it hurt. Strange tradition.

The temperature got really high in the middle of the day, so we often had a siesta in the hammocks during this time. We went on a couple of afternoon tours and enjoyed the city in the mornings and evenings. The central square is in front of the cathedral. There were market stalls and street food (very good!) in the side streets, lots of people selling everything from blinking toys to hammocks and ice cream (and most of them had a bell or similar to get attention). Two gigantic traditional dolls (La Gigantona) and several Christmas cribs were set up on the square, and there were kids and families everywhere. The first evening there was also fireworks and a group of kids were allowed to ring the cathedral bells before performing La Gigantona over and over again for hours. This was really fascinating the first night, but after that we stayed away in the evenings. Too much noise!

20141218-1-3“La Gigantona” is a street play that combines drum and bass festivals, folk verses and dancing performed by young boys. La Gigantona is a 3 meter high tree doll in a colorful dress, representing the elegant Spanish woman. El Enano Cabezon is a small man with a big head, whose intelligence is underestimated by the Spanish colonialists. El Coplero resites the folk verses and Tamborilero plays the drums enthusiasticly.

León Cathedral is the biggest cathedral in Central America and is declared a UNESCO world heritage site. From the rooftop we had great views of the city and the surrounding volcanoes, but it was being renovated, so parts of the roof were closed and some were so white, that we were almost blinded. Still a nice experience. The local market was also fascinating. It seemed that the locals did most of their shopping here, and you could buy pretty much everything. It was stretching through several buildings and into the streets, with different areas for food, shoes, toys, clothes etc.

We often like to sit outdoors when eating or drinking in warm countries, so that we can watch everything happening in the streets. Except for the city’s oldest restaurant in the plaza in front of the cathedral (noisy), we didn’t really find any, but we soon learned that instead of having tables on the sidewalk, most restaurants had large courtyards in the back. From the street they looked dull and with no people, but in the back there were lots of people and often fountains, trees and flowers. It was hard to find the good ones though, so we used Tripadvisor a lot. But addresses in León is not easy either. 2,5 blocks from the plaza, down the road from the travel agent etc was the closest we got. Yavoy was one of our favourites, popular among the locals, good music, good food and a few craft beers available.

20141217-1One afternoon we went on the Telica twilight hike with Tierra Tours. The drive to the Telica volcano took about 1,5 hours, most of it on a crazy dirt road, where it felt like the car would tip over several times. The road is only a few years old and is maintained by the local farmers. It certainly gave us an experience, and saved us for a long hike. It took us about 45 minutes to walk from 600 meters above sea level to the lower side of the crater at 1000 meters (the highest is 1061). Two locals were sitting close to the crater selling beer and soda from a cooler, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a beer before climbing the last 20141217-1-2few meters. There was a lot of smoke coming from the crater, the sulfur smell was quite strong, and between the smoke we could see lava glowing 120 meters below. The release of gasses in the crater made a loud sound, almost like a jet plane taking off. We walked back down in the dark using flashlights, and stopped along the way to watch the stars. No light pollution and really clear skies made it a magical experience.

20141218-1We also spent an afternoon volcano boarding down Cerro Negro volcano. The drive there was shorter and easier, but the climb to the top was a bit harder. The black lava, strong sun, loose rocks and heavy volcano boards didn’t help, but we reached the top in less than an hour. The volcano consist of two craters, we hiked up the smalest crater where some smoke were coming out. At the top we walked over to look at the big crater, here the ground was so hot that we could actualy burn our fingers when we removed the top soil (or is it ash?). The entire group were sledding down (sitting), except the two of us (nicknamed “the mental Norwegians” 20141218-1-2by the rest of the group) who went for the home made snowboards. When standing on top we saw a couple of very small cars at the bottom, but the slope itself was so steep we didn’t really see it. Definitely (and literally) a black slope! We have sandboarded before, but this was much more difficult. We kind of got a hang of it in the lower part, but by then our feet were cramping up, so we needed some breaks. We were chewing lava all the way home and probably still have some lava in our ears… A great experience, but the next time we will probably do the sledding as well. More speed and less work.

Galapagos cruise day 5-8

Day 5:

We started extra early this morning, to finish our walk at Punta Moreno before the sun got too strong. We started with another visit to a mangrove forest and in addition to turtles and birds we saw lots of golden rays and eagle rays. Cool! The 2,5 km walk was entirely on 500 years old lava from an eruption from the Sierra Negra volcano (25 km away). We could also see another volcano from the path. In some areas the lava had collapsed after earthquakes, and in some of these holes there were water and vegetation. In one of them we saw 4 flamingoes and in another one several sharks were swimming around. On the lava itself there were not much animal life except lava lizards, but we saw one of them catching and eating a cricket which was quite cool. Also a Galapagos hawk flew just a couple of meters above our heads.


As soon as we got back to the boat, we got ready to go snorkeling. Again we saw several large sea turtles, and a few tiny sharks (possibly babies). We searched the sea weed for sea horses, but only found fish everywhere. Also a single penguin was swimming around in the area. We were back at the boat at 1030, and since we had no more activities this day, we decided it was beer o’clock. We relaxed on the sun deck watching the spectacular landscape and hundreds of birds diving into the sea to catch fish. We had an early lunch before reaching the rough waters on the south side of Isabela island. After lunch most of the group took a siesta in the room, while a few stayed on the sun deck watching for wildlife in the strong wind and rough sea.


At 1730 we arrived in Puerto Villamil, a small port where most of Isabela’s almost 3000 inhabitants live. It was strange to be this close to civilisation again, but we stayed on the boat the entire evening. The water was really clear, so while waiting for dinner we stayed on the sundeck watching turtles, sea lions and several Galapagos sharks swim by. We even saw 4 male sea turtles mating with one female just a few meters from the boat. Felix, the chef, brought us some popcorn, since it was longer than normal between lunch and dinner. After dinner we showed the edited GoPro videos to the rest of the group, before going down to the swimming platform in the back. We brought torches and could see hundreds of small fish flocking around the light. Even more sharks swam by, and several sea lions were playing around, sometime so close that we could have touched them. Even though we have seen hundreds of them, we’re still fascinated.

Day 6:


We went ashore in Puerto Villamil where a minivan was waiting for us. It took us to a Giant tortoise breeding center, where we arrived just in time for feeding. There are 10 different tortoise spieces on Isabela, but several of them are almost extinct. In the past both pirates and whalers took thousands of tortoises on board their ships. Since they can survive for a long time without water and food, they were a source of fresh meat. Additionally introduced animals like dogs, cats, donkeys and goats destroy nests, kill baby tortoises and eat the same food. Tortoises born in the breeding center are protected there until they are 8 years old, before they are released into the wild again. It was fun to see the newborn tortoises and the different spieces, but the museum was outdated.

We had a short stop at a flamingo lake on our way to Sierra Negra Volcano (the second largest in the world). It was raining when we arrived, and the visibility was very bad. After walking on a muddy path for 40 minutes, we arrived at the viewpoint, where we could only see a few meters. Back in the van we ate our box lunch, and went back to the city, where we had more than 3 hours to do whatever we wanted. Some went swimming or snorkeling, and a couple rented bikes. We walked around the in the city center, did some shopping (we were almost out of sunscreen) and had a couple of beers in a local bar. At the pier there were several marine iguanas, sea lions laying on benches and anywhere in the shadow and we also saw a few eagle rays swimming by.


Back at the boat a few went for a swim and jumping from the dingy, and in the evening we enjoyed another wildlife show behind the boat. Several reef sharks, a sea turtle and three sea lions chasing and catching fish. It’s amazing how fast they can move!

Day 7:


During the night we had sailed to Floreana island and our first landing was at Punta Cormorant. We started at a brown sand beach with green olivine crystals. There were several sea lions on the beach and playing in the water, and even a couple of penguins. Several birds were sitting on a cliff, among them a young and fluffy blue footed boobie. We stopped at a lagoon where several flamingos where walking around, making a lot of noise. They even walked on land so that we could really see their long legs. On the other side there was a beautiful white sand beach with lots of turtle nests, and a sea-lion relaxing in one of them. A few turtles were relaxing in the shallow waters, along with several stingrays looking for food.


After a short stop back at the boat we were ready for the famous Devil’s Crown, the best snorkeling spot in the Galapagos according to lonely planet. It’s 3 small islets surrounded by coral reefs and millions of fish. The currents are quite strong so most of us needed a lift in the dingy (or behind it holding a rope) between the islets. The water was really clear, and there were fish in all sizes and colors wherever you looked. A few sea lions were playing around, and we saw a couple of gigantic stingrays in addition to a smaller eagle ray. The crew could hardly get us out of the water. Spectacular!


We had one more short stop in Post Office Bay, only 20 minutes away, where whalers used to leave mail in a barrel for other boats to pick up if they were headed in the right direction. The barrel is now used by tourists, and we picked up a card to be delivered in Asker, only a kilometer from where Fredrik lives. A bit higher up the ruins of a Norwegian fish canning factory is found. It was very successful for a short time until the dry period when there was no food or water available for the workers.


After lunch we started our 4 hour journey to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. Shortly after we were joined by a group of large dolphins swimming and jumping around the boat. We also saw several albatrosses flying close to the boat. We arrived in Puerto Ayora at 4 pm, walked through the main street before sitting down at one of our favourite bars for a couple of drinks with a few of the other passengers. Back at the boat the crew had prepared for a farewell dinner. They were all dressed up, the table was decorated with vegetables formed as Galapagos animals, the owners of the boat were visiting and Wilma served farewell cocktails. We had another amazing dinner, shared contact information, took some group photos and ate way too much cake. After packing our bags we rounded off the evening with a couple of beers on the sun deck while discussing the highlights of the trip.

Day 8:


We got up at 6 am to watch the bird life while sailing around the island Daphne Mayor. Finally everyone got pictures of blue footed boobies, and lots of Nazca boobies were also sitting on the cliffs. We went to the airport at 8 am where we said goodbye to everyone, and left for Guayaquil at 10 am.


In summary, the cruise was above and beyond all our expectations. Even though we had read about the large number of animals and how close you could get to them, we were amazed every single day. We learned so much about them, from the guide of course, but also by watching them from the boat and on land. We were never hungry during the cruise. Chef Felix made 3 meals per day, often 2 or 3 courses. We had a new egg dish for breakfast every day, and whenever we got back from landings/snorkeling we were served a juice or a hot drink (also different every day) and some sort of snack (from pizza to Yucca bread with honey). The entire crews were amazing, attending our every need, but at the same time laughing and having fun. And the passengers worked really well together, looking after each other, sharing stories and knowledge, laughing a lot and having the time of our lives!


Galapagos cruise day 3-4

Day 3:


Our first landing was in Tagus Cove on Isabela Island, where the landing area was covered in old graffiti (name and year) from before it was declared a national park. We walked past Darwin Lake, a beautiful but dead brackish lake. We walked up to a viewpoint, but there was not much to see on the way. The island was very dry, and we mainly saw small birds, a few lizards and some grasshoppers. On the way back to the boat we sailed along the shore, and saw several golden rays, two sea turtles mating a meter from the boat, a sea-lion and several large birds. The penguins that lives there was nowhere to be found though. A bit later we snorkelled in the same area, and we could definitly feel the cold stream the penguins like. The visibility was not very good, but we still saw a couple of sea turtles and quite a bit of fish.


In the afternoon we went ashore at Punta Espindza on Fernandina Island. We were welcomed by a lot of jumping fish and a Galapagos hawk. This place was above all expectations. We knew there was a colony of marine iguanas, but didn’t expect thousands of them. They were literary everywhere, often in large groups very close to and often on top of each other. You really needed to watch your step here. In between all the iguanas, there were also a few sea lions, some lizards, sea turtles, birds (Galapagos dove, Oyster catcher etc) and another whale skeleton. We spent a lot of time watching three young sea lions play around in the sand and shallow waters, rolling in the sand and doing acrobatics in the water. On the way back we saw two more hawks, and the first one had bitten the head off a baby iguana and was flying around holding it in his claws. Probably the best site visited so far!


In the evening there was a lot of activity around the boat, but it was difficult to see anything in the dark. Several people found flashlights, which seemed to attract even more sea life. Since the flashlights worked best close to the water, we ended the evening hanging out of our cabin windows watching huge turtles, squids, fish and even a sea-lion catching and eating a sea snake. Really fun!


Day 4:


After an early breakfast we went to Urbina bay at Isabela Island, and finally we found lots of penguins. They were swimming around the boat and a few were standing on land drying in the wind. We went for a walk and passed a young tortoise laying in the middle of the path. It had 14 “rings” on it’s carapace (shell), which means it was 14 years old. We also saw a carapace of a dead tortoise about the same size in addition to several large land iguanas, lots of birds as always and another tortoise eating poisonous (not to them) apples from a tree.

We were quite eager to get back to the beach to snorkle, hoping the penguins were still there. Luckily they were, and they were swimming all around us when we got in the water. We were really surprised by how fast they were moving in the water. One of the videos we recorded looks like fast forward. Crazy! We also saw a gigantic sea turtle. Gunnhild was swimming above it, and was clearly the shortest one of the two. Out in the deeper parts of the bay we found more sea turtles, and a very curious sea-lion also came to check us out (or just to show off it’s swimming skills). On the way back to shore we saw two large lobsters and even more penguins. What a great experience!


In the afternoon we did some more whale watching while sailing to Elizabeth bay (Isabela island). Still no whales, but plenty of turtles. After lunch we took a dingy ride into the mangrove forest. Some of the mangroves are actually like big trees, close to 10 meters high. Never seen anything like it! There were penguins, turtles, fish and sea lions swimming around, and large pelicans and other birds sitting in the mangroves. In this area the sea lions actually sleep in trees, on large branches in the mangrove forest. Lots of penguins and cormorants were relaxing on a tiny islet we passed on our way back. In the evening we gathered on the sun deck to see the beautiful sunset.


Galapagos cruise day 1-2

20141204-1It was finally time for the “real” Galapagos, the uninhabited islands and the areas that can only be reached by boat. We met the rest of our group (12 in total) at the airport, and travelled by bus to the harbour, where our home for the next week were anchored. Angelito I has 8 passenger cabins, a crew of 8, a social/dinner/bar area on the second deck and a large sun deck on top. Our cabin was quite large with several cabinets and a surprisingly big bathroom. We were very lucky with our group, and quickly became friends. Dave and Jan, Alex and Catherine were from England, Rosemary and Tony from Australia, Max from Germany, Ann from France (but living in Australia) and Ashley (US) and Yuri (Spain) both lived in Ecuador.

The Galapagos are an isolated group of volcanic islands about 1000 km from the Ecuador mainland on and close to the equator. The earliest islands visible today were formed 4 to 5 million years ago by underwater volcanoes erupting. Until the discovery of the islands in 1535, the flora and fauna evolved in isolation, producing unique species not found anywhere else in the world. Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835, and his observations here are a big part of his theory of evolution.

Day 1:

Blue Footed BoobiesBlue footed Boobies

We had one landing the first day on Playa Las Bachas, located in the north of Santa Cruz island. We were welcomed ashore by blue-footed boobies and pelicans, and on the walk along the beach we saw several marine iguanas, a couple of flamingos, frigatebirds, hundreds of crabs, yellow warbler and several other birds. Most of the passengers went for a swim before heading back to the boat. We anchored for the night outside the island Baltra, and had a great evening on the sundeck getting to know the rest of the group, while around 20 large frigatebirds were circling over the boat.

Red Crab20141207-1-5

Day 2:

Sea Lion20141208-1-7

Before lunch we visited Mosquera Islet, where there was a large sea-lion colony, and several of them were circling the boat when we arrived. We saw hundreds of sea lions here, one was only about a week old and several were still nursed by their mothers. I think we all could have watched the young ones play in the water and on the beach all day. So cute! A large whale skeleton was laying on the beach (parts gathered by the guides) and there were plenty of birds and lizards.

Lava Lizard20141208-1-6

Back on the boat we got our wet suites and snorkelling equipment while watching sharks swim around the boat. We were snorkelling along the shore of North Seymore, and finally remembered to bring our GoPro. That was smart because we saw 3 white-tipped sharks, sea lions, a fur seal and plenty of fish. Amazing! We had some time before the next landing, and spent most of it on the sun deck watching for wildlife. This time several frigatebirds were hitch-hiking on top of antennas and ropes to the next island while we were watching sea turtles around the boat.

In the afternoon we went to Dragon Hill, where we saw several marine iguanas at the beach, and stilts and other birds in a lagoon on the way to a viewpoint. The sand here was very red, and it looked like we all had sun burned feet, but luckily the “sunburn” washed off easily. We walked through a cactus forest and saw a few large land iguanas partly hidden, but on the way back one of them was nice enough to cross the path right in front of us, and even take a break so that we could all take a few photos of it.


We stopped for dinner outside Rabida Island, and spent the evening on deck whale watching (without seeing any whales), talking, laughing, watching a beautiful moon rise and sharing some Norwegian aquavite in the dark. What an amazing day! We fell asleep to the sound of the engine, since we had 12 hours of sailing to do before breakfast. We crossed the equator twice during the night.