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Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico - Next stop, Mexico. We flew into Cancun and went straight to Playa del Carmen. Super touristy with a Starbucks on every corner, we were a bit shocked after the remoteness of Galapagos. However, PdC is an excellent base for diving in some of the world’s clearest waters. Conny took a free diving course with Maca Benitez of Apnea freediving, who claimed he “swims like a ballerina” and was a natural freediver after successfully diving down to 20m in a cenote (freshwater sinkhole) at his first attempt. Following his course, we spent several days diving. First of all in a cenote called Chac Mol. Although there is not much in the way of life in the caves, we experienced the halocline (where the salt and freshwater meet), which creates this surreal view. Although you remain underwater, you feel like you are looking down at the water from above as if you were looking at a pool from land. After moving through one of the caves, we reached an air pocket, where we took out our regulator and breathed fresh air. And finally, the light - it gets really dark inside the cave, but looking back at the opening, the light is really magical. We followed this dive with two days of diving from Cozumel island, and we saw turtles and reef sharks. The highlight was the clarity of the water, the colourful reefs and diving through small tunnels in the reefs. Following Cozumel, we went to Isla Mujeres, which I’m sure is beautiful 99% of the time, but while we were there, all it did was rain and rain until the streets were flooding. Onwards to Miami, where it rained some more, and Tampa, Florida where it rained a little bit more. Once again, the weather matched exactly how we were feeling at the end of our amazing trip.

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Galapagos landcapes

With its volcanic landscapes, incredible reefs and pristine beaches, we were blown away by Galapagos. We crossed the equator several times (pic 2) as we made our way around Isabela island. Pinnacle rock (pic 2) made for excellent snorkelling as well as beautiful views. Pic 6 shows dolphins swimming along next to the boat. The final picture from South Plaza Island, shows the magnificent contrast between the land, the beach and the water.

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Fun Galapagos

As well as the diving and the wildlife on Galapagos, we had so much fun on our cruise and met a great group of people. We discovered Swedish fish sweets from the US, totally appropriate for Conny. Conny somehow persuaded the captain to let him drive the boat (mayday, mayday!) and let us jump off the roof into the sea. We  loved the beaches at La Loberia on San Cristobal and Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz (pic 4), and had magnificent views of the volcanic scenery and Pinnacle rock from Bartholomew island (pics 2&3). The snorkelling was fantastic and we saw another mola mola, too many giant turtles to count, and had an incredible time frolicking with the sea lions.

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Galapagos animals

On our cruise, we had incredible experiences with the wildlife. First up is the marine iguanas (pic 1) unique to the Galapagos. At first glance you don’t see them, but when you look closer, all the grey in the foreground is thousands of iguanas, huddled together to keep warm. The marine iguanas can swim and feed off the seaweed; they can hold their breath underwater for up to 30 mins, sneezing out the salt once back on land. Pic 2 is a Galapagos penguin - super fast an agile in the water. Pic 3 is a baby giant tortoise, and pic 6 is the fully grown adult which can live for several hundreds of years. Pic 4 is the magnificent frigate birds that were gliding in the slipstream of the boat. They are pirates and steal other birds’ food; the males puff up their red throats trying to attract a mate. Pic 5 is a land iguana which vary in colour from reds to yellow. Then we have the sea lions - awkward and smelly on land, but agile, curious and playful in the water. We love these guys! Finally - the blue footed boobies. They make great divers and are great to spot with their blue feet.

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Galapagos diving

Before our Galapagos cruise (take 2), we spent three days on Santa Cruz island diving with Academy Bay. Day 1 was a dive to Daphne & Seymour where we saw white-tip reef sharks, turtles and eagle rays. Day 2 was two dives at Gordon Rocks which is known as one of the best dive sites on the islands. The site is an eroded crater at the top of a tuff cone, which is favoured by the bigger fish for the cold currents that circulate around the rocks. And we were in for a treat - a school of over 20 hammerhead sharks circling. They were breathtaking! They range from 2-6m long and although they are predators, they rarely attack divers in Galapagos. Some of the sharks were curious and swam towards us, but would back out and turn around just before we started to panic! We also saw a magnificent giant manta ray (pic 4) cruising past, that had a wingspan of 3-4m. At the end of our second dive, we had a sighting of the very rare mola mola (sunfish), a bizarre looking silver flat and almost circular fish of 1-2m in width. What a day! Our third day of diving was at Floreana island, where we visited the Champion dive site. Here we saw enormous schools of black striped salema (pics 9&10), which cast a dark shadow over the reef. We would swim through the school, and see the fish parting around us like a curtain. Another highlight was the sea lions, that played similar games with the salema, pirouetting around to show off, and being generally curious with us and our dive equipment (tugging on flippers and playing with spare regulators). Although the water was freezing, we had an incredible few days of diving. We love Galapagos!

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Ecuador’s coast - Canoa, Ayampe & Montanita. We arrived at the coast hoping for sunshine and surf, however were met with permanently grey skies, which made the small surf towns we visited rather depressing. First off was Canoa, a small surfing town, which was pretty dead except for the mossies. The surf was almost as great as the weather, so we moved on to the South, but it took us a whole day and 5 different buses to travel 200km down the coast to Ayampe. Ayampe is a lovely little surf spot about 20mins north of the surf capital montanita. We found a fantastic house to stay in called Spondylus lodge, and settled there for a week, surfing and running along the beach every day. One day, we took a day trip from nearby town puerto lopez to a beach called los frailes. And for almost the first day, we had glorious sunshine! It was a really beautiful and dramatic set of beaches where we swam and hiked up to the viewpoints. After enjoying the chilled out atmosphere at Ayampe so much, we were reluctant to head to party capital Montanita, and ending up spending only one day and one night there before our flight to Galapagos. After all I’d heard, I was pleasantly surprised and although it was touristy and busy, it still had a nice bohemian atmosphere. 

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Huanchaco & Mancora, Peru & Banos, Ecuador - Hiked out, we travelled to the coast for a bit of down-time and first visited a little fishing town called Huanchaco, where we surfed and ate ceviche. The curious objects in the pictures are Caballitos (traditional fishing boats made of reed). Mancora was our last stop in Peru, where we tried SUP on the nice and easy break in town. We also went humpback whale watching, where we saw several whales which head to the warmer waters this time of year to mate and give birth. Unfortunately I didn’t get many pictures - my camera zoom is dead - so I’ll leave the nature pics to the pros. From Mancora, we travelled into Ecuador where our first stop was the lovely town Cuenca and then moved on to Banos. We relaxed in the hot springs and did a bike ride around the area to see some of the many waterfalls. En route we found my new favourite drink - orange and carrot juice and some of the biggest carrots we’ve ever seen… 

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Huayhuash, Peru - Days 9-10 - Day 9 was a long climb up the valley to our camp at Gashpapampa at 4,550m. The weather was more changeable than Scotland with sun one minute and snow the next. On day 10, we climbed to Llaucha punta pass (4,850m) where we had views of the Cordillera Huayhuash, Yerupaja and Siula Grande’s West face (which Simpson and Yates climbed before the accident on the descent of Touching the Void). We camped for our last night at Incahuain where we had beautiful views of Nevada Jirishanca (~6,100m & pic 6) and were able to buy a beer! The following day we  hiked out to Llamac and returned to Huaraz where we had a well deserved shower, ate steak, and drank celebratory beers!

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Huayhuash, Peru - Day 5-8 - We had several easier days to the aguas thermales on day 5 for a bit of relaxing, and on to the bottom of the San Antonio / Santa Rosa pass on day 6. Day 7 was the steep climb up the Santa Rosa pass (~5,000m) from where we had a great view of the Nevados Jurau glacier and down to the campsite at Cutatambo. Conny and I continued on up a different valley to get a look at the Laguna Sarapocha and the surrounding peaks Yerupaja (~6,600m) and Siula Grande (~6,300m). The view also allowed us to check out the scene of Touching the Void, where Joe Simpson had dragged himself across the Yerupaja glacier after his partner cut the rope and left him in a crevasse with a broken leg. Day 8 we hiked down the valley to  Huayllapa (~3,500m).

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Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru - We travelled to Huaraz in the north of Peru to meet up with our fellow trekkers Matt & Ellie for the Huayhuash trek. Deciding to do the trek independently except for a mule driver and his 5 mules, we began preparations for the 10 day trek around 2 days before our departure which meant some serious shopping in Huaraz’s market (including 180 bread rolls, 14 tins of tuna, 4kg of pasta and 3.5kg of oats). Here are the pictures for days 1-4. Day 1, we travelled by car to Llamac where there was a fiesta with dancing in the streets lined with cow heads. We escaped to our campsite (~4,200m) just in time to miss the bull-fighting. On day 2 we climbed to a pass at ~4,700m and down to our campsite at Laguna Mitucocha to face a night of rain at our camp. Day 3 began with frost and wonderful views of the mountains (pic 4). Our alternative route took us up a very sketchy scree slope. The way down to our camp at Laguna Carhuaca (~4,100m) was much more pleasant, and we bumped into a mother and super cute daughter Bridgit. From the lake, we had views of Yerupaja glacier and our route for day 4. Day 4 was very scenic, passing the Yerupaja and Siula glaciers and three lakes (Gangrajanca, Siula and Quesillococha) on the route up to the pass. Beautiful!

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Cusco & Lima, Peru - Here are the last few photos from Cusco, where we took a chocolate-making course, and from Lima where we went to Peruvian cooking school to make our favourite dish ceviche and the very colourful causa rellena.

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Chinchero, Peru - On our way back to Cusco from Macchu Picchu, we made a very quick stop at Chinchero. We stopped at a textile museum, where they showed us the traditional process of dying the wool using natural dyes. Then we made a very quick visit to the church and the ruins. Following the terrible light at Macchu Picchu, something wonderful happened with the evening light in Chinchero, the clouds lifted but left a mist in the valley, and we got some really nice pictures.

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