The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis museum and book review: Quito Ecuador’s Pre-Columbian Casa Del Alabado

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jul• 16•14
ChorreraWoman1ac

Chorrera woman

Ecuador’s capital of Quito boasts a number of interesting things to see, but we here at WoWasis found none more fascinating than the fascinating pre-Columbian museum, Casa Del Alabado. The guide book is something you’ll probably want to have, but more on that later.

JamaCoaqueSpear1d

Jama-Coaque warrior

The strength of the museum is in its ceramics collection of human figures, the most compelling of which, in our opinion, are from the Chorrera (950 to 350 BCE.) and Jama-Coaque (350 BCE to 1530 ACE) cultures. The museum, housed in an old colonial home, is well-laid out and easy to navigate, and the displays are well-lit and paced so that remarkable pieces stand on their own. As is the case with many museums in South America, visitors may take their own photos, and we’ll guess that you’ll want to. The Chorrera figures, in particular, are amazingly modernist, and the Jama-Coaque are almost Rococo in their elaboration. We found the collection so astounding that we took a second tour through the museum as soon as we finished the first viewing and were able to catch our collective breaths. We were dazzled.

The 'World of Spirits' book

The ‘World of Spirits’ book

The gift shop has a book on the collection that offers a wonderful overview, The World of Spirits in Pre-Columbian Ecuador, which we elected to buy when we got home, rather than carrying it on our trip (buy it here at the WoWasis eStore). We’re glad we bought the book, which offers photographs of several of the pieces that we just plain missed as we viewed the many other treasures in the museum.

JamaCoaqueWoman1d

Jama-Coaque woman

Museo Casa del Alabado
Cuenca Street N1-41, between San Francisco Square and Santa Clara Square
Quito, Ecuador
Tel: +593(2)228-0772
Open from Tuesday to Saturday. From 9:30am to 5:30pm, Sunday and Holidays from 10:00am to 4:00pm.
http://alabado.org/en

Bachelor in Bangkok: Khun Lee’s Top Ten Rules for keeping a Thai bargirl as your girlfriend

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jul• 15•14

BachBKKLKee1cWoWasis correspondent Khun Lee’s Top Ten Rules for keeping a Thai bargirl as your girlfriend:

I have written often in this column about the different aspects of going with both pay-for-play gals and regular gals.  Certainly there are arguments for the merits of both, and many guys enjoy a playboy’s life in Thailand pursuing both kinds of ladies.  It would be easy to assume that the simplest thing to do would be to stick to the professional gals, as all of the rules are know by both parties from the start and it should be relatively easy for the guy to navigate through the inevitable problems that arise.  However, in my experience as well as the experiences of my best mates, guys who stick to the pros nearly always end up in failing relationships, beaten, broke, confused and shattered when it all comes crashing down on their heads.  Why is this and what can be done about it?  Well, it would be easy for me to reiterate that the professional gals are only for sex and fun and not girlfriend material, but these words fall on deaf ears as guy after guy comes to Thailand and falls head over heals for the first gal he meets.  And I don’t need to tell you what kind of gal will be the first to approach him!  So for all you guys out there that want to throw caution to the wind and attempt to convert a naughty gal into a regular squeeze here is Khun Nana’s Top Ten Rules for keeping a naughty nightlife gal as your main gal.

ThailandPromoBannerAnd please guys, these rules are for those of you who live in Thailand or will be bringing the gal back to your homeland.  For those of you pathetic lost souls sending money from overseas to a naughty gal you met here, there is nothing I could ever say to convince you of the insanity of your actions.  However, we local guys do very much appreciate that you are sponsoring and subsidizing our sex lives.

1) If you are paying the bills and/or giving her money, you are in control.  This rule is number 1 for a reason, and it is because in every situation in life and especially in Asia, the person with the money who is paying for everything is the boss and has all of the power.  If you only remember this rule you will be way ahead of 90% of the guys who are keeping naughty gals as girlfriends.  In my apartment building in Bangkok there are at least 10 guys who are living with naughty nightlife gals and nearly every one of them has lost the power in the relationship (to be fair I should say gave up the power) and is being totally dominated by his gal.  These gals can smell fear and if you don’t act like the leader in the relationship they will walk all over you and have absolutely no respect or concern for your well being.  Heck, I can’t really blame the gals as I don’t even respect these guys.  Never forget that the one who is paying the bills is the one with all of the power.

2) Sometimes you will need to remind your gal of rule number one.  Last year I was in Pattaya with a close mate who has a Bangkok live-in that he bought out from a go-go bar.  We were out on the town drinking and chasing babes when his main squeeze called his mobile.  I could hear that she was giving him a hard time on the phone, but my mate is a savvy player in the nightlife game and wasn’t about to let her manipulate him. This is what I heard him say next. “Oh I shouldn’t be in Pattaya partying with Khun Nana because I have a girlfriend? I am really glad to hear that since the 10,000 baht a month I have been paying you to stay with me has really been eating into my budget.  Since you are my girlfriend I won’t need to pay you any longer, and I am sure you will also be getting a job so you can help out with the bills. This is great!”  There was apparently only the sound of silence on the other end of the line, and we partied our arses off for another 4 days.

3) Never forget that it is all about the money.  If you want a real girlfriend then go out and get one.  If you are paying a pro to stay with you then it is about the money for her and if you ever forget that fact you will be beyond the point of redemption.  You don’t need to think about this in a mercenary way.  When you are in the movies and she laughs at a joke you don’t need to remind yourself that she is only there because you are paying her.  The point here is that you chose this form of relationship because you have all the power and call the shots and you really didn’t want all the crap that goes along with dating and pursuing a normal girl.  I can totally understand.  Countless times I will be out on a date and the gal will begin to whine about something or get jealous and possessive with me and I will think “why didn’t I just go grab a gal tonight, do her, pay her and go home to watch Sportscenter.”  This form of relationship is about money and sex and fun and if you aren’t getting everything you want then cut her loose and go find the next one.

4) Settle the payment terms right from the start.  If you give her money every time she puts her hand out you will be broke in a matter of months.  These gals can really be greedy about money (see rules 1, 2 and 3) so tell her from the start how much you are giving her every month and stick to it.

5) Draw a line in the sand.  In spite of rule number 4, she will make up all sorts of tales about her poor family and sick water buffalo and bla bla bla so you need to show her right from day number 1 that the agreed upon amount will be all she is getting.  Although in many cases her Thai boyfriend can really use the extra money as the motorcycle she bought him is looking a little ragged.

6) Have some respect for boundaries.  Just because you are paying her doesn’t mean you purposely disrespect her.  If you need to do another gal then go to a short time room or a massage parlor.  Once you move a gal into your home taking other gals to the room is absolutely off-limits.  Don’t take other gals to your favorite drinking or eating places that you share with your main squeeze.  Respect the boundaries.

7) Expect something of her. When you pay a professional gal to be your live-in, many gals will consider the fact that they spread their legs for you to be their only responsibility in the relationship.  Well, I know how ludicrous this sounds but then you are the guy who wanted a naughty gal for a girlfriend so you got yourself a lazy, irresponsible lifeless lump. At least expect her to clean the room or do the food shopping or maybe just make the bed.  They are like children, spoil them and they will act like spoiled children.

8) Don’t ever go up to the jungle (village) with her unless you go with less than 1,000 baht in your wallet. Yes guys, you may not have accepted the fact yet that she is with you for the money but everyone in her family knows it and will arrive at the parents home with tales of woe and both hands out.  Really I could write an entire book about my many mates who have traveled up-country with naughty gals and the perilous journeys they have had.  Dirty Geoff and I should do just that and write the book.

9) Don’t let her embarrass you in front of others.  If you are taking her to a friend’s wedding you will need to insist that she wears a long-sleeve shirt to cover her last 3 tattoos.  For heaven’s sake don’t lose your job because of her.  You may like having a naughty gal for a girlfriend but there is a good chance your rich Thai boss will fire you if you have the audacity to prance her around the office.  I have a friend who lost a very high paying position with an international company when he came to work one Saturday with his naughty gal in tow and the regional manager happened to be there at the same time. You may think this is unfair, but name one country in the world where guys pick up a gal in a naughty bar and bring her to their place of work.

10) Never forget rule number 1. If you are paying you have all the power and make all of the rules. If you aren’t happy then exchange her for a more acceptable version.  Once the gal sees that you know who is in charge, she will also be happier and feel more secure as this is the Asian way.

Read Khun Lee’s other WoWasis columns for more advice on navigating the adult dating scene through the backstreets of Bangkok

WoWasis book review: ‘The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Drug Trade’ by Alfred W. McCoy

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jul• 15•14

McCoyHeroinThe first edition of Alfred McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Drug Trade was written in 1972 and was updated in 1991 and 2013. It has an amazing longevity, and has been cited numerous times in other works. As a plethora of researchers have discovered, the book, although nearly 50 years old now, remains an important work that documents much of the history of the narcotics business in Southeast Asia. That’s a simplification, however, as it touches on areas as disparate as Turkey, Iran, Corsica, Marseille, the United States, Afghanistan, and Australia. And it makes for fascinating reading. Anyone interested in the global business of narcotics will find the book to be valuable and its index is superb. It better be, because there are so many players.

Every page is full of well-researched information and every chapter is fascinating enough that readers may very well find themselves launched into their own trails of investigation. We here at WoWasis took copious notes and found the following subjects among the most interesting: Lucky Luciano’s prostitution and heroin racket, Corsican crime syndicates, the ongoing battle between the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and the CIA, the Burmese-Shan-KMT dynamic in the Golden Triangle, and Thai military, police, and political corruption.

AsiaPromoBannerBeing veteran Thailand watchers, we found he most compelling chapters to be those chronicling the story of narcotics movement in the Land of Smiles. What with Thailand’s coups, flirtations with democracy, and constantly changing political vistas, it’s not an easy task for a researcher to keep the names and dates straight, so McCoy’s book becomes something of a constant reference that doesn’t gather much dust. During the time when Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration was noted for extra-judicial killings of drug traffickers, westerners often wondered how Thailand got involved in the narcotics business in the first place. As McCoy’s work points out, erasing the business of drugs in the Golden Triangle area is far more complicated than killing a few drug runners.

At 734 pages, it’s not an overnight read. Aside from readers interested in the world of narcotics, we’d recommend this book for anyone with a desire to know more about a major element in the business world of every country that touches the Golden Triangle area of Southeast Asia. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis thrills over wall murals in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena, Colombia

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jul• 04•14

LibertadGirl1cGetsemani is a picturesque neighborhood of colonial buildings and houses just across the Bahia De Los Animas from Cartagena’s old city. The colors of colonial Cartagena are legendary, and are showcased in the astounding number of beautiful wall murals in Getsemani. To see many of them, you’ll want to get off the main streets and walk down a few nearby side streets, like Calle De Loma and Callejon San Agosto. In addition to the murals, you’ll see what like is like for the residents of Getsemani. Their houses are mostly open to the street to allow for better airflow. You’ll see courtyards, people watching TV and listening to music in their living room, and hear conversations shouted across the street to neighbors. At night, people set up card tables, drink, and listen to music.

AmorEnGetsemani1cThe murals run the whole gamut from primitive to outstanding. A mural of a woman’s face in Plaza de la Libertad uses metal door rings as earrings. A black Carmen Miranda lies on her side in a bed of flowers on Calle de Lomba, arms stretched over her head, disgorging an armload of fruit. ‘Amor en Getsemani’ is epitomized by a beaming young woman. Walk further and you’ll see a smiling mermaid, a woman racing on motorcycle, and all matter of abstract people and places.

FruitLady1cWe here at WoWasis found delights, mural-wise, all over the old city, providing a number of beautiful walks with wonderful surprises at every turn.

WoWasis tours Bogota’s Museo Del Oro, the Gold Museum of Colombia

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 28•14

Breastplate6headsGuatavita2c.JPGBogota, Colombia is a city of 14 million people, and frankly, doesn’t have much going for it, in terms of the international traveler. It’s tough to get around during rush hour (try to find a taxi), so you really do need to head back to your hotel around 3 pm. Some of the downtown areas near the old city are “no-go” areas. In fact, the city it reminds us of, here at WoWasis, is Oakland, California. Overall, not much to see, pretty run down, and just plain dangerous in areas adjacent to tourist-related spots. On top of that, the city outlaws liquor sales when the national team wins an important match. Not a problem for locals, who stock up beforehand, but awful for visitors looking for a beer or a glass of wine, and a real punch in the gut to the tourism industry, which is in recovery from decades of  “off the list” edicts from other countries.

LimeContainerPuertoNare2cThat said (we really had to get it off our chest, Bogota was low on the fun factor), one of South America’s finest and most unique museums is there, and it’s good enough to warrant a side-trip for a day to see it. It’s the remarkable Museo Del Oro, the Gold Museum, three floors containing some of the greatest Pre-Columbian gold pieces on display in South America. It’s not just the artifacts, either. The curatorial aspect of the museum is critical, and tells the story of gold in the Andes in four distinct stages: The Working of Metals, People and Gold in Pre-Historic Colombia, Cosmology and Symbolism, and The Offering. Each stage is its own display area, containing artifacts specific to the subject.

It’s not easy for the layperson to put all these beautiful and priceless gold objects in perspective. Most international visitors do not live, we’d guess, in countries with a Pre-Columbian history. They have a difficulty remembering the names of the groups and areas that made these objects. We’ve never liked audio guides, as we find they tend to get in the way of the wonder of making one’s own discoveries, not to mention the scads of earphone-wearing attendees that tend to clot up in front of many of the best pieces in any museum collection. The Museo Del Oro made the task of figuring it out less onerous by grouping the objects into these four thematic areas.

There is a guide in book form that’s available for purchase, one of the best we’ve ever seen. At 222 pages and replete with color photographs, it’s an essential take-home, a handsome historical fact book that allows the visitor to luxuriate in seeing the collection without having to read every damn explanation. At about $13 USD, it’s a bargain.

FemalePendantMid-Cauca1cPerhaps best of all, from our perspective, is that the museum encourages the visitor to take his or her own photographs (without flash) in order to remember his or her own favorite pieces. We’ve never liked museums that ban photography as a means of securing revenue through its overpriced catalogue. Patrons have already paid for admission, and they deserve to preserve their own memories of the collection. Come here, and you can take your own photos, then buy the guidebook, go back to your hotel and read about it all, and we’re betting that eventually you’ll come back for more.

In a large capital city sadly lacking in major visitor attractions, the Museo Del Oro stands out as one of South America’s finest museums, making a trip to this city worthwhile, even when the local football team wins and you can’t get a drink to save your soul.

Museo Del Oro
Carrera 6 15-88
Bogotá, Colombia
www.banrep.gov.co/museo
Tel: (571) 284-7450

WoWasis travel product review: the indestructible Travelon Luggage Tag

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 28•14

TravelonLuggageTagsWhy review something as mundane as a luggage tag? Because good ones are so hard to find, that’s why. Here at WoWasis, we’ve burned through dozens of luggage tags in our lifetime, and we got so sick of replacing them that we thought of designing our own. Travelon has designed a great one, though, and we love it. Before we tell you why, here are some of the problems we had with previous tags.

1) A hard plastic tag broke when we accidentally stepped on it. Not difficult to do, when your bag is under the airline seat in front of you. Get up to go to the bathroom, you hear a “pop” and you realize you’ve stepped on and broken your tag.
2) Leather luggage tags that get wet, then soggy.
3) Luggage tags that won’t fit your business card unless you trim it. When you do, your address & email can’t be seen.
4) Rubber tags that delaminated, causing the tag to be instantaneously worthless.
5) Tags that look like everybody else’s. We want ours to stand out so that we can ID our luggage on the airport belt really fast.

Travelon has fixed the problem, and fixed it well. First of all, they’re colorful. You’ll be able to identify your bag quickly. They’re made of durable, pliable rubber. You can bend them, twist them, step on them, and they won’t break. That’s important, because baggage handling systems are notoriously tough on luggage tags. If you get your rubber Travelon tags wet, they’ll dry fast. Just insert your new, dry business card, and you’re back in business. There’s room enough in the tag to fit two business cards. That’s important if you have a couple of businesses with different addresses. Hide one card behind the other. Simply switch them as the need arises, perfect for people who are engaged in multiple businesses and addresses. All the information is visible in the big clear plastic-covered window, too.

Travelon packages them in twos, and has a number of different designs, from colorful puzzles to geometric designs.  At $10 a pack, they’re not cheap, but you probably will never have to buy another luggage tag in your life.

Sound like we’re in love with this product? We are. They’re terrific, and worth every penny. Buy them here at the WoWasis eStore.

Drenched with Color in Cartagena, Colombia

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 23•14

CartagenaBags3aHere are WoWasis, we often recognize that some cities just “bleed” color, where every corner, wall, stall, and business just seems to be oozing a plethora of hues that make every step an adventure. One such place we found recently was Colonia Sacramento, Uruguay. In te country of Colombia, it’s hard to beat Cartagena’s old city, and its nearby neighborhood of Getsemani, right over the Bahia De Los Animas, on the shores of the Caribbean.

BlueBuilding1cIn Cartagena, the city is optimized for a rainbow of tropical colors. It starts with the colonial era houses and buildings, sporting all hues of oranges, blues, fuchsias, and indigos. In Getsemani’s small streets, you’ll find colorful wall murals that incorporate architectural elements into their colors and designs. The shops and street stalls in the old city are replete with color as well, where hats, bags, swimsuits, and all matter of goods compete for the eye.

HatsCartagena1cThis riot of color makes Cartagena one of the world’s great cities for photography, where great composition takes an equal seat to the amazing palette of colors that changes with every building, street, and corner.

WoWasis travel product review: the indestructible Maruman Sept Couleur diary notebook

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 20•14

Marumanb6Notebook1aTravel notebooks are one of those things that you never think about unless you have a bad one. Then you curse it every day. Today’s WoWasis review is about a notebook with blank ruled pages, the kind of thing you use constantly when you travel. You take notes, set itineraries, write down addresses, staple business cards to the pages. When you put a date at the top, you’re creating a travel diary. And if it’s got pages that are easily torn out, you can ask a vendor to write one in the book in case he or she doesn’t have a receipt handy.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s describe why the Maruman Sept Couleur B6 notebook (6.93” x 4.92”) is the best book on the market. We’ve used a lot of notebooks in our time, so let’s start with the cover. It’s smooth, bendable hard ribbed plastic. Rigid material won’t bend along with the bag pocket you keep it in, and might actually tear your sack material. Paper or cardboard-covered notebooks are easily damaged within the first week of use. Maruman’s cover is smooth, so it slips in everywhere. Because the outer plastic is diagonally ribbed, it won’t accidentally slip out of a pocket. It’s translucent, so you can tape a business card on the inside so that if you ever lose it, people will know immediately to whom it belongs. It’s got 80 pages with 26 lines each, with 7mm line spacing. That’s a lot of writing space. It’s double spiral-bound so is flexible, takes a beating, and allows for tear-outs when you need to do that.

It’s also aesthetically beautiful. It’s called “sept coleur” because it comes in seven colors. We’re coming to the final pages of the pretty orange Maruman that we started at the end of 2012. Now we wish we had a replacement. A search on the internet finds the A5 size (slightly larger) commonly in lime, hot pink, blue, and orange. They’re about nine dollars, and in our opinion, worth every penny. We haven’t triedA5 size yet, but if they’re like the B6, they’re flexible, beautiful, and fit just about anywhere. We bought our B6 at the Isotan store near Siam Square in Bangkok. Until we get back, we’ll be using another company’s notebook. But we don’t think we’ll love it as much as the Maruman B6. When we’re in Bangkok, we’re going to buy a dozen. Should last us a lifetime.

The Maruman B6 sept couleur notebook is, without a doubt, one of the greatest designs we’ve ever seen in a utilitarian product.

Simplifying travel and costs in the Galapagos Islands: a WoWasis travel review

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 18•14

Galapagos land iguana

Galapagos land iguana

Veteran WoWasis readers know that when we travel, we try to make life simple. Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands aren’t that simple to plan  because there are so many of them, and so many ways to see them as well. There are some 125 islands and rocks, and by our count, seventeen of them are visitable either via land tours or scuba. There are two major airports serving the mainland, in Isla Baltra (serving Isla Santa Cruz) and Isla San Cristobal.

What are my touring options?

Land tours: You can elect to take day tours originating in Isla San Cristobal or Isla Santa Cruz. Off-island tours are by boat, and typically return you to your home base at night.  Isla Santa Cruz, to the west of San Cristobal, is closer to most preferred land destinations. Plan on about $200 for a one-day land tour of an island, which typically includes lunch, boat passage both ways, and a guide. Another option is a two-day tour, which gives you a night in a hotel on the island (this option is popular for both Isabela and Floreana islands).

Sea tours: You may live aboard a boat and take a “grand tour” of several islands, depending on the package. Plan on spending at least $200 USD a day for a boat tour. There are several classes of boats, and there are also options for Last Minute tours if you’re trying to save some money.

Scuba tours: You can scuba dive either from land-based operations for day trips or make your dives from a live-aboard boat. Our favorite dive was Devil’s Crown, just off the island of Floreana, which we booked as a one day, two dive boat tour from Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz.

Sea or land? It’s up to you. Boat tours will be more expensive and you are obviously confined to a boat and accept the accommodations. You’ll also see more. Land tours give you the option of choosing your own itinerary.

Which islands should I prioritize?

Veteran Galapagos guides typically list four on the can’t-miss list. They are San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Seymour Norte. In our own experience, we’d add scuba and snorkeling in Isla Floreana to the list, too. Scuba was spectacular there. We wish we had known about this “hot list” when we planned our trip, but there’s nothing like getting there and getting information from the guides. So now we give it to you.

DreamAd-Wowasia_1-1I’m going to do my own itinerary, how do I start?

Let’s start with the premise that you’re going to visit the four island “hot list” of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and dive or snorkel Floreana. Start with San Cristobal. You can land there from mainland Ecuador and tour the island. When you’re done, boat over to Santa Cruz, west of San Cristobal. Eventually, you will fly back to the mainland from Isla Santa Cruz (technically, it’s Isla Baltra, over the channel). You can see Isla Santa Cruz in a day or so (don’t miss the Charles Darwin Research Station, our favorite spot on the island, located right in Puerto Ayora). Puerto Ayora, the main city of Isla Santa Cruz, is a nice town with good food and nice places to stay.

From Isla Santa Cruz, you can take a one-day trip to Isla Seymour Norte, where you’ll see magnificent bird life, including the well-known red-breasted male frigate birds. You can also go to Isabela Island (two hours each way) to snorkel Los Tuneles and climb the Sierra Negra volcano. We do not  recommend snorkeling in Tintoreras, which we and others have found to be often murky, probably ue to its location near the harbor. Pay the extra and go to Los Tuneles instead. You might find it advantageous to stay in the tiny port town of Puerto Villamil. We paid $230 for a tour of Isabela which included a round trip boat, snorkeling in Tintoreras (again, not recommended), and a guide-led climb to the Sierra Negro volcano.

Back in Santa Cruz, you can book a day tour for scuba or snorkeling in Isla Floreana.  We elected to dive two spots in Isla Floreana, Punta Cormorant and Islote Champion. Both were wonderful. We saw an unbelievable amount of sea life: hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, astoundingly colorful starfish, and scorpion fish, to name just a few. Sea lions put on a show for divers, frolicking in a chain of three, gently nuzzling scuba folks and engaging in an amazing array of aquatic agility. Plan on approximately $200 for a two-dive day, including lunch, dive equipment, a roundtrip boat ride.

How do I get to and from the airport in Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz?

Arriving, you will land at the airport on Isla Baltra. You must first take a free bus to the ferry landing, at one of two locations. If you’re traveling independently, ask for the bus going to “canal” (channel).  If you’re on an organized tour, you’ll ask to the bus to “el muelle” (pier). Your bus will unload at one of those two places. Ferry fare is $2, and you will land on Isla Santa Cruz, in front to a number of buses and taxis. Taxis to Puerta Ayora are $18. The bus is $2, and its final stop is at the Terminal Terrestre Indefatigable bus station, about one and a half kilometers from the port area of Puerto Ayora. Since many hotels are located near the port, you can ask the bus driver to stop near the dock (muelle), and he’ll drop you a block away. If instead you arrive at the bus station, taxi fare to anywhere in town is one dollar.

Departing from Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz,  is a little more tricky until you take an $18 taxi to the ferry station>bus>airport. The last $2 bus departing for the airport leaves at 8 am, daily. Depending on the day, there could be three or five buses, but the last one always leaves at 8 am. Miss it, and you’ll pay the $18 taxi fare.

A note regarding air fares in South America

If you’re going beyond Ecuador immediately after you’re heading back to the mainland (e.g. Peru or Colombia), it may be worth it to visit your local LAN airlines office, because your post-Quito or Guayaquil flight to your ultimate destination may not cost much more. For example, we were flying from Guayaquil to Isla Santa Cruz, then returning to Quito. Both Travelocity and LAN quoted around $500 for the round trip. Since we were going immediately to Bogota, Colombia, we asked about adding on to our fare. It was only $20 more (that’s right, twenty dollars).

So if you’re hopping around the continent, our suggestion here at WoWasis is if you happen to walk by an airline office before you book your next leg, it might be worth an inquiry, and the result could be less expensive than Travelocity, Orbitz, or any other internet-based discounter.

Planning on taking a “Last Minute” Galapagos cruise to save money? Here’s how.

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 17•14

IsabelaHarbor1cAre you planning on taking a “Last Minute” Galapagos cruise to save money? If so, here are some things you should know about finding and securing a Last Minute Cruise in the Galapagos Islands. Buying a Last Minute Cruise is a great way to save money on your Galapagos cruise. Unfortunately, many people think if they wait until the very last moment they are going to save hundreds of dollars on their Galapagos cruise. This is somewhat of a myth.

Can you save money by buying a Last Minute cruise?

The answer is YES, but you do need to have a plan of action of your own to be prepared to secure and make this purchase. Walking into a travel agency and wanting to leave the next day is more likely to be impossible and possibly more expensive. You may actually be buying a cruise that nobody else wanted due to a poor itinerary or the general conditions and accommodations of the ship. The Cheapest Price is not necessarily in your best interest. There is a reason why the price is cheap.  Let me explain:

1.      What is a Last Minute Cruise?
About 2 weeks or fewer before a ship begins it cruise, the Last Minute prices become available. In an effort to sell any spaces aboard the ship that may be available the ship’s owners will discount the price. These last minute prices are announced directly to the travel agencies in Ecuador.

2.      Does this mean you don’t have to plan out a cruise in advance?
DreamAd-WowasisBoatIslandPromoCode_1NO. Planning is essential! It would be very beneficial for you to have some planning of what you expect from your cruise, even if it is just a week away from when you want to go. Here are six things to consider:

a.       The reason you want to plan is because you will never know when it is going to be busy or slow in the Galapagos. Often in what is considered Low Season it very busy due to the large number of other bargain hunters traveling to the Galapagos during time of the year. Ships often become fully booked 1 or 2 weeks in advance during this time of the year.

 

b.      Consequently, waiting until the very last moment in hopes that prices will drop even lower is a very bad plan. While you are waiting and hoping for something that hasn’t happened and is not likely to occur, somebody else will see the same good deal and act on it. Then the spaces you wanted became sold to someone else.

 

c.       All cruise ships and itineraries are not the same. It is true that all the ships will be visiting only locations designated by Galapagos National Park and ships of all classes will be visiting these locations. Many of the destinations, however, are not the same in the quality of the experience, sights, and activities. Some itineraries will include several locations which you could visit on your own or are not the more highly desired locations to visit in the Galapagos Islands.

 

                                                              i.      The Galapagos Islands are 97% National Park. You certainly don’t want to spend your time visiting the other 3%. Another thing to consider is your ship. You will be spending a lot of your time on the ship. This means you need to think about how important space, accommodations, and services on the ship are to you. For example: the tourist level ships are small, older, and very basic. I would not recommend that someone planning a special event in the Galapagos, such as a honeymoon, buy a cruise at the tourist level.

 

d.      If you are looking for a cruise for more than 1 person this can sometimes more difficult. Often a ship will only have 1 space available. The closer it gets the departure date; the fewer and fewer opportunities are going to be available.

 

e.       Picking up scraps. The best cruise itineraries will not be available for long. The longer you wait in securing your cruise the fewer options will be available. All the best deals, best itineraries, and the best ships will be taken by other people first. These remaining choices may be the least desirable itineraries in the Galapagos.

 

f.       Be careful of wasting your time. It might be that you spend too much time and energy trying to find something that doesn’t exist or isn’t going to get cheaper. The worst scenario is you go to the islands without a purchased cruise and you end up spending all your time there running around looking for something. During the high seasons, this would be especially a bad idea. Most likely you will find out there are no cruises available that you can afford and now you are in the Galapagos with no cruise options. This can become a disaster if you have a small window of days in which you can stay in the Galapagos.

 

3.      Do buy your cruise from an Ecuadorian Travel agency. You will definitely get better prices from a travel agency in Ecuador than in your home country.  Any one of the following issues can affect how efficiently you are able to quickly purchase a last minute cruise.

 

a.       Usually when buying a cruise in Ecuador the only option is to buy in cash. This can create a whole new obstacle because you will need to pay for your cruise before it leaves and you may find yourself in a situation of not having enough time to get the money. This would be due to limitations on daily withdraw amounts and the number of days before the cruise begins. When wanting to save money and buy last minute it is easier to buy with cash. A starting point for cruises with flights is around $1200 for a four day cruise on a tourist level ship. This is a lot of cash to have on hand or to obtain in less than 24 hours.

 

b.      If it is the weekend and you want to leave the next day, it will be extremely difficult. Especially, if you do not have the cash on your person and you need flights. Many travel agencies are not going to be open on Saturday or Sunday. It is difficult to check on availability both on the ship and flight tickets. It will be to your advantage if you are flexible with your travel dates to the Galapagos.

 

c.       Here in Ecuador, some banks have larger maximum amounts which can be withdraw from the ATM. Also, depending on your bank at home and your daily withdrawal amount, you may be able to have several withdraws from the ATM in one day. Some banks in Ecuador will allow you to take a cash advance on credit card (not debit). It is always best to communicate with your bank about withdrawing larger than normal amounts of money here in Ecuador for purchasing a Galapagos cruise.

 

d.      Banks in Ecuador are not usually open on Saturday or Sundays. Only the ATMs will be available for getting money. So if you are showing up on Saturday or Sunday and hoping to leave the next day without a cruise organized with a travel agency, it is most likely not going to happen.

 

In conclusion

You need to think about how much time you have to spend in the Galapagos and plan accordingly. A good Travel Agency can save you hours of research on the internet and the headache of running around trying to save a dollar. You certainly do not want to fly to the islands hoping to find something great and ending up with a not-so-special Galapagos trip. The agent should be able to explain the differences between itineraries, ships, and included services. He or she should also ask what is right for you and your needs. I would advise speaking with someone provides tours on a number of different branded vessles, rather than same-company vessels exclusively.

Too often, people think they can just go to the Galapagos and speak directly with the captain of the ship and get a great deal. The reality is the captain or crew members do not have the authority to sell cruises and could lose their jobs for doing such a thing. Only the owners, management companies, or travel agencies can sell tours to you.

The Galapagos is a very special place. With this said, there are costs associated with going there; it cannot truly be done on a shoe-string. As stated before, the islands are 97% national park. What this means is that you cannot just go anywhere you like, and the places you can go on your own are limited. In order to preserve the Galapagos the national park and the government has implemented a system which controls the access to the islands in way that minimizes the human impact on these unique islands.  A cruise is the best way to truly appreciate the Galapagos Islands and going to places where nobody lives and the animal experiences are unbelievable. This is what you want from the Galapagos. You will not find these places and experiences just going out there on your own. Day tours only go to the most visited places and do not go to the majority of the locations a cruise will take you. I highly encourage you to seek out the Last Minute Deals to save money. But do it wisely, perhaps most importantly, be prepared to act immediately when you see the deal you want, and buy it before someone else does.

Enjoy the Galapagos!

- E. E. “Doc”: Boswell  (WoWasis correspondent Doc Boswell’s beat includes tourism in general and Ecuador in particular).