2015 Review: By the Numbers

2015 Review: By the Numbers

As 2015 comes to a close it was an incredible year.  I got to travel to some new and incredible places, I pushed my body further than I ever had before, and I got to meet some awesome people along the way.

2015 Travel Stats

  • New continents visited: 1 (South America)
  • New countries visited: 2 (Ecuador, and Panama)
  • New provinces visited: 1 (British Columbia)
  • New states visited: 5 (California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Wisconsin)
  • Trips: 10 (New York City weekend, San Diego Training, Boston Marathon, Connecticut Challenge Quassy, Niagara-on-the-Lake wine tour, Lake Placid Training, Whistler Ironman, Whistling Straits PGA Championship, Niagara Barrelman, Ecuador and Galapagos backpacking)
  • Nights away: 49

Where I’ve been in 2015

Challenge Quassy Half Ironman

San Diego

Boston Marathon

New York City

Whistling Straits PGA Championship

Lake Placid Training

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour

Whistler Ironman Canada

Vancouver

Quito, Ecuador

Cuyabeno Reserve Amazon Rainforest

Banos, Ecuador

Quilota Lake, Ecuador

Galapagos Islands

Los Angeles

2015 Endurance Stats

  • Hours of exercise: 619
  • Time spent swimming: 78:12:08
  • Distance swam: 204,170m (equivalent to Toronto to Barrie, round trip)
  • Time spent cycling: 335:25:49
  • Approximate distance cycled: 10,952km (similar to cycling to Nicaragua and back to Toronto)
  • Time spent running: 164:42:59
  • Distance run: 2,137km (same as running Toronto to Orlando)
  • Races completed: 8
  • Running events completed: 5
  • Triathlons completed: 3
Panama City: 10-Hour Layover to See the City

Panama City: 10-Hour Layover to See the City

Flying home from Ecuador we had a 10-hour layover in Panama City.  10-hours isn’t a lot of time to clear customs, get into the city, see a few sights, get back to the airport, clear security, and make a flight.  We did some research ahead of time and found that Panama City has a City Sightseeing Hop-on, Hop-off bus.  The bus not only stopped at the locks (what I really wanted to see), but also Old Town, and a lot of the other popular attractions.  We crossed our fingers that our flights would be on time and that we could make all of this work.

Getting to Panama City

On Monday morning we were up just before 4:00AM.  Our bags were packed the night before, and we only had a 10 minute cab ride from our hotel to the airport.  As you can imagine the security lines were light at this time of the day and we were through security by 4:30AM.  Our flight was on time and we were on our way to Panama City just after 6:00AM.  (We were flying on Copa Airlines, I’d never flown on Copa before this trip, and I’d highly recommend them.  The food was the best airplane food I’ve had.  Our morning flight was less than 2 hours, but they still serves breakfast.  Lisa had pancakes, and I had eggs, sausage and hash browns.)

We landed in Panama City around 8:00AM.  Our big backpacks would remain at the airport while we ventured into the city.  It took us longer than expected to make it through customs, but by 9:00AM we were out of the airport.  Our plan was to take a local bus for $1.25 as opposed to taking a $35 cab to get into downtown.  As we were walking to the bus stop across the street from the airport a taxi driver who had just dropped off passengers offered to take us for $8 into downtown.  We jumped at the offer.  He didn’t want to wait in the taxi line at the airport, and the reality was that we weren’t entirely sure just what bus we should be getting on, so we got lucky.

Getting into Panama City

Getting into Panama City

We were dropped off at Multicentro at about 9:45AM and were able to find the Hop-on, hop-off bus stop there fairly quickly.  The buses here aren’t as frequent as some other cities, they only come once an hour, so it was fortunate that we arrived in time for the 10:00AM bus (I’ll explain why soon).

The Bus

To do the entire tour loop takes about 2 hours. The tour is about an hour before it gets to the Panama Canal (Miraflores Locks), and then about an hour to do the rest of the tour.  We decided we wouldn’t get off until we made it to the Canal (though Lisa was awfully tempted by the massive Albrook Mall), so we just enjoyed the first hour of the tour; the sun was out, the bus wasn’t very busy, and the spanglish guide had some interesting information about what we were looking at.

On the bus and ready and see the city

On the bus and ready and see the city

Taking in the sights

Taking in the sights

Panama Canal

It was about 11:00AM by the time we made it to the Canal.  It cost us $15 each to get into the viewing area for the Miraflores Locks, a price at the time I felt was a little steep, but in hindsight was well worth it.  Just as we were entering there was an announcement that the final few ships were about to enter the locks, and more ships wouldn’t arrive until until mid-afternoon (which is why we were lucky to make the 10:00AM bus).  We immediately headed up to the observation deck, which was 4 floors up.  It was really crowded up there, but because the ships are so grand, and because I’m tall-ish, I had a good view.

Getting ready to exit the Miraflores Lock

Getting ready to exit the Miraflores Lock

Watching a ship proceed through the locks isn’t exactly action packed excitement, but it held my attention.  The doors closing behind the ship, the lock filling up, the crew ensuring the lock is functioning properly, the sheer size of the ships; it was all very interesting.

Miraflores Lock on the Panama Canal

Miraflores Lock on the Panama Canal

We had thought that the ship in the lock when we arrived was the last ship of the day, but there was actually one more.  Most people had cleared out of the viewing area, so we had an even better view for the final ship.  We watched the final ship and then caught the 12:00PM bus to continue the route.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal

Back on the bus

Back on the bus we headed parallel to the Panama Canal towards the Pacific Coast.  We went by the Biomuso (a science building with flamboyant architecture), we were treated to panoramic views of the skyline as we drove along the causeway, and saw Flamencio (a posh area where it seemed like the rich and famous docked their yachts).  After that we unknowingly passed Old Town, we were too focused on the fish market on the other side of the street to ask why everyone was getting off at that stop.  We ended up getting off at the next stop, Multiplaza Mall.

Panama City skyline from the Causeway

Panama City skyline from the Causeway

 

Biomuseo

Biomuseo

Multiplaza is a very exclusive mall, it was filled with lots of stuffy designer stores.  We weren’t really there for the shopping, we were looking for something quick to eat.  We were surprised that all of the food options seemed to be American chains; Subway, KFC, Taco Ball, T.G.I.F’s, etc.  There wasn’t any Panamanian food options, so after making Lisa eat at local markets and food stalls for the last couple weeks, I deferred to her and her old favourite – Taco Bell.  It was quick, surprisingly cheap (we both at a lot for a combined $8), and easy, and we were back on our way.  We had been turned off of the idea of shopping at the mall when we saw all the fancy stores when we walked in, but as we walked down the stairs to leave what did we see at the bottom of the stairs but a running store!  And they were having a sale.  Long store short everything in the store was 50% off.  After an hour of trying on every pair of shoes they had in our sizes Lisa (broken foot and all) and I left with 3 pairs of runners, 3 pairs of shorts, and there might have been some socks.

Christmas tree at Multiplaza

Christmas tree at Multiplaza

Old Town

After our unscheduled shopping spree we were short on time so we hopped in a cab to Old Town Panama City.  We weren’t going to have a lot of time to wander around and explore but we wanted to see it.  We spent about an hour walking up and down some of the street and into some of the shops.  There were a number of really cool stores and cafes, and if we had more time we would have stayed longer, but we didn’t.  It was back in a cab, and off to the airport.

Old Town

Old Town

Wandering the streets of Old Town

Wandering the streets of Old Town

Panama City in Review

Our 10-hours in Panama City was really successful.  We covered a lot of area and got to see a ship pass through the locks in the Canal (the only thing I really wanted to see).  Panama City is the banking hub for Central America, and the wealth here is evident (especially compared to other countries in the region).  It had a feel almost like Miami with the hot weather, coast line, yachts, and skyscrapers.  We met a number of Americans on our bus tour who either live in Panama City, or were down checking it out because they were considering retiring there.  A lot of American influence can be seen in the downtown core; you see the same or similar stores in the malls here as you would in any big North American city.  There are lots of places where you can spend a lot of money in Panama City if that is what you fancy, but it doesn’t have to be expensive.  It cost us about $135USD for the pair of us for the day (not including what we spent on running shoes), and we could have trimmed that budget further if we had to.

  • $8 – Taxi from airport to downtown
  • $47 – City Sightseeing Bus Tour for 2 (purchased online the day before)
  • $30 – Miraflores Locks Admission for 2
  • $8 – Lunch
  • $10 – Water and snacks
  • $7 – Taxi to Old Town
  • $25 – Taxi to airport
Revolution Tower

Revolution Tower

When we woke up we weren’t entirely sure we’d be able to get out of the airport and see any of Panama City, so I’d call this a very successful 10 hour layover.

Galapagos: Land based vs. Cruise

Galapagos: Land based vs. Cruise

Prior to leaving for Ecuador Lisa and I did a lot of research on the Galapagos Islands.  Most of the information that exists about trips to Galapagos talks about cruises.  Traditionally, most people who visit the area fly into Baltra Airport (GPS), and from there they’re shuttled to their cruise boat (they’re usually 14-20 person boats).  They will live aboard the boat and cruise to different islands over the course of their trip.  When their cruise is completed they will be shuttled back to Baltra to fly back to mainland Ecuador.  This was certainly an option for us, but it wasn’t what we ended up doing.

Eating on the street in Puerto Ayora

Eating on the street in Puerto Ayora

For our trip we decided to do a land based tour.  We spent most of our time on Santa Cruz, and did day trips from there.  We also spent a night on Isabela, and a night on San Cristobal, doing day trips from each of those locations as well.  Speak to other travellers, as well as travel agencies on the islands, we decided which day trips we would do.  Finally, we flew into Baltra, and flew out of San Cristobal.

Land based tour pros:

  • Flexibility to set your own itinerary – you get to pick the islands you visit based on the activities you want to do and what you want to see
  • Move at your own pace – do as much or as little as you like
  •  Experience the islands that come alive at night with restaurants and shops
  • Sleep on a bed on firm land
  • More economical (at least in our experience)

Land based tour cons:

  • There is always travel time to get to your destination (it took us a 40 minute shuttle, and a 2 hour boat to get to Bartolome, which is as far as you can go on a day trip)
  • It can be overwhelming to plan because there’s so many tour operators and trips
  • Some islands are too far to visit with a day trip

Cruise pros:

  •  You save travel time because the boat will go to the next day’s destination through the night (could be a con if you’re prone to sea sickness)
  •  No need to think, all of your activities are organized for you
  • You’re able to get to some destinations not reachable by day trips

Cruise cons:

  • You’re stuck on a small boat for at least 20 hours a day
  • You are with the same people for the duration of your cruise (this isn’t just about getting along, if someone is a particularly slow swimmer or walker it will slow down what you can see snorkelling and on hikes)
  • Very expensive, event last minute deals are usually over $250/day per person
  • Itineraries are often very poor and have no flexibility, I was offered a 4 days cruise where 3 of 4 days were spent on Santa Cruz, the main island where tourists begin their trip doing activities that for the most part we could do on our own
Marine iguana's were everywhere

Marine iguana’s were everywhere

Lisa and I paid just under $1900USD for 8 days in the Galapagos (that’s together, not each) doing our own land based tour.  You will not find an 8 day cruise for $950 each.  We visited 5 islands (Santa Cruz, Pinzon, Isabela, Bartolome, and San Cristobal).  We got to see a lot of the Galapagos, and we were able to cherry pick the sites that we wanted to see.  We had a list of a dozen animals we hoped to see in the Galapagos and we got to see all of them.  It was a good decision for us to fly into Baltra (Santa Cruz) and out of San Cristobal, as it saved us time and money – we didn’t have to ferry back to Santa Cruz from San Cristobal.  Knowing what I know now I would absolutely do the trip the same way if I had a do-over.

We were greeted by penguins when we arrived on Isabela

We were greeted by penguins when we arrived on Isabela

 

This post is not an unbiased comparison of land vs. cruise, it is very biased because it is my opinion of the two.

8 Days in the Galapagos on a budget

8 Days in the Galapagos on a budget

The crown jewel of my recent Ecuador trip was definitely the visit to the Galapagos.  When Lisa and I were picking a spot to travel we wanted to go somewhere that was one of our A+ destinations (Galapagos, Machu Picchu, African Safari, Borneo, etc).  The problem with all of these destinations is that they cost significantly more than what it would typically cost to backpack.  When we picked the Galapagos it felt like we were signing a blank cheque.  The information about the costs of everything on the islands that we could find online was very limited.  Fortunately in the end it came in well under what we expected to pay.

Marine iguanas out in the sun

Marine iguanas out in the sun

Excluding our flights, it cost Lisa and I $1895USD for 8 days in Galapagos (for reference we paid about $550CAD each to fly round trip to Quito, Ecuador, and another $525CAD to fly round trip to the Galapagos from Quito).   We decided to do a land based tour instead of a cruise.  This ended up being a very good decision, which I will get to in another post.  Every day we visited somewhere, we got to see all the sights we wanted to see, and we saw all the animals on our ‘must see’ list.

Sea lions sure do sleep a lot

Sea lions sure do sleep a lot

Here is a breakdown of our costs:

  • $40 baggage check fee – to ensure we weren’t bringing organic material ($20 each)
  • $200 Galapagos Island Fee – to enter the Galapagos ($100 each)
  • $245 hotels – 7 nights @ $35/night
  • $35 day trip to Santa Cruz Highlands (we rented a taxi to drive us instead of an organized tour)
  • $230 day trip to Pinzon ($115 each)
  • $290 day trip to Bartolome ($145 each)
  • $600 ferry to Isabela, Lava Tubes day trip, ferry back to Santa Fe, ferry to San Cristobal, Kicker Rock day trip ($300 each, we saved about $20 booking all of this at once from a tour operator)
  • $10 Isabela Island entrance fee ($5 each)
  • $200 food and water
  • $20 souvenirs
  • $25 taxis

TOTAL: $1895USD (Ecuador uses US Dollars, all of these figures are in USD)

The view from Bartolome

The view from Bartolome

Our Itinerary:

  • Day 1 – Arrive on Santa Cruz, visit Darwin Centre, walk around Puerto Ayora
  • Day 2 – Tortuga Bay, Highlands tour (Los Gemelos, El Chato, Lava Tunnels)
  • Day 3 – Pinzon day trip (snorkelling near Daphne Major, bird watching at Daphne Major, snorkelling at Pinzon)
  • Day 4 – Bartolome day trip (hike up Bartolome, snorkel near Pinnacle Rock)
  • Day 5 – Ferry to Isabela, Lava Tubes day trip (snorkel through the lava tubes, walk around lava tubes to learn about Blue Footed Boobies)
  • Day 6 – Los Humedales wetlands, Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Centre, ferry back to Santa Cruz
  • Day 7 – Ferry to San Cristobal, Kicker Rock day trip (snorkelling in bay off San Cristobal, beach hike, snorkel at Kicker Rock)
  • Day 8 – Visit Interpretation Centre, hike to viewpoint, fly out of San Cristobal

We spent 5 of our 7 nights on Santa Cruz (the most popular island for tourists).  When we landed we only had our first nights accommodations booked.  We were about a kilometer from the main area of town.  For our remaining nights we stayed at Hotel Espana, which I would highly recommend.  It wasn’t fancy but it was clean and close to everything.

We didn’t eat at any fancy restaurants.  We ate a lot of empanadas (not just because they were cheap, but also super tasty), and would eat dinner at one of the restaurants that puts tables out on the street.  If we went on a day trip lunch was always included, and breakfasts were always simple, usually toast and eggs.

I convinced Lisa we should get a whole fish for dinner

I convinced Lisa we should get a whole fish for dinner

We were very busy during our trip.  Every day we had a day tour booked, or we visited sites that we could see without a guide.  Kicker Rock was the best day trip we did.  The snorkelling was incredible.  We first snorkelled in a small bay where the water was calm and we were able to see sea turtles, rays, sea lions, and all sorts of fish.  After a short walk around the beach area learning more about the sea lions and plant life we went to Kicker Rock.  Kicker Rock is in the middle of the water, so it may not be enjoyable for a weak swimmer.  There we saw over 30 hammerhead sharks, dozens of white tip, black tip, and Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, eagle rays, schools of fish, and so much more.  We were lucky to see that many hammerheads, but they see at least 1 almost every trip.

Yup, those are hammerheads

Yup, those are hammerheads

The Galapagos is not cheap, but it’s certainly not as expensive as I anticipated.  Most people don’t do as many activities as we did, but we wanted to make the most of our experience.  The wildlife was incredible, and I’d highly recommend this trip to anyone thinking about it.

Isabela Island

Isabela Island