Friday, May 30, 2014

Day 20 - Coming Home!!!!

We finally got to sleep in today! We had to check out of Hotel Quito at noon, so we had a free morning. It was also our shopping day. We walked around Quito to find an artisan market. Our new guide Veronica gave us directions, so we walked about 15 blocks downtown to find the place. The students were impressed with the variety of things they could buy, especially all things alpaca (socks, sweaters, blankets, etc.). Some walked back, others took a taxi. They spent the afternoon hanging around the hotel, using the WiFi, taking a nap, etc.

(I actually had a chance to visit friends that live in Quito, and also helped with their ministry, Pan de Vida, for the Wednesday evening service. I got to play with kids, feed babies, cut veggies for the food program and fill bags with food to give out.)

We left for the airport around 8:00 for the long drive, then waited around after checking in and going through customs. Dr. Campbell is getting married next week, so we all signed a card, and gave him a gift: matching "Beatles" t-shirts from the Amazon. (they are both entomologists, so the shirts have pictures of beatles on them)

The flight left on time for our 5 hour flight to Atlanta. After the new customs routine in Atlanta (I have to admit, it went very quickly and smoothly), some students left at this time for other flights home. We said our good byes and were off to Raleigh. Then in Raleigh, some of us rode the HPU shuttle back to HPU, while others drove home from their or caught another flight.

Thanks to the students for making this a great trip! I hope you learned a lot, saw the diversity of life, and was able to uncover the "Hidden Face of Ecuador."  I can't wait to see your photo journals, since all the pictures on the blog were ones that I took. Best wishes for a wonderful summer! I will contact you when we get back in the fall to plan a reunion.

Day 19 - San Cristobal Island

Today, we "disembarked" the boat at 8:00. We had breakfast at 7, but had to have our luggage outside our rooms by 7:30. Everyone was just sitting in the lounge until we left at 8:00.

Once we got to the island, we rode a bus to the Galapagos Interpretation Center, a walk-at-your-own-pace information center about the history and future of the Galapagos Islands. We walked around for about 45 min, then rode the bus into town. We were given 2 and a half hours to walk around, shop, or chill out at an internet cafe. (and get the "wee fee").

We then headed to the airport to check in for our flight back to Quito, where our luggage was waiting for us. Again, a lot of waiting around, but we eventually got on the plane (to Guayaquil then Quito).

We had a great surprise when we rode back to Quito - our bus driver, Dinelo, was our driver again, with the same bus! Yeah - great to see him!  We got back to the Hotel Quito around 7:30, then we went on our own for dinner around 8:00 (some for pizza, others for burgers or wings). Not much going on today, just mostly a travel day.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Day 18 - Espanola Island

We started today early - 6:30 breakfast! We had an early morning hike on Espanola (Hood) Island - very desert- like place. We got off the zodiak and were greeted by several marine iguanas and seal lions at Suarez Point. We walked past the "kindergarten" area for the sea lions, where the moms were feeding their babies. They were so friendly that they walked right up to us and sniffed our shoes.

We walked past the rocks on the beach on a very rocky trail that leads through the middle of the island to the other side. We saw a terrestrial snake, and different Galapagos birds (finches, mockingbirds, pelicans, gulls and hawks) on the hike.

The closer we got to the other side of the island, we began to see several albatrosses nesting. No chicks yet, but they should hatch in the next month. We sat on a cliff overlooking the east side of the island, with many birds flying over head, waiting for an albatross to "take off." Since their wing span is so large (over 3 feet for each wing), they cannot just take off from a standing position. They need to run off the cliff and start to fly as they fall off. Once airborne, they fly quite gracefully!

We walked on further around the cliff to an area called the "blowhole." It is not like a geiser, but a fisher in the rock that traps water and the force of the waves pushes it out with a burst.

As we walked on the rocky edge of the island, we saw the nesting place of the Nazca ("masked") boobies. These are not like the blue-footed boobies, but white with black "masks" around their eyes. They nest on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, where the blue footed boobies nest further inland.

After the hike, we returned to the boat for a short break and lunch. After lunch, we were shuttled to Gardner Bay, a small inlet with aqua colored water and beautiful sandy beaches. Some students snorkeled around the rocks, others just played in the ocean with the sea lions. Again, they got so close they were snooping in our bags!

Today, we were back on board the boat by 2:00 for our ride to San Cristobal. During the day, we hung out on the deck, read, napped, packed up clothes or just relaxed. We anchored there overnight, so no heavy waves! We ate our last meal on the ship, and had the farewell cocktail. Normally the entire crew would join us for the cocktail time, but the current was quite strong so they needed to steer the ship. Today (Monday, May 26th) is my daughter's 8th birthday:

Day 17 - Floreana Island

Today we got a chance to hike on a different island: Floreana Island. We started our day with a wet landing on the beach, then a short walk on the beach to a "post office."  In the old days, when ships would pass through this part of the Pacific Ocean and stop on the island, they would drop off letters in a barrell.

They would look through the other letters in the barrel and take the ones that were close to where they lived, and hope another sailor would stop by to deliver their mail. We got a chance to drop some post cards at the "post office" and look through the mail to deliver cards if they are close to our homes.

We walked to a cave that leads to the ocean. It was completely dark, so students used the flashlight on their phones to know where to walk. We went down in groups of 5 so we would not be walking all over each other, and most groups went all the way to where the ocean water was entering the cave - quite cold!

After all of the groups were finished, we walked back to the beach to pick up the zodiak to the boat for lunch. While we were moving to our next site, we were joined by a group of dolphins playing in the water! It was an awesome sight to watch them swim beside the boat. We made it to our afternoon excursion: deep water snorkeling. We snorkeled around Devil's Crown, and underwater volcanic crater. Everybody tried it, and did well going around the outside of the crater. However, once we were inside, the current was getting very strong. No matter how much we tried to move, we could not manage to move further. We saw star fish, anemones, an octopus, lots of different types and colors of fish and many more creatures. Quite breath-taking in every way.

After a quick change into dry clothes, we went for another hike on the other side of Floreana - Cormorant Point. We saw a large flock of flamingos again, bigger than our guide has ever seen in one place.

We saw several sea turtle nests, most of them still having the track from the mother.  We walked to a different beach and hung out there to play by the rocks and take some pictures.

Back on the boat,  we had the chance to watch an amazing sunset!

Since the sky was so clear, we also laid on the deck to watch the stars. Most of the students had never seen the Southern Cross constellation, since it is only visible in the southern hemisphere.  There is even an "app" to point your phone to the sky and it will tell you what constellations you are looking at. Pretty cool!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day 16 - Santa Cruz Island, Dragon's Beach and Bachas Beach

Today was our first taste of native Galapagos. We walked around Dragon's Beach, called that because the early sailors that first came to the island saw the land iguanas and thought they looked like tiny dragons. We walked past a salt pond, hoping to see flamingos, but no luck. We walked around more parts of the island, more dessert than what we saw in the other rainy parts of the island. We saw lots of birds and several land iguanas. We walked back to the starting point (one big circle) then back to the boat for a break and lunch.

Our next hike was later in the afternoon, so we got to play on the boat. They let us JUMP off the boat into the ocean. We could jump from anywhere, so we did! Pretty awesome!!!

We hiked on Bachas Beach (Bachas means "point"). We walked past another salt pond and saw some flamingos this time! Wow - much better than in any zoo!  We saw some marine iguanas, sally lightfoot crabs and some birds.

We walked back to the main beach, and the students got a chance to snorkel for awhile.

Back on the boat, we had some time before our debriefing then dinner. Some students hung out on the top deck, read, took a nap before supper. At the debriefing, we got some postcards that we could drop off tomorrow. Fun day today!

Day 15 - Service activity and M/Y Galaven

We spent the morning at Fundar Galapagos, helping with 2 different projects. Half of the group started out watering the plants in the greenhouse, while the other half removed elephant grass from a section of the preserve. Yes, we even got to use a machete!

Students washing their own dishes at the preserve:
 Our group ready for action:
 Removing the elephant grass (invasive species of grass that takes nutrients from the new trees):

We left Fundar, and the bus dropped us off at the dock to get on the yacht, M/Y Galaven (the driver went the wrong way at first, taking us in the direction of the airport!!!) We met our guide, Billy, a the dock, and took the zodiaks to the boat.

We ate lunch on the boat, settled into our rooms, and then left the boat for another tour of a tortoise field ("Tortuga Crossing"). This was a little different than the other field, in that it had a lava tube that we could walk through. We saw more tortoises than the last place, had a small snack, then boarded the bus for town.

We had about an hour to kill before we got back on the boat, so we walked around the shops in Port Ayora. We got back on the boat, had our first debriefing about the next day's activities, and tried our "welcome cocktail." The food was amazing, and every meal came with dessert. Just to warn you, I think all of the students will be expecting dessert with every meal when they come home! 

The boat was moving quite fast as we traveled to our next location at the north side of Santa Cruz Island. It was hard to sleep with the boat rocking and tossing us around - some even said they were air-born in their bed! 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day... Whatever! We are on land!!!!

Ahoy! I guess being on the boat so long is making me talk like a sailor. Anyway, we have a couple of hours to kill until we head to the airport, so several of us are hanging out in an internet cafe checking messages and texting our families. I will post more about our daily excursions later, but for now, just a fun picture of the group on Floreana Island, at the end of our hike. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 14 - Fundar Galapagos

Today was our service day, where we worked at Fundar Galapagos most of the day. We ate breakfast there, then put on rain boots, received work gloves and planting tools, then hiked down to the greenhouse located at another region of their property. Their main mission, so we heard from a couple of volunteers, is to help with planting trees the repopulate areas that were subjected to deforestation, to help local farmers with organic methods of farming, and removing invasive species of plants from the local region. Everything they do is for conservation of the area of Santa Cruz.

Our jobs today were to help out in the greenhouse.  Their local farmer had to leave, so it was basically in desperate need of some weeding, picking the ripe tomatoes (that were used for our lunch), watering and removing the dead leaves. That was in one greenhouse. In the next greenhouse, we weeded some more, used a hoe to loosen some soil, then pulled radishes (that were used for our lunch). We also picked ripe eggplant and weeded a walking path for others to use. We did all of this in about 2 and a half hours. We were very hungry for our lunch and very wet from the rain!

After about an hour break, and waiting for the heavy rain to stop, we went back down the path to an area to plant some bamboo trees. We planted 128 trees in about 30 min! That is what I call team work! We went so fast because there were fire ants in every hole that we dug, and were all getting bitten many times.  

After this, we walked back to the information center, washed up, returned our boots, and got ready to leave. We will return again tomorrow to remove invasive plants with a machete. Many students got very excited about this (which is a little scary to me...)!

After our service time, we came back to the hotel for several hours of free time before supper. Some walked around town, others hung around to relax, some did some shopping.  I think most, though, took a shower and changed out of the nasty clothes from working in the mud!  Tomorrow, we pack up our things and head to our ship after our service time - Yeah!!  I am not sure when I will have internet again (or as one of the guys at the lodge at the coast called it - wee fee), but I will try from the ship!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Day 13 - Galapagos Islands!

We made it to the Galapagos Islands!!!

We have a new guide for today, her name is Pricilla, and she was very knowledgeable of the islands (and our bus was MUCH smaller!)

Currently, we are on Santa Cruz Island. On the way back from the airport (we had a 1 hour 40 min flight from Guayaquil into Balta Island, then took a ferry to Santa Cruz), we saw twin magma chambers that caved in about 600,000 years ago. We then went to a ranch called Rancho el Manzanillo, where they have a real cattle ranch, but since the tortoises have free range on the entire island, they roam all around the ranch. We walked in the rain on some paths to see the tortuga (tortoise in Spanish), then ate lunch at the restaurant on the Ranch.

After lunch, we drove to the Hotel Red Booby to check in. We got our rooms, then walked to the Charles Darwin Research Station about 20 minutes away. We learned about the tortoises - there are 10 different species living on the islands, when there used to be 14. I got the number of a research scientist at the Station, so hopefully I will be able to contact her about setting up a time we can actually see the research labs while we are on this island.  We saw land iguanas, native and endemic plants, many saddle--back and dome carapaces on different species of tortoises, as well as the breeding program. 

 At this point, our guide left us for the remainder of the day (at around 4:00). Supper was at 7:00 (we are now 2 hours behind EST, like "Mountain time" in the US). Some sat at the hotel to relax, others went for some walks to do some souvenir shopping and get snacks. Others tried to find and ATM machine that would take their card (and yes - they were all successful!)  We met back at the Hotel Red Booby to have supper, which was ready early. Not much else going on today, but tomorrow we need to be ready to go at 7:00am. Wow - that is early, but we are being picked up by the a local environmental agency (Fundar) to help with a local service project.