lunes, 28 de noviembre de 2011

Under the Sea

After two months on the Galapagos, I finally got scuba certified.!  I’d been trying to rally people to do it with me since we got here, but everyone was already certified, or didn’t really want to pay the money, so I finally decided to do it on my own.  I went to the same dive shop the school goes through and one of the girls told me she had a housemate do it on her own there and said good things about it.
            Saturday morning, I showed up at 8:30am and met a couple from Israel who was doing the class as well.  We learned how to set up all the equipment and did that a few times.  The dive master didn’t really speak English, so I pretty much learned everything in Spanish.  Wendy, the lady that owns the shop knows English, and she helped translate when I was really confused.  Then, after we were comfortable assembling our equipment, we hopped in a taxi and went to the pool.  I had heard there was a pool in town a couple times, but had no idea where it was.  Turns out, it’s a block from my homestay.  It’s behind a tall concrete wall, gated, and unmarked, so even though I’ve passed it multiple times, there was no way to know it existed.  The pool was about a 12x12ft square and shoulder height.  We got in with all of our equipment and swam around a bit with the regulators just getting used to it.  Then we started practicing various skills under water.  The lady from Israel freaked out not too long after we started and eventually got out and bailed on the course.  Me and her husband continued and learned how to get water out of our masks, all of the hand signals, various methods for sharing air underwater, how to take off and put on out equipment underwater and how to use the equipment in general.  The fist time I took my mask off, I breathed in water through my nose, which was an awful feeling, but then I just stood in the water with my face in it breathing through the regulator and finally got used to it.  The other guy was having a bit more trouble and I don’t think he understood as well.  After we finished in the pool, he decided he wanted to take it a bit slower, so he did not go on the afternoon dive.  I was free for a couple hours and ate lunch and then went back to the shop and just me and the dive master went out.  There is a beach right in front of the university and caddy corner from it is an abandoned building that I swim to with my friends a couple times a week.  We took a taxi over to the abandoned building and I was so glad to start there since I’m so comfortable with the area.  We dawned all the equipment, which is a bit awkward on land- especially the weight belt.  Wetsuits are super buoyant, so you use weights to help you sink to dive.  But after getting in the water it was fine.  The water was freezing!  My guide had a watch that tells you how deep you are and the temperature and it was 14 degrees Celsius!  We had a buoy that he tied to the bottom (7m) and then slowly descended.  I had a lot of trouble equalizing my ears at first, but it was such an amazing feeling to be under water.  We saw a sea turtle and a bunch of sea lions.  After finally making it to the bottom, we did all of the skills again.  Then we went back to the surface and he explained to me how to use the compass he’d given me.  I am descent at Spanish, but I was a bit confused.  We went back down and he told me to stay on the bottom and disappeared.  I was a bit freaked out because I didn’t know where he went, but he got out, rearranged the buoy and came back down with it on a string so he could collect the cord as we changed depths.  Then we swam along the bottom using the compasses and navigated to Playa Mann.  My ears kept bubbling as we went, but it took me a while to realize how shallow the water had gotten and then I was able to stand up and we were on the beach.  It was then that I realized what he had been explaining to me before we started.  We had to change the compasses part way through because it’s a weird angle in the water to get to the beach.  He knew exactly where we were the whole time though, which was sweet. 
            Then, on Sunday, I went back to the shop at 8:30 and put all of my stuff together again.  There was a girl Natalia, who I’d met before that was finishing the course with me.  So it was us, Jose Luis (the dive master) and Wendy (the owner) that all went out.  Plus, I got gloves and an extra layer to were under my wetsuit since the water was so cold.  We all got on a taxi boat and went around to Tijeretas, a cove around the bay from the school and went down 18m.  I was a lot more comfortable and didn’t have trouble with my ears this time.  Being underwater is so amazing, and given enough air and warm clothes, I could have stayed down there all day.  It’s one thing so see stuff snorkeling on the surface, but being down with it was so amazing.  It’s so easy to just go down, and forget about how deep you are and how much air you have.  Luckily, Wendy and Jose Luis were on top of things!  Once at 18m, we stopped on the bottom and went over all of our skills again.  Then we explored a bit and resurfaced along the line used to anchor the taxi boat.  We took off our equipment in the water and then crawled into the boat.  There was no ladder, which made getting up over the sides a bit interesting.  After than we went back out to the bay and rested for a bit before getting back in and exploring a wreck.  It was a huge area but the ship had completely deteriorated and so it was mostly a bunch of beams along the bottom.  It was so fun to explore though!
            Today, I take the written test and then I’ll be a certified open water diver!  Part of me is glad I waited so long because I’m really used to swimming in the ocean now and snorkeling, but diving is so cool, I kind of wish I’d done the certification sooner.  Today we start our last class.  It’s crazy to think I only have 3 weeks left in the Galapagos.  I’m super excited to go home, but I’m definitely going to miss the nice weather, ocean and fairly carefree lifestyle.


After about a week and a half of class, we were done, which was awesome.  It’s definitely going to be a shocker to go back and have multiple classes at a time for such a long time.  The weekend after going to Punta Pitt, I went to a soccer tournament type thing at my host siblings’ school.  I wasn’t really sure what was happening, but all of the classes paraded around to the Olympic theme song and then they were judging them about something, which took about an hour and then when they finished, most people disappeared, and the parents started playing soccer and basketball.  It was interesting and I felt like I was just aimlessly following my host family around like a lost puppy.  That night, I went with a bunch of people out to Puerto Chino, a beautiful sandy beach about a 45 min drive from town.  We camped on the beach for the evening and it was so amazing.  It was really cloudy most of the night, which was a little disappointing, but it made playing sardines very fun.  People would hide among the lava rocks on the beach, and had there been light, it would have been so easy to see them, but in the dark, it was pretty difficult.  Luckily, during the night, it cleared up for a bit.  We were sleeping in a heap of sheets on the beach and when the clouds cleared up, it got significantly colder waking us up and we were able to see all the stars and the Milky Way.  It was such an amazing sight.  Then we got up early to see the sunrise, but the clouds had returned, so it was a bit difficult to see. 
            After getting back from camping, I baked chocolate chip cookies with my host family.  Sunday afternoon, there was a potluck and we were all supposed to make a dessert with our families.  It was a bit difficult to describe everything in Spanish, especially baking soda.  After describing that it was a white thing like flour that helps the cookies rise, my host mom luckily knew what I was saying.  My family has an oven, but I don’t think they ever really use it.  They didn’t really have a pan for baking, or any measuring devices.  Our measuring cup was a small coffee cup and I just used a normal spoon to measure out the smaller stuff.  It turned out pretty well though.  My host family was so fascinated watching the cookies bake in the oven.  It was funny to watch.  They were so amazed by something that’s so natural to me.  That afternoon, there were so many desserts it was ridiculous.  I limited myself to only a couple of desserts, but I wanted to try them all.
            Monday, we left for Santa Cruz.  The other classes had activities planned but our class was free.  Monday afternoon, I went to all the tourist shops, which far outnumber the ones on San Cristobal and finished my souvenir shopping.  Then, on Tuesday, we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station and had two lectures on fisheries and conservation in the area.  After that, we walked around the station and got to see Lonesome George- the last giant tortoise from Pinta Island whose genetic makeup is far enough away from other tortoises that he has been unable to successfully mate. 
            Wednesday, we took a boat ride over to Floreana- the smallest populated island of the Galapagos.  Only about 150 people live there!  We took a trolley bus up into the highlands- essentially a flatbed with seats put on it. I sat on the very top with 7 others, which made for an interesting ride.  We were bounced all around and had to dodge a few branches along the way.  Once in the highlands, we hiked around a bit and saw a small “stream” of water flowing through a rock formation.  It is said that it’s a life giving spring and that you will live longer if you drink the water, so we all filled up out water bottles with it.  After that, we hiked to this area with cool rock formations where people used to live and hunt.  It was like a maze.  After that, we went to see a bunch of tortoises.  It was awesome because there were so many and we could get really close, but they don’t actually belong there.  People killed all of the tortoises on Floreana for their meat and fat causing them to be extinct.  These ones were just brought over for tourists to see.  Then we went to a black sandy beach.  I had heard that term before, but never really knew they existed.  The sand was super hot to walk on, but it was really interesting to see.  We hung out on the beach for a bit before returning to Santa Cruz.
            Thursday, Thnaksgiving, we had the opportunity to go to the highlands with the plant class.  We hiked through the agricultural area up into the park and the professor explained the different introduced and native plants we saw along the way.  He is really hilarious and went to OSU which made me a little disappointed for changing classes, but my class was so easy in comparison and was really useful information.  After our hike, we went to a tortoise reserve and saw a bunch more tortoises and then we went to a lava tunnel.  It had a really high ceiling which was neat.  Then, we saw a gorge that was formed by the collapse of the roof of a gas chamber formed by volcanic activity and walked through a scalesia forest.  Scalesia trees are a member of the daisy family and an excellent example of adaptive radiation on the Galapagos.
            Thursday night, we were on our own for dinner.  For Thanksgiving, they gave us cake and the Ecuadorian students at GAIAS had made us cards.  Mine was a drawing of a bunny eating carrots with a couple of flowers and said Happy Thanksgiving.  Wrong holiday, but it was super cute.  Then we went out for pizza.  The pizza restaurant has super nice tvs and it was the south American cup semifinal game so we were a group of gringos there for pizza among a sea of Ecuadorians cheering for their team.  But Liga (a team based out of Quito) won and it was really exciting to watch the game there.  Then, we went to this place with really good desserts to get nut pie- the Galapagueñen version of pecan pie, but they told us it was reserved for a group, so I settled for a piece of chocolate cake.  It was still delicious and I had the feeling of excessive fullness yoyu get after Thanksiving dinner, so all in all it was a pretty great Thanksgiving.
            Friday morning, we went to Tortuga Bay, a long stretch of white sandy beach with perfect waves.  We played some soccer and then played in the waves before heading back to San Cristobal.

Module Four

For the fourth class, I switched from the evolution track to the people and politics track.  The class was strategic planning for natural resource management, which sounded very useful, especially compared to the evolution class, which was plants of the Galapagos.  As interesting as that sounded, I did not foresee that ever coming up in life again and I’m really glad I switched.  Esteban, who taught our first class taught the class and he’s awesome.  Plus, we only had about a weeks worth of classes and the rest of the time we were on our own to do interviews and write our proposals.  In our few classes, we learned the common conceptual model for natural resource management, and then we chose a natural resource problem in San Cristobal and interviewed some residents and did a bit of research and then came up with an idea to fix it and wrote a proposal about our idea.  My friend Danielle and I did our project on water quality on the island.  There are sufficient fresh water stores on the island, but they lack a treatment plant to make it potable so people pay for tap water and bottled water.  Plus, they are charged a flat fee per person per household rather than for how much water they use.  So we proposed getting monitors to put on the houses and charge people for the amount of water they used, but if they went over a predetermined standard, they would be charged a fee that would go into an account to fund a treatment plant. 
Then, for our final, we took a field trip to Punta Pitt- the eastern point of the island (we live on the western point and the rest of the island is the national park and is off limits without a naturalist guide).  We took an hour and a half boat ride out there and got to go snorkeling, see red-footed boobies, and just hang out for a while.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to go on shore.  Then, we stopped at Kicker Rock on the way back and got to go snorkeling with sharks and after then we stopped at a beach where we got off and hung out for a bit.  It was an awesome day and way better than taking a final exam J  

domingo, 6 de noviembre de 2011

Island Hopping Tour

After finishing our third class on Friday, I went home and packed and then we left for an island hopping tour- essentially our fall break.  We had a week of no classes and just did a bunch of cool stuff on some of the other islands. 
            Friday, we took a 2.5 hour boat ride to Santa Cruz.  It’s the most populated and most touristy island of the Galapagos.  After settling into our hotel, I went exploring with a few friends and we found a place that sold pizza!  It’s a food hard to come by in San Cristobal and one that I’ve missed the most.  Then we went back to the hotel and headed to dinner.  We went to this super nice restaurant, but I was so full from the pizza, I hardly ate anything :/
            Saturday, we went to Isla de Lobos and went snorkeling with a few sea lions and got to see a bunch of cool fish we hadn’t seen in San Cristobal. Then we went to Playa de los Perros and saw a pool full of white tip sharks and a beach covered in marine iguanas.  The iguanas are black like the rocks, so they’re a bit hard to spot at first, but there were perfectly spaced so you could hardly walk.  Then we went to Las Grietas, essentially a gorge where you can cliff jump.  Our guide told us to swim through the channel and then climb up to jump off.  I am not the best or most graceful rock climber so I only climbed up a couple feet and jumped from there.  The others in my group went up pretty far though.  Later, we found out from the other groups you could just walk to the top and jump in, but it was about 45ft high and I feel like I would have been too afraid to jump from there anyways.  Then we went back for lunch and went to a lava tunnel- the lava on the surface cools and forms solid rock, but keeps flowing on the inside and creates a cave-like structure.  It was really cool.  Then we went to this gorgeous beach with perfect sand for the rest of the afternoon.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy, but it was still fun.  That night, we went out for Halloween because there was supposedly some party somewhere but none of us really knew where or how to get there so we just went to random bars on the island.  It was really funny walking around because everyone gave us funny looks.  One guy howled at us, which was pretty interesting.
               Sunday, we took this amazing boat to the north of Santa Cruz.  Just north of Santa Cruz is the island Baltra where there is an airport and just North of Baltra is Seymour.  I got stung by a wasp on the boat just before getting to Seymour, which was awful, so when we got there and started walking around, my arm was in pain, but it was still a really cool island.  Seymour is a tiny island and we hiked around the whole thing.  There were sea lions, land and marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. We got back on the boat and ate lunch on our way back to Santa Cruz.  It was really good, but I was eating in the back right by the motor, which smelled awful.  Then I went up by the captain and started reading on a really comfy bench/couch thing.  I could have stayed there all day, but we anchored and went to a beautiful beach.  We snorkeled a bit, but there wasn’t much to see, so my friend Kim and I got out and were immediately attacked by horse flies.  One of the girls Gabby said that if you covered yourself in sand, they’d stop biting, so Kim rolled in the sand.  It was hilarious, but I just sucked it up and continuously shoed them away from me, but Kim said it was effective. That evening, we perused the shops, but we’re going back in two weeks, so I just bought a dress that I’ve been wanting- they have a lot of the same things as San Cristobal in the shops and I’d seen the dress there too.
            Monday we went to Isabela.  The boat ride was extremely bumpy which was a bit annoying after the first hour.  Once settling into our new hotel, we went to lunch and then went to a small island across the bay.  It was all aa lava which is pointy rocks and there were tons of marine iguanas.  We continuously had to go off the trail to avoid them.  It was a bit cloudy and I was shivering, as we were walking around, but my arm was burning from my bee sting the day before.  My arm was about twice its normal size and was really hot.  I was glad to jump in the ocean and cool it off when we were done walking around the island and started snorkeling.  That night I just took benedryl and went to bed at 8:30 because the bee sting was awful.  Everyone kept asking me if I was allergic and I guess I might be a little, but the next day my arm was back to a normal size it just itched a lot.
            Tuesday, we went to Volcan Sierra Negra.  We hiked/ran up to the caldera which was huge.  I really enjoy hiking, but our guide took off and I did not appreciate the fast pace.  We hiked around part of the rim and then went to an area that was pretty much a lava field.  My group was practically running the whole time, which was super frustrating, but it was still really cool.  Then after waiting 20/30 min for the other group, we went to this really awesome hacienda with giant tortoises.  We ate lunch there and then just hung out for a bit before heading back to our hotel.
            Wednesday, we went to the pier and they had us get on little speed boats with only 5 people per boat.  Then we flew- literally- to this snorkeling spot.  The waves were 2 or 3m high and we’d slam down from them.  I think our boat was in the air more than it was on the water.  Finally we slowed down and maneuvered through some rocks before anchoring.  The guide told some of the other boats not to put their fins on, but we missed that message so our fins stirred up the bottom and we couldn’t really see anything.  Then people started talking about sharks swimming within inches of them and I swam away because I may or may not be terrified of sharks- although I’ve swam with them 3x now and have yet to have anything happen.  Then, the people who didn’t have fins went back to the boats to put theirs on, but I just got back on my boat and waited there with a couple of other people.  Apparently there were mini lava tunnels you could swim through, but I was too scared/cold to get back in with the sharks.  Then, that afternoon, we went to a cove to snorkel more, but you couldn’t see much.  I helped teach Kim to swim under water, and then we got out and laid in the sun a bit before heading back.
            Thursday, we went to the wall of tears- a wall created by prisoners who’d been sent to Isabela.  They had to carry giant lava rocks in the awful equatorial sun in shackles and build this wall.  It only lasted for 11 years before the prisoners overthrew the generals and broke free.  Then we walked to a cool inlet and then to a beach, but didn’t go swimming.  That afternoon, we went back to the tortoise place for lunch, stopped to see some flamingos, and then went to this place with a cave that went on forever into the ground.  It had ladders that went down into it.  A bunch of people went down pretty far, but I stopped before the sketchy ladder.  People said it was the scariest, most unsafe thing ever, and I’m really good at falling so I passed.  It took forever for everyone to go down and back up, and so we just hung out there all afternoon.  We were supposed to go to another cave, but it was getting dark when were leaving, so we just went back to the hotle.
            Then, Friday morning, those of us that didn’t get to go to the cave went while the others left to go back to San Cristobal.  I’m so glad we got to go, because it was awesome.  We explored for a bit and then embarked on our 4.5 hour boat ride back to San Cristobal.  Monday, we start class again and I’m kinda sad to have to go back to doing work.

sábado, 5 de noviembre de 2011

Third Module

When we started our third module, introduction to marine ecosystems, I was super excited for the class. I don’t know much about the ocean and had heard it was an awesome class where you get to snorkel virtually every day.  Unfortunately, on the first day, our professor combined the evolution and marine tracks into one class of over 30 people all crammed into a small classroom where there was hardly desk space and she told us how preoccupied she was with this sea lion project and that she was very unorganized. She stayed true to these words and it was an incredibly frustrating class.  We only went snorkeling twice and none of us from the evolution class had any idea what we were doing/ looking at.  We did have a research project that involved going out into the field, which was a lot of fun.  My group studied a group of rays that hung out around the tourist’s pier at night and they were fascinating to watch.  They swim in schools and we were trying to figure out why.  There’s been virtually no research on them, but we think they work together to bring their food (mollusks and crustaceans) up to the surface.  I think our professor was impressed with our project too, which was super exciting, especially since she’d been so apathetic during the rest of the class.
            The last week of the third module, we didn’t have too much work.  Tuesday, I went up to the Hacienda to help out with horse therapy.  Disabled children came to ride horses and we held them on.  It was really interesting, but my arms hurt a lot afterwards.  One of the girls didn’t really have control of her spine so I was supporting virtually all of her weight.  After horse therapy, we helped heard cattle/ I stood terrified while animals 3x my size ran by praying they didn’t come near me.  Luckily they didn’t J  Once the cattle were in the pen, they tied up a calf and then its mother and we milked her.  Although I have milked cows at the Ohio State Fair, I was not that great at it.  One guy volunteering at the Hacienda was in his 50s and from Vermont and had never milked a cow before which I found shocking.
            Then, on Wednesday, we went to kicker rock for class.  It is a rock in the middle of the ocean about 150m high and has a trench through it populated by sharks.  The students in the class that were scuba certified went diving thought it and the rest of us snorkeled above them.  The bubbles from the scuba divers scared the sharks up to the surface and there were about 30 sharks about 2m below the surface.  I was a bit terrified, but we all made it through!

domingo, 9 de octubre de 2011

Insert Witty Title Here

This week was depressingly cold, cloudy and full of garua.  Garua is what happens here in the Galapagos instead of rain.  It’s extremely misty and almost looks like snow but you still get very wet.  I was hoping to spend my free time hanging out on the beach, but alas I was unable to. 

There is a group of graduate students here from Portland State and their focus is international service and they’re all required to volunteer at a specific location during their stay here.  One of the girls, Jacquie, is working with an afterschool program at a library up in El Progresso.  El Progresso is outside of the main town up in the highlands and the kids there don’t have that many opportunities and this program was started to give them something to do and learn outside of school.  Jacquie needed help for a program up there so I went every day but Wednesday when I opted to study for my final exam instead.

The library is tiny and only has 6 shelves full of books, plus a row of children’s books, half of which are in English and no one there really knows English.  When I went on Monday there were about 8 kids there, the lady that runs the program, who’s really cool, and her boss, who apparently doesn’t normally come, but she’s crazy.  The boss lady, Sessie- not sure exactly how her name’s spelled, but that’s my phonetic rendering- made us practice these puppet shows multiple times throughout the week and was super particular about our Spanish pronunciations and was telling us to pronounce words the way she says them even though we were technically saying them fine.  For example, the word ayuda- we all say and I’ve heard natives say, ay-you-da, but she was making us say ay-jew-da.  And as she did this, there were children running around outside in thorns and stuff they weren’t supposed to be in.

On Thursday, after practicing our puppet show, Jacquie taught me how to make a balloon animal dog, which was pretty sweet.  Little did I know that I would get real good at making them the next day.  Friday was the big event down on the malecon- essentially the boardwalk in town.  We went at 2 to set up and it was way more legit than we were anticipating.  We had a tent with books and face painting, a box for our puppet show and a table with information about the ministry of education and I think they were giving out school uniforms.  Right next to us on one side was a tent from the national park handing out information and on our other side was a tv blasting the Ecuador-Argentina soccer game.  So a bunch of people were watching the game while their kids came over and got face paint and balloon animals.  Then at halftime, they turned off the game, some lady that is in charge of the department of education came out with a microphone and talked a bit about their programs and then introduced our plays and passed us the microphone.  There was quite the crowd watching us and I’m glad we couldn’t see them from behind our box.  I thought it went pretty well and was super impressed with us.  Then they turned off the game and we came out and made balloon animals for the kids.  It was insane and we got swarmed by children and parents asking for different animas and such and we only had one pump for the balloons and 5 of us making animals.  And the people here have no concept of lines or personal space.  One of the guys, Devon, said they were like zombies coming after us, and that’s a pretty accurate description.  Children would be holding onto the end of the balloon I was making and a couple of times I just let them take it before I finished twisting it.  Finally, we ran out of balloons and had to send the people away.  Then, I went around and picked up all the stray balloon pieces that had popped and the people from the national park gave us all of their extra stickers and pamphlets which was pretty exciting.

After cleaning up, I went to the panaderia to get a snack and then went back to the malecon because my host brother and sister’s school had a parade and dance show.  Each class studies a Latin American country and makes a float and does a dance for their country in traditional apparel from that country.  It was really cool and the dances were super cute, especially the real little kid ones.

Then Saturday morning there was supposed to be a regatta of international sailboats and we woke up at 6:30 and were supposed to go out and greet them.  I’m not exactly sure what happened, but that didn’t happen, but at 9 they were having the largest ceviche of the Galapagos and there was a bunch of live music and such.  Ceviche is a soup with raw fish cooked by the lime and cilantro they put in with it.  I don’t really like seafood, but I thought it was pretty good.  Unfortunately I couldn’t stay and really enjoy any of the festivities because everything runs on Ecuadorian Island time- basically things start an hour or more after the stated start time.  It’s super annoying.  I was recruited to play on a soccer team for this hacienda up in the highlands that another one of the grad students volunteers at and we were supposed to play at 11.  We took a taxi up to the hacienda and it was a super fun ride in the bed of the pickup in the garua… not.  We got there and there were little boys playing on this concrete field in legit uniforms and we were wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into.  We watched them for a bit and then went back to the actual hacienda and met the other volunteers there.  Amy, the girl in the grad program just goes up there 2 or 3 times a week, but the other volunteers are from all over and they stay there.  It was super nice inside, but they have to do a lot of hard work helping out.  We ended up hanging around until 1 when we started out soccer game- only 2 hours late!

The girls we played was super aggressive, and we ended up losing 0-4, but 2 of our 5 girls had never played soccer before and a random Ecuadorian girl was our goalie and I don’t think she’d ever really played either.  It was still a ton of fun and I was soaking wet and my white shirt was covered in mud when we finished.  Then, we hiked up a super muddy trail to a lookout.  It was georgous and you could look down to see the main town and the ocean and kicker rock which is a huge rock formation sticking out of the water just off the coast.  Then we took a taxi back into town and snice I was already wet and muddy I sat down in this muddy pool of water in the bed of the pickup and when we got back, I had the lines imprinted on my butt.  We got some empanadas from a lady on the street and then I headed home. 

I definitely got placed with the right host family, because Friday night I came home with this intense mask in face paint and Saturday I came home super muddy and they were totally fine with it.  And then this morning, I went with them up to the highlands with another family who I’d met Tuesday night at my host brother’s birthday party and we had corn on the cob and empanadas and coffee at this random place and then we went and played soccer which was super fun.  There was this really nice parque with a grass field and swings and there was a family that lived next to it that are good friends of my host dad.  We hung out there all morning and then at one we went back to the place we ate at before and had lunch before heading home.

I’m definitely starting to integrate more into the culture and meet more people on the island, which is super cool.  It’s so small that you end up knowing someone everywhere you go.  At the hacienda, the lady that works at the library came out to me and wished me luck playing, and walking around town I always see people that have helped out at our salsa classes.  We had 5 lessons and it was super fun and I now know a descent amount of salsa!

P.S. I’m sorry if this jumps around/ is lacking descriptions- my mind’s all jumbled.  If you want to know more/clarifications, feel free to e-mail, facebook, or skype me J

sábado, 1 de octubre de 2011

Evolution Insanity

We arrived to the Galapagos on Sunday and Monday got straight to work.  We went to class Monday morning and our professor gave us the syllabus for Evolution and went over it and then assigned us presentation topics and then left the room for a few minutes so we could trade topics if we wanted and we all were hoping he'd come back in and say "just kidding", but unfortunately it was all  true.  We had class 2x a day from 9-11 and 3-5, had to read 1 or 2 chapters from out textbook every day, and presentations on evolutionary traits of various Galapagos animals and he wanted us to be experts on them.  There are 3 different tracks in the whole program, and one of the boys in my class just left and switched to one of the other classes.

For the past 2 weeks, my routine has essentially been:
4am- wake up to a cacophony of roosters
6am- get out of bed and go for a run or go to school and do yoga on the beach
8am- breakfast
9-11- class
11-12- start reading the next days chapter
12:30- lunch at the restaurant of the week- the program I'm here with includes lunch which is awesome, but it's really segregating because the 11 of us go to lunch and everyone else is back at the university making pb&j, plus Ecuadorian meals are always a soup which may or may not be good and then meat with a pile of rice and I'm getting rather sick of it, especially the lack of fruits and veggies
1:30-3- either finish reading, research for my project or go swimming/snorkeling
3-5- class
5-7- either research for my presentation, study, or hang out on the beach and watch the sun set
7- dinner
8-9- play with my host sister, waste time on the internet
9 or 10- bed

The first Wednesday we were here, in the afternoon we had a field trip into the highlands.  We went to visit the first settlement in the Galapagos which is now ruins of a house, el junco which is the only permanent lake on all of the Galapagos Islands.  Our professor said we would probably think it was more like a pond, but it was so misty/cloudy that we couldn't see more than 15 feet in front of us so I have no clue how big it actually is.  It is in the crater of the volcano that formed the island.  San Cristobal is the oldest surviving island of the Galapagos so there is no loner volcanic activity- the islands are formed by a hotspot of magma rising from the Earth's crust and moving toward mainland South America via continental drift.  There are older islands that have sunk and are now mounds under the sea.  After visiting the lake, we went to Galapaguera, a giant tortoise reserve on the island.  It was so cool to see them.  There were baby ones which were about the size of the palm of my hand and they grow to be over a meter long!  After visiting the tortoise reserve, we went to puerto chino.  It is the most beautiful beach I've ever been to with nice white sand and perfect waves rolling in.  September is the coldest month in the Galapagos and all the locals think the water is freezing but we all went right in and the water felt great.

We also had a field trip Saturday going snorkeling.  We took a boat to islote lobos, a shallow water area where sea lions like to hang out.  We saw a bunch of fish, a stingray and swam around with some sea lions.  Then we went to puerto grande, a beach, and explored a bit talking about some of the plants and wildlife and then we just hung out.  Some people kept exploring, some played in the water, and me and a few others just laid out.  Then we got back on the boat to eat lunch.  You're not allowed to picnic on beaches, although as we ate on the boat 3 people jumped into the ocean to recover trash that had blown away because there was no where to set anything down without the risk of it falling over from the rocking of the boat.  Lunch was this real nasty cold rice and chicken mixed with ketchup and mayonnaise.  I ate it because I was so hungry, but it didn't agree with me too well.  We sped of to kicker rock, a 500 ft tall old lava cone split in two.  In the middle of the two peaks is a popular place for sharks. We got there and the sea was really choppy and I could feel my lunch which was miserable, plus I was a bit terrified to jump out and go swimming with sharks.  We slowly made our way around and jumped into the choppy ocean and started swimming through the channel.  We saw white or black tip sharks- our guides couldn't agree- and on the other side of the channel we saw a bunch of sea turtles!  Then we got back on the boat to head in and on out way we saw a whale!  We followed it for a bit and we all tried to convince our guides to let us jump back in and go swimming with it, but to no avail.

The university teaches English classes and has a program called primos (spanish for cousins) where we are grouped with locals to help them with English and they help us with Spanish/getting to know the island.  Sunday, I went with my friend Miranda to her prima's house for lunch and they gave us lobster.  It was a whole lobster cracked open and the meat was glazed in this delicious sauce.  I wasn't really sure how to eat it, which was amusing, but it was delicious- and I don't really like seafood.  Then, they took us to el ceibo, a treehouse with a complete working bathroom.  It also had an underground dwelling in a hole in the base of the trunk and we climbed the tree like a rock wall on the side.  It was amazing!

Next week, I don't have any class which I'm super pumped about.  We have to write research papers and study for our final on Thursday which includes reading a whole other book, but I'm really looking forward to hanging out and enjoying the island.

martes, 20 de septiembre de 2011

Adios Quito, Hola Galapagos

After getting back from Tiputini, we had to get to work.  We had group presentations throughout the week and our final on Friday.  But, Tuesday, we went into Quito to get our CENSO cards.  It's basically our we're not tourists, but not Ecuadorians ID card saying we're allowed to be here and one of the things necessary to admit us to the Galapagos.  We went to this sketchy building and took numbers and then sat around for 2 hours waiting for our numbers to be called.  I was the last person in our group, and people kept getting theirs and then leaving in groups of four to take taxis back.  Finally I got mine and we made it back to the university with 10 minutes to spare before my class started- just enough time to grab some lunch to take to class with me.  Then, Wednesday morning, we went into Quito to visit the artisan market there.  After going around there for a bit, we went to the mall.  It was so weird to go from being in a market to a fancy mall.

Friday, we had our exam and it was very anticlimactic.  It's so weird to be done with a class after only 3 weeks.  It went well though :)  Then, Saturday we went to Puente Chiche, one of the tallest bridges in Quito to bungee jump.  It was actually a swing jump though.  The rope was tied to the other side of the bridge so you jumped out and then once the rope was taught you'd swing over and then go back and forth.  It was super fun, although jumping out over the ravine was a bit scary.  I jumped out off the bridge and ended up doing a front flip before i started swinging!

Sunday, we met at the university at 5:15am to head to the Galapagos.  We had to put out bags through a special scanner to check for organics before checking in for our flight.  Then they weighed all our bags, but they didn't charge anyone for being overweight.  To go to the Galapagos, you can only have 20 kilos, so my friend Sam and I shared a package to mail all our books.  We flew through Guayaquil, but we only stopped for about a half hour and offloaded some people and got some new ones- we didn't even get off the plane.  Then we flew onward to San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos.  The landing strip was just a runway along the side of the island which was a bit crazy.  We landed and then went around a circle and back to the middle of the runway where the building is located.  We had to go through a customs area and they checked our IDs and rechecked our bags for organics.  The GAIAS staff met us outside the airport and we loaded onto buses that took us to the university.  The university is one building on the edge of town right in front of a nice sandy beach full of sea lions.  The wildlife here is so tame because there isn't much predation and so they just coexist with people.  We had a bit of orientation and lunch and then we pretty much hung out on the beach the rest of the afternoon.  We played soccer on the beach and then went swimming.

Then, at 4, our host families came to pick us all up.  It was really funny because we were all sitting on the steps outside the university watching the families come wondering if this was our family.  My host family is really awesome.  I have a 4 year old sister and a 12 year old brother who are both really cool.  We live in the back of town and my room overlooks all of town with the ocean beyond it.  It's so small!  Most of the island is preserved and belongs to the national park, but there are about 5,000 residents in town.

sábado, 10 de septiembre de 2011

In the Jungle

After returning from Banos at midnight, I had to be at the university at 6:30 to head to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon.  To get to the middle of the jungle, we took a bus to the airport, flew ~25min to Coca, took a 10 min bus ride to a hotel on the Napo River where we took ~1.5-2 hour boat ride to an oil rig where we got off, got on the Maxus Road, a road built by the oil companies and the only one out in the jungle, and rode on it for over an hour to the Tiputini River where we got on another boat which we rode 2 hours to get to the station.  The station is across the river from the Yasuni National Park, an area where the Waorani Indians lived untouched until the oil companies arrived in the 70s.  The Yasuni is also one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.  The amount of species found per hectare is phenomenal.  Walking up the stairs from the river to camp was like walking into a different world.  We walked straight into the dining area, an open air room and looking out the arches into the forest seemed more like we were looking at a mural, than real life, until we heard the woolly monkeys jumping from tree to tree above us.  It was absolutely incredible.
Once we had some snacks and orientation we walked to our cabins which were rather far away.  They were super nice, aside from only having lights from 6-9:30pm and only cold water in the showers.  We had nice bunk beds and everything was super clean.

We spent the whole week in Tiputini and went on some very long hikes through the jungle with local guides who were awesome.  They were really good at speaking slowly and explaining things simply so we could understand with our limited Spanish, but they were so knowledgeable.  We'd stop at a tree and they'd explain how it can be used to cure stomach aches and then we'd go to another similar looking tree which was toxic.  I was amazed at how they knew all this.  We also got to go up in a tower built on an emergent tree (a tree that rises above the canopy) which was amazing.  All you could see in every direction was tree tops.  We also got to go on canopy bridges- rope bridges at the canopy level and there were monkeys all around us.

Wednesday night we went out in a boat to go caiman watching.  Caimans are like small alligators.  We saw a few small ones as well as a bunch of capybaras.  Capybaras are the world's largest rodents, but they are super cute.  Then Thursday afternoon we went on a flotada- floating down the river with life jackets on.  We didn't see anything, but included in the animals that live in the Tiputini are anacondas, piranas and dolphins.

Friday we left at 7am to head back to Quito, which was a fun adventure.  The first boat's motor was a bit sketch and we didn't think it was going to start, but thankfully it did.  Then it was raining and everyone curled up in the middle of the boat to stay warm and dry.  I stayed on the seat along the edge and laid down and pulled my hood over my head to try to stay warm and dry, but the water sprayed up under my rain jacket and my shirt underneath was rather soaked.  The rain cleared up towards the end of the boat ride and when we got out at the Maxus Road, a bunch of Waorani people met us and were selling jewelry and I'm pretty sure bananas  and a few other things.  Then we rode back to the oil rig where we waited forever.  Finally one boat came, but I'd just started a card game, so I waited even longer.  Our boat came another hour later and was a little yacht-like boat with airplane-style seats in the cabin.  They started the boat with a lot of trouble and all of these awful noises were beeping and after five minutes they stopped and we were on our way.  That is until after 25min part of the motor failed and we were just floating along.  Luckily, another boat came rather quickly and gave us a propeller and they quickly repaired the motor and we sped back to the hotel in Coca.  Once we arrived, our professor informed us that our flight had been cancelled due to rain.  It was sunny and hot in Coca, so there must have been awful rain in Quito or something, I don't know.  So we hung out at this hotel for a while and Esteban was on his phone pretty much the whole time.  I felt really bad for him having to organize with the airport, university and hotel.  The airport put us up in another hotel for the night, so we got a bus to take us there and got to spend the night in Coca.  Then we got up this morning and flew back to Quito without any problems.

It's all about the Journey, Not the Destination

Saturday, I met 8 friends at USFQ to head to Banos, an adventure town known for extreme sports, hot springs and waterfalls.  We decided to get our own bus because everyone said the buses to and from Banos are super dangerous plus we figured it'd be faster.  One of the girls, Miranda's, host sister had a friend who drives a 14 passenger van so he was driving us and all was fine and dandy until we were about 45min away from Banos.  There was some sort of checkpoint set up by the police and we were stopped and I really don't understand exactly what happened, but something about his papers for his vehicle not matching his ability to transport us or something... all I know is that we all got out and left him and Miranda's host sister with the police and they had to go back to the station with the cops where they stayed until past 9pm and we began walking along the side of the highway trying to figure out what to do. We talked to some locals who told us various buses we could take to get to Banos and so we began waving down buses and asking if we could get to Banos.  Miranda is excellent at Spanish, so she did all this and eventually we got on a bus that took us to some station in a random Ecuadorian town.  Then we found out the bus to Banos was at a different terminal so we went up to get taxis and the fact that we were only taking the taxis to the new station didn't quite translate, so 4 people got into a taxi and the other 4 of us were trying to get a taxi when these high school boys asked if we were going to Banos.  They were too and they'd flagged down a pickup to take them and said we could come and there was this guy in a clown suit following us around and telling us to go with them.  I was terrified for my life, but my friend Beth who'd been talking to the boys said yes and so we hopped into the back of the pickup.  After talking to the boys for a few minutes and passing signs pointing to Banos, I felt better and then found out we were actually in a fairly legit taxi, it just happened to be a pickup truck.  Finally, 8 hours later, we arrived in Banos and we waited at the bus station where we met up with the other half of our group.  Then we went and acquired a hostel for $7 each, scheduled rafting and canyoning for the next day and got some food, and all was much better.

The boys we rode in the pickup with had been going to the hot springs, so after eating we decided that sounded wonderful so we changed into our bathing suits and walked to the hot springs to find what looked like a municipal pool with an insanely long line.  None of us wanted to wait, but there was this dinosaur bus thing that looked awesome, so we all hopped on.  It was by far the best dollar I've ever spent.  It was essentially like a roller coaster train, but on wheels and we drove all around the city and the driver would weave so we'd slither along and we went to this traffic circle that was the perfect size for the dino ride and we rode in circles around it like 5x.  It was so fun!  Then we just wandered around the city and then went on this party bus up the volcano overlooking the city.  There was some comedy show going on and a ton of people up there, but I had no idea what was going on or why so many people we up there.  We stayed for what seemed like forever, and then the party bus took us to a discoteca, but my friend Polly and I were both super tired so we just skipped out and walked back to our hostel.

Sunday, we met at the adventure place where we'd made our reservations and we got on the bus to go whitewater rafting.  We drove for like an hour to get to the place we were rafting, but it was totally worth it.  We ended up with the most experienced guide in our boat and he was amazing.  He's 23 and a professional kayaker and was hillarious.  He had the girls take turns sitting on the front of the boat which was super fun.  I thought I was gonna fall out at first, and it was a bit scary seeing yourself being steered into the largest rapid, but it was amazing!  Definitely the best place to sit when rafting.  When we were done rafting, we got back on the bus and lunch was included, which in the US means you get an apple and a pb&j, but in Ecuador, it means a 3 course meal, which I was a huge fan of.

Then the bus took us directly to the place where we were canyoning which was awesome!  It was just 6 of us with one guy from England and everyone else went back.  They gave us wetsuits and harnesses and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Once we were all geared up, our guide took us to the middle of this huge waterfall and started tying his rope into a piece of metal in the rock and then he began explaining how to rappel to us... in Spanish.  I was terrified and then Polly just hopped up and began going down.  The first part we just rappelled down about 15 feet, with the waterfall gushing over our ankles as we went.  I was so scared and even though I was told numerous times to keep my feet flat as I went down, it was more natural to go on the ball of my foot, until I slipped a couple feet from the bottom.  The guide just lowered me the rest of the way to where I could stand, and I have some awesome burises on my legs.  Then we walked alongside the water to the next drop where we slide down the drop which was super fun.  Then to get to the next drop, we had to go through the water to a boulder with a ledge.  We were clipped in, but I was so scared, the guide had to come get me and hold my hand to get to the ledge.  Then we had to go off the edge of what was more than a 60ft drop.  The guide essentially had to push me off, but it was totally worth it.  We had to rappel down about 6ft and then the wall just disappeared and we swung in and out of the waterfall as we were lowered down.  It was by far the craziest thing I've ever done, but it was definitely worth it.  Then our guide waved to us pointing to the trail back up and disappeared.  The walk back up was almost as much of an adventure, with ladders ascending the steep mountainside.  Once we made it back up to the little hut we were dropped off at, our guide was waiting for us with hot tea which was amazing.  We decided it tasted like McDonald's sweet tea warmed up.  Then we chatted with Christian, the guy from England as we waited for our ride back to town.  He moved to Ecuador about a month ago looking for a job as an English teacher, but isn't really ready to work, so he's just been traveling around and doing cool stuff.

Once we got back to Banos, we went back to our hostel and picked up our bags and then changed and went in search of a place for dinner.  We couldn't find anywhere and time was running low until the last bus was leaving, so we got some empanadas and plantains from street vendors.  Then we couldn't find our bus at the station, so Miranda went and talked to the lady we bought our tickets from.  She said the bus was on its way, but after our adventures getting to Banos, we didn't want a repeat.  Miranda kept going back to the lady and once our bus arrived, she came out and walked us to the bus like little children.  The bus ride back went swimmingly and once we got to the station in the South of Quito, we got out and it was too late for local buses so we went and got a taxi.  We were able to get a pickup truck taxi with a cover over the back to take us all the way back to Cumbaya which was perfect since it was midnight.

jueves, 1 de septiembre de 2011


The start of week 2 of class, and I'm getting the hang of things.  Monday, my friend Polly and I went into Quito in the morning before class and went hiking in parque metropolitano.  It is a huge park on the East edge of Quito and there were some awesome hiking trails.  We ran into some runners and mountain bikers as we explored.  The we came back to Cumbaya and went to the cafeteria at USFQ where we had a nice, large Ecuadorian lunch.  I am generally not a fan of this huge meal because I prefer to snack throughout the day, but after out hike it was nice to eat bread, soup, a main dish, and dessert.

Tuesday, I went back to the aerobics class with some of the girls in my ecology class.  The professors at USFQ are all pretty chill, especially with the workout type classes, so we've "joined" the class for the few mornings we're around to attend.  Not only is step aerobics interesting to figure out in itself, but doing it in Spanish just makes it that much more interesting.  Then we went to what is my new favorite place, the crepe station on campus.  They make everything from nutella to burrito crepes right in front of you, and they're so delicious :)  Then, after my ecology class, I went with my host brother to one of his friend's houses and it was the largest, nicest house I've ever been to.  When we arrived, my host brother asked where the party was at and his friend lead us down like 4 floors to a gorgeous patio with a stained glass window on the house next to it.  It was a lot of fun and we just hung out and they played the guitar and sang.

Then, Wednesday and Thursday we went to Maquipucuna.  It is a reserve in a tropical cloud forest in Northwest Ecuador.  A tropical cloud forest is a forest in the mountains at the altitude where the clouds hit the mountain (~1000m).  It is generally a very humid and wet place, but we got lucky and only had to deal with the humidity while we were there.  We arrived Wednesday to this awesome lodge in a lush jungle:  We went on an hour long hike after dropping our stuff off where we learned about some of the different plants in the area and then we had an amazing lunch at the lodge.  Then we went to one of the nearby streams and sifted for bugs and learned about the different types we found and where they prefer to live.  Our professor's wife is a stream ecologist and she was teaching us all of this and she would just pick up some fairly nasty looking bugs and be super excited and then give them to us to hold.  If you were standing near her, she would just set the bug in your hands.  Luckily I was only handed smaller ones, but there was one called perro de agua which made me jump when I saw it.  Then we took some water quality measurements and hiked to a different stream to compare/contrast.  Then we had free time at the lodge til dinner, a lecture reviewing the stuff we did in the stream and then some of us went on a night hike which was incredibly disappointing.  We just walked along the main road and didn't really see much.

Thursday morning, we got up early to go bird watching.  I soon reaffirmed the fact that I am not a birder and really don't care that much about birding.  We hadn't eaten breakfast and went on an hour and a half hike in silence in search of birds which I could never find.  Our guide had this really cool scope and zoomed in on some sweet birds I was able to see (marmot and toucan!), but overall, I was dying of hunger and boredom.  We returned for breakfast which was super exciting and then embarked on a 2 hour hike on an ancient trail to a waterfall.  The trail was amazingly beautiful and because it was so old, it cut down 3-10 feet in most places so the vegetation was growing up around us :)

The waterfall was super cool, although the water was quite cold.  There was a huge boulder covered in moss in front of it and we slide down it and then there was a cave up inside/behind the waterfall.  It was incredibly rocky and slippery, and a fair amount of us got scrapes and battle wounds, but it was totally worth it.  We then ate our pb&js and hiked back.  Towards the end of the hike I was fading fast, so when we returned to have a late lunch prepared for us, I was super pumped.  We then packed up our stuff and headed back to Quito.  We had a nice stop for a half hour on the way to wait for them to finish some road work.  Instead of closing down part of the road to do work, they just plopped down in the middle of the road stopping traffic both ways :/

On Monday, we head to Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the  Eastern Amazon region of Ecuador where we'll spend the whole week!  

First Week of Class

Last Wednesday we started class.  The program is set up so that we have one class at a time every day for 3 hours for three weeks.  My first class, tropical ecology, is here in Quito and then I will go to San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos for the rest of my classes.  My class is from 2-5 every day, which is an awkward time in the middle of the day, but we have so many field trips that it hardly makes a difference.  Wednesday was a general review of ecology, thursday we learned about paramo ecosystems (Northern Andean ecosystems above 3200m) and then friday we went to Paluguillo Reserve, a paramo.

We met at the university at 7:30am and drove about an hour and a half to Paluguillo where we were dropped off at the top of a 4300m peak at the continental divide.  We had talked about Mt. Washington in New Hampshire being the windiest place on Earth in class, but I'm convinced this place is.  We stepped off the bus into about 36 degree weather with wicked winds.  I had enough clothes to keep my core warm, but when our professor told us to wear a hat and gloves, I thought he was overexaggerating.  My host mom and other Quito natives keep telling me it's cold when it's like 65, so I figured I'd be fine, but my professor knew what was up.  Luckily, one of the guys had an extra hat for me to borrow.  After taking far too much time learning about the continental divide and the plants that live in the highest parts of the paramo, we embarked on our 5 hour hike down.  After a couple hundred meters, we turned a corner out of the wind and I instantly felt a whole lot better, although I hiked virtually the whole way with my hands in my pockets.  The hike was gorgeous with lots of grasses and lagoons and as we neared the end and got back into a more forest-like area there were some waterfalls as well.  Our busses met us at the bottom and then we drove about 15 minutes to some hot springs, which was amazing.  The warm waters were a nice welcome after out brisk hike :)

Then, on Saturday, I went with a bunch of the other students to Otavalo, a town about 2 hours outside of Quito with the country's largest indigenous market.  We went around and haggled for goods- which was an interesting undertaking.  Not only am I bad at haggling, but I had to do it in Spanish as well, but overall it was successful.  Then a few of us took a taxi up to a condor reserve which was basically a small zoo with only birds.  After we'd seen everything, people were gathering in the amphitheater and we got to see a flight show.  They brought out different birds and talked about their habitats and had them fly around which was really cool and they talked about the paramo which was really cool since we'd just learned about it.  At the end, we were able to go hold a little bird whose name I never caught which was also super awesome.  Then, we hiked a couple kilometers to El Lechero, a "magic tree" that is said to have healing powers and grant good luck.  The fact that we were able to get a taxi back into town, and safely take the bus,taxi and other bus back safely at night leads me to believe the visit was well worth while :)

miércoles, 24 de agosto de 2011

Climb a Volcano, check

On Sunday, I went to the Antisana ecological reserve with my host family.  The drive was just over an hour from their house, but none of them had been there before.  That seems to be the case with most Ecuadorians.  Their country isn't incredibly large, but most of them don't travel within it, even those who can afford to.  Antisana is a volcano southeast of quito and the reserve has a huge lagoon and tons of birds and is gorgeous.  My host brother and I climbed to a peak close to the lagoon and the air is so thin that we kept having to stop even though we probably only went up 200m.  It was beautiful though and totally worth the views.

On our drive back from Antisana, my life flashed before my eyes.  They drive pretty crazy here in Ecuador and if you've got a nose in front of another vehicle, you've got the right of way... but my host dad was really hungry and snapped and driving like a raging lunatic.  All of the rest of us were super nervous and my host mom and brother kept asking him to slow down to no avail.  Thankfully, we made it back safely.

Yesterday, Tuesday, a bunch of us went to Pichincha, the Volcano that lies to the West of Quito.  There is an amusement park at the base and then the teleferico is a cable car that goes up the side of it.  We rode the teleferico up to 4.050m and then kept hiking upwards.  There were trail rides available, but I didn't have enough money for one if I wanted to eat lunch so I kept hiking with my friend Sam.  We just kept going and the air was so thin.  My heart was pounding and we'd stop and I feel better but then after about 10 more steps I was dead again.  We pushed on for a while and kept going over peaks thinking we must be at the top, but after we decided to turn around, a guide was telling his group that they had another hour of hiking to reach the summit.  It was still an amazing hike, and I was super proud of myself for going so far.

lunes, 22 de agosto de 2011

Fun Facts

-Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and lies in the middle of the Andes Mountains at 2.850m (9,350ft) above sea level

-Quito lies just to the East of the active stratovolcano Pichincha which is also the name of the province in which it lies

-Ecuador is about the size of Colorado and is divided into 24 provinces, one of which is the Galapagos Archipelago (Islands)

-Ecuador has the most biodiversity per square kilometer out of all the countries in the world

-The country is split between the costal region, the highlands, and the amazon region in the mainland,                plus the Galapagos Islands

-Ecuador gets its name for being on the Equator.  The country was known as Quito, but when the French came to study the shape of the world, they called it the Land of the Equator so that there was no reference to the fact that they were in a Spanish domain and the name stuck.

-The piping in Quito is pretty awful and you can't flush toilet paper- you have to throw it away

-Ecuador uses the US dollar because their economy collapsed 10 years ago, but there is a change crisis and it is difficult to get change for $20s even though that's what ATMs distribute

-Ecuador is one of 2 countries in South America that doesn't border Brazil

sábado, 20 de agosto de 2011

Los Primeros Dias

After traveling for about 14 hours without my cell phone or internet (oh man was I lost), I arrived in Quito, Ecuador and after dodging hundreds of Ecuadorians I found my bag and was greeted by my host brother, Alvero and his German girlfriend Nadine.  It was one in the morning and an interesting ride to Cumbaya, the valley outside Quito where they live and the university is located, with a mixture of Spanish, English, and German being spoken.  We arrived to their house which is huge and I met my host mother, Jeanethe, and she showed me my room.  It's so huge- I'm pretty sure my bed is king size, I have a 40 something inch tv and my own bathroom and a window looking onto the patio which has a pool.  I'm shocked that I have a nicer place here than at home. Also, they have a maid who cooks and cleans daily which is really weird because everyday when I get back my stuff is slightly rearranged which kind of bugs me.

My first day, we drove into Quito to the IES Abroad center and I met 10 other students on the program and we sat through orientation in Spanglish about health and safety and Ecuadorian culture. A police officer talked to us about safety and made us all get up and dance and then offered us drinks to explain to us not to accept drinks from strangers to avoid getting date raped which was an... interesting... icebreaker for us all.  We went to lunch at this really nice hotel overlooking a valley which was awesome.  In Ecuador, the main meal is almuerzo (lunch) and they eat soup, a main dish, and dessert and they drink juice.  I've tried so many new juices in the past few days, all of which have been delicious.  Ecuador is virtually self-sufficient on food (they rely on the US for wheat, although they produce some here) so everything is super fresh.

Thursday, we went back to the IES abroad center and turned in forms to register our visas, learned more about culture, health and safety and after waiting out a freak hail storm, we went on a city tour.  We went   to la iglesia de la compania de jesus, a church completely covered in gold on the inside, we toured el colegio san fernando and went to the roof which was super cool and we went to dinner at a hotel in the main square of the city where we were served ice cream on dry ice by a guy dressed in purple robes that looked like the kkk.

Friday we had orientation at the actual university, la Universidad San Franscico de Quito, which is only about a 3-5 minute walk from my homestay.  The campus is gorgeous which almost made the 3 extra lectures on health and safety worthwhile.  So... if you ever plan on traveling to Quito, let me know because I am fully informed on how to stay safe and healthy- lets hope it pays off and I have no problems while here. 

Today, Saturday, all of the Galapagos Islands (GAIAS) students went on a city tour.  In addition to the 11 of us from IES, there's a huge group from Chapel Hill NC, a group of grad students from Oregon and some others as well.  I think there's about 40 of us total.  We went back to la iglesia de la compania de jesus and the main square of Quito, but we also walked around the colonial part of the city, went to a park that has a cool overview of the city and we went to the north and got to straddle the equator.