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!