Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mama, I'm Coming Home

Since my last post, a lot has happened. I am finally home, but I will go ahead and fill you in on the rest of the trip anyways. On our last day in the Galapagos, we went to the Darwin Research Center where we became some of the last people to see the iconic tortoise, Lonesome George. We were all confused by his stillness and stooping head when we saw him, but it wasn't until dinner that we found out that he had died and probably wasn't alive when we saw him. It was so strange to hear that the tortoise that had already lived at least a hundred years and who was expected to have just as much life ahead of him died on the same day that we saw him. Before dinner though, we worked up an appetite by playing at the beach for hours. On the way there, I walked with Madelene Hamilton. She fell on the way there and then we bumped heads so it was kind of a rough hike but we had fun singing Alabama Shakes' "Hold On" and Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zero's "Home" (hence the title of my post). For dinner that night, we had my favorite meal on the trip: slipper lobster with coconut sauce. We were at a street restaurant that Julian recommended. It was great! After dinner, we came home for our last night on the island. After that, the trip is a blur. We went to Quito for a night where we ate the much dreaded Guinea Pig. I completely blame the delicacy for making me sick on the entire plane ride home. Although the flight was rough, I savored the last few hours I had with the group. I have loved getting to know everyone! Overall, the trip was a huge success, thanks to people like Ms. Bottoms, Taylor, Sam, Nikki, Livio, Massimo, and Julian. I hope that someday I get to go back to one of the many places I got to see! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Canoe Rides, Tortoises, and Everything in Between

Saturday, we took the much dreaded, five-hour canoe ride to the Amazon. Don't get me wrong, we were all excited to see what the famous river had in store for us, but the group was not looking forward to sitting in an unstable canoe for half a day. Contrary to what we expected, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on the trek to the pink dolphin lodge. Between gazing at miles of the rich rainforest to enjoying naps in the cool breeze, there wasn't a boring moment. During the ride, we also got delicious boxed lunches of potatoes, chicken, and my personal favorite, a fresh apple. When I first got my box, I thought to myself, "I shouldn't eat this chicken… it's been sitting in the sun for hours. And this apple, as tempting as it may be, is not piping, peeled, or purified (the three P's, as we call them)." Despite my initial hesitations, I let my hunger get the best of me and devoured the whole meal (don't worry, I never got sick!). When we finally reached our destination, I was disappointed that the ride was over but excited to explore our new hotel. After looking around at the cabanas and outdoor lounging area, we had an introduction to the Amazon by Libio, the man who runs this place. Then, we took little canoes out and some people swam in the river. Call me a chicken, but I couldn't bring myself to jump into the water. Next, we came back and ate a great dinner. After that, some of us went for a night walk. Although the sights we saw were pretty, that was one part of the day that I really didn't like. My anxiety attack first kicked in when we saw a snake slithering through the leaves. I really flipped out when I started getting ant bites all over my body. Although I was wearing goulashes, high socks and a long sleeved shirt tucked into ankle-length pants, and a zipped up rain jacket with the hood on, ants bit my thighs, stomach, shoulders, back, and hands. I was very unpleasantly surprised to find out that the ants here are much larger and more powerful than the ones in Houston… each bite felt like a bad bee sting and the intense pain lasted for over a day. My night ended in tears, but a Benadryl put me to sleep and the next day was much better.

Sunday, we woke up at the crack of dawn to go for a five-hour hike in the rain forest. We were all pleased to find out that the schedule had changed and it only had to last three hours. The time really flew by though, because Libio made things very interesting. He taught us some skills for survival just in case, God forbid, one of us ever gets lost near the Amazon. He had some really cool tricks, such as making a tent out of palm leaves. He also showed us how to climb a tree using a rope he made out of a vine. After the hike, we came home and had a photography lesson and then ate another great meal. Although a lot of people weren't fans of the meat loaf we were served, I thought it was delicious. As I always say, I like old people food (casseroles, meatloaf, etc.). After lunch we had a nice siesta- Libio said it was important to experience the every day life of the locals. After we woke up, we went for another canoe ride to look for Howler Monkeys. We only saw a few on the two-hour voyage, but they were really cool to see. By the time we got back, it was almost time for dinner. After dinner, we went back to the canoes to look for Caymans. Some of us assigned ourselves to be characters from Swamp People… I was Bruce. It was fun to search for "Big Papa," although we didn't see anything. The ride was still worth it since we saw so many beautiful stars. Exhausted from the big day, we went to sleep as soon as we got home.

Monday, we got to sleep in!! It was so nice to get a good night's rest. Madeline and I have been watching Grey's Anatomy each night and it works almost as well as a Tylenol PM. Anyways, when we did get up, we went to the eating area for a great breakfast of rolls, a fried egg, and an empanada-type thing. After breakfast, I got a little bit sick so I stayed in while the rest of the group went for a hike. When they got back, I was feeling a little better so I ate lunch with them. Then, we went on a long canoe ride to an island to look at monkeys. After a pretty short walk, we started to see them. We found about four monkeys and they were adorable. The baby was especially cute! Once we were satisfied and had taken thousands of pictures, we headed home. It was a great day!

Yesterday, we got up at six to go for a hike before breakfast. Although we didn't find the monkeys we were looking for, it was a great start to the day. After a good breakfast, we went piranha fishing. Initially, I didn’t catch anything so during the rest time I went again and caught one! I was SO excited. After the big catch, we came home and it was almost time for dinner. Much to my surprise, they fried our piranhas! It was kind of tough but I was glad to try it. When it was time for bed, Madeline and I spotted a tarantula on the ceiling, making it very hard to fall asleep. It's ok though, because the next day was our five-hour boat ride so there was plenty of time to nap.

Today, we woke up to the sound of pouring down rain and Miss Bottoms knocking on our door. She had come to tell Madeline and I that we could go back to bed because of the rain (we were supposed to have been heading to breakfast by that point). We really lucked out, because neither of us had woken up to our alarms! Anyways, after we finally did wake up, we ate breakfast and then received whittled coconut figures from Livio. Mine had a butterfly on it and it was so cute! After that, we took the boat to head to the airport. On the way, we had boat problems. It was frustrating, but at the same time, it will give me a good story to tell. How many people can say that they broke down on the Amazon River?! Unfortunately, because of the extra time we spent fixing the engine, we didn't get to stop in the village that we had originally planned to go see. I was disappointed but it's ok. In the middle of the trip, we stopped at a lodge for lunch and then shortly arrived afterwards at the airport! It was a pretty easy day of traveling, which is a good thing. Tomorrow, we head to the Galapagos. I can't wait!

We are finally in the Galapagos! It's not exactly what I expected but it's really amazing none-the-less. When we first landed, I was surprised to find that the islands are actually inhabited by people. I guess I always just assumed that only animals lived here. Apparently, 8,000 people live on the main island! Once we got our luggage, we took a bus to lunch, where we had soup, rice, veggies, and yahoo fish. It was a really nice meal after a day of traveling. Then, we went to our hostel, got settled, and headed out for a tour of a small historical museum where we learned about the settlement of the islands. As it turns out, there's more to the story than Charles Darwin. After the tour, we hiked out to a rocky coast where we got to snorkel! It was some of the best snorkeling I have ever experienced! In only thirty or forty minutes, I saw a stingray and a giant sea turtle. The island is also home to many sea lions and while we snorkeled, we were lucky enough to swim with one. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done! After our swim, we came back to the hostel to shower. The four of us in room 8 managed to all shower and get dressed in twenty minutes, which I think is pretty impressive! Then, we headed to dinner. We were all ecstatic when we saw that we were going to get to eat mashed potatoes. They were delicious. Although we were all full after dinner, we headed for ice cream. Naturally, we all had enough room for dessert! It was a great first day, and tomorrow is expected to be even better… we are going to a reef where we are expecting to swim with hammerheads! I'm not going to lie, I'm TERRIFIED, but I've been out of my comfort zone a lot on this trip so I figure one more thing can't hurt too much. Wish me luck!!

Today, I awoke to the sun in my window an hour before I actually needed to be up. I enjoyed just laying in bed until the alarm clock went off. We headed down to breakfast at that point, and afterwards we headed to a boat, which would take us to kicker rock, a snorkeling spot. The sights there were AMAZING. We swam right over a school of sharks. When I heard that we would be swimming with sharks on this trip, my hands got clammy and my heart raced, but when we actually saw them all of my fears went out the window. Instead of feeling afraid for my life, I felt peaceful and completely excited to be seeing such a rare thing. The sharks were really cool, and I actually swam towards them rather than away from them, much to my surprise. We also saw three sea turtles, one of which came EXTREMELY close to me. I was so thankful to be borrowing Ms. Bottom's underwater camera so I could get a good shot of it. It actually came out pretty neat! We also saw a lot of jellyfish. They were small and although I was stung, I didn't really care because they were so interesting to watch and the stings were very subtle. After snorkeling, we explored a part of a beach that was also a national park. It was really pretty and crazy to see an entirely uninhabited horizon. Then, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of pesto rice and chicken on the boat before getting back out to snorkel more. On our second snorkeling outing, we saw a baby sea lion that was very social and curious. He or she even nibbled on Michael and Sam's flipper!! It was adorable. After swimming we road back to the mainland. Then, we had a little bit of time to explore the town and take pictures. I took full advantage of the time, taking pictures of sea lions (they are literally ALL over the place… they even sit on the slides at the parks here) and doing some souvenir shopping. After that, we went to dinner where Bailey and I both finished our entire plate. It consisted of two pork chops, salad, rice, beans, and a baked potato. Even after all of that, I had room left for a great end to the day: ice cream. I have loved San Cristobal but I am really excited to see what Santa Cruz has in store for us (starting tomorrow)!

Today, we woke up early to take a boat to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, my sea-sickness got the best of me so the ride wasn't very enjoyable but once we got to the island, I had a blast. We are staying at hotel called the Galapagos Inn, and our room is HUGE. I am rooming with Madeline, Bailey, and Lauren. I think it's going to be a fun few days! After getting settled, we strolled around town for a little while. I finally found my dad a souvenir at one of the many identical touristy shops here. As we walked, we found a cute ice cream spot and I got a scoop of pistachio. It was the best ice cream I've had on the trip, and that's saying a lot! Only a little while after ice cream, we took a walk to lunch. Most of us got pizza. It was pretty good, but none of us were full afterwards so we were treated to ice cream AGAIN… oops! After our delicious meal, we took a bus to a few hiking areas. The first was a place that used to be a volcano. Now, it looks like a grass-covered canyon. After that, we went to some fields that had giant tortoises. It was really neat. Some of them were over one hundred years old! They were also HUGE. Whoever called them giant wasn't kidding. At the end of that tour, we got to "try on" a tortoise shell. I could get my whole body inside! After that, we headed to a lava cave. It was a giant under-ground cave that was formed by flowing lava thousands of years ago. It was really cool to run around in. Now, we are back at the hotel, soaking up the wifi that seems so hard to come by these days. I am savoring the last few days of the trip! 

Friday, June 15, 2012


I can't believe I forgot to make a post on our day of hummingbird watching!! Some people got up early to go to the hummingbird sanctuary, but I decided to sleep in and go later... from what I've heard, I still got to see everything that everyone else saw. That included over ten species of hummingbirds and a tucan!! They were so pretty! Afterwards, we split into groups to go to lunch. I was with Haley, Michael and Sarah Jane and Clara. We all got rice and milkshakes... delicious and healthy! Later, we took shots around town of the culture of Ecuador. My favorite part of the assignment was when I met the owners of a special needs school. I got to go inside and meet some of the children. It was great to see how well they were cared for! They were so sweet also! Later, we went to chocolarte, where we got to see the chocolate making process. Then, we ate the chocolate with fruit. I only ate the fruit but it was AMAZING because we hadn't had fresh fruit in a while. Full from dessert, we headed to dinner. I wasn't too hungry by then but it was still good! It was a really busy day but so so much fun, as usual! 

Adios, Mindo

On day 8 of our adventure, we hiked as a group to the same mist-netting center we went to the day before. There, we painted signs, helped repair stairs, and chopped wood to fulfill our community service goal. I was really happy to be able to help such a good cause…  now that I have experienced the rain forest first-hand, I appreciate how important its conservation is. After completing our jobs, we hiked back into town where we ate a big lunch. After lunch, we had our last lecture from Massimo. I loved hearing about his experiences as a photographer and was sad to see him go. Later, we had a pretty relaxing afternoon, playing mafia and telling scary stories. For dinner, we enjoyed another Italian-inspired thing… a meal of pizza. When we got back to the lodge, we played mafia yet again with the leaders this time. I am pretty proud to say that I correctly guessed the killer in both rounds! After the intense game, we all went to bed, locking our doors and feeling a little crept out from our day of horror stories. It was a great last night in Mindo and I am so excited to go back to Quito and then to the most anticipated stop of our trip: the Amazon jungle! 

Mist Netting

Today was my day to get up at the crack of dawn, but it turned out to be worth it. We went to a mist-netting house, which is run by an American couple. There, we caught eleven birds, wrote down data about them, tagged them, and released them to the wild. It was so neat to live the life of a biologist for a day! After hiking back home, we got pizza for lunch and it was delicious. Later, Michael, Haley, Lauren and I attempted to catch up on some summer reading but instead ended up taking a long, much needed nap on the hammocks outside the lodge. I had no idea I was so tired! For dinner, we went to Nikki's family's restaurant, which was amazing. I can't wait to see what the last few days in Mindo have in store for us!