I had hoped to update throughout the week while I traveled Galapagos, but I was so busy and nights ended so late I haven't had a chance to update until now.
At this point, my week of travel in the Galapagos is over, but it was a fantastic week. Julia, Alex and I used a local tour guide to put together our week's itinerary and it was even better than we expected. We weren't sure it was going to go smoothly, but it did. By having someone organize our tour based on what we wanted to see, we were able to see so much more.
Beginning last friday we took water taxis to Isabela to really begin our tour. The first water taxi to Santa Cruz wasn't too bad, but the taxi to Isabela was really rough. It was honestly like riding a wooden roller coaster for two hours. I was stuck in the worst seat too (which on a boat is in the front) which made the whole experience painful. Luckily my stomach could handle it, but I woke up the next morning with a really bad back ache. My lower back was completely sore from slamming down onto the seat with every wave.
Once we got off that nightmare boat and arrived in Isabela everything got better. Its remarkable how close the islands are to one another but how different they are. Isabela feels the most like an island and is the best island if you want a few more beach days in your trip. It has beautiful beaches along the whole coast so you don't have to walk anywhere to find a good one.
The first day at Isabela was the Tuneles day tour. These are underwater lava tunnel/bridge formations on the edge of the sea. This was my most favorite snorkeling spot (probably ever) because off all of the cool things to see. Not only where there sea turtles, tropical fish and sharks to see, but the lava formations were so cool to swim through. We had an excellent guide who took us under and around to formations and was able to spot the lava caves where sharks were sleeping. It was really a fantastic day and I have some great pictures of me swimming with giant sea turtles!
The next day was our Volcan Sierra Negra tour. This was a 10 mile hike (5 miles each way) alongside the caldera of the volcano. The caldera's diameter is a little over 6 miles wide itself. Huge crater on this volcano. After passing Sierra Negra we walked a little further to Volcan Chino, a smaller volcano but in an area that was completely covered in lava rock and ash. I've never seen anything like this - it was so cool.
I also did a few other snorkeling tours that allowed me to swim with 5/6 giant sea turtles at a time and swim next to a 5 or 6 ft long manta ray down a channel in the ocean. The wildlife here is really unusual and I'm so thrilled I've had so many chances to see and/or swim with these cool animals.
After Isabela, we headed to Santa Cruz. A taxi drove us around the highlands and took us to some cool places including a huge lava tunnel we could walk through. The tunnel was about the size of a subway tunnel. Pretty cool. In the afternoon we headed to Tortuga Bay - it's supposed to be one of (if not The) nicest beach on all of the Galapagos. It was about an hour walk along the trail and the beach, but it was a really pretty beach with lots of waves for surfers and the perfect swimming lagoon protected by rocks around the corner. I could have easily spent a whole day there, unfortunately we only had about an hour and a half to spend.
On our very last day in Galapagos we dropped the big bucks to take a day tour to Bartolome. If you Google image search "Galapagos," 9 times out of 10 Bartolome is the island they'll feature. The landscape is spectacular there with a fantastic view of the neighboring island, Santiago from the highest viewpoint.
Since we organized this tour through an agency, we weren't exactly sure what to expect when it came to our boat to Bartolome. Our other day tours had been relatively simple boats with bench seats. You can imagine our pleasant surprise when we found out we were put on the newest, nicest boat to Bartolome. This boat was a fully stocked yacht with a full kitchen, 2 bathrooms and a top deck for beautiful views. I felt a bit out of place with the other passengers on the boat (only older couples clearly with $$$) but I wasn't going to let that ruin my tour! Our meals were big, delicious and served on fine china. It certainly was more than we expected and what a great way to end our Galapagos trip! Of course, icing on the cake was riding in the boat next to about 20 Galapagos Penguins!!!! Wow. What an awesome trip.
I'm currently sitting on the plane back to Quito finalizing my plans for the next 3 weeks. I cant believe I only have 3 weeks left, but I'm so excited for them!
What a really awesome past couple of days. I've been so busy I haven't had a chance to blog. I finished up my last week at La Hacienda Esperanza and can only say positive things about the whole experience. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but I had a great time. The family and friends I met were just incredible and I actually enjoyed the physical work everyday in the outdoors. I could go on and on and get sappy, but I'll just skip that part and say I had a fantastic volunteer experience.
When shopping at the grocery store earlier last week for snacks (coco cookies!) with Julia and Alex (German volunteers who I'm traveling with now), we found an Ecuadorian Monopoly game on the shelf and started to joke about all the different ways they could make a Galapagos version of the game. The more we joked, the more we realized we could make a great San Cristobal board game and so that's exactly what we did.
Later that evening we got our creative juices flowing and created, San Cristobal Island Quest!™ and had a blast coming up with places and actions related to the island. Honestly, we need to produce that game and get it in the souvenir market.
On Thursday evening, we asked all of the members of the family to join us for dinner so we could say thank you for our time and experience. We had a big BBQ dinner where we surprised them with cake and beer (you can never go wrong with cake and beer).
After dinner we also surprised them with the game and asked them to play with us. That was so much fun and I think they really enjoyed it, especially the kids.
Again, I cant believe the six weeks passed so quickly and now I'm off for traveling. I'll update again tomorrow with my latest traveling adventures.
Wow. The brothers decided to treat us this week. we took two days off from work and walked 3 hours down the side of the mountain to the beach, camped overnight and returned the next day.
The beach was the most beautiful beach I've been to on the island. The water was the perfect turquoise color and the finest white sand I've ever seen. No rocks were in the water, just sand. Although the water was cold, it was extremely rewarding after a tough hike down the mountain.
The "path" was barely a path and it required a lot of walking on lava rocks. I haven't quite mastered walking on rocks but I'm getting there. I moved pretty slow, but after 3 hours we arrived at the fantastic beach.
We were completely alone with no boats or other people so we really had this private beach to ourselves. The beach was also a great place to bird watch. We saw many pelicans, Blue Footed Boobies and Fragate birds. We also saw a few sea turtles, marine iguanas and of course, plenty of crabs.
Unfortunately, I recently got a cold so I was dealing with that. I also managed to get stung by a bee and cut the bottom of my foot on a rock after stubbing my toe, but somehow I still managed to have a good time.
For dinner, the brothers went lobster fishing and caught over 30 lobsters. We cooked a few for dinner, but we have lobster for the next week, I'm sure.
Before going to sleep we all laid in the sand star-gazing for about an hour. Without any city lights, we could see so many stars including a few shooting stars. Once it was time for bed, all 5 volunteers packed into a cozy tent and I fell asleep listening to the ocean waves.
In the morning I was dreading the walk back up the mountain. Luckily, the brothers were very nice and let me ride the mule up most of the way. That mule ride was definitely a highlight for me. No longer looking down at my feet, I was able to look up and around at the scenery. Of course the trip wouldn't be complete if I didn't manage to smack my head on a tree in the process.
It really was a great little trip though and I'm so glad we got to go. I would have preferred to feel a little better, but I still had a good time. I never expected such a treat when signing up for a volunteer program. The brothers really care about us having a great experience and not just doing work. I'm so glad I'm here!
I said I was hoping to snorkel with sharks on Tuesday and boy did we see sharks. I swam around 5 ft away from about 30 sharks, all between 4-6 ft long. It was really cool to swim so close to them, however, I did almost pee myself when I saw the first one. In most cases, we were swimming above the sharks, but a few times I had to quickly stop swimming so one could swim across in front of me. Never thought I would swim with sharks, but glad I did :)
Along with sharks we saw a couple of sea turtles as well. They really are incredible to watch swim. I saw a really big one who was about 5 ft long and it was so cool to watch it swim. Also, the water was really cold - I'm glad I had a wetsuit. All in all it was a great trip and I'm so glad I got to do it.
After finishing my fourth week of work we headed into town right as the school was celebrating their 74th anniversary with a parade and a small dance recital. We were told from 4 different people that the parade would start at 6pm, 5pm, 4pm, and 4:30pm. So naturally, it started at 5:30pm. That's Ecuador, for you.
When the parade finally started, it was really adorable to watch the kids on their makeshift floats from airport luggage carts and pickup trucks. Half the kids were having the time of their lives while the other half were wishing they were anywhere but there and crying. Somehow they all were still really cute.
The parade ended right in front of the outdoor amphitheater where each class would do a routine. And in typical Ecuador fashion, once the parade ended, it was like someone said, "oh I guess we should set up the sound and lights for the show now". So we waited another hour before the show actually started.
Watching the kids dance was pretty cute and I was impressed at how well they did and how most of them had memorized the entire dance. No wonder the guys here are great dancers when they're older. They're all dancing in school functions from age 3. Now these kids weren't given any difficult choreography, but I was still impressed. The detailed handmade elaborate costumes made custom for each child and the props for each routine were also really cool.
One routine was Barbie themed and all 10-12 girls began the routine in these elaborate handmade Barbie boxes. I was with some European girls and we were all ooing and ahhing ... until the music started. Our mouths dropped when we heard that the song was Aqua's Barbie Girl. These 4 year old boys and girls were dancing to Barbie Girl. The European girls and I all looked at each other like "No way, they must not know what this song means". The more I listened to the song the more I realized that all of the sexual references may be lost on a non-native English speaker. But I'm still convinced someone's parent in that audience knew what the words meant and was horrified.
Today I plan to head down to the port and try to make it to the craft market and possibly get a $7 pedicure. We'll see. Chao!
Yesterday marked halfway through my volunteer work. I've worked for 3 weeks and I have 3 more weeks of work. It seems like I just got here, too. It's crazy how quickly time is passing.
This week the group of high schoolers was with us for a few days. It made for some loud evenings, but overall it was fine. It's kind of nice to have a big group for work. The work this week was more of the same, however, yesterday we carried logs on our shoulders for a 20 minute walk partly uphill to plant trees. That was a task I never knew I was capable of, but it was a great workout for my shoulders and back.
After work we were even treated to lobster for lunch. It was a really delicious. From what I gather, the National Park only lets people catch lobster at certain times, so it's a treat here on the islands even though there is plenty. Now if only we could eat the crabs...
On Tuesday I have a snorkel day trip planned to Leon Dormido, a rock formation just off the coast of the island. The highlight is all of the hammerhead sharks that swim around there. I never thought I would swim with sharks but I'm actually really excited! Everyone who goes says it's great.
I've met some really cool people while traveling and it's been great to really learn about other cultures. Between the family at Hacienda Esperanza and the various volunteers/travelers I meet, I've had some great conversations. I have a running list of contact information for when I return home :)
I'll post again after my snorkel trip!
Hola! Things are still going great here and surprisingly work is still going well. I've now worked for two weeks and managed to do something different every day. I'm very appreciative of the variety and it makes work easier when I can do different things. This past week I cleared the farm on the mountain for planting, planted plants, weeded the greenhouse, mixed and laid down a cement floor of a house, painted some beams of a cabin, cleared a pathway to the cabin and rode a mule to some orange and mandarin trees to pick 300-400 fruits for a group that arrives this evening.
A lot of work this week but since we only work in the morning, it isn't too bad. The brothers are very aware that this is tough work we don't do at home and figure they can only work us for about 4/5 hours before our legs and backs give out for the day lol. Which is more or less the case. I'm capable of working 7am-12pm, but it'd be physically difficult to go back to work after lunch. However, I definitely feel myself getting stronger (buckets of cement aren't light).
I love spending the weekends taking it easy in town and relaxing at the beach. You have to fight the sea lions a bit to get a good spot on the beach, but once you claim your space they usually leave you alone.
Today I slept until 8am! It was great to "sleep in". I'm usually so tired though that I'm in bed no later than 9:30pm. No TV or internet also helps me get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
We lazed around the hacienda until about noon and after lunch walked to the small town's one tourist spot, a little treehouse where the restaurant was made out of beer bottles. It was super touristy but it was cool enough for a visit and to have a beer.
This evening I was grateful to get a shower before a group of 20+ high schoolers arrived. The noise level has just increased 200 times. It's still cool to have a big group of volunteers but it's so different from the 24-40 year old teachers I've met volunteering.
The group will be here for the next 5 days so we'll see how it goes!
Today I'm 25! Woop! Spent the morning working, but I did get to have a nice relaxing weekend in town and at the beach. I really cant complain.
I've been having a great time. Yes, the work is tough and a but strenuous but I can already see differences in my body I'm pretty excited about. We hiked the mountain again today and I didn't need to stop, just a steady pace all the way up. I'm also reforming my dancer's calves so thats a plus.
Speaking of dance, Friday night in town there was a "BowieFest" grade talent show going on and the dancers were so cute and adorable. I had a major flashback to dancing at BowieFest. It was weird.
Currently, there are four of us volunteering. Me, one Swiss girl and two German girls. They're all very sweet and I've enjoyed talking with them and learning about their cultures. We usually split a taxi and spend the afternoon after work either in town or on the beach. It's a great way to end the day before dinner.
I've done most of what I wanted to do on this island and plan on booking a day trip to Kicker Rock for snorkeling either this weekend or next weekend. They provide wetsuits which makes the water a bit more bearable.
I'm trying to take advantage of down time to talk Spanish with my family here at the lodge. I can see some improvement but I still want to get better. The family is a big one and they all have different roles. Jose runs the lodge and sends us to work, Eduardo lives in town and brings in new volunteers from the airport and their sister, Carmen, cooks when big groups are here. There are other members of the family that pass through too.
That's all for now :)
Checking in from la hacienda. We've been working pretty hard this week. On Tuesday, I worked on a farm cutting down grass of that isn't native to the Galapagos. And by "cutting grass", I mean literally bending down and wielding a machete. And this was only after walking 45 minutes to the worksite. Walking 45 minutes is no big deal, the paperwork said I may have to walk 45 minutes to the worksite, however, the paperwork made no mention of the fact that it was 45 minutes up the side of a rocky mountain. Woooo lord that was intense. I'm sure I'll have to make that hike again and I'm not looking forward to it. However, the view from the top was incredible and it was a real sense of accomplishment to take the climb.
On Wednesday we cut down mora (blackberry) plants. They aren't native to Galapagos and because of their thorns the turtles don't like them. Unless we remove the plants, the turtles wont roam around the land. That was another difficult task but again, rewarding to get your hands dirty and really do hard manual labor.
Today we had a rare treat to work at the Galapaguera. This is a breeding center for turtles! There are about 30 large turtles they keep to reproduce and they protect the babies until they are 3 or 4 years old then release them into the wild. We didn't get to actually work with the turtles, but we helped clear tree branches for a nearby greenhouse. We did get to visit the Galapaguera when we were finished which was really cool. I've really fallen in love with these adorable tortugas! They're so cute!
A group of three girls from Switzerland and Germany arrived on Tuesday so it's been nice working with a slightly larger group (and split the costs of taxis if we go into town).
After work tomorrow I'll go down and stay in the town for the weekend. I'l go to the beach and hopefully arrange a day trip snorkeling to some local spots.
I'll write again soon.
Well. Am I in for an interesting next 6 weeks. I came here with no expectations because I knew it would be nothing like I imagined.
Today was my first day of work and when I arrived at the volunteer lodge was, "oh, this is just like summer camp". I'm currently on the top bunk in a small hut with a few bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. We wait in lines to use the 3 bathrooms and shower quickly because there is a long line. Flashback to Camp Friendship, seriously.
Luckily, my first day of work started easier because there is currently a group of 20 high school kids here and they have a set program. Today was their last day working so the second half of the day was spent at the beach. It was a nice way to ease into the work week, but it's clear I'm in for some serious manual labor. Today we did farming and cleared the area of leaves and tree stumps so they could farm on the land. Oh well, I hope I come out of this nice and strong. Side note: the group of kids was the same group from Saturday that sounded like sea lions. I didn't bring it up that I recognized them because I didn't want them to remember how hard I laughed. Oh, but they remembered me. One goes, "Hey! You were the one who couldn't stop laughing because we sounded like sea lions!" Lol oops, and yes, that was me.
There is only one other volunteer here who will be here for only a week. Once the high school group leaves it will just be us two, however I'm sure there will be more volunteers passing through.
The woman program leader for the high schoolers is really nice and is very interesting to talk to. She's a school teacher during the year but has done this program a few summers in different countries. She seems pretty excited to have another adult woman to talk to and frankly, so am I! She'll leave with the group tomorrow, but she has one more session so she'll be back again while I'm still here.
Tomorrow I'll head to an area to clear mora (blackberries) since it is a species that isn't native to the land. It should be interesting. We'll see!
Hey guys, I made it to Galapagos!
After a long, tedious process at the airport, I made it to San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. I was picked up by my family for the weekend and taken up to our home. In the morning, I'll head to the volunteer lodge and begin my volunteer work.
Yesterday after I arrived, the 11 yr old daughter, Dayana (pronounced like Diana) took me to the visitor's center which was on my list of things to see anyway. Dayana took me through the visitor center the way any 11 yr old would go through a visitor's center. Quickly. But, she did give me her own version of the tour which was nice and helpful. I'll be sure to go back and read/see more on my own time because it looked like it had a lot of great information and in English (yay!).
The REAL reason we went to the visitor's center was it's where there is a great swimming hole for snorkeling. However, the water was FREEZING. It wasn't too bad after your entire body went numb lol. This swimming hole had a few sea lions so it was pretty cool swimming around with them. There was a group of Americans there to snorkel as well who were also struggling with the water temperature. Imagine 20 people screaming "cooooooooold!" into their snorkels and it sounds just like a sea lion mating call. Thank goodness I can swim and tread water because the sound had me laughing for 15 minutes straight.
After we climbed out of the freezing water we headed to a beach with more sea lions but also tortoises swimming in the waves. The tortoises in Galapagos are nothing like the tortoises back home. They're massive. They're about 3 ft long and 2 ft high. Huge. Apparently I'll see a lot more up in the highlands where I volunteer. I got a kick out of watching them swim in the waves because I've always thought of them as slow, lazy animals but I guess not.
As we headed back home, Dayana told me that there was a place to wash our feet and put our shoes on down the path. As we walked through the dirt and rocks barefoot for 15 minutes, I started to wonder if I misunderstood her Spanish, thinking, "If I knew we'd walk this long in the rocks and gravel I would have said 'who cares' and put my shoes back on with sandy feet". I honestly flashed to the scene in It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World where the guy drives his car into the river because he's blindly following a child he doesn't understand. And now I can count on one hand the number of people who will get that reference (Uncle Tom, I hope you're reading).
To my delight, Dayana was right, there was a great place to wash off our feet and put our shoes on just down the road. I will no longer doubt her.
This morning Dayana took me to another beach right near the airport that was surrounded by lava rocks. She acted as a great guide, spotting 5 marine iguanas I would have never noticed if she didn't point them out. It was pretty cold this morning so we didn't swim, but took a great hike around the beach seeing sea lions (yup, I think there are more sea lions than people), crabs and little finches (as in Darwin's finches).
It is really beautiful here. The whole town is very quiet (except for the neighbors, naturally) and it feels like a quaint little fishing town. For anyone who has ever been, the geography feels most like Aruba. A lot of dry land and cactus, but very beautiful.
As for the neighbors, they aren't too loud and stop all noise at night so I can't really complain. However, if you consider the family's goat and rooster "neighbors", they ARE loud. When the rooster crows at sunrise in the movies, this is a LIE. This rooster didn't care that you were trying to sleep, it was determined to crow every 45 minutes beginning from 2am until I got out of bed at 8am. I'm pretty sure at one point I even dreamed of throwing a shoe at it.
That's all for now, I got to get to bed early to get up early for work.