Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Last days

Today we left Santa Cruz and returned to Quito. We got back, dropped off our bags, and went to dinner. At dinner, we all had to try cuy, or guinea pig; it was pretty gross! After dinner, we had MORE ice cream, but I wasn't feeling well, so I didn't. After dinner we packed and got ready to wake up at 2:45 for our plane ride. I am so grateful to everyone that helped us out on our trip, specifically Sam and Taylor, because they helped us stay safe and healthy and have fun! We landed back in town, so this is my last blog! I hope y'all enjoyed reading my posts; I have had a lot of fun traveling in Ecuador and the Galapagos!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Santa Cruz, Galapagos

~One of the land iguanas that I saw~

~The Dr. Seuss-esque cactus forest~

Hola! Today (6/23) we got to Santa Cruz after a rough, wavy, and windy 2 ½ hour boat ride! We arrived early, so we jumped straight into our activities. We walked through the town, ate ice cream, and shopped! We had some pizza, and then headed into the highlands. There, we saw several giant and vast sinkholes. Next, we kept driving and visited a farm where there was a bunch of tortoises laying and walking around!  They were so big, old, and funny to watch eat! After I crawled inside a tortoise shell, tried to crawl around in it, and stuck a leaf in my mouth, we headed to a lava tunnel! It was spooky and dark; I loved it! Tonight, we went onto the roof and took some night pictures of the city! Tomorrow, we go to the Charles Darwin Research Center and try to find Lonesome George! So long!

            Hello! Today (6/24) we went to the Darwin Research Center and the beach! First, we went to the center and saw tortoises in different stages of life. First, we saw some that were a year old; they were so cute! We reached the older tortoises, and they looked VERY aged. Next, we walked by some giant land iguanas. They were orange, yellow, white, and brown with spikes and scales. After we took pictures of them, we went out looking for Lonesome George… We found him!! He was lying on the ground not doing much, but can you blame him? He is 100 years old! After we finished at the research center, we had lunch and then headed to the beach. It took us nearly an hour to get there, but when we did, it was worth it! The beach was gorgeous. I explored, swam, tanned, and played! I also looked around in a lava rock, secluded area with a bunch of cacti lined up! I felt like I was in a Dr. Seuss book!We headed back to our inn, and I swam for a few minutes in the pool. After dinner, we had MORE ice cream! Today we have to fly back to Quito. We stay there for a night then fly home! We just found out terrible news: Lonesome George died today. Good night, I have to go and mourn the loss of another species on earth; there are now only 10 more tortoise species on earth.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Amazon and Galapagos!

Bongiorno! Today (6/16) was another intense traveling day for the NGSE clan! We woke up early to catch our 9 o’clock flight to Coca; however, we thought our flight departed at 10! So when we got there and saw the change in time, we went into panic mode and had to rush through the tiny airport to our gate. Luckily, there was minimum security and no line, so we blew right through! After the 30 minute flight, we hopped onto a motorized boat in the shape of an elongated canoe and set sail for 5 hours. About 30 minutes after we left, our boat got stuck on the bank! Our navigators had to hop out and we had to rock from side to side in order to get us free; after a couple minutes of strenuous rocking, we were free! They served us a delicious lunch consisting of chicken and potatoes and apple! After our 5 hour journey on the piranha river, we entered the piranha lagoon, and our lodge. We dropped off our stuff, put on our bathing suits, and canoed out into the piranha lagoon; we went swimming! It was so refreshing, and reminded me of the Louisiana swamp, but instead of having an alligator danger, we had a piranha and anaconda danger! We got back and ate dinner; I got in bed by around 8:20 and Lauren and I were asleep by 9! We slept under mosquito nets, which was something I’ve really wanted to do; it was quite fulfilling. Well, until next time!

            Jambo! Today (6/17) was a packed day with a bunch of activities. We woke up at 5:45 and went on a boat ride trying to spot birds; the sunrise was gorgeous, and the clouds looked like they were backlit! We had breakfast at 7, and then took the motorized boat to some land and embarked on a 4 hour hike through the wet, humid, and hot rainforest! We learned and saw many cool things. We found a little tribal doll on the forest floor, and I named her Natasha… Bailey is holding it for me so I don’t get cursed. After dinner, we went out in the canoes and paddled around looking for Caymans, or alligators. Sadly, we didn’t see any. Now, back at the lodge, I need to go to bed so I can be rested for tomorrow! So long!

            Mwatabwanji! Today (6/18) was another fun day full of monkeys! We woke up at 6:45 (we got to sleep in), had breakfast, and went out for another 3 hour excursion! We drank some animal poison that came from a tree, but it is good for humans! After the hike and lunch, we went out on the boat to Monkey Island! We were on that island for an hour, and while we were there, we saw a bunch of monkeys running on the branches and flying through the trees! On the way back, it poured on us; we got very wet! We downloaded our pictures, and Sarah Jane and I took pictures of the sunset! After dinner, we had an awesome dance party! It was our workout for the day… I am tired; off to bed!

            Marhaba! Today (6/19) was a pleasant day for us. We woke up early, at 5:45, and we went on an hour hike looking for monkeys. We saw a few, not many though L After breakfast, which, for me, consisted of 2 ½ roles (sorry mom), we went piranha fishing! I caught a baby one! As a boat, we caught six decent sized piranhas. For lunch, we had the biggest piranhas that we caught as a group; I had a bite! After lunch, we had a siesta. Then, Michael, Sarah Jane, Haley, and I went swimming in the lagoon again! While we were swimming, we (mostly me) had a screaming contest where we could hear the echoes echoing across the entire lagoon! The longest I held my shout was 20 seconds! Before dinner, we went out on canoes and took pictures of the sunset; it was so pretty! Well off to bed… J

            Kaixo! Today (6/20) was a traveling day! We left the Amazon today, and it was very sad. While we were going on the boat, the sky opened up and it poured on us for 4 hours! I was soaked and freezing to the bone! We had a good lunch, and then continued on our journey to Coca for our plane ride. The plane ride was nearly 20 minutes long! We passed over a very picturesque landscape consisting of mountains and volcanoes. We got back to Quito and had dinner at the awesome sandwich restaurant, and we then ate ice cream! Tomorrow we leave for the Galapagos! Hasta la vista!

            Namaskar! Today (6/21) we arrived in the Galapagos, specifically San Cristobal island! It is so beautiful here! When we landed, we went straight to lunch and then to our hostal. We got our bathing suits and went out. We snorkeled along the coast, saw some cool fish, and swam with a sea lion! The water was cold; it felt so good! The fish were so pretty, and a lot of them were swimming in giant schools. We saw a sea turtle- apparently it is quite rare to spot them so quickly and easily like we did! During the whole excursion, a sea lion was playing with us, and I swam with it! He was so cute and playful. After we finished swimming, we went to Love Beach and saw a BUNCH of sea lions lying around! They were swimming, coughing, sleeping, and burping! The sunset was gorgeous, and after we finished capturing the moment, we went back to shower, and then on to dinner! We had the biggest dinner yet, and I seriously feel sick right now! I ate so much that I might explode any second. They served us mashed potatoes and cooked vegetables in buckets!! It was the greatest. Then, we went and had some ice cream! Tomorrow we have a very exciting day planned at Kicker’s Rock that involves more snorkeling and taking pictures, and I need a good night’s rest! So long!

~Me in a giant tortoise shell~
            Hej! Today (6/22) was a really fun day because we went deep-water snorkeling! First, we went to Kicker Rock. The sea floor was 300 feet below us; the water was very rough, dark, and cold! We swam through a thin channel through the two rocks, and I saw a shark! It was very small because it was so far down, and because I couldn’t go that deep due to my ears and wetsuit, I only saw one. However, Sam went down really far, and later said that we were literally swimming over a shark pit! We saw a few starfish and sea turtles! They were so big and pretty! After that stop, we went to a beach for a few minutes and explored. Next, we went to Isles Lobos and saw more sea turtles and sea lions; I also swam through a school of fish! The school was circling around us at one point; it was mesmerizing! The water was freezing! We saw some blue-footed boobies too! Later, we explored the town and took some more pictures. Its off to Santa Cruz tomorrow… Good night!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hola! Today (6/9) we went on a 2 ½ hour journey to Mindo! On the way there, we stopped by and stood on the equator; I laid in both hemispheres at once! We had some delicious ice cream at the equator, and mine was “fresa”.  We then went into a beetle house and I was forced to hold a ginormous beetle! It was very scary and gross because the bug latched onto my hand. We also saw some llamas eating in a corral. After that, we got back on the bus and headed the rest of the way to Mindo. Mindo is a small, cute little town with good food! Here, we are in a valley surrounded by mountains covered with trees. In the afternoon, clouds moved in and it rained a little bit. Mindo is turning out to be a moist and tropical area, and I am excited for what we have in store tomorrow!!

Buenos noches! Today (6/10) I broke down several major mental barriers today. First, we had a workshop about depth of field. After lunch, we went to a mariposario, a butterfly atrium. We saw the butterflies at their different life stages! We saw them in egg form, catapillars, and crysallists. After we went through that room, we entered the room full of about 15 different species of butterflies! There were red ones, blue ones, black ones, and new ones! There were butterflies with eyes on them, stripes on them, and blotches on them! While we were in there, butterflies would land on us, and because I was wearing a bright orange shirt, they ended up gravitating to me. It was some what creepy at first because their wings would flap around me, but after I got used to it, I liked the little friends that would land on me! While we were in the butterfly house, it started raining. After the butterflies, we were supposed to go tubing on a RAGING RAPIDLY MOVING FREEZING COLD RIVER!!! Now in case you don’t know, I have a legitament fear with certain activities (kayaking off shore in an ocean) like that. However, I was forced onto a little triangle made of three tubes, and was hurtled down the river. For the first two minutes, I was bawling crying and screaming. The river flowed down from the mountains above us; I cannot emphasize how cold the water was! After 10 minutes of the near death experience, I tried to shut off and just get through the experience… When we finally reached the end, and it took FOREVER, I was relieved, but very cold. After I got back to our inn, and I had sufficiently recovered, I went for a swim! 11 of the 13 of us squeezed into the hot tub in order to warm up. After swimming, we went to dinner and ate pizza! It was delicious; our table of nine ate 38 8/9 of pizza! On the way back from dinner, I saw an amazing sight: lightning bugs! I have never seen them before, and like Spirit, a life goal of mine was fulfilled. However, when I saw them, I got so estactic that I dropped my water bottle onto the wet mud road. Its ok though, because I am going to wash it right now! Hasta luego, mis amigos!

Aloha… Today (6/11) we had an intense day of shooting! Our day started out with us visiting a bird atrium where we saw many different species of birds, specifically a bunch of different humming birds. They were all so different, diverse, and pretty! The humming birds gravitated towards several feeders right in front of us so we sat down and started shooting away! I took several hundred pictures of the humming birds within an hour! After a while of watching the birds fly around, challenge each other, and eat, we went into town for some lunch. After a little break, we broke off into groups of three to take pictures of Mindo. My group went on the “road less traveled” and explored the back streets and creeks in the town. After an hour and a half, we went into Chocolarte and learned the process to make chocolate! The fruit , Cacao, where the cocoa butter originates from is delicious; I had a total of 10 of the beans/seeds! After we finished the entire chocolate process they gave us pounds and pounds of fruit (heaven)!! When we finished the delightful fruit meal, we had to sprint back to our inn to get our point and shoots. We then headed to dinner, and after, we went on a bug excursion! I found loads of cool insects: a gold beetle, several spiders, one spider eating a roach, several roaches, a few grasshoppers, two frogs, a katydid, and much more! Today was such an adventure, and due to the fact that I have to wake up at 5:50 tomorrow morning, I need to retire to my cot on the ground now!

Bonjour! Today (6/12) was quite an exhausting day! After waking up early, we had to embark on a fifty minute hike on a winding trail through very tall mountains in extremely wet conditions. We went on very thin trails that led us through the canopy. Personally, I would say that the hike was very treacherous! The trail was right on the edge of quite steep drop offs, and it was very similar to a very long and suction-cuppy mud pit. After finally reaching our destination of a couple of biologists’ cabin deep in the valley, we watched them mist net and assisted in recording the measurements of birds. Mist netting is when people string up very thin and nearly invisible nets in order to catch birds and record data for research. We saw 6 different birds that were caught, and we watched Luke, one of the biologists, take specific measurements regarding the bird. I recorded the data for one of the birds that they caught! After we left (we were there for four hours) and we had hiked back, we went to lunch. We had more pizza, and between the 6 of us, we ate 3 whole pizzas! After we returned to our inn, we had a photo critiquing session with Massimo, our NatGeo leader, for an hour and a half. While we were at dinner, Haley, Michael, and I reenacted nearly the entire Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie! It was quite funny if I do say so myself. On the way back to the inn, we looked for more bugs but didn’t see any L Well, I need to get to bed so I can be rested for the next long hike to the waterfalls tomorrow! Au revoir!

Ni hao! Today (6/13) Sara Jane, Madeline, Clara, Bailey, and I went on another trek through the mountains for 45 minutes to find waterfalls. We had to take a little cage like structure to the other side of the ravine; we grazed the top of the canopy. Our friend/guide Nikki, who is from Germany and lives in Ecuador, taught us many new things that have to do with biology and the plants and animals! We saw, took pictures of, and swam in the waterfalls… It was so fun! The water was so cold and refreshing that it felt invigorating! Due to the fact that I have tons of bug bites constantly torturing me and screaming at me to itch them, the several minutes I spent in the water felt like heaven.  After we went swimming, we hiked back up the trail and stopped several times to examine plants and wildlife! After we survived the ride back over the ravine, we went to lunch and had some awesome burritos; I ate my entire lunch! After we downloaded our pictures from the day and chose our favorites, Massimo critiqued our pictures that we chose that had to do with tourism in Ecuador.  After that, we ate dinner… and now I’m going to bed!

Âllo! Today (6/14) was our day of community service! We went on the long hike again to Las Tanagaras, the biologists’ cabin. There, we painted direction signs that were supposed to help people get to their house. After, I used a saw and cut some boards in order to make stairs that were meant to replace the broken ones leading up to their house. It was fun! After we did about 3 hours of service, we went back into town and had lunch. When we came back to our cabañas, Massimo gave us one last lecture, and when he was done, we took a group picture with him. Soon after the picture was taken, it was 4 o’clock, and Massimo had to leave us. After we said goodbye to him, we went up stairs and played Mafia. I love the game because it is very fun to make up scary stories that have to do with the people you’re sitting with. Once the game was over, we swapped some pretty scary, creepy, but true stories, and I’m not going to lie, I got pretty freaked out! Dinnertime arrived, and while we ate pizza, we told some more scary stories and I got chills for the creepiest of them. After dinner, we went and got some ice cream; mine was chicle, or bubblegum, flavored! On the way back to our inn, we saw a very weird spectacle: some drag queens were singing to each other in the school (we watched through the windows) and a lot of the town was in there watching them and laughing. We realized that it was for father’s day, and left. Now back at the cabañas, it is raining, and I want to get a good sleep! Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite (literally)!

Hello! Today (6/15) was a traveling day for us! we went into Mindo, did a scavenger hunt, bought some pants, and ate! We then hurried back to our hostal in order to meet our bus. We rode on the bus back to Quito for 2 hours. We went to a market and bought some more little trinkets, and then went to dinner. We ate some awesome sandwiches and fries, and we had ice cream! Now, I must go pack for our 4 day excursion to the Amazon. We leave for the Amazon tomorrow, and we have a major traveling day ahead of us. Good night, I must go pack! 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 1 and 2: The Andes mountain, Quito night tour, and Otovalo market

~Me and Spirit bonding on a mountain in the Andes~ 
~The cute trinkets (llama/alpaca herd) in the Otovalo market~
Bienvenidos to Quito, Ecuador! The elevation here is 9, 000 feet, and is quite trying on my unacclimated body. We have been introduced to SO much new food my mind is overwhelmed from trying to comprehend what I am eating! I can only get a few weak hours of sleep due to the incessant and unceasing honks, music, motorcycles, and people. The following is what our main activities were comprised of :) 
On day one, we went on a 3, 000 ft gondola ride up a mountain, that was 12, 000 feet high! We took some gorgeous landscape pictures, some pictures of the horses and dogs, and I took a couple pictures of the flowers. It was very tall, windy, and chilly, but extremely gorgeous. After that, we went to an old basilica that looked like Notre Dame. We used our tripods to capture the gorgeous light in the sunsetting sky against the top of the church. After that, we went on a night tour of Quito with El Diablo as our guide. We learned about the history of Quito and the natives. We went into the St. Augustine cathedral; it was quiet and serene, and very secluded. 
Today, day two, we went to the market in Otovalo. There were many cute people and interesting goods. There were many patterned blankets, hammocks, and bags. After we shopped, and I bought a BUNCH of stuff, we went to lunch. At lunch we had a nice meal of organ soup... The broth and potatoes were delicious ;) After lunch we headed to the native market where the people sold produce, meats, and a variety of other wares. There were many severed pig heads and skins... the smells were very unique! After we got our pictures and arrived back at our house, Hostal el Arupo. We had a nice Asian fusion meal for dinner. It is always interesting to find yourself looking at an English menu in an Asian fusion restaurant in Ecuador! After dinner, we headed back and began sorting through our pictures from the past two days; I had 641 pictures! Well, it has been quite a day, and time for me to retire so I can grab a few hours of sleep. Hasta luego!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Going to Ecuador and the Galapagos in one day... Excited to see this guy!!