Global: Session 1 - Darwin
Posted: Sun, Jul 10, 2016
A Little Shaken Up
Location: Back to Quito
The unrelenting panic of not being able to fit everything back in your suitcase ten minutes before breakfast is not the best way to start off the morning, especially when the bus ends up coming fifteen minutes early. Fortunately, I ended up fitting everything inside my industrial sized suitcase just in time to sprint down the stairs along with my roommates to a well prepared breakfast of grilled cheese, Nutella, and bread that was so good it might as well have been made by master chefs. After breakfast, we dragged our bags onto the bus that took us to a beautiful harbor where we boarded a boat resting on crystal clear, blue water. The boat ride, seemingly very short due to how fun it was, was filled to the brim with gorgeous sights and lovely breezes. We even saw a beautiful egret bird.
Unfortunately, we could not stay on the boat for forever and instead had to climb on another bus to make it to the airport. Being able to see all of the sights, we saw a week earlier was a spectacular experience, allowing us to view things that were missed the first time around. Arriving at the airport, we discovered that our flight had been delayed so we had a surplus of free time to explore the airport gift shops and restaurants. I also happened to find a deck of cards hidden away at the very bottom of my bag and all of the girls played games such as War, Tongue, and a new game called Bull. Learning a new card game was a great bonding activity for the group because we could laugh over the countless mistakes that I made while first getting the idea of how it worked.
Eventually, we boarded our flight to Quito and spent the next two hours either sleeping, eating, reading, or gazing out the window, mesmerized by the amazing view. Some people with window seats could actually see Volcano Cotopaxi in the distance, covered in snow peeing above the clouds. At around 6:50 we landed in Quito and mounted yet another bus in order to make it to the hotel. After the short drive, we had a tasty dinner of grilled chicken, white rice, beans and French fries.
After dinner we had a long forum with our guides; this one was called The Seed and the Stone. We each shared one thing we discovered about ourselves from this trip that we wanted to grow and foster (the seed) and another thing that wanted to leave behind (the stone).
While we were in the middle of our forum something incredible happened an earthquake hit! The table shifted completely and the light fixture above us was still swaying minutes after the event. It was my first earthquake and one could say it sure shook us up a bit! For safety reasons, we moved the forum outside where it was safe and continued talking underneath a sky full of stars. The night was, to say in the least, one of the most exciting, if not subtly terrifying, ones we have had so far.
Posted: Sat, Jul 9, 2016
Hasta La Vista Galapagos
Location: Galapagos Islands
Today we woke up to sounds of loud blasting Hispanic music and what seemed like people in agony (turned out to be sea lions). We went down to breakfast which consisted of the best bread in the whole world, and what seemed like a cinnamon role surprise from Sky and Devin, turned out to be chocolate role surprise!!
After breakfast, we headed off to the market to pick up some lunch items that we would consume at the beach: avocados and all the stuff to make guacamole (aka Devin), AMAZING bread buns, NUTELLA, strawberry jam, ham and cheese, tuna, and a ton of tortilla and plantain chips. As we waited for the shopping process to finish, we ran into Josh, a guy we had flown into the Galapagos with and ran into for the 7th time that trip. It was as if we were following each other. Then, we headed to the beach, which was about a 45-minute walk.
Tortuga Bay beach was a white sand paradise. The sand was soft and smooth, it was practically perfect. It’s laid out like a big rounded bay with a small forest at one end that you can walk through to visit a marine iguana lava rock beach, and then it winds into a cactus land beach and then into a protected estuary where we swam safely (away from the rip currents). The ocean waves were perfect surfing material and Devin wished he could have surfed them.
As I approached the water with Samantha, an Ecuadorian coast guard approached us and made it very clear that we were NOT allowed to swim in the incredible waters of this beautiful wave infested beach. He suggested we walk all the way across the beach to the estuary where it was safer to swim.
Shortly thereafter, we all sat down for lunch. Most of us had two sandwiches each. Being the healthy person that I am, I ate two large Nutella sandwiches, then Devin made us all some hand made guacamole (literally). Due to the lack of salt, we ended up pouring the rest of the tortilla chip crumbs into the Guac in attempts to make it saltier.
After lunch we spent some time playing Frisbee in the shallow water. Isabel, Skylar, Sam and I went on a sand crab hunt. We dug for as many little sand crabs as we could find, and it was strangely amusing. We later blessed Cristina with the amiability to hold one of the crabs and her shriek was truly ear-piercing (it was totally worth it though). Devin spent some time talking to one of the coast guards and found out that we were in fact able to swim in a small portion of the ocean on the other side of the beach.
Aside from this wavy beach, there was a small portion with reefs. We went there and snorkeled a little. In our disbelieve, there was not one, but TWO small sharks in the water less than two feet below us! Sam even managed to jump straight into a shark, and then proceeded to freak out and jump right into me. This was truly incredible!!!
After our wonderful beach day, we took a water taxi back to our hotel area, some of us thought we’d even seen a whale!
We got back to the hotel, showered and changed and headed off to our last cultural Galapagosian dinner at J K Williams. I personally found that to be the best dinner we’d had in the Galapagos yet! After dinner, we headed off for our nightly ice cream run. I got a double scoop of cookies ‘n cream.
We walked back to the hotel and sat down for a forum; tonight talk was about ‘What is service? As a group, we talked about benefits and consequences of ‘service’ for a good hour or so. We then headed to bed for an early travel day wake-up.
Posted: Fri, Jul 8, 2016
A Day of Love
Location: Galapagos Islands
Day #17 of the trip started with a breakfast breadbasket that tasted like it was made in the hands of angels. The rest of the day was followed by acts of angels when we went to Centro de Educacion Especial Galapagos (a school for special needs) where we volunteered with and worked and played with the children. First, we worked in the garden and uprooted dead trees and planted new, happy trees. The trees were planted by not only all of the students of our program but also the students of the school, this showed how we are all equal and can work together to make a place happier and healthier. We also cleaned chairs from their shed so they had clean seats for their annual bingo night.
At the end of our workday, the children thanked us with handmade bracelets and custom post cards that were absolutely incredible. After we said goodbye to our new friends, we had an amazing lunch at a local restaurant. Filled with good food, we quickly changed into our bathing suits and headed down to the lobby for our next adventure: swimming in a flooded canyon. To get there, we had to walk to the pier and take a water taxi across the bay, then we walked for 20 minutes. On the way, there we passed salt flats and when we arrived, we saw people jumping off small rocks, swimming, snorkeling and enjoying the natural beauty. Our day came to a perfect finish when we all dressed up for a lovely dinner at the local fish market.
Posted: Thu, Jul 7, 2016
Location: Galapagos Islands
Not everyone can say that theyve been woken up on a boat surrounded by bright blue waters in the Galapagos Islands. I decided to make the best my awakening by getting ready for the day at a leisurely pace. Emerging from my downstairs cabin, I discovered Michelle and Micaela had stayed behind from the morning excursion and the three of us watched the sun rise as we waited for the others to return.
The others went on a short hike around Seymour Island to see the sun rise and see wildlife like blue footed boobies, lava gulls, frigate birds, land iguanas, sea lions and pelicans.
When we saw the other group members floating on the horizon quickly approaching the boat we knew breakfast was coming soon, fluffy pancakes! After the last pancake was long gone, we started getting ready to say goodbye to the crewmembers and leave the boat for the last time. It was tough saying goodbye to the six people who took such good care of us for the past couple of days but at least we met a friendly sea lion pup that was napping on the dock to cheer us up.
Waving goodbye to the sea lion, we hopped on the bus to head back to Hotel Castro for the next few nights. The bus ride included amazing views and lots of interesting sights to see before arriving at the hotel. With two hours to spare before lunch, we were given some free time to explore the local shops. Christina, Micaela and I discovered multiple pairs of unique pants that each had a special quality, making them the most amazing articles of clothing ever known. Everyone was starving after the adventure so we decided to have lunch at The Galapagos Deli where we ate fantastic pizza, sandwiches, soft chocolate chip cookies and smooth ice cream.
After lunch, we moved on to start our community service project that involved working with Parque Nacional Galapagos, specifically, cleaning bathing pools inside a turtle sanctuary. Although, before we started working on this messy, fun task, we were introduced to a sight usually only VIPs get to see: the turtle nursery! We viewed turtles ranging from different ages and sizes. They were so cute! After we finished our project, we walked down to the beach and played on the lava rocks. In the midst of her exploring, Christina found a glass sprite bottle stuck underneath a rock. Being the good citizen that she is, Christina decided to enlist my help to release, the bottle from its rocky prison in order to throw it in the nearest recycling bin. Walking back from the beach, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the sunset over the treetops and the sound of the waves breaking against the lava rocks. All of us were insanely hungry at this point, so we all decided to scavenge for dinner. We ended up at a block that was streaming with people, restaurants, and amazing smells. Since I was leader of the day, I got to pick the restaurant. However, I could not choose so the entire group agreed on The Blue Footed Booby Restaurant. The food there was incredible and after a long day of traveling, service and exploring, we headed back to the hotel for some well-earned sleep.
Posted: Wed, Jul 6, 2016
Living A Dream
Location: The Galapagos Islands
Today was absolutely incredible! It was so extraordinary that it felt like we were living in a movie or a dream, not real life. Words dont do our experiences justice, but I can certainly try. We rose early to a pale sunrise and the rumbling of the Darwins engine. Breakfast, while still at 7am like normal, was unusually good. Our good-humored chef whipped up a hearty meal of chewy French toast, boiled eggs in the first days tomato sauce, crunchy toast with butter and guava jelly, granola with strawberry yogurt, and, of course, the amazing cantaloupe and pineapple that they serve with every meal. All of this we ate while looking out the window at the volcanic grays, rust reds and blacks coloring Bartholomew Island, its vivid, orange beach and the famous Pinnacle Rock. After scarfing down breakfast like usual (we leave the slowing down for our daily naps), we took the dinghy out to the island. We managed a safe dry landing, despite Fabian (our guide) insisting that the rocks were slippery like soap, and took a nice hike up the boardwalk and many flights of wooden stairs that led up to the top of the islands little peak. As we walked up the mountain, marveling at the islands Martian landscape and the vibrant aquamarine of the ocean, we happened upon a young, male Galapagos hawk, a beautiful, dignified bird with plumage of cream streaked with brown and intense, orange eyes. We took more pictures on that hike than anyone could count, both of the bird and of ourselves. We even enjoyed incredible view and wildlife as we waited for Fabians walkie talkie calls of Darwin, Darwin de mobil to go through, getting the privilege of viewing more of the scarlet Sally Lightfoot crabs that you find everywhere in the Galapagos, a sleeping sea lion, a lava heron, and a perfectly camouflaged marine iguana.
Once back on the boat, we grabbed our beach and snorkel gear and made a quick turnaround to head to the orange beach at the base of Pinnacle Rock. Some decided to stay on the soft sands and sunbathe, and the rest of us donned our spring suits, masks and snorkels and went out to explore the waters. This time around, we saw even incredible things while snorkeling. We drifted by huge corals and watched fish of all shapes, sizes and colors weaving around intriguing lava rock sculptures. We saw parrotfish, wrasses and puffers, but the highlight of our journey didnt come until we rounded Pinnacle Rock and encountered a group of three tiny penguins sitting on the rocky shore. We hovered there, smiling and exclaiming about how cute our black and white friends were for a good five minutes before heading back to the beach to play with the others and our new floaty pretzel and doughnut.
After another nice lunch of noodle and cheese soup that tasted like ravioli filling, ceviche Galapagos style (cooked), cauliflower with cheese sauce, and, of course, rice, cantaloupe, and pineapple, everyone but Devin, Sky, and I passed out on the couches and in their beds. The three of us went with the kindly Captain Augustine in the Zodiac/dinghy to patrol the shores of Bartholomew Island for penguins. We found a little family of three penguins, two adults and one fluffy, endearingly awkward adolescent, almost immediately. We took lots of pictures and then enjoyed a little tour of the lava rock shores of Santiago courtesy of the captain. When we returned, everyone was still out cold (as we usually are after lunch, and activities, and while on any moving vehicle). Our siesta lasted for maybe ten more minutes. Then, the strident chime of the bell followed by disembarkation to the shore that Devin, Sky and I had just explored by boat. The hundred-year-old lava flows of Sullivan Bay are astounding and almost alien. The rock appears to move beneath your feet. The strange folds created when the lava rapidly solidified creates this optical illusion and gives the lava flows the air of a place frozen in time. After setting our guides record for the fastest completion of the Sullivan Bay hiking loop (around 55 minutes), we headed to a nearby beach, donned our snorkeling gear, and plunged into the frigid water. Quinn, Cap, Skylar, Sky, Devin and I worked our way down the rocky coast in search of sharks and turtles. After what felt like ten minutes of constant swimming, we found a stingray and three green sea turtles grazing on algae! They were beautiful and completely calm, allowing us to stare at them and follow them around. We saw two smaller ones with light brown shells and one larger one with a darker, greener shell. We would have stayed out there with the turtles for hours, but the increasing cold eventually forced us to return to the beach and then the boat. We all cleaned up and hung out for a while. I ended up on the top deck watching the sunset and just happened to be there when Sky spotted what looked like a huge pod of dolphins off in the distance. We yelled for Devin so that we could use his zoom lens to see the dolphins more clearly, and then, the boat suddenly turned. Quinn had gone into the captains cabin, pointed at the dolphins, said Por favor and gotten the captain to steer our boat right into the dolphins midst. As we approached them, it became clear that this was no ordinary pod of dolphins. This group was over a hundred strong and, as we soon learned, was actually made up of multiple bottlenose dolphin pods migrating through the Galapagos! When the dolphins noticed us, they all turned and fell in line with our boat. At least ten suddenly appeared below the bow of our boat, racing it effortlessly. Everyone, even the crew, heard our screams of Dolphins! and scrambled out to the bow, stunned, smiling like maniacs, and yelling. All around us were these huge, strong beautiful creatures, squeaking, playing, racing our boat and even jumping. It was as if they were showing off to us. Some of the dolphins executed incredible jumps, launching themselves anywhere from a foot to 12 to 15 feet above the water, twisting and falling back into the ocean with gigantic splashes. For twenty minutes, we stood out on deck, absolutely mesmerized and excited out of our minds.
Our incredible day didnt even end there. At dinner, we told our guide that wed seen dolphins while he was holed up in his cabin, and he threw a small fit, prompting the crew to crack up and then make us crack up during our daily briefing. Fabian couldnt get us to stop laughing (some of us to the point of crying) for a good five minutes. Then, we had a great final dinner of spaghetti, chop suey (basically shrimp, pork and veggie stir-fry) and pound cake with brightly colored peach sauce. After dinner, the crew started yelling about sharks on the back deck, and we all ran out to see huge (6-7 feet long) Galapagos sharks swimming into and out of the darkness in the water behind our boat. Most people went inside, but a couple of us stayed out on the top decks deck chairs, watching the stars come out while Cap scanned the water endlessly with a Maglite in search of more sharks. The sliver of a moon had already set and there were more stars than I have ever seen in my entire life, all of them unimaginably bright. The entire sky was filled with pinpoints of light and the Milky Way arched overhead, luminous against the dark of space. The stars literally twinkled, and shooting stars streaked across the sky every couple of minutes. To be honest, words just cant do these experiences justice. They were indescribably magical. Now this is the kind of day that you remember for the rest of your life.