Monday, October 31, 2011

From Galapagos to final exams

we though this was supposed
to be Darwin, but were not
entirely sure. It is on the
island of San CristóbalEllen and I living the life of the sea lions NOT SEALS!!!
Snorkeling! I did not rent a wet suit...mistake

As you can probably imagine from the title of this blog, it is a bit depressing arriving from the land of constant spring break and blue footed boobies to the land of heavy traffic and final exams. Despite this inconvenient truth, my companions and I remain in high spirits through this week of exams.

You're probably all wondering why I am talking about final exams when there are the Galapagos to talk about. yea. So the Galapagos were AMAZING! I have literally never seen water so blue and sand so white in my life (though there are other colors too). The only thing the Galapagos is missing is proper trees. All it has near the coast are a few palms and inland are cactus and large bushes. As you get higher up the volcanos however there are some more respectable trees.

The landscape was that of a volcano desert, all the islands being made from volcanoes being pushed out of the water by tectonic plates and a hotspot that happens to be directly beneath the islands. But enough science, what did we do?

-snorkeled every day (with fish, rays, turtles, sea lions, sharks, you name it)
-lived with a homestay on the largest island of Isabella (they fed me SO MUCH)
- climbed the volcano Sierra Negra
-chilled on the beach
-lived on a yacht for four days
-hiked around San Cristóbal, Española, Floreana, N. Seymour and Baltra
-ate some really good food
-played soccer with the crew
-jumped off said yacht into the water
and much more

Although the yacht was my preferred part of the journey to the homestay, I still feel like I am on that boat which is unfortunate because I am not. Walking through the streets of Quito is already a challenge for me and now I have the added bonus of being seasick walking through the streets. joy. I am faring well however and seeing as it has been FIVE DAYS I expect the seasickness to go away any day now (please please please)

We also observed some Albatross in the crazy mating dance and also some blue footed boobies showing off those feet. We say nocturnal gulls (the only existing ones on the planet), giant tortoises, Darwin's finches, and laid in the sun with sea lions. It was an amazing trip and I recommend it to anyone interested in marine life and history because it is rich in both.

However, coming back to reality I have this week to make final presentations and exams count an then the 8th of November I go to Oyachachi for my ISP! I am studying the Andean Tapir there with two researchers who have been working on the project for a while now. I am really excited, but it is not going to be easy. I am living in a tent, there is no running water nor shower, I cook all my own food, and I hike all day looking for tapir chewing and poop. What a life. I think it will be tons of fun however and perhaps it will burn off some of the bread I have eaten in Quito so I can possibly start thinking about skiing at St. Mikes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My new room in the city of Quito. I suppose it's not new is pretty small, but I like to think that means it is maybe a little bit warmer than the rest of the house. Thankfully, there is a larger than life-size picture of Jesus above my bed.
My host sister Anaí and I. She was one of two younger siblings in the Cloud Forest specifically the small andean town of Plaza Gutierrez. Those people had some serious town pride.
Xavier (one of my two academic directors) was REALLY excited about this tanager that we caught in the mist nets. wow
our accommodations in the cloud forest. I stayed in the 'birding cabin' aka: the closest to the academic directors so we could wake up super early to mist net birds! The blanket on these beds were SO HEAVY, but it was good because it was freeeeezing.

waiting for Galapagos...

It has been a solid week and a half after the Amazon trip, yet it feels like we went there ages ago. The sticky humidity, waking up to yelling monkeys, and spiders the size of your face could be a dream as of this point. These past two weeks have definitely done their work to bring us back to the reality that we are in fact in school. What with our Field Investigation Projects due, Sustainability projects up and coming, Agency visits, and ISP preparation we are all pretty swamped.

On a positive note, I went to visit el centro viejo (the old center) of Quito with my host mom and aunt this past Friday, we got to know the little section known as Rhonda which was gorgeous and reminded me a little of Burlington, VT. There were little hole-in-the-wall shops and restaurants in every inch of wall and there was always some band playing inside. We saw an indigenous dance performance, avoided hippies trying to sell us sparkly things, and ate empanadas (technically classified as street food which I am not supposed to eat, but asi es la vida).

The next day (being Saturday) almost our entire group of 23 students hoped a bus to Otavalo, a mountain town about 2 hours away in a bus. We visited the famous market there, a bustling center for tourists and gringos like ourselves. The market must have gone on for 20 blocks in length and about that in width. It was enormous! A small group of us stayed behind as well to visit a waterfall about a 20 min. walk away. It was a day well spent even if I did get a bit sunburnt.

This week has been full to say the least. With spanish ever morning and then lecture from 10:30 till 1:00 the days are pretty long. I have been trying to get some running/training in so as to ski with some sense of dignity on the St. Mikes nordic team this winter when I return. So far the outlook is bleak, but the altitude here may be working in my favor (I hope!)

Anyways, my next post will probably be after the Galapagos knowing myself and how often I blog. We are going to the well known islands this coming Tuesday (today being Wednesday) and I CAN NOT wait. We are living on a boat for half the trip and with a Galapagos family for the second half. woah. see ya on the other side.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

after the Amazon

Well, back in the city of Quito, honestly it's kind of a let down after being in the Amazon for a week, but it is wonderful to be reunited with my host family and also some sense of normality. Though I cannot possibly convey the experience of the Amazon as truly and meaningfully as I would want I am going to try.

First of all we took a plane, a boat on the Napo River, a Chiva through the forest, and another boat along the Tiputini River to get the Tiputini Estación de Biodiversidad. Needless to say it was just the anacondas and us out there.

Anyhow, we started every morning early (but not yet bright) at 5:30 with either a canopy bridge, a 40 meter bird watching tower, a float down the Tiputini or a Caminata (aka really long, slow hike to see sweet forest animals). We had breakfast at 8 so of course my stomach was eating itself by then, but we had peanut butter (!) which was a major plus.
For animals we saw:
many other amazing birds...
Capybaras (the world's largest rodent)
Tapirs (look these guys up, wow)
an anaconda strangling a caiman (this is not a lie, and a caiman is a crocodile type thing)
butterflies of all colors
and much more tat I am probably forgetting

so yea, we had electricity from 10:30am-12:00pm and 7pm-9:30pm. otherwise we had candles which actually give off a fair bit of light :)
We were at least a little bit damp ALL THE TIME because everything there is incredibly humid. There is no escaping being wet all the time, not my fav.
Also chiggers-the most annoying, tiniest bugs in the world that prefer to bite areas the sun never shines on, great.

It was an incredible experience full of ecology, lectures on everything from deforestation, soil types, army ants and carnivorous bats! I doubt I will have another chance in my lifetime to visit the Amazon and immerse myself as I did last week so I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity. Now we get to look forward to the Galapagos! I am seriously the luckiest person ever.


Katí (my name here)