Wrapping up our Amazing Journey
Today we finally arrived in Quito, wrapping up our amazing journey. The Amazon Rainforest was unbelievable! Íve never seen more species of animals or plants in such a small area before. The tree canopy was so thick that even during the height of the day on a cloudless sky, it seemed overcast. The La Selva Lodge itself was both rustic and serene. One of my favorite times of the day was our afternoon siesta, when the temperature rose too high to do anything (and the animals all seek shelter). During this time I would read, nap, or write in my journal while swinging peacefully in the hammock hung from our front porch. The cabins themselves looked like something out of the Swiss Family Robinson- palm wood floors and walls, grass thatched rooves.
We also undertook many adventurous activities in the forest, including kayaking in the lagoon and spotting squirrel monkeys in the trees above us. We also fished off the dock for pirhanas, and Leslie caught two. Isaac caught a catfish and I caught nothing (Íve never been successful at fishing lol). We took one trip to "the tower" which consisted of stairs and beams built around an old tall tree, ascending into the forest canopy over one hundred feet overhead. From the tower we saw many tropical birds, and monkeys as well.
During our stay at the lodge we would go hiking at least twice a day. On one such hike we got to experience rain in the rainforest, and it was unlike anything Íve ever experienced. I didńt see any clouds, I just heard a distant whisper of rain which grew steadily louder until the skies opened up and it began to pour. The ground beneath our feet instantly became shin-deep mud, and I was soaked to the bone in minutes. However, the rain was warm and I remained in good spirits the entire time (the rubber mud boots helped a lot lol). We also visited a butterfly farm where butterflies are raised to be shipped to conservatories all over the globe.
On our return trip to Coca we stopped by a hotel on the dock where several squirrel monkeys were being kept as pets. One of them took a keen interest in me- as a jungle gym, and I got some very cool footage of myself playing with a squirrel monkey. By the time we reached Quito I was exhausted, but managed to get a second wind long enough to visit a reptile and amphibian viverium. They had many interesting species of snakes and turtles there, a total of forty species of animals. I took a cab back to the hostel, and then explored Quito on my own for a bit, seeing as this was my last chance before I left.
This trip is the single greatest experience Íve ever had to date. Íve learned more, seen more, and experienced more in these few short weeks than I could ever have learned in years of classes on the same subject matter. Also, I got the chance to actively participate in two conservation prjects, and learn more about them and how they work. It was a very rewarding experience, and I truly felt as if I helped make a difference in the conservation of these amazing habitats. I readily encourage everyone with an interest in Biology and/or Geology to take this trip, and I hope to return to repeat the voyage sometime in the future, because it́s all too much to take in going on just one trip! However, I am excited to finally return home and see my much missed loved ones. I have so many stories to share with you all, accompanied by numerous pictures and hours of video!
We just got back to Quito from the rainforest. The rainforest was pretty amazing. At the port before getting on the canoe we hung out with some of the rainforest animals that live at the hotel-port that is there. This was good to be able to see the animals up close, in a way that we didńt see them in the rainforest. We saw parrots up close and yellow footed tortoises (making babies... wéve seen a lot of turtle sex on this trip). There were squirrel monkies there, and I got to play with them! They were so cute.. and playful. At one point I had 3 on me... and two of them were play-fighting with each other in my arms. So the canoe ride in was interesting. The place that we stayed in the jungle was awesome. We had huts to stay in, and each hut tended to have their own fauna. Leslie and I had a HUGE spider that we called Fred (Lesliés idea, but I figured yoúd like that Dad) that hung out on the ceiling of our bathroom the whole time we were there. It was kind of funny when Leslie found Fred for the first time... while taking a shower. He was a good guy to have around though because we didńt have nearly as many roaches as everyone else.
We hiked through the forest and fell in the mud. It rained in the rainforest (go figure) and some of us were walking. We were soaked, but that had to be one of the best walks Íve ever been on. We saw a TON of parrots at a salt lick... that was spectacular. We saw the monkeys jumping through the trees.. and howler monkies sleeping. There were lots of birds... toucans and herons and weird plant eating turkey looking birds. I went kayaking for the 1st time, and it was great! We even saw an anaconda. This joker was HUGE! 5 meters they say. Anyhow, it was a great experience. There is a line for the free computer here, so I should run so others can check in. I guess wére all low on funds and wait for this one instead of spending the fifty cents for the one across the street. Tonight should be fun, wére all going to go out and some of the guides along the way should be joining us (Champy from the Galapagos and Jorge from the rainforest). Tomorrow is home... if they can drag me kicking and screaming onto that plane.
A Different Way of Life
Of all the time spent snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands, the time we spent in Bartolome Island was definitely among my favorite. Abundant tropical fish swarm the rocks and coral, and as long as you approach slowly they almost never flee. Best of all however, are the Galapagos Penguins. I had been told that they were the smallest species of penguin, but what I did not realize is that they are approximately the size of chihuahuas. I took some amazing video footage of two of these cute little birds cooling off in the water less than a foot from where I floated. It never ceases to amaze me that the creatures of the Galapagos are not camera shy in the slightest.
Our first excursion after returning to the mainland of Ecuador was to the Otavalo marketplace. The people of Otavalo are actually the descendants of the mighty warrior Inca tribe! This heritage is clearly expressed in their sculpture, tapestry and other art forms. The marketplace was vast and I spent a good deal of money on souvenirs for loved ones and collectables for myself (I collect global treasures as a hobby) and spent more money than I perhaps should have lol. However, I was not used to haggling over prices which are rather ephemeral to begin with. In fact, the vendors become insulted if you dońt try and drive the price down! At the first booth I went to an elderly woman attempted to sell me a beautiful tapestry of Inca design for $20. I went to hand her the money and she scowled at me and pushed the money away insisting "how much you pay?" I was befuddled and went to hand her the money and she scowled again, pushing it away "How much you pay?" I finally caught on and said $14. She said $19, I said $15. After offering $16 I went to walk away and she said "Okay $16" and after I gave her the money she said "Muchos Gracias, not hard, si?" I laughed politely and bid her a pleasant afternoon and moved on to other stalls, a bit embarassed.
Today we hiked up Mount Cotopaxi, a dormant stratovolcano in the Andes Mountain Range. The Andes are called "volcano alley" for good reason. Little did we know, yesterday three hours from Quito another volcano was erupting! Cotopaxi is the largest volcano in the entire Andes, and we ended up hiking all the way up to 14,600 feet! The air became very thin and I had trouble breathing. Also, since your blood thickens with increasing altitude I started getting a wicked headache. Thankfully Dr. Bennington had brought an ample supply of Aspirin which actually contains a blood thinning agent. It made the headache disappear, and the hike was bearable (though thoroughly exhausting). The people who live around the base of Cotopaxi raise cattle and horses, but a large number of horses were released long ago, and now around the hills at the base of the mountain you can see wild horses grazing. They look very thin and areńt very strong, but they can run like the wind, or so said our guide Alfredo.
In any case, life in the Andes is very different from what Ím used to, and it is a wonderful experience. Everything here is so peaceful, and green. Driving down the pan-american Highway reveals spectacular views of volcanic mountains and valleys unlike any Íve ever seen. It́s almost like this place came right out of a storybook. I do miss you all back home, but Ím glad I embarked on this journey. I feel somehow different having seen such amazing landscapes. Being in these untamed hills brings a nostalgic feeling, like coming home after yoúve been away for a long time. It́s almost as if wéve forgotten about nature and where we came from, but these people haveńt forgotten. It feels good to remember, and to smeel fresh air and see hawks flying free above mountain peaks. Íll never get some of these views out of my head, and Ím glad for it. I cańt wait to share all my stories with you when I get home!
Getting Ready for the Rain Forest
Today is our last day in Quito and we are all packing to get ready for the for the rain forest. I am personally upset that we are no longer in the Galapagos. However, this really isn't that much of a let down, because we have been quite busy doing some very exiting things around the city and tomorrow will be something completely different. Today we visited a volcano that there is no chance that I can spell, but it sounds like cotapachi. We drove to 4500 meters above sea level and walked a little higher. This wasn't much of a walk but at that altitude it was very strenuous. Yesterday we went to visit a market and also visited the equator. We all took a picture Brady-Bunch-style standing in both hemispheres; supercool. I am not sure what to expect from the rain forest; but I'm sure it will be a fun time and a good learning experience.
Off to the Rainforest
Well we have left the Galapagos, and I am devastated. I miss it already. That is the most beautiful, spectacular place imaginable. I dońt know that there could possibly be a more awesome place. Leslie and I have been scheming how we are going to move there. On the last couple of days there, we had an awesome time. Somehow things just got better and better, but I didńt think that was possible.
I got to see those lovely giant tortoises close up. They are so gentle. So big. So..... in love. We saw turtles making babies on 3 occasions while we were there, which led to some pretty funny pictures. We got to see the giant tortoise rearing facility. The babies are adorable.
On the last full day there, we saw some of the more breathtaking geology that exists in the Galapagos. I will say, black lava and equatorial sun can really make you feel like yoúre on fire. We also went snorkeling two more times on our last day there. We snorkeled with more rays, fishes, and sea lions, and we added some new friends to the mix. We swam with penguins!! Theýre like torpedos in the water: fast, but graceful. There were giant schools of fish for them to feed on, and there was a pelican getting in on the action as well. I also got to swim right over a pretty good sized white tip reef shark there in Bartoleme. Just thinking back on the whole experience there brings a smile to my tired face.
For the past couple of days, wéve been in the highlands. I must admit, altitude is not my friend. Ím pretty fuzzy here. Today we went up to Cotopaxi, which is a volcano in the Andes. We took a bus ride up to approx. 14,600ft. The others hiked another couple hundred feet to the refugia, but Veronica and I stayed put at 14,600. My body did not like it. I was super nauseated. I dońt think Íll ever need to go that high again.
Tomorrow, we get up super early and board a plane, headed for the rainforest. Then we have a 3 hour motorized canoe trip into the jungle. Ím excited to see monkeys and poison dart frogs and all of the super cool stuff that the jungle has to offer. So, I will go and get some sleep. I cańt believe we will be home in a matter of days.
The Adventure of a Lifetime
This trip has proven itself to be the adventure of a lifetime. In only one week's time I have seen more rare wildlife up close than I've seen in the twenty one years I've been alive! I've gotten the chance to watch blue footed boobies parade around in a mating dance. I've watched wave albatross bill fencing to bond with their monogamous mate. I've snorkeled with sea turtles, giant rays, white tip reef sharks, and today I actually got the opportunity to snorkel with a pod of wild bottle nosed dolphins! I've taken over 4 hours of video and 200 pictures already, and the trip is only half over!
Never before in my life have I ever done anything this thrilling, and it is incredibly educational. I've learned more in the past week than I ever have in any biology class I've ever taken. Seeing it in the wild, watching life and evolution happen all around you leaves a much more lasting impression than a textbook. Also, I've learned so very much about conservation and got to do my part, both by picking Scalesia plans for replanting in other sites, and by picking the invasive quinine plants (an unfortunately wet and muddy experience).
I'm really looking forward to seeing the giant tortoises tomorrow, and to go snorkeling on Genovesa Island the next day, which supposedly is one of the best snorkel sites in the galapagos. However, I will admit my dolphin experience might be impossible to top, but I'll give it a fair shot! I will never forget thos trip no matter how long I live, and will be telling stories of this adventure for many years! I've written all I can for tonight though, I want to save my strength and energy for tomorrow's hiking in the highlands. To everyone back home who is missing this amazing experience, I miss you all and you are on my mind. I can't wait to see your smiles when I recount my journey! I'll be home soon enough, but for now I have more adventures to go on. Goodnight!
Back in Puerto Ayora
well, we are back in port ayora and i figured íd let you know what íve been up to. today was incredible. It seems that each day gets better and better. When I woke up, we were at Floreana and you could see the deviĺs crown off in the distance. We were told that the snorkeling was good here and that́s what we did for the morning session. The groups boarded two boats (one was way faster than the other) and we headed out past the crown, also known as ̈la corona del diablö.
After snorkeling for only a few minutes in the cold water, the captain of our ship spotted a shark so we all swam over as fast as we could to see it. This was my first time seeing a shark while snorkeling and it was quite thrilling and a bit scary. Next thing I know someone spotted dolphins and Í was being dragged into the fast boat. We immediately took off chasing after the dolphins, which were swimming beside our boat. The captain told us to all get ready to jump in the midst of the dolphins and before I knew it I was swallowing sea water down my snorkel. They were everywhere! I couldńt tell how many but if I had to guess I would say around ten or so. Our captain nearly drowned me because everytime we saw something he pushed my head underwater to show me what was going on or he would drag me by the flipper.
We jumped on and off the boat several times chasing the dolphins and at some point there was a massive Galapagos shark beneath us and from what I was told it was the size of the dolphins. Ím upset that I didńt see it but maybe that was best. The boat then headed towards la corona where I snorkeled beside the captain. It was incredible to see the underwater geology of this sunken cinder cone. There were parrot fish along with others and enormous groupers. While inside the corona, captain spotted the tail of a white tip reef shark and actually swam down and pulled it out from the rock! HE IS CRAZY! However, that shark was dead. A few minutes after that episode a live but small white tip shark swam below us. The whole snorkeling trip was something I cannot put into words. There I was, swimming with sharks something I never thought Íd do in my life since Ím scared of the ocean...and sharks.
To recap, two days ago we were on the island of Espanola. What a spectacular place! Upon landing I was greeted by Blue-Footed Boobies and brightly colored marine iguanas in shades of green and red. We ended up being extremely fortunate because we got to see the three last Waved Albatrose birds on the island. Two were females that were competing for the last male for the mating season. We watched in awe as they courted one another through their bill fencing. Further down the trail we came across a nesting colony of Nazca Boobies. One chick had just hatched around the time we were there. Typically, the Nazca Boobie lays two eggs and the stronger of the two chicks will kick out their sibling. We actually got to see this! One chick was next to it́s mother dying in the blazing sun while the mother covered the surviving chick.
Later on we went to a white sand beach covered in sea lions. While Dan was taking a picture of me amongst the sea lion colony, a pup came and sniffed my arm. They have such long whiskers! Later, Erin, Chris and I got a bit carried away with re-enacting the sea lions. It was quite comical. Pictures to come!
It́s good to be back at Port Ayora. Tomorrow we will be visiting the Charles Darwin center, seeing tortoises (including Lonesome Geogre) and going bird watching for finches. Hopefully we will see the woodpecker finch. Well, I must get going because we are going Salsa dancing and last time I was too sick to go out so Ím not missing out again. Adios!!
Thanks to all for the well wishes on my shoulder. It 's doing better than it was for sure. Things here are amazing. We just pulled into port again at Puerto Ayora, and we 're staying here the night. We 've been on the boat since .... what day is it anyways? Well, since Wed. They had to refuel and get some more of that delicious food. The cook is excellent, although my stomach didn 't think so for awhile there. Things are better now (yay for Hofstra 's Student Health Center letting me get that Cipro, it came in handy).
There have been so many really awesome things that took place while we 've been living aboard the boat that I can 't fit them all in here right now, we don 't have much time. Everyday just gets better and better. Today I swam with dolphins. Ok, did you register that? I SWAM WITH DOLPHINS! Hearing them talk underwater and seeing their grace amazed me.
We 've seen albatrosses doing their courting rituals, so intricate. Bluefooted boobies with nests of eggs or with new born chics... and the sea lions. I mean, they 're all over the place here, but I can 't seem to stop taking pictures of them!! I 've snorkeled with white tip reef sharks, nurse sharks, and green sea turtles, and COPIUS AMOUNTS OF REALLY COOL FISH! The beaches are beautiful, as is all of the landscape here. I took a liking to our afternoon siesta, but I didn 't get that today, so I 'm kinda tired.
So, of course, this is me we 're talking about so something has to go awry. The night that I last wrote, we had an awesome time salsa dancing with the divers and crew, but at the end of the night I gave someone my camera to take a pic of all of us and he dropped my camera and broke it. My brand new camera. I was devastated. To make matters worse, he stole Leslie 's beer and ran off when he realized he broke it. So, to you, ROB FROM RI, you 're a punk. Luckily I have insurance on it, but it does me no good at this moment in time. Anyhow, so I had brought my older camera as a back up: you can 't be in the Galapagos and not take a ton of pictures! Well today when we were at Puerta Cormorant, I dropped my old camera and broke it. Of course. That 's how I roll. I kept my cool way better the second time around, I guess because I was surrounded by the softest white sand beaches, sally light foot crabs, and green sea turtles that were trying to make babies. No kidding. So, kindly, Brett is allowing me to use one of his extra cameras. I hope to God I don 't drop it or break it or anything. Send me some good vibes on that tip!
Anyhow, tomorrow is tortoise and finch day. I 've seen the giant tortoises on this island (Santa Cruz) when we were here before, but only in a car. We 're going to see them up close and personal this go round, and for those of you that know me, I 'm stoked! We 're also going to where they rear them in captivity, which is right up my alley. (Hope my turtles are doing ok.) Everyone seems to be doing pretty well, stomach issues here and there, some pink skin, but nothing major. The heat is definitely on with the sun here. Yes, mom. I 'm wearing my sunscreen.
Well, that 's all for now. Did I say I swam with dolphins?
In Puerto Ayora in an Internet Cafe
So, Ím in the Galapagos!!!!!! How exciting. It was a long, tiring journey to get here, both before leaving and in the process of leaving itself. I dońt quite know how I didńt pass out on the occasions when I could. I guess I was just too excited.
So at the moment I am in Puerto Ayora in an internet café, which is conveniently located right next to the bed and breakfast in which we are staying, and have a couple of minutes until my laundry is done.
We had a mix up with the luggage coming in to Quito, Ecuador. One of my bags made it, one did not. There were 9 of us that were missing luggage, and I am grateful Ím not the ONE person who didńt get any luggage. Anyhow, the one bag that didńt come was the one I needed the most for the island part of the trip. We left the next day with what we had, and flew to the Santa Cruz, where I am now. I must say, at the beginning, it was tough to see the beauty thoroughly in it. Dońt take that wrong, it́s beautiful, but where you land, it just looks like dead trees with beautiful water surrounding. That just makes me want to go swimming. But, we took a bus to our hotel on the south part of the island, and learned that the northern tip RARELY gets rain, and when it does the trees flourish. As we increased in elevation, it became more green and more of what I expected. It is truly beautiful, especially in the higher elevations and on the southern part.
Yesterday I went diving at Daphne minor and Mosquera. Oddly, this is the first time I have dove in the ocean. Weird, eh? I mean, not too many people can say that their first oceanic dive was in the GALAPAGOS! The boat ride out to the site where we dove was phenomenal. There was at least 20 manta rays breaching out of the water throughout the ride, which was amazing! There were many frigate birds and a few blue footed boobies to keep us company. As we passed islands, we saw sea lions sunning themselves. Spectacular. So, when we arrived to where we were to dive, I got a bit nervous, however I was totally blown away when I went under. There were sea lions that played with you. I mean, I know theýre charismatic megafauna, but I was really into it. They were playing with us, and I gobbled that up. We saw lots of cool fish and huge rays and sea stars. Insane.
Last night we went to CaféLimon, where we had gone the night before (where Christina and I won 7 games of pool to the local guys, and man were thay not happy about that).
Today we went diving again, however my shoulder has been acting up since last night from a car accident I had awhile back. So, I unfortunately did not dive today, but I went out on the boat and saw the mantas jumping, and went snorkeling with a woman from Ecuador. I saw a small green sea turtle (AWESOME!) and tons of cool fish. I also played with some younger sea lions, although their mom was nearby. Ím glad I didńt piss her off. The currents were really strong, and it turns out that I probably would have been better off going on the dive than snorkeling. Oh well. I had a good time and made the best of a bad shoulder. On the second dive, everyone saw the MOTHERLOAD, while I was on the boat writing in my journal and lounging. Man, it really stinks to have missed out on schools of hammerhead sharks and galapagos sharks. I guess it all happens for a reason, and they say the current was very strong and my shoulder wouldńt have handled that too well. I guess when I get back I will make an appointment to get another steriod shot in my shoulder (and deny doing steroids).
Well, the laundry should be done now and we haveńt eaten dinner. We are going to try to find some good local food. After dinner we are going to meet with the entire crew from scuba and the divers for salsa dancing. Well, I doubt that Íll be shaking my booty, but I will watch everyone else. Good times. We get on the boat tomorrow, where we will spend 7 days or something. Ím not quite sure of the itinerary. So, I wońt have any contact until after then. Off to experience more things.
Greetings from the Galapagos Islands
Greetings from the Galapagos Islands from Bret Bennington! We arrived safe and sound, just a few pieces of luggage short (all have been recovered as of today), on Sunday afternoon. The weather in the Galapagos is hot when the sun is out, but pleasantly cool when cloudy, due to the sea breezes, and it has been overcast most of the time so far. Yesterday (Monday) a group of biology graduate students interested in marine biology went scuba diving, while the rest of the group did volunteer work with Conservation International. We helped CI with a project to promote the use of local flora by farmers on the Island of Santa Cruz. With local members of CI we went up into the highlands and collected Scalesia tree seedlings and seeds. Then, back at the experimental nursery, we helped prepare the seedlings for planting. Today, the grad students were back out scuba diving (at Gordon Rocks they saw a variety of sharks, including schools of hammerheads, and sea turtles) while the volunteer wing of the group worked with the Galapagos National Park to eradicate an invasive species of tree. Journeying back up into the highlands we bushwacked our way through an area that is being restored to native Miconia tree forest, ripping up invasive quinine wherever we could find it. Hard slogging it was - by the end of the morning everyone was soaked to the bone and covered with mud - but we did our part to help preserve the unique Galapagos ecosystem. In the afternoon we went to a local beach and lagoon so that our beginner snorkelers could try out their gear and skills. Just off the beach we saw white tipped reef sharks and a large ray, as well as many fish. So, another full day in paradise! Tomorrow we are going to visit a school that we plan to fundraise for to buy the children biology textbooks and then we will be boarding our boat to start our week-long cruise of the islands.