Sunday, February 27, 2011

Galapagos movies

Here are a few short videos I took while I was in the Galapagos. Enjoy! Pictures coming soon.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Here are some photos of Quilotoa, the jungle, the beach, and more of banos. The Galapagos are coming soon! Enjoy!

Galapagos ideas

Here are some ideas about going to the Galapagos:

  • Take a boat. They say it's cheaper to stay on land and just do day trips. But that can be more expensive because the day trips cost between $60-$150 each and they don't always include equipment or food. And then you have to pay for a place to stay on the island
  • Take a small boat. If you take a big boat it takes forever to get everything organized and you can't spend as much time doing the activities. Not to mention the big boats can't get permits to go to certain small islands.
  • If you don't speak fluent Spanish, take one with an English guide. In the jungle it was fine for me to have a Spanish guide because I didn't need to know everything. But the Galapagos is so interesting that you'll want to understand as much as you can.
  • The southern islands and the norther islands are pretty different. So make sure you research which ones you'd like to visit. But you won't be disappointed either way.
  • Don't splurge on the boat. You're only on the boat for a little while and you're only in your room to sleep. It's silly to waste tons of money on a nicer room when you'll only be in it for a few hours.
  • Be ready for adventure. Yes, some cruises cater to people who just want to look around. But most of the islands are deserted and the animals come first. Which means tourist friendly things are few and far between. Bring a pair of hiking boots, a swim suit, and be prepared to sweat!
  • Don't freak out when the animals come near you. They are nice and friendly because people are nice and friendly to them. Don't ruin it for everyone by scaring the life out of them and screaming when you see a bird fly near your face.
  • Try and stay for as many days as you can. Any less than 5 and you haven't seen much of anything. This is one of those places where you'll want to experience as much as you can.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

If Dr. Seuss created a world...

I just went to the Galapagos for 5 days and it was amazing. I decided it was like a land made by Dr. Seuss. Plants are different colors, you swim with sharks that don't want to hurt you, and you stare at penguins and sea lions who only want to play with you.

I had a few reservations about going to the Galapagos because it has the potential to be harmed by humans. But after visiting I saw how much the park rangers and guides really try and protect the environment. Tourism in the right way doesn't hurt the Galapagos, it actually helps it. It is so expensive to go there because all of that money goes towards preserving the islands and making amends for things settlers did a few hundred years ago. About two hundred years ago almost every island was exploited, but now endangered animals are thriving and human impact is helpful, not hurtful.

I started by going to the airport in Quito. If you fly out of Quito you have to have a refueling stop in Guayaquil. Then I made my way on the same plane to San Cristobal. (BTW, AeroGal is a great airline!). I didn't know what to expect when I got there but I definitely wasn't expecting what I saw. The airport is a one room building. There is one runway. And literally nothing else. It felt like a deserted island from the minute I got off the plane. I tried to get into the park for $6 because sometimes they let you with a 12-3 visa. But it didn't work that day. Oh well.

Then I was picked up from the airport and we rode to a conservation center to check it out while our boat was getting ready. There I learned about the history of the Galapagos and evolution and all of that. It was a really well done museum. Next we all headed to our boat and I saw sea lions for the first time. They were right next to the boat! Needless to say the boat was tiny. I shared a room with a girl from Montreal but only one of us could be in there at a time unless we were sleeping because there was NO room. Even the shower was just a sink and a toilet and you pulled the shower handle out of the sink and showered over the toilet. That was an experience.

My boat had 4 germans, 1 irish guy, one girl from canada, and two kiwis. They were really great people and I loved getting to know them. Our first adventure was snorkeling off of a tiny island called los lobos. I snorkeled with sea lions (the most amazing experience ever) and sea turtles, fish, and sting rays. Next we took a hike on the island to check out the crabs, iguanas, and birds. The hikes are a little perilous because you move around the animals. If the animals are in the path then you walk on slippery rocks around them. Everyone fell a lot because these hikes aren't necessarily tourist friendly, they are animal friendly. But nonetheless they were great experiences. At night we went to the small town of San Cristobal. A bunch of us went and got drinks and then watched the sea lions hang out on the pier.

The second day we went to another island called Espanola. On this island we took a really long hike in the morning. I got to see amazing bird colonies, new baby birds, crazy iguanas, and a blow hole on the side of a mountain. This was probably my favorite hike. After that we made our way to this incredible beach that was covered in sea lions (like 200). I even saw a new born baby sea lion (surprisingly not very cute). We also went snorkeling around some rocks and I got to check out more turtles and sharks and rays.

On the third day we went to my favorite island, Floreana. It was so beautiful. Pirates lived there a few hundred years ago and some settlers had tired to form colonies, but there is no real water on the island so they all died. However, they set up something called "post office bay" where people leave letters and other people come by and pick up letters that are near them. So I left a few letters and picked some up that are in Ohio. The tradition is to hand deliver them. I think this is such a cool idea! After that we went to some lava tubes. They are caves created by lava. That was pretty freaky because none of us really brought flashlights and there was a super wet area where I took off my shoes but then my feet hurt soo badly. But it was worth it. Next we hiked to a look out point and saw the whole island. It has a few hills and valleys and one lake with flamingoes. Then we sailed back and passed penguins (so cool!). After lunch we went to snorkel around this amazing geological feature in the ocean called "the devil's crown." It is a circle of huge rocks about 1km from the shore. I saw an octopus and white-tipped sharks swam under my feet. Crazy! Then we went for a hike to another look out point, to a beautiful beach, and passed the flamingo lake.

My last day on the boat was cool because we went to a tiny little island that looked like another planet. It was covered in red bushes because the bushes turn red when they don't have enough water. It is also covered in prickly pear cacti and tons of iguanas. It also has a bachelor colony of sea lions and those guys are big and loud! Then we made our way to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz and went to see Lonesome George at the Charles Darwin Research Center. He was pretty funny looking. All of the giant tortugas are crazy looking. They are huge! Like the size of two grown men put together. Did you know that they are the inspiration for E.T.? If you see their faces up close it makes total sense. Then that night the boat paid for me to stay in a hotel and for my dinner since the fifth day itinerary was only to go to the airport. I decided to stay an extra day on the islands though.

That night I met up with some of the girls from the boat and one of them had forgotten shoes on the boat. Luckily the boat was still in the harbor and we went back on it. Unfortunately, we found out the new group was having some serious problems because the owner forgot a few permits. I felt terrible for them because they paid so much for the trip and it turned out they couldn't really leave the port.

On Thursday I went to another island called Isabela. I'm fascinated with Isabela because it is the biggest island but yet there is almost nothing there. It was funny because the guide and people from my boat ended up going on that day trip too since the boat couldn't leave the port. It felt like an extension of my trip but I didn't have to sleep in a tiny cabin sweating all night. And I loved my guide and the other people on the cruise after me so it was really fun.

On Isabela we saw another tortuga conservation site and I got to see how stupid turtles are. The one giant tortuga was mating the wrong way with a girl. It was pretty funny to watch. And then we saw some flamingoes and went to an awesome little island covered in volcano rocks. There were more iguanas and sea lions and I got to snorkel with sea lions again. I also made a good friend from the new group of people.

That night I got together with my friends from WorldTeach who were in the galapagos. It was fun to just sit on the pier and watch animals swim by in the ocean. Then I stayed up with the german girls I met and went to bed pretty late. Next I woke up early, made my way to the airport and said goodbye to the galapagos.

Overall it was an amazing trip. It is a place I was so sad to leave because it was almost perfect. Between the nature, animals, and people, I would love to live there someday. Hopefully I'll get to go back someday. And I hope all of you get to go someday.

Pictures are coming soon! I wish I had an underwater camera because a lot of the magic of the galapagos comes while snorkeling. There is nothing like looking down and seeing 5 big sharks swimming happily. It was so awesome!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

All is well!

Hi, it's Kaytee. Sara texted me to say that she's doing fine. There was an earthquake in Quito, but she's enjoying herself in the Galapagos. It hasn't made the US news, so it's probably not that big. She says hi!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vanilla Ice Cream

Preface: If you know me pretty well then you know my theory about ice cream. I believe that your favorite flavor describes your personality. And again, if you ask anyone who knows me well, the worst flavor to have as a favorite flavor is vanilla. I mean, common, you can have annnnnny flavor in the world and you choose vanilla?

I told my sister and my friends I wouldn't blog about this, but it was so lousy now I feel like I have to. I went on a date tonight with an Ecua from Ambato. We met on the bus a few days ago and he seemed nice. He got my number and we realized we would both be in Quito this Saturday. For protection I never told him I was moving to Ambata, I said i lived in Ibarra.

So he sells tires for a living and travels all over the country. He told me he would be getting in to Quito around 4pm but actually ended up having to make another stop in a city far away. So my friend and I head to dinner and he meets us there around 9pm. He had been traveling all day and was going to go back to Ambato that night. I thought it was nice that he wanted to see me so much he decided to leave the terminal, take the hour long trolley to the Mariscal, and get ice cream with us.

As he came up the stairs I was excited to see him. This was going to be my first all-Spanish date. Even my friend was excited to be a third-wheel on an all-Spanish date. But as he started talking, or rather Claire and I started talking, we both realized he was terribly boring. He barely said or asked anything and just kept looking at me. Weird. Then when we got ice cream he ordered Vanilla. Aka: the kiss of death for any chance with me. He told me he hates every kind of chocolate. Another kiss of death. AND to top it off, he only drinks white wine. Sheesh. My theory proved true again that Vanilla lovers are boring.

****Disclaimer: I'm sorry if your favorite flavor is vanilla and now I've called you boring.****

Claire and I ended up faking being tired around 10pm and left. He then proceeded to text both of us 30 seconds after we got in the cab. Needless to say I deleted his number and won't be telling him that I'm moving to Ambato.

I guess there are bad dates in every country.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

El Oriente and my first visit to Ambato

On Thursday I made my way down to Tena, which is a jungle gateway city. It was frustrating because the bus to Tena leaves from the south terminal in Quito. But after you leave the south terminal you have to pass the north terminal on the way out of Quito. It added an extra 2 hours to my trip which I wasn't happy about. But as we drove I got to see Papallacta again. It is still really beautiful. Then as we descended down the mountain we were in a super dense cloud. I have no idea how the driver could see through the fog. Then around dinner time I finally made it to Tena. I had thought that it was in the jungle, but it's still on the outskirts. It's a fully functioning town with markets, houses, restaurants, and no bugs and snakes crawling everywhere.

When I got there I met up with my friends Justin and Cheryl. We went to dinner at this awesome restaurant with sloths hanging out in the roof. I tried to get some pictures but they are small and hard to take pictures of. But it was so cool to eat dinner with a sloth hanging out right above me! Next we went to get drinks at a restaurant called arana (spider). They are famous for a cocorum that is made with condensed milk. Justin raves about it but I thought it was pretty weird. Then we went to bed and thankfully there was a nice breeze to fall asleep to.

The next morning we woke up and had chocolate and banana pancakes and made our way to Musahuilli, a city a little further into the jungle. In this city there are supposed to be tons of monkeys running around all the time but I didn't see any :(. Then we went further into the jungle in a jeep towards our lodge.

At the lodge we realized we were the only ones there. We started to get a little freaked out that it was just us and some guides. Horror movies kept coming to mind. But they were very nice and nothing too crazy happened to us. On our first afternoon we took an epic hike up a "mountain" to a vista. The hike took about 4 hours and we did it in rain boots. I had never hiked in rain boots before and I don't think I'm a fan now that I have. But they were very welcomed because on our way back we hiked through a riverbed. My pants still got soaked. On the hike I ate a flower, ants, and termites. I also had my face painted, a crown made for me, and almost fell off the side of the mountain. The last one is because the lodge's dog, Jack, came with us. But Jack just liked to run on the path and try to get past you on tiny little stretches of trail. He was so cute though. Who ever thought I'd eat ants and termites? The ants strangely taste like lemon and the termites help protect you from bug bites. Interesting...

After the hike we went swimming in the river. I was told there were no bad things in the river because it comes from Cotopaxi (the big mountain) and by the time it reaches this lodge the water is still too cold for snakes and pirahnas and such.

The next day Cheryl and I took a boat tour down the Rio Napo. We stopped at an informational reserve. This is a group of natives who run a museum and help educate tourists. Surprisingly it wasn't overly touristy (probably because everything was in Spanish) and I really appreciated the place. They rescue some animals and I got to play with monkeys and an ant eater looking thing. I also got to HOLD A BABY OCELOT (basically a little jaguar). It might have been the highlight of my life. However, then a monkey was swinging from a branch and HIGH-FIVED ME. That was pretty awesome too. We learned about trap techniques and medicinal plants as well.

Then we traveled further down the river towards another indigenous camp. We learned about their spiritual beliefs (a big rock is god) and they danced for us. They also tried to get us to drink this nasty fermented drink that is common in the area. You take yuca, spit in it, and then wait for it to ferment for 3 days. I wasn't up to drinking saliva from people I don't know...

After the boat tour we went back to the lodge and practiced making chocolate. We roasted the beans, shucked them, and grinded them. Then we mixed them with milk and sugar and boiled it until it became liquid chocolate. It was really good but pretty gritty. Wendy told me it was gritty because the technique to smooth chocolate came after chocolate was found in South America. We then mixed the chocolate with lemon (not recommended) and bananas (super yummy).

On our last morning we panned for gold in the river. You take a big bowl and put dirt in it and then swirl it in the water until only black sand and gold flecks are left at the bottom. I found 7 gold flecks :). Then we went back to Tena and on to Ambato.

In Ambato I met up with my friend Caitlin and stayed at her house. Together we visited a few host families. The first night I met with a nice older lady who has a daughter and a private apartment behind her house. Then in the morning I met with a family that has 3 kids under 7 (super nice but the house would be crazy!), a literally crazy woman who kept changing her answers to ever question and explaining how laundry is done, and a nice older family in a good neighborhood. I ended up choosing the first woman because I think I'll like the privacy of my own space.

I think Ambato will be good for me. It is bigger and so there is more to do (it has a movie theatre!). And more WorldTeach people are there. It's also more centrally located and more places to visit are accessible. I also think I'll offer my services at the Banos tourism office every couple of weekends and see if I can help with translating things. Banos is super touristy (for both natives and foreigners) so I feel like they need the translating help.

Now I'm in Ibarra for my last 3 days and on Saturday I'm moving my things to Quito where my friend, Claire, will watch them. On Sunday I ship out to the Galapagos!!! and I'll come back on the 18th. I think it will be good to be in the Galapagos on my mom's birthday. It will keep me busy. Then I'll go back to Quito, help out with orientation for the new kids, and move to Ambato. February is a crazy month!

Happy travels.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Host brother update

So tonight we returned to Andres and his teenager-ness. He had a meeting at the school today with his parents and other friends. They talked about how the school was worried they were acting up and had blood-shot eyes sometimes. Apparently one of the friends ratted Andres out and said he had a bong in his room. Andres swore it was for flavored tobacco but his parents didn't believe him. It was pretty funny. Even the parents were chuckling after the conversation.

I've never lived with a 15 year old boy or watched parents yell at a kid for drugs before. It's sad but amusing.

February adventures!

I had my last day at CECAMI last week. I had trained my kids not to show up on Friday (because they hate coming and I don't want to teach) so only one came for my last day. I hadn't exactly told them it was my last day... Oh well. I will miss some of them but I won't miss CECAMI.

This weekend I went to Quito to look for some travel deals. On Saturday, my friend Claire and I went to the Mariscal in search of jungle and Galapagos trips. A bunch of the agencies only did jungle trips through the very far away and very crazy jungle areas. Granted they are a better jungle, but they are hard to get to and my friend Cheryl only has a limited time. So we found a travel agency that listed one out of Puyo but I waited to book it. I also found a travel agency (Gulliver's in Quito) that had Galapagos trips for $1100 for 5 days (basically a steal for a gringo). But I wanted to think before I booked that too.

Saturday night we went searching for college basketball games because OSU and Pitt were playing. But no one cares about college basketball in Quito. Hopefully they will during March Madness! Then we went to our friends' new apartment. After mid-service you can move out of your host family and into your own apartment if you want to and they decided to do that. It was a really great place.

Then on Sunday we watched a lot of movies because nothing was open and the travel agency that was open couldn't book anything for me that day. I also did some research on other places I could go in South America for $1100. I found a good flight to Santiago, Chile and debated going there. But in the end I decided that it would be a boring trip by myself. And I can always go back to Santiago, but I don't know if I can always go back the Galapagos. And the Galapagos is a lot more expensive if you aren't already in the country because then you have to add the international flight.

On Monday I went and booked the Galapagos tour and I'll be there from the 13th of Feb. to the 18th of Feb. I'm excited!!! (Side note: if you want to get me a birthday present, I'd love money to help pay back the trip). Everything is included in the trip so that makes the deal even better. I'll be on a small boat with 9 other people and we'll be going to 4 of the islands. So fun!

Then I went to another tour guide to book the jungle trip. However, another person was there. He had no idea what I was talking about and started googling jungle trips. He was so unprofessional and such an idiot that I decided to leave. I went back to Gulliver's and he helped me book a trip for $40 less and it's only an hour outside of Tena. I think we are going on a canoe ride down the river and we get to see animals and watch indigenous people make chocolate. I liked this tour because it wasn't overly "let me put on a show for tourists." The only catch is that the guide is Spanish speaking. So I'll really get to practice this weekend!

After I go to the jungle I'm going to go to Ambato to search for host families for a day. Then I'll come back to Ibarra for a few days, pack my things, and move to Ambato. Then I'll be off to the Galapagos and then helping out with the February orientation for new volunteers. Then I'll start teaching in Ambato. Crazy month ahead!

And, on another side note, I had a great taxi experience in Quito. My friend Claire lives about a $2.50-$4 taxi ride away from the Mariscal. It is never more than this. So I get in a taxi with a taxi-meter and we start going. There is a normal-high amount of traffic but about 3/4 of the way through I see that the meter says $4. I kindly point out that I think his taxi-meter is broken (they often rig them) and that I know it is never more than $4 to go to the house. He says it isn't broken. I politely say that I'm blonde but I'm not an idiot and I know it's broken. He laughs and says "Okay, pay me $4." It's nice when the taxi driver owns up to scamming people.