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!

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