A Galápagan Story: My Own Evolution

I forgot that shade existed. I am finally back in the USA where there’s no difference between inside & outside, and the toilet paper actually goes into the toilet instead of the cute little trashcan next door.  Everything feels like a dream, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if Leonardo DiCaprio came up behind me and told me this was Inception. If it weren’t for my sun-highlights, raw emotions and tears shed over too many goodbyes I might doubt that it all actually happened.

I already miss the soundtrack of waves, laughs and ukulele that we danced to so happily all semester… in the Miami airport we found ourselves trying to speak Spanish to the customs officials and feeling like foreigners in such modern scenery. Though I am yearning to be back in the cerulean waters of the Pacific, I know that the experiences I was living just moments ago are slowly hardening into the memories that will be the foundation for my future.

I used to simply exist but now I know how to live.

The Galapagos taught me a lot – how to scuba, how to surf, how to salsa (link to video below), how to care for the environment and how to be animated and lively in all that you do.  Being the high energy bunny that I am, I found the hardest lesson to learn was finding tranquility and peace in all that I do. The worry-free lifestyle showed me to be unhurried and calm at all times, exemplified best when we sat down to eat dinner instead of evacuating quickly to higher ground for the coming tsunami – we got there eventually. I hope to be able to sustain this perspective and zen, to channel it into the crazy American life I once knew and will soon see again. I think this is done best by being present in the moment, by focusing on one thing at a time rather than spreading your attention thin or multitasking to the point of losing reason for doing the tasks in the first place.

The past semester has been one of the most (if not for childhood then the most), carefree times in my life.  Swimming every single day (yes my goal was accomplished), playing in the sun and sand, and no worries except getting home for dinner on time… Though at times I missed people and home dearly, I was happy through and through.  Whether I was high off the adrenaline of jumping from a cliff or excited after seeing a school of jumping dolphins, or simply sitting on a buoy watching the rippling world flow by, my soul was happy.

It is this deep, penetrating bliss that I wish to keep alive as well, and to appreciate all that is around me – to see the best in all things, places and most importantly, people.  I think that anywhere can be a special, magical place if you find the right souls with which to share it. I am so thankful to everyone who made my experience so magnificent and so unforgettable – I could never do justice in capturing all that I feel and felt in words, but thanks to all of you who came along or read along, it means the world to know you were there with me.

I can’t say exactly how, but I feel like a different person, just how a paintbrush is changed after making artwork – it is perhaps more tired and worn from being pushed this way and that, but it has a vibrant masterpiece to show for itself. And, like any good brush, after a little warm water and TLC, it’s ready for the next blank canvas.

This evolution isn’t over yet.


But I’m afraid this blog is. Thanks for tuning in, until the next adventure abroad!  Love you all!


Here’s a link to the masterpiece of the semester – Baby there’s a shark in the water!


Here’s a link to the salsa performance we performed in on our last week (I’m all the way on the right in the black dress)




Spring Break Part 2

AH so much to report on…

But, since I can count the number of days I have left here on two hands I feel even more obliged to leave this computer and go succor the last drops of Galapgos sunshine and ocean spray that I can. With that being said, this post will be more like a children’s book – lots of pictures and less writing, and don’t we all love that?!
On Easter Sunday we left our island at 6:30 AM to go to Santa Cruz (the more touristy island with a population of 24,000) for a class scuba diving “field trip” (aka SPRING BREAK PART TWO).  Our Professor is one of the coolest people in the world, he may or may not have accompanied us to various restaurants etc. to fully experience the island culture. We also may or may not have made sushi and caiparinas with him one night. And again I ask, how did I get so lucky and how is this real life?

Six of us shared a very nice apartment complete with a kitchen so to satisfy our American chocolate chip pancake cravings.

Since it was the end of Lent, my 40 ice-cream-less days were over and I got to enjoy the best ice cream on the Galapagos.

The whole trip was dreamlike – basically 3 days of scuba diving off of this pristine sailboat at the best dive sites in the world.

We dove one of the most challenging and dangerous sites – Gordon Rocks (famous for its schools of hammerhead sharks – we saw one) and unpredictable currents that are bound to change at any time. Luckily, we didn’t experience the “washing machine” normally characterizing Gordon but we did have some crazy down-swells that brought us from 15 feet to 60 feet in a matter of seconds, catching us totally unawares.  All of the dives were beautiful, my favorite being at Daphne where we were lucky enough to swim with two 15-20 foot (wingspan) manta rays.  I have never felt so small before and so at one with nature. (GoPro Video to come when back in USA)




We also organized an Easter Egg hunt on the sailboat for everyone which was really fun. Then, naturally, we celebrated surviving Gordon Rocks by sharing some peach sparkling wine beverage with our professor, captains and dive masters.

We also got really classy

On our last night we really partied hard…

We tried to go to happy hour at the National Geographic Lodge – but we were there at the wrong time so we just took this classy picture

And moved on to a different bar instead…


We also lived it up – tapping into our inner childhood with playground rides and a caterpillar bus ride!



Then we went to a really nice waterfront restaurant for their happy hour….


We also tried to go biking in the highlands but my bike handlebars ended up breaking (bikes are extremely unreliable here) and so instead we climbed through lava tunnels and visited some wild giant tortoises… and pretended to be them


Oh and 2 weeks ago we climbed this giant tree – the widest Ceboa (?spelling) tree in the world.

Good for you for reading this far!

(Oh and for Marathon Monday… of course)



Set Fire to the Rain

This past week we finally witnessed the rain that comes with the supposed rainy season here, but I must say it was a nice contrast from the unrelenting heat and sun.  We also discovered how fun it is to swim in the pouring rain. During one swim we ventured under a catamaran and all of the tourists on board looked at us like we were crazy. On Friday we had a salsa party and learned a lot of new styles of dance, including merengue and cha-cha. It was a sweaty hot mess of fun. Then we moved on to the bar and played some pool, cards and chatted until it was time to head out to the discoteca where we showed off our newly acquired dance moves with the locals. (We were a little hesitant to enter at first because of the small police force crowded outside, but apparently they were just conducting an inspection… while armed with daunting assault rifles).  Around 2 AM it was time for the best event of the night – skinny dipping with the bioluminescence. It was absolutely fantastic. The night and water were dark but our movements glowed with a magical green fluorescence typical of some wizardry or Disney movie.  We played childishly in the light of the plankton for about an hour and then retired happily to warm beds.

Perhaps because of all the rain, I’ve had the chance to acquaint myself with more locals lately – we talked to the Galapagos National Park about the current state of the islands and the pollution here. We learned some disturbingly gross facts about water quality and sewage treatment that I won’t get into but I’ll just note that there are certainly some swim areas that I’ll be avoiding.  I have also been volunteering/working for free at the Panadería or bread bakery the past two days so that’s been really fun and I’m learning a lot – there is so much more to baking bread than I ever imagined, it’s almost an art. I have finally fulfilled my lifelong childhood dream of being a cake decorator because I have learned some fancy frosting piping techniques.  The bakers there are really friendly and I enjoy chatting about everything with them – one has even offered to marry me so that I can stay in Galapagos…but as tempting as that sounds I think I might just have to a) gracefully decline or b) save it for a later day.  Probably option a.
Some pictures from the bakery!

Making a rose

Sugar printing

Tres Leches cakes – some fancy piping! (below)

Finally a panoramic view of the town from my roof — yes that is my laundry on the clothesline, nice floral sheets eh?

Tsunami Thrills

This week we started salsa lessons – more updates when my hips stop lying and I become the crazy Shakira I was meant to be… After salsa we packed up some hammocks & a tent and trekked by headlamp over to a lookout point on a cliff to set up camp. The night was perfect – we had a blanket of stars to keep us warm, a refreshing breeze to keep us cool, and the sweet lullaby of waves below to guide us into sleep.   Platform where we camped ^^

Day of April 1st – aka April Fool’s Day we had a great time pulling tricks on everyone but naturally thought that the tsunami warning we got was an April Fool’s joke.  We were so happy that we weren’t camping out on that ocean cliff because we had our first and hopefully last Tsunami evacuation because of the Chilean 8.8 earthquake that struck around 7:30 pm. This news was received the natural chillness typical of the Ecuadorian way — we sat down to our normal dinner and watched the news for more information. Meanwhile, I was thinking about the things I wanted to save from eternal drenching so that the minute I finished dinner I could run to my room and stuff them into my backpack and get to higher ground. We did just that at a casual, unhurried pace while calling various family and friends to make sure they were also evacuating and to inquire if they had any gas we could borrow since our car was apparently out of it. When no one had gas, we resorted to siphoning gas out of our mopeds and then driving up to the highlands with the leftovers from dinner and some supplies. The police directed everything and it was probably one of the most frightening yet semi-organized efforts I’ve encountered here. We waited out the tsunami for 4-5 hours and then drove back down to be in bed around 2 a.m. There was no tsunami or damage, so I guess the family members that we called who refused to leave ended up being fine after all. I will say that the ocean has been sort of strange since, the currents and waves are off and the animals are coming closer to shore than ever. Ah, experiences of a lifetime… The other day we did some volunteering restoring a library and we ended up scraping paint using what else but machetes! Arduous labor… Today we went diving and the visibility was amazing! We swam into a giant cylindrical school of fish 60 feet tall and it blacked out light around us leaving us in the most awesome state of nature I could ever imagine – not to mention there were at least 15 sharks swimming below us. I don’t even do it justice attempting to describe. (picture thanks to Kathryn) Alright, that’s all for now folks!

Fire Drill! Galapagos style

The weirdest thing we did this week, and probably the weirdest thing I’ve done in my entire life was this disaster simulation we participated in on Friday.  All of the students in our program went to the airport and we were taken out in buses onto the runway where we watched firemen douse this pile of wood with barrels of gasoline and then put it out.

After that, we were instructed to get off the buses (which were suppose to be like airplanes that had crashed), except there were some people with “injuries” that had been painted on earlier to look astonishingly real. Some people were taken away in stretchers and the whole thing was really surreal and confusing with a strange hint of comicality. 3 other students and I were taken away in a taxi for we were “code yellow” emergencies and we were unloaded into wheelchairs/stretchers at the Naval hospital on the island. Here we laid in hospital beds with sheets and fake IV’s and everything while they took our blood pressure and told me I had no pulse. After about an hour of wondering when this whole ordeal would end we were asked some questions about how we thought the simulation went and were released feeling really confused and shocked. I still don’t really understand what happened. 

 On another note:
Surfing USA  Galápagos… We went surfing for the first time the other day thanks to our good friend Mateo who helped us rent boards and taught us the careful art of catching a wave! Surfing is one of the most calming and at the same time thrilling things I’ve ever done and it’s also really exhausting. When you are actually riding the wave you feel so accomplished and so free! So proud of the gringas for standing up on our first times (couldn’t have done it without our teacher)!

We also rode some crazy horses – crazy because they were work horses that we tried to make into riding horses… mine refused to walk straight and kept running me into the brush on the side of the trail while my friend Joe’s horse, who was actually named Crazy Horse, bucked him off twice! Our 3 hour ride soon turned into a crazy 5 hour adventure, though we did make it to our destination – a really cool lookout over the eastern coast of the island on some plantation in the highlands.

Every night we usually go out and chat, play cards/pool at the bar or sit atop this little wooden house called Narnia overlooking the pier but one evening this week we ventured over to karaoke night. Picture an average sized American family room/kitchen furnished some wooden tables and chairs, plus 30ish college kids and 20ish Ecuadorians and a bar in the corner. This was our karoake bar and might I say it was phenomenal. We had a great time singing both Spanish and English popular songs, even throwing it back to some Backstreet Boys and High School Musical. 

Also, we’ve seen a shark while swimming at the beach across from our university nearly every day this week – pray that it’s not hungry!

A break from Paradise? Spring break island hopping

We finished class on Friday (March 14th), and all 60 of us study abroad students embarked on our spring break island hopping adventure! After having our bags checked at the pier for organic products and we jumped on a motor boat bound for Isabella (the largest island of the Galapagos that’s shaped like a sea horse). We saw manta rays and dolphins on the ride and pulled into port just in time for sunset! Isabella was beautiful – chock full of naturaleza and the town was extremely small. Our night was made when we checked into our hotel room and realized that it had both a mini-fridge AND air conditioning. Can you tell how happy we were?

On Isabella we did a ten mile hike in a volcano called Sierra Negra, snorkeled with sharks and manta rays, walked in some really cool lava tunnels, explored the depths of some spooky caves glistening with yellow droplets that looked like fluorescent lemonade and swam with a procession of 50+ marine iguanas. This exodus was actually one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen; imagine, you’re snorkeling in a postcard-worthy place, in awe of everything around you and you look up to see where the rest of the group is when you realize you’re interrupting a parade of little black iguana heads poking out of the water swimming toward you. The funny thing was that they just kept coming toward us, and we couldn’t figure out where they had come from or where they were going – we were all just in shock watching them slither on by. The coolest thing I saw snorkeling however, was a SEA HORSE. It was a beautiful, auburn male just hooked onto some sea weed, watching the world swim by.

In the volcano:

In lava tunnels:

Lava Tunnels!

Next we boated over to Santa Cruz (just in time for St. Patty’s Day = dancing to Shipping up to Boston ) where we got to snorkel in mangrove forests (the trees with the really tall roots that form little teepees in shallow water) and with some huge white tipped reef sharks (not dangerous). We also did the scariest thing I’ve done here (or perhaps in my life) thus far which was jump off 50 foot cliffs at Las Grietas. It’s mostly scary because you’re jumping into a channel so you have to go out far enough so you don’t hit rocks directly below you but also not too far or you’ll hit the rocks on the other side. Here’s my two jumps – the second was to redeem my first where I landed on my butt (yes I’m still sitting a little funny).

(Jumped from where Maggie is standing upper left corner near the green bush)

Our boat driver was quite the character – he sang and performed for us on the boat, standing on the motor and making weird sea lion noises. He also did some crazy back flips off the cliffs!

The next day we took a super nice yacht over to Bartolome island and snorkeled/took pictures of the iconic view of the Galapagos a.k.a. the image you get when you Google Galapagos Islands.

Oh, Santa Cruz’s hotel was like living in a castle – we even had our own balcony/patio and the roof was our favorite place to sit and stargaze.

Santa Cruz is the most developed of all the islands, and we were surprised to see paved roads with yellow lines down the middle, lots of people out and about and finished buildings (there’s a lot of unfinished construction on our island San Cristobal). There was a fish market in Santa Cruz where lots of pelicans and sea lions would sit and beg for food – it was really funny to see them getting fed.

P.S. Maggie & I on tandem bike ride in Santa Cruz

Baby sharks eating restaurant scraps near the pier!

(some photos courtesy of other study abroad-ers)

Intense (even though we’re not camping)

So the intense (in-tents) pun is my newest favorite play on words.  
I hope you’re here to procrastinate because this might be a long post.

This week started off with Carnaval and ended with International Women’s Day so overall it was a pretty good. Tuesday of Carnaval was my favorite day – after class we went out onto the beach and partied til the sun went down, got colored (random people would come up behind you and in a whirlwind of rapid paint-covered-hand movements mask your face and body in chalky watery paint) and got thrown in the water (guys would just come up and grab you out of nowhere, throw you over their shoulder and run into the ocean with you). Another fun tradition was the egging — I was fortunate enough to get hit with one that didn’t crack. Actually, it went like this: I was stunned by the realization that someone had just thrown a gallon of house paint on me when I felt a rock hit me in the back. I turned around to find it was not actually a rock but rather a raw egg that miraculously hadn’t cracked and the surrounding group of people excitedly informing me that it was now my egg to throw for revenge. I spotted the man who had dumped the bucket of paint on me, sprinted toward him with the egg and jumped high as I felt the satisfying crunch and cool gush of raw egg flow between my fingers onto his matted black hair. I returned to my cheering friends with a proud, devious smile.  

I give the Ecuadorians credit however, because the paint game is not all madness, they’ve thought this through. Another fun tradition is to get sprayed with this weird foam stuff (I think I mentioned in another post) and turns out it’s not just foam it’s soap!  So you get covered in paint, then foamy soap, then get thrown into the ocean and scrub yourself clean, only to emerge and do it all over again. 

On Thursday we got to be real researchers! Three of us rented kayaks with my friend Dani (awesome Australian who is doing research on the unfortunately common incidence of sea turtles boat strike).  We paddled to a beach an hour away, enjoying the surf at some points (waves 1-2 meters!), had a quick picnic lunch of fresh bread, avocado and apples, and then snorkeled equipped with underwater cameras to document/identify some sea turtles. I have never seen this many sea turtles at once – you would bump into one if you weren’t watching! I think I got 20 turtles (some might have been repeats), but we even saw a young one (toddler possibly) swimming! 

Friday we had our first real (outside of dive class) dive to Kicker Rock where we got to swim with sharks, octupi, eagle rays, and more. We even swam through this 20 meter tall cylinder of fish – they were black so you couldn’t see through them and they blocked out light from above. If only I had enough internet to upload GoPro videos but alas…just use your imagination. The current was so strong at one point we ended up just clinging to rocks on the bottom (80 feet down) and just laying there, flowing with the current and watching the life spinning around us. It felt so peaceful and surreal to just be for a moment. 

Saturday, 10 of us piled into the bed of a white-taxi-truck and we went to the highlands to see El Junco, a freshwater lake in the middle of a giant hill (like a crater) where lots of frigate birds got bathe.  The air at this altitude was fresh, light and cool, and while we were all captivated with our surroundings we got swarmed by a group of locals who wanted to take pictures with us.  This often happens in places, especially when we have our 6’7″ friend with us (Ecuadorians can’t seem to comprehend his height). After the lake we went to the Galapaguera (natural tortoise sanctuary) which houses giant tortoises from egg to 200+ years old! Then we spent the rest of the day at Puerto Chino, the most beautiful beach on the island according to most. 

Ok, two more things quickly…

1) When we got back from Puerto Chino the other day we swam out to the buoys marking the boundary between swim-zone and boat-zone and hitched to the buoy was a 3 story cruise boat (midsize).  Jokingly I said to my friend that we should climb aboard but she was quite serious. Turns out the people saw us and invited us aboard, so five of us climbed up the side and chatted with three locals who asked if we wanted to jump off the top. We did despite almost losing our bathing suits! 

2) If you ever go to Playa Ochoa (which you should) then be sure you wear pants, sneakers and high socks and be aware that it’s a two hour hike each way on a path full of rocks, mud and VERY prickly plants. 10 of us went yesterday and we look like we got mauled by cats. BUT THE BEACH IS TOTALLY WORTH IT. 

Alright, congratulations if you’re still reading. You surely have a longer attention span than I do.

(Big thanks to Maggie Stack – all the photos are hers)

Like a wave the ocean can’t control…


(photos courtesy of Anne Maxwell Ellett)


But don’t worry, I am going to stick around to save the world (twice).


Last Friday, we were on the way back from a field trip to examine the health status of coral reefs at Punta Pitt (yes this was for class) when we spotted the marvelous beasts. I truly marveled – we all did. Well, we all did after we nearly tipped the boat while screaming that there were fifteen dolphins jumping in the water and swimming next to us. I felt like we were on National Geographic, I could basically hear the steady, soothing voice of the British narrator remarking on the feeding habits or schooling pattern of the majestic bottlenose dolphins. (There was actually a National Geographic tourist boat next to us, also watching the dolphins so maybe that’s why I thought this…that or I was just delirious with excitement) Punta Pitt was amazing too – the visibility was at least 7 meters and the reef was beautiful. While snorkeling we saw a Galápagos shark and followed it (yes followed) for about 30 seconds and then we hiked up to some cliffs to see the rare Red Footed Boobies in their nests.


This past weekend, we also got to experience a sweltering 9K race held by the National Police Force of the islands. It was free and we even got tank tops that had our numbers on them (more eco-friendly than paper numbers!). There were less than 100 participants, a quarter of which were US students from our study abroad group and the rest were mostly policemen, young local boys and a handful of local women. We swept the womens’ category taking the majority of places, and one of our boys got 2nd place for the men. The winners got some huge trophies that will probably not fit in their carry-ons but are treasure-worthy nonetheless. When I got home from the 9K race, I was greeted with the lovely beheading of the rooster that has frequented the window outside my room for the past week. I didn’t notice this rooster until it started waking me at 2:30 and 4:30 AM and when I asked my host mom where it came from she told me it was a gift from her brother. I told her that it definitely didn’t know when daylight was because it kept waking me but she said not to worry too much about it — now I know why. Within seconds of its decapitation, my host mother proceeded to pluck its feathers faster than I could have ever imagined one could de-feather a creature. That night, we enjoyed a delicious (no sarcasm) rooster soup with veggies, some herbs, and yuca. As I ate, my host mom told me that I would be able to sleep now. (I still woke the next night at 2:30/4:30 waiting to hear the crowing and I feel surprisingly un-remorseful about the whole situation…when in the Galapagos/circle of life/who-am-I?)

Ok, so all that aside, we are now in the middle of Carnaval – a crazy festival that goes until Tuesday where there’s music all night, kids are out of school and businesses are closed, and at any moment there’s a threat of being hit with a water balloon or ball of colorful paint. There are street vendors cooking up a mix of delicious food everywhere and the parties are located on the beach across from the university. I never knew the Galapagos had so many fiestas! I also went to church last night which was really nice despite being semi-incomprehensible/entirely in Spanish!

Photo: Precious angels

Totally unrelated random sidenote: I always refer to people who are out of school and in the working world holding their own etc. as “real people” (yes the opposite are the not-real-people who are still in college) and I learned that in Japan they call those in the working world “society people,” and college students are not society people until they graduate. Food for thought.

An Ode to the Chocobanana

About 400 meters from our university, behind the wooden window of a magical blue shack, is the delightfully delicious frozen gem that is a chocobanana. The soft, sweet potassium-filled fruit and the crunchy, slightly salty chocolate shell are bonded together by an icy coolness that wards away even the sweatiest of days, and overwhelms the mouth with a sensation that can be described by nothing other than pure bliss.  And the best part? It’s only 25 cents.  I’m bringing this trend back to the U.S.


                      Gringas in the parade

This week has been a solid mix of snorkeling and our usual island activities, but it has also been laced with that bittersweet taste of homework.  We finished up our second class module (Marine Life) with our favorite German professor (and dolphin expert) on Friday.  I’m going to miss her, we had great class discussions about the state of our world and this whole experience has changed my perspective on the human race and their extremely potent impact.  2/5 classes down, and it’s going by way too fast!  Today (Sunday) they have the elections for mayor and some other political positions and there have been parties til 3 AM and parades on the daily – everyone got to march in one on Tuesday and then I got to ride around town in a white truck, wearing a fluorescent green shirt yelling at the town in Spanish to vote for my host sister on Thursday night.   However, because this is an extremely “serious” and sober time, there’s been a ban on all alcohol since Thursday night, and if caught drinking you could be jailed!  So naturally, we reverted to a childlike state and hung out to watch Frozen on DVD along with play fun manhunt-type games. 

Now, your homework: Go grab a banana, dip it in melted chocolate and put it on a plate in your freezer.  It will be ready in time for dessert!  You can thank me later.

Here, everyone is a Dar-winner!

Yeah the title… feel free to grab some wine to pair with all that cheesiness.  I’ve been dying to make a Darwin reference and well it was his birthday on Wednesday and also the start of the Galapagos Festival where the town is alive with music, parties and various meats-0n-a-stick.  We went to the town center Wednesday night, not sure what we were about to encounter, and were greeted with vivacious local dance groups on the outdoor half-conch shell stage.  We sorted through the crowd for a place to sit and decided upon a cement bridge for our perch. This was also the territory of the entire local school children population so we were quite entertained.  We soon found out that we were only a few meters away from the fireworks launching pad (a.k.a. cardboard box full of firecrackers) and had the best and loudest seats in the house. There was another interesting fire display in which some local man wore a wooden tent-shaped contraption that was painted to look like a giant cow and upon lighting some invisible fuse on its tail, it burst alive spitting with sparks (like a sparkler), threatening anyone in the surrounding area with its fiery discharge. Naturally, the cow-man got as close as he could to everyone in the crowd, weaving in and out leaving a trail of excited screams – we were very happy to be watching safely from the bridge.  After this they lit this ingeniously engineered wooden structure that also set off a domino-effect of sparklers with a surprise ending – the top flew off into the air like a flying saucer!  If this wasn’t enough excitement, we were sprayed several times with some questionable white foam that smelled like sweet apples – remember we are sitting with the school children who were armed with aerosol cans of this Ecuadorian version of silly-string.  Overall it was quite a fun night. 

We also started volunteering at this Ecuadorian organic farm/ranch in the Highlands (the inland part of the island where they plant all the bananas and exotic fruits) and the local farmers are so friendly (and hilarious) as well as the international volunteers they have (from France, Norway & Denmark currently).  Like everything else here, you never know what you’re going to get.  I thought we were going to plant grass for turtles to nest in, turns out, they had other plans. We walked in on the first day and promptly traded our flip flops for tall rubber boots, and our backpacks for some very real machetes.  With our weapons we were instructed to cut down the invasive blackberry trees that were preventing the turtles’ grass from growing as well as it should.  It was actually one of the most fun and satisfying things I have ever done – don’t worry I’m not picking up any new hobbies – but seriously it actually felt great to chop down these trees.  The next day, after receiving our rubber boots, we were taught how to yell and herd cattle.  It was basically six of these crazy Americans running and screaming random things and sounds at giant cows that were definitely rolling their eyes. After this task, we helped with horse therapy for local children which consisted of us holding them in various sitting and laying positions on a horse as it walked around.  Never a dull day.

Gringos and machetes

Herding Cattle

Machete time!

Horse Therapy

On Saturday I went to the Queen San Cristobal election with my host family – the island’s beauty pageant for 16 year old locals in an outdoor gymnasium. Both of my host sisters were past queens so they were excited about it and it was again quite an experience. You sit in the section of the candidate of your choice, and upon choosing your seat you are handed a tee shirt, a whistle and a poster of the candidate, all of which you flaunt and use to show your support every single time she appears on stage (which is a lot in the 3 hour show).  Glad I went, wouldn’t go back – beauty pageants, just not really my thing but I suggest you go if you’re ever in the Galapagos in February.

Okay, last thing, this week we started scuba classes so today was the first day we got to breathe underwater in the open ocean. I was a little worried after I knocked the instructor’s oxygen tank off of the pier but he is really cool and the rest went smoothly. Five of my friends are in my class and there are a lot of others getting certified so it’s been  a great bonding/learning experience.

Well, New England and other cold parts of the U.S., I hope you’re enjoying the snow.  I feel like the Galapagos penguins every time I hear that there’s a big storm  – they’re the only penguins that live north of the Equator, just like I’m one of few New Englander’s swimming with turtles instead of freezing in the snow of 2014.

(photo credit: Chris)

P.S. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone I love you all.

P.P.S. Fun fact, for birthdays here (I just went to an 11 year old cousin’s party), they sing in Spanish, then in English then they sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in Spanish!