Travelers illness(es), snorkeling, and scuba diving

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.


Okay, I know…It has really been awhile this time.

But hey, I am living on island time now!

Sunset on Playa Mann (Photo By: Kayelyn Smith)

It has been a wild ride so far here on San Cristobal in the Galapagos. I have learned so much about the island, the wildlife, and the locals. I had an adjustment period when I got to Quito in January and I had yet another when I arrived here too.

However, I am WAY more happier here than I ever was in Quito. I have learned from living there that I am not a city girl. Also, I found it pretty easy to adjust to island life and the small town. I think this was so easy for me because my university, Juniata College, is a small campus located in a small town. My high school also had a small number of students and was in a town where everyone knew each other. Therefore, being here just reminds me of being in those environments, which I think is very different for some people in my program who are from cities or larger universities.

Before I get into the details of island life, let me tell you a story about my journey from the mainland to here.


Quito -> Galapagos

I was supposed to leave on Sunday, February 3rd. I was excited because I was sick of the city and was just ready to be at the beach. However, I woke up that morning and vomited. A lot. I was so nauseated. A lot of thoughts went through my head, “Is my Crohn’s flaring? What did I eat? What do I do?”. I did what I do best and pulled myself together the best I could. I was able to take a taxi to the university where we were going to board the bus for the airport. Long story short, I vomited a lot more and ended up having to miss my flight. I went to the clinic and was treated for a stomach infection, which is common in travelers because the food is so different. My program coordinator here helped me through every step at the doctor, getting medicine, and changing my flight. I spent 2 extra days in Quito recovering so that I would be at my best when I arrive for the islands. I watched a lot of Netflix.

When the plane was approaching San Cristobal, I looked out the window with the elderly Ecuadorian men I was sitting with in awe. The beautiful blue waters and green landscapes were unbelievable. As we descended from the air to land, I could not help but tear up a little. It was finally happening. My dream was coming true. I was going to LIVE in the Galapagos.



Photo By: Ethan Letourneau

When I got off the airplane, it was my first time directly walking down the steps onto the landing strip. My program coordinator for the island picked me up from the airport and took me first to the campus to put my medication in the fridge since my Humira is so temperature sensitive. We then went to my host family’s house.

My host family situation is just my host mom currently, but I really enjoy it because I get a lot of attention. My host mom’s nick name is Bachita and she is very happy to have me here. She enjoys hosting people, cooking, and cleaning. We are able to communicate in Spanish because I was able to practice my speaking skills so much in Quito with my taxi drivers. I am really glad I took Spanish all throughout high school and in college so far. Even though there is a lot of tourism here, not everyone speaks English. I have really enjoyed being able to practice so much and learn new vocabulary and geographical differences in the language. Overall, I love living with Bachita and she takes good care of me!


But wait, aren’t you taking classes?

The JC Banner in the office at the GAIAS campus

Yes! I have just finished two modules, which was the past 6 weeks of classes (each course was 3 weeks).

My first course was Marine Life. This course was focused on studying specific groups in the marine ecosystem. We had lecture from 9am to 12pm on days when we did not have field trips. We took advantage of our surrounding environment during the class. We snorkeled at Playa Mann, the beach right outside of campus, and Cerro Tijeretas, to study the fish species there. In addition, we snorkeled at Kicker Rock, also known as León Dormido due to the shape of the rock looking like a “sleeping lion”. While there, we saw many shark species and birds.

My class also visited La Loberia to study both the terrestrial and aquatic species that can be found there. Unfortunately, this is when stomach plague number two hit me. The night before, I began vomiting multiple times. There is one public hospital on the island and it is the same place you go for a minor issue such as a bad cough. My host mom took me there for rehydration and anti nausea medication. I spent about 12 hours there. Thankfully, I did feel a lot better after receiving treatment. In these situations, knowing Spanish has been very helpful. Although treatment is free there, it is important to remember that as a “Gringo” or just a white person, you will get treated differently. It is difficult to get tests to help figure out what is actually wrong with you unless you specifically request and pester them about it. In addition, it is just not as common to figure out exactly what is wrong, their focus is to treat and get you on your way. However, this definitely varies based on person, symptoms, and who came with you to the hospital. For example, when one of my program coordinators came, she managed to get me all sorts of tests and medications.


Scuba Certified

Before my next course began, my goal was to get my scuba diving certification for Open Water. We began on a Saturday afternoon with watching the videos. It was a hot room where; it was hard to stay awake. Afterwards, some of us treated ourselves to some pizza. You do not realize how much you miss food from the United States until you have it. The next day we did our pool dive. We learned how to put together the gear and practiced safety skills in the pool. It was definitely a very different experience that I have never had before. Overall, it was really fun though.

The next weekend, we dived right off the shore from Playa Mann in a shallow area so we could get used to the gear in an open environment. We had to expedite the processes of getting our certifications so that we would have it in time to dive in our next course, so the next day we dived again. We dived at Cerro Tijeretas, which was amazing! We saw sea turtles, sea stars, and amazing fish. It was also really great practice in an area with some currents. After returning from our dive, we took our exams to get certified and by the next day, we were officially PADI Open Water scuba divers!

Thank you Wreck Bay Diving Center!!!

Back to Business

My next class, Marine Ecology, began that Monday. This class was taught by the same professor from my Techniques of Marine Research 1 class from Quito. I was excited to see her again because I learned a lot from her in the previous class and she has a well-structured course. She packed a lot of things into a 3-week course. In addition, we had a 2nd professor who was doing research here on a Fullbright. We assisted her in part of her project in the lab doing a heat stress and a cold stress experiment on corals here. I knew nothing about the coral communities in the Galapagos until now and she brought a lot of knowledge to our lectures in class. Our field trips included snorkeling at Rosa Blana, which is a mangrove site, snorkeling and hiking at Punta Pitt, and scuba diving at Kicker Rock/León Dormido.

At Punta Pitt, we hiked to see nesting blue footed boobies!

Now cue me getting sick….AGAIN. This time was the worst. Non-stop diarrhea and vomiting. However, the next day I was supposed to go scuba diving at Kicker Rock. This field trip was the whole reason I expedited my scuba class. So, I did what I do best and pulled myself together. I probably should not have, but I do not regret it one bit. I was not able to do the first dive, but I felt better after vomiting on the boat (my 4th time vomiting in 20 hours) and joined the second dive. I saw sharks and felt great underwater (thanks adrenaline)…you only live once!! I went to the hospital immediately after getting off the boat because I was very dehydrated. I spent the next few days feeling awful. I went back to the hospital a second time because I was still so sick. I finally felt better after a week. I promise, I am taking care of myself! Many other students are also very sick. There is a lot of new and different bacteria here.

Scuba Diving at Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock after vomiting 4 times
After the dive…

Returning to the good stuff.

In both of my courses, my professors tasked us with creating and performing a small research project here. My first project was an observational study on the sea lion populations here and how they react to human presence. This is a hot topic here because the sea lions are EVERYWHERE. You will be walking down the sidewalk and all the sudden almost step on a sea lion. They also really enjoy hanging out on benches. However, tourists often do not respect the boundaries and attempt to get close to the animals. We were curious as to how the sea lions reacted to these attempts at various locations. Some sea lions are very reactive, but most are used to human presence.

In my Marine Ecology course, my group studied the interactions between fish and sea turtles. We filmed sea turtles and observed the cleaning symbiosis. Algae and sessile organisms gather on sea turtle bodies and fish will come feed on these organisms cleaning off the sea turtles. In addition, some fish will follow sea turtles as they feed to take advantage of the nutrients being uncovered when they forage in benthic sediment. It was really neat to see these interactions here.

I am going to end this post here, but I will be focusing more in my next post on the everyday life here and the ins and outs of the Galapagos. I promise I am actually having fun and living! I just had Spring Break and did some island hopping.

Enjoy some photos below of my island exploration!


Here’s to less stress and more health!

Puerto Chino

Middle of the World, Coast of Ecuador, Baños, and Quilotoa!

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

¡Hola amigos!

I am officially done with my first class! I know what some of you are thinking…already?! My classes are three week modules, so I am only taking one course at a time.

My first course was Techniques of Marine Research I, which was a great introduction to marine science. At Juniata, most of my classes are freshwater based and I have not had much experience studying marine environments. The course included two weeks in Quito and one week on the coast of Ecuador.


El Mitad Del Mundo

The week before I went to the coast, I went on a day trip after class with some friends to the middle of the world. Ecuador is right on the equator and just right outside of Quito is home to latitude 00° 00’ 00’’.

There are two ways to visit The Middle of the World City or in Spanish, “Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo”:

  1. Monument to the Equator (Monumento del Ecuador)

This monument was built around 1980 to replace an older monument built in 1936. The older one was set by geographer Luis Tufiño. However, they did not realize until it was checked with GPS that the actual center of the earth was less than 100 meters away. The monument is still beautiful and contains great history. However, we opted for the second option…

2. Itiñan Solar Museum

This museum is home to the middle of the world calculated with GPS. Admission is cheap and it includes a guided tour in English, which provided the history of Ecuador and its indigenous people. Our guide was very funny and entertaining. There are also a series of activities to do on the middle line, including a sun dial and viewing the water flowing down a drain in different directions on both sides of the middle line. The most popular activity is balancing an egg on a nail, in which you can receive a certificate naming you an “egg master”. This was a beautiful museum!


Class Trip

For the second week of class, we got up super early one Saturday morning to drive 12+ hours to the coast of Ecuador. During the trip we went to many beaches and stayed at 3 different hostels, Muyuyo Lodge, Finca Punta Ayampe, and Hosteria Canoa.

The first day, we were at Ayangue and went out by boat to the El Pelado Marine Reserve. We were two different groups, snorkelers and divers. I was part of the snorkelers because I do not have my scuba certification yet. Our job was to count species richness during our swim. The scuba divers did transect videos and photos of species lower in the water.

El Pelado Marine Reserve

This was my first time snorkeling and I loved it so much. It was such a beautiful place. I also am glad I wore tons of sun screen. The sun is STRONG on the equator.

The next few days, we traveled to many beaches to study rocky intertidal zones, including La Chocolatera, La Rinconada, La Playita, Machalilla, and Cabo Pasado. It was not all fun and games though. We were not just hanging out on the beach. Every morning we woke up to make it there for low tide. We had different roles for field research there.

Some groups were using a quadrant and transect method to record the algal and sessile species. My role was every other day collecting whelk species, measuring, and weighing them. The other days I took pictures of the species found in the rocky shore for species identification guides.

Identifying, weighing, and measuring whelks

We were outside working for 3-4 hours. Wearing sunscreen was very necessary and some days a long sleeve SPF shirt was best suited.

My partner Sara Heine

However, I had a lot of fun and enjoyed seeing the different shores that the coast provides. I also saw species that I have never seen before and practiced marine research methods for the first time. I also made amazing friends during the trip.

The only downside is that my phone was stolen right out of my pocket at a beach bar the last night we were in Canoa. I lost a lot of my contacts and photos, so I lost my most my photos from this trip and the middle of the world. However, luckily I had taken pictures with my Go Pro and nice camera so I did not lose those pictures. Long story short, always leave your phone at home or in the pocket of your guy friends (where mine was until I decided to take it out). Pick pocketing is very real abroad, especially on buses! Just because your things are below your feet does not mean they are safe. Hold everything.


Weekend Trip

We returned from our trip to Quito the following Saturday. Since we did work last weekend, our professor let us have Monday off. So being the crazy tourists we are, my friends and I went to Baños de Agua Santa (many people just call it Baños).

Crazy Tourists/Gringas

We took a bus from Quito for sooo cheap (I think $4.50?) and the drive was roughly 3 hours. After getting there, we found Honey Coffee & Tea and got some late breakfast. It was so delicious.

We then found our hotel, Selina Baños. It was a very nice place to stay and we were treated very well. They had everything you need at the hotel and the helped us schedule and plan our day to make sure we could do everything we wanted to do.

During all of our trips, we took a chiva, which allowed us to view the landscape during the whole ride.

The first thing we did was tour waterfalls on Ruta de Las Cascadas (route of the waterfalls). We went to the big one, La Cascada del Diablo. It was so beautiful, but it was a hike to get there! However, we enjoyed playing in the water and being so close to the waterfall.

After that trip, we set off to La Casa del Arbol (the treehouse) to swing at the “edge of the world”. The swing is a popular photo opportunity and it was definitely for the adventurous. There are people working to push you and if you want they also spin you. You are strapped in, don’t worry. Definitely worth the wait in line for this amazing experience. If you are lucky, you can see Tungurahua volcano from the view.

All of these were taken by my amazing friends

We also stopped at an amusement park like swing that you could pay to ride. The view there was amazing.

Our way home was not as easy. There was a road blocked, so we had to take a dirt road that changed elevations a lot back. Then when we got to Cotopaxi, we saw burning tires on the road. I was very confused and texted our study abroad coordinator. She told us we had approached an indigenous protest. The bus turned around and we thought we were going to have to spend the night and wait for the protest to be over. Thankfully, it ended or something (not really sure what happened) but we were able to make it through. Our trip home took 6 hours!!! We had to study for our final the next day on the bus.


Last Week on the Mainland

The last week in Quito was filled with paper writing. We had a field report and a larger research report due by the end of the week. Luckily, we were working in groups, but we don’t have many grades so we all needed to do well.

My last day in Quito, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to go to Quilotoa in a private van. The benefit of a private van is that there is less risk of having your bags stolen. Also, it is a direct route there and back.

We even stopped at the Toachi River Canyon nearby.

By: Olivia Burleigh
By: Olivia Burleigh

Quilotoa is home to a lake created by volcano that erupted in 1280 and left a caldera, which is now filled with beautiful water. There is a trail around the rim and also one that takes you down the waterfront.

By: Hannah Robertson
By: Olivia Burleigh

We did that hike and went kayaking on the water.

By: Olivia Burleigh
By: Olivia Burleigh

 And saw a lot of dogs. That is one thing about Ecuador is that there are stray dogs everywhere.

By: Olivia Burleigh

However, we were not looking forward to the hike back up. The view was amazing every step you took while walking down…but it was also very steep and zig zagged. This means it will also be very steep and zig zaggy on the way up.

And oh boy, it was. We had to stop multiple times to catch our breath, mostly due to the high altitude making it hard to breath in general. The worst part was that there were horses that you could pay to take you back up to the top. These horses would run you over if you did not move out of the way. But the worst part…was…the manure. EVERYWHERE. It was so hard to breathe already and then we were inhaling horse feces!!! Definitely not glamorous but definitely worth it.

Taking a break on the way up
By: Olivia Burleigh
Barely made it back up
By: AJ Pearre

So that is kind of where my story in Quito ends. My next post will be all about my beginning of being in the Galapagos and traveling.

Until then, start planning your trip to visit me because you will be jealous.

I’m serious, Bachita (my new host mom) wants guests.

¡Hasta luego!

By: Olivia Burleigh


Orientation Week: ¿hablo español?

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

¡Saludos de Ecuador!

I have had my first few weeks here in Ecuador and I am finally starting to feel more comfortable. The first week was very difficult. It was definitely over stimulation at its finest and I want to give a shout out to the people who watched me cry when it was too much…


I had to:

  • Take a week long Spanish boot camp (or you could call it class)
  • Learn more about the program and what to expect
  • Sit through multiple orientations
  • Maintain my medicine’s temperature
  • Make new friends
  • Get used a new family dynamic
  • Master the art of Uber and talking to Taxi drivers
  • Sleep
  • and last but not least, getting used to being in a totally different country!!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to be here and excited for the adventures to come, but it is just very difficult to adapt and learn so many new things at once. If you planning on studying abroad or this is your first time also, just remember that you are not alone. Everyone is in the same position and dealing with something extra that could make it more difficult to adapt.

The best thing to do is communicate with those who are trying to help you and let them know what you need. I am someone who gets pretty stressed out and anxious often, so this is not everyone’s experience and mine is probably more extreme. However, if you are feeling slightly how I felt, do not worry, it will get better!!!!



The first day, I went to the campus in the morning with the my host cousin because he also attends USFQ and was working on his thesis. He showed me around campus a little before dropping me off at the main entrance to meet everyone else. At the entrance, I saw more people who looked like me – lost students who do not look like everyone else.

We started mingling and talking about where we were from, what school we go to, and what we are studying. I met people who live near me in Maryland, go to school near me in Pennsylvania, and I even found one of my friend’s roommates from freshman year of college. It is a SMALL WORLD.

We split into groups and toured the campus, which is quite beautiful. Almost more beautiful than Juniata, in a very Ecuadorian way. I mean Juniata has nice grass and all, but here there’s a pond, waterfall, quad, AND palm trees.

The “lagoon”
A professor painted/designed this on campus
View of the town from the bridge that connects the mall and campus

One thing I love about the stable weather here is that no one is worried about keeping their air conditioning or heat in their homes. Windows and doors are always open and the campus has a lot of outdoor places. I love it so much.

After receiving our SIM cards for our Ecuadorian phone numbers, we had lunch and then went to our Spanish classes, which we had from 2:00pm to 5:00pm every day the first week.



We sat through many orientations and one of them was in the morning this day. We heard about the Galapagos Islands history and society and about culture shock in general. It is definitely helpful to hear about what to expect to be different here in Quito and in the Galapagos. Apparently, the hardest part is coming back to the United States. Stay tuned for that craziness since this is my first time in another country.



This was a beautiful morning. Our program scheduled a tour Old Town Quito. Cumbayá is a 30 minute drive from downtown Quito area. We got on a bus early in the morning so that we could complete the tour in time to make it to our Spanish class. Our first stop was El Panecillo, a very steep hill, home to “Virgen de Quito” or the “Madonna of Quito”. The Madonna is an aluminum, 148 foot sculpture that can be seen from many places in the city.

She also has a beautiful view of Quito and Cotopaxi, a volcano in the Andes Mountains.

We walked around the town, Plaza De La Independencia, and toured some cool places. First we went into “La Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus”, in English: “The Church of the Society of Jesus”. It was so beautiful inside, laced with gold, statues, and story telling pictures.

Next, we went to The Church and Convent of San Francisco. There was a beautiful open courtyard, with birds and gorgeous trees.

We had the opportunity to go to the top of the church, which had a great view!

Due to time, we were only able to view the outside of “Basílica del Voto Nacional”. I definitely want to go inside and go up to the top of the church before I leave.

Lastly, we had a beautiful lunch at a local restaurant.



This day was far from exciting. Many students had to go to Quito to get our bank statements notarized for our visa applications. I attempted to get my visa before leaving the United States, but it is a very very very long process and I just did not have time. I then of course went to my Spanish class and then studied for my final and worked with my group on our final presentation.



We had a large international student orientation this day, which just consisted of more orientation presentation. Then we had our last day of Spanish class and final! It was a long class and I was glad it was over. Although I love practicing my Spanish, I do not enjoy sitting in a 3 hour class about it.

We celebrated after class and enjoyed Friday night in Cumbayá.



Early Saturday morning, a few of us got on a bus in Quito to go to Mindo. The 2 hour bus ride was so cheap compared to the United States, only $3!!

Taken by a stranger who did not realize we were missing the “O”

We arrived late morning and booked a tour through the cloud forest. After lunch, we went into the forest with our guide and saw all sorts of beautiful plants and insects. We got to one part on the path where we had to cross the river. The trip we paid for included a trek across a rope bridge. I do not know how to explain it so just take a look for yourself at the trauma I put myself through:

By Jintong Wu
By Jintong Wu

Our hike after the bridge included many uphill climbs but we did get to see 3 small waterfalls and beautiful views.

On the way back across the river, we able to take a cable car thankfully so I did not have to put myself through that pain again.

After our hike, we wanted to see more waterfalls. We went up to the Nambilla Cascadas to hike to a big waterfall that you can swim in apparently. However, we got the wrong instructions and ended up not having enough time before the park closed to make it there. I have never hiked so hard in my life. My FitBit said we hiked 10 miles that day.

Not sure who took this…

My friend and I ate dinner and then took a taxi home to Cumbayá. Many people spent the night but I was ready to sleep in my “own” bed.



Although I slept in my own bed, I got up early to go to Teleférico Quito with some friends. Sleep is for the weak! Teleférico is a gondola ride up the side of the Pichincha Volcano to view the city of Quito from one of its highest points. At the top of the long ride, there is more hiking paths available to the volcano’s summit. There is also snack shops and a flavored oxygen bar. Quito is already at such a high altitude, which causes a lot of pressure and fatigue on your body, but this experience takes that even higher.

Flavored oxygen bar

The view up the gondola was absolutely gorgeous.

Unfortunately, although we went early in the morning, it was too cloudy to get some of the views.

By Ellie Mendelson

However, we still walked around the path at the top and enjoyed the swings! We even had a little break in the clouds to see some of below. If you go to Teleferico in Quito, make sure you have good weather to get the best view.

By Ellie Mendelson
By Ellie Mendelson
By Ellie Mendelson

After, we all went to my friend’s host family’s house and made lunch with my friend’s host sister. It was delicious.

And that was my first week in Quito, Ecuador.

I have a bunch of Go Pro footage but this site does not seem to support videos. Will be figuring out how to share it best soon!

P.S. I miss having ranch dressing in restaurants…but the food is pretty good.