Confession: I moved to the Florida Keys during a pandemic

*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.

Yes, in the midst of a pandemic, I moved down to the Florida Keys for the summer.

Craziest thing I have ever done? Definitely not.
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Post-graduation plans were looking grim with COVID-19 after a virtual graduation, until I was accepted to the Marine Conservation Internship at Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) in Key Largo, FL. REEF is a non-profit focused on citizen science and community engagement in marine conservation.

The 10-week internship began in the middle of June. I drove all the way down to Florida in just 2 days from Maryland with the help of my boyfriend. It was a long drive, but we were greeted by the most beautiful weather.

I lived with the other interns at REEF in a beautiful vacation rental house near about almost everything in Key Largo. Not only was our porch screened in (which is perfect because the Keys has MANY mosquitoes), but it wrapped all the way around. It provided the perfect place to eat outside, workout at night without being bitten up, and to simply enjoy the weather.

During this internship, I had a lot of new experiences and gained a lot of new skills. Just to name a few:

  • Learned more about my late Uncle Andy, his experiences with marine life, and his scuba diving career
  • Realized my passion for citizen science
  • Refined many professional skills
  • Became a Level 3 Surveyor at REEF
  • Made amazing friends
  • Grew as a scuba diver
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REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project

My favorite part of this internship was learning about and participating in the Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP). This citizen science project allows scuba divers and snorkelers to record and report information about marine fish populations all over the world. My favorite part is that REEF provides the training to learn how to identify fish and makes uploading data very easy. The database REEF maintains is a source for many research publications and provides data for the monitoring and management of important populations and invasive species.

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Scuba Diving Accomplishments

The diving in the Keys is absolutely beautiful. Luckily, I got to enjoy it on my days off. This added up to a total of 35 dives and now my lifetime list is 60 dives.

In addition, I finished my PADI Advanced Open Water and Enriched Air Diver certification with Key Dives.

For my Advanced, I dove at Jules’ Undersea Lodge to knock out three of my dives. It is exactly what it sounds like, it is a hotel underwater! The lagoon has low visibility, so it is not an amazing dive destination, but it is a pretty cool concept and you sometimes get to see manatees!

The 5 dives I did for my Advanced were deep, night, navigation, peak performance buoyancy, and fish identification.

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At the end of the summer, I decided to go ahead and get my PADI Rescue Diver certification. I am so glad that I did!

As I wrote in my Instagram post below:

This course meant more to me than I expected it would when I first set this goal. I knew that diving emergencies happen. My uncle passed away after a diving accident.

However, this summer I was part of a group who responded to a panicked diver. The situation grew to become very serious and my CPR training became my instinct.

The diver made a full recovery because of the training everyone who was on the boat that day had and the actions they took.

After that moment, I knew I wanted to learn how to better respond in those situations because although I am CPR certified, I was unprepared for how to respond in the water with scuba gear on…in three foot waves.

But thanks to @keydives and @scubavegan, I feel equipped with the knowledge and training to better respond to diving emergencies.

Accidents can happen anywhere at anytime. Although we work to prevent them, we should also be ready to respond to them!

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Favorite Bites and Sips in the Upper Keys

After spending a summer in the Upper Keys, I definitely have some places I would recommend! I did not get to go everywhere, so this is definitely not everything…just what I could do with COVID-19 around!

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Saying Goodbye to the Keys was not easy

However, I can confidently say this more about the Keys than any other place I have been: it is not goodbye, only see you later.

This was an invaluable experience an undoubtedly has given me a new perspective on my life and connection with marine conservation.

I also gained new ideas for future projects and I am excited to share those soon.

Until then, don’t forget to check out my new Instagram!

And that’s a wrap!

Even though the semester finished online, it ended (almost) like most do.

*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.

I had final projects and assignments to complete. Juniata College’s athletics department had the Alfies, the annual award ceremony. Although a few things were missing, two important events still happened online: Liberal Arts Symposium and graduation.

Juniata Cheerleading Seniors
watching the Alfies together
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Liberal Arts Symposium

Liberal Arts Symposium (LAS) is Juniata College’s version of a research symposium. It is my favorite tradition because it showcases students’ work and projects from the academic year. I was able to present my Hollings scholarship project with the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia because I have been spending the academic year working on a manuscript for a publication with my mentor. The benefit of this being done via Zoom is that my family were able to listen and support me from afar.

Send Off Zoom Calls

As a senior, this semester was supposed to be my last time to annoy my professors and pick their brains. Some of this time was lost, but many departments still gave their seniors a send off celebration. We had a Zoom happy hour to reminisce and tell stories about our memorable moments in the Environmental Science department and at Juniata.

Photos creds to Liz Ruszczyk
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Graduation

Lastly, I had the infamous virtual graduation.

To be honest, I was not expecting much, but Juniata greatly exceeded my expectations. However, my cap and gown did not arrive in time, so I had to get resourceful. I had celebrated with the Her Campus’ “I’m Still Graduating Event” and had received a cap plus some goodies from a variety of brands, including Havaianas, Conair, RXBAR, Hallmark, and Aussie, so I wore that cap paired with my high school graduation gown.

The Zoom room allowed for 1,000 participants so everyone who wanted to attend, plus the students, were able to join. We sat in my living room and I wore my cap and gown because why not? Unlike most “professional” webinar style Zoom meetings, they allowed for everyone’s screens to be displayed and for us to use the chat box with everyone. This was fun because you could scroll through the pages and see all your friends dressed up, like we would have been.

Messages were sent through the chat congratulating each other and sharing expressions of joy. We had speakers, music, and then a huge surprise. The staff and faculty created a video with heartfelt messages to say congratulations and give us their final goodbyes. During the video, our names and honors scrolled across the screen to honor us all individually. There was also an online program to view degrees and hometowns.

This beautiful video was certainly a surprise. I do not think any other class will have this special moment of pride after months of disappointment.

Watch my moment of fame:

After the celebrating, I hopped on my own Zoom call with my extended family to celebrate.

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Farewell Juniata…

I am extremely upset that my semester did not end the way I was expecting. However, I am thankful for all the time I had at Juniata and all the lessons I learned while I was there. Thank you, Juniata community.

I am proud to announce that I graduated summa sum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science. I was also awarded Distinction in my major.

I am proud of myself and all that I was able to accomplish despite my academic, mental, and physical struggles.

As I wrote on my graduation announcement:

Successful despite her Crohn’s Disease. Studied abroad in the Galapagos and lived by Raystown Lake. Loves EVERY water body, scuba diving, science, and connecting with people. In the future, hopes to be able to connect society with their surrounding ecosystem better and help our two worlds coexist together.

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What’s Next?

After graduation and my 22nd birthday festivities were over, I still had work to do! I was still working on my research manuscript with my mentor. I spent the end of May and beginning of June focusing on this paper and writing as much as I could.

I also enjoyed time at home with my family. My mom and I did yoga together weekly and worked on transforming our yard to a meadow. We also all watched a bunch of movies!

Although we were in the midst of a pandemic, having this time at home, even when I was finishing classes, was extremely beneficial to my mental and physical health.

First of all, I was able to better control my Crohn’s Disease through my diet and fitness efforts.

Second, I spent time doing professional development, applying for jobs, and identifying prospective career paths.

During this time, I was able to solidify my summer plans…

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Reef Environmental Education Foundation

I am spending the summer in Key Largo, FL as a Marine Conservation Intern with Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). I will learn more about citizen science through their Volunteer Fish Survey Project and their role in conservation with the invasive lionfish and Nassau Grouper. In addition, I will learn more about my future career options in marine science and outreach.

I also get to dive in the Florida Keys all summer!!!

Super excited to keep you all updated on this opportunity.

The final semester…pre-pandemic

*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.

In the beginning of 2020, I was getting ready to begin my last semester at Juniata College. Looking back on my short semester, it is absolutely insane at how much I was able to do…

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Cheerleading…last season

I arrived onto campus early for some pre-season training with my team for basketball season. It was definitely bittersweet to face the fact that I was graduating and not going to be cheering anymore.

But I am so happy that I was able to have this experience!

Classes

For my last semester, I took a lighter load than usual and very practical classes. I was taking Advanced GIS, doing independent research for credit, Water Resources II (hydraulic modeling with HEC-RAS), and Quantitative Ecology (statistics with R).

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Conferences!

Luckily, I had very supportive professors and I was able to participate in a bunch of conferences outside of the classroom.

Delaware Wetlands

The last week of January, I drove to Wilmington, DE to present at the Delaware Wetlands conference. It was an awesome event because I got to see one of my mentors, National Estuarine Research Reserve employees, and some Juniata College alumni. There were amazing talks from all different aspects of wetland conservation.

During the meeting, I had the opportunity to go to the Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge/DuPont Environmental Education Center on the Christina River, where I learned about their restoration and education efforts.

I also got to catch up with one of my best friends from high school!

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American Fisheries Society

Then, on February 6th and 7th, Juniata College hosted the Pennsylvania American Fisheries Society (AFS) Chapter’s 2020 Technical Meeting. One of our professors at Juniata in the Environmental Science Department, Dr. George Merovich, is the President Elect for the PA AFS Chapter and helped plan this meeting. In addition, Dr. Merovich is the advisor for our student chapter on campus that I served as treasurer for this year.

I was excited to be able to participate in the meeting by presenting my research from my Hollings internship. The first day was full of speakers and research presentations from professionals, academics, and students. After my class was over that morning, I headed over to Ellis Ballroom to begin soaking up information. I walked in when Marc L. Yergin from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was presenting on freshwater sponges.


My presentation was after lunch. I have had a lot of practice presenting since I have given this same presentation many times prior, but I was nervous to present in front of two of my professors and my friends. I went up there and gave one of my best presentations ever. I enjoyed the experience and the audience had great questions at the end.

That evening, the poster session was from 6pm-9pm. I went back to the meeting late because I had cheerleading practice. I gobbled up my dinner and ran up to the ballroom to socialize and enjoy the posters. At the end of the evening, they began announcing student awards. When announcing best student presentation, the chapter President, Dr. Greg Moyer, asked, “Is Letourneau still here?” and my eyes grew big. That was the LAST thing I was expecting. There I was accepting an award, a little sweaty, in my practice clothes, looking completely unprofessional. I apologized profusely and they assured me it was alright and that my award was well deserved. I was floored by the circumstances, but honored that I was chosen.

Accepting the award from Dr. Greg Moyer

The next day, participants had the choice of 4 different workshops in the morning. I attended the workshops: “Begin using R” and “Cyprinid ID”. Not only were these informative, but I also was able to network with other participants. All in all, it was a successful meeting and I am humbled I was able to attend and receive such an honor.

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Ocean Sciences Meeting

Lastly, on February 16th, I got on a plane and flew to San Diego for the Ocean Sciences Meeting. I went to present a poster on my research from my Hollings internship, network with professionals, and learn about potential career opportunities.

My poster presentation was fun and I got some great questions. I also ordered a fabric version of my poster for easier travel and I HIGHLY recommend it!!!

One of my highlights of the conference was when I attended the COMPASS Town Hall. COMPASS, which originally stood for “Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea”, was co-founded by my marine science idol, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of NOAA. COMPASS focuses on effective science communication, which has become a strong passion of mine. This was my 2nd time listening to Dr. Lubchenco talk and I actually was able to nervously introduce myself this time.

I also had the opportunity to meet a woman who I had no idea was everything I want to be and more. Dr. Dawn Wright is the Chief Scientist of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri), which is the leading Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and data science company. GIS might look familar if you have been reading my blogs. That is because I have learned how to use GIS in my courses and absolutely love it.

And my Story Map I made last summer? That was made using GIS software and web-applications!

I was able to talk to Dr. Wright and discuss my project with her. She proceeded to give me her business card and since then I have actually shared my project with her via email.

Dr. Lubchenco (far right) and Dr. Wright (to the left of Dr. Lubchenco)

Definitely the highlight of my conference experience!!

I also got to see a bunch of my friends from study abroad, the Hollings Scholarship Program, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Hollings Scholars at OSM!

In addition, I took advantage of the area and I adventured to Oceanside to run with the big dogs and the La Jolla area to do some tide pooling.

And with all these pretty sites, I unfortunately saw a bird playing with some trash 😦

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Senior Dinner

Before spring break rolled around, the senior class had our annual senior dinner. Little did we know that it was going to be the last time we celebrated in person, all together.

Juniata senior cheerleaders put a bow in our class time capsule and we all signed it.

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Spring Break

Before we became aware of the pandemic and COVID-19 broke, the Juniata Scuba Diving club planned a trip down to Florida to go camping and diving. When the trip rolled around, there were no positive cases in the areas we were planning to go to, so we were still able to continue our descent. Luckily, we were able to complete our trip entirely, but we definitely washed our hands a lot.

There were only a few of us this year, including the residential director at the Raystown Field Station, but we had fun and were able to do a lot of dives.

We began at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park in the Tampa area and dove at Ginnie Springs. This was my first freshwater dive and we got to go down into a cave.

On our off day, we went to the Florida Aquarium. One of the highlights was that the aquarium was hosting a Washed Ashore exhibit, in which art is built with plastic debris from coastal clean ups. In December at AGU, I had met someone who was part of this project and seeing it in actions was very neat!

Then, we went to enjoy the Clearwater Beach!

We then traveled down to Miami and camped at Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park.

The next few days, we did 5 dives total in Key Largo, including one night dive!

We dove at:

We saw some cool stuff including a pod of dolphins, a HUGE grouper, turtles, nurse sharks, barracuda, parrot fish, lobster, moray eel, and MORE.

It was SO COOL! I have not gone through my dive footage yet…I will soon I promise.

While we were down in the Keys, we also ate some yummy key lime pie.

I really loved this trip. Not only was I able to enjoy the recreational side of scuba diving, but I was able to improve my own skills and learn more about other dive opportunities available.

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Then we drove back to campus, leaving paradise behind…

While we were on the trip is when Juniata College announced they were extending Spring Break due to COVID-19. So we knew when we got back that we had to then go home but the worst part of drive home is that we drove through snow.

What happened next will be a whole new post, but you likely already know… #GraduatedInAPandemic

Be back soon with more information about that!

El último mes

*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.

After spring break, my 2nd to last course began. Families were visiting, people starting talking about home, and before we knew it there was only 6 weeks left in the Galapagos.

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Back to class!

My next class was Marine Ecosystem Based Management. I was not sure what to expect since all of the classes in the past were research and science based. However, our professor made sure we had plenty of enriching activities.

One of our projects consisted of looking at human impacts on the coastline of the island. We split up into groups and surveyed different beaches and areas for plastics, species present, fishing activity, invasive species, or man made structures. We took this data and used GIS (mapping software) to show different impacts and where they were more severe. This was an interesting project for me because I was really excited to use GIS again after learning about the software last semester.

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We also got to go on fun trips. First, we went to Isla Lobos, a small islet not more than about 30 minutes from the main port on San Cristobal. The island is named after sea lions, which is lobos in Spanish. We began the tour with a hike around the islet. Unfortunately it was raining and our feet got caked in mud, but that did not stop us from viewing frigate birds and blue footed boobies up close. It was so amazing. I wish I had my camera. Of course you can see sea lions on the island and like most places in the Galapagos, there were marine iguanas.

After our hike, we put our snorkel gear on and started exploring around the area. The sea lions here were extra playful, which definitely was the highlight of the trip.

Our second trip was to Española Island, the southernmost island. The beauty of the island is breathtaking. To access the island, you have to take a dinghy to the makeshift dock.

The upcoming photos are all mine!!! (usually all photos on the blog are mine unless otherwise stated)

We went around the whole island during the hike and got to see amazing wildlife. Many of the species on this island are endemic to it due to its isolation. For example, mockingbirds, lava lizards, and waved albatrosses. There are also Nazca boobies, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos doves, and like all the other islands, marine iguanas and sea lions.

Although we did not have the chance to see a waved albatross, we did see the Galapagos Hawk!

At Suarez Point, there is an area is the rock where water splashes up into a blowhole and shoots up into the air. It was pretty amazing!

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Next, we went scuba diving and got to see the marine life below the island.

I really enjoyed this class and being able to discuss the policy and management side of the Galapagos ecosystem. We also learned a lot about the government structure and events in the past that had influences on current policies. The island is beautiful and has a rich environment, but there are also people living there and it is difficult to find compromise sometimes. We simulated these issues in debates where different people took on roles of different stakeholders involved on the island. Even today, policies are not perfect and enforcement is not efficient. However, when you bring in the locals, tourism agencies, fisheries, and scientists, finding solutions everyone can agree on is extremely difficult, as we learned in our debates. I hope in the future for the Galapagos that conservation can continue effectively and human impacts can be diminished as people still enjoy the islands.

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Photo contest

Shortly after my trip to Isla Lobos, photos were due for a photography contest between all student at GAIAS, including study abroad and local students. The theme of the contest was what Galapagos means to you. It took a lot of narrowing down my picture pool, but eventually I chose a photo from my snorkeling at Isla Lobos and it ended up winning 1st place! I won a free dinner for two at Muyu Galapagos, the restaurant at Golden Bay, a luxury hotel on the island. A lot of my friends on the island work there and so it was a really great night.

The winning photo with the caption: ” A sea lion with curious eyes, I have delved into the unknown to discover more about myself, these enchanted islands, and my role in our interconnected web – the world.”
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Under the stars

The weekend after my class ended, I went camping on the beach!!! On San Cristobal, you can camp at Puerto Chino, one of the most gorgeous beaches. First, you have to get a permit from the Galapagos National Park, which includes writing up a letter with names, birth dates, passport numbers, etc. and pay $10 per person camping. If you do not have a tent, no worries! You can rent tents on the island for pretty cheap!

Next, you take a taxi to the beach and make sure you arrange for them to pick you up the next morning because there is no cell phone service. When we arrived, there were people to check our permit and our bags. We then were able to go onto the beach and set up our tents before sunset.

We spent the night listening to music, stargazing, walking in the water, hiking up the rocks, and enjoying the sounds of the ocean. It was absolutely unreal. Other than scuba diving, it was probably one of the most amazing things I did on the island and the best experience. I got to practice taking star pictures, sleep on the beach, listen to the sound of waves, and wake up to watch sunrise on the beach. We even went swimming in the morning before it got too hot.

10/10 recommend.

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Last class…

My last class on the island was Techniques of Marine Research II. The professor was different for this class than our first techniques of marine research class. We had Alex Hearn, who everyone calls the shark guy because of his previous research. Everyone was super excited to have him and he was a really great professor. His lectures were always so interesting and he used his own research as examples. He also worked for Charles Darwin Foundation and has worked in fisheries research on the Galapagos for years. The stories and experiences he had were fascinating and reinforced our understanding of regulation issues in the fisheries sector.

For one week of the class, we went to Santa Cruz island to go on diving trips, where we did research to add to a database from many years. Many of us decided to go that Friday after class to enjoy the weekend there before class trips began on Tuesday.

That weekend we went to Las Grietas again for snorkeling and to enjoy the cool waters. We also walked to Tortuga Bay for one day to play in the waves and soak up the sun.

Beach fun
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On Monday, our class was not arriving until later in the afternoon, so one of my friends and I decided to go on a dive trip.

I went diving at Gordon Rocks, again. I just could not stay away!

It was a good dive (although I think my other one was better) and I got some amazing footage of hammerheads.

After our dive, we came back into town and tried on gear for our dive the next day. The class was split into 3 groups and we had different sites we were going to with different agencies.

My first dive day was to Santa Fe. For each trip, we each had a partner and a research role, and we changed roles every dive. As a group, we put out a transect line (which is like a long meter tape) on the sea floor. Along the line, we had some people recording species and abundance of fish and macro invertebrates. Our third group use a quadrat every 5 meters to record the species and abundance of sessile species, such as algae.

This was my first time doing field work while scuba diving and with the currents, it definitely was not easy in some places. However, it was still a really great experience.

Example of the quadrat to study sessiles
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The next day, our dives were to North Seymour and Mosquera. After we finished our research in Mosquera, we continued our dive and saw some amazing Galapagos sharks.

GAIAS students got talent

The evening after we arrived back on San Cristobal, we had a talent show and pizza party for our whole program. It was a really fun night together and I showed off my hula hooping skills!

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Rays and sharks, oh my!

That weekend, I had the opportunity to join my professor and go out to do research with his team. One of my previous professors was also on the boat. I went to the dock at the crack of dawn and we started our expedition to different sites around the island. Their goal was to look at abundance of juveniles in nursery areas of sharks and rays, using a drone survey and a variety of nets. It was a long day, but really awesome to learn different research techniques and see different parts of the island that I never went to before.

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And just like that…it was the last week on the island.

Unfortunately, since it was also the last week of the module, we also had a lot of work to finish for our class. But we still made sure to spend some time on the beach and at our favorite spots.

Finishing homework on the beach……

I was really going to miss the island and I was becoming stressed about the thought of going home because at home I would have so many more responsibilities and would be moving to Virginia for my summer internship. I was also thinking about the change in culture. There were so many things that changed while I was there about myself and my lifestyle. I was going to miss so much. I enjoyed the small island community, although sometimes it is frustrating that everyone knows everyone. However, that gave a level of comfort. This was my home and I was so happy to be able to walk everywhere. Not to mention I enjoyed refining my Spanish skills.

I made a lot of great friends in my program and on the island. Looking on the bright side, now I have friends from all over the United States, Ecuador, and South America. I was even already visiting a friend from Ecuador in Peru after leaving the island before coming back to the United States.

That still did not make the goodbyes any easier.

Goodbyes were long hugs and sometimes a few tears, sometimes a lot.

At the airport on the day we left, the tears were everywhere. I did manage not to cry until the plane actually took off and left the island. I knew I would not feel the emotions until I actually left the place.

I landed in the island crying with happiness and I left the island crying with sadness.

These were some of the best months of my life and I will never forget them. This was not just a once in a lifetime experience because I know I will be going back more in my lifetime. The friendships and the memories will always be close to my heart.

Me and my host mom

Gracias por todo Galapagos ❤

Island Hopping: Galapagos Archipelago

*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.

Spring Break!!!!

Yes, we had a spring break while being here. And it was AMAZING. My last class was on March 15th and I left on the 16th for Santa Cruz, the most populated island. I did not come back to San Cristobal until March 24th because I had the whole week free. I went with 3 other girls in my program and we did not plan much beforehand because we wanted to have maximum flexibility. It worked out so well!!

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Day 1

We left San Cristobal early in the morning on a speed boat. Tickets typically cost $30 dollars one-way and it is a 2 hour boat ride. Some boats are nicer than others and sometimes the waves are rough. This ride is not great for those who get sea sick. Luckily, I do not get sea sick and I enjoy it!

When we arrived to Santa Cruz, we looked for a restaurant with WiFi and breakfast. We went to The Rock, which is a popular spot. From there, we found a place to stay, Hospedaje Carliza 2, and walked inland to it. It was sort of far from the Malecon and the tourist area of the port, but that is what made it so cheap and within our budget. It had a kitchen too, so we were able to cook meals to save money, which worked out really well.

After resting a little, we bought some snacks, found the bank, and asked a taxi to take us to the lava tunnels in the highlands. I was lucky one of my friends already had a few ideas and did research on what to do. The lava tunnels are on the El Chato Tortise Reserve so we got to see both! It was cool walking through dark tunnels formed by lava and then see tortoises in the wild. It was a beautiful area and a great afternoon.

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Day 2

This morning we woke up early and took a water taxi to Las Grietas, a popular snorkeling and swimming spot on the island. The water taxi drops you off near the trail to get there and you walk past Germany Beach and through a wetland to get there. It is a huge crack in the earth filled with water. The pool is deep and you can swim to the end if you climb a few rocks. The calm water is a nice place to hang out.

After Las Grietas, we bought tuna fish, cucumbers, and crackers for a refreshing lunch. Then we took the journey to the well known Tortuga Bay, a beautiful long beach with white sand and turquoise water. You can either walk on a path to get there, which takes roughly 30-45 minutes, or use a water taxi, which would be about $10 per person for one-way. We chose to walk and the path is incredibly gorgeous. When we arrived, we walked along Playa Brava, where you cannot swim due to strong currents, to get to Playa Mansa, the designated swimming area. We arrived late afternoon so we did not have much time, but we enjoyed seeing the baby sharks in the water and many iguanas.

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Day 3

I had a friend travelling with me who was also scuba certified and we decided to do a dive in Santa Cruz! We woke up early to go to North Seymour, a small island, and Daphne Minor, an extinct volcano. Both dives were AMAZING! I saw hammerhead sharks, white tip reef sharks, eels, rays, and colorful fish. We dove with Eagle Ray Tours and would definitely dive with them again. They took great GoPro footage for us, check out videos on my Facebook Page (when I upload them)!

The dive trip was over by 3 pm and we were exhausted. However, we still had daylight to kill so we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station. On the way we found a beautiful ceramic garden with mosaics.

My favorite from the garden

At the station, we first looked inside at the exhibits, watched a short clip about research in the Galapagos, and put a stamp in our passports! There is also a breeding center for different species of tortoises from the different islands. In addition, you can see adults from different islands and view the morphological difference.

One of the biggest draws for many people is viewing the preserved body of Lonesome George, the last individual of the Pinta Island tortoise. You can read more about George’s legacy here.

Lonesome George and my brother’s reflection (Taken By: Mom)
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Day 4

We woke up very early this day to catch our 7 am boat and traveled to Isabela Island. We arrived at the island again with no major plans so our first task was to find breakfast and a hostel. We ate breakfast and looked up places, eventually finding one that would work. We stayed at Hostal Cerro Azul and loved it. They had a kitchen and fun hammocks in the living room. It was also a perfect location!

After a recovery nap, we rented bikes and went south of the town to find a trail along the ocean. Before we reached the trail, we stopped at a trail where you could view flamingos in a pond/lake. There was a bridge that took you through and it was breathtaking to see these birds in person at Poza Puerta de Jelí.

We continued back to the road to follow the trail along the coast and through wetlands with the end goal of reaching El Muro de Las Lágrimas (The Wall of Tears). In the 1940s and 1950s, this wall was built by prisoners sent to the island from the mainland of Ecuador. They lived in a penal colony and were forced to build this wall to “keep them busy”. These prisoners faced harsh conditions and punishments. Viewing the height and the roughness of the lava rocks made me shiver as I thought about the pain they must have endured.

The wetlands we biked through are called Los Humedales del Sur de Isabela and in 2002 was named a Ramsar Site, Wetland of International Importance. The roughly 11km path features many trails off of it for different views, lava tunnel, beaches, and sites to see different mangrove forests.

We did not have much time to stop everywhere, but I went back a week later with my family and I was able to see much more and show them everything.

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Day 5

The next day, we woke up and prepared to walk a lot. We had signed up for a tour to hike Sierra Negra Volcano. This is one of five of Isabela Island’s active volcanoes. The volcano last erupted in 2005 and the last recorded activity of the volcano is June 2018 after earthquakes opened up fissures.

The hiking trail is roughly 15km depending on which routes you take and takes about 5-6 hours for the round trip. Once you reach the rim, you can see the 6 mile wide and 300 feet deep caldera. For part of the trail, you hike around it seeing different angles of it. Eventually the paths turn into lava rock, but not just any ole lava rock…the most beautiful rocks. The colors were breathtaking.

During our hike, we got to see the area where there was activity in 2018. It was so surreal to think about how less than a year ago lava flowed where I was standing.

Although it was a lot of walking, it was not terribly difficult. I would highly suggest this activity!

Photo creds below to either Lucy, Lily, or Emily.

The sunsets on Isabela were also breathtaking…

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Day 6

On the last day on Isabela, we went on a tour of Las Tintoreras, a group of small islets off the coast. The boat first takes you around to view different areas where there are groups of penguins and blue footed boobies. It was amazing to see so many cool birds at once! The is also an area the boat drops you off where there is a small 5 minute walk to view one of the cracks in the rocks where white tip reef sharks like to hang out. You also have the opportunity to go snorkeling in the bay and through the large cracks.

Later that afternoon, I went on the boat to go back to Santa Cruz with two other friends in the program. We spent that evening trying to decide what day tour we wanted to do the next day.

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Day 7

We decided to go on a tour that took us to many places. We took a trip to go bird watching at the Daphne Islet, then snorkeling and enjoying the beach at Bahia Borerro, ending with a longer snorkel at Pinzon Island. We saw White tip reef sharks in the mangrove area and beautiful fish.

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Day 8

On my last full day on Santa Cruz, I fulfilled my itching desire. I went scuba diving to Gordon Rocks, a dive site around the remains of a volcanic crater with 3 pinnacles sticking out above. It is often called “the washing machine” due the the strong currents and upwelling. For this reason, they suggest intermediate to advanced divers only do this. One dive master once told me, the number of dives and the experience does not determine someone’s ability to scuba dive. Although I only had a few recreational dives under my belt, I felt confident that I could do the dive. I booked through Eagle Ray Tours again, but they sent me with their friend’s company since they were not going that day. I ended up going with Jesse from SharkBay Dive Center, who had no issue taking me to Gordon with my dive experience. It was amazing and they did a fantastic job during the whole day. It was an awesome dive.

We saw so many things….hammer head sharks, fish, Galapagos sharks, rays, etc…These are some stills of my footage!

Here’s some stills from SharkBay Dive Center!

The day was finished with a quick trip to the fish marke where you can see all the Galapagos animals surround fishermen as they return with their catch.

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Day 9

The next day, I came back to San Cristobal just in time to meet my family from the United States at the airport for their visit on the Galapagos for a week. 🙂

I took them to see all the beaches on the island, to Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido), a tour of the highlands, including El Junco (freshwater lake), Galapaguera (tortoise reserve), and Puerto Chino. In addition, we did a quick trip to Santa Cruz Island for the Charles Darwin Research Station and to Isabela Island for a night to enjoy the biking and the views.

It was nice to have a little taste of home, but it also reminded me I was going home soon. The last 6 weeks went by so fast and we were all really upset to even think about leaving the island, our new home.