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.