Sunday, August 9, 2009

A final word

We came as strangers, we leave as friends. After three weeks, Ecuador has taught us much. We take memories with us and we leave behind concrete examples of how travelers can give back and not just take from a foreign country-- a cleaned up town square in Mindo, a freshly painted playground with new swings, dozens of new trees planted near Cotopaxi, and a newly constructed orquidiario that will be used to teach locals about the beauty of nature around them.

Many thanks to all our fantastic students, wonderful local guides, and to our expert Kitty Coley for making this trip one to remember.

Elie, Alex, and Jes

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kicker Rock

Hello all,

Yesterday we settled into our last spot in the Galápagos, San Cristobal.
One group spent the day finishing up On Assignment projects and then hit the beach. The other headed to two locations for snorkeling. One snorkel location is called Kicker Rock (see photo below). Students had the chance to swim alongside sea turtles and sea lions. Many of us even saw Galápagos sharks below us as we swam through the channel at Kicker Rock! From the boat we saw a pod or two of dolphins and watched as dozens of Blue-footed boobies dove at high speed into the ocean to catch their food.

Today groups will switch activities.
And by tonight, everyone will have completed their On Assignment projects. We have a special dinner planned for the group to celebrate all the hard work that our students have put into their photographs, surveys, research, and presentations!

On Thursday we head back to Quito for our
final night abroad.

Hasta luego,
Elie, Jes, and Alex

Lonesome George

Hello all,

Yesterday we left Santa Cruz for our last island stop in the Galápagos - San Cristobal - where Charles Darwin first landed in the islands.

Before leaving Santa Cruz we headed over to the Charles Darwin Research Station to visit the world famous Galápagos tortoise, Lonesome George. Luckily for us Lonesome George wasn't hiding in the brush. Though many of us only saw him from the back (photo below), we did get to see other giant tortoises up close.

One highlight of the research stations and breeding centers we've visited is seeing the babies. Everyone loves babies! It's hard to believe that these tortoises that could fit in the palm of our hands can grow up to 500 lbs! And it's even harder to believe that most of them will outlive us.

Alex, Elie, and Jes

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Galapagos Wildlife

Here's a glimpse at some of the amazing wildlife we've seen in the Galápagos. Here you can see a Blue-Footed Booby, Marine Iguanas, and White-Tipped Reef Shark. This barely scratches the surface of all the animals we've seen. . .

Sierra Negra and Volcán Chico

Hello all,

On Friday we went on a 10-mile hike of Sierra Negra and Volcán Chico. Our guide said it was the most strenuous hike on all of the islands, and we all made it!

We walked along the massive caldera of Sierra Negra for some time and then went down into the lava fields. In the lava fields we saw two types of lava - Pahoehoe lava and A'a lava. From one of our vantage points we were able to see all the way to the northern tip of the island. We could also see Fernandina and Santiago islands. Amazing!

Here is one of the hiking groups near Volcán Chico.

The Galapagos

On Thursday morning we left Quito for the Galapagos Islands. We flew into Balta and then took a series of buses, ferries, and boats to arrive at Isabela - the largest of the islands. We've been so busy since we arrived, this is the first chance we've had to write. More to come soon!

Elie, Jes, and Alex

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quito and a visit with Pablo Corral Vega

Hello all,

Yesterday was our last day in Quito. . . we head to the Galapagos Islands today! Yesterday we had the opportunity to ride the teleférico and to see the city from high in the surrounding mountains. In the afternoon we visited an artisan market to buy gifts for our families and friends. We then broke into our On Assignment groups to continue work on our final projects. They are coming along great!

Last night we visited the home of Pablo Corral Vega, an Ecuadorian photographer for National Geographic. His home is filled with his photography-- it looks like an art gallery. The students asked many questions about photography and Pablo gave them advice for their projects. Many students said that they came away with life lessons. One student asked a question of Corral Vega and said that his answer will change the way she approaches her life and career. We hope you enjoy the photos below from our time with him.

After a few inspiring hours at Pablo's home we came back to our hostel for a joint birthday celebration for Callie and Justin--we celebrated with two delicious cakes from a nearby bakery. There is nothing like a little sugar before bed!

Now we are all packed and ready for our 9:45 a.m. departure for the Galapagos!

Bon voyage!
Elie, Alex, and Jes

Pablo Corral Vega