Underwater Adventures

I’ve been back from Ecuador nearly 2 months now and I still haven’t finished blogging about my trip. At the rate I am going I may continue writing about this trip all year long.

One of the new things I decided to try during my time in the Galapagos was snorkeling. My uncle wanted me to get SCUBA certified but I didn’t have enough time before I left. However, I was still amazed at what I was able to see near the surface of the ocean. Just like on land, the marine life were inches away from me.0D4227A9-AFA7-46F6-A9A8-686BAF444234

The first place I tried snorkeling was at this beach on San Cristobal Island called La Lobería (lobo = sea lion). As soon as I submerged my whole body, it was as if I had entered a different world. There were sea lions, turtles and tons of amazing fish swimming all around me. 2E02AFF7-DBE1-4F87-8C0B-FFAB2BB3B45BF5EAD212-161C-40B0-A0C0-15DCC8CF74C6

La Lobería is a sea lion’s beach. If a sea lion wants to lie on your beach towel, he will hobble up and lie on your beach towel. E2AC9BB6-7AD3-4CBA-B86A-C1B72EEE3DD8

My Swiss friend Loreen joined me for my first snorkeling adventure. The water was cold so we had to wear wetsuits. 7C10D799-F639-43EC-A950-FD6D36E769FB

While renting my snorkeling equipment, I decided to invest in a disposable Kodak under-water camera. Best 18 dollars I ever spent.5D540A53-9F18-46E7-981E-28A1AE46E9FE 80B6C715-AE7A-4F5D-AA50-3A270367D514

Rewinding to my first day on San Cristobal: The day I met my fellow volunteers while they were all still in the port town for the weekend, they invited me to go Kayaking with them. I’d been Kayaking before in Los Haitises in the DR, but Kayaking in the Galapagos was a lot more difficult. It was all really worth the work and the soreness I was in later.   281AF3CF-62B4-4DBE-9E71-B9A3ADB1E092A few weeks later I went back to the area where we had kayaked to to try snorkeling for the 2nd time. It was called Cerro Tijeretas (tijereta = frigate bird) and it was a much easier place to snorkel because there were no waves. However, there wasn’t much to see at the time that I went.

I caught a picture of this sea cucumber: 68CCB53D-3217-4D2D-9815-E6C1261BFD70

I also tried diving down deep for the first time. I was with a guide and he pointed out this stingray for me to get a picture of. I got close for the picture and then shot right back up.

After snorkeling a few times now, I felt ready to upgrade to the next level: Kicker Rock. Kicker Rock (a.k.a. Leon Dormido) is a giant lava rock in the middle of the Pacific that looks like somebody took a giant sword to it and hacked it in two. The canal between the two rocks is where the Galapagos sharks like to hang out. It took a lot of mental preparation to join this tour, but I had stepped out of my comfort zone several times already so I figured, what’s one more time?C17B98F2-C12B-47AD-B811-91D751A8702D

So glad the disposable camera captured these guys. There was no zoom, so this is as close as they were to me. I was able to take a few pictures without freaking out, but this was the only one that came out because the visibility wasn’t great.4700B69F-DA40-454D-B213-ED8795A56F7D

I couldn’t leave San Cristobal Island without taking a picture with a sea lion on a the boardwalk. I leave you with this picture of the sea lion before he woke up…53A00AF3-E5F7-4DA6-AAB1-4F4FD90BC91F

And then after he woke up and yelled at me…42E40ED7-ADF2-4D1B-BB18-997B6B71ED84


Planting / digging / machete-ing

Most of the work at Jatun Sacha, in the highlands of San Cristóbal, consists of chopping down plants and trees that are invasive and replacing them with other plants that control the growth of the invasive ones.

The job on my first day was to gather what had been cut down the previous day into piles so that they could be burned. During our morning meeting, when we learned what we would be doing, I was relieved to know that that was my activity because I wasn’t ready to face the machete yet. However, when we got down there (every day we had about a 10 minute hike up or down to where we would work) it shocked me to see just how much of this invasive debris needed to be gathered. It’s everywhere. Even with 20-40 volunteers working for hours at a time it’s still hard to see imagine it ever being fully depleted. We had to use sticks to gather the chopped mora (blackberry vines) and push it into the piles. After 2 hours, each pile was over my head. That wasn’t my favorite activity because it was one which felt like a lot of work with few results because there was still so much to be done. I was ready to try the machete the next day.8E836928-C7AD-4C4D-A635-4301F198E278154953B5-3A97-49B7-AEAC-0C5E7AF96B68

Chopping down the mora was much more satisfying than gathering it. Once I got the machete (and was taught how to use it without chopping off a hand) I started chopping through the thick forest of invasive plants. We were working in a different area this time where you could only get through after chopping down the mora because there was so much of it and it grew to way above our heads. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, we also had do deal with their thorns and the swarm of mosquitos that flew around us the entire time. The head mosquito nets were helpful until one of those little bastards managed to get underneath it when I needed a drink of water. (My level of hatred towards these insects has definitely increased after this trip.) However, after about a half an hour of chopping my way through, I looked back to see the gap I had created and that pushed me to keep going. This  week we had to cut down lantana which were more like small trees than vines, and then Fernán Sánchez, which actually were trees. We had to use heavier machetes for those and try to dodge the trees as they were being cut down. Now, I am a master at the machete and I feel like I can chop down anything. Not to mention, my arms are getting a great workout.

Ready to machete!C41AA5F2-457C-4FCF-BA2B-07A9EDD64DF6

The owl hiding in the trees we were cutting:DE5FFB0E-D03F-4FED-8A80-7CD5091B738B

Our ride to the Galapaguera, where we worked two times a week.83A7120F-73F7-4EA8-A0F3-373007217F95

Turtle butts.462731FC-40BB-4185-8BB5-BBB89AE8D34C

Another day, we went back to an area that had been cleared to plant coffee. Coffee is neither native nor invasive. It is an introduced species that when planted will eventually grow tall enough and create shade to control the growth of mora around it. The coffee doesn’t put any of the flora at risk and it helps to keep the invasive plants from doing more harm. In addition to that, the coffee that is produced is used to export and help uphold the economy of the Galápagos. These results usually start to happen about 5 years after the coffee has been planted, so it is important to continue to maintain the mora around the coffee until then.A6DFD717-29AF-45EB-8AB1-E999E156F1CE

In the morning we work from 8-12 and then we stop for lunch. The afternoon shift is only 2 hours long, so we are usually doing work at the station during that time. We’ve cleaned one of the houses, gathered fruit for juice, dug a giant hole for a new septic tank and collected wood for a fire. 5B007AE5-0347-48B4-B12E-C07FCBD8A4C3

The past two weeks have been a lot of hard work (with lots of mosquitos and cold out-door showers), but at least we had a nearby bar to hike to to drink off the week’s work. It was a great 2 weeks and I’m glad I decided to participate in this program.

The bar:B62BE900-3F7C-49E7-96BF-6F724B5FC4B2FE7045F8-607B-47E3-ABB5-E5D388FAFD01

The view from the bar on a clear afternoon:4E223E92-E330-4A63-9D0B-1F4A06AD7025

The land life of San Cristóbal Island

After a couple weeks of exploring and volunteering on San Cristóbal, I was able to get some pictures of the wildlife here. The pictures are extra awesome because they were not taken at a zoo – these animals are just roaming the streets/beaches/forests of the Galapagos Islands. You don’t even have to go off the beaten path to see them. It’s like they’re used to all of the people that come to these islands because you can walk right up to them and they don’t even back away.

The first sighting was at the Galapaguera tortoise reproduction station because we worked there two times a week cutting down the lantana and reforesting the endemic plants that are found in the area. I took way too many pictures of these guys, but I just have one here. See my previous post for more.0B939D5E-77C4-47DB-B796-D7E207FEA2B4

The other day while we were working closer to the Jatun Sacha station, we saw this owl just hanging out in a tree while we worked. Luckily we caught her (I think it looks like a girl) before we chopped down that tree. She was beautiful!IMG_1041_2

El chancho (wild pig) – definitely invasive but still cute. This is Ozzy, the Jatun Sacha pet, which will be domesticated and eventually neutered to keep from reproducing. He was more like a dog than a pig. 5305F738-E4B3-4A32-A2EB-53DD20414E05

Just walking along the malecón in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, you see a ton of animals all around… This is the most close-up picture of a pelican I’ve ever taken.88A26D93-5F18-4D13-9C69-F08C75D41518

This is the infamous Blue-Footed Booby. This might be my new favorite bird.634389C7-19CB-4C68-BC90-E3B22F2C0089

On Saturday, we went on a hike at La Lobería where we saw a ton of sea lions and marine iguanas. The iguanas were huge and blended right in with the volcanic rocks so you had to really focus to try not to step on one. The further in we got, the more there were. They would remain immobile, even when we crept up to them, and then they would spit out salt water about every 5 minutes.09A301B4-BEF1-4A33-83D6-B605D727D25160EC4ACC-D753-4911-8E5D-10F19D331CB7This is a male – apparently the males are more colorful.


The finches were flying and hopping all around me at the beach. If you eat crackers on the beach, they will even hop right on you. Even this ordinary-looking bird is cute on the Galápagos!513951D8-1AB8-4398-935B-A90686118938

Now for my favorite part: the sea lions were literally EVERYWHERE. They don’t stop being cute! They are on the sidewalks, benches, rocks and beaches all around the island and I can’t seem to get enough pictures of them. The tortoises and sea lions have almost filled my memory card. You can get so close to them and they don’t wake up for anything. They are a lazy bunch but fun to share the beach with – albeit a bit smelly if you get too close.EB0BA4A3-378C-4BDF-AB54-C52908EAEFBA

I guess this is how the sea lions have their fun. This water slide is not for people.6A1A52E3-AD14-499A-A5FE-0FC2A4DF651F

Feeding party!B28C5C97-CA8E-47A3-9828-E13A0E501463

I can’t believe I took this with my own camera…IMG_1026_2

Let this be the last image you see before you sleep tonight.AE677507-F170-480D-BE6F-960899CA99BF

La Galapaguera

El martes fuimos a visitar La Galapaguera, el sitio de reproducción de las tortugas de la isla de San Cristóbal.  Este sitio no existe simplemente para que le gente pueda ver a las tortugas gigantes sino para preservar la especie y ayudarlas a reproducir.  Hay otras especies de tortugas en las otras islas pero las tortugas grandes que se encuentran aquí vienen de su ámbito natural en el noreste de San Cristóbal.47E1EAAB-6A3B-4660-AC84-89C1E5C3FCA3

Últimamente, los animales invasivos como los chanchos (cerdos) salvajes y las cabras han resultado en el retraso de la reproducción de estas tortugas. Cuando las tortugas ponen sus huevos (ponen como 8-12 huevos cada vez) estos animales invasivos corren encima de los huevos o los desentierran. Por eso, el Parque Nacional de los Galápagos decidió tomar acción para conservar la especie y prevenirla de la extinción. Hoy en día, toman algunos tortugas a su tiempo de reproducir para que puedan poner sus huevos en su ambiente protegido que se llama La Galapaguera. Aunque La Galapaguera no sea su hábitat natural, es semi-natural – o sea tienen casi todos los recursos que se encontrarían en su ámbito natural – y allá pueden reproducir sin problemas.36364A9B-ABB2-40EF-A15A-DD7A09F30B84Cuando las tortugas reproducen, los bebes se quedan en jaulas hasta que sean más grandes y puedan cuidarse bien. Cada tortuguita que nace en La Galapaguera recibe un numero que marca el órden en el que nacieron. Luego, les ponen en la otra parte del parque donde tienen mas libertad. Cuando cumplen cinco años de edad, las devuelven a su ámbito natural de nuevo.ADF08744-0983-4132-AFDC-34BB47361F42


Algunos viejos se quedan allá para que la gente las vea, pero no hay límites para adonde pueden caminar. Simplemente hay un muro alrededor del parque entero para protegerles de los animales salvajes, pero las tortugas están libres de viajar adonde sea por el parque entero. Hasta van en el medio del camino donde caminan los visitantes. Una vez allí, se ponen en su caparazón completamente, seguro por el miedo de la gente que pasan, pero igual pasan por allí.F2DDEEFB-6C1A-44EC-94D3-1A3A842F35700F17A217-136E-4F84-901E-13271D5EDE15

Visitar las tortugas grandes fue una experiencia muy interesante. Yo tenía tortuguitas como mascotas cuando era niña y desde entonces siempre he querido ir a visitar a Las Islas Galápagos para verlas. Fue muy chévere trabajar aquí con ellos. 3470BF44-FD30-4758-B37D-8D23023984C4976B7A96-BBE2-4196-87B3-F78DFB930506




Jatun Sacha

I made it to the Galapagos! Starting my journey on San Cristobal Island volunteering for Jatun Sacha. I can’t write much because I only have internet for about 10 more minutes until I go back up to the reserve – then cut off from all telecommunication until Friday when I can get back into town.C4133157-DE7C-4C0F-8115-8817DBC239AE

This might be the tiniest airport I’ve flown into.3562B3FE-904C-4A48-97AE-D4A68513F49C0550C333-A31A-4AA8-826F-1B89EF30E60A

The gringo line to pass through immigration.00A552B2-0E5A-4F7D-B6C5-5BAD5E4D000E

Upon Arrival, the driver for Jatun Sacha picked me up and brought me to the volunteer station in the highlands of San Cristobal Island – about 45 minutes from the coast. Halfway through the trip he decided to tell me that all the volunteers were in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the coastal town where all of the tourists stay. When I got up to the reserve, I was literally the only one there besides the cook. It was beautiful, but after about an hour completely alone, I got a bit bored without phone or internet. I felt like I was on an Outward Bound Solo. I got some reading done, chatted with the cook, Sandra, after dinner, and then around 7 decided that that was the longest 3 hours of my life and I would like to try to go down to the Puerto to meet the rest of the volunteers the next day. Oh, and it is also cloudy and rainy in the highlands and beautiful and sunny by the beaches. The director found me a room with the rest of the volunteers so I would be able to enjoy some exploring and internet time before beginning my volunteer work for the next week. I will be back down here (or perhaps on another surrounding island) next Friday.

This is where I will be living for the next 2 weeks:CE02ECCC-0A19-40F1-BE60-E01896C094B6

It’s no Marriott but it will do.F9369336-C4A7-453B-9D33-1B3BDD44F646

They gave me a private room. 1B061359-21C7-4422-BAEF-96DC490DF368

Community living space – complete with hammocks and all. 8C413A21-9047-447C-9B7B-A34B7BAAA729


This is where we have to go to the bathroom. I feel like I’m on Crew Orientation all over again, but without the Outward Bound instructors and 9th graders…1E83737D-CF1F-435F-BD9D-E61A02226957

Ozzy, the reserve pet – well they told me he was the pet. He will be while I’m here at least…A22ED4C1-15BE-4443-BC04-0534BA79C442

La cocina y el comedor.IMG_3049IMG_3045

The volunteer schedule. While I’m here we will be using machetes to chop down mora (blackberries) and other invasive species that has taken over the area and therefore resulting in extinction of the native flora of the Galápagos Islands. Sounds like hard work but everyone seems to enjoy it. I’m excited. 34D632D1-0AC8-4C91-9B96-67ABF3B5588A