Thursday, February 27, 2014

GAIAS Program Classes

Hi all!

Although I've talked about some of the cool field trips we've taken with our classes I haven't really touched upon what the classes are like. So, we have five, three week modules; I chose the marine track and all marine courses. We have class Monday-Friday from 9 am to noon every day. Sometimes with field trips these dates and times vary. The classes themselves are like other condensed courses I've taken- they are difficult and a lot of information to take in at once. However, it is really nice to just have one class at a time to focus on.

Next week I start another class, a one credit hour digital photography class. It's going to be from 2-4 p.m. There is plenty of time to hang out and go to the beach, but we are also pretty busy with coursework. Every class so far has had research and a group research paper to write at the end, so that's pretty time consuming. Other than some cramming and really hard work on our papers, the classes haven't been too bad. Each one has taught me a lot about the ocean and the species here in Ecuador and Galapagos.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Some cool pictures from February in Galapagos :)

La Concha- where the Galapagos Festival and concerts are held

Bridge near Malecon

Yellow-Tailed Damselfish... Cool yellow lips, huh?
Snorkeling fun
Eagle Ray
Slight bioluminescence
Leon Dormido aka Kicker Rock where we went snorkeling
Puffer Fish

Green Sea Turtle

White Tip Reef Shark at Leon Dormido

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Welcome To Paradise

Hello from San Cristobal Galapagos!

It's been quite a while since I've made a post... This is truly what I thought living in Ecuador and Galapagos would be like. We are living with host families again, but now there is only one student per family. Most of us don't have internet, air conditioning, or even guaranteed water on demand at home. However, I wouldn't trade it for anything; this island living is so great and makes me appreciate the modern day conveniences of home that much more.

When we arrived in San Cristobal, it was so hot and muggy when we got off the plane. We then had to shuffle through a makeshift airport that was under construction. Going through customs was a bit nerve-wracking because they check all your papers, search your bag for organic material, and the baggage claim was just an area where they laid out all of our suitcases and you had to go find yours. After finding all of our bags we put them in a huge pile to be loaded in trucks by school personnel and hopped on a bus to our school.

Our school is across they street from Playa Mann and it's so cool! The internet is ridiculously slow here most of the time so it is difficult to upload pictures, Skype is not an option, and waiting for things to load is pretty normal.
The GAIAS sign
This is the front of our school.
Playa Mann directly in front of our school.

Sign at Playa Mann.

More Playa Mann....

Un lobo marino... This is translated as "sea wolf"

As for my host family, I have a mom, dad, and two sisters. They are Ludys, Manuel, and Luisa (12 yrs.) and Lusette (6 yrs.). My host mom runs a restaurant out of our house and my host dad is a waterboat taxi driver. Ludys, my mom, is so friendly and nice. She doesn't know any English, but we understand each other for the most part. My host dad on the other hand is a bit harder to understand because the island accent for Spanish is definitely not as clear as the mainland.

My host sisters are so cute! They ask me lots of questions and tell me about the little bit of English they know (colors, numbers, etc.). I've also become the resident hairdresser because I showed them that I can braid and stuff. They absolutely love when I do their hair. My host family is great, but the house is also pretty good. I have my own room and own bathroom, which I was not expecting. My host mom also cleans my room and makes my bed every day which is so nice. She also does my laundry. The eating schedule is a little weird here though.

We only have breakfast with our host families on Mondays and Fridays-Sundays, lunch is always on our own, and we have dinner with our host families on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. On Tuesdays-Thursdays we have breakfast at the university which is usually pretty good. On Monday and Wednesday we have dinner at a local restaurant with our school. Then on Fridays and Saturdays we are supposed to be on our own for dinner, but sometimes we have dinner with our host families anyway. One of the administrators of the program said they do it this way to take some burden off the host families and to spread the wealth throughout the community. It is also a great way for the community to get a better outlook on the international students.

There are so many other cool things about the island as well. We have an awesome bakery, a few discotechas and bars, some good restaurants and tourist shops. It is a lot more developed than I thought it would be. Obviously there aren't any malls or movie theatres, but we aren't living in grass huts either. However, my favorite thing about the island is the beach and the sea life!

Class isn't too bad. I've been learning so much about the ocean in this Marine Life class! We frequently snorkel for class and do marine life identification. It's great!

Once I have a more solid internet connection I will upload more pictures for everyone's viewing pleasure.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Coastal Living

So much has happened since my last post: I went to the coast of Ecuador for 7 days, went to Mitad Del Mundo, and went to Otavalo.

So our field trip to the coast started out with a 12 hour bus ride to Puerto Lopez Ecuador.
Image taken from Google Images shows where Puerto Lopez, Isla de la Plata, and Los Frailes are located along the coast.
For the trip, our class had our own bus so it was pretty comfortable and we didn't have to worry about leaving things on the bus. The first hour or so we were winding down the mountains of Quito and I felt pretty motion sick as we descended in altitude. The bus ride wasn't too bad overall; we slept a lot and played Euchre. Plus the scenery was spectacular! We saw plenty of mountains, interesting road signs, some very well off towns and some very poor towns, and much more.

I can't be the only one who finds this sign comical, can I?
At one point we drove through a small town where the people treated us like celebrities: waving, shouting things, and staring at our bus.
This is the city where people were treating us like Beyonce's tour bus...
This is our view as we were arriving in Puerto Lopez...

We stayed for 4 days in Puerto Lopez in a hostel called Hostel Villa Columbia.
My room was in the upper left corner.
The first night the sky was beyond beautiful.
This is a gorgeous view from our balcony.
These hammocks were the perfect stargazing location in the courtyard of our hostel.
In the mornings, we got breakfast at our hostel which consisted mostly of fruit, bread, and coffee or tea.

For class we had to hike to remote beaches and do studies on rocky intertidal shores.
This rock formation at La Playita looks sort of like a gorilla.

This is our group navigating the rocky shore like billy goats!

Quadrats are our favorite thing to do! We did so many quadrat samples and had a grand time with each one... not so much.
We did lots of sampling along the shore which including estimating algae cover and sessile organisms within a quadrat as seen above. The algae was pretty hard to identify sometimes. At the same time there were a couple groups doing quadrats, there were two other groups which collected biomass (aka took algae scrapings) and measured whelk size.
This is one type of whelk that we were measuring along the coast.
We also saw some larger forms of wildlife that were pretty interesting.
Pelican mid-flight.

I think this is a sunflower starfish.
There were also some local people out fishing and some were snorkeling for octopi.
This guy had a whole belt full of octopi! It was so interesting to see this in person. Fun fact: when an octopus sees another octopus, it's natural reaction is to come out of hiding to attack it. Therefore some people would put a dead octopus on an end of a stick and use it to lure them out of hiding to be captured.

This rough looking little cutie was with some man looking for octopus.
This is after we were finally done doing our quadrats!

Also in Puerto Lopez we went to Isla de la Plata (Island of Silver) to go for a hike around the island and snorkel. It was about an hour boat ride to the island. We saw sea turtles right as we were pulling up to the beach!
They were coming right up to the boat and the crew was throwing pieces of banana to them that they were eating.
The boat pulled up toward shore and we had to get off into the water to walk up on the beach.
A lot of people think that the island was named Isla de la Plata because Francis Drake's boat went down near the island with all of it's treasure. Hence, the name Island of Silver. However, the island was really named Isla de la Plata because the Blue Footed Boobies spend a lot of time around the cliffs of the island, which results in a lot of excrement along the sides of these cliffs. This is also known as guano. When sailors would come upon the island around dusk, the cliffs would shine silver from all the guano.
Here is an example of one of the cliffs of the island.
Momma boobie and her chick.

Two juvenile boobies. It is likely that the one standing is the older sibling and is stronger. Normally boobies have 2-3 chicks, but only 1 survives either due to siblicide (one pushing the other out of the nest for access to more resources) or because food is so scarce. Sometimes mother nature is cruel...

We saw so many cool things on Isla de la Plata, boobies only being some of them...

Besides all the cool terrestrial wildlife, there was also an amazing cliff that was part of our hike in which we could see the shadows of some sharks swimming below.
Standing on a cliff on Isla de la Plata

What an amazing view from the top!

This is a picture of the restaurant that we had lunch and dinner at every day while we were in Puerto Lopez. Good ol' Spondylus. It was right next to the dive shop that took our class out snorkeling and diving.

The day we left Puerto Lopez to go up to Esmeraldas we went to the fish market at like 7 a.m. to see all the fishermen bringing in their catch for the morning. It was really neat to see such fresh fish and observe the interworkings of the market.
There were swordfish and thresher sharks
Fish of all different colors too

This is a less gruesome shot of a very skilled fisherman dressing the sharks. He was so fast at this!
That is it for Puerto Lopez! Stay tuned for more scenes from our next episode: Esmeraldas. It is bound to be quite fascinating also.