Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Las Islas Encantadas

After the first four days in Quito, Ecuador living with my host family in one of the busiest intersections i have ever seen, i was more than ready to fly to the Galapagos Islands for a week. As an environmental science nerd, I was almost too excited to see the islands that Charles Darwin studied and watched his finches on in the 1800’s. Today, the only way to go around to the different islands is to go on a boat with an official guide who is approved by the Ecuadorian government. Our group stayed on a huge boat with about 90 other people. We were completely spoiled for a week! It was a huge cruise ship with really good food and a pool and Jacuzzi, which were actually just refilled with ocean water every day. There were two bars, a restaurant, a library with snacks and books about the Galapagos, a lounge with karaoke and TVs with movies. The whole thing was very fancy. Every night the guides would brief us on our excursions to the islands the next day. We went on two trips every day and we got to eat lunch and rest in between them while the boat was moving between islands. The guides would tell us what the terrain was like, the type of animals there and also whether we would have to hop off the boat on the beach or whether we would have a dry landing. To leave the ship we used smaller boats that fit about 20 people each. Sometimes on the islands there wasn’t an easy place to land, so we would hop off the boat into the water and walk up to the beach, the deepest we jumped into was about 2 feet of water, so not too deep. There were marked trails on the islands that were a couple miles long and they were very strict about staying on them. All of the passengers were divided into small groups with a guide that showed us around. My group had a few kids from my school group in it, a couple on their honeymoon, a really nice science teacher from NY, another older lady from NY, and an older couple and their niece who were from Germany. Our guide’s name was Jose and he was a native of the Galapagos and very entertaining. He knew a lot about the islands and he also was really good at imitating the animal calls. A few times we would be standing under a tree looking at a bird and Jose would start doing bird calls and a minute later there would be birds everywhere! It was amazing to see how close the animals would come to you. It was incredible to be just inches from a huge sea lion, or to have blue footed boobies fighting with each other in the middle of the trail and have to pass them without getting hit by their wings. That kind of freaked me out. I saw wild flamingos as well, I never thought I would ever see wild flamingos. That was crazy. Also, all of the iguanas, huge land iguanas that were yellow and orange and then smaller marine ones that were just lying around everywhere we went. The marine iguanas are generally black, swim around in the ocean and get seawater in their noses. When they are resting on land they sneeze out salt water a lot. A few friends of mine were close enough to get sneezed on. One day, on our way to an island there were two baby sea lions playing with a marine iguana that was swimming around near them. They would pull it by the tail and chase it around in the water really close to our boat. It was so funny to watch and apparently it happens a lot. Another one of my favorite parts of my trip to the Galapagos was that I got to try snorkeling for the first time. We all rented the snorkel gear from the boat and we just carried it with us on our hikes. The Galapagos are volcanic islands, so all of the rocks under water were old lava flows, which was really cool to see. I went snorkeling twice while I was there. The first time I saw tons of awesome fish that were so brightly colored and swam really close. And lots of starfish, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers too. The best part of that swim was the 5-foot long white tip reef shark that swam past me twice!! Also, there were Galapagos Penguins that were chasing a school of fish right in front of my face!! The second time I went I swam with two huge sea turtles that were just hanging out eating seaweed. Also, a really big sea lion swam past me. Later during the week we got to visit two of the towns on the islands. It was interesting to see how touristy parts of it were, and then when we went on buses to see the giant tortoises in the highlands, the rest of the people on the islands live on farms away from the coast. On one of the visits to the towns we saw a turtle breeding compound that was cool and the second time we got to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. Here we saw lots more iguanas and really huge tortoises. One of them we saw was named Lonesome George. George is the last living turtle of his species because he is the only one of his kind that has ever been found. There is a 125,000-dollar reward to find a female of his species. I think I should get on that, maybe skip my last year and a half of school and go look for turtles. Another cool thing I saw were flying fish. These fish have very thin membranes that attach their fins to the sides of their bodies. When they jump out of the water, the glide across the water using the wind. One night after dinner, a few friends and I were hanging out on the deck watching sea lions swim around and all of a sudden it was a huge feeding frenzy! Fish were jumping out of the water and gliding all over while trying to simultaneously eat the algae off the bottom of the boat and avoid the sea lions. It was really fun to watch the baby sea lions try to keep up with the fish. They could only catch the ones that would glide into the boat and knock themselves out. Sad, but really fun to watch. A few nights we saw sea turtles right off the boat and one night a HUGE shark that wouldn’t come to the surface so we didn’t know what kind it was. It was a really great time and I also got to know the people in my group more because this was the first opportunity to spend time with them. I think that the visit to the Galapagos was the highlight of my semester in Ecuador. To hike around the islands and to be so close to all of the amazing wildlife that live there was an experience that I will never forget.

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  1. 2 Comment(s)

  2.   By mary anne tuker on Jun 27, 2010 | Reply

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