Sleeps with Spiders

On Wednesday my group went up to an eco-tourist operation called Jaturn Satcha. Basically, volunteers go up into the highlands (read: backwoods) of San Cristobal and work hacking invasive mora (blackberry) plants with machetes and working to cultivate and reintroduce native plants. We were planning on staying overnight and we had all heard horror stories about the mosquitoes and spiders, so we were a bit apprehensive of the place.

Once we arrived we realized we were basically at summer camp. Volunteers just come and work there for pretty extended periods of time, so everyone gets to know each other well. We were sleeping in bunk rooms and eating meals all together at set times. And I hadn’t seen any spiders yet so I was doing well.

During the day we went out into the field with them to film the activities they do. While we were there we got attacked by the strangest mosquitoes I have ever encountered. They just look like fruit flies, so you’re not really worried about them, but when they bite it hurts and they leave little spots of blood everywhere they bite. I had bathed myself in DEET so I got away with only a few bites, but some people got eaten up.

After a rousing game of Bananagrams and dinner, the whole volunteer group had a campfire. The director sang songs while we made stick-bread over the flames, and there was a full moon rising above us. It was one of those moments where it is so easy to forget that I have a life outside of right then and there.

After the fire, I figured people would be headed to bed, but I started to hear talk of a bar. We’re in the middle of nowhere, I thought to myself, where could there possibly be a bar. Sure enough, a fifteen minute trek on a muddy dirt road later we were at a bar. Granted, that is using the term “bar” loosely. It was more like somebody’s farmhouse that sells alcohol. And that’s using the term “sells alcohol” loosely, since they had two items behind the counter: Pillsners and bottles of rum with bottles of coke. Our group basically opened the place up, and where the only ones there for the rest of the night, but it ended up being so much fun (and a perfect way to distract ourselves from the spiders that were waiting for us back in our beds). We played card games and pool and listened to a strange mix of South American music and United States club jams.

In retrospect, the spiders weren’t actually that bad I guess. I had a face off with one in the outhouse, but I felt much safer under my mosquito net. After I meticulously gaffer taped all the holes shut, that is. In any case, I made it through the night!

Now we are in our second island: Santa Cruz. It is much more touristy than San Cristobal, and so far I can’t say I like it as much. Apparently our last two islands are the most beautiful though, so good things to come!

I’m out. No pictures today because of horrible internet connections, but I’m home in about a week so there will definitely be a wave after that!

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Sea Lions & Boobies & Turtles…Hooray!

Sea Lions in San Cristobal

Yesderday we arrived in San Cristobal, the first of our island homes on the Galapagos Islands! After a long, exhausting morning of traveling (moving around with 27 people is stressful to say the least), we got settled in our hostel and then went straight to the shore. And the first thing we saw? Sea lions. Lots and lots of sea lions. They were all over the beach—laying out to get some sun, playing in the ocean, or hiding under a beached boat for some shade. We spent the afternoon getting to know (and taking tons of pictures of) these unfamiliar creatures. They are the goofiest animals. They look so cute until they open their mouths, when they make the strangest and ugliest sounds you ever heard. It’s kind of a growl, but most of the time it just sounds like a bunch of people throwing up on the beach. They also cough from time to time like chronic chain smokers. And they act so much like dogs, wrestling with each other and playing with any little “toy” they can find on the beach or in the water.

Although they were a little wary of us, they let us get really close. Or so I thought. Then, today happened.

Today we went on a full day sea adventure to Kicker rock and snorkeling! It definitely had it’s ups and downs, but in the end it was worth every second. We took these tiny boats out onto the open ocean, all of us loaded up with our gear. First we stopped at a beach for awhile, which at first glance seemed like every other beach until you looked closely and noticed the boobies and lava rocks and other unique things.

After a bit of time there, we headed to Kicker Rock, the remains of a lava cone that just jut out in the middle of the ocean. We were supposed to go current snorkeling through the gap between the two rocks, but the sea was much too rough (the waves were MASSIVE). So instead, we pulled over to the side of the rock to do a little snorkeling there. Unfortunately, by that time the violent rocking of the boat was causing me to feel motion sickness for the first time ever. So, I chilled out on the boat and only got in the water at the very end for a few minutes, which was just long enough to see a sea turtle swimming about ten feet beneath me.

Kicker Rock

Then we moved on in search of calmer waters at Isla Lobos. The first thing we saw when we pulled up was a blue footed boobie on a rock with a sea iguana on the rock right in front of it and a sea lion swimming in the water right beneath them. Only good things could come of this. I was feeling a little better by that point, and I really would have done anything to be off that boat, so I jumped in. I am infinitely glad I did. Turns out, the sea lions were glad we came in too. They were swimming all around us, playing with us, teasing us: it was amazing. I thought I was close to them yesterday, but today I was within a foot of one multiple times. They would swim below us and around us and wrestle with each other off to the side. But at first, they kept their distance (relatively). As they warmed up to us, they just started having fun. One of them was especially playful. He would just torpedo directly at you and only veer off course at the very last second. The first time he did it to me I literally screamed through my snorkel tube, then emerged from the water and burst out laughing. The same one had this piece of plastic litter that he was playing with and chewing on, like a dog toy. It was a strange thing to see, because we think of litter as so bad and harming the environment, but he sure looked like he was enjoying it. They were also really fascinated with the underwater cameras that some of our group had. At times it really seemed like they understood that we were recording them and were showing off for the camera.

After a while we headed back and now have the rest of the day free. I’ll probably grab dinner at some local place (if it’s good I’ll write about it later!) and just relax because I am EXHAUSTED from the day.

But in the end, today was an experience I will never forget. Sea sickness can suck it. Sea lions are better.

p.s. I know I said I would write about Napo (the Amazon), but I’d rather not get behind on Galapagos. Maybe I will write about Napo later. Maybe it’s just something I need to tell you all in person. In any case, I am uploading new pictures as the internet allows and I AM doing those chronologically (so you can at least SEE Napo).

So it begins…

What begins? you may ask. So many things.

First off, I begin trying to keep up with this blog again, since my very talented friend Helenah Swedberg wanted to use some of my pictures on her blog and asked if I had a blog to link them to. I gave her the link to this one and then realized it was time to get it back up to date.

But it’s also the beginning of a crazy time in my life, starting now and lasting for the rest of 2011. It begins now, with my trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos and ends with a semester in Copenhagen studying Urban Design (among other exciting things). I would like to share my adventures with you all, so I’m going to try to post more often on both my blog and my flikr, as well as work this summer to update my blog and make it look even better.

To begin this adventure (that I truly hope you will join me for), I am going to attempt to summarize this first week in Ecuador.

Basically, it has been incredible. I’m here with a group of students who I am taking a class with on environmental communication. The class trip is to the Galapagos and begins on Monday, but a lot of us came a week early to enjoy Ecuador. Enjoy we did…

View of Quito

We began our time with a day exploring Quito, the capital of Ecuador. One of the first things I noticed about Quito was how cheap everything is, especially food (especially compared to DC). Nine of us ate breakfast for $6. I can get a pretty standard lunch or dinner for around $3. Cabs can cost as little as a dollar or two. I´m going to go back to DC and feel like everything is way to expensive (and I don´t even know what to expect in Copenhangen).

We happened to be there on Mother´s Day, so the city was alive. Everyone was out and all the squares around the city were packed with people watching dancers and puppet shows or other performances. So many people were riding bikes since one of the main streets was closed to automobile traffic. The parks were full of families out to enjoy a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It would certainly be interesting to see what Quito is like on a normal work day. We went up to the Virgen de Quito statue to get a great view of the city. It’s surprisingly sprawling and dense, especially compared to what I’m used to.

The food in Quito (of course I must mention the food) hasn’t been my favorite so far. It’s very pork, chicken, and generally meat heavy. And potatoes, so many potatoes. But I have found one dish I really like. It’s called morocho con leche and it’s kind of a sweet, cream based corn soup. Once I return home, I’m going to try and perfect a recipe (if I can find all the ingredients—I’m not sure where I can find morocho in the states). In any case, if I make something delicious I will certainly share it!

After Quito, me and three other classmates headed to the Napo Wildlife Reserve in Yasuni National Park (the Amazon!). I will try to catch you up on that tomorrow, but until then keep an eye on my Flikr for photos from the last week!

I’ll get better at this as my writing muscles warm up again. Bear with me and enjoy my travels!