Monday, November 9, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
I'm sorry I haven't been posting. I'm trying to catch up. Cuenca life is so nice and calm and routine. I'm having the time of my life!
October 14, 2009
Location: Espanola Island
Weather: Overcast in the morning and evening with lots of sun midday—pleasant
I woke this morning at 3:30 AM when I felt the rocking of the ship stop suddenly and everything went quiet. The Southern Cross was directly above my head and I watched the sky for a while. A shooting star prompted me to jostle Shannon awake, who, after a bit of incoherent muttering, rolled over and went back to sleep, so I tapped Adam's foot. He opened his eyes just in time to see a second star streak over our heads. The sky was magnificent and we stared in wonder at it for a while; however, sleep was overpowering.
Three hours later in the morning were spent hiking around the island to see the waved albatrosses, blue-footed boobies, iguanas, and, of course, sea lions. The cliffs of Espanola are all volcanic rock and as black as could be, a striking contrast to the aquamarine ocean behind them. It may be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I know my pictures can't do it justice. We took turns edging up to the very farthest rock, pretending we weren't afraid of the crashing surf and rocks, trying to out-do each other with the most risky pose, the most creative picture, the most interesting snapshot to capture of the immense beauty of the place.
Professor Melampy gave us permission to jump from the very top of the ship into the water while we were anchored. We decided it would be a memorable experience and I'm proud to say that every single member of the B.W. Group took the leap—even the Professor himself! (I have a picture to prove it.)
Heights have terrified me ever since I got stuck up in Dakota Long's tree and had to be rescued by his mother, way back in preschool. It was a traumatizing experience. But with one leap into the air, I was one step closer to overcoming that fear. There is nothing quite like a jolt of adrenaline when you're free falling 30 feet above the loveliest ocean in the world. I jumped five or six times for that thrill.
Despite the beauty of noon, clouds rolled in just as we headed out to snorkel; therefore, I opted to skip the steel-gray water. Alberto (“Cholo”), the dinghy driver, took me on a private tour of the coast while the others made their way around massive black rocks, through strong currents. I was vaguely jealous when I saw they would be able to snorkel in a cave but felt better after I watched half of them emerge from the water shaking and blue. Emily got a bloody coral scrape on her shin and had to sit (fairly) still while Alberto poured vinegar over it to disinfect it. Kyle was close to freezing and even Adam, despite his muscle, couldn't take the frigid water. I think I made the right choice in skipping today.
Fassi took us back to the island for a few free hours on the beach. Again, I say that Espanola is stunning. All the adjectives in the dictionary are not able to describe it. One of the first sights when we landed was a baby sea lion so new that it was still attached to its mother by the placenta. Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest stemmed from what he saw in the harsh habitats on the Galapagos. I simply see the islands teeming with life—not the harsher realities he saw. Tidal pools were filled with emerald algae and frequented by Sally light-foot crabs. I couldn't walk five feet without nearly squashing a marine iguana or mistaking a dozing sea lion for a rock.
We had fun messing around and enjoying the freedom of being young and carefree and in the middle of the most magical place on earth while our friends back home are freezing and in class.
But I'll try not to gloat.
October 15, 2009
Location: Floreana Island
Weather: Overcast in the morning, sunny in the evening
Our dinghies landed on green beaches this morning. They are not green because of the algae we found on Espanola. Instead, tiny granules of clear, green rock are mixed into the volcanic sand. Fassi showed us the layers of sediment present on the beach: volcanic ash, stone, sand, and minerals combine to create a most unusual blend of material. The landscape reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt National Park: all neutral beiges and deep olives—not stunning colors like on Espanola. Flamingoes, the only spots of color, unusually pink in the bleak landscape, wade in the salt marshes. The flamingo population is very fragile on Floreana because there is little food and few birds themselves.
The other side of the island is the haven of giant eagle rays escaping the sharks who favor them for their dinner. We waded in the surf searching for them. I took a step forward and wound up directly on top of an unfortunate creature. I shrieked (like a little girl, sadly) when I felt it slither away, rubbing against my legs in a furious wave of ruffling skin—or whatever it is. From then on we all shuffled so as not to experience the unpleasant sensation.
On the hike from one end of the island to the other, I saw a hermit crab. My group is focusing on invertebrates so seeing that little guy was a God-send.
I opted to rent a wetsuit for $5 rather than skip another day of snorkeling. The benefits were very evident after about a half hour in the water when Kyle, Nate, Adam, Kara, and I were swimming along happily while everyone else had blue lips.
The first snorkeling spot was called The Devil's Crown. The two semi circles of volcanic rock are intercepted by a current sweeping through and out to sea. We snorkeled up one side of the circle until we couldn't swim any longer because of how strong the current is, then Alberto and Chino picked us up in the dinghy and brought us to the other side of the crown so we could drift with the current again. I don't think I've ever been so worn out in my life. Current or not, trying not to be swept away by it was a workout.
In the evening, we were dropped off on the other side of the island to snorkel from shore. Pencil urchins, black anemones, red ones, blue ones, all kinds were nestled in the crevices in the rocks. I was floating on the top of the water, drifting with the current, when I looked up and almost butted heads with a giant sea turtle! He/she was almost my size when stretched out from leg to leg (fin?). Positively enormous. He lazily dipped in and out of the waves next to me, in no rush to escape the crazy gringa snapping pictures of him. Only my obedience to the islands' rules kept me from touching his scarred shell. In his honor, we made a sand turtle (as well as a sand iguana—with Fazzy's help) on the beach at sunset.
October 16, 2009
Location: North Seymour Island & Santa Cruz Island
The morning was spent on North Seymour Island looking at nesting frigate birds (the guys with the red balloons attached to their chests). I dislike them simply because they're the pirates of the bird world, “the Casanovas of the air,” as Fazzy told us. They make their living by preying on other birds and stealing whatever they can get: anything from nest-building materials to food—kind of like English sparrows on steroids. I've seen them pestering the clumsier blue-footed boobies incessantly to get the food they're carrying in their beaks. Fazzy showed us a scar on his finger from when he was a child on the islands and a frigate bird stole food right from his hand. They're huge and sleekly evil-looking with their scimitar beaks and blue-black feathers. Baby and adolescent frigate birds are not as sleek as their parents. They're fuzzy and scraggly and too small for their beaks.
On North Seymour, we saw a tour guide with her group off the path (ILLEGAL!) so Fazzy asked the group to take pictures of it so he could file a report. Of course the guide was a gringa. He said that foreign guides don't have as much respect for the rules and the islands as those who've grown up on them. The punishments for guides who go against the rules include fines, suspension, or even an revocation of their licenses.
During the early afternoon we stopped to refuel at a navy base. We all had to get off the boat, so we spent the few hours sunning on the beach. I'm incredibly tan and so far the only person on the boat who hasn't burned (thank you Grandmas Rose and Marge for giving me the nice, dark Mediterranean skin!).
We sailed to Santa Cruz again to hike on the beach. We were almost killed by blue-footed boobies on the dinghy ride to shore. Hundreds and hundreds of them flew around my dinghy. They were so close we could feel the rush of wind rolling off their wings. On the island, we saw more flamingoes, herons, and plenty of finches. Tidal pools were teeming with hermit crabs. I could barely walk around them, there were so many. In one section of the pool, I found cylindrical shapes covered in sand. Finding it necessary to touch it to find out what it was (as per usual—I'm going to get stung one of these days), I was delighted to find that it had the feeling of a water-filled balloon. That's how I found my first sea cucumber! I found more without the coating of sand and all black, which feel satisfyingly slimy.
The cold kept me from snorkeling from shore but watching was even more fun! Nate attempting to put on his already-damp wetsuit was well worth taking a video. I managed to catch Emily and Caitlyn standing in the freezing water trying to work up the urge to dunk underneath the surface. And dancing and screaming. I nearly peed myself laughing. If the internet wasn't so slow here, I'd upload it ASAP. It will just have to wait until I get back home.
October 17, 2009
Location: Genovesa Island
I think Genovesa has been my favorite island. We saw a fur seal sleeping on the rocks before we even touched land. Baby birds are everywhere here. My favorites are the baby blue-boobies. They're little cotton balls with googly eyes and their feet are so large they look like they'll topple over at any moment. I think they look like little snowmen
It's a dry island but there is still life. Paulo Santo trees look like they belong here: all twisted and stunted in the dust. Few plants survive but a certain species of cacti (don't remember the name) are able to grow right in the igneous rock. The other side of the island is less severe: mangroves grow in the shallow lagoons so the red-footed boobies and other shore birds can nest among them. If I thought the blue boobies were striking, it's nothing compared to the red ones. They look like little old women who've forgotten how to put on makeup and left garish streaks of it in unexpected places. Their faces are blue and pink and their red feet can curl around the smallest of branches to hold on for dear life. Plenty of other shore birds have babies, too. The lava gulls are lovely, their eggs are lovely, and their chick is a puffball with legs.
Genovesa is the only island, I believe, or one of the only islands without the presence of land iguanas. This lack of predators has resulted in soft-bristled cacti rather than the fiercely spiny ones on all of the other islands. They don't need to protect themselves from hungry iguanas. You can literally grab the cactus pads without getting so much as a pinch.
On a personal touch, I let my hair go after snorkeling this morning. I didn't brush it, didn't put it back, didn't do anything to it. Our navigation to the other side of the island allowed us to lay on the very top of the boat all afternoon, so between the salt, wind, and sun, I've wound up with a lion's mane for hair. I've never seen it so wavy in my life. I'm learning to embrace my natural head of hair on this trip simply because I can't do anything but let it go. My travel blowdryer is sitting at home in my bathroom so I'm left to the mercy of the elements for the next two months. Eek...
We snorkeled from shore again and saw plenty of anemones, urchins, and starfish in the rocks. I love the starfish here. They're brilliantly blue or red, and there's even one yellow one with black dots that's called a chocolate chip starfish. Isn't that awesome?
There was a phenomenal sunset tonight. I will never get sick of this place.
October 18, 2009
Just when I think the trip can't possibly get any better, it does. We were warned that the trip from Genovesa south to Bartolome would be a rough one. The previous group spent the night in their bathrooms. We were told that if we went in front of the captain's cabin, it would feel like a roller coaster, the waves are so large going against the current. I haven't felt sea sick yet on this trip (knock on wood), so I was up for it. A bunch sat on the top deck and some of us sat on the lower level and were almost immediately drenched by the waves crashing over the front of the boat. We could see a bit of glowing whenever the waves came over. I decided it would be an excellent time to play Titanic. I wasn't joking when I wrote that this trip is making me conquer my fear of heights. I'm not just conquering it, I'm stomping that sucker into the ground. I got up on the very edge of the railing and held onto the rigging to look where the boat was hitting the water. Every time it pushed through a crest, a shock of phosphorescence went through the water. GLOWING PLANKTON, PEOPLE! They even came up with the water and glowed in my bangs for a while. It made me laugh with sheer glee it was so breathtaking. Ashley and Megan were yelling at me to get down before I went overboard, but Adam had a firm grasp on the back of my jacket, and I stayed there for quite a while until I could hardly keep my footing I was so wet and cold. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. It has definitely made it to the top three experiences of this trip so far. God has made an unbelievable paradise here.