Saturday, October 31, 2009

On the Boat Again

Last Saturday my class went on a snorkel trip for the day, along with our professor, everyone's favorite. We cruised to Isla Lobos (Sea Lion Island) and snorkeled. So beautiful! Check out my pictures on facebook, because I saw so many critters in the ocean with me! A sea turtle, chillin' on the ocean floor, a marine iguana eating algae and then swimming by, so many fish and sea lions, of course, but also a few manta rays and sea urchins. We snorkeled around there for about an hour and then boarded the boat to go to Leon Dormido. This is a very famous rock formation that rises about 450 feet out of the ocean, a small channel between the two formations and flat on top. So peculiar! There we snorkeled through the channel, checking out the coral and fish and Galapagos tiburones (sharks)! At first mention of this opportunity to view such creatures, I was pretty nervous. I don't really have any desire to see sharks in the same body of water as my self, mainly in fault of how many shows I've seen on Discovery or Animal Planet and all the bad things these guys can do. Oh, and Steven Speilberg didn't help things, either. But when we saw them, they are pretty small, maybe only three feet big; and they were also very far below us. I tried to swim very quietly so as not to draw their attention. It worked, however, it was a little too dark for my pictures to turn out. So this'll remain a typical fish story, you had to be there. After we got through the channel, the plan was to snorkel the entire distance around Leon Dormido, keeping close to the edge to see as much as possible. The current, however, was quite strong, and swim as we did, we got nowhere. So we headed back to the boat, where we loaded and rode to Porta Grande, a beautiful beach on the other side of the island. We had lunch on the boat and then enjoyed the beach a little and explored the area. We returned in later afternoon, only a few people sunburned. 
I went dancing again that night, and realized that the reason that everyone sings along, is that these songs aren't new. My friend told me that yes, he's heard these songs since he was little. People on the island don't like change, he said. I nodded solemnly, that explains the rice at every meal, I said. He didn't laugh, but agreed with a shrug.
Sunday I went snorkeling at a spot which is supposedly where Darwin first landed, in 1835. We didn't see much other than fish and some cool coral, but the visibility was crystal clear and the water was brisk and refreshing on the humid afternoon. 
I finished another class this week, Conservation of Natural Resources in the Community. My final project required me to interview several people in the town, which was an amazing way to truly learn about the issues on the island. 
Last night everyone made costumes (I was a flamingo) and went to a costume party at one of the bars. There was live music and way too many people in such a small place, but it was really fun. The costumes were funny, everyone had come up with something on the fly, and with extremely limited resources. We all made many trips to the sole fabric store, the man chuckling at us as we explained our disfraces (costumes). 
This afternoon, some friends and I are taking a short trip for some kayaking and snorkeling. We'll go to Leon Dormido again, hopefully we can swim the circumference. Also, we'll get to kayak in some caves, which I'm really happy about. We'll camp on Porta Grande, the beach we visited last week, and return Sunday afternoon. 
On Monday our whole group leaves for our one week vacation, a tour of the other islands. I'm not sure where all we will visit, but I know that we spend some time on Isabella and Baltra, which used be a US Navy base during WWII to protect the Panama Canal, FYI. After our fun trip, we'll spend one week in Santa Cruz, where we'll start our next class. We'll return to San Cristobal on 15 November, with only five weeks remaining before venturing back to Quito. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

First at Twenty-Six

So I realize that I haven't updated the blog recently, but have felt like nothing extremely notable has really happened to pass along. I'm not bored, by any means, but have settled into a schedule of school, volunteering, swimming and snorkeling, and hanging out with friends everyday. But last night, sitting on the moya (pier), watching for meteors, me and a friend began listing all of our firsts that we've experienced on this trip. So here it goes: First time I've been abroad for this long. First time I've eaten cuy. First time I've eaten crab and lobster and ceviche and chicken intestines. First time I've really seen the ocean and been to an island and snorkeled. First time I've tutored English to non-English speakers. First time I've been chased off my beach towel by a honking male sea lion. First time I've danced salsa and merengue in a night club. First time kissing an Ecuadorian ;) First time I've lived with a host family. First time I've lived in a house with three generations. First time I've helped with a beach clean-up. First time to speak Spanish for such an extended period of time, total immersion. First time I've drank so many different types of juice. First time I've had a pedicure in a foreign country. First time so close to the equator. First time hiking on a volcano. First time hiking over 14,443 feet (new record is around 15,500)! First time I've had such intensive courses that I love. First time volunteering with a National Park. First time I've body surfed in the waves with sea turtles. First time at a turtle hatchery. First time in a lighthouse. First time showering with lizards every day. First time having to translate all my jokes to Spanish. First time I've called for a taxi in Spanish - and it came. First time I've sat in a hammock and drank wine and watched the sunset on the majestic view of Cotopaxi. First time I've sat on a boardwalk and drank beer and watched the sunset. First time I've legally (?) ridden in the back of a truck. First time I've mountain biked in another country. First time I'll spend XMAS alone. And in another country. First time I've seen a carnivorous plant in it's natural habitat. First time I've seen a caiman. First time I've swam in the Tiputini River. First time I've been so tan in the middle of Autumn. First time I've felt this good. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dancin' Fool

The sun is shining and the air is fresh, I keep having to remind myself that back home leaves are fire-like colors and the snow is teasing the crisp air. The weather is still very warm (around 70's) and often it becomes grey and misty (garuna), but it's not even chilly at night. I'm becoming spoiled and I fear the change will be much worse than last year when I returned to Colorado after visiting Tucson, AZ. 
All the students are getting together this afternoon in order to cook and celebrate Thanksgiving, Canadian style! We're having chicken instead of turkey, salads, mashed papas, homemade rolls, and apple pie. We'll celebrate again in November, and will be more of a potluck-style. Cooking with family and friends is perhaps the activity I am missing most (other than riding my bike). I am looking forward to using fresh fruits and vegetables from my family's farm and from the local markets to prepare some dishes of comfort food!
Last night I went dancing again with a friend until 3 am! So much fun, and I'm getting pretty decent at salsa and merengue. Today I slept until noon and my legs and feet hurt. Totally worth it. It's so cool that EVERYONE dances and sings and struts their stuff on the dance floor. Absolutely no hesitation about it. The dance floor gets absolutely packed and people are dripping sweat, moving to the beat, one song flowing into the next. After a good while, the DJ switches it up with slower songs, and everyone pretty much returns to their tables and drinks and rests. Men put their arms around each other and sway and belt out the lyrics, women reapply makeup and fix their hair. Something I really like is how people drink here. Everyone buys beer in a larger bottle, and gets a few small glasses. You then pour for others and salud! and drink, throwing the last little bit on the ground (for the homies). It's typical of this place, everything is shared among friends. The dangerous part of this practice, of course, then is to continue dancing in these sticky puddles of beer. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Turtles, Birds and Fish

Last weekend I made cheese empenadas with my mama and told her I also wanted to make tortillas with her sometime. I am trying to learn as much as I can about all the great food I'm eating! On Sunday the whole family took a taxi (they don't have a car) to the highlands to the family farm. They own around 20 hectares of land, where different crops grow in random places, as the land has never been cleared, actually better for the crops and the birds and insects. They have pineapple trees, banana trees, orange trees, guyaba trees (a long skinny pod with large black seeds inside that are covered in a sweet, white film that you eat), chickens, coffee, roses, pumpkins, papayas, corn, and many other fruits and vegetables. They are also building a house on the land, so they can stay there on the weekends when they come to work. They also grow some coffee, but don't cultivate it; how incredible to see a coffee plant as tall as me with shiny red berries, the humble beginnings of java. 
After a harvest that lasted most of the morning, we rode in the back of a truck (with said harvest) to Porta Chino. It was like stepping into a postcard: fine white sand, clear blue water, pelicans and blue-footed boobies perched on black volcanic rocks and a few sea lions, sprawled out on the shore. I played in the waves for a few hours, while the kids made sand castles and the adults sat in the shade. 
Then they took me to the Galapaguera, the turtle hatchery that opened on the island about five years ago. The older, larger tortises hang out among the trees and shrubs and pools, with winding trails between them. They are from the hatchery in Santa Cruz, since they were mostly around twenty to thirty years old, and they all had a number painted in fingernail polish on their shells. In another section, there are the younger turtles, ranging from one to five years old. They are kept in secure cages and more closely monitored and fed. Dogs, cats, rats, and even ants are the predators to these babies, so they are guarded carefully for five years until they are old enough to survive in the protected area surrounding the hatchery. After that we went to a small open-air restaurant in El Progresso, a small village in the highlands, and ate an enormous almuerzo (lunch).
This week I've been starting my service work. I help out with an English class every Wednesday night here at the university and also meet with three students outside of class, two hours each week to tutor one-on-one. 
My other service work is assisting in environmental education through the National Park for the local kids in the community. October is Bird Month, so this Saturday we'll be stopping cars on the road from El Progresso to tell drivers to slow down. Many birds and iguanas have been killed by cars cruising down from the highlands. Tomorrow I'll help the kids paint posters for the awareness campaign.