Thursday, June 30, 2011

Islas Galapagos

Location: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Rundown: Spend a week tailing giant tortoises, hanging with hammerheads sharks, and bonding with blue-footed boobies in Darwin's very own... the Galapagos!


Took our leave of absence from school in the increasing chill of Chilean winter (U.S. summer) and flew to Ecuador, then a six hundred miles into the Pacific to reach the Galapagos Islands.

Stayed in Puerto Ayora, a town on the most populous island, Santa Cruz.

Stayed in a cute hotel on Santa Cruz that appeared to have been designed by Dr. Seuss. Great winding stairways and arched walk-throughs... no Whos though.

Puerto Ayora had a tropical port feel, lots of fishing boats and pelicans in the sea breeze.

Lots of wild life... even right in town! The fishermen brought their catch in every day to the docks and cleaned their fish right there. Naturally all manner of interested parties showed up!

Our first major stop in the islands... to see the giant tortoises!

Amazing to watch them drag their heavy, broad shells around. Prehistoric looking creatures.

The truly amazing thing about the island was how close you could get to the wildlife. I love this guy's scaly arms. When they feel threatened they pull their heads in and cover their faces with their protective arms. Pretty neat.

Although slow and awkward they are majestic creatures at times. Pretty amazing.

Spent some time on tortoise breeding centers where they raise young tortoises until they are ready to be reintroduced into the wild. Cute little guy.

The tortoises were so docile and slow moving. The lifestyle sat well with me... I even thought about trying it out myself... I think I'd need to crawl in and then gain a few hundred pounds to fill up the inside.


The next day we took a boat out to a different island called North Seymour to check out the wildlife. Upon our arrival we found some wildlife waiting in the water for us! It was a bit disconcerting to get in the tiny dinghy for the transit to shore knowing that the dinghy wasn't the biggest thing swimming around!

The truly amazing part about the islands is the proximity of the wildlife. The animals have evolved without predators (aside from those in the water above), so they are unconcerned with people, giving use the opportunity to get up close and personal. Almost stepped on this little guy!

The Majestic Frigate birds were all over the islands doing their typical displays of mating.

As well as nesting! This little guy was pretty funny to watch, plunked in the open on a nest and told not to move. The frigate's parents would swoop in and feed him occasionally.

Mating and nesting along side the frigates were the Blue-Footed Boobies. I was pretty excited to see them.

They make a whistling trumpet sound from their long beaks. They use their blue feet as a means to attract mates and do a fabulously silly dance to show off their feet. I was in heaven.

On the warm rocks of the island there were hundreds of black marine iguanas soaking up the sun before fishing in the sea.

Their faces become white from them sneezing salty water out of their noses to reduce the salinity in their bodies.

The little buggers aren't all that big, but look pretty prehistoric.

Yellow iguanas were bigger, but not quite as jurassic looking.

Investigated some lava tunnels that ran throughout the islands. The islands are relatively young, so much of the geology is still raw.

Went diving on Isla Beagle and Isla Daphne, two sites that promised interesting aquatic life. The seas were pretty rough as we motored. The first dive went well

Suiting up to go over the side... not a hard task on a rolling boat.

Isla Beagle looming above our dive site.

Underwater we ran into schools of barracuda so numerous they would make the water dark.

All sorts of odd creatures in the sea

This green moray eel is a little scary, but he was way more scared of the monstrous bubbling creatures above.

But out away from the reefs were the real monsters. Galapagos sharks and hammerheads glided in here and there to make their presence known. Didn't get any shots of the hammerheads, but this big guy got pretty close... maybe too close.

Lots of colorful sea life too.

In a set of dives we saw more than twenty sea turtles. Fun to watch!

Almost like angels. They don't stay too close though.

Coming out topside after our last dive. Back into the rolling world.

Santa Cruz has lots of good places to eat. This local joint, William's, was famous for its coconut sauce. Coconut shrimp, coconut fish, coconut chicken... coconut pancakes?

The place was on a long street of local restaurants with tables set out right on the cobblestones. It was a packed street man!


We left Santa Cruz the to spend a few days on Isabela, the largest island, a few hours away by boat... in big seas. At first glance the port didn't give confidence much confidence to our excursion...

And the captain's credentials were questionable...

A few people fed the fishies along the way, but none from the Gorkiewicz/Pashouwer clan... although light hues of green could be seen here and there.

Isabela was worth the trip! We were greeted warmly by Minino, our guide for the island, who introduced us to the tiny town with sand streets, palm trees...

...a handful of colorful restaurants....

...and endless white-sand beach with good waves!

We rented some boards and spent the day in the waves!

Shallow, warm, and rock-free, the beaches were a great place for some easy surfing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

International School Nido de Aguilas

Location: International School Nido de Aguilas

Rundown: School's out for... winter! A look around campus before everyone heads out!

Don't have many pictures of my new school, Nido de Aguilas... the Eagle's Nest.

The campus is plunked right at the edge of the Andean foothills. Literally, there's a fence in the back, and then there are horses grazing in the cerro.

Kids from all over the place! They're a great crew, and a lot of fun to teach. Biggest bunch of nerds I've ever seen.

The view out my front classroom window.... Can almost see where we fly!

The view out my back classroom window. Cerro Providencia and Ramon, both gorgeous, long hikes with jaw-dropping views of the Andes.

The kiddos are ready to be done! You might even see a teacher or two in that mob down below!

More school to come... but not just yet!