Ecuador · 114 Days · 25 Moments · January 2019

Studying Abroad in Ecuador

3 May 2019

My last week in the Galápagos has flew by! I can’t believe that 4 months have come to an end already. I was feeling very sentimental, so I made sure to visit all my favorite places before I left. I spent every day after school on the beach, watching each sunset with an ice cream in hand. We also had a birthday for my host siblings, who are turning 3 and 5 this week. We danced all night and had a delicious feast. On Wednesday, I was able to celebrate my friend Erica’s birthday with cocktails at a fancy bar on the boardwalk. Friday morning was the hardest day I have had in a while - my family and friends dropped me off at the airport. I didn’t know how much I was going to cry until I started bawling. I slept on both planes, reminiscing on a beautiful semester and feeling really upset because I know that my life will NEVER be this simple ever again. And these amazing circumstances will never be exactly the same

28 April 2019

My current class is called Geographical Information Systems, where we learn to make and design maps. It is a skill that many employers look for, but it’s also interesting and fun. I’m currently working on a project tracking shark movements to find the best sites to dive with Galápagos sharks. During our first week, we took a trip to El Progreso, the rural town in the highlands. We took GPS points to map the terrain and elevation. Afterwards, we hiked to the farm for lunch. We were also able to hike to the island’s weather station and extract data for our projects. This past Friday, we did a 360 tour, a full day boat trip that goes in a circle around the island. We visited Rosa Blanca, Punta Pitt, Cerro Brujo, and León Dormido. I saw tons of baby fish the size of my pinky finger, a tiger eel, juvenile white tip sharks, a wall full of corals, and a HUGE marbled ray that was bigger than me. I also saw the largest green sea turtles I’ve ever seen in my life (and I’ve seen hundreds)!

23 April 2019

I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been soaking up my last weeks in the Galápagos. Early in the month, I switched host families - a stressful event. But my new family is SO much better. Their dog Luna is my new best friend. I spent the night in a treehouse built within the widest tree in Ecuador (17m circumference). We played with the ducks, hung in hammocks, and stargazed. It was magical to sleep up in the treetops with the wind chimes sounding on a breezy night. I continue going to the farm every week. We planted corns and beans by hand, and also milked the cows. I love being connected to the Earth in this way. It has made me appreciate food a lot more. On Wednesday, my talented friend Adrian gave me a stick and poke tattoo, which means getting stabbed by a needle hundreds of times. I got a lizard to remember the Galápagos because they are always running around. On Thursday, we had a talent show with FREE pizza. I didn’t have a talent of course, but it was a fun event!

6 April 2019

What a weekend! For my class, we took a trip to Española, an uninhabited island about 2 hours away. The boat ride was rough, but I tried to sleep the whole way so I wouldn’t get seasick. One arriving, we did a 2 hour hike. I was able to see marine iguanas turning red and green to attract females, as well as some dead, dried out skeletons. There were hundred of birds on the island, as it is an important breeding site for them. I saw several birds I had never seen before, like the Nazca boobie, the Galápagos Hawk, and the Galàpagos dove. We even saw an Albatross egg laying on a rock (they don’t make nests). After our 2 hour hike, we went scuba diving. I saw another moray eel, many triggerfish, and more white tip sharks. I have now logged 15 dives in my dive book! Today, I finally got a tattoo I have been wanting for a while. It is a tiger lily flower, and I want it to serve as a reminder of where I come from and how I have always innately been a part of nature even before I knew it!

1 April 2019

This Monday, I visited Hacienda Tranquila, a farm that sustainably harvests produce and donates it to locals. As volunteers, we lugged 10 gallon jugs of water up a steep hill - I could barely keep up and I am STILL sore today. We watered all of the plants, including watermelon, pineapple, tomatoes, basil, peppers, and more! Ironically, it started raining as soon as we finished our watering job, so we relaxed in the hammocks. We also helped to construct stabilization rods for the tomato plants. I made friends with the dog, cat, horse, and baby cows! On Wednesday, I went to Isla Lobos, a large rock outcropping about 30 minutes away by boat. It was raining SUPER hard but we did an hour hike anyway. My feet were COVERED in mud. I finally saw Blue Footed Boobies doing their mating dance and Frigate Birds puffing up their red balloon sacks. I also enjoyed snorkeling in the rain and saw new fish to add to my species list🐠 i’m also very proud of myself because i went to yoga at 6:30am toda

23 March 2019

We traveled back to Santa Cruz on Friday and settled in to a new hostal. The past few days I have spent souvenir shopping and eating. Stephanie and I went to the local fish market at the pier, where we saw the fish arriving to the dock to be cleaned, cut up, and sold to locals. We had dinner at the Kiosks, a blocked off street full of many restaurants, where you sit at a table in the middle of the street. I had some delicious tacos - the first time I have seen Mexican food in Ecuador! I ordered a chocolate mousse for dessert, and that didn’t stop me from getting a $1 ice cream before bed. Because of the elections, nobody is allowed to sell or drink alcohol so we had a fairly calm night. On Saturday, Stephanie and I went diving at Gordon Rocks, a beautiful rock formation. During my first dive, we saw many sharks, rays and tropical fish. Unfortunately, I was too congested to complete the second dive so I had to sit on the boat :( but overall, what an amazing spring break this has been!

21 March 2019

Today we woke up early to tour Tintoreras, a small islet off of Isabela Island. On our boat ride there, we saw groups of blue footed boobies and PENGUINS. The Galápagos penguins arrived here 5 million years ago from Antarctica and have since adapted to the local climate - hence their small body size to stay cooler (they are less than a foot tall and it’s so cute!). We were able to snorkel around the area for an hour. It was amazing because the sea lions were playing in the bubbles I made with my flippers. We also swam through a narrow crack in the rocks with many sharks and sea turtles, as well as baby shrimp and baby pufferfish. I saw lots of sea cucumbers, starfish, and Galápagos sting rays on the ocean floor beneath me. In the evening, I walked through a mangrove forest to a local beach called Concha Perla. I watched the sunset with my friend Emily and we joined my friend Raina for dinner in the town center. After ice cream, we all went to bed early because we’ve had a long week!

20 March 2019

Today we hiked Sierra Negra, the largest volcano in the Galápagos and one of the 50 largest volcanoes in the world! After hiking for about 45 minutes, we reached the viewpoint to see just how huge the crater was - it is about 5 miles across and it blew my mind! 80% of the volcano is underwater so what we saw was only the very tip of this massive volcano! We had an amazing and knowledgable guide Sebastian, who also took us on a challenging route to Volcan Chico, which erupted just last year in 2018. The surrounding area was filled with metallic rocks of all different colors. The lava fields below us consisted of newer, softer lava of a different consistency. After a roundtrip hike of 10 miles, I was exhausted. In the last ten minutes of the hike, I fell and scraped my knee pretty badly. But it was so worth it and I would do it all over again! We ended the day watching the sunset on the beach and drinking maracuya daiquiris until it was time for bed.

19 March 2019

Today was a dream. We took a two hour ferry to Isabela, the largest island in Galápagos. We found a hotel with air conditioning, a luxury I have not had since arriving to the Galápagos. After a small nap, we rented some bicycles to check out the island. We came across some marsh habitats where flamingos were resting and feeding on crabs. After a 3 mile bike ride, we arrived to the Wall of Tears, a huge wall built by prisoners who were exiled to the Galápagos in the 1940s and 50s. The wall serves no purpose and was a punishment and death bed for many prisoners. We continued on to Estero, a beautiful tunnel of mangrove trees situated on a lake. There was also a small lava cave below the ground. Last but not least, we visited a beach where we rested and played in the waves. For dinner tonight, we cooked rice and veggies in our hostal and I was able to write in my journal for a while. Today was such an amazing day, and I’m pretty sure Isabela is my favorite island now!

18 March 2019

The past few days in Santa Cruz have been awesome. After a little hike on Sunday, I went snorkeling in Las Grietas, a natural swimming pool in the cracks of volcanic rock. We also went snorkeling in Tortuga Bay, where I saw baby white tip sharks swimming. There were also marine iguanas resting everywhere! On Monday, Stephanie and I went on a dive trip to one of the uninhabited islands called North Seymour. I saw tons of new species of fish, hammerhead sharks, sea lions, and a MORAY EEL (which I’ve never seen before). In the afternoon we visited the famous Charles Darwin Station. They had species of tortoises from each of the different islands, including a photo opportunity where I became a tortoise myself. My favorite part was seeing Lonesome George, who was a 140 year old tortoise who died as the last kind of his species. There were security guards and acclimatization rooms we had to pass through to see him - honestly it was more serious than anything I’ve seen in Ecuador thus far!

16 March 2019

It is finally spring vacation so this morning I traveled with my friends Stephanie, Lucy and Emily to Santa Cruz, the most populated island in the Galápagos with 12,000 residents. We took a 2 hour ferry to get there and I slept the ENTIRE time. When we arrived, we ate breakfast in a small café off the pier and then booked a cheap hostal room with a full kitchen. After a little 4 hour nap, we got in a taxi headed to El Chato Tortoise Reserve. There we were able to hike through three lava tunnels that were formed during the last volcanic eruption. The tunnels were pitch black at some points and it was fascinating to see the different formations and layers of lava. Afterwards, we hiked a trail to see many tortoises eating or sleeping in the shade. The tortoises on this island look very different because they evolved to eat different local food sources, so their shells and necks are shaped differently. For dinner, we cooked ourselves some spaghetti and went out for drinks on the boardwalk!

11 March 2019

I’ve made it a tradition to watch the sunset on the beach everyday- a nice break from my busy week. This was the last week of my Political Ecology class, so we had some major projects due. Because I speak Spanish, I interviewed all of the local political candidates about their campaign platforms and their opinions about the environment. We compiled all the information and found that most politicians are fairly knowledgable about plastic pollution, but a lot more could be done politically to stop plastic usage here. I also spent time this week at Tongo, a beach inside the Galapagos naval base that is primarily for surfers. I watched my friend surf for 3 hours as I rested in the shade. Friday was the BEST day. I was invited to help with Green Sea Turtle research in Punta Carola, a local beach. We took measurements and tagged them to help better understand their populations and movement. A photographer also came with us to take photos for a book about reptiles in the Galápagos. ¡Chévere!

7 March 2019

Just another week in the islands! I finally feel like i’ve been able to get into a routine here and love spending time with my friends, water color painting, and reading my spanish novel. Life is so slow here and I love it. But i’ve also had some more exciting moments too. Last weekend I won a fancy USFQ hat for balancing an egg on a spoon that I held with my mouth at our family game day. This week I snorkeled at Kicker Rock, where I saw huge spotted eagle rays, large yellowfin tuna, and swam with a group of 30 hammerhead sharks. After our long and exhausting day on the boat, I got avocado ice cream pops with my friend Mika which were surprisingly very good! The next day, we visited the turtle breeding center again, but this time we got to see them eating breakfast and it was so cute! Isn’t it weird that this is my life now?

5 March 2019

I am currently taking a class called Political Ecology where we study the interaction of political and natural systems. It has been challenging because it is a social science course, but I have learned a lot! We are focusing on how plastics are impacting local beaches and how policies interact. We have done several plastic collections on the beaches and have listened to local activists and lawyers speak. It is really upsetting to see the grand quantity of plastics that can be seen on every single beach in the Galápagos. We spent hours picking up plastic and came nowhere near collecting it all. For part of our collections, we visited Punta Pucuna, a barren lava rock landscape where we hiked through caves. Our teacher emphasizes philosophy in our course, so one day we hiked up to the top of a cliff and meditated for over an hour. Yesterday we visited the landfill and saw first-hand how the government processes such huge amounts of trash from residents and tourists. This is REAL learning!

4 March 2019

Happy Carnaval! Today’s Latin American holiday signifies the beginning of the lent season. Here in Ecuador it’s a grand celebration. Starting early in the morning on Monday and continuing into the night on Tuesday, festivals take place on the beaches and boardwalk. It was hard to pay attention in class because the loud music could be heard from outside. After class, I snagged a mora (blackberry) ice cream and laid out on the beach to watch the festivities unfold. I was also entered into a beer chugging competition but I missed when they called my name - thank goodness. Later in the afternoon, the crazy traditions began. Everyone throws paint, silly string, water, and beer on each other until you are completely covered. It was so funny to see kids and adults alike running around and screaming loudly. After going home and rinsing off, my friends and I immediately headed back out to a concert to continue the celebration. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid being painted all over again!

17 February 2019

My days on the island are getting better and better. With only 3 hours of class each day, I have plenty of time for beach bumming, reading, and spending time with new friends. Our favorite pastime is eating 50 cent chocolate covered bananas in the afternoon. For my class, we went snorkeling and scuba diving this week, at La Lobería beach and Kicker Rock. These were my best snorkel/dive experiences yet! I saw amazing fish, sharks (black tip & hammerhead), an eel, and SO MANY SEA TURTLES. This weekend I finally felt well enough to go out to the discoteca (a dance club) with my friends and we danced the night away. Now i’m preparing for a long week ahead. Tomorrow I have to wake up at 5:30 to do a sea lion census/survey with my classmates. Later in the week, we have a research symposium and a final exam for my class. Now, as I do every night, I’m going to go read my romantic novel in spanish. Princesa (our dog) is usually shy but is sleeping by my side tonight - i think i’ve made it!!!

9 February 2019

Tomorrow marks one full week in Galápagos, but I feel like I’ve been here forever. The week has had its ups and downs but WOW this is truly an amazing place. Today I organized a group of 12 to go in a taxi and tour around the island. First, we visited El Junco, the only freshwater lake in Galápagos. I saw lots of Frigate birds flying around and cooled off with the cold breeze. Then we traveled to Galapaguera, a tortoise breeding center. I saw HUGE tortoises, as well as babies that were about the size of my palm! I almost cried because it was just that cute. And I finally got to see a species I’ve heard about my entire life. Afterwards, we went to Puerto Chino, the most beautiful beach on San Cristóbal. It has powder-like white sand and a beautiful rocky shoreline. I hid under the shade of some trees with the finches and hermit crabs, but I’m still a tad burnt. After the tour, I got lunch with Adrian and Olivia, and I had the best patacones with guacamole and a mora smoothie... yum!!!

5 February 2019

I was entirely exhausted and didn’t want to take my flight to Galapagos, but here I am!!! These first few days have been a hard adjustment, but I have seen so many cool things already! I have seen swimming marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, flying sally lightfoot crabs, dozens of fish species (including my favorite the parrotfish) and SO MANY sea lions! On the island, I live with a single mom and two kids who are each so sweet! They even took care of me when I accidentally brushed my teeth with tap water and started throwing up the next morning. And my room is about 4 times bigger than it was in Quito!! It takes me about 10 minutes to walk to the university, where I have class everyday from 9-12. But usually my mom likes to drop me off on her motorcycle. I am currently taking a class called Marine Life, and we basically just go snorkeling everyday and complete our own research projects. Today we went to Cerro Tijeretas, a rocky beach that took 20 minutes to hike to. I’m BURNT!!!

29 January 2019

This week my Tropical Ecology class and I traveled to THE AMAZON RAINFOREST for 5 days. The journey included a plane, two canoes, and a very bumpy bus ride. The humidity was insane and we slept in small open cabins in the middle of the forest. They had amazing food, but limited water and only 4 hours of electricity per day. I felt super adventurous. We did a LOT of hiking, where I saw so many cool species of monkeys, mushrooms, turtles, tapirs, spiders, butterflies, etc. We even met people from an uncivilized indigenous tribe of the Amazon called the Waorani. I bought some really neat bracelets from them made with a seed from the forest. Our professor took us to an oxbow lake, where we canoed around looking for ancient-looking birds. At night, we were able to ride in the canoe to spot caimans in the river - we saw one little one! We also went on a night hike looking for all kinds of large insects and saw bioluminescent mushrooms lighting up the forest floor. Truly once in a lifetime!

24 January 2019

Yesterday my class and I visited Papallacta, a Páramo forest located an hour southeast of Quito. We hiked through an enormous mountain landscape that used to be full of volcanic activity. We were at 4600 meters tall, so I felt very nauseous the whole time. I even cried at one point because the mud was so slippery I fell straight onto my back several times. But the view was so worth it - cushion plants, giant rosettes, grasses, shrubs, and ..... AN ANDEAN TAPIR! Andean tapirs are large herbivorous mammals with prehensile noses that live in the Andes Mountains! Although we didn’t get close to the tapir I looked at him through binoculars and he was so cute!! I needed the motivation to continue. After our 7km hike, I had a quinoa salad and headed straight into some geothermally heated hot spring pools! It was so luxurious and our school paid our $23 per person entrance fee. We had to wear hilarious swim caps, but it really helped relax my muscles from the severe tension of the hike!

20 January 2019

After a restful night in Latacunga, my 4 friends and I took a 2 hour bus to Quilotoa, an ancient volcano site where only a huge lagoon remains in the crater. We hiked about an hour into the crater and were able to kayak for 30 minutes to the center of this BEAUTIFUL lagoon. After that, we slept at the bottom of the crater, but it was way too cold. We spent an hour and a half hiking up (quicker than the estimated 2 hours) and headed to our hostel for the night. We ended up booking a room that was only $10 a night and included meals, but the staff was very confusing and we were the only guests there. They told us they would turn on the fire for heat but they never did so we froze for several hours. I finally went to the front desk and made them start the fire, which only ended up lasting for 2 hours. AND I started to get a really bad cold with congestion. After a fairly miserable night, we returned to Quito this morning and I have been taking some medicine and resting the day away.
On Wednesday, my class took a field trip to Baños, a village in the cloud forest 4 hours outside of Quito. We stayed in the most beautiful hostel that had a sauna, jacuzzi, and really delicious food. I even got a king bed to myself! For my class, we did multiple experiments on a forest that had been partially cleared for agriculture. We worked all day in the rain with our equipment and had to present our results the next day after analyzing our data. On Friday, we hiked around a MASSIVE waterfall. The water was falling so fast I got dizzy. Friday afternoon, 5 friends and I took a trip on a crazy loud open bus to Casa del Arból, which is a huge swing over a cliff. It was a little scary but so much fun. We also got a tour of a guayaba (a popular fruit here) candy factory and got to taste some candies for free. At night, we took a 2 hour bus to Latacunga, where we crashed in a hostal as a half way point for our weekend adventures

19 January 2019

More fun pictures that my friends took of me at Laguna Quilotoa and Baños

12 January 2019

On Friday I took my final exam for my 1 week spanish class. We went out to celebrate at a bar (yes i drank on my antibiotics oops). On Saturday morning, my friends and I met at 6am to travel to Mindo for the day, which is a cloud forest about 2 hours from Quito. First, we went on a guided hike through various waterfalls, and even got to walk across the Mindo River on a rope bridge and cable car. It was slightly terrifying because we weren’t even hooked into anything. Afterwards, we went on a different hike to a waterfall that we could swim in. The guide told us it would take 15 minutes. An hour later, we never arrived and had to turn around because the park was closing. In total, we walked 10 miles!!! Because it was getting late, I decided to book a hostel. My friends and I went to a latin folk concert, the band a group of Venezuelan migrants. In the morning, we went to the COOLEST butterfly and hummingbird garden. I saw all stages of the butterfly life cycle and even held a few!

9 January 2019

I arrived to Quito, Ecuador late Saturday night after a 16 hour day of traveling. I was greeted by my wonderful new host family, which consists of two parents, two daughters, and a grandson. I had my first day of classes on Monday, where I got a tour of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (my new school). The campus in Quito is gorgeous and even has its own mall. Unfortunately, I quickly got a stomach infection and had to go to the emergency clinic to get some medicine. I am currently recovering in bed and hoping to make it to my classes tomorrow. I will be here in Quito for a month, and then I will travel to the Galapagos on February 3rd. My goal is to update this journal about once a week. I hope you can follow along in my travels! Shoutout to Grandma Jenny for my awesome new faux leather journal