Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 3/8

Sternberg Museum of Natural History Education Director, David Levering, lead a spring break study abroad trip of seven Fort Hays State University undergraduate students to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The students documented their adventures and explorations during the trip, and these travelogues will be featured here through a series of eight posts (with a finally reflection from David). Enjoy!

Day 3: Heading to the Islands
Location: Museum of the Center of the World and Charles Darwin Research Station
By: Sami Mongomery

The Museum of the Center of the World
Our third day of the trip started out perfectly. We got to sleep in and eat another interestingly delicious breakfast that the family who owned our hostel made. Just the few days we had spent in Ecuador allowed us to have a look into parts of daily life of families like theirs, but today was the day that we left their home and began the next part of our trip. Our guide service picked us up at 9:00 and we started our short drive to the “Valley of the Center of the World”. This is a place where the equator passes through Quito and an entire museum has been built around it. On our drive, Lenin (our Quito guide) gave us a lot of history and important facts about Ecuador and the city of Quito. This included information about how Quito came to be the capital city, which goes all the way back to the Incan empire. He also discussed the geography of Quito. Because Quito is located between two strings of mountains the city can only expand to the North and South, and it suffers from the rain shadow effect. Humidity from the Amazon rainforest gets stuck on one mountain chain and the other side catches the humidity from the Pacific Ocean, therefore Quito is very dry. An important issue he pointed out is that the city currently has a population of around 2.5 million people and it is constantly growing, so they are working to put in an efficient subway system. This growth is due to the fact that Ecuador’s currency is finally stable after switching to the U.S. Dollar, and people are coming to the capital city to find better work.

Learning about the process of chocolate production
A fermented, roasted cocao bean ready to be
ground into powder
After a bit of a lesson on Quito’s history, we arrived at the museum. I personally expected to see a line on the ground and have someone tell us “that is the equator”, but it was so much more than that! This day was incredibly educational for the entire group. Our guide for the museum did in fact take us to a line, but then began telling us a myriad of information about the placement, significance, and uniqueness of this line. She then had us participate in some activities to back up what she was saying. It was fascinating! When we were done checking out the actual equator, we went to a little hut where we learned a lot about the shrunken heads that indigenous tribes used to create in memory of important figures. Lastly, we were lead into heaven as Lenin called it. It was another hut that had a great amount of information about the process and significance of Ecuadorian chocolate. Let me tell you, it was delicious! Our guide showed us the process from when the cocoa is picked to when the bean is crushed into the actual product. We then got to buy some and get our passport stamped. We were all very pleased with the museum.
Sparkling Violetear (Colibri coruscans) at the
Museum of the Center of the World

Seeing the Galapagos Islands for the first time
Short boat ride from Baltra Island to Isla Santa Cruz
The museum concluded our time in Ecuador and we were off to the airport. We had a short plane ride to the islands and we landed on Baltra. The only word to describe how I felt when we landed was shock. The island was a very barren, arid landscape. This allowed me to appreciate the incredible amount of diversity that the islands had to offer. After getting through airport checkpoints our instructor informed us that we were going to be taking a boat to our first island, Santa Cruz. When we got to the channel the water was beautiful! It was a five-minute boat ride to the other side and then we took a much longer bus ride, through the national park part of the island, to get to the small town we would be staying. Our bus stopped in front of our hotel and again I was so shocked it was almost scary. This hotel was gorgeous and nothing like I had ever seen before. There were four floors with a very unique layout. There was no roof on most of the main lobby area and there was a beautiful pool on the roof of the top floor.

The Red Booby Hotel in Puerto Ayora
in Isla Santa Cruz
Group shot at the Charles Darwin Research Station
Galapagos land iguana
After we got settled, we began our walk to the Charles Darwin Research Station. This time allowed us to see more of the culture and scenery of the exceptional area we were blessed to be in. When we arrived at the station it was all outside exhibits and our tour guide Leo talked a lot about the animals and their history. It was very informative and this was our first sighting of the animals that most people refer to when talking about the Galapagos Islands. This included a land iguana, some bird life, and the giant tortoises. Although they were in cages it was still unbelievable. After spending a bit of time there we headed back to our hotel and got to kind of wind down from the day full of travel. Later, we got to explore around the town and find some dinner. The owner of our guide service, Tim, suggested that we eat at a restaurant on the main street that turns into a huge event at night for the tourists and people of the town. All of the restaurants fill up the street with tables and the entire street is filled with people by the end of the night. It was a very different and inspiring environment that really showed how close the people there were. Our food was delicious and when we were done we went down to a pier where there was a small park and another really great atmosphere. We walked out on some of the docks and got to see different marine life, such as sea lions, stingrays, and pelicans. After being there for a while we all decided to head back to the hotel and end our first night on the islands with a roof top swim!
Southern Yellow Grosbeak (Pheucticus chrysogaster) at
the Museum of the Center of the World
Eagle rays below the Puerto Ayora pier on Isla Santa Cruz

To catch up on the adventure, read about Day 1: Exploring Quito and Day 2: Bike Trip.

To continue the adventure, read about Day 4: Tortuga Bay and Galapagos Tortoises

Watch a video with highlights from the Ecuador/Galapagos adventure!

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