Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 8/8

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!

Ecuador and Galapagos Islands Spring Break wrap-up
By: David Levering

Paddle-boarding around a bay at Isla San Cristobal
Running the FHSU Study Abroad trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands was an incredible highlight of my career as an educator. Having an emphasis on experiential outdoor science education, there are few if any better places I can think of than these magnificent islands to show students the processes of evolution in action. The role of these islands in the history of science only adds to their mystique as an educational destination of choice for anyone interested in biology, evolution, or the development of human thought. Evolution is, for good reason, considered one of the greatest single ideas in human history. To visit and explore the Galapagos, a place so closely tied with this great idea, was a privilege for myself and my students.
Sparkling Violet Ear Hummingbird, one of 13
hummingbird species we saw in Ecuador

Group shot at Tortuga Bay on Isla Santa Cruz
I must take a moment to acknowledge the exceptional group of FHSU undergraduates that joined this adventure. Having a good group of students makes an enormous difference in the success of a trip such as this one. I count myself fortunate to have had an excellent group of bright, hardy, enthusiastic participants. If you are reading this, and have not yet perused the previous blog posts by the students, I encourage you to do so. They each did an excellent job communicating their experiences, and each post is well worth the read.
Nazca Boobies at Kicker Rocker, a fantastic deep-water
snorkeling spot we visited

Stick insect from the cloud forest we biked
through in Ecuador
I am excited to be working on a student trip for spring break of 2017, this time to the Amazon Rainforest. This jungle continues our theme of locations relevant to the history of science. In the Amazon, Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin who nearly proposed the theory of evolution first, spent many years collecting and studying wildlife specimens. His rigor as a field worker remain remarkable and inspiring, and is one of many excellent reasons our next trip will take us into this great wilderness. Most of the trip details are still being worked out, but we are well on our way. I expect we will formally announce the trip this coming August.

Thanks for reading, and go Tigers!

Oh, if you haven’t yet seen our highlights video from the trip, go watch it right now because it’s awesome!

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 7/8

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 7: The Last Day of a once in a lifetime trip
Location: Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
By: Julie Clement

Garden at our hostel on Isla San Cristobal
Today was our last day on the islands, and it started with a bittersweet morning. Some of you will ask what there could be sweet about leaving a tropical island. Well the answer is quite simple: we students hail from the middle of the United States, which means we don’t have stomach churning boat rides, nor are we used to being so close to the sun. Instead we are accustomed to miles of land instead of ocean, very different seasons, and weather that changes on a whim. By this point all of us were thoroughly sunburned and tired (despite liberal use of sunscreen), and generally ready to head home. As we left the hostel and headed for the café down the street, we had some choices to make. Our flight back to the mainland was scheduled for 1:20pm and we had the morning free. Some of us chose to bike ride around the town; others to headed to a museum down the way, while others of us didn’t make it to that. My group was the one that didn’t make it.
Isla San Cristobal - a place of beautiful water,
lovely friendly people, gorgeous scenery,
and more sealions than you can count

Sealions sleeping on the stairs
Galakiwi office and the cafe next door
The one thing that I wanted to do this last day was to take more pictures. I was the unofficial group photographer. But before we started our adventure, we had some last minute souvenir shopping to do, and I needed to mail postcards. You would think that a little square of paper would be fairly cheap to send, but you and I would both be wrong. I spent a few pretty pennies on postage for twelve postcards, but when they arrive it will all be worth it. After spending the last of my money on stamps, our group headed out to find this museum, I was of course taking pictures the whole way. As we got further away from the shops and people, sea lions littered the path. There was one right in front of us that we took pictures with, during this picture break we witnessed something we had only seen the aftermath of the whole trip, a sea lion climbing onto a bench. It is my most prized video. For those of you who haven’t seen a sea lion walk, they waddle and it’s adorable. As we continued on we had to go over a wooden walkway. On the other side there were some restaurants with a great view. When we came to the end of that street we thought we would find the museum, but it was nowhere to be seen. David our instructor had gone on his own and we later found out that we had a few more turns and a lot more walking if we were to find it. Since we failed to find the museum we headed to the Galakiwi office. This is the travel agency that we went through and there is a café right next door to their office. On the way back over the wall was an upside down boat, and on top the boat were three sea lions. One of them looked to be a baby and was snuggled up to his mom, and dreaming; it kept twitching. When we reached the café, the five us in the group settled down to relax and reflect. A few of us got ice cream, and we all looked at pictures and talked about the trip and what all we had done. Riding down a mountain on the second day may have only been five days ago, but it felt like a lifetime. The time we spent in Ecuador flew by and felt like forever all at the same. Our last morning on the islands came to a close all too soon.
A map of the Galapagos Islands at the museum on
Isla San Cristobal

A male lava lizard
A dragonfly on Isla San
Cristobal, 600 miles from mainland
There is something about leaving a place that you never truly believed that you would visit. The Galapagos Islands is one of those places that you think sure, I would love to go, but you never really think you are going to. It’s a destination unlike any other and not a trip many will ever take. Over the next twenty-four hours we made our way back to Kansas, and our once in a lifetime trip was done. The students in our group came from a wide variety of majors and backgrounds, but we all had one thing in common: We wanted to go to the Galapagos for the island biodiversity, not just the island part. We had plenty of time to kill in the airports and so we did a little math. By the time we were to get back home, our transportation was thus: 3 cars, 9 buses, 7 planes, 1 train, 2 vans, 1 bike (each), 7 boats, 3 trucks, 3 flippers, and more walking than we could have possibly kept track of, and some of us had 1 more bike, and 1 paddleboard. That was a lot of transportation for an eight-day trip, and every single one of them was worth it.         
Map illustrating our travel stops

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 6/8

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 6: Snorkeling at Kicker Rock
Location: Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
By: Kayla Wright

Our guide Leo giving us the plan for the day
As we came to our last day full day of planned activities a weird sense of accomplishment had come over me. Here we all were in a place that some people would never dream of getting to see, and we had been brought on an adventure of a life time. Some people would freak out over not being able to understand what was being said to them, but I believe for us it only made our experience a challenge and even more of a learning experience. It was crazy to think this whole time that these people that live on this island do things like snorkeling, biking, or just hanging out on a beach with a bunch of tourist as a way of life and as a way for them to pay the bills. Their way of life will always leave an impression on me; I will probably always be jealous of their lifestyle.

"American" breakfast
As we started our day,  we got the chance to have an “American Breakfast” as our guide Leo put it. This included granola, toast, fruit, and eggs which I don’t know how many Americans really have all these things for breakfast even on a semi–occasional basis. This just goes to show though how not only do these Ecuadorians try to introduce us to their own traditional foods, but they also try to keep you comfortable and accommodate you with things we are familiar with. I believe one of the hardest parts of being on Isla San Cristobal was that when we did eat breakfast, we had to endure the awful but very familiar smell of sea lions all through the meal. It wasn’t hard eating all the food but remembering that you have to breathe and constantly be reminded of the smell and constant closeness of our friends the sea lions.
Manglecito beach

Some shells we found at Manglecito beach
Male frigate bird with red display pouch inflated
We then made our way to our first activity of the day which was hanging out on a somewhat private beach named Manglecito. This beach had very white sands which are a product of Parrot fish eating the coral then pooping out the hard remains, and eaten shells that had been ground into smaller pieces, and then deposited onto the shores. The water was also some of the clearest blue water I had ever seen. From above the water you could clearly see some very cream-yellow fish swimming around our toes, sifting through the sand looking for some food. There were also some pelicans that joined us. One tried to snack on some trash. Some people may find this amusing, but for some of us it gave us the realization that if trash is making its way all the way out to this little beach that it could really be traveling all over the world using the ocean as a mode of transportation. This “little” problem could lead to a much bigger problem, with animal deaths from choking on this trash or simply emptying hazardous materials in these blue waters that are inhabited by so many species. We didn’t see very many Marine Iguanas out at this beach but there were some very big Carpenter bees and some pretty normal sized bees that decided to join us, along with the scalding sun. This was probably one of the biggest days we all got the most burnt, this was also the day I stopped believing in sun screen.
Approaching Kicker Rock

Swimming over a large school of fish
A huge school of fish swimming below us
at Kicker Rock
After our adventure at Manglecito we made our way to Kicker Rock to do some deep sea snorkeling. We passed around some handouts telling us what all to look out for. Wildlife such as sea lions, Galapagos Sharks, and some very brightly colored fish are common there. In my head I was thinking that once we got in the water that we would see an underwater palace of bright fish of every color swimming right near us so close that we could touch them. But when we did get in the water all I saw was blue. So many shades of blue that I’d never even seen before. No pinks, no reds, no bright colors of any kind. I wasn’t disappointed but very surprised. Where were these beautiful bright fish hiding that I had just read about on the way over here? The fish we did see were all so far away, but when you did see them it was like a busy city of fish below us. The sun reflected of the deep blues in the water sometimes altering what your eyes could see but when you saw something special you knew right away. Some sea turtles did decide to join us while we were snorkeling.  They didn’t stay long but it was the most beautiful 6 seconds of my life when I did see them. Sometimes it was hard focusing on all the cool things beneath the surface because of the semi-strong current that took place at this rock. Swimming to try and keep up with the group while still trying to see all that we could, sometimes proved to be a difficult task. Nonetheless we all still strived and pulled through. This was probably the second best workout I had the entire trip.
One of the many sea turtles we saw around Kicker Rock

After all of our water adventures most of us decided to go back to the hostel and take little naps in the hammocks, which didn’t feel too great against the sunburns we got that day. The quiet times were the best times to reflect on the day’s activities and realize how cool the snorkeling had been. I didn’t realize it while I was actually in the water, but once I got back onto land and had some time to think about it I realized that I had just been swimming in some of the deepest water I’d ever seen. You think about how much could have gone wrong but everything just seemed to work out. We saw some pretty cool critters and got to see a part of the ocean that some people have never even dreamed of seeing.

Some Nazca Boobies

Later that night we were brought to dinner at a restaurant that didn’t even look like a restaurant, more like a backyard cookout. I had the fish and shrimp. When I looked at my cut in half fish I remembered seeing this on the handout of things to look out for while snorkeling. I probably would have felt worse if I had actually seen this fish, but I didn’t, so I continued to enjoy it. This was probably one of the biggest dinners we had the whole time we were in Ecuador, and also one of the best tasting. Our tour guide Leo then proceeded to tell us how we had all made an impact on his life and will always be in his heart. This got to me a little bit, it amazed me how we had only known him for such a short amount of time but he was still so sincere with everything he did with us. All I could think was “ Wow I hope one day I will love my job as much as this man does, and find happiness in everything I do,” because that’s exactly how Leo was, genuinely happy all the time.  I honestly believe this might have been one of the most fun days on the island and one I will remember for my whole life.
Looking down into the depths

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