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!

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