Welcome to the GAIAS blog!

This blog was created in December 2011 to help future students get an "inside look" into what it's like to study in this unique place.

On the Home Page you'll find all the blog posts in the order they were saved. Scroll around to see what previous students had to say about their experiences here! Some posts were written specifically for this blog while others are pulled from blogs that students had already been keeping. You can also see posts on specific topics by viewing the labels on the left hand columns.

Also check out the different tabs for more information on studying here!


Friday, January 6, 2012

Life at the Hacienda

As Geovanny always jokingly noted when we arrived at the Hacienda in the morning, “welcome
to your second home.” I’ve had the chance to do some pretty cool things at Hacienda Tranquila,
and really feel as though I have made a significant impact while living and working in San
Cristóbal. To start, Hacienda Tranquila is an ecotourism organization that began in 2007, within
the tiny, fifteen family farming community of La Soledad. The organization is unique in that it
is the only program in the Galápagos that works with community, environment, and social issues
by approaching them as one.

How it all works is that volunteers (up to 20 at a time) come from around the world for one to
twelve weeks to live, work, and grow in a 50 hectare area dedicated to preserving the ecological
and social systems of the Galápagos. The work can vary: volunteers one day could be battling
Mora (invasive blackberry) with a machete in the Maconia area, and that same afternoon do
English tutoring with children from the local school.

To sum it all up, here are the five areas volunteers work in at the Hacienda:

1. Reforestation: Volunteers have planted more than 3,000 trees in five different areas of the
islands to protect endangered species.

2. Agriculture: Hacienda Tranquila is currently assisting 20 families across the island to recover
their abandoned farms. Staff and volunteers help cultivate their farms so they can supply the
community with organic products and increase local production.

3. Community water access: Staff and volunteers worked for over one year to bury fifteen
kilometers of pipe along rough terrains to supply water for the community, which enabled 200
people to have access to a suitable water source.

4. Carbon sequestration: The project has planted 750 trees, specifically two types of species,

5. Children: We have created a program of hippo-therapy that uses activities on a horse that is
meaningful for children, and have served over 180 disadvantaged and disabled children over the
last four years. Additionally, we have helped furnish the school in the community and materials
for English language learning.

My work, however, has been a bit different. In the position description, I am considered to
be a program assistant and volunteer coordinator, which has come with a wide variety of
responsibilities. For example, I have had numerous administrative tasks including creating a
monthly newsletter, updating website material, managing social media content, and composing
a grant proposal. When I would come to the Hacienda to do work, you could almost guarantee
that I would be sitting outside at the table typing on my computer at least one point of the day.

Little did I know, this position would also include some operative work as well . . .

Let me start by saying I would definitely consider myself a city girl. Ask me to go camping? I
might say yes. Ask me to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu? I will take the train, thank you
very much. My experience working outside is little to none, so when Geovanny asked me to go
help one of the staff members, Carlos, build a fence one day, I gave him a look of absolute terror.
I really wanted to impress my new boss, though, so with a machete in one hand and a bucket of
water in the other, I set off trailing Carlos with the determination to try something new.

We needed to cut some branches down for the posts, so Carlos showed me a good one to work
on, and I started hacking away. Needless to say, in the time it took me to cut down one, Carlos
managed to cut four! I tried as hard as I could though, and I had a lot of fun in the process.
Another day I was doing one of my usual jobs, taking pictures of the volunteers, when the other
staff member Paúl told me he could take a picture of me working with the machete. So, he
handed me his machete and I started attacking the mora and other invasive species. (Secretly, I
think he wanted to take a break because he took two pictures and was playing with my camera
for a while after that.) It was pretty fun and I would never have guessed I’d be doing something
like that in a million years.

These, as well as other exciting experiences pushed me into unknown territories. Other days I
helped with the hippo-therapy program, played with the local INFA children, helped herd the
cows, and worked on the coffee plantation picking coffee cherries.

Although it has certainly been rewarding, it goes without saying that any service work you
perform isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. More often than not, you have a few glitches along
the way which will cause you to stumble. For example, not having adequate Spanish speaking
skills has led to some very confusing interactions with community members and made a few
situations difficult to proceed without the assistance of others.

In the end, however, I sincerely believe that my time spent at Hacienda Tranquila will leave a
lasting impression upon my life. My administrative work has allowed me to practice the skills
I have learned thus far through my master’s program, and given me the opportunity to develop
my capacity to manage and lead in a multicultural environment. My interactions with the
international volunteers and the laughs I shared with the guys, Geovanny, Carlos, and Paúl, will
stay with me forever. Moreover, the physical work I performed outside provided the chance for
me to grow in ways I never thought possible: I can easily identify many of the endemic species
we are growing here at the Hacienda and wield a machete like the best of them!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Santa Cruz – Take III

A post from Kimberly Hoover
Monday afternoon we made the familiar landing in the bay of Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. We had spent the morning finishing up our final exam for Hugo and packing for the four-day stay on the island. We checked into a hotel right on the water with an ocean view from the balconies right outside each of our rooms.
The next morning, we walked down the road to the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), to the swanky digs of Lonesome George. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this viejo, George is the last remaining Pinta tortoise of the archipelago and is kept at the CDRS in the breeding center. George was stumbled upon in 1972, when scientists had embarked on a hunting trip with the intention of eradicating all feral goats from the islands. Researchers are hoping George will continue to settle for mating with females of a similar (yet different) species in attempt to bring back a very specialized variety of land tortoise. At the Station we listened to a couple lectures and got to explore the small library tucked away in the corner of the Station. I found a stack of “free books” (Jeri: I seem to have a knack of smelling out free boxes, books, etc. This skill might be because of you?). I came away with a Spanish dictionary printed by the University of Chicago in 1977. A Corn Flakes box, duct tape, and typewriter are the tools that give this book a Frankenstein appearance as well as a restored front cover, which had probably been lost at the hands of numerous Spanish speaking novices passing through the Station. I fell in love with the book even though there are multiple pages attempting escape from the boundaries of the pliable monster jacket.
We had the rest of the afternoon free to do as we please. My friends scampered off to las grietas to test their luck at jumping from the cliffs. I spent the afternoon at a café that I had intended on visiting during both of my previous trips to this island. I finally made it, ordered a cookie and americano, and settled in with As the Sun Also Rises. I returned to this comfortable position thrice more throughout the week and finally finished the book. I’m now hungry for more Hemingway so if you have some of his works just hanging around your place, I’d love to borrow them when I get home.
Breakfast at 0630 started the day preparing for our day trip to the island Floreana. A two-hour boat ride across the choppy ocean got us there in one piece. Arriving in the bay, we were greeted by a school of dolphins! I’ve never seen dolphins before so their animated jumping about had my stomach in thrills. After all of the excitement, our large group funneled into three different chivas (open air buses) and headed for the highlands. Up here we encountered stone faces, a spring that provides the 100 person community in the lowlands with water, and more land tortoises. From the highlands, I rode on the top of the chiva with some of my comrades. Comfort was compromised by sitting up top but the view of the hills and the ocean was worth it. We were a tired group by the time we had lunch, but we had yet to visit Playa Negra. The black sand was blazing under our bare feet and added to our motivation to get in the water. We snorkeled around a bit and hung out in the sunshine. A little penguin visited us on the beach and many jumped back in the water to go swim around with him.
On Thursday, the fourth day of our adventure, our aquatic friends from the marine track of GAIAS went scuba diving at Gordon Rocks and came home with quite the whale of a tale… I mean, shark tale. My dear friends saw handfuls.. no, FISTfuls of hammerhead sharks. While the highlands of Santa Cruz didn’t present any hammerheaded fish, they did provide a relaxing day of exploring in the Scalesia forest. We hiked up one of the highest peaks (not really a peak but a hill) and saw a beautiful view of Puerto Ayora. We hiked down and went to visit los Gemelos, two gigantic holes in the ground that resulted from… a gas bubble from the underlying magma. Our guide explained it like this: “You know when you microwave a marshmallow, or milk?” (Me: No, my mother would never let me.) “When it bubbles up from the heat or take it out from the microwave” (Me: I hope she’s wearing pot holders…) “the bubble falls. That is how these holes were made. The magma is the heat source underground which caused the ground to bubble up, and then fall.” (Me: I would have never thought of that when a marshmallow was blowing up in the microwave. Mom would be so mad….)
Here, in Santa Cruz, is the largest forest of Scalesia trees in the entire archipelago (and since the trees are endemic, the world!). We wandered around, our prof in awe of the abundance of his favorite Galápagos plant, and stopped at a popular restaurant in the highlands where there were also land tortoises… more tortoises. I say that like I’m bored of them but I’m not. I absolutely love the ol’ geezers.
I’ve been rushing through this entire post just so I could get to my favorite part: Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, being on Santa Cruz Island of the Galápagos didn’t quench my thirst for the traditional Thanksgiving celebration. But let me tell you, I had one hell of an alternative. A small group of us went to Café del Mar and sat at a long table. We held hands and went around the table saying what we were thankful for. I want to say that this is not a tradition in my family. I don’t know why but we probably haven’t done this since I was a little, little girl. Nothing brings me closer to people than sharing this kind of emotional experience. After a few laughs and a few tears later, we were digging into the food, silently thankful that we got also garlic bread. I try to express to these people how thankful I am to have met them but I don’t think any words, no matter how big or how powerful they may seem, could adequately reflect how much I love them. Maybe recounting Thanksgiving combined with the ever-present and approaching departure from the islands is making me sentimental as I write this post. But in all seriousness, I have grown so much in the past three and a half months and I owe that growth to these people I’ve been spending almost every day with. They have contributed to a very welcoming atmosphere here on the island and I have discovered an immense amount about myself. To those GAIAS estudiantes reading this, thank you… you have been a very special gift para mi 
I don’t know if you believe in magic buuuut Friday definitely had that fantastical air about it. Our group headed to Tortuga Bay, a beach with sand as fine as baking flour. We played in the waves, ran around in the sand, and threw mud at each other. After all of that, all I’ve got to show for it is a sunburnt nose. We headed back to San Cristóbal that afternoon and I got home around 1700.

Darwin’s cotton, Cacti, and soccer – oh my! Plants of the Galapagos and my first soccer game.

“Look deep, deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein

The past few weeks I have been busy in my class learning all about the incredible plants of the Galapagos. The class is really interesting! Our professor, Hugo, is from Chile. He is so knowledgeable of all the native, endemic, and introduced plant species of the islands, and loves sharing his knowledge with us. The class is cut short a bit, because we are going to Santa Cruz next week. We will still be learning about the plants while we are there, but he didn’t want us to have to take any tests there, so we have our final this Monday! It is going by so fast, but I guess it has been similar to all of the other fast-passed classes on the island. So far we have gone on three field trips.

Our first was a biking trip to the highlands. We were dropped off at El Junco (the lake in the highlands) in taxis and rode down the hill into town on bikes the University rented. Along the way Hugo would stop us and tell us all about the plant species on the sides of the road. We got to see (touch and smell) all the species we had been learning about in class – from the endemic Miconia, to the introduced Mora (blackberry) that is taking over the land. It was a great way to spend our class time, and I think we all really learned a lot (including how to stop while going down-hill on a bike with breaks that don’t work too well).

Our second field trip wasn’t as thrilling (but probably more safe, because it didn’t involve bikes with faulty breaks). After our course midterm, we walked to Frigate bird trial from the University. It is only a 30-minute walk from the university to the end of the trail, and we stopped along the way to talk about each of the plants. By the end of the walk we were all able to identify at least 8 of the endemic plant species we saw. This area, because it is more arid, has the most endemic plants in all the regions of the islands – and it was very apparent, because very few of the species we saw were listed as being introduced.

Our third field trip was to Hacienda Tranquila (in the highlands again, the same place as the wedding!). This week in class we are focusing on conservation of native species and the elimination of introduced plants. At the Hacienda we helped the volunteers cut down the invasive Mora. We all used machetes, which was really fun! We had to go through and chop down the Mora growing in the area, so that they would not out compete the native species for resources. It was similar to what I did at El Junco Lake a few weeks ago with the Ecology Club students. We got to pick and eat delicious oranges in our break, and there was a beautiful view of the island from above.

Last weekend I also completed one of my goals while in South America – I went to a soccer game! It was really great, because after leaving Quito I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to go to a game – but luckily one came to me! We heard that the team Barcelona, from Guayaquil, would be coming to the island to play a game against Emelec, another team from Guayaquil. So Sunday morning we went to the stadium on the island to buy tickets – and then we went to the Jersey store to make sure we fit in while we were in the stands! Most of us bought jerseys for Barcelona, but a few decided to join the other side and get the blue Emelec jerseys. It was quite the experience at the game, when all of the locals were asking us to join their cheering sections. Sadly the game was only the “B” teams – because the usual players were busy playing for the national team. It was still really great to see, and Barcelona won – so my section of the stands was very happy! It was definitely an experience I will remember – but I guess most of my experiences on this island fall into the “I will remember that” category.
I am looking forward to our trip to Santa Cruz next week. We are going to see more native plant species, and we are scheduled to meet Lonesome George, the giant land tortoise! It will be a unique Thanksgiving – and it will definitely be the first time I have ever gone snorkeling on turkey-day!

Until next time,

Night Dive and elusive namesakes

A post from Scott Hammer

Since our professor had to go diving Friday with some bigwig donors of the university (rough life, I know) we couldn’t have class.  Think we were going to be out-done by our professor? No way.  We took this opportunity to go night diving Thursday night, and what a great decision that was.  As we got onto the boat and moved away from the dock around 7pm, the number of stars kept multiplying and multiplying until I couldn’t see and farther.  Once the lights in the sky became commonplace, the ocean lit up (but not from starlight).  Plankton has a unique property of bioluminescence and, as the boat hit them and moved them around, they lit up like fireflies underwater.  After donning all of our gear plus a flashlight, we took the backwards plunge off the boat into the dark depths.  Even though I was a bit uneasy at the idea of only being able to see what was in my flashlight at any given time, there were enough people (10) with our group that there was plenty of light during our dive.  The ocean is a different world at night.  We saw lobsters, new types and more abundant urchins, and hundreds of sea cucumbers (all of which we had not seen during the day).  My dive partner, Katy, also spotted a huge stone scorpion fish and we saw 3 different types of puffers (including my favorite, of course, the bullseye puffer).  We also confirmed the theory that rays are attracted to light as a huge diamond stingray played with our group for a few minutes as we shined our flashlights from different directions.  My favorite part, however, was shielding the light for a second and waving my hand through the water – inciting the plankton and surrounding myself in a field of bioluminescence.  Capped off by seeing some lobos hunting underwater, my first night dive will definitely not be my last.

Saturday, we set off for another day of diving at Leon Dormido with hopes of the ever-elusive Tiburon Martillo (Hammerhead shark).  Although the hammerhead increased its lead on me to 3-0, Leon Dormido is such an incredible place to dive that I almost didn't notice (almost...).  At one point I could see 13 Galapagos sharks at the same time and two of them came within a few feet of me, casually swimming with so much more efficiency than us bulky humans that it was hard not to be jealous.  An octopus, some turtles, a school of tuna, and being engulfed in a bait ball were some of the highlights of another great day of diving.  We are off to Santa Cruz tomorrow for our last week of this class and we are trying to work out how to dive over there, but we shall see.

Island Hopping Part 2

A post from Corinne Dorais

Day 3: Monday, October 31

Monday morning we caught a lancha to Isabela Island. Before leaving each island to travel to another, everybody (locals as well as tourists) must go through a checkpoint. At the checkpoint an officer opens all of your bags and looks through them to make sure you are not carrying anything organic (or any animals!) between islands. After passing inspection, each bag receives a tag that identifies what island it came from and where it is going. When you get off the lancha at the end of the trip, another inspection agent collects the tags. The inspection checkpoints are an attempt to minimize the introduction of non-native species. Animal and plant species from the mainland have destroyed ecosystems on several of the islands. Also, species that are native to one island may not be native to another and can have the same damaging effects as introduced species from the mainland.

We got to Isabela around noon. After checking into our new hostel and having a quick lunch, we walked to the small harbor and boarded small flat-bottomed boats. The boats took us a short distance off the coast of Isabela to an islet known as Tintoreras. Tintoreras (named for the sharks that rest in the nearby shallow waters) looked like another planet. A small gravel path had been cleared but other than that the islet was composed entirely of jagged volcanic rocks. At times we were forced to leave the path and scramble across the rocks because Tintoreras was covered in marine iguanas (many of whom enjoyed sunning themselves in the middle of the path.) Marine iguanas are a gray/black color and blend in well with the dark rocks, but even with their camouflage we must have seen hundreds, if not thousands.

After exploring Tintoreras by foot, we jumped in the water to snorkel in the shallow bay nearby. There we saw rays and fish as well as several sea turtles. One swam up right below me and I followed it for several meters before it sped away (they can be very fast in the water!) It was so close I could have reached down and touched its shell.

That afternoon we also saw our first Galapagos penguins! They stood very still with their wings held away from their bodies. Our guide explained they did this as a way of cooling themselves.

Day 4: Tuesday, November 1

Big, rolling waves arrived to Isabela the day before we did. They were a lot of fun on the beach and surfers took advantage of every break near town, but they didn’t make it easy to travel by boat. They were so big and powerful that we were not able to enter the lava tunnels we planned to visit Tuesday morning. These tunnels opened into the sea and could only be reached by boat, but the entrance was narrow and only a few captains were willing to risk entering, even on a calm day. Instead of the lava tunnels, we anchored in a shallow area that bordered the shore. We walked along the lava that seemed to rest on top of the water and watched tintoreras swim lazily beneath our feet. Though it looked solid from where we were standing, there were many tunnels under that lava that the sharks used to travel from pool to pool. We saw an octopus and lots of crabs hiding in the crevices and shallow tide pools. After half an hour of walking around on land, we hopped in the water to snorkel around the shallow pools and under the lava bridges. In addition to the resting tintoreras and many fish, our guide found a tiny seahorse! It clung to a thin mangrove root by its tail and didn’t move, but it was still incredible to see one in the wild.

After lunch, we snorkeled near the harbor and had a relaxing afternoon of playing cards and exploring the town.

Day 5: Wednesday, November 2

Immediately following breakfast, we piled into the open-air bus and drove about 45 minutes into the highlands to the base of Volcán Sierra Negra, one of Isabela’s five volcanoes. The garúa (a fog that often covers the islands this time of year) was so thick that we could not see Volcán Chico (one of the craters of Volcán Sierra Negra) even when we were hiking along the rim of the crater.  The sun broke through as we were hiking across the lava fields. Again, it felt like another planet. There was very little vegetation and black lava surrounded us everywhere we looked. Craters dotted the landscape. It was easy to see that the field we walked on had once been liquid lava. After several miles we turned around to hike back the way we came. When we reached Volcán Chico again the garúa had cleared and we were shocked to see that the crater was gigantic. Our guide told us it is the second largest volcanic crater by diameter in the world and the largest that is still active (it last erupted in 2005.)
We stopped at an hacienda in the highlands for lunch. After eating we explored the farm, which had beautiful gardens and several large enclosures where giant tortoises roamed. We wandered through banana trees that were mixed in with mandarins and pineapples and the owners let us each pick some fruit to take back to the hotel with us.

Day 6: Thursday, November 3

Our last full day of the trip we drove to Muro de las Lágrimas (Wall of Tears) and walked back into town, stopping at other sites along the way. During WWII, the United States had several military bases set up on the Galapagos Islands. On Isabela there were three detachments maintaining radio stations as part of a surveillance system in the Central Pacific designed to protect the Panama Canal from attack. When the US base was shut down, the infrastructure the military had built remained. In 1946, the government of Ecuador established a penal colony on Isabela using the houses left behind by the US army to house prisoners and guards. To keep the prisoners busy, the guards had them build a wall out of lava rocks. Conditions were harsh and prisoners were brutally punished, leading to the name “Wall of Tears.”

That afternoon we went to a private property in the highlands. There was a giant hole in the ground that looked like it went down at least a hundred feet. The owner asked if any of us would like to descend into the hole and a group of us jumped at the chance. We saw a pile of helmets and assumed we would be putting on harnesses and clipping in to a safety system, but soon realized that we would be making our own harnesses out of pieces of rope! After (very carefully!) tying the rope into a harness, we walked around to a steep tunnel that led into the hole. There was a rope ladder that had been laid on the ground to form “stairs” and lengths of rope we held on to as we began to descend. Soon we reached the bottom-or rather what we had thought was the bottom when we had been standing at the top.  From our new vantage point it was clear that the hole was actually a cavern that had no end in sight. The steep walls quickly turned vertical and we took turns climbing down a rope and ladder system further into the cavern. Each person in front of me quickly disappeared into blackness and it was almost impossible to hear the voices of those who had already reached the bottom. The climb took quite a while. It was damp, especially once I was deep enough that only a few rays of sunshine filtered down, and the ropes where muddy and slippery. Eventually I reached the bottom of the cavern-only to find once again that it kept going deeper into the Earth. We, however, did not go any further. At this point we were almost 500 feet underground. It was incredible to see the walls of the cavern, which were almost entirely volcanic rock.

After the cavern, we drove a short distance to Cueva de Sucre (Sucre’s Cave.) The cave was actually a huge system of lava tunnels, some so long that park officials have never found the end. We each wore a headlamp and stayed close to our guide as it was very easy to get turned around and lost. At one point we turned off all our lights and stood in the darkness. It was so dark I couldn’t even see my own hands.
When we got back to town, a few friends and I went to a bonfire on the beach by one of the hotels to enjoy our last night of the trip. It was the perfect end to the perfect trip!

Another post soon!


Camping and a Dessert Party

A post from Sarah Ziomek

We spent this past week in Santa Cruz for class, so I will write all about that, but first here is a short post on some fun things we did before.

On Saturday before we left, we went camping at Puerto Chino.  It is a very nice and small sandy beach about a half hour away by taxi.  We had to get a permit from the national park to camp (it was a huge pain – I went to the park offices 4 times….things are so much more difficult for people who follow the rules).  We bought food, rented surfboards, grabbed the blankets off our beds, and met up at 2 pm to take taxis to the beach.  Taxis here are all white pickup trucks.  The taxis dropped us off, and we told them to pick us up at 8 the next morning (there is no cell reception out there).  We set up camp then went to play in the waves and surf.  Our beach doesn’t really have good waves to play in, plus there are a lot of rocks underneath the water.  Puerto Chino is all sandy underwater, so it is one of the few places on the island to surf.    I tried surfing.  it is pretty difficult!  I got up on my knees a few times, but since the waves there break really close to shore, there wasn’t much time to get all the way up.

Afterwards there was some garúa (the misty rain), so we all stood around the table under the trees eating our PB&Js and apples.  Then we all sat in the sand and talked.  By this time (a little after 5:30 pm), the sun was going down.  After what felt like a really long time, we looked at the time and saw it was not even 7 pm!  Our friends in town were just heading to dinner, but it felt like it was so late!
We then played sardines on the beach.  It was a lot of fun because it was super dark and there was no moon.  Even with flashlights, you could hardly see, and the waves covered the sounds of people running.  There were lots of rocks to hide behind, so it was a lot of fun.  We talked some more and then went to bed around 8:30 pm.  So early but it felt like it was past midnight!

We all woke up at 5:30 and climbed up a rocky hill to watch the sunrise.  It was so beautiful!
When I got home, the power was out, so I couldn’t take a shower or charge my computer to study for my final exam.  Most of the electricity on the island is generated by 3 wind turbines on the island.  Occasionally there are electricity shortages.  Three hours later we got power, so I showered and got ready for a party at the university.  It was for all the students and their host families.  Each family was asked to bring a dessert.  Jazmin (my host mom) brought a delicious chocolate cake.  It was a fun afternoon.

my host family!!!

Fun on the Island

A post from Tina Shantz

Woohoo! I have enough internet (albeit very slow) to post again!

The week went by very quickly filled with hw, relaxing on the beach, LOTS of swimming, and the like. It was also week two of my salsa class which I was taking 3x/week for 2 weeks. That's been very fun and I've actually managed to hold my own when dancing. Of course, it's somewhat easier since the guys have to lead :)

Action shot of me showing off my salsa skills with our instructor Oscar
On Wednesday I headed up to El Progresso (the highlands) to make some homemade pizza and do a little volunteering at the Hacienda where Amy works.

Our creation -- sooo delicious!! We were all craving pizza!

Christina and I with our machetes at the Hacienda -- we didn't really get to use them but it was fun to carry them around! Amy and other volunteers use them chop down mora (blackberry) so they were actually quite sharp. 

We spent a while cleaning up around the school after pizza and then hiked up to a view point to look at the ocean - that dot way out on the right hand side is Leon Dormido where we went snorkeling!
 Sarah picking oranges with style!
Then on Friday we had another service event! Jacquie leads an after-school project in the highlands at the library. They've been working really hard to put together an event that included a play in Spanish, games, face painting, and more! Starburst and Pixie Stix did make a brief debut along with some new clowns. Together we twisted 275+ balloon animals for some VERY excited kids!

 We also made some sweet balloon hats! This is Devin and I - Devin is an undergrad student and was volunteering at the library with Jacquie! 

That night Sara and I were invited to have dinner with Shelby's host Mom Dorys. Sara and I are both tutoring and we start each session by having both our tutees (Dorys and Jose Luis) come together for some fun games and warmups. She made a delicious dinner complete with an amazing quinoa cake dessert that was surprisingly really really good!
On Saturday there were international sailboats that were coming into the harbor from a sailing competition. GAIAS students made some signs to welcome them and we were told to come to the dock around 6:15am so we could get on the boats. 

However, when we arrived there was not much going on. We sat around until about 7:30am - then we were informed that the boat drivers that were going to take up to the sailboats were not coming. Ecuador won a MAJOR soccer game on Friday night against Venezula that ensured their place in the World Cup. This pretty much meant the entire island, including the boat drivers, were chuchaqui (or hungover) and we were out of luck. 

No matter! Saturday was still a day of partying to welcome the sailors and there was lots going on starting around 9:30am. After a quick trip home for breakfast we all came back to enjoy the day! 
(Everyone who saw this picture asks why I wasn't closer - I realize I may look far away in the picture but it felt a LOT closer when the sea lion looked back and barked to make sure I knew this was her bench!)

At 10am they starting serving the "Galapagos's biggest cheviche". For a while we were hearing "world's biggest" but that honor stays with a cheviche that over 7tons of fish. 

World's biggest or not it was still absolutely delicious with lots and lots of fish! 

The music starting going and lots and lots of people were out and about! Then we found out that, to our surprise, a bartending school needed to practice making mixed drinks. This meant that there were 4 stands set up (rum, tequila, whiskey, and beer) that were tossing drinks from 10:30-2pm for free! You walked up, sampled what they had out, told them what you like, and poof - a free drink! It was too early to have much to drink but it was fine to try different creations.
On Saturday afternoon we went up to the highlands to the Hacienda again. We were there for the "festival of the sun" - however the sun didn't really feel like making an appearance. It poured and was chilly instead but still lots of fun. We watched some of our GAIAS friends play soccer against a local team and enjoyed listening to music and walking around.
That night we celebrated Amy's birthday (which is actually today) with desserts and dancing! 

While we were hanging out on the malecon around 8:30pm a school of rays appeared! They are attracted to the lights that are near the dock (the lights are blue/green why the picture looks green). They spent several minutes just swimming around the dock as we watched - VERY neat!
Sunday was spent working on hw, doing laundry, shopping for lunch food, and snorkeling for about an hour. 
Overall a really great week! Today started class, "Political Ecology", which will be from 9-12pm everyday. I'm still working on my service work at GAIAS as well as tutoring (which takes quite a bit of prep work). I think I'm going to be pretty busy for the next three weeks!!