Somehow, four weeks in mainland Ecuador flew by, and we've finally arrived in the Galapagos islands. When looking forward to something for so long, sometimes the real thing can end up being a bit of a let down. This is not the case for the Galapagos. We steped of the plane only a 100 ft away from the beach, to experience first hand the most famous archipelago in the world. Within our first hours on the islands, we were already surrounded by the wildlife that makes this place so famous. Sea lion pups were playing on the beach, sea birds were flying overhead and marine iguanas were lounging in the sun. We visited the university building in which we will have all our classes here, and were happy to find that its just a few steps away from the beach. After a short orientation, we were then able to go home with our new host families. The locals here on the islands have quickly proven to be just as friendly and inviting as those we found during our stay in mainland Ecuador. As if things could get any better, I was welcomed with big smiles and a room with a perfect view of the ocean.
Being in the Marine Ecology track, starting classes for me meant exploring the underwater world waiting just off the beach. On our first snorkeling trip we were able to see sea turtles, eels and countless reef fish. We spend our time in the classroom learning about all of the amazing life surrounding us, and are then immediately able to see it for ourselves. We practived biodiversity transects and population surveys, all of which provide invaluable experience that would be impossible to immitate in the States. While here, students also have the opportunity to assist in the research that is taking place on the islands. I have had the privelage of joining a sea turtle research team, and will be helping with a photo identification project. This means even more snorkeling, and getting up close and personal with the sea turles that nest and forage in San Cristobal. The goal of this project is to take pictures of the disctictive scales each turtle has on the side of their face, in order to identify and track individual turtles. This will provide a better understanding of the sea turtle populations here, and assist in their preservation as well.
Adding to the long list of things the island has to offer, San Cristobal also is a popular surfing destination. With some mediocre Spanish and slightly better negotiation, I was able to secure a surfboard for the three months that I am here. While I have surfed a bit on the East Coast of the United States, I quickly learned that surfing here is a different ball game. The waves here are first class, but they require braving some very rocky terain and a fair bit of caution. Depending on the beach and the day, waves can be 4-5m high. Needless to say these are not the waves I am going for, at least not until after quite a bit more practice. In my opinion, one of the best things about surfing here is the people you meet while doing it. In the water, I've met people from Brazil, France, Germany, Sweden, Australia and more. Some are here for a few days while other for a few months, but all have amazing stories and experiences to share. Though just about all of these people are much better surfers than I am, being able to talk to them and learn from them alone makes the paddle out worth it. Plus there are much worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching the sun sink below the horizon on a surfboard.
We were also lucky enough to be here during Carnival. Many people come to San Cristobal to join in all the festivities. This meant events every day for around a week, and living in constant fear of getting sprayed with foam by some of the local kids. The highlight of the week, was a big party on the beach right in front of the university. There was a huge stage where they crowned the queen of Playa Mann (one of many queens that were chosen throughout the week), and nearly everyone on the island seemed to be there. On the beach, everyone was spraying foam and throwing paint all over eachother. Being in a large group of foreigners made us easy targets, and we were all quickly coated in a layer of paint. We did however make friends with some of the kids who were targeting us, so I guess standing out has its perks.
While many moments here on the island are exciting and awe-inspiring, there are also some quiet ones. It is a small community, and a big change from the hustle and bustle of Quito. I am also without a laptop at the moment (turns out it takes a little longer to fix things in Ecuador), which has made homework assignments more difficult at times, but it also means spending a lot less time on technology. This break from the overwhelming amount of emails and social media that I have become accustomed to in my daily life, has allowed me to savor the quieter moments, and helped me to honor my goal of remaining present during my semester abroad. While there will always be a part of me than loves to be constantly moving and working, I am learning to adopt "island time" every once and a while and not do anything in particular.
The activities in this post (surfing) were undertaken during the student’s free time and were not sponsored by IES Abroad.
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<p>My name is Peyton, and I could not be more excited to study abroad. I love all things adventure, including hiking, surfing and skiing whenever I get the chance. I have had the travel bug ever since I spent a summer in Spain when I was in high school. I fell in love with the people, places and culture I encountered, and have not stopped chasing that feeling ever since.</p>