Monday, January 29, 2007

Bon Voyage!

Jan. 28

It’s hard to believe that after three weeks, we are sitting here in the Guayaquil airport awaiting our departing flight. What a great time! Our final three days aboard the Floreana were perfect. We enjoyed more snorkeling, hiking, and of course minor sunburns.

As you can see from these photos, the landscapes of the islands were amazing. We spent the morning hiking to the highest point on Bartholemew and enjoying the views of Pinnacle Rock. We then moved over to Sullivan Bay. This is the most recent island to experience volcanic eruption, the last being 120 years ago, and the lava fields were rapidly cooled to maintain the texture.

The crew of the Floreana was great and treated us to an evening of dinner and dancing. With Captain Freddy and Marjorie leading us in dances, we kept the boat rocking as we attempted to keep up. We retired for the evening so that we would be ready early in the morning for a panga ride into Black Turtle Cove. Our last morning was a sunrise show of sea turtles and baby sharks in the mangrove lagoon.

Thank you everyone for taking the time to read our blog and for your comments as well. Again, we want to thank everyone who has contributed to helping us make it here and has supported us. We look forward to seeing you and talking to you tomorrow!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Just Another Day in Paradise!

January 20-24th

We are now in The Galapagos Islands. Cruising around on The Floreana, we have visited six islands (Baltra, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Espanola, North Seymour, and Floreana) each with unique fauna and flora. We have been learning about the endemic species of the islands and comparing them to their North American relatives. These islands are more than we ever expected! We have seen 12 foot high Opuntia cacti, Blue Footed Boobies, Frigate Birds, Albatrosses, bright red crabs, and the unforgettable baby sea lions playing in the surf… and that was just the wildlife above sea level! Each day also brings an exploration of a different underwater environment. Snorkeling from the beaches or around oceanic sunken craters, the fish life has completely wowed us. Along with a countless number of tropical fish, we have been lucky to see schools of Manta Rays, and we were joined by 6 Galapagos Reef Sharks on our last snorkel trip. I’m not going to lie, we were all pretty nervous about those sharks circling us!

After four days of cruising the islands, we dropped anchor at Porto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. This charming fishing village is the main harbor and biggest town on the islands. This couldn’t have fallen on a better night, since the youngest LGP Fellow, James, turned 23! We took him out for a night on the town and danced to Ecuadorian music with the other 10 passengers on our boat. The highlight of James birthday was having a special cake prepared for him by the crew. The captain, Freddie, took the liberty of pushing James’ face in the cake; which is supposedly an Ecuadorian tradition.

We look forward to a visit to the Darwin Research Station today and then a hike to the “highlands” this afternoon to see new types of plant life. The coming days should bring visits to ……..

Sunday, January 21, 2007


January 19, 2007

Today we left Tinalandia and headed South West to Guayaquil. This city is the largest in Ecuador with 3 million people calling it home. We had a relatively quiet ride and arrived in Guayaquil around noon. After lunch we had a few hours of down time so James and Bob visited the “Iguana Park”, which is a small city park that is home to hundreds of huge iguanas. These animals are so tame that they walk right up to tourists begging for food. We then took a trip to the Guayaquil Botanical Garden and the Malecon Garden. We met with the director of the Guayaquil Botanical Garden, James Perez. He told us that the 10 acre garden has 6 horticulturists and runs solely on memberships and donations. Of the 25,000 visitors it gets each year, 80% are students. We were delighted by the tropical fruit trees of mango, guanabana, banana, and mate, as well as the impressive palm and orchid collections. This member of the Ecuadorian Botanic Garden Network is another garden that has partnered with Missouri Botanical Garden in the fight for plant conservation. James also told us about education programs and special events, such as the annual Mango Fair, held at the garden each year.

After leaving the garden, Cecelia von Buchwald, Guayaquil’s head Landscape Architect/City Planner, took us through the Malecon Garden, which she developed 6 years ago. This 10 block garden was a city project that revitalized Guayaquil’s waterfront. We were blown away by this garden! Cecelia’s curvilinear designs use 280 tropical plant species, many of which are native to Ecuador, to hide such things as a parking garage and a power plant under a mass of color and shape. Our favorite part was the classical music that was piped into the garden via unobtrusive speakers. We walked the length of the waterfront garden back to our hotel only to find that dinner would be at an Italian Restaurant. We were all wondering what Italian food would be like in Ecuador, and we were rightfully cautious. Lets just say that it was an experience we will never forget!

Hike today, gone tomorrow

January 18, 2007

Today we took a hike around Tinalandia. This secondary growth forest contains more birds than we have seen at all of the other sites combined. We were delighted to be greeted by toucans and cuckoos at breakfast before seeing parrots, tanagers, and more hummingbirds on the hike. We hiked high and low through jungle trails visiting the Tinalandia River and only being stopped by a huge tree blocking the trail. Since we had been hiking along a steep ridge, the only option was to turn around and double back taking a walk through a pasture.

After lunch we visited a shaman of the Tsachila people, nick-named the Colorado Indians, in the town of Santo Domingo. These people dye their hair red using the lipstick plant that we painted ourselves with earlier in the trip. The Shaman played a xylophone made of bamboo and told us about the medicinal properties of plants in the jungle. He then brought us into his bamboo hut, showed us his sacred rocks and called the gods to protect us in the future. Tee Jay volunteered for a little fortune telling session. Don’t worry Christina- you have a healthy man and all is well!

Since we only had one night to get our games in for the Tinalandia round of Uno, we started before dinner. The updated scores are… Keri/Amy- 14, Bob/Grace- 10, James- 9, Tee Jay- 6.

Tina Land

January 17, 2007

What we thought was going to be another long car ride today turned into one of highlights of the trip. We were met again this morning by Hector and Patricio to move on southwest to the Tinalandia lodge. We had all settled in when the van started to pull over to a roadside stand. “What could it be?” we asked ourselves. a) waterfall b) bird sighting c) rare plant d) unknown. We had no idea that it would be d) unknown. After days of constant questions about the “cuyes” Hector had found the spot. It was our time to try the local delicacy, guinea pig!* Roasted on a board, this rotisserie treat might not catch on in the United States. This crispy little snack was served with potatoes and hot sauce, kind of a tough meal for 10:45 am. But as they say, “When in Rome…”

We drove through the “Sweetest City in Ecuador”, and couldn’t resist stopping to try some of the local taffy and drink, the sugar cane alcohol which used to be smuggled through the gulley we traversed while at San Jorge. Finally, we arrived to Tinalandia just in time for lunch and to get ourselves settled into our new home for the next two days.

Boasting one of the only private golf courses in South America, it was time to hit the links! We all took turns playing a few holes, losing as many balls as shots were taken. The term “turf management” takes on an entirely new meaning here. Along with the two cows meandering the course, a good time was had by all.**

*Let it be known, Amy was unwilling to try this delectable little morsel.
** Note the form of Amy’s swing. Please feel free to post any suggestions J

Hemisphere Hopping

Jan 16th
As we collapse into bed after a long day, let’s do a recap…

We started the day with our guide, Edwin Navarez of the Quito Botanic Garden, taking us into the highland rainforests near Quito. He led us on a hike up to the cloud forest, stopping as we went to learn about various endemic plants. There was an abundance of epiphytes, including many orchids, bromeliads, and semi-epiphytic plants. We passed the plant family quizzes that Edwin was throwing at us with ease (well at least the families we had heard of!).

Lunch brought us to a beautiful vista chocked full of hummingbirds. With four feeders and plenty of nectar-filled plants around us, the place was humming. We all agreed that the long tailed bird with feathered feet was our favorite (Booted Racket-tail, Ocreatus underwoodii).

Enough about hiking—we made it to the equator, twice! After hearing all about the feats that could be performed when standing on the equator, it was time to see the magic. The Solar Museum proved to be the perfect spot for this. We saw water drain in different directions on each side of the equator, Amy balance an egg on the head of a nail, and a real shrunken head.* Of course, we were more than happy to take the requisite pictures straddling the official equator line!

Just when we thought we would have a nice relaxing evening, the fiesta followed us back to San Jorge. We were surprised with a performance by a local dance group during our dinner. The traditional dances of their culture were based on the harvest season, and of course, included crowd participation. It didn’t take long for the whole group to be up on their feet- boy can Bob dance!

As they left, we retreated to our final hands of the Uno Championship Series. The San Jorge series ended with a shake up! There is currently a three way tie for second place. Current cumulative point scores: Keri-11, Amy/Bob/James-8, Grace-5, Tee Jay-2.
Stay tuned…

*Amy would be more than happy to show you her certificate for balancing the egg.

The Hills are Alive

Jan. 15th

Waking up to the cool mountain air, we had our first full day of San Jorge Eco-Lodge. The morning began with a medicinal plant walk through the foothills of Quito where we found plants to fix all of our ailments. From bruises to hangovers to prostate problems, there seemed to be a plant to fix everything. As part of the hike, we went along an ancient Inga trail that has been used since 1000 B.C., most recently used for smuggling sugar cane alcohol across the mountains to the coast. We made our way through this gulley to the top, stopping along the way to enjoy the waterfalls, and did our “Sound of Music” reenactment at the top of the hill (well maybe just one of us did).

Upon our return to the lodge we were able to take part in a service project planting native hummingbird plants around the eco-lodge. These plants were saved from being destroyed from a construction site. Most of the plants at the eco-lodge were collected in this way. The staff at San Jorge didn’t realize that they were working with a team of speed planters, so we finished the job much sooner than expected. Dr. Cruz, the director of the eco-lodge then took us on a reconnaissance mission to save native plants from an area that was to be clear cut. We collected native bromeliads and transplanted them to a protected area.