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We’ve had a busy couple of days!
On Wednesday we visited a local school and joined in with some of their lessons. It was very interesting to see how their school life seemed a lot more relaxed than ours. We met some amazing people! In the afternoon some of the students took us to a tortoise reserve they were involved in, where people from the Charles Darwin Research Station told us about what they’re doing to monitor the islands.
On Thursday we visited the recycling centre where we leant a hand. We took tops off bottles, put paper in bags (which required getting into the wheelie bin) and worked on the conveyer belt sorting out the different recyclables. The people working there were very funny especially when some odd items came along. In the afternoon we went to Tortuga Bay which was a 2km walk but it was worth it. The waves were huge! There was over a hundred iguanas all crammed in to one place. There was also a blue footed booby about a metre away from us.
On Friday we went to the Charles Darwin Research Centre and learnt some interesting things about how humans impacting the islands by introducing new species and how the population has dramatically increased over the past 20 years. We also met Lonesome George the last surviving tortoise from the island of Pinta. He seemed happy considering.
Today we went to San Cristobal and visited the interpretation centre and went along a new trail to a statue of Charles Darwin at his first landing site on the islands. We all had our photo taken with him. After lunch we snorkelling and sea lions were swimming right up to our faces and doing flips in front of us. I was a bit scared at first but got used to their playful nature. A sea turtle swam right past me and underneath me. It was an incredible afternoon. On the boat back some dolphins passed by the boat.
Off the Isabela tomorrow.
Thanks to everybody who has helped us on Santa Cruz!!! People who have given us interesting talks, been our tour guides (Franklin and Javier), the staff at the hotel Villa laguna and the many drivers of cars and captains of boats.
The Charles Darwin Research Station is only a 15 minute walk from our hotel. On the way there we walked past the shed where the fresh fish are prepared for sale to local hotels and restaurants. The men working there had numerous helpers.
The pelicans in particular seemed to have no concept of the size of their beaks compared to the size of the pieces of fish, and would try to eat pieces that were several times larger than their heads. It reminded me of the rhyme that my grandfather taught me: “Oh what a bird is the pelican, his beak can hold more than his belly can”. One of the pelicans was allowed to break the no feeding rule as it had a broken beak and was unable to feed itself in the ocean. Read the rest of this entry »
Tortuga Bay gives a wonderful idea of the scale of geological time. It is made from the ground up spines of the pencil spined sea urchins that we saw whilst snorkelling on Floreana as well as the excrement they produce after eating the white corals found offshore. The sand formed in this way is very fine and a beautiful shade of white. Just imagine how many thousands or even millions of years that it must have taken for these echinoderms to form the tonnes of sand that make up most of the Galapagos Islands’ beaches.
The beach is reached via a two kilometre path through the dunes from our hotel in Puerto Ayora. At the beginning of the path you sign in and out again to make sure that nobody is left on the beach when the gates are locked at 6pm. The long beach receives most of the ocean swell that comes from the south.
I went there on Wednesday afternoon to check out the waves to see what sort of board I should hire. On arrival I was disappointed in the waves – a strong onshore wind was blowing the shape out of what offshore swell there was. I walked the length of the beach in the shallows (a favourite occupation of my wife, dog and I).
When I got to the end I got a shock as I saw what I thought was a dead marine iguana washed up on the beach. Upon closer inspection I saw it was breathing. I looked around and there were many more. They were just basking as we had seen them doing on Floreana, they just looked particularly strange against the white sand. I think most were females as they lacked the vivid colours of the larger males that we had seen on Floreana.
We have just spent the morning at the recycling centre for Santa Cruz. What to do with waste is obviously a serious issue as the resident population and tourism have increased.
The municipality is working hard to educate the general public about recycling. We smelt the recycling of organic waste, saw the rubbish coming in (general waste is collected daily) and the bales of waste going out which is shipped to the mainland about every three weeks for further processing. Much of the plastic goes on to China and then comes back again (and around the world!) in the form of various goods! The interpretation centre explained the problems created by waste and what was being done to try and solve them.
We then spent almost two hours helping out. Nick packaged materials into bales, looking happy and contented and very sweaty. Amy Turner, the girls and myself separated waste from a conveyor belt, each having our own resposibility - paper, glossy paper, newspaper, cardboard, different coloured glass, various categories of plastic (which I never quite got the hang of), cans.
There were bursts of frantic activity from Amy when lots of bottles came down - an awful lot of champagne is drunk in the Galapagos! We concluded that everyone in Britain should do ‘national service at a recycling centre – certainly made us think about our waste. The men working at the centre were a cheerful bunch and seemed to enjoy us participating – even if we did make mistakes.
We are off to the beach this afternoon. Nick, yet agin, is soooo excited – he is going to surf (whatever the height of the waves)!
Wednesday – We visited Tomas de Berlanga School , a private school nestling amongst vegetation with pupils ranging from 3 to 16 years old. Not quite what we might imagine a private school to be like in Britain. This school consisted of a few simple single storey buildings with open sides, roughly painted walls, simple wooden furniture, connected by larva ash paths weaving through the dense plant growth. There was a playground with brightly painted wooden swings and slides and a dusty football area. The younger children rushed around in their t-shirts and jeans with beaming smiles. The purpose of this school is to educate the children to be effective communicators in Spanish and English, to be critical thinkers and to have a passion about their environment.
Our 4 girls had the opportunity to interact with many of the teenage pupils. I was able to have a long conservation with the science teacher. She had little in the way of practical equipment and no laboratory but was so keen to encourage a problem solving approach with her pupils. A small group were preparing a project about the brain for a science fair and we attempted some of their brain teasers. I was very pleased to be able to take apart the two intertwined nails before the girls!
The Galapagos mocking bird and finches cracking nuts provided some of the background noise. We ate our packed lunch in the open air school snack bar watching the chickens chase away a cat, presumably waiting for food scraps. Read the rest of this entry »
This morning I shed a tear as I stepped off the ‘plane onto Santa Cruz. I had actually arrived on an island of the Galapagos archipelago. On cue, there were a couple of finches on a small cactus plant showing off at the entrance of the ‘disembarkation control’, a large low shed. Here we waited (I momentarily felt I was queuing for a ride in a theme park) to show our Galapagos National Park visa, pay a fee for the privilege of visiting this hallowed ground and have our bags checked for ‘illicit goods’ i.e. any foreign organic material, alive or dead, which could affect the ecological balance of the islands. (Another example of the conservation strategies in the airport cloakroom – ‘Please put toilet paper in the bin not down the toilet’.) A frigate bird flew overhead as we left the airport.
It wasn’t long before we were travelling in a small minibus through distinct vegetation zones on our way to the highlands of Santa Cruz. There were many apparently dead grey trees in the arid zone – Palo Santo or Incense trees – stretching their branches proud of the rather scrubby green vegetation. (These trees are .playing dead – they are leafless for much of the year.) As we rose higher the plants became more varied, a spectrum of greens interrupted by the occasional red and yellow flowers. Lichens hung in long strands from branches. In some areas we could see large numbers of cattle egret (– they arrived naturally in the Galapagos in the 1960’s and have increased rapidly).
We stopped in the highlands to see Los Gemelos (the twins) – a pair of craters formed by collapsed caves. Their steep rocky grey walls were draped in greenery. The dominant plant in this zone was the Tree Scalesia with many flowering plants (mostly yellow and purple flowers), ferns and mosses forming the ground cover.
This morning I shed a tear as I stepped off the ‘plane onto Santa Cruz. I had actually arrived on an island of the Galapagos archipelago. On cue, there were a couple of finches on a small cactus plant showing off at the entrance of the ‘disembarkation control’, a large low shed. Here we waited (I momentarily felt I was queuing for a ride in a theme park) to show our Galapagos National Park visa, pay a fee for the privilege of visiting this hallowed ground and have our bags checked for ‘illicit goods’ i.e. any foreign organic material, alive or dead, which could affect the ecological balance of the islands. (Another example of the conservation strategies in the airport cloakroom – ‘Please put toilet paper in the bin not down the toilet’.) A frigate bird flew overhead as we left the airport. Read the rest of this entry »
Bienvenidos i Galapagos!
Just getting ready to go out out for dinner after our third day on Santa Cruz island. It keeps on getting better and better.
Monday, after landing, we visited the first tortoise reserve of the trip in the highlands. I was surprised at how quickly the plants and trees change from bare to a blanket of leaves within a few centremeters. As soon as we hopped off the van we saw our first tortoise: a beast of a fella just quietly munching on some leaves on the roadside. At this point, we didn’t realise how many more there would be.
The thing that amazes/amazed me most about tortoises is the noises they make. Everytime they move they make a huffing and sighing noise, even for a few little steps. Also, the noise of their shells scraping the ground sounds like a boulder being pushed in a cave. Everything is such an effort for them. To be fair to them, I’d be out of breath if I had that much weight to carry.
It’s difficult to comprehend how big they actually are until you’re standing next to one.
It gave us a great chance to practice our toroise faces though!
Yesterday we went to Floreana Island which involved a two hour speed boat journey there and back. I did learn that a life jacket makes a very comfortable cushion for a nautical nap. As soon as we got off the boat we saw sea lions, iguanas, lizards, blue-footed boobies, Sally lightfoot crabs, everything! (Cue much excitement and many squeals from the group). It was everything I’d read about.
Before we could run out our camera batteries, we were taken on a tour o the highlands. To get there, we had a roughly twenty minute journey in a van that can only be described as “bone shaking”. It was especially fun when we sat at the back on the way back down! The views were spectacular and we had an opportunity to walk amongst more tortoises at the tortoise reserve. We were lucky enough to see two males fighting, mainly using their necks as weapons. A couple of the tortoises were very curious in us, Charlotte and Mr.Alford in particular, often following us as we walked around.
After a delicious lunch of fish, rice and veg (with coffee cake and cream for dessert-my favourite!) we wandered round the pier and were able to take lots and lots of photos of wildlife that was SO close to us! Sea lions lazing on the rocks, iguanas giving us sceptical looks as we got nearer, crabs scuttling away as soon as they saw us. None of the animals were particularly bothered by us being there, as long as they got to lay in the shade.
Today we went to the Tomas de Berlanga school. It was so fasicnating to speak to the local children and compare how they learn and what they study. The only study a few core subjects such as physics, biology, english, music, maths and art. The pupils were horrified when I explained our exam system to them. Their english was very good and the little kids were so cute and funny, running in between us, giving high-fives and giving us gifts of a leaf and raw pasta (pasta paintings are clearly on the curriculum all across the world).
It showed me how formal our education system actually is. The relationships between teachers and pupils is very relaxed and personal, calling each other by first names, often hugging each other and generally being tactile with one another. We wouldn’t dream of being like that with our teachers! It probably helps that the average class size is about ten pupils. I know that most of the students I spoke to had Facebook so, if you’re reading this pupils of Tomas de Berlanga school, maybe we could stay in contact?
What a beautiful island, what a wonderful day!
This shows what we got up to after lunch. Our first attempt at snorkelling and my first attempt at videoing underwater. As you can see I have a lot to learn! These are the best bits! The bits with my finger in front of the lens and the really jerky bits did not make the final edit. Unfortunately neither did the HUGE turtle that I saw and failed to video – I think that I was already recording and pressed the record button in my excitement, changing the camera to standby! Oh well, you live and learn. The next underwater footage will be much better (I hope)
Sue Benjamin and I were wondering what the strange spiky things were, they looked like a cross between a sea urchin (which we also saw) and some sort of tube worm or bivalve. Will have to look those up. Or maybe someone at St Cyres could identify them and let us know. Our internet connection here is very patchy – it took about 3 hours of trying and losing the connection, followed by an upload time of over an hour to get the HD footage up. Thanks to Mun-Keat at the Wellcome Trust for his help in getting the video online.
I love snorkelling – the total immersion in another, very alien world. The strange sound of your breathing, the rattling of the water in your snorkel. Taking a deep breath and diving down, the pressure on your tympanic membrane (eardrum), blowing the water from the snorkel when you float back to the surface! The relief of the first breath after a long dive.
One of the first things I saw was the stingray. I spotted it below me and dived down. Judging distance underwater is very difficult – ask your physics teacher why!! So I got very close with the camera – not too near the sting though (my Dad got stung when he trod on one in Florida – his foot swelled up like a balloon). Once it saw that I had spotted it – it was off. I had to kick with my fins as fast as I could to keep up. I was soon out of breath and had to drift back up to the surface and then dive down again. An amazing experience to have such a close encounter.
The turtle was amazing. Our guide said that another boat had spotted a turtle so we swam to where it had last been seen. I got separated from the girls and our guide, spun round to see where they were and this massive shape loomed towards me out of the gloom. It noticed me noticing it and changed direction. I followed (messing up the filming at the same time). Again once it knew it was being followed it gave a mighty stroke with its front flippers and pulled away from me. I tried to keep up, but it was like a motorbike pulling away from a pushbike. So well adapted to its habitat – its swimming was effortless whilst I kicked as hard as I could in a vain attempt to keep up.
Also saw lots of fish, though the footage of this was too jerky for the final edit. Will slow down and try for more panning shots, rather than blindly chasing everything that moves in the future!
The boat ride to Floreana was amazing. Karen, Amy S and I were up on the top of the boat, and though it was very windy and sore on the (un-cushioned) behind as we bumped over the impressive swell coming in (more about this later) we had a great view of the journey. Just pulling out of the harbour we saw sea lions basking on fishing boats and pontoons. In the open water we were followed by blue footed boobies and albatrosses. They were able to keep up with our boat. We were probably doing 20 knots, and they used their incredible wings to generate motion from the force of the air moving over the waves.
Getting off the boat we climbed onto the quay and straight in front of us was my favourite animal – a marine iguana, just basking in the sun! We had 15 minutes later in the day to film them. We clambered over the rocks between them, passing within a metre of them. In fact you had to watch that you didn’t stand on one there were so many of them!!
The marine iguanas were amazing – they just lay there on the rocks in the sun, warming themselves up so that their core body temperature rose enough to give them the energy to swim in the relatively cold water (caused by the Humboldt current) to graze on seaweed stuck to the bottom. Occasionally you would hear a snorting sound as they sneeze out a spray of concentrated brine to excrete the salt that accumulates in their bodies. Amazing animals – such a prehistoric look to them. Definitely number one on my must see list of the Galapagos.
In the morning we had been up to a tortoise sanctuary high up in the mountains. At that climate the forests are watered by a mist that provides the lush vegetation that the tortoises enjoy. Because the climate is moist the tortoises found on Floreana do not have a high saddle like part of their shell as they do not have to reach up to eat.
We also saw Galapagos finches bathing in a pond in the sanctuary:
Before the journey back to Santa Cruz, our boat took us around the coast where we saw a Galapagos penguin, a heron, frigate birds and tropic birds. See the Flickr site for images of these.
All in all, an amazing day on a beautiful island. We are off to a local school today. Looking forward to meeting the children and teachers. I only hope I don’t fall asleep in class after 3 hours sleep due to the time it has taken to edit the video and upload the blog to the internet!
As I noted in my inaugural post here, our little band of Darwin wannabes isn’t just visiting Galapagos… we’re going to try capture our experience the way Darwin did – through notes, ‘specimens’ and prose. Unlike Darwin (and of course this isn’t the only way we’re unlike him), we’re doing this in public and online for all to follow along live.
My proposal — ‘Galapagos 2.0′ — is why I was selected to accompany the four lucky deserving 17-year-old Survival Rivals winners (Becky Hill, Eleri Morgan, Charlotte Woodfield and Jess Woodfield), their teachers (Sue Benjamin and Nicholas Alford) and representatives from the Wellcome Trust (Amy Sanders) and Ignite! (Amy Turner). I guess I’m a kind of guide, if not to Galapagos (as I’ve never been before) then to Darwin, evolution, and the voyage of HMS Beagle.
The proposal’s full title is ‘Galápagos 2.0 Creative science learning and communication in evolution’s spectacular living laboratory’ and the gist is that our little band of Darwin wannabes will be doing what Darwin did in Galapagos. That is, we will capture our experiences, ‘specimens’, thoughts, connections and speculations – not using a pen and a red notebook, but Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.
At the end of each day or few days, we will raid our tweets, photos, videos and memory banks and write a short, illustrated blog post (using WordPress). And at the end of the trip, all of this will serve as our source material for our own version(s) of Darwin’s Journal of Researches (better known now as Voyage of the Beagle), an e-Book to be written and published approximately six months after the trip.
Darwin used layers of increasingly formal writing tools — field notebooks & specimens ➙ diary ➙ book — and so will we, except that our technology will be a little different: Twitter, Flickr and YouTube ➙ Blog ➙ e-Book.
For the full proposal (which begins with the sentence, ‘Charles Darwin would have been a blogger.’) in its original PDF format glory, click here.
What a day, landing on the Islands was an emotional experience. I think lots of us had a lump in our throats as it finally sank in that we were really here. I almost felt like kissing the ground when we landed! The islands looked beautiful from the plane, jutting out from the turquoise sea. Whilst waiting to get into the arrivals shed / lounge we saw our first finch and lizards. On the bus to the ferry we saw frigate birds patrolling overhead. The fauna is so impressive. Read the rest of this entry »