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Wow, it feels like forever since I last posted on here. In fact, I was only thinking this morning that we’ve only been home for a month yet it feels like a very distant memory.

Life is back to hectic again (what with school, work, social life etc.) but  lately I keep having little ‘memory bursts’ of how I spent those incredible two weeks. So, this is me finally getting round to doing a summary blog. Here goes:

Most surprising moment: how overwhelming some of our experiences were.

Animal sighting moment: It’s got to be the sea lions. I’ll always remember one tubster flailing around trying to get seaweed off of his back and then attempting to snuggle up to the others which, most of the time, rejected him.

Scariest animal sighting: tortoises of that size are a little bit intimidating when they come huffing up to you (or maybe I think that because I’m short). They weren’t really scary on the whole, they’re  too laid back.

Cutest moment: The sea lion pups

Striking plant life: There was a shrub with pink and orange (my favourite colours) flowers that I haven’t found the name of yet, and I fell in love with the passion pink Hibiscus.

Visually beautiful moment: Tortuga Bay: the most beautiful place on the planet.

Most frustrating moment: All of us being struck down with illness.

Quietest moment: Tortuga Bay lagoon

Most pleasant sound: People saying “Hola” to us in the street. Simple acts of friendliness made us feel welcome (or should that be Wellcome?)

Smelliest moment: Being elbow deep in rubbish at the recyling plant.

Tastiest moment: The fish dishes we had

Most relaxing: Being at the top of the mount in San Cristobal

Most grateful: for everyone that organised it for us, for our teachers believing we had a chance, for Eleri, Charlotte and Jess for providing me with many a-giggle and for the universe for creating such an amazing place.

Funniest moment: The last night when tiredness and ‘going home excitement’ got to us, and left us crying with laughter. Also, like Mr Alford said, watching ‘The Inbetweeners’ in a Galapagos hotel. Terrifically surreal.

Most heart-wrenching: Having to watch everyone suffer with illness. Walking round Santa Cruz knowing that I had to leave.

That was quite difficult to filter off so many memories. As my back garden frosts over (it’s going to reach six degrees on the weekend-time to bring the shorts back out!), it’s hard to block out memories of lying in hammocks, flip-flops being practical footwear and having to take my sunglasses rather than a scarf. I keep remembering explaining to the children at the school that -3 degrees wasn’t a rare occurence here and the shock on their faces as they comprehended such low temperatures. I wish we were still in contact so I could send them a forecast for this week!

2011 is going to have a lot to live up to…

P.S.I’m willing to admit defeat over the “no birds” thing. Maybe I just repel feathered beings.

I’m still on Galapagos time and now apparently the clocks have gone back. I’m very confused.

Still, I must admit I’m glad to be back home. Don’t get me wrong, I would go back to Santa Cruz faster than you can say ‘origin of species’ but I still get a little bit excited everytime I look at the trees starting to change colour. One thing I have noticed about Britain though is that so far I have been staring out of my window for twenty minutes and have not seen one bird. Not even a blackbird. It shows me how isolated from nature we’ve become in Britain, how we’ve distanced ourselves from it. In Galapagos, people need to step over a sea lion to get to their boat. Back here we run screaming if there’s a spider in the bath. If I was still in Galapagos, I would be tripping over finches by now (no harm intended).

We all expected Isabella to be more developed than Santa Cruz, so we were surprised to find that the population of the ‘town’ is only 2,ooo people (nearly a fifth of the population of my home village). Walking around the main area doesn’t take more than an afternoon. It was difficult to adjust to the quieter and slower pace where the only constant sound was the waves crashing against the shore. We did have a few highlights though. Seeing an unusually high number of flamingoes  in one lagoon made us feel privelleged. For the ‘Fact Fans’, there are roughly 435 (correct me if I’m wrong) flamingoes left and we saw around 14 in two days. According to our guide, this is very rare.

Another highlight was climbing the Sierra Negra volcano. Walking up the side of the volcano in the cool, misty morning was exciting as we clambered through different layers of plant life and we all felt a massive sense of achievement when we reached the top. To top it off, we saw not only one but four Galapagos hawks, a species that is said to be close to extinction. We saw two babies included in the total number, which gave us slight hope that maybe they’ll continue for longer than anticipated. Again, our guide said we were very lucky. However, the way back down was not as fun. The sun was directly above us (being on the equator and all) and temperatures reached around 30-35 degrees C. We no longer strode, we trudged. I think it was possibly the most physically challenging thing I’ve done, purely because of the heat. By the end, we didn’t even have the strength to talk to each other because it might take away some of the little energy we had left to plod along. That morning, and this will come as a shock to anyone who knows me well, I was wearing a light beige outfit. When I reached the hotel that afternoon, I was orangey-brown. Not just my clothes but my hair, face, skin, everything. Charlotte started the day with black walking boots; they are now orangey-brown as well.

Sadly, illness from various members of the group, myself included, impeded the last few days on the island. Thankfully, the warriors among us managed to make it out for our final day trip to Tintoreras Bay. Definitely survival of the fittest. It cheered us all up when we saw sea lions playing next to our boat. We were also completely surprised to find the shark canal. I expected it to be a large river with possibly one sharking lurking around. Instead, it was a tiny stream with dozens of white-tipped reef sharks swimming back and forth. Amazing!

It was good to end the week on a high, after so many lows, seeing as we faced the prospect of four plane journeys over the next few days.

Well, four turned into three as the little five-seater plane we were meant to take from Isabella to Baltra broke down before we were due to travel. Thankfully, before not during. Cue a two-and-a-half hour impromptu speed boat journey. As I’ve found out this on this trip, I don’t travel well but that jumpy, jerky, borderline dangerous speed boat journey was probably the best one. Me and Jess had to sit on the floor on a cushion to make the back of the boat lighter which felt quite surreal. The only way we got through it was to laugh.  After many giggles and bruises caused by being tossed around, we reached Baltra airport. Run through check in and off we set. Bye bye, Galapagos.

Eventually, around 30 hours and four different time zones later, we reached Britain. Much rejoicing and excitement as we got the mini bus home, all eager to see our families so we could start the story telling and a shower was desperately needed after nearly three days without one.

Washed, fed and exhausted, the jet lag set in. This is what I had to come home to:

Thanks Family

Thanks Family

Now, as it drizzles outside and Sunday dinner bubbles away inside, it’s hard not to think about ‘this time last week’. Galapagos is the most interesting, amazing, outstanding, beautiful place in the world and nothing will ever compare to some of the experiences I have seen this past fortnight. Even though I’ve been in a sleepy/alert/sleepy/alert cycle for the past few days and am still not completely sure what time I should go by, I wouldn’t change it.

But I still haven’t seen a bird.

I think it’s fair to say that yesterday was one of the highlights of my life. At least.

After travelling for two hours by speedboat, we reached San Cristobal island. After a talk on the importance of conservation in the Galapagos and an informative wander round an exhibit detailing parts of the islands history (I found out that the Galapagos islands were the place they sent convicts from America at the early turn of the century) and environmental statistics, we what can only be described as ‘trekked’ up a mount in the midday heat but it was worth it when we reached the top.

We saw the huge statue of Charles Darwin, surrounded by a tortoise and a sea lion. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t made out of tone but out of some hollow material but I understood when realising the amount of steps and the incline we had walked up. 

If I couldn’t sit on a real giant tortoise, I made sure I sat on a model one!

On the way to lunch we walked past the harbour. It was brilliant watching the sea lions in their natural habitat, lazing on the beach in the sun. However, all of the recent talks about human impact on the Galapagos hit home when, on one side sea lions were lying on a golden beach and splashng in the birght bue ocean, but on the other side they were sunbathing next to rubble and concrete blocks used to make the next building encroaching on the habitat.

After lunch we walked to a beach called ‘Sea Lion Refuge’. Now, sea lions are one of my favourite animals so I thought it was amazing to be able to see them in the water and on beaches.

It was extradordinary to be able to sit less than two metres away from them and copy their lazy, sun worshipping ways! There were about forty, fifty, possibly sixty sea lions all huddled together with at least three babies. Looking to the future, I was quite pleased to see quite a few babies because it means that, hopefully, the population is far from declining. Hearing the barks of them playing in the sea, the baby suckling and the slaps of running flippers, I was actually speechless.

Now, time to pack for Isabella….

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?

Hiya everyone.

This is my first blog since getting here. Yesterday was my first time flying and, although I enjoyed taking off and landing, ten hours on a plane did not treat me well (I won’t go into details).

After what felt like a life-saving sleep (I’d had less than four hours sleep the night before), the world seemed like a better place. Breakfast was lovely, sat at a chunky wooden dining table overlooking a gorgeous little courtyard, complete with hummingbird.

We then had an intense two hour photography workshop with Jonathon Green who is a photographer on the Galapagos Islands. It was interesting to learn how make my photos better for when we’re on the islands.

We then met up with Edison (our wonderful guide who was so friendly and a “real gentleman” as my mum would describe him). Lunch was massive. Couldn’t finish it all even though it was stunning. It was on the bus journey up to the restaurant that we got our first tatse of Quito with it’s spiralling hill roads and it’s, ahem, energetic canine population.

Quito was what I expected it to be, but surprisingly more as well. I wasn’t expecting so many art galleries and culutre centres, and the history and religion of the town was fascinating. The architecture was beautiful, completely fitting with Quito. One church we visited was so decadent, it was like every christmas decoration in the world had been put in one building. It takes ten years to restore all the gold leaf, and then they have to start all over again.

My personal highlight of the day, however, was visiting the market. The people running the stalls were so friendly and helpful when they ralised that we didn’t know any Spanish numbers apart from uno, dos, and tres. With the help of my trusty language guide, I managed to save four dollars by haggling. A wooly hat for $2 (I offered $1 but the lady didn’t accept), a bag for $10 and an alpaca jumper for $15! Bargain! The others laughed at us as we loaded back in the van laden with rainbow coloured carrier bags.

Tomorrow we head off for the Islands. I’m not looking forward to the flight (especially after last time) but hey ho, has to be done.

Now, I’m going to get ready for bed. We’re getting picked up at 6.30am Quito time tomorrow, so a very early rise for us.

Buenos Noches (night night),

Becky.

We leave the day after tomorrow and packing is just not happening.

How can I get all this and more:

into 25 kg (including hand luggage) ?

At the moment my case is the weight and size of a tubby child or a small pony.

I’m having to resort to sitting on it to get it to close and am having horrible visions of the zip bursting and leaving a trail of pyjamas, shampoo and a snorkel through the airport.

Maybe this is a lesson for my “I’ll leave it for now and do it later” way of thinking?

Must. Fit. More. In. And. Close. Zip!

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