Officially on the Galapagos IslandsGalapagos, Fall 2011

“Blue, green, grey, white, or black; smooth, ruffled, or mountainous; that ocean is not silent.” H.P. Lovecraft.

The quote above is one at the beginning of a chapter in a book we have to read for one of our classes – “Galapagos at the Crossroads” by Carol Ann Bassett. I decided that it is a pretty perfect way to describe my first few days on the island. They have been wild and crazy, yet peaceful at the same time – just like the ocean I am currently surrounded by.

We left the university at 5am Sunday morning to make it to our flight to San Cristobal. After arriving on the island, we were met by the head of the university here and taken to the beach, wait I mean the school. Well, I guess I could say either because they are basically the same place. Playa Mann, a beautiful white sand beach with tons of sea lions, is located directly across the street from the University. In our downtime before lunch and our first tour, they couldn’t keep us out of the water. It is beautiful. Our first day consisted of a tour and meeting our Primos, or cousins, (basically buddies who are Galapagños in English classes, they showed us around town as we did a Scavenger Hunt together, and practiced their English while we practiced our Spanish). After our Primo adventure we met our host families. We all waited on the steps of the University as what seemed to be every taxi in town made the rounds with each family to pick us up. When my family arrived I met my mom, dad, and two host brothers (ages 9 and 2 – so cute!). They took me to our house and I got settled in and then they took me on a 20-30 minute tour of the entire town. The town is really small, with only about 7,000 people, no addresses, and few street names. As my host dad said (Translated from Spanish) “I know everyone and everyone knows me.” (Although I’m not quite sure how true that really is because one night when I couldn’t find my house I stopped to ask a police officer and he had no idea who my host dad was by his name… but don’t worry, I found it!) The family I am with is really nice, and they were telling me all sorts of stories about other students they had stay with them in the past. They also said that they thought my Spanish was really good – which must mean I’ve improved in the past month, considering my last family agreed with me when I said I was bad! They assured me I would get even better in the next three months, and they would make sure to help.

The town is pretty run-down, which I was not expecting. In my mind I imagined the Galapagos as being as prestine and full of nature as Darwin experienced when he rode the Beagle over in 1835. I guess it was pretty silly of me to think. It looks a lot more like I imagined South America to look than where we stayed in Quito. Most of the buildings don’t look finished, and there is trashed piled in the streets. Aside from the initial appearance, everything here is really nice. The people especially. It is so nice not to have to be on edge and worried about being robbed, like in Quito. The island lifestyle is definitely more my type.

The university is great. As I mentioned before, it is right on the beach. It is basically a second home to all of the students. In my locker I keep my bathing suit, towel, and sun block. During the day I usually put them on when I put my backpack in after class. The past few days we have been reading for class out on the beach and on the universitybalcony overlooking the water. I can’t think of a more perfect location to study, seriously. My class right now, Evolution, seems like it is going to be pretty demanding. The professor is going away during the third week to do research on Isabella Island, so we have two hours of class in the morning and two hours of class in the afternoon for the next too weeks, and only a final in the last week after he returns. In those two weeks, however, he expects us to do a semesters worth of work – including 45 hours of class, reading a text book with daily reading quizzes, reading a chapter book, making a presentation, writing a paper, and taking both a midterm and final. I just keep reminding myself that one, we are on the Galapagos, two, the class will only last for two and a half weeks, three that I will learn SO much in that time, and four, that if I am going to be taking a class on evolution why not do it here, in the Galapagos – the “birthplace of evolution” where Darwin became famous.

Tomorrow we have a class field trip to the highlands, accompanied by a look a the giant tortoises and  a swim in the ocean nearby, and this weekend we have another field trip where we will visit a number of places around the island, and take a boat to Kicker Rock for snorkeling. More pictures to come!

Best wishes from the Galapagos – Samantha

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