Endemic species of GalapagosLatest update January 1, 2019 Started on June 10, 2018
Thanks to Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, we have been named 2018 Grosvenor Teacher Fellows and have been assigned to Galapagos! We look forward to studying endemic species and bringing it back to our classrooms and classrooms worldwide!
Becky and Samra
It's been about a month and a half since we completed this expedition and there is still so much to talk about! First, we updated the expedition video with 2 snippets from OUR journey! Check them out--they are of Samra and I on location and it gives you a great sense of who we are; I especially love Samra's video!
Today, I found myself deep in thought about the expedition, and I wanted to share something I wrote on December 1, 2018, that until today, I was not ready to share with you. Reading it today actually brought up so many emotions once again, and a few tears.
"December 1, 2018
I feel as if a large piece of my heart has been taken captive by the archipelago and those with whom I shared this expedition. While I write these words, I am overcome with love and sadness. I did not just spend the week with passengers, crew, and Naturalists...I spent my time with family. Leaving the ship this morning was extremely difficult. I spent most of my time fighting the painful tears now streaming down my cheeks. Did Darwin or Wallace feel this immense emotion during their expeditions? I can only imagine they did. Is this my connection to the islands or my new family? I think it's both."
That's where I stopped writing. I imagine I could no longer write from the temporary blindness of my tears, but even that small piece of writing contains so much, I think.
Since last I wrote, I have been back to my classroom and shared experiences with my students. My second graders in particular, have been immersed in my expedition while their studies revolve around South America. Just before left on expedition, we focused on birds of Galapagos and the different geological features of the islands I would visit. Interestingly enough, the study of birds and their calls turned out to be incredibly helpful. While out on the islands, I actually recognized birds before I saw them! The first time that happened on expedition, I couldn't help but smile and feel as if my students were there with me! Upon returning I relayed that to my students and of course, showed them pictures and video I took on location. They loved seeing me in the footage and when they couldn't see me, asked where I was. My students loved seeing the behaviors so much that they decided to make a documentary which is included at the end of this entry. They demanded I have an accent but used my real name because, in their eyes, I am now a scientist and expert on Galapagos. I am far from it, but I love that they see me in this new light now.
Based on the behavioral observations I made, I also created a game called "Frigatebird Tag" which students enjoyed. They were able to practice kleptoparasitism, the act of stealing food from other organisms which Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds display in Galapagos.
It has been a whirlwind of activity since my return, and still so much to share with you. In the meantime, friends, Happy New Year!
BLOG FAIL for you all, and I cannot apologize enough for the snafu! While in Galapagos, we could not post at all, so when we arrived back to North America, I switched the blog to "Mission Underway" not realizing fully that that would mean at that moment(that exact date), the mission would be considered underway. I was thinking it would mean anything we posted from that day one, regardless of the date we recorded would be labeled "underway". In reality, the posts we are posting now about the days on expedition are BEFORE I marked us "green" and, therefore, marked yellow.
All of the posts between November 24 and December 2 are the actual "underway" ones, although labeled "preparation" and colored yellow. This might not be a big deal to you, but it is killing me inside. Please bear with the snafu and enjoy our recaps :)
This morning began early. I am talking 3am, early. Last night, when we came back to the hotel following dinner, there was a beautiful wedding celebration and reception just getting started. When I emerged from my room this morning to eat breakfast and board the shuttle for the airport, the party was still going strong. A few guests were headed home for the "night" but the music, dancing, and celebration remained in full effect. This made me simultaneously smile that it was such a wonderful event and tired to think that the entirety of my rest last night was spent celebrating by so many other people. Admittedly, I slept very little last night, and probably should have just joined the party! My head had its own sort of party going on last night, running through logistics of what today would bring, triple checking the alarm I set, and running through what I placed in my carryon to ensure it was safe for security in Ecuador and Miami. Truthfully, I am still trying to be "okay" from leaving Galapagos. My heart is torn and my mind is still expecting to get up, eat breakfast, and head out on a zodiac with the expedition team. Yesterday was a little bit of a transition, but it has not really sunk in yet that I will no longer see the open ocean to one side of me and islands on the other. My eyes are welling with tears as I compose this for you, it is all still very raw.
I ate breakfast alone this morning, something I have not done since the expedition began, another harsh reality that the field portion of expedition is officially complete. Samra and I spent the rest of the day together, flight 1 to Miami and the layover until my flight to Norfolk. Samra wanted to get out and explore a bit more of Miami during her layover, which was hours longer than mine but she chose to spend it with me. I am incredibly grateful for that, it spared me a whole lot of tears. We ate together, shared stories, reminisced about the previous few days, our new family, and what was going to happen in 12 hours when we return to our classrooms. This time together was incredible as always.
Early this morning, in Guayaquil airport, we shot a pseudo-music video while the music was en fuego. That was until you reached the terminal where the music transitioned to Christmas carols. Nothing against Christmas carols but it is a harsh transition from typical Ecuadorian dance music; you will see my reaction in the video below, enjoy!
This expedition has changed me as a scientist, educator, and human being. What I witnessed through the lens of all of those pieces of me will take some time to digest and for me to be able to articulate to you all. It has truly been life changing. I have learned a lot about the Naturalist view and role in environmental science, observation, and education; this will undoubtedly influence the approach I take to science and education beginning tomorrow in my classroom. I have made incredible connections to the Naturalists that I spent time with, Samra, and other guests on board the ship. I hold a piece of all of them now with me and have learned some incredible lessons from each of them, especially about the way they carry on in life. It is truly fascinating to encounter so many different people and gain some insight into who they are and how they became the way they are.
Tomorrow, I return to my classroom and I can't wait to be with my students again, share, and hopefully articulate to them in small bits and pieces what this expedition was all about and the connections I made. Tomorrow morning will soon be upon me, my friends so for now, I bid you all adieu!
Today was incredibly tough. I began my morning at the bow of the National Geographic Endeavor II, creating a video to share with all of you. I wanted to show you San Cristobal on one side, where we would fly away from the archipelago and open ocean on the opposite side. The scenery took a dramatic change from port to starboard. As I began the video and the words "Today we will disembark" came out of my mouth I lost my calm. My eyes welled with tears and I took a moment to try to fight through them in order to speak to you. I mustered a few words and was able to eventually get myself together and complete the short tour of the view there. To say this expedition has been life changing may sound at first, a bit dramatic, but I assure you, my friends, it absolutely has been just that. The expedition is not over, we have two more days including today, but as for my time aboard the ship, it was coming to an end quickly. Saying that out loud was difficult, just see for yourself in the video! The entirety of the morning was spent between boisterous laughter and tears streaming down my face. I was able to complete short tour segments along the ship, during which I am proud to say I held my composure. Our flight (unfortunately) was on time and so we had to leave the ship on schedule. Along the way, I collected as many hugs and pictures as I could with my family. In the airport, as we headed into security was by far the worst part. This was the last time I would see Naturalists Jonathan, Walter, and Salvador. I was able to keep my composure through my hugs with Walter and Jonathan but Salvador--he got me. Something about his words and facial expressions just cut me. This expedition was truly a family and these goodbyes were incredibly difficult for me to handle. Had Samra not been there, I probably would have cried the entirety of the day. Samra's presence had a special way of calming me and I am forever grateful. Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to her and I do not know how that will go. Actually, I think by now we all know how that will go, with a lot of tears. For today though, we have each other. While waiting in the terminal, we realized that we would possibly be able to see the next two teachers that we about to begin their expedition after us. Samra and I delighted in the thought of being able to see them and perhaps talk or grab a quick hug. As we watched their plane land, which would be our plane off of the island, we ran to the large windows to the tarmac. As they brought the ladders to the plane, Samra and I hopped in excitement--this was the moment we might see our friends. Sure enough, we did. We saw Kat first, she was walking along and we yelled through the door that was left cracked open--she didn't seem to notice so I took a few pictures of her to send later. A few moments later we saw Kathleen! We yelled so loud and frequently that she saw us! She looked up and waved emphatically. We took a video as we yelled, hopped and cheered for our friends. I did not snap any pictures at that moment, rather relished in the moments we shared in real time. I was so incredibly excited that she saw us and we were able to exchange our excitement for one another. As I relay this all to you, my heart is racing, my stomach fluttering, and my eyes welling with tears. It is still very fresh, the excitement, the sadness, the experience as a whole. Amazing. After these moments, we boarded the plane to head back to mainland Ecuador and Guayaquil. I had learned during the expedition that Naturalist Walter lives in this city and I now viewed it with a little more fondness knowing that I now had family here. After landing, checking into our rooms for the night, and a quick shower, we headed on a city tour. I can tell you that I was a bit cloudy and jaded now in a city after being in a place with no inhabitants and with my expedition family. So safe, so calm, so comfortable, we were definitely no longer on the ship and it felt incredibly odd. The city tour kind of blurred by, after being in the archipelago, nothing was going to seem amazing to me, but I did enjoy the tour. We stopped in a plaza referred to as "Iguana Park" while it was teeming with land iguanas that ranged from a foot long to about 3-4. Some were in the tops of small bushes, along the ground, scaling trees, even being fed and honestly, taunted by locals and tourists. There were terrapins in a gated pond area and pigeons galore. We aren't in Galapagos anymore, Toto. I definitely said that out loud to my expedition family and we shared a few giggles. Two ladies tried to hand me their baby...this was not the safety of expedition, we were in the city now, folks. These two ladies approached me in the park, one was older and one a bit younger. They were seemingly mother and daughter or perhaps grandmother and granddaughter. At any rate, there was a definite age difference. The older of the two had a baby that could not have been more than 3 months old swaddled in her arms. This conversation happened in Spanish" Older lady: Photo? Me: Sure, I will take a picture of you! Older lady: (nods no) A photo with you. Me: Sure, you can take a photo of me Older lady: (motions for younger woman to come) A photo with the baby Me: Okay, I'll take a photo with you and the baby! Younger woman: (Points toward older woman and baby) a photo Older woman: (leans baby towards me, as if to hand it to me) A picture with you and the baby together Me: (almost puts arms out to receive baby, looks around the vicinity thinking "is this really happening right now, then lowers arms) Oh, no thank you, I would rather not I hurriedly begin to walk away and my expedition family asks what is going on. I relay the story and we all share a laugh. Truthfully, this was definitely culture shock in full effect and I started thinking about what would have transpired had I accepted the photo with baby offer. The rest of the tour was uneventful, thank goodness. I did see these vegetation rafts in the water near the coast. All I could think about in that moment was the origin of Galapagos life. It is widely believed that many species of plants and reptiles arrived in the archipelago via these types of rafts. To see them in real time at that moment was incredibly surreal and made me time travels millions of years ago. In that moment, I was an iguana from the rainforest, caught on a raft of vegetation confused about what was happening. I was surrounded by water, no buttress roots or large palm leaves in sight. It would be a long journey ahead and I was looking forward to scampering into the safety of land soon--but when?
This evening, Samra, myself and a few expedition family members enjoyed a final meal together in a food court near our hotel. It was exciting to spend one more meal together and talk about what would be next in our lives. Two sisters who are with us are headed home and will celebrate the first day of Hannukah tomorrow night. The gentlemen with us is headed back to New York briefly, then on vacation with his family. Samra and I are headed home and back to teach first thing Monday. That's the life of a teacher--back to business, Monday morning. Tomorrow, we make the final flights home and will get in late (Samra and I). Many of our expedition family will be on the early morning flight back to Miami but we will finally part ways for good in that moment. This is a difficult moment to grasp and I am certain it will continue to be difficult for some time.
Today was our last full day on expedition in Galapagos with our team of naturalists. I began the day with Naturalist Socrates on Punta Pitt in search of red-footed boobies. This is a nesting site and I was hopeful that we would be able to observe them. This hike was another one more on the strenuous side which I enjoyed greatly. At the summit points of this trek, it was incredibly windy. So much so, that I nearly had one hand on my hat at all times, I did not want to lose this baby! The hat I was wearing is my navy blue Grosvenor Teacher Fellow hat which is incredibly special to me. Along this trek, we found them, the boobies we had been searching for! Red-footed boobies are the only species which nest in trees. They have webbed, prehensile feet which are extraordinary to see. Because they were already nesting, it was difficult to see their bright red feet, but the fact that they were in trees was the giveaway that they were, in fact, red-footed boobies. We also observed the endemic carpet weed plant that decorated the scenery with stunning reds. Listening to Socrates, I learned and practiced some of his words of wisdom. Living in the moment, not the next, not the last, but this one, right here, right now, with those around you--you will never get this moment, with these people, in this state of mind again; take it in. This is what I learned over and over from Socrates and what I am hoping to carry with me forever. Sure, I know--it's easy to say that, it's easy to do a few moments that one day in Galapagos, but it's now a part of me. I am hoping to keep it in my working memory each day, to remind myself of that, and to carry it always. I can only hope that by my example, others will attempt the same. Last night, on the observation deck with Socrates, he spoke to me about patience. I was SO READY to see all the stars NOW--and what he spoke to me about was patience, wait for the moment they appear...patience, living in the moment. As I waited to see the stars I so badly wanted to see, we talked about our lives and I learned a lot about Socrates, and I would like to think he learned from me too. We broached topics of religion, science, climate change, passion, and before I knew it, the stars began to appear. Patience. Today though was all about living in the moment, taking in every millimeter of space we occupied at each stop, taking the pictures, videos, but really, just listening. Silence is magical. In these fleeting moments, we observed a blue-footed booby and his mating dance, kleptoparasitism by magnificent frigate birds, and a solitary red-footed booby egg being incubated. Silence is magical. Kleptoparasitism is a term I heard and learned of on our first day here, but had yet to observe it. Today was the day. Magnificent frigatebirds stalk boobies near the shorelines, waiting for them to find their food by plunge-diving into the water. When the booby surfaces, the frigates grasp the booby by the tail feathers, shake it vigorously until it regurgitates its food, then swoop in to capture it for themselves. These pirates were fascinating to watch, I wish I could have successfully captured this action on video but seeing it in person was fantastic. I look forward to re-telling this to my students. These right here, are the moments that my students (and me too!) will LOVE for back home. The pictures, the videos, the stories. It does not matter how much or long you study these types of concepts from books, observing it in person, on location is irreplaceable. Even when you have no footage of the experience, only stories. Storytelling is incredibly powerful as a teaching tool. Following this trek, we had time on the beach to snorkel, swim, or just take in the scenery. My plan was to take in the scenery and speak with expedition team members a bit more. That is, until Samra and the young girls had a different plan for my morning. Before I knew what was happening, my entire body was in the water, fully clothed. I put up a fight for a few minutes but quickly realized it was a lost cause and just went with it. Living in the moment. The delight on the girls' and Samra's face were worth the inconvenience of soaking wet clothes.
This afternoon, we visited Cerro Brujo, another location on San Cristobal island with beautiful, unbelievably soft white sand. This was our last few moments with our naturalist guides. As we landed on the island, the sand was not unbelievably soft as I had been told it would. In fact, it was extremely coarse upon my feet. What was going on? I chose to not mention this as we walked along the shore with Naturalist Celso. About 50 yards later, the sand changed completely among basalt formations. Here it was, the flour-like sand that I was told about before. What is going on? I asked Celso about this phenomenon and he told me that the difference in wind and water erosion exposure causes the drastic change in texture. The softer side is exposed to harsh wind and tidal waves, making the weathering and erosion more severe, resulting in finer grained sand. It literally felt like flour under my feet, heavenly. The portion with coarse grained sand is exposed to much less weathering and erosion, therefore larger pieces of shell and rock remain there. Fascinating.
The remainder of the visit on this island was "free", Samra and I spent it soaking in our last moments together on expedition, creating silly videos, talking about the experience, and enjoying a little silence. You guessed it...magical.
Just before dinner the entire expedition team enjoyed our last sunset with Kicker Rock in the foreground. Following dinner, Samra and I wrote the official Daily Expedition Report for the ship which you can read here: https://www.expeditions.com/daily-expedition-reports/187180/galapagos/November-2018/
We also took time to soak in a few pictures with our Naturalist team and I even gave a speech which nearly sent me into full cry mode. While typing our report, Samra and I already became emotional and took turns typing to stop the tears for one another. When the microphone was offered for a speech, I took the lead, speaking for the both of us. We expressed our gratitude to the Naturalists, all of the expedition team, the ship's crew, and Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Society for the opportunity to serve as Grosvenor Teacher Fellows.
We are eternally grateful, honored, and humbled to have been a part of this life-changing expedition and professional development. We have learned so much and know that more will become evident as time passes--we will discover even more that we "got" from this that cannot adequately be expressed here at this time.
We still have two more days on expedition, but tomorrow morning, we will disembark from the ship and our time in Galapagos will end.
With yesterday's eventful day now completely behind us, we were ready to embark upon Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. Samra and I headed to Santa Cruz with Naturalist Socrates who happens to be from this very island and particular city. There was something incredibly special about having Socrates as our guide, I could feel it. When we arrived at the port, he pointed out the hospital where he was born and the direction to his family's home here in Puerto Ayora. We walked to the Charles Darwin Research Center to see their current work in action and along the way enjoyed investigating the buttonwood mangrove, a species I was unfamiliar with to date although I have spent substantial time investigating black, white, and red species of the Florida Keys.
The Charles Darwin Research Center is well known for their work with tortoises, they incubate tortoise eggs from all of the islands with tortoise populations at controlled temperatures. Gender of the tortoises is based on temperature. As you can imagine, climate change has a huge effect on the sex of baby tortoises. This could result in an influx of one gender over another, which means future generations of tortoises are in jeopardy. Warmer temperatures yield females while cooler temperatures yield males. With an increased temperature over time, more females will be created and eventually will lead to the extinction of tortoises and many reptiles in general. The Charles Darwin Research Center works to help with this change in controlling the climate in which the eggs are incubated to even out numbers of each gender. Along with this intervention, they work to keep the animals independent of humans by training them to find food and live as they would in the wild. By age 5, they are released into the wild to live out the rest of their years. Everything about this was fascinating to me and I was eager to learn more. Oftentimes rehabilitation programs get a bad reputation for intervening more than necessary and causing animals to be unable to return to their natural world, but in this case, that is the absolute goal and they are knocking it out of the park. Currently, the center is managing 20 research programs throughout the archipelago on subjects such as invasive species control, seamount investigation, and managing threats of various animal and plant species. Learn more here: https://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/research
At the research station, one sign in particular caught my eye. It reads "Es la hora de actuar" or "It's time to act". This sign called to me and I knew in that moment I needed a picture. So evident in the observations I have made to date in Galapagos and the things I have learned from my expedition team naturalists, it is time, NOW to act. We do not have a plan B, no escape route, no place to go for a "mulligan" or "do-over". We have to do something here and now in order to ensure the viability of the human race and all life on this planet. Climate change is real. It is a thing. We do have an impact. We need to think about and change the type of impact we have. All of the glorious things here in Galapagos matter not if they no longer exist. That is true of the entire planet, I just happen to be here studying in this moment. Let's think for a minute about the number of endemic species here, how they came to exist, and how they have thrived and adapted through the years to create this ecosystem. Can they and other species of the world adapt to climate change, sure--but that takes time and a lot of it. This archipelago is THE evidence that natural selection and survival adaptation is a "thing". But again, this took a lot of time, evolution takes time. The rate at which climate change is occurring does not allow for the survival adaptations necessary. It will wipe out entire populations of life endemic and otherwise. Let's forget the "climate change" words for a moment. Perhaps you don't believe in it or that humans have had an impact at all. That's fine. Here are some thoughts for you to ponder. Tonight, as you are preparing dinner, consider sauteeing up a few plastic bags, I hear they taste great with a little olive oil, sea salt, and perhaps a little cayenne pepper. I might contend it tastes like seaweed. Wait, that doesn't sound appetizing? The plastic bag or seaweed part? Are you saying you do not want to eat a plastic bag? You are though. The impact that plastic grocery bags alone have made on the environment--the inability to recycle them, the sheer number that exist and are in the environment, consumed by animals you later eat, absorbed into the soil, infiltrating drinking water and plant life (which you later consume). You are consuming plastic, I assure you. Things like toothpaste and facewash have microbeads of PLASTIC that are then spilled into the environment. Plastic is in you--whether you are purposefully preparing it to eat or not. Think about that. I digress though--let's get back to the expedition. The Charles Darwin Research Center incited a great need for action in me, and I intend to stay the course. Following this visit, we took a few moments in the gift shop and exhibit hall where to our (and Walter's too!) surprise, we saw "Galapagos: Life in Motion" for sale at the giftshop. I once again, saw Walter's face light up in joy and pride as his book was proudly displayed there. https://www.amazon.com/Gal%C3%A1pagos-Life-Motion-Walter-Perez/dp/069117413X
We took a walk through town for a few moments before heading to a local school for a visit. Samra and I ventured onto a wooden walkway adjacent to the pier to take in the port scenery. There we found a pair of magnificent frigate birds perched on the pier overhang, marine iguanas sunning themselves on the wooden planks, and small boats of local fisherman peppering the inlet with vibrant blues, whites, and reds. This was a great moment of meditation for both us. We continued our walk toward the rendezvous point for the school visit and along the way, took advantage of some time to just chat together. We made it to The Rock, the restaurant where we regrouped and headed either to a local sugar mill or school. Samra and I headed to the school via bus, observing how as we climbed in altitude the density and green-ness (is that a word?) became more intense. This scenery reminded me of my time on expedition in the Amazon rainforest and jungle. I felt at home. Every muscle in my body eased and I felt a comfortable calm flow over me. While traversing to the school, the four girls on expedition enjoyed making silly faces with me and talking about thier favorite parts of the last few days. I absolutely loved that these young ladies were here with me, but it also made me miss my students tremendously. It also allowed me a few moments to think of the incredible opportunity I have each day as an educator to young scholars. It is easy in any line of work to become overwhelmed with nuances and intricacies that often cloud our passion for what we do. I am no stranger to this phenomenon and these moments on expedition allowed me to really reflect on why I became a teacher in the first place. This expedition is turning into more than just a field experience, it's turning in to a life-changing moment (or 100!).
The school we visited is an open-air, outdoor classroom. I was overwhelmed with intense feelings here. What I would not give for this type of space. I am grateful for my location and position within my school but something here, in the jungle like surroundings, open-air buildings and unique biodiversity calls to me. I do not want to leave. During my time at the school, students enjoyed their recess followed by club time where they explored their interests together. One group was exploring Brazilian Martial Arts while another completed a gardening project. I could hear the echoes of young voices singing together a few Christmas Carols. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with our two student tour guides and a teacher I stopped along the way. Our time was over too quickly, but we had to depart for lunch where we would meet up with the expedition team who visited the sugar mill.
Following lunch, we visited a private ranch/farm. This is where we would encounter the magical giant tortoises and be able to observe them closely. Before entering the grounds, we exchanged our shoes for rubber boots and headed into a lava tunnel. It's been a few years since I last went spelunking and never, had I been in a lava tube. I couldn't wait for this opportunity. I was equally excited to see if I could get quality 360 images here with the light conditions. To my great surprise, I was able to get images although I look like a possessed person in the images--I guess it is time I work on photo editing!
The next three hours, I spent on location working with tortoises, observing their behaviors, and collecting imagery for virtual reality tour creation later. Giant Tortoises are scary. Okay, not like "I'm going to chase you" scary, but they hiss. When they see you, they begin to hiss and I could not help but imagine them as dinosaurs, ready for an attack. No matter how many hisses I heard, each filled me with a little fright. I did learn the trick of walking behind them though--they cannot see you, so they do not hiss. That is, until you walk far enough to their side when their peripheral vision kicks in. I was very lucky today to collect imagery and videos of their eating and movement. I was even able to catch a male pursuing a female although when he caught up to her, he seemingly forgot what his plan was for that moment. One of my videos captures a rather large male in an algae covered pond on the move. His mouth covered in algae foam like a beard. Magical.
Later this evening we enjoyed a lecture from Solome, a marine biologist working at the Charles Darwin Research Center, studying seamounts of Galapagos. She shaerd some imagery and video of kelp she recently discovered with an underwater ROV. Fascinating! She has a blog here on open explorer as well, check it out! https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/exploringseamountsgalapagos
Following Solome's presentation, local artisans, musicians, and dancers joined us on the ship for a little bit of local culture immersion. The music must have been super exciting while I was unable to get to sleep, I felt wide awake and so, ventured to the observation deck to hopefully catch a glimpse of the stars as we left Santa Cruz. I was met by Socrates, who walked me through some of the constellations you can see here in the southern hemisphere. It wasn't long though before the clouds rolled in and the stars no longer visible.
Off to bed I go--tomorrow is San Cristobal, where we hope to see red-footed boobies!
This morning we embarked on Santiago island with Naturalist Jonathan as our guide. Jonathan has a special place in our hearts while he is our naturalist mentor. We met him back in March, when we (Samra and I), first met as well. Enamored with his passion for Galapagos, I knew that this expedition would be special partly because he was on the team.
On Santiago, we saw more finches, mockingbirds, and land iguanas but what made this location special was the history and eradication of goats on the island. Goats were introduced by visitors hundreds of year ago and had wreaked havoc upon the plant life. Scientists are nearly certain that a few endemic plants that used to inhabit the island are now extinct as result of the goat infestation. Something had to be done about this problem. The solution was to kill them. Although this may seem quite harsh, it was the best option at the time. Not only did the goats no longer exist, but their carcasses would fertilize the soil and allow plant life to thrive and continue to grow in the area. This actually sounds like the greatest of revenge, honestly. There are large open spaces still visible, where goat decimated plant populations which we are hoping in a few seasons will no longer be desolate landscape but rich with plant biodiversity. I guess I will have to return to see the progress!
This morning began quite early while the beach here is known for its difficult tidal changes. In short, as the tide changes, it can be extremely difficult to board the zodiacs from the ship and from the beach where we were located. Arriving to Santiago was remarkably smooth, but we could already see now that the tide was changing as it was time to return to the ship. Samra and I would be on zodiac two, the first was just arriving as the waves began to grow in height. We knew that when our zodiac arrived, it would be of utmost importance to board quickly, safely, and be out to sea in a hurry to avoid difficulties. Samra was first to board and did so incredibly quick and smooth, I was impressed with her ability. I swiftly followed her lead and we were set with our lifejackets. As we waited for our compadres to board the waves began to build higher and higher, we could feel the zodiac battle to stay flat in the wake. I watched over Samra's shoulder as a wave looked as if it would completely soak us and that's exactly what it almost did. We both stood up for a moment to avoid the water. What I realized as this was happening was that is literally what you should NOT do in this situation. The zodiac needs your weight in order to avoid capsizing, I resolved to not make that choice again although I knew at that moment, my bottom would be soaked by the end of this zodiac ride. The next wave was higher and grazed the top of the zodiac, and indeed my bottom was now wet. There was no going back now, I was proud that I made the choice to sit, now the zodiac, even with our weight on the sides, was rocking which began to startle the other passengers trying to board. Time was of the essence here and the fear that crept into the minds of those boarding and preparing to board would be detrimental to our departure from the island. The next wave was halfway up my back, I knew now that there was no hope of being the least bit dry this morning, we still only had a half full boat. To make it worse, that wave had taken Samra down. She stood up when she saw it coming and the force of the wave and rocking of the zodiac sent her to the floor of the boat. This also happened to a few other passengers whose fear clouded their judgment in that exact moment. Some were just not on board yet or had just set foot on board when the wave hit which caused a pile of people on the zodiac floor. Some had not yet secured their equipment and feared the salt water ruining their devices. All of this added up to complications in our launch. I worked to ensure that those who had fallen were able to get up and seated to help level the boat. The timing was against us however and wave upon wave rocked the boat and began filling the floor with water. One wave knocked me down and I scraped against the boat's dry box, leaving a bit of a contusion and scrape but at that moment, it did not matter nor did I even notice the abrasion. I wanted to make sure everyone was safe, everyone was on board and we could get off the island. A fellow passenger, Vince came to sit next to me at the box of the zodiac which helped anchor us down. I sat steady beside him and we braced the next few waves that filled the boat with sea water. During all of this action, the Naturalists still on the island ran to help push the boat off the sand. Although we were all on board, we could not drop the motor on the sand. Our weight, which steadied the boat, was now keeping us from moving. As they worked to push the boat from outside, on the inside Samra, in shock, was seated on the laps of two passengers on the opposite side from me. I could tell by her face, she was not going to be moving anytime soon, she found a spot she felt safe, and that was what mattered at that moment. Waves continued to rattle, rock, and fill the boat but we were able to be pushed into the deeper water and drop the motor. We were off, but the waves did not stop. As I sat and surveyed the boat, other called attention to my wound while I worried about the shoes. We were all barefoot and mostly had our shoes tied to our person or bags on our backs, some pairs, however, were now floating in the knee-deep water of the zodiac. For the record, there should be NO WATER at our feet right now. I used my own feet to anchor the floating shoes to the bottom of the boat until we made it to the ship. In my head, this entire time, I was laughing--the whole scene was rather comical to me, but this would not be the time to share that out loud, rather in retelling later, I would not be able to contain myself. At this time, all were safe but not everyone was able to get a life jacket before they began popping like popcorn. The water in the boat was causing them to inflate fully--by this time, however, the ship was near and we were okay, it was just another detail to highlight this event. Jonathan, our Naturalist on board, then instructed us to get the water out of the zodiac. Most passengers in shock, sat where they were and did not budge, some vocalized that they would not participate in this endeavor. Me--I am a rule follower. I was told to get the water out so I got up but in a posed wrestler like position, still holding shoes to the bottom of the boat, and used my hands to scoop water out of the boat. This was another comical detail of the ordeal, but again, I was told to do it, so I was DOING IT! My small hands and the minute amount of water they could shovel out was in itself, comical, but I was trying, darn it! The water I flung only hit the side of the zodiac and fell back in. Vince was laughing at me, and honestly, I laughed too! I turned to see how others were accomplishing the task and only found Jonathan attempting. To add to the comedic effect, he has grabbed his flip-flops and was flopping the water out of the boat pretty ineffectively, if I am being honest. Just imagine a sort of alternating doggy paddle of the flip-flops in an attempt to rid the boat of water. At this moment, I took a seat and so did Jonathan. We were nearly to the ship and would be finished with this event soon, I could already feel the warm water of a shower on my skin. At that moment, the chill of the water and wind got to me and I began to shake. We made it to the ship and I swear Samra knocked everyone down in order to exit first. She was ready to be finished with this ordeal and I cannot say that I blame her. It was not even 10 am and we had a pretty eventful morning thus far. When I exited the boat, I went to get Samra a robe from our room, she was very uncomfortable and still in shock with the event. When I returned with the robe, the other zodiacs were arriving at the ship and all were dry. Seriously? Yep, bone dry, my friends. They looked at me in sympathy to which I responded: "Clearly, you all did not get the memo on how to load a zodiac, you are far too dry!" Laughter almost always does the trick. After a wonderfully warm shower and hot breakfast, it was time for to kayak with a family that was on board. I planned to paddle board then snorkel but this adorable family with young children needed another kayaker to complete their excursion for the day. I was so excited, I had enjoyed dinner with them one night and the children were fantastic. There were two families with young children, four children total. Three of the girls are in third grade and one is in second grade. They were very friendly and when given the opportunity to spend more time with them, my immediate response was YES! Today's kayak adventure was more challenging than yesterday, the current was stronger and there was less island protection from it. It was a great workout though, and Sophia, my kayaking partner was a great navigator! On this adventure we often raced whoever was near, you see, I am a little competitive, which is only amplified when there is someone cheering me on. What a perfect pair, Sophia and I were in this endeavor! While adventuring along we saw sea turtles and Nazca boobies on a rock formation in the middle of this bay area. After kayaking, I was planning to stand up paddle board but rethought it after the upper body workout I just endured. Samra and I decided to go snorkeling together instead. We swam with sea lions, white tipped reef sharks, salemas (endemic), and creoles (endemic). We snorkeled into a cave which is where we saw one shark and the creoles. The amazing part was looking out of the cave from the belly--the mouth of the cave was the most amazing blue color you could imagine. The silhouette of fish and other snorkelers in the blue made it National Geographic picture worthy.
After lunch, we spent more time with the girls and the National Geographic Global Explorers program on board. With passengers under 18, there is a program they participate in called Global Explorers where they complete challenges each day for points. At the end of the expedition, if they earn enough points, they become certified explorers. Today, Samra, Naturalist Christian, and I worked with the girls to create their own fish! This was exciting especially when they were challenged to present for the ship that night. They took pride in their creations and practiced their speeches for the remainder of the day.
This afternoon, we went back to land with Christian to observe grotto formations. While we trekked this island we learned of a group of people who had begun illegally developing housing in the area. Galapagos has strict regulations on how many, who, and where development can happen with protects the area. When they discovered these developers and their activity, they were immediately sent away. The foundational wooden posts still remain visible.
This part of the island was incredibly unique with very brittle sedimentary rock called "ruff". There were also sturdy basalt formations with naturally occurring grottos which are formed with weathering and erosion. One section of grotto had several tidal pools and a natural bridge crossing. While most of the expedition team stayed in the grotto area, I wandered a few feet away to take some 360 images without people. I found strategic locations near rock formations to place the camera and larger rocks behind which I could hide. I did make it to the grotto area to see sea lions and parrotfish frolicking in the tidal pools. Along the way, we happened upon a sea lion nursery area, teeming with newborn pups. If you have never heard a sea lion pup make sound, just imagine a goat. That is literally what they sound like. The adults sound more like a large man belching, which was comical. As people began to spread out in the nursery, I found a spot to set up my camera 6 feet from 2 pups playing. I was going to work with some imagery and video here since there was a lot of action to capture. As soon as I set up the camera and backed away, the pups began investigating. PERFECT. I began filming and kept my distance. One pup, in particular, was very curious and began smelling the camera and rolling around just beside it. I stayed close to the camera in case something were to go wrong with a flipper or the like. I could not believe how close the sea lion pup was coming. A friend was snapping pictures of my reactions and I am so glad she did. I had it on video, but it was special to see the moments she was able to capture. Her live picture even caught me saying "what?" with a ridiculous smile on my face. It took a lot of restraint NOT to rub its belly, it was practically begging! This was an enchanting moment I am glad I was able to capture in 360 video and images. When it was time to head back to the zodiac, I also recorded a video on my phone of my reaction just as this episode had ended; it was THAT special to me.
The rest of the night is practically a blur--the girls presented their fish for the ship; Samra did a lot of mentoring here and I was extremely proud of her and the girls. I can't wait to read about Samra's recollection of today--it will undoubtedly be memorable for her as well.
Today was exhausting in such a terrific way, my friends. Take care and good night.
This morning, we set out on Isabela Island and I chose the photography walk again with Naturalist Celso and photographer, Jay Dickman. We were told upon embarking to this location that there were giant tortoises on this island but we would likely see none, maybe one if we were lucky. I did not have my hopes up, but I was looking forward to getting shots of land lizards. When the zodiac first landed, we were greeted by beautiful black sand beach, absolutely stunning. The first portion of the trek glittered with Darwin finches and Galapagos mockingbirds. I was able to find a few sections of vegetation where I could hide from the 360 camera to get a few photographs without people visible. It took a bit of creative camera placement, but it was successful. Within the first 20 minutes of the hike, we saw our first Galapagos giant tortoise. Actually, there were two, one male and one female. This was perfect for photography practice--if you are NOT using a 360. I practiced with my iPhone as the tortoises moved, ate, and stretched their necks. As most of the photographers were ready to move, I was ready to pose the 360 camera when it happened.
The male became interested in the female. As you can imagine, this is prime photography moment to capture. I had lost my opportunity, but that is okay. Mating season is just beginning here in Galapagos, these sights are definitely only seasonal and we are lucky to have this behavior displayed for observation. Giant tortoises generally move slowly, but I can tell you first hand, when mating is involved, they are on speed mode. The funny thing is though, they have burst of speed, then rest for a moment. The tortoises seem to have hydraulic power because rest mode literally means plastron (tortoise belly) to ground. It was almost comical to see the burst of speed, rest, burst of speed, rest pattern. We did get to see a bit of mating followed by the female speeding off into the brush afterward. As you can imagine, we had a few laughs and comments about the episode we just observed before moving on. It was only a few steps away that we began encountering tortoise after tortoise along the way sprinkled with land iguanas and finches. This was quite an exciting experience especially with the preconception that we would see no tortoises. At the end of this particular trek we were in for yet another treat, a juvenile Galapagos hawk. It was seemingly posing on a branch just by the beach. I took the opportunity to practice iPhone and 360 photography at this location. Upon returning to the black sand beach, I took the opportunity to snap pictures of lego figures within the basalt rock. I almost always have 3 lego figures with me, especially in the field. Remember my friend, Andres Ruzo? He and his wife, Sofia, have lego figures which are sold in the Lego City Volcano Explorers sets. Check them out here: https://shop.lego.com/en-US/Volcano-Exploration-Base-60124
For the record, yes, I bought the set so I could have Andres and Sofia in lego form. There, I said it. I also searched far and wide for a lego figure to represent me. I bring them with me when I travel, and nearly every day for the matter for opportunities that arise to do some "legography". You guessed it, lego photography. When the thought arises, I pull them out and strategically place them in locations for photo shoots. Over the summer, they traveled to Peru with me, and we took photos in the Colca Canyon after I observed Andean Condor. They also came with me to the Amazon along the Boiling River. Check out THAT expedition here: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/schnekserintheamazon
On that expedition, I was actually WITH Andres in the field, but when you have lego figures, you just take the pictures! This type of photogrpahy allows you to play with perspective, imagination, and in a unique way "travel" with friends.
Today, Andres and Sofia were with me on Isabela, among the basalt rock and beautiful black sand beach.
Upon returning to the ship, we had the privilege of attending a lecture by Naturalist, Socrates, on Charles Darwin. I feel like I need a post solely dedicated to what I learned here, which is a LOT. I spent a lot of time studying Darwin before this expedition, but Socrates opened my eyes to a whole lot that I did not find in my studies and for which I am incredibly grateful.
After the lecture, Samra and I headed out in a double kayak to explore the geology and biodiversity of the island. This was a great workout and practice of wildlife identification. While we explored, Rodrigo, the videographer, was shooting B line footage of our expedition. If you have never tried kayaking while being chased, followed, and documented by video, I assure you, you ARE missing out. As if kayaking was not challenge enough, trying to follow directions, not crash, enjoy the scenery, and not capsize was enough to exhaust even the most physically and mentally fit person. I am being a bit dramatic here, but it really was a challenge keeping up with it all.
After this kayaking adventure, we made a more challenging trek up to Lake Darwin with Naturalist, Walter. THIS is my type of trek. I very much enjoyed the faster pace and more difficult terrain. We stopped a few times to talk about natural hisotry and biodiverstiy, but this trek was about speed and difficulty while we had very little time to complete it. It was here that we encountered trees from which insense is made. The sap was fragrant although the trees were dormant. The summit of. this trek was absolutely beautiful. It overlooked Lake Darwin and it's volcano. There was a thronelike seat area that I took a few moments to enjoy, snap a few panoramic and 360 images but mostly just took some time to. take in the scenery.
Today makes the midpoint of the expedition. And with that thought, I sat on the throne and looked off into the distance. It is crazy to think that in just a few months, the landscape will be covered in lush greens as Galapagos will be in the hot rainy season. The season of life, so to speak. A quick breeze brings me back to consciousness as I realize that other people might want to take in this exact view as well. I begin my descent a little to ponder this experience a bit more before heading back to the zodiac. During this trek, I spent a lot of time talking with Walter and it was magical. I wish I could have captured his expressions as he spoke about his book, his home, and his love for Galapagos. His entire presence lit up with pride and joy.
At the bottom of this summit, the oldest known graffiti from 1836 marks sedimentary rock. Many people have visited this area, from tourists to Darwin, pirates, and prisoners--until the 1970s (I believe), there were no speicifc regulaions on this graffiti. As we boarded the zodiac to return to the ship, I could not help but notice all of the engravings along the island's edge. Some were on very steep and. high portions of rock. How, in the 1800s was this possible? Where there is a will, there is a way, eh? Those are the stories I yearn to hear.
Until tomrrow, friends, rest easy!
On this expedition, we have the privilege of having photography experts from National Geographic on board for tutorials and field instruction which makes choosing a group to trek each island difficult. Do you choose to join a photo specific trek or a natural history trek? Both have a focus on natural history and photography but the photography ones are a bit more intense with that aspect and the non-photo specific group receives more natural history information as a specific focus. Each time I have to decide on a trek, I am divided. One of my main goals here in the field is to create virtual reality experiences for students and teachers worldwide, making it seem like I should head out with photography specific groups, however, the virtual tours I create will have the natural history information embedded meaning both are equally important to the task at hand. I find myself alternating between the choices each time. Today I headed out with the photography-specific group with Naturalist Christian.
Today, we had marine iguanas galore! Galapagos wildlife is currently headed into mating season which means we were beginning to see this behavior develop and coloration of many of the animals changing. For example, the marine iguanas typical all-black appearance was beginning to gain colors along their spine of rich greens, yellows, and oranges. The male marine iguanas were beginning to claim territory and females for mating. These marine iguanas use their heads in a bobbing motion to signal to others that they are interested in particular areas and particular females. It was also interesting to learn that females and males both change color for mating season but males have the most dramatic of changes. What struck me most about the marine iguanas was their colonization together. They laid along, among, and on top of one another. They also took smaller marine iguanas and lava lizards for rides on their backs and seemed to exist in the most harmonious of ways. I couldn't help but think about how this would relate to our world and how so many of our problems would be solved with this sort of marine iguana colony mentality. There were the occasional show of male aggression in the form of head pushing displays, a simple way to decide territory but I do feel that this would be the least of issues if we adopted this type of life. Of all the perks of being on the photo trek today, one was definitely rubbing elbows with Jay Dickman, renowned National Geographic photographer. I had the opportunity to photograph alongside him and I definitely snuck a few over his shoulder, and attempt to be artistic. It was a pleasure watching him in action and gaining insight. I was able to take a few 360 images here without people visible, but on this expedition with the combination of very hiding spaces and a large expedition team, people-less photos will be scarce. That is not a priority for me this round anyway, I just want some great images with which to work. Perhaps my next expedition here will be where I can focus on this type of photography or this gives me the opportunity to work with photo editing and 360 images. I am going to be honest, it scares me. Also along this trek, we spotted flightless cormorants, sea turtles, and sea lions. I have a feeling we will have plenty of time with sea lions! Flightless cormorants are endemic to Galapagos and as their name implies, do not fly. Rather, they are excellent divers and swimmers. In fact, I was able to observe this diving behavior a lot today and I was impressed. I feel like as much as we compare Michael Phelps to a fish--we might consider a flightless cormorant for its grace in diving.
Needless to say, Fernandina did not disappoint today. This afternoon, we visited Isabela by zodiac. We were inside of a volcano.
Today, geology nerd Becky, was woke...again. Isabela is the youngest island and the point we visited today had eroded away so that the internal structure of one of the volcanoes was visible. We were feet from lava dikes which historically carried magma from earth's interior through the mouth in gentle lava flows which created the island hundreds of years ago. Among the layers of volcanic ash, igneous rocks formations, and metamorphic growths were small hardened rock formations which, when erupted from such volcanoes are considered "bombs" while they would be thrust out in stratovolcano fashion. This particular volcano is a shield formation which means typically, the lava flow is more river like, but with bombs mixed in, you would periodically see a violent spew. Among the rock formations were brown noddy terns who create their nexts in the nooks of the rock. Interestingly enough, they build their nests with things they find floating in the ocean rather than seeking it on land. Talk about opportunists. I was impressed by this behavior until the realization hit me that the microplastics and pollution brought in by the currents could pose great threat to these beautiful birds. Another great sight were the fur seals (actually sea lions!) along the rocks. These creatures are much smaller than the Galapagos sea lions we have seen thus far and enjoyed human presence a lot less. They scampered futher into the rocks as our zodiac drew near but we were able to grab a few photos first. A smal rock formation close to a cave on the island was temporary respite for two Galapagos penguins, 2 sea lions, and a small colony of marine iguanas. This was also a treat to observe, again a model for the world, I think. What a great collection of different species of animals all on a rock formation no more than 20 cubic feet. Those Galapagos penguins, though! These penguins are orginally from, you guessed it, Antarctica! They adapted to the tropical climate and have not turned back! I can not say I blame them, honestly. It is just amazing that an animal can adapt so well from such drastic climates. I learned that juvenile Galapagos penguins begin life with lighter, blue colored eyes and as they mature they become brown, much like humans. I admit, I did not know this fact until studying photography from Walter, one of the Naturalists. It turns out, this talented, passionate, inspiring naturalist published a book a few months ago with stunning photography and text. Check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/Gal%C3%A1pagos-Life-Motion-Walter-Perez/dp/069117413X/ref=sr11?ie=UTF8&qid=1544135432&sr=8-1&keywords=galapagos+in+motion
Seeing Walter with his book was a treat all to itself. His pride and dedication with this project was evident in his ear to ear smile which lit up his face. I am so glad that I was able to sneak a picture of him!
Today was also the crossing of the equator and the entire expedition gathered on the observation deck for the occasion. I took this opportunity to record a few videos of the countdown for my students which I can't wait to share. At the time of the crossing, the crew displayed a long ribbon with the Ecuadorian flag along the deck for us to cross. This was a moment that brought me to tears. As I was recording in that moment, I was counting down to the crossing and the moment got to me. How many of my friends, family, and students may never have this opportunity? I hope they do, but that really hit me in the moment and I am grateful I had this experience.
This morning, I woke up at 5am to workout which was quite an adventure. I am happy to report that I did run 3 miles, but it was probably the most challenging three miles I have attempted. It was not the distance, rather, the view. We were anchored off the coast of North Seymour Island this morning, but the ship pivoted across the horizon and traveled about 45 degrees to each side continuously. This made for amazing views as I ran on the treadmill but at the same time made it difficult to stay focused. With the view constantly shifting along the horizon, I often had the sensation that I was also turning but I had to remain facing directly forward to stay on the treadmill. I hope that makes sense. This perspective change while remaining stationary, quite challenging. That's okay though, I made it and the day began well as result. Following breakfast, we joined Naturalist Christian on a trek along the island. Highlights of our morning were seeing and observing magnificent frigatebird, both male and female, land lizards, great frigate birds, gray pelicans, sea lions, sally lightfoot crabs, and the renowned blue-footed booby.
I learned a new word today: kleptoparasitism This refers to the actions of frigate birds, the great pirates of the Galapagos archipelago. You see, frigates do not plunge dive like the blue-footed booby. They carefully stalk the blue footed booby at feeding time, waiting for them to catch their meals. Once a frigate bird spots a blue-footed booby (or any bird for that matter!) with its food, the frigate will grab the bird by the tail, shake it until it regurgitates the food then swoops in to steal it for themselves. Wow. I am hoping I get the opportunity to observe this special behavior during the expedition, but today would not be it. I did have the opportunity, however, to observe the nesting behaviors of frigates. This was certainly a treat while I learned that these birds share parental responsibility between makes and females. I was even able to see a male and female with a juvenile in their nest. I literally saw the male come to the nest with materials to build, take over incubation duties, and the female fly off. Fascinating to say the least.
Almost immediately after this intimate encounter, I saw another amazing sight--a deceased land iguana. What caught my eye first were the pristinely white teeth among an orange facade. You better believe I took numerous pictures with my phone and 360 camera. This was too great a sight to pass without photographic evidence of its existence. Across the path lay a resting land iguana next to a cactus, another spectacular sight to behold. North Seymour island had a drastically different type of sand from Santa Cruz yesterday. This sand was orange in color which is the result of iron present in the basalt rock. When this rock is weathered down into sediment and sand, it also becomes reddish due to the iron content. Between yesterday and today, I was surprised by the diversity of minerals found in the different rocks and that there was great variety within a single island. Yesterday, parts of the trek had white and yellowish sand while a short distance away was of the red hues. Perfect examples of mineral content variety and how special to be present in such close proximity to one another. As you can imagine the geology geek inside of me was in full effect. As we rounded a corner we happened upon a large area of basalt rock beach for as far as the eye could see. Among the rocks, we found an adult sea lion with a light brown fur coat. With closer inspection, we quickly realized she had a pup that was possibly only an hour or two old. The pup was not easily seen while its coat was black. Nature did it again--what a beautiful demonstration of how coloring protects the young offspring of the Galapagos sea lions. It nearly perfectly concealed the pup within the basalt rock, that was until we noticed the "rock" moving.
This afternoon, we snorkeled for the first time. We were given a choice between a beach snorkel or open ocean. I went ahead to the open ocean and was not disappointed. We saw green sea turtles, white tipped reef sharks, razor surgeonfish, selemas (endemic to the islands), and chocolate chip seastars. To date, I had never swum with sea turtles, today was epic.
Later in the afternoon, we visited Rabida island with Naturalist Salvador as our guide. Earlier today, I THOUGHT I had seen red sand. That was until I arrived in Rabida. The red of this island was unreal, absolutely stunning. We saw sea lions galore and enjoyed beautiful afternoon sun for photography practice. Too bad this is some of the worst light for 360 work. That is okay because I had a lot more time to just observe and ask questions about my observations. I did happen upon a baby sea turtle on the sand. Unfortunately, it was dead, but made for a great 360 picture opportunity.
Samra and I took a few moments to record a few fun videos together and snap a few photos. When you work hard all day, you have to take a few moments to play hard as well.
After dinner with Naturalist Jonathan, learning about his delightful frenchies and his adorable affection for them, it was time to introduce ourselves to all of those on board the ship for the expedition.
That brings us to this moment, one of pure happiness, excitement, and utter exhaustion.
Until tomorrow, friends!
Photo credits: Jennifer Davidson
This morning, we had to have our checked luggage outside of our rooms by 5am in preparation for our flight to Baltra. Friends, I could not sleep last night. I wanted to, but I just couldn't. What lies ahead of Samra and I is dangling in front of us like a deep fried twinkie that I want to devour in 5 seconds. That's actually a poor comparison, I have never even tried a deep fried twinkie.
This morning, after throwing my bag in the hall and showering, I enjoyed a delightful breakfast at the hotel. This hotel is on point, my friends! When we arrived yesterday, we enjoyed blackberry juice that was the perfect amount of sweet and tart, in our rooms was a small assortment of confections that I almost immediately devoured--but first, I definitely took a selfie.
After breakfast, we boarded the bus to the airport, where I greeted all of the passengers with a little song and dance down the aisle. They really do NOT know what they are in for with me on expedition. They had a little preview last night with my song at the airport, but the next few days, they are in for a few treats along the way.
The flight to Baltra, zodiac to the ship, and all of the onboarding meetings were a blur, honestly. My excitement for this expedition greatly overshadowed a lot of today's activity.
That is until our first zodiac to Santa Cruz.
Upon arriving to Santa Cruz, we immediately saw a collection of sally lightfoot crabs scampering among the basalt rock. We observed marine iguanas enjoying a swim alongside ducks, herons, and flamingoes.
The flamingoes. Never have I observed them with the patience and attention I did today. I noticed their lighter than normal pink color which is due to their special diet here in Galapagos, their slightly smaller size than those I had seen in the tropics previously, and their meticulous dance.
That dance though.
Something about it captured my undivided attention. As I watched in aw, I listened as Naturalist Salvador explained the purpose of this movement. You see, flamingoes have webbed feet and within the water, they move them around to mix up the sand and sediment that forms the basin of the pond. As they kick up with sand and sediment, the small organisms living within it are tossed up into the water. That is the precise moment when the flamingo bends down to gobble them. Not only are the flamingoes bending their legs and shifting their weight in a delicate dance, they make circular movements with their body, it is incredible that they do not become dizzy in the process. As I took a few moments to just observe their movement and listen to information about the other organisms within the pond, I began thinking of Beyonce.
Yes, that Beyonce. You know the song "Single Ladies"? I know you do, I bet you also know the iconic dance involved. If not, check it out here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m1EFMoRFvY (41 second mark to be exact)
I had the bright idea to make a video of my flamingo dance which you can enjoy below!
We also enjoyed a little scavenger hunt around the ship in search of a postcard some of our friends hid for us on their expedition in September! This is a fun tradition Grosvenor Teacher Fellows have, at least our class of 2018 Galapagos Fellows--each set of teachers hides a message for the next!
This was a great second day on expedition and I cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings.
This morning, I arrived at the airport around 5:30 am for my 6:40 flight. Being the day after Thanksgiving and I was not sure how congested the airport would be--the answer is VERY. Two things that make me incredibly anxious are time, thinking I will be late, and getting in trouble. If I have even the slightest thought that something I am doing or plan to do will "get me in trouble", my heart races. At the airport, the thought that I might not make the flight had my heart in full race mode. I had to stand in a long line to use the kiosk to check in for my boarding pass followed by an additional line for checking my bag.
Are you serious right now? How is this efficient? Why is this happening on EXPEDITION DAY?
As you can imagine, since this situation already has my heart racing, I am behind people that are failing at the check-in process and it's eating me up inside. My skin is crawling and supersaturated with sweat.
This. Can't. Be. Happening.
The good news is that I had a 6-hour layover in Miami, there was bound to be a later flight that would get me where I needed to be in time for that flight. It was the most important, the one that would get me from the US to Ecuador. None of that mattered though, I wanted to be on THIS flight, WITH the six-hour layover--so my heart would continue to pound until I made it through security, a few steps closer to my departure gate.
I kept my eye on the clock as I waited, not so patiently in line.
Spoiler Alert: I made it to the gate with PLENTY of time, despite what my head and brain were trying to say the entirety of this short-lived ordeal.
The flight to Miami was flawless, in fact, I landed almost 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. Samra was flying at the same time and we landed at around the same time. This was perfect. We had been looking forward to this moment for MONTHS (literally, since March!) and it was finally here. Upon landing, I excitedly sent her a text and waited patiently for her response. To my absolute delight, she landed early as well. We had plenty of time to adventure before the official expedition flight.
Andres Ruzo, my dear friend and National Geographic Explorer, recently moved to Miami and had invited us to visit his family during our time in Miami! We jumped at the opportunity and hurriedly hailed an Uber, and headed to get coffee before venturing to Andres' new home. He had suggested Panther Coffee which was only about a half mile from his house. This place is a true gem and we enjoyed a little snack and java before seeing Andres. The half-mile walk to his house later was full of excitement. Samra had never been to Florida before, so it was a treat to see her excitement and delight in a new place.
Upon arriving to the Ruzo residence, I, too, became excited, you see, to date, I had not yet met Andres' wife, Sofia, or their son, Silvano. This was a moment I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Today was already incredible from the flight, to meeting the entire Ruzo family, to the short tour of Miami and Wynwood Walls. Wynwood Walls are murals painted on the sides of buildings in an area of Miami that was previously dilapidated and seemingly abandoned. To say the least, they are stunning. To my surprise, Sofia and Andres informed us that these murals are on rotation every few months meaning that the art changes and constantly brings in new viewers which likely transfers to increased commercial traffic. This is a win on several fronts for this particular area.
Shortly after lunchtime, we returned to the airport for our big flight to Ecuador, officially marking the beginning of our expedition. As we approached the gate, I began scanning bags of passengers in the area for blue and yellow ribbons. Everyone on the expedition was given these ribbons for their bags along with special tags denoting them as a part of our group. I found a few marked bags and whispered to Samra about it. Shortly after this, a woman with a National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions board began surveying the area and marking those who were present.
"This. Is. It." I thought to myself. She went over some simple directions about how the rest of the day would flow--there would be people from National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions at every point of our transfers from this point on. So exciting.
When we were called to board this flight, Samra and I quickly made a video where we sang "Boarding Time" with the same tune as "Closing Time" by Semisonic. This would be the first of many videos we create together on expedition.
Our flight to Ecuador was seamless and we were indeed met with representatives in Guayaquil, from National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. After grabbing our luggage, it was time for another rousing video where I used "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by John Denver as inspiration.
We arrived at the hotel which was absolutely stunning. We were greeted at the door with a damp handtowel infused with essential oils and delicious blackberry juice.
Samra and I enjoyed tapas and quickly went off to bed. By 5:30am the next morning, we needed out luggage to be outside of our doors and be off to breakfast before our flight to Galapagos and embarking on the National Geographic Endeavor II.
Off to bed I go--tomorrow will be here before we know it.
Yes, that is the countdown for Samra and I. On Friday, we embark upon our expedition with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic as Grosvenor Teacher Fellows to the Galapagos. If I am being honest, friends, it still has not hit me. I double, triple, quadruple checked my substitute plans today for the week that I will be missing from school. Sure, I KNOW I am leaving on expedition but the reality, the packing, my mental state has not committed...yet. I fully believe at the wee hours of Friday morning when I am at the airport, it will all be real. This has literally been a dream since this time last year.
It was nearly a year ago that we applied and over the course of a couple months almost forgot about the possibility altogether. Speaking strictly for myself, I had definitely stopped thinking about it purposefully, until the infamous phone call appeared, I thought that there was no way I would be chosen. To my great surprise, one beautiful day in February 2018, I did receive a call from Washington DC around the time that I knew we would be notified of acceptance or not to the program. The phone call was unreal, but incredibly vivid at the same time.
The last few weeks in my classroom, my students have been exposed to a 360 VR tour I created of Galapagos based on photos from Google Street view, observed markings, behaviors, and calls of birds of the islands, and a brief study of endemic species. We are all in great anticipation of the expedition and what I will bring back. Today was incredibly special with my students. It was the last day with them before heading out on expedition. I am glad at this moment that I did not think of this too much in their presence, I probably would have teared up. Instead, we reveled in what would transpire in the coming days and what we had been studying. In fact, we spent the morning with grandparents in our class, we shared our knowledge of endemic species, and birds in particular. As you can imagine, they were incredibly excited to tell their grandparents about boobies--blue-footed and red-footed in particular. With their grandparents, we investigated bird calls and connected them to the species we focused on in class. Students and grandparents alike, reveled in this challenge, enjoying being together for their science session today.
As much as we can, we will update you along the way. The time in the field, we will be out of touch, but I am hoping as soon as we return to the United States, we will be able to update from each days expedition. It may take a little time, afterall, we are teachers and the Monday after we return, we will be back in our classrooms.
It has been an adventure on it's own getting onto Open Explorer for my blog but I'm here and ready to go!
It has been a whirlwind since Rebecca and I first got the call in March that we would be joining National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions on the opportunity of a lifetime. I remember doing my video application in sub zero temperatures while wearing my traditional Eritrean outfit. It feels like just yesterday!
Now that there are 10 days left before we embark I am starting to feel the butterflies in my stomach as I prep my lessons for my students here and my deliverables for Nat Geo.
I'm excited to see first hand the beautiful endemic species of the Galapagos and document it all for my school community at Mississauga Christian Academy. Currently I'm in the middle of teaching a unit called "Diversity of Living Things" for my grade 6 students and we have been talking about reptiles, amphibians and fish that are endemic to particular geographical locations in the world. Just wait till I use the 360 camera to get them up close and personal with a few of them!
I also want to take this moment to thank my incredibly supportive family, friends and colleagues. All the advice, shopping trips and lesson planning support has not gone unnoticed. I would not be here if it wasn't for the amazing community cheering me on.
T-10 days. Let's do this!!
Samra and I are 3 weeks from our Expedition. I can't believe it. I nervously took another peek at the packing list and sample itinerary while in Galapagos and my heart began to race. I can not wait to see Samra again, meet the other passengers on board, and begin our professional development experience of a lifetime!
This past Monday, I was in Washington D.C. for National Geographic Society's first ever Education Summit. I met up with a few other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows that I had not seen since our training together in March. I also met a few new friends in the world of education which is always a treat. After the evening's events, I left with tears in my eyes which eventually streamed down my face as I departed DC for the three and a half hour commute home. I love the energy educators within the National Geographic bring and every single person is so inspiring. I love hearing stories from their classrooms, triumphs, lessons learned, goals for the future, and collaborating. It's overwhelming in a great way and always leaves me a little sad to part ways with my family, but re-energized.
I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.
When I arrived home tonight, a special package greeted me from inside the mailbox. It is my final itinerary, tickets, confirmations, luggage tags, and official name tag. To say that I am excited about this opportunity is a gross understatement. To see this package has sent me over the edge with joy, thankfulness, and eagerness as to what the next 3 weeks will bring and of course, the actual expedition as well.
Long time, no post. Don't worry--we haven't been slacking, we've been teaching! Samra and I have begun our new school year and each day, we draw closer to our much-anticipated expedition together to Galapagos. We have watched four other Grosvenor Fellows complete their expedition, and it has been incredible to see the experience through their eyes, hear their advice, and read their reflections.
Becky: Having been on my first field expedition this past summer, I know that this one will be amazing if I wasn't convinced previously. I am in the process of narrowing my personal and professional focus for the expedition. I know that I will be studying endemic species while in Galapagos, but I will also take a specific water quality focus. I am trying to decide what equipment I will bring to gather and analyze data which is proving to be quite a challenge. I know that I will bring a GoPro, 360 camera, and thermal camera for data, but for specific water sample and analysis, I am still undecided. Despite my current indecisiveness, I know that whatever I bring, I will be able to gather great data to use and share with the education world. I have created a VR preview tour for my students which I will be using in the lab with them soon and look forward to making a new one with my own footage after I return in December. At our local aquarium, there is also a 3D Imax film on Galapagos that we will bring students to view as a kick off to my expedition and our study of biodiversity of South America.
Soon, I will also have a hallway display with preview materials for all students in my school complete with photos, QR codes, and links to this blog, my podcast, and website.
As if this opportunity were not AMAZING enough already--I want to share with you one reason I am looking forward to this expedition!
Reason 1 (for today): Samra Zeweldi, my roommate! I met Samra one amazing day in Washington DC in March of this year. This year's class of Grosvenor Teacher Fellows were all notified in February 2017, of selection. At the same time, however, we were instructed that we could not notify the public until a later date. This was an incredible secret to keep. In March, all 40 of us would be in Washington DC to meet in person for the first time and be able to freely talk about our selection. This, of course, was only with one another, again, we had to keep this secret under wraps a little while longer. Not only would we meet our fellow . . . Fellows, we would meet our roommate(s). This was it! I was going to meet Samra, and I have to tell you I was incredibly excited and nervous at the same time. I can be a lot to handle, I talk a lot, I am rather loud to boot, and I have a lot of energy. Oh yeah, I am also THAT morning person--so meeting Samra was filled with energy and I could only hope she would embrace me for me, and we would be on a magical journey together. As fate would have it--we were instant friends! Samra is a cool, calmer than me type--so we balance each other out well. We hold the same values as educators and human beings which was also amazing to learn! I could not be more happy or excited to be on expedition with her!
Remember how I said Galápagos is always forming? Well, here you go!
Check out this article on current volcanic activity in Galápagos!
Galapagos, huh? Yep. Knowing that I am traveling to Galapagos in November is still pretty surreal. A few things have happened since I heard the news in early February that have made me realize this IS happening, but on many days, I still feel like I dreamed all of this up.
What's so great about Galapagos? Are you serious, dude?
Well, I'll humor you for a few minutes. First, let me tell you that I am a science teacher and write curriculum for grades Pk-5.
Galapagos is THE PLACE to study scientific concepts such as biodiversity, landforms, natural selection, and endemic species. First off, Galapagos is an archipelago formed and continuously changing/forming on the Nazca tectonic plate. It is conveniently located over a hotspot, which means that magma from the earth's mantle is continuously pushing towards and through the earth's crust which in turn creates new land. I could speak on this for days, there is so much to say, but believe me, this ALONE is INCREDIBLE to study and to be there in November (remember, I am taking YOU with me!) will be amazing.
Endemic species: First off, let me define that in case you are unsure what it truly means. Endemic species are organisms that live NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD. Again, this ALONE is fascinating. Marine iguanas, giant tortoises, galapagos penguin (yes, I said PENGUIN), and flightless cormorant are the most famous. I have been asked what I am most excited to experience or see in Galapagos and I truly cannot decide. I just want to see it ALL!!
My brief overview here does not in any way do Galapagos justice, I suggest visiting this site: https://www.galapagos.org/aboutgalapagos/about-galapagos/history/ to REALLY learn more!
Can you believe I have not even BEGUN to talk about Darwin? Yeah, that is going to have to be a different post--there is A LOT to say there as well!
In the meantime, think about Galapagos and ASK QUESTIONS! I would love to hear from you about what you already know, what resources you have used to learn more, and what you want to know. Feel free to comment away! :)
Photo Credit: Bennett Goldberg
The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (GTF) Program is a professional development opportunity for Pre-K-12 educators made possible by a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society. An annual competitive application process is used to select educators and host them aboard Lindblad Expeditions’ voyages for a life-changing, field-based experience.
These exemplary educators complete a series of deliverables that enable them to transfer their onboard experience into new ways to teach students and engage colleagues. Through this experience, they bring new geographic awareness into their learning environments and communities. Fellows also take on a two-year leadership commitment to support educators with National Geographic. Throughout their commitment, Fellows may be asked to conduct webinars, participate in meetups, and serve as a mentor to other educators.
The program is named in honor of Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Chairman Emeritus National Geographic Society in recognition of his decades-long work supporting Pre-K-12 teachers and promoting geography education across the U.S. and Canada.
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