I think most people would balk at doing a school trip with their high
school. 50 of your peers stuck in the same hotel rooms and tours for
two weeks could be a recipe for hell. But when my high school Spanish
class started raising money to go to Ecuador, I was more than willing to
put aside the high school antics to make it happen.
raising money the usual way; we sold chocolate bars, had bake sales, I
think a magazine or wrapping paper scheme was involved too.
Fortunately, this was a student trip, not a five star trip, so besides
the plane tickets the on the ground costs would be fairly inexpensive.
left soon after school let out for holiday break in December. I don't
remember much about the long flight to Quito, but that's probably for
the best. As an adult today a plane full of teenagers is daunting
enough, I hate to think of what it was like then I was one of the
While the bulk of the trip would be spent on a cruise
through the Galapagos, we had a few days to explore Quito and some of
the surrounding towns. As with any good high school trip, we were
shepherded around the city with a tour guide. Stopping at all the
important churches and monuments the tour guide tried to educate us on
the history that was surrounding us, but mostly we were just maintaining
idle chatter with our friends. I regretfully look back at those
moments, thinking that I should have paid more attention.
began to get out of the city my attention was finally snagged. On one
day we went up into the hill side villages where we explored the local
market, shopping for trinkets and local items. While my classmates were
busy buying kitch, I was quick to learn about the awesomeness that was
their delicious and cheap bread. This is what I and my friend, also
named Erin, would be spending some our pesos. Warm, steamy, doughy
rolls were the perfect bus ride snack. But weren't we in for a surprise
when we were told that we would be eating lunch at local homestays!
Now Erin and I could be nice houseguest and bring a dish to share. ...
Seeing that the bread rolls cost only $0.02 each, we had plenty to
share. As it turned out, the rolls were a perfect item to be soaking up
the meat juice on our plates of roasted... guinea pig. Yes guinea pig.
And yes, it does kind of taste like chicken. Speaking of chicken
though, one of our classmates was unsure about the guinea pig and chose
to have chicken instead. The chicken was so large, I could have sworn
that the family killed the prize hen out back.
The climate of
Ecuador is very diverse for such a small land area (in relation to the
US, or even Colorado for that matter). Our group would be driving to
Guayaquil to take a plane to the Galapagos, so we made a few scenic
stops along the way. As we drove south from Quito the land became more
arid and mountainous. In fact, it was a bit like Colorado's western
slope. Only, after a few minutes driving along poeticly flat roads
shadowed large by large trees, the magnificent Cotopaxi volcano comes
jumping out at you. At over 19,000 ft, this was not Colorado's western
slope anymore. Cotopaxi is not yet the tallest active volcano in the
world, but it begins the long spine of tall mountainous volcanoes that
form the Andes as it weaves its way down the Chilean and Argentinean
As we drove closer to the coast, we stopped for two days
in Banos, Ecuador. A hilly, wet town, famous for its hot springs. It
is a cute town with water falls and meandering streets. Some members of
our group rented scooters to explore a bit more... some of those same
members also crashed their scooters and had to get stitches at the local
hospital. Remember folks, the number one cause of death for travelers
is automobile accidents.
After a couple of relaxing days in Banos it was off to the Galapagos.
landing in the Galapagos, you will go through an extensive custom's
facility. Because of the environmental sensitivity on the islands,
Ecuador is very strict about everything that comes through. For that
reason, we even had to dip the soles of our shoes on a bleach pad to
remove anything that might be trying to hitch hike a ride.
shuffling our group through customs we traveled to a dock to board our
ship. Now, this wasn't a magnificent Norwegian Cruise ship of anything
of that magnitude. Remember, we're student travelers. But there were
flat beds and most of our time would be spent on the islands anyway. My
friend Erin and I along with our friend Anne would be sharing a cabin
was about 5'x6' in area.
Now, I cannot fully recall to order or
names of which islands we visited, but now recall one passing an island
that looked like it had been scorched only to later read that when 18th
century whalers from Massachusetts were in search of an elusive, large
whale, they had eaten all the turtles and accidentally torched the
island. The island's ecosystems are so fragile that nothing ever grew
As I remember hiking along the various islands, I'm
taken back to the image of large albatrosses. They made their nests on
the rocky ground of windy ridges and I laugh at thinking about how ugly a
baby albatross is. I remember how close the sea lions let you get
while they lounge on the soft sand. They seemed to not even notice the
huge Marine Iguanas sun bathing next to them. Now, when I say huge
iguanas, I mean that the males can be over 5ft long!
If I close
my eyes to remember the iguanas, I can't help but vision the waves,
forever pounding the coast and the smell of the sea and the constant
breeze that accompanied it. I remember the feeling of the skiffs,
taking us from ship to island and back. The undulating motion from the
ocean and the blue footed boobies diving in the water. I can almost
hear the frigates, with their loud calls echoing in my memory. ...
Frigates are also an ugly bird in their adolescence....
we went to a sanctuary for the Galapagos Tortoise. Now there is a cute
baby animal. Baby Galapagos tortoises are about the size of an
grapefruit and plod slowly around with awkward steps. Their much larger
parents seem to move with more intent. Their long necks reach far out
to the bark on nearby shrubs, snapping off pieces with their sharp,
powerful jaws. The plight of the Galapagos tortoise breaks my heart.
Due to hunting and species (especially goats) the tortoise has dwindled
in population and several of its subspecies have gone extinct. A sad
example of this is Lonesome George. He is the supposed last of his
subspecies and already over 100 years old. I only wonder what sort of
changes he has seen in the world through is old leathery face.
New Years Day, we went into a small island town. We were momentarily
shocked to find dozens of piles of smoldering rubbish that were still
hot with embers from the bonfires the night before. We later found out
that this is part of the New Years tradition here. On the eve, people
gather the items that were negative from the year before and have
celebratory burnings in the streets. It marks the erasing of the bad
from the last year to clear way for the good for the new year.
makes me day dream if Lonesome George ever thinks about the years. If
he could just burn a bad memory or mistake. But then I think that
animals don't live that way. They don't think about regrets or think
they should have done something differently. To them, live is the
moments they live. But I'm sure George is lonesome. What must it feel
to be the last of your kind? Can he even know that?
of thoughts never really crossed my mind on that trip. I found his
presence mysterious and marveled in his size in magnificence. I laughed
at the sea lions playing on the beach and watched the birds dive into
the ocean. I got lost listening to waves roll in on the beach and
watching the clouds rolling in over Cotopaxi. I enjoyed the tastes of
new foods and fresh bread. I enjoyed traveling around the world with my
friends. But it is only 11 years later that I think about all of the
rest. I think about how we represent our countries when we are abroad.
I think about the hospitality of other cultures and how open and kind
everyone from around the world is. I think about the magnificence of
the planet with its towering volcanoes and isolated ecosystems. I also
wonder at the magnitude of what it means to visit the last of a species.
To witness something that might never exist ever again.
It's an eye-opening experience to travel. It's a sobering experience to remember it.
*pictures will be loaded as soon as I get around to scanning the images into digital form.