Travelers illness(es), snorkeling, and scuba diving

¡Hola!

Okay, I know…It has really been awhile this time.

But hey, I am living on island time now!

Sunset on Playa Mann (Photo By: Kayelyn Smith)

It has been a wild ride so far here on San Cristobal in the Galapagos. I have learned so much about the island, the wildlife, and the locals. I had an adjustment period when I got to Quito in January and I had yet another when I arrived here too.

However, I am WAY more happier here than I ever was in Quito. I have learned from living there that I am not a city girl. Also, I found it pretty easy to adjust to island life and the small town. I think this was so easy for me because my university, Juniata College, is a small campus located in a small town. My high school also had a small number of students and was in a town where everyone knew each other. Therefore, being here just reminds me of being in those environments, which I think is very different for some people in my program who are from cities or larger universities.

Before I get into the details of island life, let me tell you a story about my journey from the mainland to here.

Quito -> Galapagos

I was supposed to leave on Sunday, February 3rd. I was excited because I was sick of the city and was just ready to be at the beach. However, I woke up that morning and vomited. A lot. I was so nauseated. A lot of thoughts went through my head, “Is my Crohn’s flaring? What did I eat? What do I do?”. I did what I do best and pulled myself together the best I could. I was able to take a taxi to the university where we were going to board the bus for the airport. Long story short, I vomited a lot more and ended up having to miss my flight. I went to the clinic and was treated for a stomach infection, which is common in travelers because the food is so different. My program coordinator here helped me through every step at the doctor, getting medicine, and changing my flight. I spent 2 extra days in Quito recovering so that I would be at my best when I arrive for the islands. I watched a lot of Netflix.

When the plane was approaching San Cristobal, I looked out the window with the elderly Ecuadorian men I was sitting with in awe. The beautiful blue waters and green landscapes were unbelievable. As we descended from the air to land, I could not help but tear up a little. It was finally happening. My dream was coming true. I was going to LIVE in the Galapagos.

Finalmente

Photo By: Ethan Letourneau

When I got off the airplane, it was my first time directly walking down the steps onto the landing strip. My program coordinator for the island picked me up from the airport and took me first to the campus to put my medication in the fridge since my Humira is so temperature sensitive. We then went to my host family’s house.

My host family situation is just my host mom currently, but I really enjoy it because I get a lot of attention. My host mom’s nick name is Bachita and she is very happy to have me here. She enjoys hosting people, cooking, and cleaning. We are able to communicate in Spanish because I was able to practice my speaking skills so much in Quito with my taxi drivers. I am really glad I took Spanish all throughout high school and in college so far. Even though there is a lot of tourism here, not everyone speaks English. I have really enjoyed being able to practice so much and learn new vocabulary and geographical differences in the language. Overall, I love living with Bachita and she takes good care of me!

But wait, aren’t you taking classes?

The JC Banner in the office at the GAIAS campus

Yes! I have just finished two modules, which was the past 6 weeks of classes (each course was 3 weeks).

My first course was Marine Life. This course was focused on studying specific groups in the marine ecosystem. We had lecture from 9am to 12pm on days when we did not have field trips. We took advantage of our surrounding environment during the class. We snorkeled at Playa Mann, the beach right outside of campus, and Cerro Tijeretas, to study the fish species there. In addition, we snorkeled at Kicker Rock, also known as León Dormido due to the shape of the rock looking like a “sleeping lion”. While there, we saw many shark species and birds.

My class also visited La Loberia to study both the terrestrial and aquatic species that can be found there. Unfortunately, this is when stomach plague number two hit me. The night before, I began vomiting multiple times. There is one public hospital on the island and it is the same place you go for a minor issue such as a bad cough. My host mom took me there for rehydration and anti nausea medication. I spent about 12 hours there. Thankfully, I did feel a lot better after receiving treatment. In these situations, knowing Spanish has been very helpful. Although treatment is free there, it is important to remember that as a “Gringo” or just a white person, you will get treated differently. It is difficult to get tests to help figure out what is actually wrong with you unless you specifically request and pester them about it. In addition, it is just not as common to figure out exactly what is wrong, their focus is to treat and get you on your way. However, this definitely varies based on person, symptoms, and who came with you to the hospital. For example, when one of my program coordinators came, she managed to get me all sorts of tests and medications.

Scuba Certified

Before my next course began, my goal was to get my scuba diving certification for Open Water. We began on a Saturday afternoon with watching the videos. It was a hot room where; it was hard to stay awake. Afterwards, some of us treated ourselves to some pizza. You do not realize how much you miss food from the United States until you have it. The next day we did our pool dive. We learned how to put together the gear and practiced safety skills in the pool. It was definitely a very different experience that I have never had before. Overall, it was really fun though.

The next weekend, we dived right off the shore from Playa Mann in a shallow area so we could get used to the gear in an open environment. We had to expedite the processes of getting our certifications so that we would have it in time to dive in our next course, so the next day we dived again. We dived at Cerro Tijeretas, which was amazing! We saw sea turtles, sea stars, and amazing fish. It was also really great practice in an area with some currents. After returning from our dive, we took our exams to get certified and by the next day, we were officially PADI Open Water scuba divers!

Thank you Wreck Bay Diving Center!!!

Back to Business

My next class, Marine Ecology, began that Monday. This class was taught by the same professor from my Techniques of Marine Research 1 class from Quito. I was excited to see her again because I learned a lot from her in the previous class and she has a well-structured course. She packed a lot of things into a 3-week course. In addition, we had a 2nd professor who was doing research here on a Fullbright. We assisted her in part of her project in the lab doing a heat stress and a cold stress experiment on corals here. I knew nothing about the coral communities in the Galapagos until now and she brought a lot of knowledge to our lectures in class. Our field trips included snorkeling at Rosa Blana, which is a mangrove site, snorkeling and hiking at Punta Pitt, and scuba diving at Kicker Rock/León Dormido.

At Punta Pitt, we hiked to see nesting blue footed boobies!

Now cue me getting sick….AGAIN. This time was the worst. Non-stop diarrhea and vomiting. However, the next day I was supposed to go scuba diving at Kicker Rock. This field trip was the whole reason I expedited my scuba class. So, I did what I do best and pulled myself together. I probably should not have, but I do not regret it one bit. I was not able to do the first dive, but I felt better after vomiting on the boat (my 4th time vomiting in 20 hours) and joined the second dive. I saw sharks and felt great underwater (thanks adrenaline)…you only live once!! I went to the hospital immediately after getting off the boat because I was very dehydrated. I spent the next few days feeling awful. I went back to the hospital a second time because I was still so sick. I finally felt better after a week. I promise, I am taking care of myself! Many other students are also very sick. There is a lot of new and different bacteria here.

Scuba Diving at Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock after vomiting 4 times
After the dive…

Returning to the good stuff.

In both of my courses, my professors tasked us with creating and performing a small research project here. My first project was an observational study on the sea lion populations here and how they react to human presence. This is a hot topic here because the sea lions are EVERYWHERE. You will be walking down the sidewalk and all the sudden almost step on a sea lion. They also really enjoy hanging out on benches. However, tourists often do not respect the boundaries and attempt to get close to the animals. We were curious as to how the sea lions reacted to these attempts at various locations. Some sea lions are very reactive, but most are used to human presence.

In my Marine Ecology course, my group studied the interactions between fish and sea turtles. We filmed sea turtles and observed the cleaning symbiosis. Algae and sessile organisms gather on sea turtle bodies and fish will come feed on these organisms cleaning off the sea turtles. In addition, some fish will follow sea turtles as they feed to take advantage of the nutrients being uncovered when they forage in benthic sediment. It was really neat to see these interactions here.

I am going to end this post here, but I will be focusing more in my next post on the everyday life here and the ins and outs of the Galapagos. I promise I am actually having fun and living! I just had Spring Break and did some island hopping.

Enjoy some photos below of my island exploration!

Here’s to less stress and more health!

Above: El Junco – only freshwater lake in the Galapagos

Below: Puerto Chino

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