Monday, January 31, 2011

The Rainy Season

The rainy season in the Galapagos starts in January. Up until last night we haven't experienced much rain except for in the highlands and an occasional dark cloud. Last night it poured. Not like a little bit of rain, it was raining cats and dogs. When I left for class this morning, the town was flooded. We have water marks on the ceiling of our house and there are puddles and mud everywhere. There was a boy who was playing with his toy boat on one of the major roads.
We are starting a new course this week with 2 new professors. Terrestrial Biology of the Galapagos is broken into 3 parts- botany, lizards, and birds. We dove right into the botany portion today with a 100 slide powerpoint this morning and a 2 hour walking field trip this afternoon. We went down the same boardwalk that my family did on Saturday but this time I had to recall each plant and learn to recognize it. Since everything is about botany you have to deal with plant pictures today.

poisonous apples- only tortoises can eat them. even the leaves and bark can affect humans
endemic Galapagos cotton
My task for the next two days is to figure out what this plant is- my professor didn’t know so I am using it for the topic of my botany project that everyone has to do.

igaunas outside of Casa Rosada
Already we have so much work- way different from Sarah’s class. I have to go home tonight and do a lot of textbook reading (my favorite) instead of playing cards or watching a movie with Maythe. Tomorrow we have double field trips so it looks like another busy day.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Start of the Weekend

My barracuda
 Friday and Saturday Recap: Friday we left early on the boats to go fishing. There were only 3 people in our boat so we all got extended turns fishing. The fishing was a little dull, but it was nice to be out on the water. It was so beautiful. I caught a barracuda! It fell off the hook before I pulled it in the boat, but at least there is one picture as evidence.
 I caught this other fish too. I forget the name of it.
open water swim
 When the fishing got slow, Marina and I jumped in and swam around. One of the boat owners let us borrow his mask and we took turns. Marina counted 17 rays and I saw a ton of fish. The only downside to this fishing trip is I got a terrible burn on my shoulders and face, but now it's fading.
frigate birds
 Most of the fish that we caught we used for bait, but at the end there was some left over. As we started heading back to Villamil, one of the boat men cut it up and started throwing it to the frigate birds. It made for some awesome pictures. They were swarming along with the pelicans and a lot of sea lions. There was a baby who kept jumping out of the water. I caught it in action.
baby sea lion
tortuga! (turtle)
 In the afternoon a few of us went with Sarah to snorkel Las Tintoreras. It was a workout of a lifetime. The guy who drove us over there in his boat and led us around never stopped moving. We saw a ton of turtles, but I didn't have my camera. The only part I regretted not having my camera for was at the end there was a baby sea lion that was playing with us. He loved Sarah's camera and bit it and other peoples' hands multiple times. Anyways, we swam non stop across channels and reefs. It was exhausting. We went back to Tintoreras this morning and explored a different section. It was a pretty amazing snorkel. We saw a ton of tortugas. They are only going to be around for a little while longer because it is mating season? and after that, they won't be around in this great amount of numbers. Gotta enjoy it while it lasts.
blowing bubbles
 This sea lion scared me so badly because it came out of nowhere and sped past us.

 There were lots of these fish. I don't know its name, but they aren't very timid and like to get right in front of you so you almost run into them while swimming.
mi lobo
 I also made a lobo (sea lion) friend. She was awesome. I would snorkel around and visit her periodically. She liked playing with me.
my first wild octopus sighting!
 I SAW AN OCTOPUS! It was on my bucket list to see in the wild and I did it! He was pretty little, but he stayed still while the 5 of us crowded around him and watched. It was in about 2 feet of water so we kept bouncing into each other and the rocks. He was such a good sport. I love him.
 I love sea lions! After we played together she went up into the mangroves to her baby. It was so cute!

 This picture is for my mother. She loves the color blue and these fish were so pretty. I have a lot of pictures of this school. They hung around for a long time.
 Marina found a tintorera(white tip shark)! She called me over and we followed this guy around for a while. He swam into pretty shallow water where the visibility wasn't great, so I don't have a lot of good photos of him.
 Another thing that Las Tintoreras is famous for is the penguins! This pretty much sums up the Galapagos in one picture- marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, and Galapagos pinguinos. (BTW the ice cream bars that they sell here on the island are owned by a company named Pinguino and the ice cream is amazing!)
Maythe and I with a giant tortoise
 In the afternoon, I went with my family to a tortoise breeding/hatchery place on the outskirts of town towards Playa Del Amor and the surfing beach. It was me, Lorena, Maythe, and 3 cousins. We had a blast. We walked through a nature trail back towards towns that go through areas with lots of flamingos. Pretty awesome.
 We then walked along the beach and chased crabs. Maythe and her cousin who is about the same age held my hands the entire afternoon unless I was taking a picture. They kept calling me "la princessa". It was a lot of fun.
 We stopped at the playground on the beach and played on the swings and see-saw. We ran around and it was a lot of fun just to play like a kid. That's probably why I like to babysit so much- I never want to grow up. Maythe might just be the cutest 5-year-old in the world. Agreed?
 This is my mom Lorena. One of the cousins snuck up behind her and started pushing her. She was freaking out that she was going to hit the post. (She didn't, but it led to great pictures)
So after all that walking we were all so tired. Lorena bought us juice boxes that cost $0.30 y muy rico! I am so spent after the past 2 days. I snorkeled 3 times, have biked from IOI to my house and back multiple times, walked around and on the beach with my family, and posted a blog. Hard work.
Tomorrow will hopefully be a day of rest. If I don't get to sleep in, a siesta will be in order. Also, I'm writing postcards tomorrow and sending them out on Monday. If you want one, just give me your address. I think that sums up everything. Goodnight everybody.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

La Playa De Amor

 Today we rode bikes down the beach to "La Play De Amor" We watched marine iguanas and explored lava tubes. I'll let the pictures do the talking since I'm late for dinner.

My bike is the second one on the rack. The black one.  It's called the "No Fear Barcelona". Awesome, right?

Essay based on the book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

“For them, this is a war about the survival of their children and their cultures, while for us it is about power, money, and natural resources.” An economic hit man has 2 main objectives that are essential in order to complete their task. The first is that they must justify huge international loans to less developed countries that would funnel money back to MAIN and other non-government organizations through massive engineering and construction projects. The second is to bankrupt the countries that received those loans that they would be forever beholden to their creditors and so they would present easy targets when the U.S. needed favors, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and natural resources. This system is intended to create money for the contractors and make a few wealthy and influential families in the country happy while assuring long-term financial dependence and political loyalty to the U.S. The impact of this system on the poor and their health and education systems are not considered and often bear a lot of the negative impacts. The EHM projects redirect the money in a country since they must devote the majority to paying off debt instead of using capital to help the dangerously impoverished citizens. Jackals are the final step of this process. They overthrow or kill heads of state in order to fully commit the country to the United States. John Perkins coined the term corporatocracy which is when helping an economy makes those at the top richer, but pushes the bottom lower into poverty. Perkins was one of the first economic hit men to put these principles into action and slowly create a United States centered world empire.

Ecuador is the size of Nevada with 30 active volcanoes, 15% of the world’s bird species, 1000’s of unclassified plants, and as many people speak ancient indigenous languages as speak Spanish. Roldós was the president of Ecuador and he warned foreign interests that they must either help the people of his country or leave the country all together. This was during a time where many missionaries and other organizations were present in Ecuador, set in place by an EHM, which they claimed was to help Ecuador become modernized and to benefit the economy. The reality was that they were in the country in order to find oil fields and then remove indigenous people from the area that contained the oil in order for big name companies like Exxon and Mobil to come in and gain the profit. The CIA then assassinated Roldós, through the use of jackals, in 1981 due to his opinions. Once he was dead, oil drilling began.
Once when Perkins visited an indigenous tribe in Ecuador, they told him the story of the condor and the eagle. One represented old knowledge and one represented new ideas and at the end of the story both birds were able to fly together symbolizing the mixing of knowledge of the indigenous tribes of Ecuador and the new improved goals of the United States. That tribe imagined a day where the resources of land and oil in Ecuador were not a battlefield, but all could gain what they wanted of the country without the U.S. exploiting the people or oil.
In the last chapter in the book about Ecuador, Perkins reflects about the EHM schemes that occurred in the country and how they affected the people who lived there. He states that the involved issues went far beyond the materialistic goals that generally define empires. This issues extended beyond the armies of bankers, business executives, and politicians, deep into the soul of modern civilization. Perkins realizes that the EHM schemes in Ecuador had permanently ruined the culture, politics, and economy.

In Panama, Torrijos was a popular candidate because of his political standpoints during his 1972 election. He believed in Panama’s right of self-rule and claim to sovereignty over the Panama Canal. The United States should no longer have a right to claim the Canal and the Canal Zone in the middle of the country. Torrijos was popular with the middle and lower classes for this exact reason. He wanted to gain independence from the U.S. without joining forces with the current U.S. enemies. John Perkins visited Panama and the Canal Zone and he meets an American family in the zone. After talking with him for a little bit of time, he realizes that the man does not speak any Spanish and is completely ignorant to the culture and economy of Panama. That is when John Perkins realizes that the Panama Canal should in fact belong to Panama instead of Americans who know nothing about the country that the canal is named after. During a meeting, Torrijos asks Perkins to do what’s best for the country instead of making a plan to make Torrijos wealthy. He simply wanted to avoid corruption that is inspired by the EHM and do what is best for his country. The CIA and jackals also assassinated Torrjos in 1981.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Life Is Grand

I, like everyone, have been complaining a lot lately, but my life is pretty awesome here. So what if I have to shower using water with mosquito larvae squirming around in it or that my hands have blisters from my new bike that I bought, or that I had to hike around in the highlands and got covered in spider webs and flies. I have equally awesome parts of my life here. I get to hang out with these people all day, every day, and they make really attractive faces when I take pictures of them: 

 I also get to snorkel during lunch time and chase puffer fish
 And this is what my dinner looked like! Definitely picture worthy! The jugo de pina is to die for. I am looking forward to drinking it with breakfast tomorrow. Nothing is better than watching Lorena chop up a fresh pineapple and throw it in the blender. YUM!
Also, a dog followed me to IOI tonight when I came to work on a group project. Dogs often follow us around since their are so many of them running around here. I had a nice escort and he ensured my safe arrival. At the end of the day it doesn't matter that I don't have hot water or internet connection or a dryer for my clothes or an English speaking family or clean feet when I go to bed or that I'm sweaty the majority of the day or that my hair is almost never clean or that I don't have a mirror at my house? No and simply because I live in the Galapagos. How lucky am I?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lunchtime Snorkel

I am only one day behind on blog posts! Woohoo! The internet and time that it takes to upload pictures makes it hard to keep you guys updated. Are you guys enjoying the pictures? Should I keep doing it?
Yesterday during lunch, Marina and I went snorkeling! We have a lunch break from 12-3 so we spent an hour in the water. It was about a 15 minute walk from IOI and the lagoon was pretty calm.
 I had a stare off with a sea lion. Then he started doing circles around me and blowing bubbles. :)
I took over 100 pictures and most of them turned out awful. Photographer error. I have a lot of pictures of fish butts and fish heads if anyone wants to see them when I get back. The nature of it all was gorgeous. We saw more sea urchins, yellow lipped fish, and rainbow fish. Ha to scientific names...that will be changed during a future class.

One lesson for anyone who wants to go to the Galapagos in the future. I have learned this one now. Bring and wear more neoprene than you think you will need. I wore my little neoprene t-shirt, but I wished that I had brought my 1.5 mm. Oh well. Tomorrow we are going back and going to explore the lagoon closer to the open ocean (look at the second picture).

Protecting the Wonders of the Galapagos (Essay based on the book Plundering Paradise)

Living in the Galapagos is all about survival and in order to survive one must be patient, flexible, and have the capacity to adapt. My name is Hannah and I have lived in Puerto Ayora for the past 2 years before moving to Puerto Villamil in 2001. When I was in Ayora, I worked at the Darwin Station, which was founded in 1959. My job there was to protect the endemic species of these bountiful islands and to inform visitors of this fragile ecosystem. It has been a rough time for all of the Galapagos. Instability comes in the form of government, population, and economic troubles.
There have been many leaders of both Ecuador and the Galapagos over the past several years including “El Loco”. Each leader has crumbled under the pressure of leading a country in such a dire economic situation. The Galapagos are low on Ecuador’s priority list when it comes to distributing limited funds which makes those who live here want to ask more of the government, or worse, ignore their demands and laws of the current leadership altogether. On the other hand, Ecuador still controls these islands and those of us who live here rely on their good graces.
Puerto Ayora’s population has only been around for a short period of time; it’s longest inhabitants settling around 50 years ago. Most people who work in Ayora partake in the tourism business, using their dilapidated boats to show gringos the area. Some people such as my friend Jack Nelson own hotels on the water. Others work in restaurants or farms to provide food for the island’s many visitors. Many young men work as guides and make a lot of money instead of going to school and seeking higher education.
With tourism comes many problems, each being exponentially worse due to the small size of the islands. Introduced organisms from the ballast water of ships or on tourists are taking over and eradicating endemic species. Mangroves are dying due to a disease that turns them white. Tourism is helping the economy of Ayora, but the land is paying the price. The increasing population and demand for resources also puts a strain on the environment. Every day there are new boats that want to gain some of the industry that the Galapagos has to offer.
I moved to Puerto Villamil in 2001 when my job in Ayora began to be repetitive and larger problems arose on Isabela. In comparison, Villamil has almost no one living here. This area does not have a lot of tourists. There is no authority to contain those who live here and it is often referred to as the “Wild West”. The main draw to this area is the pepinos. Pepino farming pays very well and many young men are dropping out of school to make money. This kind of economy also comes with a price. At first there were many pepinos in the shallow water of Villamil. When those were gone the men had to use regulators with hoses attached to air tanks on the surface. Due to carelessness and desire to make the most money, many of them got the bends and had to be rushed to Guayaquil to the hypobaric chambers. Some of them also had ill effects from breathing contaminated air. Still today I see men sitting on street corners due to the mental damage. The pepino industry is also about to crash. They are being fished at an unsustainable rate and my job is to set limits on the fishing in order to avoid this crash and to rebuild the population.  
These two towns are different, each dealing with its own repercussions from its type of economy. Ayora must deal with impacts of tourism, invasive species, and increasing population while Villamil must deal with the effects of overfishing pepinos and the costs on the people who fish them. Although both have an unstable government with little authority and law enforcement, Ayora has a lot more people than Villamil does. My job in Ayora was to teach tourists about the wonders of the Galapagos. One year later I am in Villamil trying to stop the pepineros from destroying these same wonders.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Me Encanta Mi Familia


This post is a little mish-mashed because I wrote it over the period of a couple days. Also- Mom, I haven't heard from you lately and I miss you. Send me an email.

I’m really starting to love my family. Not only the one I am living with, but also Lauren, Johann, Sara, and all of the other students. The house I am staying in is rather nice for the area. The whole town is rather unfinished and yesterday Johann told me this is because they don’t have to pay property tax if the house is considered under construction. Many (my house included) have metal rebar sticking out of the roof. That being said, my house is amazing.
We have a linoleum floor and an actual plaster ceiling while most have concrete floors and tin roofs. The doors are made out of beautiful wood and my walls are purple. The bathroom tile is so beautiful.
In order to be considered appropriate to be a host family they must have hot water, but we do not have it yet. I really don’t mind because after the first initial shock, a cold shower is perfect when you live on the equator. A new water tank is being installed so I currently have running water here for 3 hours a day. If I want to shower outside of the hours that the water is running there is a trash can full of water in the shower with a pitcher. I haven’t had to use it yet except for washing my feet off late at night when everyone is asleep and before I go to bed. All the roads are made out of sand so dirty feet are constant. A lot of the houses are in really bad shape. I am very fortunate that I live with a family that has so much money.
My mother, Lorena, is one of the nicest women I have ever met. She is super patient when we are trying to communicate because she speaks no English and I speak selective Spanish. She cooks me all my meals and won’t let me help although I’ve offered numerous times. Yesterday she did my laundry for me and it is currently hanging on the clothesline outside my window. I try to communicate my plans the best I can with her and everything is “no hay un problema”. Last night when I got back from class she asked me if I was going out to a bar with my friends before I got a chance to tell her. She says I am so quiet when I come in at night and no one wakes up. She offers me food whenever I am in the house whether it be jello, some kind of pie she made, or fruit. She also doesn’t let me clean the dishes. She always tells me to go sleep or shower or do whatever. Last night she gave me and Maythe pedicures and it is one of the best I’ve ever had.
I haven’t spent much time with my father, Junior, but he seems nice so far. He is definitely the head of the household and is always working or spending time with his extensive family that lives in the area.
Maythe is the sweetest 5-year-old ever. She has so many toys, but treats them all with care. They are perfectly lined up on her shelves and floor. We watch Disney movies together which I have found is a great way to learn Spanish. If I have Finding Nemo memorized in English I just listen for the Spanish equivalent. Right now she is on vacation from school, but during the year she goes to private school, which costs $40 a month. Lorena told me that she also has a tutor to help her with homework because Lorena doesn’t have enough patience after work. That also costs $40 a month. That is a lot of money to invest in education in this area. Maythe has a workbook from school with different colors and numbers in English and yesterday we went through it together.
The food here is very interesting. Lorena makes a wide variety of food. Yesterday we ate ceviche for breakfast, which is typically not a breakfast food, and today we had hot dogs and French fries for breakfast. I didn’t like the ceviche, but the rest of the food she has made has been really good. Every day for breakfast she gives me a bowl of fruit, which is absolutely amazing. Today it was a type of banana and white pineapple. They have 2 different types of pineapple here, white and yellow. They taste the same to me, but they are still distinguished. They also have fruit juice with pretty much every meal here. So far there has been papaya, mango, tree tomato, lemonade, and others. All is amazingly fresh and sugary.
I was so unsure about this family at first, but I am definitely starting to feel at home here. Even though Lorena is only 8 years older than me, she takes amazing care of me and makes sure that I am happy at all times.
We all (the family plus Maythe’s aunt and several cousins) went to the beach today. It was the most fun I’ve had in a while. The beach is right in front of a few hotels that all the tourists stay in and I got many strange looks from fellow Americans who saw me with my family especially when Maythe holds my hand while we walk. There was a white couple on the beach and the guy starting doing push ups. I pointed it out to Lorena and the two of us were dying of laughter. We went swimming in the huge waves and saw some marine iguanas on some lava. I made friends with one of the cousins named Roberto. We jumped over the rolling waves together. It was a bonding experience. Lorena ditched the kids on the beach with an aunt and we really went swimming. I enjoyed spending time with the locals and kids digging in the sand while the tourists were sitting farther back on their hotel properties on lounge chairs. I never want to be a tourist again.