By Sarah Dawe, Gr. 1 Teacher; Summer 2022
Happy Summer, Brookwood! As many of you know I love to travel and go on new adventures. An item high on my bucket list is photographing penguins in their natural habitat. Can you guess where I’m headed? No, I’m not going to Antarctica (this time!) Did you know that you can find penguins in the Galapagos Islands? There is a species called the Galapagos penguin which is the only penguin found north of the Equator. It is endemic, which means it can only be found in that geographic location. I am also on the lookout for blue footed booby birds who have bright blue feet. Let’s see if I can find them! I am traveling with an organization called Global Exploration for Educators and will be touring with 15 teachers from around the country.
I am flying into the city of Quito in Ecuador, which is a country straddling the equator on South America’s west coast. Here is a map. The Galapagos are made up of 13 major islands and a handful of smaller islands. I will be spending time on Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. It is technically the “cool” season in the Galapagos, but will be in the 60’s, so no freezing temps or snow like we experience here. Before I jet over to the islands I am going to explore Quito for a couple of days.
Quito: Can you guess the connection between these photos?
They are all part of the process for making chocolate! Today I toured Yumbos, an
artisanal chocolate factory. The first photo shows the cacao pod. The next one shows the pulp inside. Are you surprised by the white color? It looks like a tropical fruit. Next the beans are roasted, lose their shells and are ground up into nibs. The nibs turn into paste and it is refined and tempered into chocolate. Dark chocolate is the award winning specialty in Ecuador. They had such fun flavors like ginger, lemongrass, coffee bean and chili pepper. We got to do a lot of sampling and try different percentages of cacao. Then we had brownies and hot chocolate made in their factory. They often put cheese in their hot chocolate! I can’t wait to make our own chocolate from bean to bar at school this year!
While I was in the Plaza Grande I got to try a bunch of new foods. We went to an ice cream store for helado de paila, which literally means “Ice cream from a pot” Fun fact this ice contains no milk and is made old school in a traditional bronze or copper pan. The outside container is filled with crushed ice and rock salt. There were so many flavors to choose from. I had naranjilla, which is kind of like orange. It is also very popular to have helado con queso, ice cream with cheese!
This is a street vendor called a ponchero. Ponche is a whipped foamy treat made of eggs, malt, sugar and vanilla. Then it is topped with blackberry syrup. It is squirted from a pressurized tank and has the consistency of shaving cream. The vendors dress in traditional white uniforms with sailor hats.
Here is another yummy snack called bizcochos. It is a flaky, twice baked biscuit made in a wood burning stove that is covered with a layer of caramel and cheese, of course!
One of the biggest surprises was seeing the cotton candy! Look at the size of it! After selecting your flavor you can add chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce or sprinkles. The local kids were very happy.
The old town was filled with cafes, stores, performers and even characters walking around such as Paw Patrol. This courtyard with all the greenery reminded me of the children’s book, The Curious Garden. Instead of more traditional images, the animal gargoyles featured on some of the churches included iguanas, tortoises, armadillos and even blue footed boobies.
Off to the islands!
Bus, plane, plane, bus, boat, boat, bus. It took all of those forms of transportation to get from Quito to our first island.
I wasn’t sure what the landscape was going to look like in the Galapagos and I discovered that it was like a desert, very brown and dry, with tons of cacti. There was even an iguana walking around to greet us. We flew into Seymour, the world’s first ecological airport. Here are some of its sustainable features: Solar panels, the airport’s support columns are recycled oil pipes from the Amazon, the luggage transportation belt does not require electric power, they are 100% renewable energy users and it is the first carbon neutral airport in the region.
Walking off the plane- See how dry the landscape is? Also, look how well the iguana camouflages into its surroundings.
When we arrived at the dock after a water taxi ride we saw a sea lion sleeping in the middle of the landing. We quickly learned that these islands belong to the wildlife and humans are just visiting. Look at some other spots I saw sea lions during our travels to the different islands:
We also saw these bright red Sally Lightfoot Galapagos crabs everywhere! And a great blue heron!
Our first stop was to the Charles Darwin Research Center to see the tortoises. We learned that there are 2 main categories- dome shaped turtles and saddleback turtles. Look at the shell shape and guess which one is which.
The dome shells are more rounded while saddlebacks are flatter with raised neck openings. Did you guess correctly? We learned about evolution and how species physically adapted to survive in their surroundings. The dome shaped tortoises have a shorter neck and live in a wetter climate where vegetation is closer to the ground The raised saddleback shell makes it easier for the tortoises to lift their heads to eat tree cactus in the desert. A Galapagos tortoise can go a year without eating or drinking because it can store food and water in its body.
These fruits were all over the islands and are called manzanilla de la muerte. They are poisonous to humans, but the tortoises and iguanas are able to safely digest the fruit. It reminded me a little bit of Snow White and the poison apple, except it was yellow instead of red.
Here are the turtle babies! If you glance quickly you might miss them all tucked in there. The shells have numbers on them to identify the babies. There are lots of breeding efforts to sustain and grow the different tortoise species. These conservation efforts also help protect the babies. Interestingly, one of baby turtles' biggest predator threat is rats.
One of my other favorite parts of Santa Cruz was climbing to Las Grietas, a hidden gem of a swimming hole. We had fun snorkeling and dock jumping. Grieta means crevasse, so it was pretty much a long, narrow canyon lined with volcanic
rock walls. The water was so clear and warm.
Look what we saw on the boat ride over to Floreana! This dolphin followed us for a bit and kept popping up behind the boat.
When we arrived in Floreana there were sea turtles, seal lions, marine iguanas and crabs ready to welcome us. Floreana is a very small island, less than 150 people live there! They don’t even have a police station. This wooden barrel is the stampless post office. Inside there is a plastic bag filled with postcards. When visitors arrive in Floreana they flip through the collection and if they find a card with an address close to where they are from they take it and deliver it when they get home. There was no outgoing mail for Massachusetts, but my friend found some postcards from the state where she is from. I wrote the Brookwood First Grade a postcard and wonder how many years it will take to be delivered? It’s kind of like a time capsule!
We got to meet one of the 4 teachers of the local school. There are 29 children who attend classes. Their school grounds were very colorful and you can see how they used recycled bottles and tires to build gardens. Just like many of you, the children love recess and going on their playground!
There are no official hotels on the island so we all stayed in different guest houses on residents’ properties. I got assigned to what was called the “Cactus Hotel.” The whole yard was covered with cacti. There was even a rowboat filled with cacti! When I went to connect to wifi instead of finding names of networks I saw 2 cactus emojis!
There were also a ton of marine iguanas on Floreana. To get to the beach we had to walk along a rock path and we had to be careful to not step on them. The young iguanas need to heat themselves to keep warm so they bask in the sun and pile on top of each other. The iguanas also spit and sneeze. It looks like they are being unfriendly, but they are just releasing salt from their bodies. They have special glands in their nose that filters out the salt. Floreana had a beautiful black sand beach. I would have brought back a sample for Mr Wilfahrt’s collection, but the islands are very strict about not taking anything from the land. We got to swim with sea lions and go snorkeling though. Floreana also had the most gorgeous sunsets. At night we snacked on plantain chips and watched the sun go down. We had fresh fish almost every night including the yummiest ceviche which was topped with popcorn!
We went snorkeling in Tintoreras. The guide told us to stay in a single file line because we were going to swim through some narrow channels. There were rocks on either side of us and as we swam through I looked down and saw tons of sharks!
The sharks sleep during the day so they were all napping beneath us. This shark looks pretty awake to me! After we got out the guide told us that the place he took us was nicknamed Shark Alley. We also saw sea horses and lots of fish. Can you spot the seahorse?
On Isabela Island I also saw blue footed boobies and Galapagos penguins, on the same rock! Bucket list explosion!
We took the boat over to the lava tunnels, Los Tuneles, and there were blue footed boobies everywhere! We got to see the baby chicks in their nests. Since the chicks are born with no feathers the parents place the babies on top of their feet. Then the babies grow lots of soft fuzz. They were in the fuzzy stage when we saw them. Aren’t they cute? If I could have snuck one in my carry on and brought it back to Brookwood as a class pet I would have :)
Are you curious about how boobies got those blue feet? First of all, we also learned that the boobies’ feet do not turn blue until they are a couple of years old. That’s how you can tell the difference between a juvenile and a mature booby bird. It actually has to do with their diet. No, they don’t eat a lot of blueberries, but that would make sense. Instead they get their blue webbed feet from a pigment called carotenoids in the fish they eat. The brighter the blue, the healthier the bird. Scientists can identify malnourished boobies if the blue color of their feet has faded.
You may be wondering how the booby birds got such a silly sounding name. It comes from the Spanish term “bobo” which means clownish. They wobble and waddle around on their big blue clown feet! When attracting a mate the boobies do a dance and proudly display their feet. Amazingly, I got to see this ritual and watched them strut, stamp their feet, whistle at potential partners and spread their wings. We also watched a booby present a rock as a courtship gift, which was accepted.
Now it’s time to talk about poop. Poop plays an important role in the blue footed boobies’ lives. Blue footed boobies don’t have a strong sense of smell so they have a difficult time distinguishing between their chicks and their neighbors’ chicks. However, their eyesight is very strong so they make a guano ring, which is pretty much a white poop circle nest. They use their visual memory to know which territorial ring is theirs.
After taking literally hundreds of photos we jumped back in the boat and went to our next snorkel destination. I was so glad that I had my GoPro camera because there were giant sea turtles everywhere! We were trying not to bump into them. Everyone thought the water was cold, but I chose not to wear a wetsuit because it’s a lot warmer than the Atlantic ocean! Not having a wetsuit also made me less buoyant so I could swim down farther and see more ocean life.
The water was so blue! We even saw this rock formation that looks like a face.
We had so much fun on Isabela. We got to see more turtles and learned about how children on the island are working at preserving the creatures at school. I loved watching this old couple.
We had to fly back to Ecuador but luckily I still had a couple of more days on the mainland. I went to the Equator and got to stand with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and one foot in the Southern Hemisphere! The compass on my phone registered 00 00 00.
We learned about the coriolis effect and did a couple of science experiments. Standing with our feet in the Southern Hemisphere we put leaves in a basin of water. The plug was pulled to simulate the motion of a toilet flushing and the leaves in the water swirled down clockwise. We then conducted the same experiment in the Northern Hemisphere except this time the leaves in the water swirled down counterclockwise. Most interestingly, when we stood right on the equator the leaves in the water just fell straight down!
When we look up at the sky we see common constellations such as the big dipper. However, in the Southern Hemisphere they have a whole different collection of constellations and we often saw the Southern Cross. When you are on the equator, depending on the time of year, it is the only place on Earth that you can see the constellations from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. I had never thought about that before!
I had the most amazing trip with wonderful new friends and am so excited to continue to share my experiences with the community through some upcoming curricular projects. A Galapagos sea turtle and a blue footed booby have joined our classroom, I had to settle for the plush versions. See you back at school soon!