April 1, 2013
Hey guys! My experiences since my last blog post have been just as exhilarating and new. Later this month in March, we enjoyed a fun Spring Break away from our studies traveling to three different islands, Santa Cruz, Bartolome, and Isabela. We embarked on our Spring Break journey on two different boats early one Saturday morning to set off across the ocean to Santa Cruz. I have learned that the two- to three-hour boat rides are a great time to catch up with friends or to take a well-deserved nap; but, you’re usually not asleep for long before someone cries out in joy as dolphins or some other sort of magnificent sea creature jumps out from the water…When we arrived in Santa Cruz that afternoon, we settled into our hotel and had the rest of the evening off. Most of the students walked around the town after dinner experiencing the nightlife. The next day we all piled onto a bus to travel to the highlands to visit a couple of lava tubes underneath the ground. For those of you who aren’t too familiar with geographical formations of volcanoes, lava tubes are tunnels underground created from the flow of lava during an eruption, as the lava travels, the outside layer of the lava cools much faster than the inside. Consequently, the outside layer hardens and hot liquid lava continues to travel through the tunnel chambers until the lava runs out and the tunnel empties. All that is left is the lava tube, the hardened outer shell of the process. After the lava tube cools, people like you and me can walk through these tunnels and walk right where lava had flowed through years before! The lava tubes we visited were quite large and I felt quite insignificant and small walking through something so grand (although it was hard not to feel at least a little like Indiana Jones; all we needed was a giant boulder to suddenly drop down from the ceiling behind us). Unfortunately, I didn’t have an Indiana Jones-style whip to carry around with me, but I did bring along my camera, which I used to snap a couple of impressive shots.
Besides adventuring down lava tubes on Santa Cruz, we also went on a snorkeling trip about an hour away from town by boat. One of the highlights of my Spring Break was jumping off the boat into the blue ocean to swim with a giant manta ray! I cannot express strongly enough how outrageously, out-of-this-world, fantastically, super-duper cool this was! They are absolutely enormous and move through the sea with impeccable grace and beauty. If you have never seen one, you should definitely look up a few pictures of one on the Internet after reading my blog; they’re very impressive.
The next day we took a day trip to the uninhabited island of Bartolome on a beautiful boat on which we were served a delicious breakfast and lunch. The snorkeling was exquisite as we swam around the bay as colorful schools of fish swam around us in swirls of blue, turquoise, pink, yellow and green. We even saw a couple of penguins speeding off in the distance! It was sad to leave such a beautiful and serene island, but the next morning we continued our trip to the other uniquely beautiful island Isabela. Although Isabela is the largest of the Galápagos islands, it is not as populated as Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal, both of which are significantly smaller. On Isabela, we enjoyed hikes up to Sierra Negra volcano, snorkeling and surfing! I had not surfed since last summer back home in Hawaii, but on my second try, I was already up on my board steering my path smoothly along the wave. Most of us celebrated our last night on Isabela sitting around a bonfire at the beach talking story, playing guitar, and saying goodbyes to new friends.
Once back on San Cristóbal, we started up our next class “Evolution, Medicine and Health,” in which we have since been learning about the co-evolution of the health of humans and the environment. Along with this new class, I have also been taking diving classes during my free time! I just completed my last dive to get certified and after I take my written exam this Wednesday, I will be scuba dive certified! When people say that the ocean is a whole new world, they certainly were not kidding! I have been in the ocean countless times and engaged in water activities ranging from sailing to surfing to snorkeling, but none can measure up to the experience of diving deep under water in the good ol’ deep blue. I have always been a little nervous and uneasy about being in open water where I could not see the bottom of the ocean and I have always wanted to overcome this fear of mine. Now that I am well on my way to my dive certification, I feel accomplished and proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone. I felt like an astronaut getting all strapped up in a wet suit and equipment before my dives. Underwater, using your equipment properly, you are weightless, and then it really is like being in a whole different world. The oceanic world looks different and so much bigger from down below. You don’t really experience the true scale of things from the surface looking down through a mask and snorkel; you’ve got to be down there, right in the midst of it, in order to realize the sheer grandness of it all. For my final dive, we dove at a shipwreck site where I swam amidst pieces of a sunken ship as old as the Titanic! My dive instructor and I swam weightlessly above the sand, exploring different parts of the ship, the skeleton of the main hull, two giant propellers, a massive anchor, and the broken-off bow, …all of which now serve as homes to millions of oceanic organisms and sea creatures. It was all so unreal and incredible. Sometimes I had to remind myself that I actually was about 15 meters (about 49 feet) under water and not in some movie set.
All in all, I can say without a doubt that this study abroad journey has gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to a never-ending supply of adventure. Simply living here, in a different country, is a constant self-learning process through which I am growing and discovering who I am, who I want to be, where I am and where I want to go. I don’t yet know the answers to those questions and that is the exciting part. But, I do know that studying in Ecuador has rekindled my passions and ambitions for helping the world however I can (I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true). Who I will be with and exactly where I will end up will reflect in the steps of my ambition and the smiles of those who care.
Thanks for reading,