June 27, 2013
After leaving Sunbury, we had a uneventful bus ride to JFK (aside from one tractor trailer blowing his train horn continuously at our bus). We had plenty of time to go through security and enjoy strolling around the airport. After boarding our Copa airline flight we departed...sorta. Actually we parked on the runway for 1 1/2 hours while the thunderstorms raged across the center of the USA. We heard that PA got soaked too. We had sunny skies, and finally departed around 4:30. This was worrisome because we were heading to Panama where we would only have about 20 mins to move to our next flight.. Or so we thought. Actually we arrived at Panama only to circle the airport for 45 mins while they had thunderstorms there too. We finally landed and raced through the airport. We walked right on our plane to Quito Ecuador. Thankfully they held it for the flights that were late from JFK and DC too.

We finally arrive in Quito around 11:30 and had to got through customs and immigration. We finally made it through and walked out into Quito and met Victor - our tour guide from EFTours. One more hour long bus ride to the colonial part of the city and up to 9000ft elevation. We collapsed into our beds around 2:30 pm local time. And we had to be up for a 7:30 breakfast.

June 28, 2013

We arose to a beautiful sunrise. There are 12 hour days here. We are still tired but ready excited to start our exploration. We were served an American breakfast (bummer) on the third floor restaurant of our hotel. Spectacular view of the city and surrounding mountains. Victor took us on a walking tour of the city. He pointed out the various dress of the Indigenous people, took us inside the beautiful Santo Domingo church, school and museum (ask about the pictures of the martyred Fransisco priests); walked to the Presidents palace and square (Plaza Grande) and boarded a bus to drive north to the equator. I find myself being confused with directions because the sun is in the northern sky. At the equator there was a fascinating display about the sun gods from around the world, sundials, and demonstrations of balancing eggs and the Colouris effect. There were also native buildings and displays of tools, spears, head shrinking (they had a real one that was from the 1800s), guinea pigs, llamas, and native arts and crafts. The biome at the equator was hot and dessert like. The biome in Quito is a Panama forest (dry tropical forest). We did catch a glimpse of both local volcanoes that are snow covered from our bus. We will visit one later this week. Some of the students are fascinated at the graffiti/art and broken glass fence tops. We went into town for a late lunch and a quick shop in the open market. Unfortunately lunch took too long but it was amazing! A few of the students tried roasted guinea pig (tastes like fish, rabbit, chicken..depends who you talk to) and everyone else tried a traditional Ecuador meal. We had free time this evening and a light dinner at the hotel. Tomorrow is a flight, bus ride, and a ferry ride to the Galapagos.

June 29, 2013
We arose to a cool foggy morning in Quito. We loaded the bus to the airport at 6 am with a simple packed breakfast (cheese sandwich, muffin, clementine, peach juice) and drove down to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time for our 8:20 boarding. The flight on the Airbus was pleasant with a quick stop in Guayaquil before flying to Baltra Isle where we landed on a lava field. It had been the US air field during WWII. We went through customs and loaded a bus to get to a ferry crossing to Santa Crus Isle. The we met our guides for the Galapagos National Park and got on another bus to drive over Island to Puerto Ayera. We ate lunch at the hotel, changed into swimsuits and walked a few blocks to the Darwin Research center. Our guides took us through the sanctuary where we saw marine iguanas , many varieties of tortoises (we also heard the sad story of Lonesome George - the last of his species), and yellow iguanas. All species are indigenous to the Galapagos. We then enjoyed a quick swim at the beach and walked to a shop to rent wet suits and snorkels. Dinner at the hotel and ice cream at a local deli rounded out our night. Some students enjoyed the dock area where you could watch fish, small sharks, and a sea lion in the colored lights. Once again we all drug ourselves to bed. Tomorrow we go to Isabel Isle.

June 30, 2013
We were all up early to eat breakfast (6:30) and walk to the pier to board our boat to Isabel Isle. Sea lions were lounging on boats and docks everywhere. A two hour ride to our harbor was broken up by some dolphins jumping out of the water and many sea birds. We disembarked at a tiny pier where we then boarded small boats to go to a lava area to hike. We saw innumerable marine iguanas, lava crabs, blue herons, pelicans, green sea turtles, and white tipped sharks with a young sea lion playing with them. We went back to the boats for snorkeling. Once in the water, our guide lead us through a crevasse in the lava where we actually swam above the sharks resting in the sand below! We saw other fish of all sizes, a sting ray and then went swimming with a young sea lion. He actually came up to everyone and swirled around us. Many students blew bubbles and dove and spun with him! After an hour, we went back to shore for a bus ride to "town" after a stop to see the flamingoes. We enjoyed a lunch of fish or chicken with rice and then enjoyed some time on the beach playing in the sand and exploring the lava rocks. Know one really looked forward to the 2 hour boat ride back to Santa Cruz, but almost everyone had a nap. We ran out of gas just short of Puerto Ayera but were towed in by a companion boat. Dinner at the hotel and free time. Everyone is soundly sleeping as I finish the entry. Buenos noché!

July 1, 2013

We got to sleep on today...we left at 7:30 am. Loaded the same boat as yesterday and headed off into the peaceful Pacific. We listened to our iPods as we motored to Floreana Isle, one of only 2 islands in the Galapagos that have fresh water on them. Floreana has an interesting human history filed with pirates, crazy settlers, and mysterious deaths. Today it only has about 150 permanent residents, a few cows and mostly National park. When we arrived we were "greeted" by some sea lions. We loaded open-aired trucks to travel up the island, passing through 3 different biomes on the way. We hiked through the forest where our guides explained about the finches, Charles Darwin, and the difference between introduced, native and endemic species. We also went through a 1 km square tortious pen where we watched many of the lumbering giants in a natural setting. We got to see them moving, interacting, and being turtles. Most students got to see mice, rats, warblers, and owls too. We then hiked farther up the hill to see the only fresh water trickle on the island, walk in actual pirate caves carved out of the loose volcanic rock and see a Mayan-like craving made in the 1800s. On the way out our guides picked oranges ( an introduced species) for the group to eat. Once off the mountain, we had lunch and relaxed with the sea lions on a black sandy beach. We then loaded up the boat (still being entertained by a sea lion pup & mom and a sea-lion body surfing) and donned our snorkel gear for one more dip in the cool Pacific. Ok..it was cold..thankful most of us had wetsuits. We swam in some rough sea to see some Green sea turtles eating algae off the rocks. We also gazed at the different types of fish and sting rays. Too soon we had to leave for Santa Cruz. Just off shore of Floreana, our caption spotted some whales. We cut our engines and watched as they moved around our vessel. Victor and Hugo, our guides, decided to try to dive with the whales. However, they didn't get very close before the whales moved away. Then about half way back we cut our engines again as a group of dolphins circled our boat. We finally made it home by 5 o'clock and immediately set out for some shopping in the village. Tomorrow we return to the mainland and Quito. The Galapagos are an amazing and exotic part of the world.

July 2, 2013

Today was a travel day back to Quito. We had time in the morning to walk around the eclectic town of Puerto Ayera before we loaded the bus to head over the island. On the way we stopped at the twin craters to gaze into the ancient volcanoes that had drained and collapsed. They were full of vegetation but no animals. On the north side of the island we crossed over the canal to get to the island with the airport. I don't think anyone really wanted to leave the Galapagos. Our flights were fine and we arrived at the same hotel in the heart of old Quito. Our evening meal was at a local convent Sanfransic where the basement (catacomb-like area) was converted into an art and craft area where they also served traditional meals and had some local entertainment. We enjoyed the music supplied by a Peruvian who played guitar and flute. He was excellent. Then we walked thru La Calle Moralas where it had a Marti Gras feeling complete with pick pockets. No one lost anything, but it was definitely an education for this little troupe from central PA. Tomorrow we head to Cotopaxi National Park.

July 3, 2013

We awoke in the bustling city to enjoy breakfast in the 3rd floor restaurant that over looked the tile roofs of the square below. Since the beginning of the trip we have been grouped with other schools from DC and the Maryland area. It has been fun getting to learn about other parts of the States as well as Ecuador. We boarded buses to head to the highlands of Ecuador. En route we passed through the smog of Quito with its 2 million people, saw cows grazing on the side of the road, watched stray dogs wondering around, and enjoyed the bright colors of the houses, stores and dress of the people. As we climbed into the hills, the city melted away and we could see 3 different snow capped volcanoes. We stopped at an overlook where Victor pointed out the area of Quito where we were staying. Then we drove into the beautiful green countryside filled with lush pastures, grazing vacas (cows), and potatoes. After about an hours drive, we stopped at a small restaurant and craft shop that also had llamas, dogs and guinea pigs. Everyone bargained for the elegant weaving and paintings. Many students purchased Andean sweaters which were needed in the cool mountain air. Afterwards we headed high into the mountains .. 12,000 ft! We watched the landscape change from eucalyptus to pine to tundra. Cotopaxi climbs up to 19,000 ft. It was covered with snow but you could see how the glaciers had moved back (due to the exposed red rock) with global warming. There were wild horses on the high plateau and hardy small wild flowers. We took a 1 1/2 mile hike around a shallow lake to see the birds and flora of the mountain tundra. Victor gave us a small bit of chocolate to help with the high altitudes. We ended with 2 minutes of silent with our eyes closed to pay attention to the smells and the sounds of the mountains. Truly remarkable. Afterwards we had a boxed lunch and hot soup or coca tea at the ranger station/guest area. We drove 2 hours back to the city where we stopped at an incredible craft market. The only thing close to explaining the market would be the Bloomsburg fair.. Lots of people, close together tents full of textiles, jewelry, leather goods, art work, and food. The most fun was bartering.. 20 dollars... 16 dollars.... 19 dollars.. 18 dollars... 18 dollars.. Sí..sì. We spent all our money. Last stop was at a grocery store to buy good Ecuadorian chocolate. Back to our hotel for a dinner and social time with our other groups. Tomorrow we leave the hotel at 10:30 to head to the airport and HOmE!

Email from VICTOR our Guide:

Dear Colleen

Thank you for choosing EF to travel throughout Ecuador. I will be your Tour Director and if you have any questions or special requests
regarding your trip, please do not hesitate to contact me in advance. My e-mail address is vriera1808@hotmail.com. My cell
phone number from within Ecuador is 0991590234 and from outside of Ecuador 00593991590234 .(for US Residents).

I want to send you some facts that may be helpful for our trip together
Galapagos offers chances to snorkel and there are people that prefer bringing their own gear. Anyway, there are chances to rent snorkel equipment and wetsuits at the islands 6 usd per day (mask and fins).
You need to bring sunscreen at Galapagos, this time of the year the sun is extreme strong.
There are two days of navigation on our trip. Seasickness pills may be required for people sensitive to sea motions.

Tips: Tips at the continent are not the same tips at the Islands and they are not included. In Galapagos, we will have guides and boats (crew) that will take us around the different places and they are not the same ones for each day. I consider same amount you have been suggested for TL and buses as a good reference for tips in Galapagos.
On our return, there is a visit to Cotopaxi volcano (more than 12.000 feets high). If you come from sea level, you may get cold so a warm jacket could be very useful.
When checking in with your airline in your country of origin, you will be issued a boarding pass and a baggage receipt tag. Please have that tag on hand when you arrive as you will be asked to present it.

Also try to bring a bagpack or a carry on to take to Galapagos that way the group doesn´t have to take all the suitcases, whe can leave it at the storage room of the hotel. That way You will make it easy for me, the airline and the tour guides in Galapagos.

The wheather in Quito is currently sunny in the morning and some rain in the afternoon with temperatures ranging from 85 F max to 66 F min. In the Galapagos Islands the weather The skies are also a bit cloudier and air temperatures a bit cooler, in the range of 60-75°F (15-24°C).

I am looking forward to being your guide as you discover a little bit of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

With warmest regards,
Victor Riera