The Islands of the Galapagos: Baltra & Santa Cruz

baltrasantacruz

This is the first post of a five day hopscotch series. Join me each day this week as I share with you our discoveries in the Galápagos Islands.

Baltra

Isla Baltra is a small, flat island located near the center of the Galápagos. Created by geological uplift, the island is very arid and vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and Palo Santo trees.

During World War II Baltra was established as a United States Army Air Force base. Crews stationed at Baltra patrolled the eastern Pacific for enemy submarines and provided protection for the Panama Canal. After the war, the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador.

Today the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations of buildings and other remains of the US base including the old airfield can still be seen on the island.

Upon arriving into Baltra, all visitors are transported by bus to one of two docks. The first dock is located in a small bay where the boats cruising the Galápagos await passengers. The second is a ferry dock which connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz via the Itabaca Channel.

We were transported to the ferry dock and from there, boarded a panga with which we crossed the Itabaca Channel to Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz

Situated in the center of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island after Isabela. Its capital is Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands. There are some small villages whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising.

Highlands of Santa Cruz

The island is a large dormant volcano. It is estimated that the last eruptions occurred around a million and a half years ago. Upon our arrival, we boarded another bus and drove up into the highlands of Santa Cruz  which offer exuberant flora and are famous for a gigantic lava tunnel that is over 2000 meters long. Along the drive, we were fortunate to observe a Galápagos Rail (an endemic, flightless bird) on the roadside but sadly we weren’t able to capture a photograph.

We enjoyed a wonderful lunch al fresco (the first of many) and from our table could watch giant tortoises doing the same. Thereafter we put on our wellies (which were provided for our use) and were then guided around the property. Here, we observed the large tortoise populations up close. Though it is rare to see females in the highlands (they nest in the dryer area of the lowlands) – we did see one.

We visited the highlands once again on our sixth day – touring the property of a cattle ranching family where we were able to walk around at our own leisure. It was here that we enjoyed a little spelunking in a lava tube. It reminded us of the lava caves in Central Oregon and Hawai’i that we’ve explored previously.

We drove up to Cerro Mesa for a fabulous view of the island. It was quite overcast and cloudy but the view was incredible. A short distance from the peak was a huge crater with steep walls that were covered in diverse, lush vegetation – even cactus.

bachasbeachLas Bachas

On our fifth day in the islands, we spent the morning on Playa Las Bachas sunbathing and exploring the fringes including a small brackish lagoon where we hoped to see flamingos.

Snorkeling near the shore, I loved seeing hundred of sea cucumbers, evidence that the fishing restrictions were aiding in the comeback of these echinoderms. [I had read about the illegal harvesting of sea cucumbers in Galapagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution.]

landiguanaCerro Dragón

In the afternoon, we hiked along a trail near Cerro Dragón where we observed land iguanas foraging. The area is also known for its flamingo lagoon but these elusive pink birds eluded us all week. It was here on this hike that we really began to understand the geography of the islands [Developing Map Skills in the Galápagos].

Puerto Ayora

The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the headquarters of the Galápagos National Park Service (GNPS) are located on Santa Cruz. The GNPS and CDRS operate a tortoise breeding centre here, where young tortoises are hatched, reared, and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat, which we visited on the afternoon of the sixth day of our 8-day voyage.

The hatchlings we observed were just a couple years old. They remain in captivity – gradually moving from one enclosure to another – each with less ‘protection’ and a more natural environment. Hatchlings are highly susceptible to predation so the efforts at the research station have dramatically improved the population numbers.

CDRSHere, were also had the opportunity to see saddleback tortoises, two of whom had been “roommates” with Lonesome George who sadly passed away just two years ago.

The most memorable moment at the research station was watching “Charlie” – one of the tourists in our group – befriend a little cactus finch. The finch was so curious, she must have spent 10 minutes hopping about on his arm and shoulder, pecking every now and then. It was clear that the nickname we had given him was well suited.

Read my other posts in The Islands of the Galápagos series:

Isabella

Fernandina

Santiago & Bartolomé

Española

hopscotchjan2015

Interested in following along on another hopscotch? Check out the topics by the iHomeschool Network bloggers.

 

Sailing Ships & Navigation

My son has been fascinated with planes, ships, and trains for as long as we can remember. What boy isn’t, right? He has expressed interest in working for Maersk and even has a blog where he writes about his passions, A Boy & His Trains.

When we were in the Galápagos, he would often wake before the rest of us and wander about the ship on his own accord. If he wasn’t in his cabin or on deck with one of the other passengers (he really connected with Gary – an older gentleman from Alaska who shared many similar interests), he could be found on the bridge with the Captain.

This post contains affiliate links.

OhCaptain

I loved that he had the freedom to explore the Evolution and that the crew was willing to take him under their wing. He learned a lot about navigation on our voyage. I was sure to expand on this real life experience with the help of North Star Geography.

Navigation

Explorers have always used the night skies to measure latitude by measuring how many degrees above the horizon the North Star (Polaris) appeared. Below the equator, Polaris is no longer visible, and the constellation known as the Southern Cross must be used instead.

Knowing your position and direction are key parts of navigation. It is also important to establish your route. Which route is best? Where do you turn?

North-Star-Geography

 As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

Tools of the Trade

Tools for measuring position have changed dramatically since the first explorers began traversing the globe. While the compass has not changed dramatically, many other tools have been invented. We loved reading about the tools early explorers used to navigate in North Star Geography and have enjoyed using some of these ourselves.

Compass: a good orienteering compass is important for learning and using a compass. Compass Sighting, or triangulation, uses two points to determine your location using a compass, a map, and a pencil. We use a compass often – we love the sport of orienteering.

Marine Astrolabe: The original tool for mariners, the astrolabe was a circle, held by a ring at the top, with a  movable sight. The navigator would hold the instrument by the ring to determine the angle of a star relative to the horizon. The navigator would often sight multiple stars and consult reference books or Star Charts for accuracy.

Quadrant: Similar to a Marine Astrolabe but only a quarter of a circle and with a longer sight, allowing for greater accuracy.

Sextant and Octant (1700s): Instruments similar to a Quadrant but smaller (1/6 and 1/8 of a circle) that relied on two sights – one for the horizon and another for the sun or stars. Mirrors were used so that someone could see both objects at the same time.

Radar: A modern device that uses radio waves bounced off distant objects and calculates the time it takes them to return to calculate distance.

Sonar: Another modern device that works the same way underwater, but using sound waves instead of radio. We have utilized sonar on a few occasions – while fishing with family on the North Sea, while enjoying water sports on Shasta Lake, and most recently in the Galápagos. It is fun to see what the surface looks like below the water.

Topographic Maps: In modern mapping, a topographic map is a type of map characterized by large-scale detail and quantitative representation of relief, using contour lines to show elevations and landforms. We love looking at topographic maps and have even used them to create 3-dimensional models, Build Geography Skills with Topographic Maps.

Other tools used by navigators include a Chip Log (piece of wood tied to a rope with knots at regular intervals), GPS, and Binoculars.

navigationBring it Home

Map the sky:  Learn to recognize constellations through the seasons and how navigators used the stars to stay on course.

Use a sextant to sight the north star to measure your latitude. You can determine this using the maximum height of the sun during the day and the maximum height of the north star at night. It is easiest to do this on a beach (large lake or ocean) where you can site off the water, but you can do it in your backyard using a level as well. The trick is finding a sextant! See How a Sextant Works for more information.

Navigation where you are:  How was your state or area explored? Here in California, Sir Francis Drake is linked to the earliest exploration here, though some historians dispute he ever landed here. Who is a famous explorer where you live? Study more about him. Where was he from? Who traveled with him? What navigational tools did he have at the time?

Determine Magnetic Declination:  This is the difference between magnetic north (or south) on your compass and true north (south). This will vary depending on where you are and over time. You can usually find the magnetic declination on USGS maps for wilderness or navigational use. We have one of some local forest lands which include the magnetic declination as part of the map’s key. If you can’t find out specifically what it is where you are, just investigate what it means and how to find out what it is and why it’s important.

The Market of Otavalo

Otavalo’s beauty lies in its people and surroundings, the Otavaleños and the towering volcanoes that surround the andean town. The Otavalo Market, which makes this market town famous, is undoubtedly one of the most important and spectacular markets in all of Latin America.

When I was in Ecuador years ago, I had wanted to go but was unable. I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass me by again.

otavalo The Otavalo market is a fascinating way to experience traditional Ecuadorian culture and the traditions of the Andes. Local people use market day much the way their ancestors did during Ecuador’s pre-Colombian history. The market is attractive to visitors for both its outstanding shopping and its cultural significance.

History has it that Otavaleños have been talented textile makers and businesspeople since ancient times, prior even to the Inca invasion. The textile boom in Otavalo took off in the early 1960’s, when Otavaleños began to use weaving techniques introduced from Scotland.

The weavers diversified their products and soon established themselves throughout the country. Now, with over 80% of the Otavaleños involved in textile industry, products from Otavalo are found in markets around the world.

textiles

Traveling to Otavalo from Quito is a full day excursion. We inquired about the price of a tour bus but soon realized that it would be less expensive to hire a private driver for the four of us.

Upon our arrival in Otavalo, we found parking along the street near the market and began to browse. To my surprise, many of the vendors offered the same thing .. blouses, sashes, and traditional skirts for women as well as plastic toys for young children.

I’d hoped to see a variety of handcrafts and local artwork, but a las, I was disappointed. I learned too late that the best day of the week to hit the market is Saturday. Sadly we were there on a Thursday.

otavalohatsWe did make a few small purchases. Panama Hats are native to Ecuador and can be bought at the market as well as many upscale boutiques and shops throughout the country. My son loves hats and I expected him to come home with one, however, the style that most appealed to him were those worn by the local Otavaleños.

He put his bargaining skills to work and even tried to use a little Spanish. His personal style certainly shines. He turned a lot of heads and many locals admired his hat throughout our journey in the Andes.

 

 

The City of Quito

Having spent a few days in Quito years ago on my own, I wanted to introduce this historic city to my family. We thereby arrived in Quito a few days prior to our expedition (which was to meet in Guayaquil on the 17th of October).

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city and stands at an altitude of 2,850 m. The capital city derives its name from the Quitus, who inhabited the region a long time before the Spanish conquest.

Despite the 1917 earthquake, the city has the best-preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America. The monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo, and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía, with their rich interiors, are examples of the ‘Baroque school of Quito’, which is a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art.

quitoThe city occupies a small basin in the great central plateau formed by the volcano Pichincha, the Puengasi ridge, and ridges formed by spurs from the eastern side of Pichincha. The houses of Quito are chiefly built in the old Spanish or Moorish style. The building material in general use is sun-dried brick, covered in the better houses with plaster or stucco.

Upon consulting with the concierge at our hotel, we opted to purchase tickets for the City Bus Tour (hop on hop off). This was a great introduction to the city – enabling us to see some of the famous churches and plazas. We hopped off at only a few places: El Panecillo, La Plaza Grande, y El Teleférico.

El Panecillo is a 200m high hill of volcanic origin with a peak elevation of 3,016m above sea level. The original names used by the aboriginal inhabitants was Yavirac. According to a Jesuit historian, there had been a temple which the indians used to worship the sun; later destroyed by Spanish conquistadores.

In 1976, the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herráan Matorras was commissioned by the religious order of the Oblates to build a 45m tall aluminum monument of a madonna. It is made of 7,000 pieces of aluminum and was inaugurated on 28 Mar 1976 by the 11th Archbishop of Quito.

quito2While enjoying the views from the Panecillo, we purchased a cup of sliced mango. The kids were looking forward to a sweet refreshing treat but to their disgust, discovered the fruit had been sprinkled with salt and lemon .. too sour for their taste.

Our next stop was the La Plaza Grande where we visited the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus, did a little shopping, and enjoyed a wonderful Ecuadorian meal at Hasta la Vista Señor. Geneva purchased a poncho here and wrapped herself up in it for much of our trip.

In the photo collage above, you can see Geneva wasn’t very happy. She and Jeffrey had been arguing for much of the morning and just before we snapped this family photo, he had stepped on her foot. Ah, the joys of traveling with kids.

Our last stop was the Teleférico – a gondola lift running from the edge of the city center up the east side of Pichincha Volcano to the lookout Cruz Loma.  It is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising form 3117m to 3945m. Geneva and I actually began to feel the effects of the altitude. My heart felt constricted, I was very winded (hard to catch my breath), and we even a little dizzy. Yikes! We thereby opted not to walk any higher – though Patrick and Jeffrey braved forward.

The view was incredible though. It reminded me a little of the viewpoint in Hong Kong – the infrastructure was there, but it had not been maintained. From my research upon our return home, I learned that the aim was to create an entire mall at its base, with cinemas, coffee shops, and an amusement park. Unfortunately this project eventually fell through (though a small cafe, gift shop, and an amusement park – Vulqano Park, still remain).

 

Rainforest Caterpillars

As a teacher, I’ve had some amazing opportunities over the years. For a while now, I have wanted to write a post about them here to share some insight into who I am – to describe how I came to be the person I am today. I wanted to share some of them with you in hopes that I might inspire you. Accordingly, some of the posts you see around here in the near future may be a bit of a departure from your garden-variety homeschool blog. Sometimes, I just like to get these things in print so I’ll remember that they actually happened. For today, here’s a snapshot of one of those teaching experiences that changed my life.

rain cats

People are pretty jealous when I tell them I’ve recently returned from a trip to Ecuador. They immediately ask, “Did you go the Galapagos?” Did you stay at a beach resort?” I have to be honest and answer, “No, I collected caterpillars.” While this may seem a bizarre way to spend ones vacation, I really did venture into the rainforests of Ecuador for two weeks as part of an Earthwatch expedition.

Rainforest Caterpillars

The purpose of this particular expedition was to assist a team of scientists in their investigations of caterpillar defenses against their natural enemies, particularly parasitoids. The principal investigators, Dr. Lee Dyer (Assistant Professor at Tulane University), Thomas Walla, and Craig Dodson (Associate Professors at Mesa State College), had four major research goals. The first was to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness caterpillars have against their natural enemies. Secondly, to examine caterpillar diets (generalist versus specialist feeders), hoping to clarify to what extent plant chemistry and natural enemies affect the diet of herbivores (more specifically, caterpillars). The third goal was to relate the results to agriculture as an alternative to the current use of pesticides. The fourth goal was to inventory the biodiversity of an ecosystem that is disappearing at an alarming rate.

After several years of caterpillar study at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, Dr. Dyer and his colleagues are pioneering a companion project in the lesser-known and threatened Ecuadorian rainforest. My expedition team was the first to work at Yanayacu Biological Station in Ecuador, a privately owned preserve on the eastern slope of the Ecuadorian Andes.

Caught between plants, predators, and parasites, caterpillars have been forced to develop a bizarre armory of survival skills. For the most part, while many butterflies are well known as adults, the details of their life as caterpillars (the longest part of their life), is poorly known, and many inter-related questions need to be answered. Getting data to provide answers for these questions is what the expedition was all about, and in order to obtain that data, many mundane chores and practical tasks needed to be carried out.

A typical day of research usually involved a lot of hiking. In order to study caterpillars, you need to find them first. We usually set out with our collecting kits, to scour the roadsides and other disturbed areas (prime caterpillar habitat) for these elusive creatures. Finding one elicited shouts of joy in the beginning. After a few days in the humidity and nearly constant drizzle of the forest, the excitement wore off (but it was always exciting to find a new or interesting species).
Rainforest Caterpillars

In the lab, another group of volunteers was ready to process the new arrivals. Essentially, each individual caterpillar was given a unique number, identified taxonomically, and the behaviors, coloration, and morphology were recorded. The caterpillar was then ready to be placed in the “zoo”. The caterpillar specimens are then cared for until they pupate and either emerge as adult Lepidoptera or a parasitoid emerges. Each day, volunteers cleaned the bags of frass (entomological term for caterpillar droppings) and condensation, and assured that each bag had fresh plant material. As we did so, we also checked the status of the caterpillar and noted any changes (presence of a parasitoid or pupa).

In the Classroom

So, how will I use all this in the classroom? As a fifth grade teacher, one of my favorite (also the most popular with students) thematic units is on invertebrate animals. Since caterpillars are considered to be one of the most serious pests of agriculture, it was only natural that part of the study included trying to find a more natural way to control their population. Using their natural enemies against them, parasitoids seem to be a logical solution. This would be something that my students could explore locally.

But much more important than any facts which I can teach my students are my experiences and adventures in the rainforest. One of the main things I have learned is that we need a new “law of the jungle.” Biodiversity and the interconnectedness of all the creatures of the rainforest show us that we must honor the balance of nature. These are the great lessons of the rainforest which I hope to pass on to my students: attitudes and perspectives which provide a new vision of the world, one celebrating life’s diversity and offering an alternative to the 19th century views which still persist. That’s my lesson plan.

I wish to thank the other Rainforest Caterpillars of Ecuador volunteers – Kristen, David, James, Bruce and Joanna; the Principal Investigators – Lee, Tom, and Craig; and our host – Harold Greeney, for helping to make the expedition so enjoyable. I would also like to thank the Earthwatch Institute for providing the opportunity for the expedition. And I offer special thanks to the Society of American Foresters, Menasha Corporation, and Dr. Craig Stephenson for making my part in the expedition financially possible. It was the adventure of a lifetime and a dream come true.