Galapagos Archives - Page 2 of 2 - Eva Varga

January 12, 201514


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.


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:



Santiago & Bartolomé



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


December 9, 20142

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.

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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.


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?


 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.

November 11, 2014

Wow! The past four weeks really flew. It is hard to believe that a month ago, we were boarding a plane en route to Quito, Ecuador – the first stop in our three week holiday in South America. We had a wonderful time and met many wonderful people along the way who touched our hearts.

I will be sharing stories of our adventures soon. I want to first sort through the photographs to select the best. With four cameras (our iPhones, my husband’s Sony NEX, the Olympus, and the GoPro), it is a little overwhelming. We shot well over 14,000 images and videos.

Galápagos Scavenger Hunt Surprise Package

We had a lot of fun shopping for the scavenger hunt surprise package. I know the Galápagos Scavenger Hunt winners are eager to see their prize package – so here it is!  


I hope you all enjoy the little gifts we collected along our journey. We did our best to include things representative of each of the countries we visited.

  • Tagua Nut keychain (animal varies) – Tagua nut, or vegetable ivory, is the seed of a tree similar to a palm but botanically belonging to ciclantaceus
  • Galápagos woven bookmark or bracelet
  • Llama magnet
  • Peruvian coin
  • Peruvian Ocarina flute (design varies)
  • Andes Spirit “Coca & Menta” tea bag – See Inkanat for more info
  • I will also enclose a CD with a selection of photographs

Galápagos Unit Study

Are you looking for a supplemental unit for your life or earth science curriculum?  The Galápagos Across the Curriculum is a complete unit study integrating math, science, geography, history, language arts, and current events.

galapagos unit


October 10, 20142

Teddy Roosevelt once said that he was educated by traveling the world with trunks full of books that they brought on the ship as the crossed the Atlantic.  Sounds like a dream come true – to be have the means to travel and to be surrounded by books.

Though not everyone has the means to travel, through books you can luxuriate in the possibilities, swimming around in a place’s past, present, and future. How better to enrich the experience of travel than to immerse oneself in a the culture and history of your destination than through quality literature?

This post may contain affiliate links. 


Reading aloud is widely recognized as the single most important activity leading to literacy acquisition.  Reading aloud not only builds vocabulary and literacy, but can also develops a child’s awareness and appreciation for global cultures.

If you enjoy reading aloud to your children as much as I do, why not choose books that might inspire them to go see the world? Here are some fun titles to consider that I selected in anticipation for our upcoming trip to the Galápagos Islands.

Island: A Story of the Galápagos by Jason Chin

Island is above all a wonder-filled story of epic proportions. Jason Chin thrills the reader with the geological and biological processes that led to the Galápagos Islands we know today. He writes:

“…in order to create an engaging story, I have included events and details that are necessarily speculative. . . [but the] island formation, species colonization, and evolution described in this book are real. This story is based on science, but brought to life through my imagination…”

An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos by Tony Johnston

Johnston’s collection of poems records her observations during a trip to the Galápagos, which she characterizes as a place “wild and vast and stark, looking out over the endless and shining sea.” All the poems are short and the black and white illustrations are perfect. She uses a variety of poetry style – rhyming couplets, blank verse, and haiku – to recount her experiences in the islands.  What I like best about this book is that it provides children with the encouragement to think about and write about their natural world.

Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George

Jean Craighead George is one of my most beloved children’s authors and is best known for the My Side of the Mountain trilogy and Julie of the Wolves.  Galápagos George introduces children to the wonders of the natural world in this incredible evolution story set in the Galápagos Islands. Like many of her non-fiction works, it also features key terms, a timeline, and further resources for research.

This is the story of the famous Lonesome George, a giant tortoise who was the last of his species, lived to be one hundred years old, and became known as the rarest creature in the world. His story gives us a glimpse of the amazing creatures inhabiting the ever-fascinating Galápagos Islands.

What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer

I was impressed by this non-ficton picture book. Not only are the illustrations beautiful, it is filled with scientific details, snippets from Darwin’s journals and letters, and notes of explanation. Information is presented in an engaging format. I found it easy to incorporate into our unit study and the illustrations inspired us to try to emulate.

Galapagos at the Crossroads by Carol Ann Bassett

For many, the Galápagos Islands represent nature at its most unspoiled, famed for its rare flora and fauna. Today, the islands face many perils including a growing human population, invasive species, floods of tourists, and unresolved conflicts between Ecuadorian laws and local concerns. Galápagos at the Crossroads by Carol Ann Bassett provides an alarming portrait of today’s Galápagos Islands.

I really enjoyed this book and it opened my eyes to the peril the islands are facing. The anecdotes Bassett shared also helped to make global connections between the harvesting of sea cucumbers in the islands to the demand for these in China (which we observed during our travels a year ago). Though this book is written with adults in mind, reading aloud select chapters would provide middle school students with an understanding of these endangered islands.

September 29, 20141

Subscribers to my quarterly newsletter have had the opportunity to take part in an online scavenger hunt in anticipation for our journey to the Galápagos this fall.   The following scavenger hunt questions were posed and all correct responses were entered into a drawing for a fun, surprise package that I will mail to the winner upon our return.

  1. Many of the plant and animal species that inhabit the Galapagos Islands are endemic. What does this mean? (Answer: They can be found nowhere else on Earth.)
  2. What famous American author visited the Galapagos Islands during the whaling era and later wrote about them in his story “The Encantadas”? (Answer: Herman Melville.)
  3. Name two threats to the delicate ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands that environmental groups and government officials are trying to prevent. (Answers: Population pressures; tourism; introduced species; poaching; illegal fishing)
  4. True or False? The only islands that are formed from more than one volcanic peak are Fernandina and Isabela. (Answer: False.)
  5. What cyclical climatic event has a huge influence on weather around the world, and especially on the Galapagos Islands? (Answer: El Nino.)
  6. What island can you discover Hammerhead sharks while snorkeling?  (Answer: Wolf and Darwin islands.)
  7. What island can you find the Galápagos Albratros? Name one interesting fact about the Galápagos Albratros.  (Answer: The waved albatross breeds primarily on Española Island in the Galápagos archipelago.)
  8. What island can you see both sea lions and fur seals? What is the difference between them? (Answer: The Galápagos Fur Sea Lion is an endemic species to the Islands, and prefers rocky coastlines. It has a rather blunt snout and thick fur coating. Galápagos Sea Lions have a rather pointed snout and thinner fur lining.  They inhabit both beaches and rocky shorelines.)
  9. What is the oldest island in the Galápagos? (Answer: South Plaza and Espanola islands.)

Surprisingly, there were only four entries in the contest. I thereby decided to honor all four entries! Congratulations to Sarah Dierflinger, Krista Baker, Dawnielle Penn, and Cathy Plungis!!  I will mail out your surprise package – and reveal the contents here on my website upon our return this fall. Look for more details in the weeks to come.

You can have one of your own high seas adventure by exploring the resources and activities I have developed in anticipation of our travels. The Galápagos Across the Curriculum is a complete unit study integrating math, science, geography, history, language arts, and current events. It is a great supplemental unit to your life or earth science curriculum.

galapagos unit

I will also be sharing field notes upon our return. I am not confidant we will always have internet, however. If I do, you will want to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter for live reports from the field.


September 15, 20141

This fall, our family will be taking a journey to the Ecuador and Perú. I am so very excited as we will be traveling to the Galápagos and Machu Picchu – two locations on my dream list.

In preparation for this excursion, I have created a multidisciplinary unit study, Galápagos Across the Curriculum,  and am delighted to share it with you.

Please Note :: This unit study includes lessons and activities on Darwin and evolution.

Galápagos Unit Study

The Galápagos islands were originally called the “Enchanted Isles” because the capricious meandering of the Humboldt Current had the effect of making the islands disappear and reappear to passing ships. The islands were discovered accidentally in 1525 by Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, who wrote of the strangeness and mystery of the Galápagos, “such big tortoises that could carry a man on top of itself, and many iguanas liked serpents … and many birds like those of Spain, but so silly that they do to know how to flee …”

galapagos unit

Come along and discover the mystery of the Galápagos for yourself. The Galápagos Across the Curriculum unit study incorporates lessons in history, literature, writing, biology, ecology, geology, taxonomy, meteorology, and oceanography.  Specific unit vocabulary is defined and an extensive list of additional reference materials is provided.

Scavenger Hunt

To help build excitement, I have also created an online scavenger hunt for my newsletter subscribers. All correct responses will be entered into a drawing to win a fun surprise package from our travels this fall. I will reveal the winner on September 29th, so if you haven’t yet entered, there is still time.

Simply hit ‘Return’ or ‘Enter’ on your keyboard to submit your email address and subscribe to my newsletter.