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April 23, 2024

Carter goes boating, visits the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador

By CARTER BANKER | April 28, 2012

After spending the majority of the semester talking about Asia, I want to shift gears and move to South America, specifically Ecuador. I spent about nine days in this beautiful country over winter break, although for the majority of that time I was on a boat in the Galapagos. My best friend, Christina and her boyfriend Austin who both go to Brown, were in Ecuador right after I left, and were able to give me the lowdown on their favorite parts of mainland Ecuador.
Both Christina and Austin agree that their favorite part of Ecuador was a place called Banos, a tiny, somewhat touristy town in Central/Southern Ecuador that was filled with young, college-age travelers. Banos has lots of fun outdoorsy activities. You can go white water rafting, hiking, rock climbing, and even zip lining! The town is famous for its hot springs and beautiful waterfalls. Aside from the outdoor activities, there are also lots of bars and nightclubs and some really great restaurants.
The capital of Ecuador is Quito. I spent a day there before getting on a boat to explore the Galapagos, and the old section of the city is quite charming. I was only able to visit a couple of churches and see the view of Quito from the top of a mountain next to a giant statue of the Virgin Mary (I didn't think the view was all that great, but Christina says that it was her favorite thing in Quito so I guess you'll just have to go and make a decision for yourself). Christina and Austin on the other hand spent a few days in Quito, and they told me about the best things to do on the weekends. During the day they had fun hanging out in the main square because there were tons of people around and lots of street performances to watch. For dinner they say you absolutely must go to an area called La Calle Ronda. On Friday and Saturday nights, officials block off the streets from cars and lots of restaurants on the first floors of people's homes open up. The ambiance is supposed to be great - lots of music, cobblestone streets, lots of locals and great local food.
After my day in Quito, my family and I had to take two flights to get to the airport on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. When we finally arrived, we got on dinghies and were taken to our boat, La Pinta. My sister and I felt really seasick that first night, and I was worried that I was going to feel that way for the next seven days, but I woke up in the morning feeling fine (thank you Dramamine). Our schedule everyday on the boat was some variation of the following: a hike in the morning, snorkeling, then another hike in the afternoon. The islands were much bigger than I had expected, and I kept wondering to myself how Darwin had been able to notice the differences between the species on the different islands. He was clearly much more observant than I am.
My favorite animals were the sea lions and the blue-footed boobies. We saw sea lions on basically every island that we visited, but they were just so adorable (especially the babies) that I was excited every time I saw them. One very unique feature of the Galapagos Islands is that the animals, by and large, are not afraid of people. This means that you can get really close to them and they won't run away (although they might try to attack you if you come too close to their young). Since I have never been in such close proximity to animals, I never realized just how complex their behavior could be. There are no words to describe the experience of snorkeling with sea lions. They would appear out of nowhere and then almost dance with you. It was incredible. The blue-footed boobies were great because they were just so funny looking. They are probably the second most famous bird associated with the Galapagos, after Darwin's finches.
There were lots of other awesome animals in the Galapagos too. There were penguins, iguanas (they were funny because they would all pile on top of one another), frigate birds, sharks (yes I saw some while I was snorkeling, and no it surprisingly wasn't terrifying because they were swimming way below me and they weren't more than 5 feet long), turtles and orcas. Yes I said orcas. One of the most amazing experiences that we had was when we were in the dinghies on our way to a walk on one of the islands, when all of a sudden one of the guides spotted an orca. When even your guide, who sees most of these animals on a daily basis, gets excited, you know you are witnessing something extraordinary. All four of the dinghies (there were 40 people on our boat) rushed over to get closer to the killer whale. We followed that whale for a full hour and a half. It would appear above the water for a short time and then dive under, then resurface somewhere far away a few minutes later. One time the orca jumped out of the water just a few feet away from my dinghy and we all screamed at the top of our lungs. It was terrifying. We knew that if he had been just a couple of feet closer he would have capsized us. But after the initial terror had passed, I felt exhilarated.
Despite my close encounter with the orca, I hope I have convinced you that Ecuador is a great place to visit. When it comes to the Galapagos Islands, the best way to see them is by staying on a boat, because the islands are pretty far apart and you would not be able to see many of the further away islands if you just tried to take day trips on a small boat. Hopkins offers an Intersession program in Ecuador and the Galapagos in which you get to visit both the islands and the rainforest. I have friends that have done this program and I highly recommend it. You'll never get the opportunity to take advantage of such a reasonably priced trip to the Galapagos again, so what are you waiting for? Sign up!

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