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Day 1   Vancouver

To Arrowview Elementary School Room 3 Gr2-3: Hi every body! Here's a picture from our hotel room window.

Today we went to Vancouver. On the ferry we saw a guy who made a leg out of a pogo stick. He broke off the bottom springy part of the pogo stick and fixed it to his upper leg so that he can walk around. It is his own invention! He said he is part of a company that now makes pogo legs like this. He said that it is much more stable and springy than a typical fake leg.

During our two day stop in Miami we travelled to the Florida Keys. We stopped at a place called Robbie's Beach. It's not as much a beach as it is a dock, but the dock is the main attraction because there are so many pelicans and these great big ugly fish called Tarpon. We fed the Tarpon and the pelicans tried to steal the fish. One pelican stole a fish from Thomas! The pelican was almost as big as Thomas.

February 7 - Alligators in the Florida Everglades!

We spent the morning in the Everglades, which is a large, grassy, swampy area measuring about 150 by 110 kilometres in Florida. The average depth of the water is 5 to 60 centimetres, and is home to many birds, fish and alligators! We learned that alligators live in fresh water (crocodiles live in salt water), have pretty tiny brains, and need to be warm to digest their food. The male alligators basically do nothing, and try eat the baby alligators, and the females have to protect the babies. The females lay eggs every two years, and the babies stay with their mum for about two years. We held a four year old alligator named Larry. We don't think he liked it because his mouth was taped shut, and he tried to attack his handler. We were told that the differences between alligators and crocodiles (Florida has both) is that alligators are much darker and much less intelligent than crocs, and that alligators will swim away from you while crocs will go after you. Who knew?

February 8 - We've Arrived in the Galapagos Islands!

After more check points, tarrifs and baggage checks than we care to record here, we finally arrived in the Galapagos Islands! We landed at the airport on Isla Baltra, bussed to a small ferry, and then boated to Isla Santa Cruz, which is where we will make our base for the next 10 days. It is midsummer here, which is very hot, rainy and full of fertile new life. Tortoises, iguanas and birds are all looking for a mate (or two or three or 80, depending upon the creature!) We are staying at a bed and breakfast in the highlands, along with several other guests and three giant male tortoises who live on the property. We are lucky that they are still here as the arrival of the rains is their signal to head the ten kilometres down to the coast to find some lovely ladies. Pictured above is the biggest of the three tortoises, and he is absolutely huge (over 250 kilograms). You can see he has a GPS device glued on his shell. His movements are monitored by researchers and assist in understanding the behaviours of male tortoises.

After settling in, we went to the Darwin Research Station in search of Lonesome George. He was extra lonely today, and did not come out.

February 9  Isla Bartolome

We saw penguins today! No kidding – and we swam with one.  It was tiny – about a foot long.  A long time ago the penguins came up on a cool current from Antartica to the Galapagos Islands, but now it’s all hot, but they don’t mind.  They might like the warm water and they might have adapted to it. Also today we swam with a couple of sea lions. It was a little scary because they swam right up to us and are bigger than our parents!  

February  10 - Isle South Plaza

 Hooray! Finally an Iguana for Room 3!!   Hey classmates, iguanas are very weird. They like to push other smaller iguanas off rocks and then they do head bobs because they are showing that they are better than the smaller iguanas. I’ve seen about 30 iguanas – both land iguanas and marine iguanas (different species) and also baby iguanas. Sea iguanas like land better than water even though they are called sea iguanas. Charles Darwin used to throw them into the water and they would always swim back to the land to warm up.  Also today we saw white tooth sharks. One came by when we were swimming  in the water and it was bigger than us! Our mum was a little worried as we are smaller and tastier than the adults. Later, a shark  was circling our boat hoping to catch a sea lion for lunch. Hasta Luego! Thomas.

Male Iguanas and A Cactus Pear

On Isla South Plaza these two male land iguanas are squaring off  - but not over the tasty, prickly cactus pear (upper left), but over territory.

Notice the dry, dusty, rubble on the ground. Although not visible in the photo, these two iguanas are under a pear cactus.

Land Iguanas are able to negotiate the prickles of the pear cactus in order to get to the fruit inside.

When it's not the rainy season (as it is now) the iguanas rely on the moisture in the cacti to survive.

February 11  Isla Santa Fe

Alison’s Turn: Today saw  yet another spectacular cruise from  Puerto Ayora to the ecologically sensitive and significant  island of Santa Fe, where humans can touch only a very small portion of the arid landmass. Scientists may apply for special access to certain parts of Santa Fe at a cost of US$ 1,000 per day. Our tour of 12 people (Americans, British and Russians) had access to one bay, bordered by two small beaches and a 300 metre long marked trail along the cliffs. Despite the small area, our experience was incredible. First, we visited the beaches, where there were herds of what were originally Californian Sea Lions (now genetically altered such that they are a separate species and considered endemic to about half of the Galapagos Islands). We stood within 3 metres of the mothers,  fathers and babies ranging from newborn to 3 years old. Incredibly, we watched and listened to the suckling of the babies – and have video to show you upon our return!  The females give birth to one calf each year; the young nurse for three years before they are developed enough to fend for themselves. Mothers will go away to hunt for up to six days, while the male of each herd guards the young.  One male sea lion will be the patriarch of up to 80 females and their  young.  We then walked along the cliffs and saw several land iguanas whom, like the Sea Lions, are  unique  to Santa Fe. One male land iguana seemed to wait for our arrival before eating the lone pear that had fallen off of the pear cactus that he was sitting under. Nearby were two Galapagos Doves presumably in some sort of courtship dance, and several Darwin Finches. In the distance, we watched as Blue Footed Boobies coasted in the sky and then dove into the ocean. Upon our return to our boat, we snorkelled along the rocks, and experienced two amazing things. First, we watched as sea lions swam back and forth along the rocks, observing their movements underwater. One curious Lion came right up to Darryl and Thomas, peering into Darryl’s mask.  A little too close for comfort given that there were young around. And second, we swam with a sea turtle – and discovered that with flippers, we were all able to keep up with it.  The turtle was about 70 cms in diametre and seemed a little bewildered by our presence.  I wondered if it thought that we were predators.

February  12 –  Fungus, Feces and Las Grietas!

What a day! Kaeden’s turn:  This morning we went on a fungus hunt on the property where we are staying to get pictures for my Five Kingdoms project (Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protists and Monera). I found about 10 or 15 different kinds of fungus but I didn’t get any pictures. Later in the day we came back, and more than half of them had died in the heat! I still got some good pictures, but I’m going to go back to get good photos before it gets too hot. The most interesting fungus was a little white one growing on a tortoise guano. It had a very long stem and a small bulb that looked kind of like a deformed mushroom. But the real shocker was when I came back with my camera only wilted stems were left. In the afternoon we went to the beach. It wasn’t that great.  It was pretty dirty and we think someone was pumping sewage into the bay! It didn’t make for the best snorkelling, and my mum was really grossed out. Then, we took a 20 minute walk over volcanic rocks and rubble, past a couple of lagoons, and at the end of the walk there was a pool of brackish water (where salt water and fresh water mixes and forms two layers). It was a volcanic fissure called Las Grietas, and it had very steep cliff sides and was very deep. We got a good deal going down there as about 30 people left as we were getting there, and we had the swimming spot all to ourselves. Imagine what it would be like if there were 30 or 40 people down there all at once because it wasn’t that big! Some people were jumping off the cliff into the water. It was pretty scary to watch. I think they were 30 or 40 feet up.

February 13 – Isla Seymour and Isla Santa Cruz

Kaeden’s Turn: Today we saw Frigate Birds on Isla Seymour in their mating season. We knew it was their mating season because,  one,  there were many females circling overhead. Two, there were many males with their red throat pouches inflated to attract females. And three, the guide told us. They only have one chick at a time and both parents take care of the chick. The male sits on top of the female when they m***.  After they, well, you get the idea, the male’s red pouch can no longer be inflated and becomes less red. The males who do not get selected (the females chose the males) lose the colour in the red sack and have to wait until the next mating season to get the red colour back. There are two  types of Frigate Birds on Isla Seymour (I’m pretty sure it’s not three): The Great Frigate Birds and the Magnificent Frigate Birds (no kidding – these are real species!). The difference is that the Magnificent Frigate Birds have glossy green feathers on their shoulders and upper back, while the Great Frigate Birds do not. They do not cross breed (and possibly cannot crossbreed) because they are different species.  Frigate Birds are some of the most magnificent and interesting birds on Galapagos, but they are pirates – scoundrels of the air! They steal other birds’ eggs and food (seriously).

Also today we saw BOOBIES! Blue Footed Boobies, to be exact. The booby part apparently comes from the a Spanish word for clown (bobo), although we couldn't find that word in our dictionary. The Boobies are amazing as they dive-bomb into schools of fish when they hunt. There were lots of them along with the Frigate Birds, and I saw two Boobies doing the courtship dance. It basically looks like they are making heart shapes with their beaks and necks, and they lift their big blue feet up like clowns  as though they’re dancing. I saw one dancing Boobie scratch its back with its foot during this dance (although it could have been its mate’s foot). We also saw giant male land iguanas on Isla Seymor. They looked overgrown, but the size, shape and colour of land iguanas varies from island to island. I also saw female iguanas protecting their land nests on Isla Seymor. Basically what I saw was a bunch of female black marine iguanas  guarding holes that they had dug in the sand and were obviously filled with eggs . I saw two of them doing “head bobs” at each other, and then one of the iguanas got chased off by the other. When we got back on our boat it started to rain – and our next stop was the beach, but nobody really cared because the water was warmer than the air. Before we got in the water we crossed over a sand dune where there was a pond. In the dry season it always filled with flamingos. Yes, Flamingos. Luckily, and unluckily, there was only one today. The Flamingo gets its pink colour from the shrimp that eats. The shrimp live in the pond, where they eat algae (protists/monera?) that forms in the pond during the dry season.  There must have been some algae and shrimp left in the pond as there was still the one flamingo there.  Upon our return to the beach we passed fresh seaturtle nests. You could still see the tracks made by the sea turtles).   The sandunes reminded  me of Rathtrevor Beach on Vancouver Island as they kind of looked the same and because you are not allowed on the dunes at either place. But, enough about the land! Lets  get down to the sealife. Next we went snorkelling. I saw many fish but the water was a bit murky. I saw lots of angel fish and a fish that looks like Dory from “Finding Nemo”.  I also saw a fluorescent fish. It looked kind of funny as it looked like it had electric blue streaks on it. It was about 15 cms long, very skinny and had a long belly. The rain had stopped when we were swimming but started up again when we got in the dingy to go back to our boat (we were wet anyway so we didn’t really mind).

Februay 15 – The Joy of the Rainy Season

Alison's Turn:  February is the wettest, hottest month in the Galapagos Islands. It is also the mating season for many Galapagan creatures – including sea turtles, tortoises, most  species of iguanas and, of course, the birds. Given the heat (over 30 degrees celcuis except in the two hours either side of the sunrise) and humidity, I very much doubt that humans are included in this massive assembly of new life. Further, the moisture and heat have left the vegetation bulging with fruits and shining in glorious shades of green. The smell is drenched with a fresh sweetness.  Each morning we awaken at sunrise (around 6:00 am) and watch from our beds as the colours of the moist canopy grow in the changing light, and the white egrets move northward to the inland of Isla Santa Cruz.

The habits of each of the creatures in terms of bringing new life to the Islands is truly amazing – and completely accepted as a part of Galapagos culture. In fact, many serious postcards feature tortoises, birds and iguanas stacked upon each other in their efforts  to produce young.  Can you imagine an equivalent postcard being sold in the tourist mecca of Oceanside featuring  crabs, bears or white tailed deer?!

The photo here is of a female giant tortoise. You can tell she is a female because her shell has been worn down by the movements of heavy male giant tortoises (200-500 pounds!) on top of her.  Usually during this four hour process the females tuck their heads away inside their shells. No wonder.

An afternoon Tour de Bahais

This afternoon we took a wonderful tour of the bays around Puerto Ayora. Our guides, Eduardo and Armando were animated, enthusiastic and comical. We were taken snorkelling, and up close with pelicans, sea lions and Blue Footed Boobies. You might remember Kaeden writing about the Frigate Birds and how they have the reputation for being pirates as they steal anything that they can. We saw this "skill" in action, when Armando held a tiny dead fish, and the Frigate Bird photographed here came from 200 metres in the air to take it from him. Nice photography on the rocking boat, Kaeden.

February 16  – Hanging out and doing school work in the Highlands

Thomas’ Turn:  Hola amigos, today we are having a bit of a break from our usual hectic pace. After breakfast we had a stroll around the guesthouse property to take pictures of fungi and other biota for Kaeden and my school project. I took five (cinco) photos of various fungi (fun guy). We were for searching for tortoises that live on the property and we finally came across one. When we got to the guesthouse there was another one right outside our window. How ironic was that! On our walk we also saw banana trees and picked some to eat. They were very tangy! There is coffee growing among trees. Steps to making a coffee berry into a roasted coffee bean: 1. Pick the berry off the tree. 2. Open up the berry to get the seeds (bean). 3.  Roast the beans. 4. Peel open the roasted bean and take out the inside part of the bean. 5. Roast the inside part of the bean again until it is the right colour. 6. Package the beans or use them right away like my parent do 10 times a day here. Next we are going to go gift shopping in the town and eat food and drink soda pop. We will most likely (certainly) get ice cream tonight when it is the coolest part of the day to have it. The town has lots of restaurants with tasty food. We like to eat in restaurants where to local people eat. We not eat in the hotels or high price restaurants (for tourists) were people speak English.  There is tasty beef and chicken cooked on a grill. They use a hair dryer to blow the heat to cook it faster. They eat lots of rice and beans but I don’t like it very much so I get french fries (papas fritas) every day. The town has an awesome ice cream place. They have many many many different flavours such as vanilla, coconut , passion fruit, etc. Cookies and Cream is my favourite. We like to sit upstairs and watch activities on the street below. In town we can see many wild animals. It is really cool because we can walk down the street and see lava lizards crossing the street, sea lions resting on the pier and rocks, mantas and marine iguanas swimming in the harbour, blue-footed boobies near by and pelicans looking for a free meal at the fish docks. And as you can tell, I am learning to speak some Spanish. Adios amigos.

The sand dunes at Tortuga Bay, where the Tortugas del Marino come up from the sea to lay their eggs. Like Rathtrevor Beach, you are not allowed on the sand dunes.

February 18 –  A Long Walk to Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay is on Isla Santa Cruz, just to the west of the town of Puerto Ayora. It is accessibly only by foot via a 2.5 kilometre walk or by boat. The name "Bahai de Tortuga" is for the giant sea turtles that lay their eggs in the sand dunes. We did not see any sea turtles (we were told they lay their eggs at night), but we did see several turtle tracks and many freshly dug holes where turtles had laid their eggs. Interestingly, the Spanish "Tortuga" refers to both turtles and tortoises, with turtles being "tortugas del marino" and tortoises being "tortugas de la tera".

The beach (la playa) is made up of fine white sand, runs for about 1.5 kilometres, and seems to have a constant surf and the danger of riptides. Yes, it is reminiscent of Tofino - although much warmer and less undertow. Because of the vigorous surf, the locals walk the length of the south facing part of the bay, past a small peninsula and into a smaller west facing bay. Here, the water is very calm,and the mangroves provide shade for the human visitors, and local finches and marine iguanas. We spent much of one day in the sheltered part of Bahai de Tortuga, finishing with some body surfing on the south beach.

Cactus Finches
While at Tortuga Bay we were joined by many Cactus Finches. The females are brown with spotted chests, while the males are black. Their beaks are formed in a manner that allows them to peck at cacti in order to feed. Cactus Finches are one of 13 separate species of Finches on the Galapagos Islands (there may be a 14th species although this is still being determined). Darwin's research on the Galapagos focused on these 13 species of Finches, and concluded that all of them originated from a a single species of Finch. The theory is that the original Finches either floated or flew to the islands, and then adapted to the myraid of conditions on the islands (from arid, newly vegetated volcanic rock beds to the lush jungle canopy). Each of these 13 species are considered to now be endemic to the Galapagos Islands, and are protected along with all other types of wildlife. Of course, Darwin's famous conclusion was that it is not those who are the strongest nor most intelligent who survive, but those who are most able to adapt to change. My opinion is that Darwin got a little lucky in his research on the Galapagos Islands (he spent only five weeks in the area). However, this particular conclusion does seem fitting for many species - including our own.

Kaeden’s Turn: Today we went to Tortuga Bay. Tortuga Bay is, well, a bay, where sea turtles like to nest. I did not see any turtles or tortoises for that matter, but I did see finches, marine iguanas and sandpipers.  The finches are very funny because they are so tiny and cute and hop around and eat any potato or bread product s that you drop. The signs says no feeding any animals , but the finches are very hopeful that you are going to feed them, which basically means that they have been fed a lot! The finches at Tortuga bay range from black to brown with black spots. The black ones are Cactus Finches, and we have some good photos. The male marine iguanas were almost the same size as male land iguanas, and that’s pretty big.  While I was there, they walked around and sunned themselves. But my little brother, who was at the beach two hours earlier, got to swim with a marine iguana! We could get pretty close to the iguanas – especially the sleeping ones! One iguana came right up to us and stayed for about an hour watching us.  He must have been thinking that Thomas’ shirt was green algae and wanted to eat it. My dad called the iguana “Iggy”, and we noticed that he seemed to be smiling. When the tide came in too high at Tortuga Bay, we walked to the beach closer to the trail back in to town. It had huge waves, which are very fun to swim in and jump over. The sign said, and I quote, “Danger. Strong currents. May carry you out to sea.” But there, were many surfers, and compared to Tofino, it was a kiddie pool.

A Lava Lizard - These quick little creatures are Thomas' favourite!

Thomas’ Turn:

The walk in to Tortuga Bay is very long. I was very happy that the trail was paved and not all rocky like the trail to Las Grietas (translated as “the Cracks” swimming hole). We saw lots of finches and lava lizards on the half hour walk. Dad and I rented a kayak and paddled around the mangrove of Tortuga Bay. We found a huge manta ray and a sea turtle. There are three types of manta rays, the Golden ray, Eagle ray Cow-Nose ray (which is what we saw).  I saw a Marine Iguana swimming close to shore and I ran to the water to swim with it. I was swimming along the shore but it wanted to come to the beach. It dove under the water right past me and popped up at the beach. My dad cooked pasta at the guest house last night. I really really liked it so I asked to have it for dinner again tonight. We were so tired that we watched a movie and went to be earlier than most other nights.

Sea Lions!
Do you remember that we swam with the sea lions at Isla Santa Fe on February 13? Our friends Ruth and Paul took this photo on that day with their underwater camera. The sea lions seem to be very curious about swimming masks and come right up to your face and blow bubbles!

February 22 - A special hello to Room 3!

Thank you for your message, and for the Valentines. Yes, some fungi seem to grow only at night. We see them first thing in the morning and then they are gone. But the fungus in the photo that we put here is one that was there every day.

We are in Quito now, and will write about it more tomorrow. Hasta luego, Thomas.

February  20  - 3000 Metres Above Sea Level

Our time in the Galapagos has come to an end, but we are having a “mini vacation” of four nights in Quito, the Capital of Ecuador, and basically on the equator. The population of Quito is about 2.2 million, half the size of the ocean city of Guayaquil, which is Ecuador’s centre of commerce and shipping.  We’re staying in a hotel that was originally somebody’s house, built in the 1600s, in the middle of the “Old City” of Quito. It’s a little strange being in such an old, historic building but able to access high speed internet!  The Old City was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Truthfully, this area was a bit overwhelming for us. The crowded, narrow streets and uniform architecture were a bit of a challenge to negotiate. And, it was difficult to figure out what exactly was open to the public and where it was located.  We did tour around the Old City on foot, as well as the Basilica and another church covered in gold leafing.

What was the most interesting was watching a lot of different people as they went about their business.  We saw a lot of seemingly very poor people selling things like nuts and limes in the busy intersections, or doing performances such as juggling and fire-breathing. One boy who looked about seven years old dragged out a tire and jumped on it in front of cars stopped at a red light, in hopes of a few coins from his onlookers. We also saw children Thomas’ age begging, and women with their babies and toddlers strapped to their backs as they tried to sell their wares along the streets.

Today we travelled with our new found friends, the Weeks Family, to Mindo, which is a cloud forest located about two hours North East of Quito.  It is a particularly beautiful area and a popular spot for tourists. Our friends surprised us with a visit to the area’s original zip line park featuring 13 zip lines totalling 3.5 kilometres of cable (no kidding!).  It was incredible to zip across the valleys of the mountains on the cables, watching the canopy rush by under our feet.  Often, we were 100 metres above the ground – which was fun but also a scary.

In the afternoon we went to Mindo’s equivalent of Butterfly World.  The charm of the attraction is that all of the beautiful butterflies (and there were many) were found in that valley and thrive in their natural environment. The entrance to the attraction is lines with hummingbird feeders where dozens of different multi-coloured birds invite you with their beauty. Interestingly, all of the butterflies that we saw today can be found at Butterfly World, including these Owl's Eye Butterflies.

We would like to say a heartfelt thank you to the Weeks Family, who really took us under their wings during our time in Quito. The Weeks, who are with HCJB Global,  have been in Ecuador for close to a decade, facilitating the set up and operation of Christian based radio broadcasting across the country.  Both their dedication to their mission, and their welcoming nature were very much appreciated by our family.


February 21 – Standing at the Centre of the Earth

Today was another exciting day.... we stood in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres – AT THE SAME TIME!  French scientists travelled to Quito in 1736 to take advantage of the North-South Valley running through the middle of Ecuador in hopes of pinpointing what is now called the equator.  They used triangulation of fixed points (using 36 triangles) across dozens of kilometres across the valley in conjunction with three stars of “Orion’s Belt”  to calculate the curvature of the earth and pinpoint the exact location of the equator.   It took them eight years and a strong team of assistants to find the “Mitad Del Mundo”. Here, Thomas and Kaeden's left feet are in the Southern Hemisphere, while their right feet are firmly in the North!

February 25 - Lonesome George

We're now back home, but we had promised to fill you in on the legend of Lonesome George... As soon as we find our photos of him we'll put them here, along with George's story as the last remaining saddleback tortoise from Isla Pinta.