Ecuador / Galapagos - July 10, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

The End

I put together a little video of some of my photos (I had to take a LOT of them out so they would fit!), so I hope you enjoy it. It seems to sum up the trip pretty well.

I also want to thank Fabian and Alfonso...our amazing tour guides who were with us through thick and thin. They were wonderful and often went above and beyond the call of duty! I also want to thank all of the DSA folks: Bradey, Anson, Treana, Jeff, Holly and the rest who made this trip come true for us. You were wonderful to work with and I would to it again in a minute! The parents of the students also should be commended. Thank you for giving your children this opportunity. They are so lucky to have you--even if you did have to make some sacrifices along the way. Finally, I also want to thank all of the kids. Each and every one of you are such intelligent, responsible, happy, inquisitive, and all-round good people. I can't wait to see what you do with your new found knowledge and experiences. I hope it is a trip that you will remember forever.

Thanks to the readers as well! I hope it inspired you to create adventures of your own! Enjoy the rest of the summer! (And now, if you'll excuse me, I need a nap!!) :)

The Adventure Continues...

Day 14 was a built-in travel day...4 hours from Guayaquil to Miami, 3 hours to Chicago, 1.5 hours to Pittsburgh. No problem, right? ...

When we arrived in Miami, we didn't have a long layover, so we casually jogged to get to customs, but we had to wait forever for our luggage. Our suitcases were practically the last ones! We rallied, checked our bags, and hurried through security. Then we RAN to our gate (not a short run). They said we just made it...We were the last ones on!

A brief nap was in order as well as dinner, since I knew that we were not going to have time to eat in Chicago considering we had to change airlines. When we landed in Chicago, we RAN to Ally's gate to drop her off (it was delayed an hour) and then sprinted through 2 terminals at O'Hare to the United wing. It was going to be close. The kids were losing it a little bit...dropping stuff, couldn't find boarding passes, etc. That's to be expected. We were so close to home! However, when we got to the gate...Our flight had been canceled. :( The customer service line kept us standing around for an hour and we were lucky to have been booked on the first flight out the next morning. After making all of the arrangements, it was almost 11 and we finally got to the hotel at 11:30. The kids were so exhausted. I was exhausted. We just wanted to get home. However, there were NO complaints! I showed tears at one point because I felt so bad for them, but they were troopers and just went to bed.

Ally's flight wasn't canceled until 12:30. By the time I went to pick her up it was 1:30 and we got back at 2. Our wake up call was 4:30am!!!

I'm going to "yadda yadda" the rest of the travel woes, but turns out that we are all home safe and sound and can now reflect on the most excellent experience....including the bonus day of adventures! :) Every second was worth it and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to travel with those students. They are amazing!

Friday, July 23, 2010


Finally, the last leg of the trip!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Here are the adventures in Cuenca!

Day 13

Oh, you have no idea how nice it is to be back to the mainland...While there aren't a lot of giant tortoises or snorkeling opportunities, there are iguanas. And internet! :) Due to the amount of "sad mail" I received, I realized how many people are following us on the blog and are disappointed when we don't post! I was disappointed too, but here we are...back at the Hampton Inn in Guayaquil, soaking up our last hours in Ecuador.

The camera crew and I conducted student interviews tonight and Jenny and I are frantically uploading photos, so go back and check the previous posts to see some of the photos that are newly published! Captions coming soon...

These past few days have been jam-packed with snorkeling, studying wild life, boating, and beaching. Today we flew back to Guayaquil and explored the city. We saw the Moorish clock tower, climbed aboard a school boat, hiked up 444 stairs (+more) to the top of the city lighthouse, and enjoyed our last dinner together. I'll have more to write when I'm not so tired, but here are some photos from today for now! We'll see you back in the states soon!

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Day 12 Photos

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Day 11 Photos

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We just arrived to Guayaquil from Santa Cruz and we are thankful to have high speed internet to post this. I loved snorkeling. I ran out of pictures on my waterproof camera so quickly. The last half of the trip has gone so fast. Last time I posted I was homesick in the Carvallo hotel in Cuenca. I cant wait to arrive home tmorrow and greet my family friends and my little dog Brody.


On three of the days we were in the Galapagos islands we went snorkeling. It was amazing. It was so cool seeing all of the different marine creatures. Seeing all of the different corals and fish was so cool because you could recognize most of the creatures in the water. It was really fun though when we snorkeled through some of the mangrove forest because out of the water it seems so shallow but in the water its around ten feet deep. Seeing the different creatures in the water was fun too. We saw stingrays, sea lions, sea turtles, and tons of different kinds of fish. You could even dive down below the surface so that you would become face to face with the parrot fish, puffers, and angelfish. Hopefully Ill be able to go snorkeling again and have another great experience like this one.

Stone Holtzman

Camping and Ingapirca

Finally! First day camping and Ingapirca!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Days 10 and 11 (I think)

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It's getting to be that part of the trip where I have no idea what day it is and am forgetting what we've done the day before! Our days are so jam packed that they are still so exciting, but exhausting. I started writing this post last night, but I was so tired, I fell asleep in the middle of it! Here's the short version...

In the morning on day 10, we woke up to head straight to the coffee plantation. Turns out the owner of Starbucks had just been there b/c he wanted to sell some Galapagos coffee in the stores. Turns out that there isn't enough to stock all of their stores... It was still interesting to see. Then we headed to the giant tortoise home and it was crazy seeing those big animals just hanging out on the paths. We went snorkeling again and it was amazing! There were TONS of fish and we saw so many sea turtles just floating with the current. There were eels, sea urchins, and Stone could name about two dozen more fish, but not me! We boarded our boat for an hour ride to our campsite where we had dinner and told ghost stories under the stars. It wasn't a very restful night, but it was an experience I"ll never forget!

Yesterday, we woke up to Fabian banging on our tents before 7 am saying, "Snorkel time!" It was pretty amazing waking up on the beach, hopping in a wet suit and playing with some sea lions before breakfast. Can't do that at home! Then we boarded a boat for a two hour trip to Santa Cruz island. We checked in (to our very nice hotel) and the shower never felt so good! We made our way through the town to the Charles Darwin Station where we saw the tortoise breeding ground (the baby turtles were soooo cute!). The big disappointment was Lonesome George. He was hiding while we were there, so all we saw was his head. We had some time before dinner to shop and swim in the pool. While dinner at The Rock was delicious, I think everyone is finally getting sick of chicken and rice...The kids are BEGGING for pizza! :)

Today we're off on another 2 hour ride to the biggest island, Isabella, to swim with the sharks! I'll write again tonight and hopefully get some photos posted...The internet is still painfully slow!

I hope all is well at home!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Video Coming Soon

An update from your friendly neighborhood video crew. We do have more videos to post of this fantastic trip. However, due to slow internet it would take a decade to upload. As soon as we get a better connection, expect some video! Sorry for inconvenience.

Day 9

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We arrived in the Galapagos Islands today! After saying good-bye to our two good friends, Anson (who has to go back to work!) and Jose (our fearless bus driver!), we headed to the airport. It was a 90 minute flight west and just before we landed, they opened all of the overhead bins and disinfected all of the luggage. Interesting.

Well, EVERYone was so excited when we stepped off of the plane. We're kind of roughing it in this Eco-Hotel (5 boys in one room and us 4 girls in another!), but the land is amazing. We toured a museum describing the evolution of the islands and the history behind them that makes them so amazing. On our walk, we saw at least 35 lizards...and they are really cool to look at.

Then, we prepped for snorkeling. Stone was so excited to snorkel that he barely ate lunch. He said, "I'm too excited to eat!" However, when we got to the snorkeling area, there were sea lions sleeping on the rocks to enter the water. We tried everything to get them to move, but the "alpha male" made it clear we were not go near them! So, instead, we went to Playa Mann and tried our snorkel gear there. While the waters weren't so clear (and soooo cold), the kids had a BLAST swimming with the sea lions. The sea lions would swim right up to our group and start turning around and demanding attention. I think two went right under Daniel's legs... We spent a lot of time hanging out with them at the beach.

Tonight was dinner and we learned about moon tides...they waves are HUGE...which is rare around here. The night was capped with "helado"-a perfect summertime treat.

WARNING: I probably won't blog tomorrow because we are heading to the other side of the island to camp out on the beach! We'll also get to see the giant tortoises. I can't wait!!!

DISCLAIMER: Currently, the internet in the hotel lobby is painfully slow. The photographer and videographer and I are trying to upload photos/videos to the blog right now...unsuccessfully. As soon as we can, we'll have some photos up for your viewing pleasure. Of course, they are some of the best ones yet!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 8

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Tonight we arrived in the bustling Guayquil...a much different atmosphere than the traditional Cuenca. Even our (very nice) Hampton Inn seems a little weird. However, today was an interesting one.

We started the morning off early to head up the Andes and right back down as we headed west toward the coast. Our 5 hour drive was extended as there was an overturned truck on one of the winding mountain roads, but we entertained ourselves with cards and games and music. (We have a wide variety of musical interests with this group!) We went from about 7,000 feet in altitude to 120 feet above sea level. It was a drastic drop, but we welcomed the warm weather! Our first stop was the mangroves where we changed into stylish pants, long sleeved shirts and boots the guide provided. Despite the intense insect repellent, I have tons of bites even with the clothes!

Anyway, we took some long boats through the water and saw tons of birds. The pink spoonbills were my favorite because of their color and their size. I had no idea how big they were. The real fun came when we pulled up to the side and had to climb out into the water and into the mud. It was a long hike...especially since my boots kept sticking in the mud! The reward came watching the kids lay down in the mud and reach their hands into holes to pull out a crab. Jenny got some great photos! They took us to a small village where some local women prepared our crabs and some local fare. It was fabulous!

Tomorrow morning we head to the Galapagos! I can't wait! :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 7

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Wow...Day 7. We're halfway through the trip. Although the first few days seemed to crawl by, I can't believe we have to leave next week!

Today we explored Cuenca. It might be my favorite town so far. We got such a feel of the community...From the markets to the church festivals and parades to the shopping, everything is a learning experience. I enjoyed seeing the Panama hat factory. They call them Panama hats even though they originated in Ecuador because people didn't know where they came from while they were building the Panama Canal. The nickname just stuck. After lunch we had some time to shop around the marketplace. We divided into small groups to make the navigation a little easier. I was so proud of my girls...they were able to bargain like champs by the end of the day! We proceeded to the Cuenca Tourist Office where we had a class on the history of Cuenca and the impact of Incans. The day was topped off with an amazing local cuisine...shrimp, tomatoes, steak, potatoes, salad, ice cream, praline cake, etc. The restaurants and hotels have been especially stellar on this trip.

Tomorrow we have an early day to drive up and down the mountains to Guayaquil. We'll stop at the mangroves at lunch and do some crabbing! Can't wait!

Camping and incan ruins

Two days ago started with a 6 hour bus ride from our hotel in Riobamba to our camp site next to the Andes mountains. Along the way, we stopped at a shop where we got to see a man making animals and figures with the ivory-like heart of a palm seed. The items he sold ranged from Galapagos tortoises to pelicans, and even penguins. It was really interesting to see how intricate and detailed the pieces were and how much time and effort was put into each piece. After arriving at our camp site, we ate a short lunch and waited for the rain to die down until we could hike around. We decided to go to the top of a waterfall, and ended up making a difficult climb to the summit at 12,700 feet. The view was great. Then, Justin, Sara, Alfonso, Tyler, Anson, and I decided to hike up to a peak we saw in the distance. The experience was surreal. We were literally breathing in the clouds that were rolling across the Andes. We finally reached the summit at a height of 13,400 feet. All we could see were gigantic rocks and clouds. I will never forget challenging and fun it was to make the summit and then climb back down the mountain to the camp site. The next day, we hiked 8 miles along the Incan road and got to see Incan ruins like Ingapirca, which have stood in place for hundreds of years. It was awesome realizing that I was standing in the same place as 4,000 Incans and Canaris had been ay back in history. Right now we are in Cuenca, a place I could see myself retiring in. There is always a celebration and the people love to play music here. Tomorrow, I'm really looking forward to going to the ecology reserve and catching my own lunch (crab) with the mud fishermen.



We just arrived at the largest city in Ecuador. They say there is a festival here EVERY night and I can agree that every night fireworks are lighting up and keeping me awake. It is very impressive how the city is set up on a grid and is amazing marketplaces and stores. In some cases though I have to exit the store because the inscents are so strong. They make me sick to my stomach. I found two things to buy so far in Cuenca. An Argentina soccer Jersey and a pair of wull gloves. We visited the Panama hat store and I was able o buy some gifts. Tomorrow we will travel to Guayaquil which is 191 km from here.


Days 3 and 4

Here are the adventures from the Equator and Cotopaxi.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Days 5 and 6

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Aaaand we're back! This evening we finally arrived in Cuenca, a charming little town south of Riobamba. I think we were all happy to see running water (and Internet access)!

Day 5 started with a five hour bus ride to our campsite. We stopped in a small town for some snacks and drinks and even got to see the oldest church in Ecuador. My favorite part of the ride was watching a local make items out of seeds from a palm. Check out the pictures!

When we finally got to our campsite, it was pouring down rain, but that was ok. Horses carried our stuitcases and lunch was all ready for us--all prepared by the cowboys. We took an afternoon "walk" that turned into a few hours hiking up one of the mountains. It was high (over 14,000 ft), but we all made it and had a great feeling of accomplishment. I was so proud of everyone! Little did we know that was a "Minnie Mouse hike" compared to what we did today....

It was a long and cold night (I found out that camping in a tent isn't really for me) and we were up early to hike the Incan trail. It was a NINE MILE HIKE! We just kept on going. While I was crying for my mommy about 4 hours into it (kidding...kind of), the kids were right on Fabian's tail and keeping up through the mud and marsh and hills. Tons of hills, of's the Andes! Again, I was so proud of them!!

We also stopped at Ingapirca after lunch--the site of the Incan ruins. It was an impressive sight. We took tons of photos of course.

Tonight we had a laundry night :) and are gearing up for tomorrow. I can't wait to see Cuenca!

Look for more pictures coming soon!
-Bridget Belardi

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 4

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Even though we spent a lot of time in the bus today (we moved out of our nice contemporary hotel in Quito to a really rustic and beautiful hacienda in Riobamba), Cotopaxi National Park was amazing! When we arrived, we took the mountain bikes around the base of the volcano for miles. It was bumpy, sandy, a little difficult to bike, but everyone made it to the very end and complained when it was over! (We had the jeep riding along with us "just in case.") We had lunch at a restaurant at the base of the volcano before we headed down the mountain to Riobamba. While the biking was cool, I thought the little town we drove through was so interesting. Our guide, Fabian, said that they only "do ice cream" there. It's a REALLY small town (much smaller than Mt. Lebanon!), but almost every corner and then some has a store that sells ice cream. The popular flavor to get was a multi-striped and flavored one. Between coconut, chocolate, and a "chewing gum" flavor, it was a fun experience. :)

Here are the first 3 days of the trip! Enjoy!

Allys thoughts from ecuador

Day three was my favorite day so far, we did the zip lining and the butterfly museum. The view when we were zip lining was amazing, and we were so high up. Day four was a little bit difficult for me because we went bike riding near the volcanoes in cotopaxi and the atmosphere did not help my asthma, but we rode for abut two hours. There were so many rocks they were hard to dodge and maneuver around. in the end I made it to the end. Ally

Day 4

Today was definitely the best day of my life. I have never had so much fun was my first time mountain biking. The air was very different than Pittsburgh but it was tolerable. As usual, the food was excellent. I would have to say that one of the best parts of the adventures today was beating J.P. up the steep hill. He wants to race again, determining to beat me the next time. Cannot wait for more days to come in Ecuador!
...And, by the way, bring it on J.P. :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Photos From Day 3

(More photos are coming!) Whew! What a day! Even though the 2.5 hour bus ride was a long one, it was worth it when we reached Mindo, home of the butterfly breeding center. It was fun to watch the butterflies land right on our hats, hands and bodies. Some of us liked it more than others. We proceeded to the zip lines where we rode 13 down the side of the volcano. By the screams and smiles, it was an experience we'll never forget. One of my favorite parts of the day was visiting the Middle of the World monument where we could balance eggs and watch water go straight down the drain on the equator and watch it go counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere and clockwise in the northern hempisphere. I even got my GPS to read 00.00.000 in latitude! :) My second favorite part might have been making our own pizza (with our cheeks and noses) at dinner. Stone threw his flour at Sara's face (on accident) and both of their reactions were hysterical. Tomorrow is an early day, so here are a few pictures from today!
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butterfly breeding farm y ziplining

Today started with an early breakfast. After that, we drove 2 and a half hours to Mindo, where we stopped at the butterfly breeding farm. We got to see 25 different species of butterflies, several of which landed on our shirts, hats, and watermelon-covered fingers. After that, we drove to the Mindo rain forest canopy and ziplined down 13 different lines. The view was spectacular. We were about 50 meters above the trees, sometimes even going through the foliage. I got to try making my own pizza tonight at a place called Archies, and it was delicious. So far this trip has been amazing. I am especially excited for hiking and biking around the Cotopaxi national park tomorrow and camping next to the Incan ruins. With the wool and alpaca poncho I found, the nights will not be as cold.



The first stop on the third day was to the butterfly breeding center. After the two hour ride we got out of the bus and all around us were dragon flies, butterflies, and tons of other insects. The real suprise though was in the butterfly garden. In this inclosed area we saw around twenty five different species of butterflies. Some of the butterflies were huge. They reached up to as big as both my hands to as big as a couple fingers. The butterflies there were realy cool. Some of them would crall on to you. They usualy did after you put a little of the watermellon on your fingers. I think this was one of the coolest parts of our day.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Photos From Day 1

Hi All! It was a busy day and we are tired, but take a look at some of our pictures from today! Please comment here on the blog if you like any of them! --Miss Belardi
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First day in Quito

Today started off pretty early with a breakfast at Hotel Quito. The most exciting part of the day was probably going up the mountainside in the cable cars. At an elevation of 13,000 feet, the view was unlike any I'd ever seen as we looked down through the valley and onto the entire city of Quito. The unpredictability of the weather in Ecuador is almost exactly like that of Dallas, except for a 50 degree fahrenheit temperature difference. It was warm and sunny in the morning, but soon a thunder storm came in and drenched us. Besides the rapid temperature changes, the weather here is perfect. I can't wait to go to the rain forest tomorrow and zipline through the canopy. I've met a lot of new people and am looking forward to the next two weeks in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Until next time


The Elicate Delicacies of Ecuador

Today was our first full day in Ecuador and it was a blast! Even though i am definatly the most picky eater on this trip I was still able to find something to eat. For breakfast we were told to stack up on carbs so we mostly ate bread and cereal. Nothing really special but delicious all the same. For lunch we were treated with a three course meal. The appitizers were potato soup or civiche, which is raw seafood cooked in lime juice. I would have rathered not eating the appitizer but I decided on the potato soup and it was not half bad. The entre were either chicken, salad, sea bass. I chose the chicken and i found it delicious. The desert was the best. Ice cream served in a bowl that was on top of dry ice. Unbelievable. Dinner was great. It was annother three course meal that blew me away. The appitizer included tree tomatoes which are not as bad as they sound. The entre was chicken agin that reminded me of KFC. The desert was a chocolate muffin surrounded in vanilla syrup. All I can say is that The food here is amazing.

The Cable car!!!!

Today we traveled to 13000 feet to the top of a mountain by cable car. This is not the ride to take if you are afraid of heights. It was really cool going up that high and we saw 3 Active volcanoes. being Ms. Belardi's birthday we had he privilege of enjoying the finest Ecuadorian cuisine. Tomorrow we are going to Go ZIP LINING. Can't wait.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Justin's Trip to Ecuador

I am a little nervous about this trip to Ecuador. I never have been more than a couple miles out of the country. But through the nervousness I am feeling more excited then ever. I have always wanted to go zip lining and this is my chance. At the moment I am feeling a little parched and hungry but I think that I can wait until we get to Chicago. Love Justin

Geting ready

One of the things I am really exited for is the snorkeling. I think seeing all of the aquatic life will change me. I am also exited about hiking through the rainforest. The thought of ziplining already gets me exited. Overall I think this trip will give me a new perspective on how I think about Ecuador and the Galapagos islands


What I'm excited for

I have very high hopes for this trip and I think that I will have the time of my life. The airport is very oring to sit in. I found that I forgot to sync the movie I wanted onto my ipod. so far that is all I forgot to pack I'm really happy I have this oppurtunity and I will have a great time.

Thing I'm excited for

I can't wait to go siplining through the rain forest and see the wild life. I'm also psyched to go snorkaling in the galopaogos there will be so many different kinds of fish there compared to here. I write about them after I do them.


Arrival in airport

Just arrived at gate in Pittsburgh airport; still have 2 hours until boarding. Really looking forward to snorkeling and zip-lining in the rain forest. Also, spending time and taking pictures on the Galapagos Islands (especially Lonesome George). The only hard part of this trip is waiting in the airports which will hopefully go quick! can't wait!! : )

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Packing. Yoi.

After a lot of anticipation, our travel days are almost here! I'm SO excited for our adventures in Ecuador!

I've been "collecting" items for the trip in a corner of my room for quite some time (Does anyone else's room look like this?) and I can't wait to finally put them to good use! Today I decided to go through those items to see what I have and what I still need...

Turns out that I have a lot of stuff! Quick-drying socks? Check. Underwater camera? Check. Bug-repellent bandanna? Check. And those aren't even on the DSA-approved packing list! As long as my passport is buried under there somewhere, I think I'm all ready to go.

Just one small problem...Anyone know how to get all of this into that little tiny suitcase?!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rainy Season...warm AND cold nights

Remember everyone that this is the Rainy season! So when you are packing, please take that into account. Try to limit cotton items as they do absorb moisture. Moisture wicking wear, nylon and spandex are good at keeping you dry yet also drying quickly. Another important item to know is to avoid Jeans. Wear clothing that breaths, allows for great movement and is comfortable whether wet or dry!
See everyone soon!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pack Smart for your Adventure!

Once your flight takes off there’s no looking back so make sure you’re a perfect packer. Travelers, take note!! It is rainy season in Ecuador so make sure you avoid clothes that won’t dry quickly. Nylon and spandex are great; cotton, not so good.

Here are our suggestions:

Carry-On Bag: We suggest a small backpack that rests on both shoulders. You will carry this during our activities, so make sure it is ready for an active journey and is comfortable!
• Cell phone, IPod, anything electronically powered
• Book, notepad and pens
• Camera and film/memory card, batteries; a waterproof bag to hold camera
• Sunglasses
• Comb/brush tissues
• 3 oz. maximum amounts of personal hygiene items in Ziploc bag
• Deodorant
• Toothbrush & toothpaste
• 1 change of clothing
• Snacks; must be professionally and individually packaged
Checked baggage:
• Cotton or lightweight long pants (convertible style pants work great!)
• 2 pairs comfortable walking shorts
• 7 t-shirts, or other comfortable lightweight
• short-sleeved shirts
• Windbreaker/ light sweater / sweatshirt
• 2 long-sleeved shirts for layering and sun protection
• At least 7 changes of underwear/socks
• 1-2 bathing suits with cover-up
• Pajamas
• Poncho for rain
• Comfortable walking/hiking shoes with good ankle support and rubber soles
• Sandals
• Sun Protection: Hat, sunglasses, waterproof sunblock and Lip balm
• Waterproof insect repellent
• Laundry detergent (purchase individual pouches)
• Empty reusable water bottle/canteen
• Shampoo/conditioner/soap
• Personal Items such as sanitary supplies, shaving kits/cosmetics

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

First Follow Me Contest Winner Announced

Congratulations to Madison M.! She is our Follow Me Contest winner for our June 8th trip to Costa Rica. Way to go, Madison! Students, you too can earn a chance to win a free iPod Touch. Just get as many people as you can to register to follow your blog by directing them to Let them know what dates you are traveling and ask them to register to follow you on your adventures this summer. Good luck!!!

Programs Details

Duration 14 days
When July 10 - 23, 2010
Focus Ecology