The second portion of our trip included three of the Galapagos Islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabella Islands! Here, we focused on evolutionary biology and ecology by learning about the adaptations many animals accrued, such as beak shape and size in Darwinian finches and prey specialization in invasive insect species. While on the islands, we toured with various Galapagos guides, which are locals from the Islands, and learned about the development of the Islands as stations of ecotourism and conservation. We visited the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about the breeding and development of Galapagos land tortoises, snorkeled at Kicker Rock, and hiked up an active volcano! It was truly an incredible (once-in-a-lifetime!) experience!
For this portion of the course, I would definitely recommend bringing a good quality camera. There were so many species of animals endemic to the Islands (meaning they can only usually be found on the Islands), so I was happy to have a way to capture memories of them! Between the blue-footed boobies, penguins, frigatebirds, sea lions and underwater life, I was surrounded by the unique components of nature daily while on each Island. I can truly say that I was blessed to experience these animals in their natural habitats, and many were often so friendly that they would walk up to (or even swim beside) you. Many parts of our nature walks and swims took us to places that felt untouched by man, which is something so rare to find. I treasured each walk on the Islands’ beaches and each dive into the crystal blue waters.
My favorite part from this section of the course happened while snorkeling off of the coast of San Cristobal. This trip was my first time ever snorkeling and the first time I had ever swam in deep ocean water, so I was a little nervous. But, these fears melted away when we swam through schools of fish, played with sea lions while they fished for food, and dove with sea turtles as they came through the channels. The Pachamama (Mother Earth) truly gave us an incredible experience that will always hold a special place in my memories.
The Galapagos taught me to appreciate the world around me, including all of the animals, plants and people within it. I cherish my time spent in this place, and I brought much of what I learned back to Athens where I now look at the nature trails out at Lake Herrick with a more thankful eye.
If you are interested in exploring what the world has to offer you (in ways you might have never considered before), I highly encourage you to apply to this program. It is filled to the brim with diversity (in all aspects of nature and cultural experience), and was truly the best way to spend 2.5 weeks of summer.