Hanging Out in the Highlands

Santa Cruz Island is not all beaches and marine life. There is also the middle of the island, the “Parte Alta” or Highlands, that is lush and green. Here you find the giant tortoises*.

The Galapagos giant tortoises have had a rough history. After enjoying island life for many years, they were rendered close to extinction (and some species are believed to be extinct) due to their use as a food source by pirates, whalers and sailors and the introduction of animal species that feast on the eggs, compete for food or damage the tortoises’ natural habitat. Human habitation on the islands also contributed to the tortoises’ demise. The tortoises are now legally protected and thanks to conservation efforts, including eradicating some introduced animal species and captive breeding and raising, their numbers have increased. It is not unusual to see them on the side of the road in the Highlands. Shortly after we arrived, a school parent was driving us in the Highlands when I mentioned that I wanted to see a tortoise in the wild. He obliged me by spotting this one.

Wallowing in the Mud

Wallowing in the Mud

Of course, then we had to oblige by trekking through the mud to see it up close!

To increase your chance to see more of them and to get a little closer (but not closer than 6 feet – the law in Galapagos for any animal) it is better to visit a tortoise reserve. The reserves are nothing more than private land on which the tortoises like to hang out. They cannot be held captive and come and go as they please. For females, this includes making an annual trek to the beach to lay their eggs.

In the past year I have gone to three tortoise reserves: Rancho El Manzanillo, El Chato and Rancho Primicias. All are essentially the same. You take a cab from town and then pay $3 to wander around and look at whatever tortoises are hanging about. El Chato and Primicias have the added bonus of lava tunnels on the property that you can walk through. I first went to El Manzanillo with a visiting tourist, Diana, whom I met on a snorkeling tour. Diana was traveling alone so we palled around for a few days. The day we went to the Highlands was rainy and by the end we were soaked and muddy.

In addition to El Manzanillo, we also stopped at the Los Tuneles de Amor for a walk through an 800 meter/875 yard lava tunnel (also muddy but too dark for good photos) and hiked into a crater at Cerro Mesa. I set us on such a brisk hiking pace that the owners didn’t believe we went all the way to the crater’s bottom!

My next tortoise reserve visit was with Carl and Sheri to El Chato. This property has a number of short lava tunnels. Sheri and I walked through one of them and then left Carl to do the rest on his own. Above ground, we saw several tortoises.

Last week Matt made his first visit to a tortoise reserve with our friends Jill, Claude, Jamie, Sonia and Kathy. We started our Rancho Primicias adventure at the challenging lava tunnel and were rewarded by this guy at the entrance.

Tunnel Greeter

Tunnel Greeter

After shimmying our way though a tight squeeze, it got even tougher when we had to crawl!

We remarked as we made our way through the tunnel that it would never fly in the US due to liability concerns. The way was dark, slippery, rocky and treacherous at times, but we had a ball and were happy to be out of the scorching sun.

After the tunnel, we went in search of giant tortoises and were not disappointed.

General silliness ensued after the hike.

A visit to the Highlands is worth it when you are on the island. It is nice to get away from the beach and see a different environment and the tortoises are amazing. Some we saw were around 170 years old and one weighed about 500 pounds. Even Matt, who was a reluctant visitor to the reserve, thought it was a good time.

Thanks to Diana, Jill, Jamie and Sheri for their photos. Matt too, of course, but I always am using his photos!

*Thanks to Jill, I finally learned that a turtle swims and lives in water at least part of the time and a tortoise lives on land.

 

The Kindness of Strangers Part II

The New Stacks

The New Stacks

Amy Torres learned about my library project for the Tomás de Berlanga school on the Galapagos Islands when I placed my blog post on the ALA Think Tank Facebook page. Amy and her husband were spurred into collecting and delivering 500 books to us in the Galapagos, something I wrote about here.

https://kerryedwyer.com/2015/08/20/power-of-social-media-kindness-of-strangers-500-books/

Welcome and Thank You!

Welcome and Thank You!

During their stay in Quito, Amy and Harry met Hector Viela. Although Hector has never visited the Galapagos and has no connection to the school, he was inspired by Amy and Harry’s mission and offered to help us by setting up a GoFundMe page to obtain donations. True to his word, our GoFundMe campaign went live today. If you have read about the library project and want to donate funds to help us, now you can! Any amount – $5, $10, $25 – will help greatly. My previous requests for assistance have resulted in many books being collected for us. Now we need to get the funds to ship them here.

https://www.gofundme.com/wa6skk5z

Thanks for any support you can provide. The students love the new books and will greatly appreciate any additional books we can get for them.

Open For Business!

Yesterday was the grand opening of the Tomás de Berlanga Open Air Library! In a few short months, we managed to build a new dedicated space for the student library, secure amazing donations of new and gently used books, cull hundreds of unsuitable books and label and index the remaining 900 books for the student library.

We went from this:

Conceptualized this:

To this:

The students were patiently awaiting the new library and getting their hands on the newly donated books. Finally, we were ready to open the English section of the library. (I need to finish sorting and labeling the Spanish books, but they are few in number and in even worse shape than the English ones were.)

I started checking out books right after we opened and had a steady stream of patrons the rest of the day. It was amazing! Students were coming during their recess and, I later realized, slipping out of class to come for a book. There was a lot of borrower’s remorse and requests to change books – I think the kids were so overwhelmed with the great new options that they didn’t know where to start. The cool, donated book marks were a big hit and the kids were amazed to find out they could keep them. We also have a lot of education to do about library procedures: starting with checking out books and not just taking them. As we have no computer for the library, the check out system is old school. It took me several nights to fill out a form for each student – they each have 4 names here and it is not always consistent which ones they use.

The best part of the day was when a few 5th graders came to the library during recess. One boy, Matias, picked The Giving Tree to check out and I told him it was one of my favorite books. Other kids chimed in and Matias started reading it at the checkout table. I asked if he wanted to read it aloud and he happily agreed. The other students gathered around and listened (shushing one boy who started reading his book aloud) and we all enjoyed the first story hour at the open air library.

Impromptu Story Hour

Impromptu Story Hour

A big THANK YOU to everyone who helped on this project, including

  • Matt for securing the funding to build the library
  • Corina Gallardo Nelson for designing the library and securing the contractors
  • Donna Daugherty and John Garate for securing the municipal donation of the lava rocks and machinery and man power to spread them
  • Paola Leguísamo and Martin Hoss for encouragement and assistance in getting the construction completed
  • Jo Browne for help with book labeling
  • Jessi Pfeltz for countless hours spent labeling books, making signs, and weeding books
  • Lisa Dell for giving up her prep time (and spare time) to index, label and weed books
  • Amy and Harry Torres for getting the donation ball rolling with a 500 book donation and Amy’s tireless library advice
  • Patty Wanniger, Sarah Wakefield and Maria Schmidt for wonderful library advice and suggestions

WANT TO HELP? WE NEED BOOKS!

  • Bring a book (or books!) on your trip to the Galapagos or send some books with someone you know who is traveling here. This is the least expensive way to get books here. Book guidelines are listed below.
  • Send books for the school from your home country. For US guests, the United States Postal Service is the most economical way to send books. Contact me for more information and the mailing address. If you are able to collect books for us but do not have the funding to ship them, my brother (in Wisconsin) has generously agreed to accept and coordinate book donations as we seek funding sources for shipping. Please contact me for his information.
  • Donate funds to ship books. US donors have collected books for the school, but the school does not have the funds to pay for shipping costs. For example, previous shipments from the United States were sent via USPS and cost $122 for a box of 40 books that weighed about 27 pounds and $80 for a box of 50 books that weighed about 18 pounds. If you want to donate, contact me and I will connect you with someone who has already collected books for us.

Book Guidelines:

  • Please collect new or gently used books that are interesting to children. Remember that English is a second language for our students. The school has an Amazon wish list with some suggested titles, but donors can ask a child what his or her favorite books are or talk to teachers, librarians or booksellers for ideas. While some books are great classics, many books that libraries are discarding are being discarded for a reason: they are dated and no one wants to read them. Library book sales, your own shelves and second hand stores are great places to look, but not every book needs a home in the Galapagos. The wish list can be found at: https://amzn.com/w/2OPJUUA6G2N4D
  • The school is pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and books at all levels would be appreciated. We currently have a special need for picture books (no board books please as their small size makes them difficult in the library) early readers and books at a 1-5 grade reading level. Multiple copies of books are welcome, as they would allow for a class to use them for a reading circle.
  • Books in Spanish are also appreciated. While we want to improve the students’ English proficiency, we also want to encourage a love of reading the their native language.
  • Gently used, please! Dust covers are not necessary, but scribbled in, ripped or grimy books are best discarded.
  • Coloring books, workbooks and sticker books are best for your local charity for a single recipient to enjoy, not for a school library.

For more information about the school, visit its Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/tdberlanga or its website at http://www.scalesia.org/tomas-de-berlanga-school

Power of Social Media + Kindness of Strangers = 500 Books!

Welcome and Thank You!

Welcome New Friends!

When I wrote my initial blog post about my quest to create a better library at Matt’s school https://kerryedwyer.com/2015/07/10/one-book-at-a-time/, I thought that in addition to proving to family and friends that I don’t just go to the beach, it might spur some folks to collect and donate books to the school. Shameless, I know, but many of you have started doing just that. Previously, as I was researching the library project, my librarian cousin Patty suggested that I join the ALA Think Tank Facebook page so I could pose questions or might see other questions similar to mine. I joined the page and subsequently on July 13 posted my blog post on the ALA page with the introductory message:

Hello. I am trying to improve a primitive library at a school on the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador). My husband is the school director and I am the volunteer librarian (no MLIS degree, just a passion for libraries and reading). There are many issues to address, but I am starting with trying to build the collection. Does anyone have any ideas as to how to get books here? I think I can obtain some decent book donations via friends and families, school drives etc., but the cost of shipping and (potentially) taxes makes getting the books here challenging. Are there any organizations that assist with this type of project? If you want to see more, I’m including the link to my blog post about the project. Thanks much!

It was simply a request for information and as librarians are an informing bunch, I soon had 28 comments, all encouraging and many with helpful information. One of the responders, Amy Dahl, also reached out with a FB friend request and message: she wanted to collect books for us and deliver them in person! Amy works in a school library in California and to call her a woman of action is an understatement. Within days she had persuaded her husband Harry that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, obtained permission from her district to miss the opening days of school, and obtained substantial book donations in addition to her own. Amy also provided me with practical advice and encouragement as I continued to struggle with organizing the library’s current collection and advancing the project.

As this excitement was unfolding, Matt was making strides with the library box, or natural library. A school parent who is an architect, Corina Gallardo Nelson, drew up the plans and obtained bids from local tradesmen for the work.

 

Library Plans

Library Plans

Matt obtained board approval for the project and building commenced about 2 weeks ago. The structure will be attached to an existing classroom building. A concrete base and side walls will hold the wood library “cupboards”. There will be a leveled area in front of the cupboard with a roof overhead – no walls. Once there is funding, there will also be some tables and benches in the area. On-site the project has progressed to the concrete, clearing of the area, and a pile of lava rocks that will be spread to create the floor of the open air library. The carpenter is working on the cupboards and roof in his workshop.

One month to the day after reading my blog post, Amy and Harry landed on the Galapagos with 3 duffle bags – 150 pounds – of books for the Tomás de Berlanga School! Matt and I met them at their hotel and had our first glimpse of the books. Wow! Amy agreed that instead of taking all 500 books to school, we could bring a sampling of about 50 to showcase to the classes we were visiting. She and I could have spent hours selecting those books, but eventually we headed out so we could show them around town and then have dinner. The best part, besides the books, was that they are wonderful, fun people so we had a great time with them.

The next morning after a quick visit to the fish market so they could enjoy watching pelicans and sea lions trying to steal the fresh catch, we headed off to school. What a welcome they received! Matt was giving them a tour of the grounds when a student came up and said “I know who you are: you are Harry and you are Amy. Where are the books?” We assured the student that we would be visiting his classroom later in the day and he could see some of the books.

We began our classroom visits and the students (and teachers) were thrilled. The children oohed and aahed over the books. One of the best overheard remarks was one boy telling another to smell a book and they both inhaled that new book aroma. In the upper level classes, we talked about how a library works, the overall project and proper book care. In the lower classes, Amy showcased some books and read a few stories. The worst part was when we told the children that they couldn’t keep the books because they needed to be labeled and organized. How disappointed the students were!

At the end of the day, Amy and Harry got to enjoy the bus ride home: due to the school’s location slightly outside of town, teachers and students take buses home every night. We visited again Friday night and then took them to the local market on Saturday morning. We all enjoyed a breakfast of delicious empanadas and some live music before they set sail for a week-long cruise.

Buen Viaje!

Buen Viaje!

Matt and I were sad to see them leave – Amy and Harry quickly became friends  – but I had 500 books to keep me busy. Matt helped me sort the books by reading level. By Monday night they were all set for my new volunteer, Jessi Pfeltz Mahauad, a friend and parent at the school, to help with labeling. Another session or two and these books will be ready for the new library.

I also continue to sort and label the books at the school. When Amy reviewed the collection, she agreed with me that many of the current books should not be on the shelves. A basic library premise, which seems counterintuitive to some, is that more is not better. A lot of books that no one ever reads on your shelves is not healthy for a library. It only makes it harder for children to find the “good” books and makes the space less inviting. This, in turn, makes children lose interest. As it currently stands, we probably have books to fill no more than 25% of the new library with recently donated books and the decent books currently on the shelves. I have also been researching and planning the library training for teachers and students and a check out system that will ensure the books are returned. Because it is so hard to get books here, it is imperative that students return them because we cannot simply charge a fine and replace the books. So there is still a lot of work to be done to obtain new books, get the library up and running, and promote a culture of reading in the school. But 500 books is a fantastic start!

THANK YOU AMY & HARRY TORRES

and

CAPSTONE PUBLISHERS, BEARPORT PUBLISHING, MRS. NELSON’S BOOK FAIRS, BARNES & NOBLE, EVAN LYONS, MIA & NICHOLAS RODRIGUEZ, RYDER, REID & ROYCE VITALE, GRACE MILLER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, and JOHN BARNYAK

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WANT TO HELP? SPREAD THE WORD OR DONATE TO THE LIBRARY PROJECT!

If you are inspired by Amy and Harry’s generosity and action, please help us! This would be a great project for children who have a benevolent spirit or service requirements for school, church confirmation, Scouts etc. because they could also connect with school children on the Galapagos Islands. Books, funds or both would be greatly appreciated. If you are interesting in helping, please contact me directly, but these initial guidelines may assist you:

  • If you know someone traveling to the Galapagos Islands, ask whether they are willing to bring a box of books or even just a few. If you know someone traveling to Ecuador, they can mail the books from the mainland to the islands. We already have many donated books in the US waiting to be sent here.
  • Please collect books that are interesting to children. I am happy to provide a wish list and reading levels, but you  also can ask a child what his or her favorite books are. Non-fiction books about animals (especially sea animals), nature and dinosaurs are always a hit. Series are a good bet too. While some books are great classics, many books that libraries are discarding are being discarded for a reason: they are dated and no one wants to read them. Library book sales, your own shelves and second hand stores are great places to look, but not every book needs a home in the Galapagos. https://amzn.com/w/2OPJUUA6G2N4D
  • The school is kindergarten through 12th grade and books at all levels would be appreciated. We have a special need for early readers and books at a 1-5 grade level. Multiple copies of books are welcome as they would allow for a class to use them for a reading circle. 
  • Books in Spanish are also appreciated. While we want to improve the students’ English proficiency, we also want to encourage a love of reading in their native language.
  • Gently used, please! Dust covers are not necessary, but scribbled in, ripped or grimy books are best discarded.
  • Coloring books, work books, and sticker books are best for your local charity for a single recipient to enjoy.
  • Funds will need to be raised to get the books here. Unfortunately, this is not within the school’s budget. For example, previous shipments were sent via USPS and cost $122 for a box of 40 books that weighed about 27 pounds and $80 for a box of 50 books that weight about 18 pounds. The value of each box was listed at $10, or resale value for used books, which negated paying an import tax. 
  • Patience, please! The shipped books took 3 months to arrive but were well appreciated when they did.

For more information about the school, visit its Facebook page (courtesy of Matt) https://www.facebook.com/tdberlanga or its website at http://www.scalesia.org/tomas-de-berlanga-school

Under the Sea: Snorkeling Trip to Pinzón

A month ago, before our friend Jo returned to England, we went on a snorkeling day trip to Pinzón. While I enjoyed our bird watching trip to North Seymour island, Matt prefers snorkeling to bird watching and this trip was right up his alley because you cannot touch foot on Pinzón without a special permit. Instead this trip entailed 3 snorkeling stops around Pinzón and a visit to a beach on Santa Cruz. First step was taking a water taxi from the Puerto Ayora dock to the boat, the Contagious, which was no-frills compared to the boat from our prior trip. I was glad that I had popped dramamine before we set off as the seas were bumpy.

After about an hour and a half crashing through the waves, we arrived at our first snorkeling destination, a calm bay. Three penguins flopped into the water as we were disembarking but we never saw them afterwards. We jumped off the boat and started swimming. It was like we were in a fish tank. The water was crystal clear and everywhere we looked there were fish and more fish. While many fish were the same types we see at the beach near our house, they were much bigger in the deeper water.

Our guide (whose name escapes me) was a great guy who made sure we saw a lot. He swam with us and pointed out tons of things I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. He also stirred things up at times…

Next stop was in a deeper area with a stronger current. The fun continued.

I hate snakes. Eels are simply snakes of the water.

The show-off sea lion was more entertaining.

Then Jo called me over. I thought it was to see a sea turtle, which I had yet to see. I was wrong.

Eeks!

Eeks! White Tipped Reef Shark

Despite my fear, I followed this guy for awhile. Then I decided not to press my luck and went back to viewing tamer animals.

At this stop, Matt and I also had a baby sea lion playfully swim back and forth between us. Happily, we did not see it get eaten by a shark.

Frolicking Sea Lion

Frolicking Sea Lion

Our third snorkeling stop was equally spectacular. As I still hadn’t seen any sea turtles, our guide came and got me when he spotted some. He linked his arm through mine and we swam off after them. Fantastic.

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle

Then it was shark time once again. Our guide woke up the sharks for our viewing enjoyment. Who the heck wakes up sharks?!

Strangely, being in a group and with a guide made me feel safer. Maybe someone else would look tastier than I? Still, I could only watch them for so long. As we continued swimming there was suddenly this big shadow below me in the water. I instinctively glanced over my shoulder to see what large thing was above me just as a realized that I was seeing a HUGE manta ray beneath me. Matt said he reacted the same way.  We agreed that its wings were 12-15 feet wide. It appeared to float away. Unbelievable.

On the way back to Santa Cruz, we swung by Daphne to check out the animals on shore. Highlights were the masked booby and fur sea lion.

A fantastic trip and one I recommend to any snorkeler. Thank you Jo Browne for the awesome photos! An underwater camera is on the shopping list for our trip to the US next year…

One Book At A Time

I love libraries. It started before I could read: my mom would take us to the library and it seemed like the biggest treat to sit and “read” the picture books while she selected her own books. When we moved to Watertown, my dad’s office was a block from the public library where I spent many after school hours waiting for a ride home. My sister worked there and our mom and her friend started a PALS program for the library that raised funds and awareness that ultimately led to a new building. As an English major in college, I spent plenty of time in the stacks and as a new lawyer, research was still done by books so I was a frequent visitor to the law library. Once, on a business trip to Pittsburg, the attorney entertaining me took me to see the public library that had been recently renovated and the amazing Seattle library was on the sightseeing list when Matt and I vacationed there. In Washington D.C. we visited the Library of Congress and left with reading cards.

I was appalled when I saw the library at Matt’s new school. Three bookcases crammed into the back of the small music room.

How can a child gain a love of reading if there are inadequate books and no inviting space? How can a child learn if they are not reading? There is a town library in Puerto Ayora, but I have never seen it open. Culturally, there doesn’t appear to be a tradition of reading for pleasure. I read to 6th and 7th graders and they love the picture books I bring to class. When I asked them whether their parents read bedtime stories to them, their faces were blank. I had found my project.

First step was to determine what was there. I quickly realized that the majority of the books were out of use textbooks, teachers manuals, used workbooks, and pretty much any English book that someone – tourist or resident – left behind. Some gems included:

That is not to say that these are bad books or that the donor’s intent was not good. But these are not books that would catch a child’s interest, particularly one learning a second language. The Spanish collection is even more limited.

My next few visits were spent moving all of the teacher resources and textbooks to one stack and the less accessible shelves of the other stacks and sorting the Spanish from the English books. Every week, I felt like Sisyphus – the shelves were back in disarray, more crap from teachers’ classrooms cluttered the shelves and random bins and used 20 liter water bottles (which I later learned are the school’s percussion instruments) blocked access to the stacks.

At the same time, I was researching how to categorize the books. While someone had labeled many of the books using the Dewey Decimal system, that system is fairly meaningless without a cataloging system (which is also lacking) and not intended for fiction. I called on Sarah, our friend who was the librarian in Peru, my cousin Patty, a veteran librarian, and Maria, my childhood friend who is currently obtaining her MLIS. With their input and that of the teachers, I determined that a simple categorization process for fiction was appropriate: 1-4 reading levels, color coded and divided into Spanish and English. I would have liked to have more reading level differentiation, but it look me several trips to the local stores and my visit to Quito to find 8 colors of stickers to label the books. There is so little non-fiction that it will likely end up on one shelf.

Supplies

Supplies

After segregating most of the undesired content and realizing that my weekly efforts to reorganize the shelves would be easier once the books were marked, I started the labeling phase. About this time, the school received 2 boxes of donated books from the US from a tourist who visited the school and saw the need to improve the resources. She collected gently used books and her church raised funds to mail the books here. Oh Happy Day! The quality of the donations was excellent and I was thrilled to add these books to the collection. This week I completed labeling the first three levels of English books. We only have about 2 1/2 shelves of picture books and less than a shelf each of books at beginning and low reading levels. Next week I will start on the 5th grade and higher levels and have seen some decent books there though no contemporary kid favorites like Harry Potter, Divergent, Twilight, Percy Jackson or the like.

Fantastic Update! This evening Matt and I met the lovely Madabushi family from Houston, Texas, who came to the Galapagos with a suitcase full of books, friendship bracelets, sign language messages and fantastic science games and projects to donate to the school. The low level books they brought just about doubled the volume on that shelf and the upper level books greatly improve the quality of that collection as well. Thank you!

Matt and I promote the library project to anyone who will listen. Matt’s ultimate goal is a dedicated space for the library and he has designed a library “box” that would essentially be bookshelves with doors and a internal ventilation system located under a pavilion. The classrooms here are basically open air, so this would be keeping with the environment and, while not ideal for books, better than the current conditions. 

As we have talked about the need, other people have expressed interest in building an actual library, which would be amazing. But to me, the books are more important – a library without books is an empty space.

The challenge is getting books here. The great news is that the school is on the sightseeing list for tourists, so we have been asked to put together a list of books and other school items that tourists visiting the school can donate if they are so inclined. We may also be lucky to meet another family like the Madabushis. Once we have a collection, other issues like a catalog and check out system are on my list to address.

Book by book, the library project is progressing. I think my mom would be proud.


WANT TO HELP? DONATE TO THE LIBRARY PROJECT!

Many friends and family have asked how they can help with the library project. This would be a great project for children who have a benevolent spirit or service requirements for school, church confirmation, Scouts etc. because they could also connect with school children on the Galapagos Islands. Books, funds or both would be greatly appreciated. If you are interesting in helping, please contact me directly, but these initial guidelines may assist you:

  • Please collect books that are interesting to children. Ask a child what his or her favorite books are. Non-fiction books about animals (especially sea animals), nature and dinosaurs are always a hit. While some books are great classics, many books that libraries are discarding are being discarded for a reason: they are dated and no one wants to read them. Library book sales, your own shelves and second hand stores are great places to look, but not every book needs a home in the Galapagos.
  • The school is kindergarten through 12th grade and books at all levels would be appreciated. We have a special need for early readers and books at a 1-5 grade level. Multiple copies of books are welcome as they would allow for a class to use them for a reading circle. While we are seeking to improve the students’ English skills, if you have appropriate level Spanish books, those are also welcome.
  • Gently used, please! Dust covers are not necessary, but scribbled in, ripped or grimy books are best discarded.
  • Coloring books, work books, and sticker books are best for your local charity for a single recipient to enjoy.
  • Funds will need to be raised to get the books here. Unfortunately, this is not within the school’s budget. For example the recent shipments were sent via USPS and cost $122 for a box of 40 books that weighed about 27 pounds and $80 for a box of 50 books that weight about 18 pounds. The value of each box was listed at $10, or resale value for used books, which negated paying an import tax. 
  • If you know someone traveling to the Galapagos Islands, ask whether they are willing to bring a box of books or even just a few. If you know someone traveling to Ecuador, they can mail the books from the mainland to the islands.
  • Patience, please! The books took 3 months to arrive but were well appreciated when they did.

For more information about the school, visit its Facebook page (courtesy of Matt) https://www.facebook.com/tdberlanga or its website at http://www.scalesia.org/tomas-de-berlanga-school

Still Waiting

Matt teased me when I posted “The Wait is Over.” “Really,” he asked, “don’t you think it has just begun?”

Of course, he was right. What was I thinking? I should have known better after living in South America for this long. Nothing comes quickly.

First, it was the wait for our visas. The process is two-fold: we need visas to live in Ecuador and then we need permission to live on the Galapagos as temporary residents. When we were here for Matt’s interview in February, we sat down with a calendar and a school employee and outlined all the steps it would take to get our visas. The school wanted Matt to report to work on April 1 and thought it would be faster if we got our visas in the US. According to our conversation and the calendar, we would be able to go to Chicago sometime the last week of March for our visas. Then we could fly to Quito and wait a couple of days for our Galapagos residency. Perfect, we thought. Wrong, we should have known.

Based on these conversation, the expiration of my visa in Peru and Matt’s Peruvian school happy to have him exit sooner rather than later for cost reasons, we packed up and got out of Peru two weeks after we returned from Ecuador. It was no easy feat, but we got it done and the movers picked up our stuff the day before we flew to the US. Within 2 days of arriving in the US, Matt drove to Madison to get our documents apostilled (certified by the state) and we emailed them off to his new employer. And then we waited.

Oh, we had a good time: hit my family’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party and our friends’ baby shower, visited with family, hung out with friends, shopped for the summer clothes we would need on the island, ate and drank to our hearts’ content. But as the days passed and our visas were no closer to being processed, we abandoned hope that they would get done by the end of March and left for Quito.

We arrived in Quito on March 31 and the wait continued. What the heck was taking so long? To this day, we are not entirely sure why we had so many delays, but after 2 1/2 weeks we finally had them: our visas. Oh and did I mention that we would have to undergo this process annually?

Matt’s teachers had already reported to work and he had been trying to have meetings and guide them from Quito, but he was anxious to get on site before the students arrived on May 4. And I was anxious to move into our new home and get settled. Then we learned that the Galapagos permission needed to be refiled and would take at least another week and a half. Matt raised a fuss (not Matt’s style though it is mine) and we flew to the island on April 26.

But there was a catch. While the law had recently changed and Matt could enter the Galapagos as a “transeúnte” or “transient” and transform that permission to temporary residency, I had to enter as a tourist, which meant that I would have to leave the islands and reenter as a temporary resident. In addition, a tourist can only be on the islands for 90 days in a calendar year, so my time was limited. We flew to the islands with 2 large suitcase and 2 carryons as we had been advised to send our remaining three boxes by air freight, so we had dropped those off a few days before we left.

And then the waiting began. First, the 3 boxes didn’t arrive. For two weeks. Thankfully, I had the foresight to make sure we had a set of sheets and towels in the luggage we took with us. But we had no idea that it would take 2 weeks for the rest of our necessities (like more than 2 pairs of shorts and our snorkeling gear) to arrive. I called daily to check the status and was told that it is “poco complicado” or “a little complicated” because several of the cargo ships that serviced the island sank in the past  6 months, which means that transport space is limited. And our cargo kept getting bumped for more important cargo like food and medicine. One day it actually flew from Quito to Guayaquil (a port town on the mainland), was taken off the plane in Guayaquil and sent back to Quito. But one happy day, our 3 boxes arrived and we promptly went snorkeling.

But on the residency front and our shipment from Peru, nothing. Matt would politely ask about his residency and be given vague responses. Eventually Matt got tired of asking and demanded a specific answer and learned that his paperwork had never been started. What?? This was 5 weeks after we arrived on the island and my time was ticking. Similarly, our shipment was nowhere in sight. First it was delayed leaving Peru, then it was caught up in Guayaquil for 2 weeks and finally, it was stuck in Quito because it was, once again, “poco complicado.” 

Finally, 6 weeks after we arrived on the Galapagos, Matt’s residency was approved. Great, we thought and made my plans to leave the island for Quito so my residency application could be started. Within hours of booking my flight to Quito for Sunday, the movers contacted me to advise that the shipment would arrive, you guessed it, on Sunday.

So here I sit in Quito, in exile for an indeterminate amount of time while my residency is processed. I could be 3 days, it could be 2 weeks, no one really knows. The shipment did arrive at home yesterday, but 3 boxes, including our TV and iMac are missing. So the wait, on both fronts, continues.

They Arrived!

They Arrived!

A World Apart and Yet So Similar

My family spent all of our summer vacations, and many Sundays in-between, at a cottage on Lower Nemahbin Lake. Only about 40 minutes away from our home in Milwaukee, or, when we moved, Watertown, it seemed like the middle of nowhere. Probably because it was the middle of nowhere to my mom, who was a city girl through and through and hated to drive on the freeway. Now it is considered “Lake Country” where professionals live and commute to Milwaukee, but back then it was the boondocks – farm fields, one grocery store in town and the lakes. The cottage added to the boondocks feel: no indoor plumbing save a cold-water kitchen sink added in the 70s, mismatched furniture, tired kitchenware, one “parents” bedroom downstairs and a cobwebby upstairs where we kids fought over the ancient 5 beds. But to me, it was paradise. (Saying Goodbye to My Childhood )

Fast forward 30 years to Puerto Ayora, my and Matt’s new home on Isla Santa Cruz on the Galapagos Islands. This truly is the middle of nowhere – 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador – but as the largest town on the islands, it is a curious combination of isolation and tourism. We have lived here slightly over 2 weeks and it is apparent that nothing prepared me better for life on the Galapagos than those summers at The Lake.

Glorious View from Our Balcony

Glorious View from Our Balcony

I’m sticky. All the time. The temperature hasn’t dropped below 80º or the humidity below 70%. At the moment it is 7:23 am and the temperature is 81.1º with 79% humidity. I sit, as usual, with a fine sheen of sweat and frizzed out hair. We do have a shower but it is an island, so you are supposed to try to conserve water. (Yes, I realize that seems backwards, but while there is plenty of salt water around, there isn’t a lot of fresh water). So I try to shower once a day although sometimes I break down and have to take another one. At The Lake there was no shower. My mom would heat up some water and give herself a sponge bath, but the rest of us would just go jump in the lake. Literally.

The plumbing is a bit…primitive. It looks nice – huge shower, double sink, jacuzzi tub, but the apartment has cold water. To be fair, our landlord asked if we wanted him to hook up the hot water (sun heated, I think, without the aid of solar panels) so we do have some hot water in the shower, but it has a mind of its own and with the heat, I prefer a cold shower anyhow. We were told to turn the water off as we soap up to conserve water and not flood the bathroom. We wash dishes, and everything else, with cold water. You can’t flush toilet paper; it goes in the bin in the bathroom. So the bathroom smells like an outhouse. A bonus of our apartment is that the toilet is in its own little compartment, so at least that is the only room that smells like an outhouse. I realize that years of mouth breathing in the outhouse at The Lake come in handy here as well, especially when I take out the trash.

Indoor Outhouse

Indoor Outhouse

I live in shorts, sandals and swimsuits. For the first time since I was 12, I walked down the road (to the beach) in a swimsuit. A modest one, mind you, shorts and a tummy-covering top, but even so, it felt like being a kid again. At night it doesn’t cool off, so there is no need for jeans or sweatshirts like in Wisconsin, but we are told that will change. I’m not convinced and love wearing casual summer attire all the time.

There are plenty of bugs, inside and out. We don’t have air conditioning in our apartment, so the windows and doors are always open – day and night. We do have screens, but that doesn’t stop the critters (or dirt) from getting inside. The day we arrived, I noticed that our kitchen counters had tons of microscopic ants and spiders everywhere. I was appalled. I obsessively killed them and bought Raid to assist in the genocide. Now I just smoosh them and keep eating. I store food in plastic bags and sometimes in the microwave because I haven’t seen an ant in there yet. Like The Lake, every night at dusk we are driven inside by the mosquitos. Instead of daddy longlegs, our mosquito eaters here are the geckos. I’ve learned to co-exist with them and they have become a part of our nightly entertainment as we cheer them on while they catch the bugs.

Everything is a bit grimy. The water is non-potable and has a sticky feel. We don’t have a washer or dryer so laundry either goes to the full service laundry (no self serve here) or I hand wash and hang dry. When you pay by the pound, your definitions of clean and hand-washable change. But something about the combination of the detergent I bought and the water leaves the hand wash smelling less than fresh, so I am considering in investing in a washing machine though I worry that the dryer at the laundry may be what is killing whatever is stinking up my wash. I sweep, clean the floors and wipe up the counters constantly, but it is a losing battle against the dirt. I remember at The Lake wiping down the plastic tablecloth covered table after dinner and noticing that it was still sticky. That’s what it feels like wiping down the counters here. And the geckos poop everywhere! It looks like bird poop. I am currently trying to figure out how to clean it off my ceiling without it falling all over me.

Poopy Gecko

Poopy Gecko

We have plenty, but not exactly everything we want. Much to my dad’s annoyance, my mom used to pack two cars to the gills (and I swear at times things were tied to the top) to go to The Lake for 2 weeks even though it was less than an hour from our house. Now I understand. Like my mom, I packed my own things. We have 29 boxes, about half of it kitchen/household wares, in transit from Peru. It has been two months since it left my old home and is currently on a cargo ship. I don’t really expect it to arrive to the island for at least another month, but it will feel like Christmas when it does. Our apartment is partially furnished, so we have the basics but the dishes are mismatched and chipped, the sheets don’t fit the bed and we have one small frying pan and two pots. Unlike my mom, who would never buy anything, I broke down and bought two utensils and some dish towels to tide us over.

Kitchenware

Kitchenware

It is the same with food. We can get plenty to eat, but not the variety we are accustomed to (even less than in Cajamarca). My mom used to bring food from Milwaukee – the brands of pasta and sauce she liked among other things- and turned up her nose at the limited selection at the local grocery store. On the other hand, I embrace going to the Saturday morning market (the earlier you arrive, the lower the prices!) and buying from the farmers, but also look forward to next April when we will be back in the US and can eat lamb or Mexican food or countless other ethnic foods that aren’t available here.

Entertainment is both limited and limitless. There are no movie theaters, concerts, plays, or golf courses. Our internet is sporadic. The town has a minuscule library that I have yet to find open. At The Lake, the black and white TV was only turned on for the late news and Johnny Carson (except when Nixon resigned). Days were spent outside: swimming, canoeing, going for walks, goofing off. At night or on rainy days, we played cards and board games or read a book. So it is here. We have a TV, even cable and a DVD player, but we don’t turn it on often. We can go swimming and snorkeling every single day, there are great walks to take to beaches and in the highlands, and we can stroll though town at night and watch the sharks feed alongside the pier or the sea lions sleep. We play cards and games and just relax. Life is slower here and it is fantastic. Some might find it boring or frustrating, but I find it a return to the best part of my childhood: waking up to the sound of the water on the shore.

Paradise

Paradise

The Wait Is Over – Galapagos, Here We Come!

I started writing this post before Matt secured his job as director of the Tomás de Berlanga school on Isla Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. When I saw it in the archives it brought back all of the uncertainty we were feeling at the time, which continues in a reduced form to the present time as we hang out in Quito waiting for our visas to be processed, with our belongings somewhere in Lima, waiting to be shipped to us.

The waiting is the hardest part. Okay, that probably isn’t true for Matt. For me, it’s the hardest part: wondering where we will be moving, where Matt will find a job. For Matt, the hard part is the endless interviewing, selling himself multiple times a week and sometimes multiple times a day.

For our time at Davy School and in Peru is coming to an end. Unfortunately, within a few months of our arrival in Cajamarca in July 2013 the mine that funded that school announced it was cutting its support by 50% in 2014 and 2015 and then exiting the school business altogether by 2016. Matt’s expat salary, and those of the other expats, was an obvious place to cut costs. While the school would honor the contracts, the sooner we all left, the better. Matt’s contract is up July 2015, so this provided ample time to find a job.

I realize that many, many people have been involuntarily without work, but it was a first for both Matt and me. I also realize that he has had several months of lead time to start looking for a job, which is a luxury most people don’t have. But we don’t have a home. We sold everything when we decided to embark on the this expat life. We live in Peru because Matt’s job is here, but as soon as his job ends, his work visa is revoked and we need to leave. Where will we go?

So in August Matt began applying for jobs that were opening in January (Davy would be thrilled to release him from his contract) or July. Our geographical parameters were broad: South and Central America, most of Southeast Asia, Europe, Taiwan and Hong Kong. For political, safety and assorted reasons, the Middle East, Africa and Mainland China were off our list, as was Venezuela. And so the interviewing began. We didn’t keep track, but Matt made it to the “semi-finals” for several schools. It was exhausting for both of us. With every round of interviews we speculated endlessly. This one was the place, the location of our dreams. We would research weather, apartments, safety, etc. in an effort to convince ourselves that it was meant to be. Then, once we reached a comfort level and got enthusiastic over the possibility, Matt wouldn’t get the job. And on we would move to another part of the world.

But then, it happened. In February Matt received a tentative offer for a school in the Galapagos Islands and an invitation for both of us to visit. So we went. Matt was instantly sold; I was not. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Puerto Ayora wasn’t it at first glance. It was, well, sort of Peruvian, but very expensive. Not the resort island I had expected.

The next day I walked to this beach. And fell in love.

The beaches aren’t the only highlight of the Galapagos. The Darwin Research Station is pretty amazing too.

The highlight of our initial visit to The Station, as it is called, was the Giant Tortoise fight. One tortoise appeared to be the aggressor and would saunter over to the other tortoises, stick its head out and then sort of bite one of the others. The other one would sloowly back away and then the first one would lie down for awhile before starting over. It may not sound like a Tyson-Holyfield bout, but let me tell you, it was pretty darn entertaining!

Another favorite spot was Las Grietas, which translates not very well as”The Cracks”, a deep chasm of volcanic rock with unbelievably blue, cool, fresh water. The trip requires a water taxi to “the other side” of the island and a nice walk to Las Grietas, but it is well worth it despite the crowds. Apparently there is a hole somewhere in the cliff and you can dive down into another pool. We plan to try it with our new snorkeling equipment.

So in the end, we are both delighted to be moving to Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. And the adventure continues…

Paradise

Paradise