For many, winter break is a time to go home and be with family. Lots of us meet up with old friends who have been away at school and visit with family we haven’t seen for a while. However, this year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I traveled to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands with a group of Rider students who are enrolled in an ecotourism class this semester. We are all part of the Nature’s Business course that travels to popular vacation sites with unique environmental statuses. Previously, students have visited Costa Rica and Iceland.
The goal of the trip was to determine whether the tour we took of Ecuador and the islands was “environmentally friendly.” As we considered how “friendly” our tour was, we also observed others and their interactions with the land. Because the Galapagos Islands are an increasingly popular place to visit, the need to protect these fragile and historical islands is essential. In an effort to reduce human impact on the islands, eco-friendly tours have been introduced.
The trip began and ended in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Our time in Quito was spent visiting companies, including Pinto, an Ecuadorian clothing corporation, and visiting the Cotopaxi National Park, where the Cotopaxi Volcano, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, lies. This was definitely an incredible sight to see, especially since there was snow on the mountainside and I was standing just south of the equator. And that was only the first phase of the trip.
We flew to the Galapagos Islands, which are about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. These islands, as we learned from pre-departure lectures, are about 3 million to 5 million years old and were formed from a combination of hot spots and continental plate boundaries. All of the islands are volcanic structures and thus everywhere we went, we saw lava flows. It felt like they covered just about everything and went on forever. But as desolate as the area may have seemed, I learned that many little organisms call the area around the lava flows home. Not only were the lava flows impressive but landing on beaches of different colors was very cool. We went to shores that had red sand, white sand, black sand and even sand completely composed of small shells.
But for those of you who are not geology enthusiasts, there was a lot of wildlife that we encountered on the islands too. Among the animals we saw were the famous Darwin finches, sea turtles, marine iguanas, land iguanas, Galapagos sea lions, and of course the enormous tortoises. The tortoises were huge and very docile. It was even possible to go right up next to a sea lion (not a bull male though) and simply enjoy nature at its finest.
Looking back on the entire trip, one of the best experiences I had was being able to snorkel with some playful young sea lions. They would come right up to your face and then turn away just before they would crash into you, making it one of the most wonderful memories I will have of my years at Rider. My friends and others will ask, “Did you have a good time?” And I can honestly say, “Yes, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
— Carey Sliko
Senior, Marine Sciences