Category Archives: Nature

Sunset Skygazing

This is one of the biggest things I missed while living in Ecuador.

an arizona sunset

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Filed under Arizona, Nature, Outdoors, Travel, United States

Conquering Camelback Mountain in Arizona

View from the top of Camelback Mountain

My twin sister decided to introduce me to Camelback, which is a famous mountain – or hill, depending on the mountains you’ve grown up with wherever you live – in Arizona because it resembles a camel lying down in the desert surroundings. It has also gained a reputation for being a rather difficult hike/trek with many people getting hurt and air-lifted off the mountain. As we drove to the trail, my sister told me a story of how ambulances were taking someone away the very first time she was going to hike it. YiKES!

Camelback is so popular that the parking lot fills up rather quickly, leaving many people to park farther down in the neighborhood streets. When we arrived the parking lot was packed and a line of cars were waiting for people to leave for their chance to get a spot. My sister and I opted for the other parking areas. We started driving and saw groups of people running and walking to the trailhead from the parking area, which also turned out to be filled. We had no choice but to park in the rocky landscape with other cars and make the walk to the trailhead. I jokingly told my sister that this could be our warm-up.

I learned from my sister that the hike can take up to 3-hours, so we took a deep breath and braved the porta-potties before starting the hike. According to my sister, there are two sides to climb to the top of Camelback. One is an easy hike with a flat path that only gets a bit dangerous – picture a high-wire, you walk on the edge of the mountain – before you reach the top. The other, which we took, is steep the entire way up and includes lots of boulder hopping.

Hiking Camelback Mountain!

After you climb up the stairs, you get a break on a flat path that winds along a fence that keeps you from falling off the edge before getting to the first of two real steep ascents. Both of these climbs have a steel handle-bar to assist you up the rock’s surface. It is amazing to see how people get up these areas of the hike. Some opt for no handle-bar and literally crawl up while others cling to the fence or bar, and others who are descending are walking backwards holding onto the bar. After each ascent, most hikers take a break to catch their breath and watch the other hikers before getting to the boulder areas.

This was probably my favorite part. You could either go up the boulder crevice or climb the surface of the red rocks next to it. The surface was so flat and had this texture that you could literally stand up straight and walk up it. It looked like you were walking side-ways up this rock, it was brilliant. I was so nervous though that for the first bit of it I clung with my face smashed up to the surface because I didn’t want to fall. With the assurance of my twin sister, I finally stood up half-way up and walked up, feeling the burning in my calves the entire way.

Helicopter hovering while searching for an injured hiker

We venture onward and saw a helicopter making multiple rounds of the mountain, at points hovering. The pilot used its speaker to call out to hikers to assist them in their rescue attempt. “If you are by the injured hiker, please wave your arms.” All the hikers began pointing in the direction of the hiker that they passed during their descent. My sister and I pointed upward after noticing the people helping. We eventually saw the injured girl being nursed by her hiking partners. It appeared as if it was her ankle, which was no surprise because climbing the boulders – and at times jumping from one to the next – could easily lead to your foot slipping.

Christmas tree on top of Camelback Mountain

My sister told me we were near the top and our speed grew faster during the last portion. Our legs were burning and our breaths were quick, but we reached the apex where a crowd of hikers were resting and eating while enjoying the view. The Christmas tree was still up there along with a few decorated bushes. One group decided to take their Christmas picture for next year. We only had a few minutes of rest before we started our descent. On the way down we saw a girl who had just sprained her ankle a minute prior. She was in tears and being comforted by her friends. We continued on and made sure our feet were firmly planted before pressing on to the next boulder and the next…and the next. It was much faster on the way down and when we reached the wooden stairs, smiles replaced the open mouths that gasped for air the entire way up and down.

Hikers resting and eating snacks on top of Camelback Mountain

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Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, Nature, Outdoors, Tips, Travel, United States

Arizona: Tallest Christmas Tree in the Nation

Tonight my parents and I walked around the outlets in Anthem. We normally don’t frequent the shopping center but they had something special to offer: the tallest Christmas tree in the nation. I find it odd that a city in Arizona would be able to get the tallest tree, but hey, at least we have the ability to admire and appreciate the tree since we are not stuck in feet of snow or have to bear freezing temperatures and wind chill to enjoy it. Let me tell you, this tree was massive.  I was unable to fit the tree in its entirety into any picture (I can’t wait to get my panoramic camera under the tree – yes, I know that I’m getting one, I had to pick it out). It towers over the tops of the shops and can be seen from miles down the highway that the outlets are located beside. Underneath its limbs are giant presents and toys for kids and families to stand in front of for picture-taking opportunities.

It is good to see it in the daylight, not only for the picture-taking, but because you get the chance to see the huge ornaments that decorate the tree. At night when it is lit up, all you can see are the twinkling Christmas lights, which are still a beautiful sight to behold and definitely get you in the holiday spirit.

According to the details:

  • The 110-foot tall tree came from Northern California.
  • A huge crane was used to hoist the tree into place.
  • In total, 120 strings of lights and 3,000 ornaments decorate the massive tree.

nation's tallest christmas tree

standing under the tree with the presents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

reflection in the giant ornament

nation's tallest christmas tree lit up

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What I Will Miss About Living in Ecuador

– Not driving a car, being able to walk everywhere (Save $$$$ on Gas)

– A $2 three-course meal with dessert

– The variety of fruit and fruit juices (Quiero una jugo de mora AND the best pineapple I’ve ever eaten)

– High-priced fast-food and American candy (good incentive to not eat it)

– Empanadas (compare that to hot pockets, which are not as good)

– The breakfast at El Colibri

– Coup attempts that got us out of work

– Living in a country with vastly different geographical landscapes (the coast, highlands, amazon and galapagos)

– The passion in the culture and people

– Being able to survive without a cellphone

– Television isn’t the center of the living room (the only time it was turned on was during the coup attempt)

– Everything being so close (grocery stores, gym, cafes)

– Free Salsa lessons on Wednesday night in The Mariscal District

– Not living to work, but working to live

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Food, Galapagos Islands, Global, History, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Travel, Worldwide

Underwater Pictures – Galapagos Islands

Since I’ve returned to the States I have been able to develop the film from my underwater camera that I took to the Galapagos Islands. Here is what I discovered captured on my roll:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tour, Travel, Worldwide

Video: Galapagos Islands – Darwin’s Land

To finish up the Galapagos Islands Series, I have made a video of the voyage.

I hope you have enjoyed the adventure just as much as I did.

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Galapagos Islands, Global, History, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Tour, Travel, Worldwide

Santa Cruz & North Seymour – Galapagos Series – Chapter VI

After my friend dropped off two pieces of bread for my breakfast, I decided I could not miss out on the day’s activities and forced myself to eat it and get dressed. This was the day I was looking forward to the most – and again, I was in the G-A-L-A-P-A-G-O-S! No upset stomach was going to keep the Traveling Bard from an adventure.

charles darwin research station on santa cruz island

The zodiac pulled up to a pier on Santa Cruz island and we unloaded. After Isabella, Santa Cruz is the second-largest island in the Galapagos and has the largest population located in its capital, Puerto Ayora. Before landing here, we had been hopping around uninhabited islands where the animals reigned. On Santa Cruz, however, it was an urban development with a bustling city center.

Once we regrouped, Tour Guide George started leading us along the road to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which has been in operation since 1964. Scientists and researchers work on projects to help conserve the Galapagos Islands and it’s animals, while learning more about the archipelago. Along the way, we stopped to watch a man sort through a fresh batch of caught lobsters where we happened to spot a Lava Gull, which is apparently very rare because there are only 400 left. We continued on and passed a small, green road sign that had an arrow pointing in the direction we were heading that read, “Estacion Ch. Darwin”.

At the park entrance building we were able to get our passports stamped. Another amazing souvenir that will compliment the equator stamp nicely. Eventually we passed the sign that let us know we had made it and entered a room that was dedicated to educating people on The Restoration of the Tortoise Dynasty. Tour Guide George explained the different species that are found on each island and their current predicament. I learned that the Galapagos Tortoise is the largest tortoise species in the world, and that the National Park and Research Station are trying to eradicate the dogs, pigs, donkeys and rats that hinder their populations.

lonesome george - the last of his species of galapagos tortoise

We walked to an area where we could watch the baby tortoises wandering around and climbing all over each other. The baby tortoises weren’t always placed behind bars, according to Tour Guide George. Apparently, travelers would be caught at the airport on their way back to Ecuador trying to sneak out tortoises they picked up. I couldn’t believe anyone would even think of doing something like that – or think they had any chance of successfully getting away with it. Moving on, we went to visit the two celebrities of the Charles Darwin Research Station: Lonesome George and Diego.

Lonesome George is named because he is the last known Pinta Island tortoise in the entire Galapagos archipelago. Goats had destroyed the species and he was moved to the research station for protection. Restless searches have not turned up any others of his kind. He is kept in an environment with two females in the hopes that he would mate with them to produce offspring. George has produced batches of eggs with the females, but all have unfortunately become inviable. When he dies in a hundred, or so years, his conservation status will become: extinct.

the galapagos tortoise - stretching the long neck

On a brighter note, one tortoise has been able to help repopulate the entire Española island with his offspring. His name is Diego and he was returned to the Galapagos after spending a large part of his life in the San Diego Zoo, which is where he got his name. His species was in decline due to the goats that were harming the vegetation that the tortoises relied upon. There were only 12 females and 2 males left when he returned and produced more than 1,400 babies that are now back in their natural environment, helping maintain their population on Española. Even at more than 100 years of age, Diego continues to mate with the females at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

After visiting the tortoises and iguanas, we met up with our bus that would be taking us to the highlands. We had decided to spend the entire day on Santa Cruz instead of just the morning, and then sailing on over to an island to snorkel and see more of the animals we already had on the other islands. The highlands offered us a chance to get up-close-and-personal with the giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural environment at the Highlands National Park Tortoise Reserve. It was a quick ride and our chefs from the catamaran brought all the food for lunch in a nice buffet-style setting for us to enjoy in the park. As we gradually finished eating, one by one, people from the group began to disappear and explore the tortoise landscape.

in the highlands with the large tortoises

The giant tortoises, which can weight more than 650 pounds and live up to 200 years, were scattered all throughout the green landscape. Most could be found in the shade of trees in order to stay out of the afternoon heat. We were able to get inches away from the endemic animals and pose for multiple pictures. In the park, the tortoises have the luxury to roam wherever they like, whether that be across the roads or into the deep forest of trees on the reserve. A few were lounging in the muddy waters of one of the ponds. At one point, we were lucky enough to see the beginnings of a possible mating – the male was trying to crawl onto the back of a female, but the female began to take off with the male following closely behind. Eventually, the female was able to seek refuge in a large bush, which made it difficult for the male to crawl on top again due to all the branches in the way.

Some of the group went back to the lunch area while the rest of us followed Tour Guide George on a trail through the trees. Ever so often I could spot the shell of a tortoise in the distance. The lush vegetation of Santa Cruz provides a suitable environment for the tortoises and the reserve protects them from invasive species – although I did spot two kittens hiding beneath branches and leaves at one point during our hike. We also spotted fruit growing in bushes and trees with the help of Tour Guide George. He wrangled a papaya down and fed it to one of the tortoises who devoured it and made quite a mess. I guess the others got worried about us being gone for so long because one of them somehow found us even though I had no idea where we even were in the forest.

inside looking out of the lava tunnel on santa cruz island

We hopped back on the bus for a five minute drive to our next stop. A dirt path led us to a small set of stairs where we walked down into the opening of a lava tunnel. It reminded me very much of Mammoth Caves, which I just visited in Kentucky in the summer before leaving for Ecuador. Lava from a volcanic eruption flowed and eventually hollowed out, creating the tunnel we were walking through. We could only go so far because  of boulders that blocked our path, so that was our turning point. The string of lights didn’t help much. It was still dark enough that my clumsy self would trip over some of the rocks in the path but I eventually made it safely back up the stairs and to the bus with no broken bones. The group went back to the city center where we were given a bit of time to look around. My Norwegian friend, the friend I came with and I went for some coffee and ice cream before venturing back to the meeting point. We boarded the zodiacs, but had to wait for the other zodiac to arrive with the life-jackets before we eventually got back on the catamaran.

It was our last night aboard the Nina. Throughout the duration of the entire voyage, the group had become very much like a family. At dinner that night, the two tables were pushed together and we ate like a family, complete with random side conversations. In the morning, we woke bright and early with the sight of giant waves crashing ashore on North Seymour – the final island we would explore. The waves made getting out of the zodiac incredibly hard but everyone made it safely on land where we were greeted my numerous bird sightings. We walked the rocky trail and saw blue-footed boobies – a mom and her babies. In the trees we noticed two male Magnificent Frigate birds with their red pouches puffed up to attract a female.

male magnificent frigate bird with red pouch

With only an hour of time to enjoy the island, the group quickly made it’s way to the coast where the waves crashed upon the rocky shore. Here we saw more sea lions and iguanas basking in the sun that was growing stronger in the waking morning. After slipping and sliding our way back into the zodiacs, we all looked back for one last glimpse of the Galapagos before we hopped back on the catamaran to say our final farewells to the crew as it took us to the drop-off point where buses were waiting.

At the airport, the group remained intact. On the flight, the group remained intact until we lost an Australian couple at the first stop in Guayaquil. The rest remained together until we said our goodbyes at the baggage claim in the Quito airport and went our separate ways,. However, we all still had the memories of Darwin’s Land intact.

soaring over the sea lion on north seymour island

zodiac heading to shore on north seymour island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tortoise chowing down at the charles darwin research station on santa cruz island

a sea lion and her pup on north seymour island

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Galapagos Islands, Global, History, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Tour, Travel, Worldwide