Friday, September 24, 2010

is this a good thing?


The start of the school year is always a bit frantic... purchase $100+ of supplies, organize notebooks, binders, sharpen pencils, get up early, back into a routine. Those are good things. The first week is always exciting... Which electives did you get? Which teachers did you get? Which friends are in your classes? Where's your locker?

Then the second week arrives, and along with it, homework! This year there is plenty of it. The reality of it all doesn’t really come until parents attend Back-to-School night. This is the night when parents rush around the school going to all your child's classes following the order that your child has written out for you, in an hour and a half. Parents are in each class for exactly ten minutes, with three minutes in between to run to the next class on the schedule. Note to self: next year do NOT wear heels. Running shoes only!

In those ten minutes parents are informed of what each class will cover for the year, how much work is expected to take place at home (aka homework), and told how we can help our child(ren) accomplish all this. There are several projects that parents need to be involved with this year such as community service projects and a family history term paper. Oh, and then we're asked to volunteer either on a regular basis in the classrooms, on special projects, or by driving for field trips.

Tonight after my daughter's weekly two hour dance class (Portland Public Schools cut back the P.E. program this year, so this is a must), she typed a paper, created a diagramed poster on the destruction of the ozone layer explaining the process, read a chapter for social studies and did an assignment based on that reading, worked on a few math problems, read for half an hour and fell asleep. This is all after being in school for nearly seven hours.

Just for fun I decided to add up the number of hours that go into school and homework per week. Here’s what I came up with:

30 hours in school per week (5 days)
4 hours Math homework (1 hour, M-Th)
4 hours Language Arts homework (1 hour, M-Th)
4 hours Social Studies homework (1 hour, M-Th)
4.5 hours Science homework (1-1 1/2 hours, S, T, Th)

That's a total of 46.5 hours a week!

When there are large projects going on, the number of homework hours will, of course, increase.

Her teachers claim they’re preparing them for high school. But that's next year. This is 8th grade!

I would love to hear from other parents. How does your child’s workload compare?

I gotta go sharpen some more pencils now...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Galapagos Expedition | Day 10

The Daphne

Cloudy skies and our last day arrived at the same time. This morning, the consensus of moods on the Daphne was gloomy. Thoughts of spending the day stuffed into airplanes, dealing with airlines, and crowded airports, was less than appealing.

We boarded the panga, and waved farewell to the Daphne crew.


I really wanted to bring this guy home with us! We could continue to receive delicious treats each time we came home, clean sheets and towels folded into animal shapes each night. He was also just a lot of fun to be around.

Luis grabbed a lifejacket and hopped aboard the panga for our return. And he carried our bags for us. What a guy!

Adiós Luis! Adiós Charlie! We’ll miss you.

Our first delay came at the Baltra airport. We were bumped onto the next flight.

We arrived back in Quito at around 6pm, just as the sun was setting.

Several people in our group were feeling a bit under the weather. A bowl of warm quinoa soup in the hotel restaurant and an early night to bed helped immensely.

Another early morning wake up. 3am, cram into a taxi with all our luggage. And you’ve already heard the rest of the story here.

The only things that made the day tolerable were thoughts of a soft, large bed and this sweet little face waiting at home...


Thank you so much for coming along on our journey through the Galapagos.

I’m glad you’re here!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Galapagos Expedition | Day 9

Isabela Island: Sierra Negra and Puerto Villamil

Today we go eight miles on horseback to the edge of the crater of the volcano Sierra Negra on Isabela Island. This is the second-largest volcano on earth.

Sierra Negra (Spanish for Black Mountain) is a large shield volcano at the South eastern end of Isabela Island that rises to an altitude of 1124m (3688 feet). It is one of the most active of the Galapagos volcanoes with the most recent historic eruption in October 2005.

Okay, so I'm a pretty experienced rider. I’ve ridden horses since around the age of ten. I’ve been thrown off horses while riding bareback, even had a few lessons through the years. But these horses were a challenge! They had obviously been trained by Spanish speaking riders and taught not to listen to anyone but those Spanish speaking cowboys who traveled behind us. The trails were narrow and we were often teetering on the edge of volcanic cliffs. The horses all had their own ideas about where in the line they needed to be and would charge at each other whenever the Spanish speaking cowboys did a kissy sound, which they of course did frequently.

The weather was cool and foggy with a light mist falling as we headed up the trail.

horseback riding

This was Iz’s first experience riding without someone leading her. She looks like a pro.

horseback riding

horseback riding

My husband on a horse? Now that’s a rare sight!

horseback riding on Isabela

horseback ride

Once we reached the other side, the weather cleared. It was downright hot for our two mile hike on foot up to the summit of Sierra Negra.

Sierra Negra, Galapagos

Iz still looks fresh as a daisy after a long ride up...

Isabel on Isabela Island

The weather had again returned to misty on the return trip.

For some reason my horse insisted on being behind all the other horses all the way back. I was in a cloud of dust.

Mist + dust = ...

horseback ride

Notice the dead pig draped over the horse in the background. That’s not my horse. Some cowboys had just shot a wild pig nearby and I just happen to be passing by it on my way to the restroom when Michael took this picture.

The restroom didn’t have any paper towels, so I did the best I could with cold water splashed on my face.

Looking a bit like I just finished working in the coal mines, we headed to town for cervezas.

Puerto Villamil

Puerto Villamil is a small port village located on the southeastern edge of Isabela. Of the 2,200 people who live on Isabela, the majority live in Puerto Villamil. Residents of Puerto Villamil have earned a living either through agriculture or fishing, but over the years the government has made moves to move the population away from fishing and into tourist-based activities.

This place was closed, but what an awesome spot to spend an afternoon...

Bar Iguana

They even have a sand floor...

Bar Iguana

Friday, September 17, 2010

Galapagos Expedition | Day 8

Fernandina Island

marine iguanas

For our early morning hike, the panga driver dropped us off on a shore covered in black lava rock. When these rocks are wet with sea water, as they were on this morning, they’re as slippery as a bar of soap, making walking on them very treacherous. You really don’t want to fall here. The rocks are very sharp. Good balance is important as we gingerly creep along, stepping on the rougher, jagged points of the rocks to gain a bit of traction.

Along with good balance, good eyesight is just as important. Marine iguanas, who’s color matches perfectly with the dark rocks, cover the surfaces. These camouflaged creatures can easily go unnoticed. Sometimes what alerts you first is a sneezing sound they make as they blow the saltwater from their nostrils. These guys do not get out of your way. This is their island and they have no intention of accommodating two legged visitors. As is the case with all animals throughout the Galapagos, the marine iguanas have no fear of humans even though they most likely get their tails stepped on occasionally.

marine iguana

A lava lizard...

lava lizard

I have a confession to make...

after seven days of a fast paced schedule, I took the afternoon off, stayed on the Daphne, reading and napping, and I skipped the afternoon hike.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Galapagos Expedition | Day 7

Santiago, Bartolomé, Sullivan Bay

Bartolome Island is a volcanic islet in the Galapagos Islands group. It is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Santiago Island. It is one of the younger islands in the Galapagos archipelago. This island, and Sullivan Bay on Santiago island, are named after naturalist and life-long friend of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sullivan, who was a Lieutenant aboard HMS Beagle.

The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations.

An early morning hike on Santiago Island allowed us the pleasure of meeting fur seals, a sea turtle, and a few thousand marine iguanas.

Interesting place to catch a few z’s isn’t it?

fur seal

sea turtle on Santiago Island, Galapagos

Buenos días

marine iguanas

Let’s go snorkeling!

This deep water snorkeling, in relatively cold water, was all new to me. The water here is around 65 degrees in August (also known as the dry season in the Galapagos), so a wet suit is essential if you plan on being in the water for any length of time.


C snorkeling with a sea turtle

C snorkeling with a sea turtle

C snorkeling with a sea turtle

Yep, that’s me, I’m swimming with a sea turtle! This was most definitely a huge highlight of the trip for me. This sweetie pie swam with me for about five minutes. He’d pop his head out of the water every once in a while, and when he did, I followed suit. I even held his fin for a bit as we swam along... I am TOTALLY 100% in love!


During the months of June through November, the Humboldt Current makes it way up to the Galapagos from southern South America. Cooler weather and colder water come with this current. Some days the water was too murky to see much, but this day the water was crystal clear.

We also saw sea lions, starfish and lots of fish. And penguins up close and personal on the shore near Pinnacle Rock. Our guide thought the water was “demasiado fría para pingüinos” (too cold for penguins).


After our afternoon snorkeling fun, we quickly showered off the salt water, jumped into the panga, and headed over to Bartolomé Island where we hiked up 365 steps to the summit for an incredible view. Because we hadn’t had enough exercise for the day.

If you look carefully, you can see where the panga driver let us off and we began the ascent.

They call this 365 steps, but I lost count after about 50 steps, and then it was unclear whether they meant steps or stairs. Either way, it was a long trek uphill.

climbing the 365 steps

last of the 365 steps

The Galapagos, Pinnacle rock

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Galapagos Expedition | Day 6

Genovesa Island: El Barranco – Darwin Bay

Welcome to bird island.

Genovesa, also known as Tower Island (though I’ll always remember it as Bird Island), is quite small but geologically and biologically very interesting. The chemistry of its lavas is identical to lavas that erupt at mid-ocean ridges (a magma type called MORB, or mid-ocean-ridge-basalt) and quite different from most oceanic island lavas.

There are birds everywhere you look here... masked boobies, red-footed boobies, Galapagos owls, frigates, swallow-tailed gulls, lava herons, and the rare lava gulls. Some are in trees on nests, some on the ground. Sometimes there’s a baby sitting all alone on a nest waiting for mom to return with food.

red-footed booby watching

bird watching in The Galapagos

a frigate bird...

female frigate bird

I’ll share a funny story about these frigate birds a little later.

Here’s a baby frigate...

frigate bird chick

and a baby Nazca booby...

Nazca booby chick

This bird is trying out for the part of the villain in a Disney movie...

Genovesa Island

I think he’ll be perfect.

Genovesa Island

After a swim in Darwin Bay, we returned to the Daphne. Our guide Charlie told us to change into our best T-shirts for a group photo on the top deck.

When we arrived, the crew was there dressed in their finest...

Daphne crew

Luis was preparing to serve champagne...


One of our fellow cruise members was acting a bit giddy, another was dressed in a black dress carrying a book...

wedding on the Daphne

wedding on the Daphne

It looks to me like John and Kendra are getting married...

wedding on the Daphne


And the capitán married them...

wedding on the Daphne

and the Mother of the Bride wore orange...

wedding on the Daphne

Surprise weddings are the best!

Champagne was served. Inside, dancing and more champagne...



This is the night we learned about what an amazing dancer Luis is!

We also learned how it feels to sleep on a moving boat after too much champagne.

I almost forgot to tell you the frigate bird story. Whenever the Daphne was traveling, these birds followed us, hovering just above the boat. One afternoon a bunch of people were sitting on the top deck chatting and laughing. You’ve probably already figured out where this is going. See the guy above who was the groom in the surprise wedding? Yep, right in his open, laughing mouth! Blech! He said it was really bitter.

female frigate bird

Monday, September 13, 2010

Galapagos Expedition | Day 5

Santa Cruz Island: Charles Darwin Station, Puerto Ayora, and Santa Cruz Highlands

It’s Giant Tortoise Day.

First stop, the famous Charles Darwin Research Station. The research center helps the National Park Service in their efforts to save Galapagos wildlife. They have a facility that works exclusively to raise tortoises to increase their depleted population.

Their tortoise egg incubator is highly technical...

giant tortoise incubator

Behind this door is a very small closet like space housing tortoise eggs. On the outside door is an explanation of how it all works:

“Tortoise embryos are very sensitive to abrupt changes in temperature. The hair dryer heats the incubator while a small fan and barn thermostat keep the temperature constant throughout the double boxes, which serve as insulators. The light bulbs are backup heat sources. In the early years of the program, it could take over a month to get a new hair dryer sent from the mainland.”

A Boy or a Girl? Scientists discovered that the temperature within the incubator determines the sex of the hatchlings. If the temperature is over 30°C the young tend to be female while temperatures below 30°C tend to produce males.

giant tortoise eggs

It seems to be working.


giant tortoise, tortuga

We spent a few hours shopping and site seeing in the island town of Puerto Ayora...

shopping on Isla Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

shopping on Isla Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

shopping on Isla Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

After lunch, we traveled by bus into the highlands to visit the Tortoise Reserve where we searched for giant tortoises in their natural surroundings.

Found one...


Giant tortoise

and another...

giant tortoise, tortuga

There were so many tortoises here that each member of our group of 16 had their very own tortoise to hang out with.

giant tortoise

Galapagos giant tortoises lead a very uncomplicated life, grazing on grass, leaves, and cactus, basking in the sun, and napping nearly 16 hours per day. A slow metabolism and large internal stores of water mean they can survive up to a year without eating or drinking. They generally live to be 100+ years old. The oldest on record lived to be 152.

The tortoises on this reserve are not held captive. They come and go as they please.

giant tortoise, tortuga

So much history here. If only they could talk. He looks like he’s trying to tell me something.

It’s so much fun to anthropomorphize here.

Next: we visit Isla Genovesa, or as I call it, Bird Island.