After spending 10 days with TTS23, the words that continually come to mind is 'WOW - what an amazing group of diverse young women!' Each member offers a unique trait to connect the introverts with extroverts the Spanish speaking experts with the Spanish novices and the shy with the wild.
From the time I arrived at the hostel, I was welcomed into the group with excited hellos and smiles, all of which silently asked, "Do you have the letters?" And yes, I did - in fact my bag was stuffed with fan mail for the group - but I waited... through the final moments of the Literature midterm This I Believe work session, impromptu pool session, interactive History class where five ladies gave presentations on key players of Ecuadorian and South American history and the schedule lowdown on the Galapagos adventure. And then there was momentary silence as girls read letters until Kate B piped up, "Do you want to see the photos my mom sent?"... which began a waterfall of stories from home and excited exclamations as students recognized faraway family and friends based on stories they had heard throughout the past seven weeks.
Spaghetti dinner at the hostel went by quickly and then the girls were off to downsize their packs to the bare essentials for the Galapagos - 17 lbs for a carry on and about 25 lbs per checked bag - Maisie made it her mission to fit everything into her daypack. She accomplished it with a few pounds to spare and even had her homework and "one extra shirt" than the required number.
The energy was contagious at the airport as our bags were checked for any items that might contaminate the unique ecosystem of the islands. Eventually, I settled into my window seat next to Allie's mom, Amy, and Lena. Lena shared stories of home and moving from California to New Jersey before settling into her artwork. She silently sketched an amazing portrait of a woman in a flowing dress as Amy and I chattered on. Lena later showcased her tattoo drawing skills on the night of the pirate takeover (notice the knife tat pictures in the slideshow). Departing the plane, Alizah and Sophie reveled in the humidity, first lizard sighting and unique landscape by quickly snapping the first photos. They continued to investigate the unique island setting throughout the week, often burying friends in the sand or diving down to check out the seascape while snorkeling.
Courtney was delighted to see the sea lion at the yacht dock, lazily lounging on one of the benches. Little did we know we would later visit the town of San Cristobal where the children's water park has been taken over by these cute but territorial animals. From the dock, the group split into two groups for the different boats - the Fragata and the Golondrina. For the next week, any time our groups met, there were numerous hugs and lots of laughter, as if these great friends had been separated for months.
Anne and Charlotte quickly nestled into their cabin in the depths of the Fragata before heading to the top deck to enjoy the sea breeze as we motored out to our first island. Their soft smiles and anticipation radiated throughout the group as did their shrieks of delight in our first sightings of colorful crabs, lava lizards and flamingos.
Hannah was in her natural science element throughout the week - asking Maritza (Golondrina guide) questions about animal habitats on the island. She, Allie and Feyza loved grabbing their snorkel gear and flipping backward off the Zodiacs to explore the turquoise waters. Sharks... ha! These two were ready. Meanwhile, I looked at Charlotte as we donned our snorkel gear at Kickers Rock, and said, "I think I could do without a close up with Hammerheads." She nodded in agreement as we peeled off the boat. However, when the guides yelled "Shark" we both quickly swam over, eager to see this intimidating animal. For the rest of that snorkel, we all kicked back and forth through the channel to see up to 7 Hammerheads or 8 Galapagos Reef Sharks at once.
Lindsey delighted in her periodic dances with sea lions. She often lingered behind the snorkel group for one more twist and turn with the playful creatures. Rebecca somehow managed to keep her big contagious smile while snorkeling. She continually found new fish, urchins and starfish to investigate with the group. Susannah's excitement followed the group back to shore where we often sat in awe of the experience and shared short stories of what our different groups saw during the day.
On the islands, the girls worked on their photography skills. Carefully selecting their perspective to show the subject in it's element. Whether they captured the Blue Footed Boobie courtship dance, rippled lizard scales or sea lions basking in the sun, these ladies were thoughtful and respectful of the animals environments. Erin was quick to jump in the water whenever possible and then enjoy some beach relaxing and sun bathing. Other ladies would slowly join her after a short snorkel or swim, thankful for some beach R&R.
Caroline and Scout bounced throughout the week excited to live in the moment. They snuck in opportunities to ask about the upcoming Santa Cruz trek or Machu Picchu. Like the others, these ladies always had a hug ready for their friends when the groups met up.
Although everyday was unique, the days began to blend together into an surreal dream. We woke each morning around 6:15 am enticed by the lingering breakfast smells. Before we could digest our food completely the adventures began with an early morning island walk and snorkel or vis-versa. Before we knew it, lunch was served as we motored to another site to hike and snorkel. Each night we were rocked to sleep as the crew motored us to another island. Some of us slept up on the deck, others snuggled into our cozy cabins, quickly falling back into dreamland only to awake and begin it all again.
As we patiently sat in the airport waiting to return to reality, I was immersed in the magic. The magic of teenage girls being girls - hugging one another, laughing the full belly laugh and holding hands as only true friends can do. Of course we ate ice cream and talked about everything under the sun, including the much anticipated 3 day bus journey to Peru followed by an epic backpacking adventure, but it was the underlying feeling within this group. These ladies have created a magical community, individually peeling away the layers of life and accepting support and friendship to gain a new sense of self and confidence to shine as strong independent women. As some lucky parents witnessed growth in their daughters over the past seven weeks, I was reminded of the power of 22 ladies willing to embrace a journey, question the world and experience diverse cultures.
During the trip I did my best to be the Galapa-razzi and snap photos of everyone. Some ladies were ready to strike a pose whenever the camera came out and others were quick to duck. I did my best to sneak photos of everyone. I hope you enjoy the slide show and see some smiles from your daughter sent from the Galapagos with love.