Fall Break stories and adventures


By Claire Griffin, Study Abroad Student Fall 2019

As all 12 of us piled into the small vessel responsible for transporting us across the rough seas of the archipelago, we waved goodbye to our Isabela for the week. It did not take long to start missing our little town, especially in the comparatively huge and modern metropolises awaiting us in Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. We constantly joked about our case of micro-culture shock: “Are these roads ALL paved? Is that a multi-story building? Oh god A SUSHI RESTAURANT?!? We’re in Las Vegas!”

Our first 4 days of the journey took place in San Cristobal. Disoriented by the deceptively complex street layout (to be fair, anything more extensive than Isabela’s one main road feels complex these days) and a dwindling internet connection, we immediately got lost searching for our hostel. After moaning, groaning, and sweating under the weight of our bags, we finally arrived to our little slice of home at the hostal de Consuelos Gil. Unbeknownst to us, the Gils who owned the cozy casa were of the very same tree as the Gils in Isabela, whose members house a number of IOI students; as a result, we were practically staying with family! The following days were filled with souvenir shopping, exploring, and lots and lots of delicious food. One of our excursions included a beautiful drive through Cristobal’s highlands, with stops at a volcano crater and a tortoise breeding center, and ended at a pristine little beach (“Puerto Chino”) on the opposite side of the island. Even more exciting about San Cristobal was that we had the opportunity to meet up with other University of Miami students studying biology abroad at the island’s college (ran by University of Quito). It was great being shown around by a few familiar faces!

We spent one day in Cristobal scuba diving at Kicker Rock, also known as “The Sleeping Lion” in Spanish, with a great company called Gustavo’s Fishing Adventures. The topography of Kicker Rock was impressive alone, but the rich diversity of marine life complementing the rock’s elaborate underwater walls left us all in awe. Huge bait balls, hammerheads, barracuda, Galapagos sharks, manta rays, and more. The dive crew took great care of us both under and above-water (is there anything better than Oreos post-dive?), even adding an extra stop on a small remote island where a naturalist crewmember showed us around and told us about the local flora and fauna.

After our time in Cristobal, we headed to Santa Cruz for three days. We quickly discovered a new favorite spot on the island, the Santa Cruz Brewery, whose variety of house-made brews, board games, and amazing fajitas kept us coming night after night. When our group wasn’t dining or shopping, we were diving the amazing sites around Santa Cruz, including North Seymour and Gordon Rocks. Some only did one of the sites, some did both, but all had an amazing time. The most memorable moment in my dive experience was what we deemed “underwater rock climbing” at Gordon Rocks, and it looked exactly as it sounds. The undercurrent was so strong that day that we all had to tightly grip onto the site’s rocky wall to stay together, especially when we moved locations. The result was an activity akin to scaling a rocky cliff - if that rocky cliff were surrounded by fish, turtles, and the occasional shark!

Break ended with a cheerful and much-needed return to Isabela. While the week was full of adventures we’ll remember forever, we all agreed that none of the other islands compared to our very own “Queen Izzy” and its charming town, Puerto Villamil.


Kaylie Anne Costa

“Welcome aboard the Galapagos Master! During fall break I stayed on a diving liveaboard exploring the Galapagos archipelago. We began our journey in San Cristobal. Two amazing dives at Baltra and a land visit to Seymour island where we saw frigates, boobies, land iguanas, and much more started the trip off with a bang. Then we headed to Darwin and Wolfe Islands, home to the largest shark biomass in the world. From endemic tiny nudibranchs, to schools of hammerheads, to safety stops with whale sharks, these two islands were more than a dream come true. …Oh and we also saw a pod of orcas. So cool! Next we sailed to the north end of Isabela island to Punta Vicenta Roca. We descended about 100 feet into dark, murky water and waited patiently. All of a sudden out of the dark blue emerged a mola. It came towards us and swam above us, right through our bubbles. That very same day we dove with the world famous marine iguanas of the Galapagos. The males dive down about 15ft and munch on the nutritious green benthic algae. We finished the trip with two more beautiful dives near Santa Cruz Island, then I raced the clock to make it onto the ferry to return in time for school the next day on Isabela. Best week ever!”

Meagan Ando

“During my fall break, I sailed for 7 days on the Reina Silvia liveaboard across the western route of the Galápagos Islands with my parents, who flew down from Jacksonville FL. We sailed from Santa Cruz to Floreana island, where we snorkeled, visited post office bay, and hiked up to the highlands. From there we travelled to Punta Moreno and Elizabeth Bay on the western side of Isabela Island, where we snorkeled with marine penguins. We visited Fernandina Island, where we spotted two Mola-mola, 2 Brydes whales, and got to snorkel with marine iguanas! We then travelled around the northern part of Isabela island and around to Santiago, crossing the equator twice. In Santiago, we hiked through a Frigate bird nesting site and a sea lion nursery and even got to snorkel with White tip sharks!! Then, my family visited my host family in Puerto Villamil and stayed for 2 days, in which we biked to the Wall of Tears and walked to the Tortoise Breeding Center!”

Max Braun

“For my fall break, I met my parents on San Cristobal to get on a liveaboard for a tour around the eastern islands of the Galápagos. We went to Española, Floreana, Santa Cruz, Santiago, and Genevesa. Some of the highlights of the trip involved diving in Floreana and Santa Cruz, seeing nesting albatrosses in Española, and seeing all three species of native boobies (Blue Footed, Red Footed, and Nazca) plus the rare Galapagos Short Eared Owl on Genevesa. It was a great way to see the eastern islands of the archipelago, and I was glad that my parents got to enjoy this special place with me.”

Agatha Freedburg

“For fall break, my parents came to visit me. I met them on Santa Cruz on Monday the 21st. The next morning we hiked to a place called Las Grietas, a picturesque ravine that you could snorkel in. I saw huge parrotfish and a moray eel! In the afternoon, we went to El Chato to walk through a 400 meter long lava tunnel and collapsed craters. Also while in Santa Cruz, we hiked the trail to Tortuga Bay and explored more of Puerto Ayora. After a few days there we returned to Isabela, where I introduced my parents to my host family, which was super cute! Later that same evening, we went to Sam’s restaurant for dinner with a couple friends, then to Uku Lounge for live music. On their last full day in the Galapagos, I took my parents along the boardwalk to the tortoise breeding center, then gave them a tour of Puerto Villamil. Later we met up with the entire group, most of whom had just returned from their fall break in Santa Cruz, at our favorite beachside bar.

My favorite part of fall break was when we went to North Seymour Island and saw many frigates, iguanas, boobies, lava lizards, and sea lions. We found booby nests and even saw part of the booby mating dance.”

We're back!

By Claire Griffin, Study Abroad Student Fall 2019

Welcome back to IOI’s blog!

Pardon the hiatus in posts; our group is just coming back from a jam-packed fall break, during which my internet connection went from abysmal to nonexistent. But we’re back and better than ever!

Picking up from where we left off, our class with Dr. Drennan ended with some amazing field trips and a number of interesting projects. We spent several days surveying the popular snorkel spot Concha de Perla, using waterproof data tables to document species diversity within the estuary.

We later embarked on a day long boat ride to the remote and beautiful western side of Isabela, where the wildlife was like nothing we had ever seen. Right off the bat, we had the rare and fantastic chance to see Galapagos’ wild orcas. The duo gave us a fantastic show, hunting and breaching amidst a huge flock of birds, and to our delight even came right under the boat to check out the 16 squealing humans on its bow. While topping orcas is near impossible, the day progressed with a number of other magical encounters: Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, pelicans, blue footed boobies, frigates, albatross, sea turtles, sea lions, iguanas, and even an elusive Bryde’s Whale!

Also within these past two weeks: the 10th anniversary of IOI’s inception! We celebrated with an all-day fiesta in the highlands, inviting the whole community out to enjoy all varieties of food, artisan goods, games, competitions, farmers markets, live music, and tournaments in soccer and volleyball. Most exciting, however, was the launch of a novel local agricultural program called “Maria Rosa.” This groundbreaking program creates a network for local farmers, referred to as “Red de Producción y Consumo Local,” to market their goods to local restaurants and businesses, and in addition provides courses on sustainable farming practices. Maria Rosa thus aims to be an emblem of local production and sustainability paving a bright future for Isabela and the community.

The course finished with individual presentations on 16 endemic species here in the Galapagos. Each student conducted extensive research on their chosen species and presented on its geographic and ancestral origins, its speciation within the Galapagos, and its potential adaptations to and/or risks faced during periodic El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. I chose the Galapagos sea lion, and despite a heavy workload I genuinely enjoyed learning about the history and ecology of this charismatic species. Other project topics included everything from ferns to owls to iguanas, and everyone had a great time presenting on their chosen species!

Scuba pointing.jpg

After a tear-filled farewell to Dr. Drennan, we all set out on our various adventures. 12 of us stuck together to explore the other two main islands (San Cristobal and Santa Cruz), while the other 4 reunited with family members visiting from the US to then set off on their own expeditions, several embarking on weeklong cruises that explored the entire archipelago. Check out my next post (that’s right, you’ll be getting TWO in ONE WEEK!) to read student testimonials from both the 12-person trip and each of the individual trips. We’ll explore the myriad of adventures that Galapagos has to offer, and hopefully provide some insight for future Miami students and IOI participants planning their own excursions!

 Until next time,

Claire Griffin