01 September 2012

Starting a new year

Well times flies when you're working your buns off. We have been steadily working to open a new middle school room, changing rooms for our Lower Elementary class, and expanding our toddler room.  We started the year this week with 73 children (and 5 more to arrive in the Spring). Once again we'll need to increase our capacity with the City very soon. Two years ago we started with 42 children and now we have nearly doubled that number. It's all very exciting and the school is truly bustling.

Liam is now in 6th grade and Livy is in 2nd grade. Can't believe how quickly they've grown. Both are enjoying school already, and even though the days are long, they feel like they are an integral part of the school. This past week, Liam and Rebekah (one of the other owners' daughters) calculated how many extra hours they've spent at the school cleaning, painting, prepping for hurricanes, sweeping, carrying books, working on the library, and now eBaying items that are no longer used. Apparently they calculated that they've spent an extra year of their lives helping out. :)  While I think this is probably a bit of an exaggeration, they do help out a lot!

So grateful things have worked out the way they are supposed to. We will be able to take a paycheck every month this year, which is amazing. Several months last year were pretty lean and we couldn't pay ourselves. While salaries aren't high, they are steadily increasing. We have several new staff members, all of whom are very excited to be at Atala. We're very glad to have so many new fresh and energetic faces around campus.

Not much else to say. We are moving onward and upcoming at an astoundingly quick pace. And things are going great.

Spread Your Wings!

05 August 2012


So much going on since I got back from vacation. It was certainly nice having about 5 weeks of travel time, but it's time to get back to work and fast!

We are expanding. Seems like we are constantly expanding, but that's a good thing, especially in this economy. We have decided to double the size of our toddler room. Things took about 1.5 years to really get rolling in that room, but we are starting this coming year with 12 toddlers! Amazing to think that only a year or so ago we had 4.

Middle School is also growing. We have hired three part-time teachers who are going to be absolutely awesome! We had an official meet and greet this past Thursday and everyone came away with very positive feedback. We even recruited a new 7th grader student to the class that very night. This class will also be small at first, but I anticipate the class doubling in size by next year.

New Spanish teacher, new art teacher, and 76 students to start the year! In our first year we began with only 42 students and now in our third year we're up to 76 to start. We should hit 100 by next year if all goes well.

We are also undergoing accreditation this fall. This is extremely important and something we have been working towards since we opened. The report is completed and we are all awaiting the visit. I'll keep you all posted!

Spread Your Wings!

09 July 2012

On Vacation

Back from the Galapagos and on to Destin!

Spread your wings!

02 July 2012

Home again, home again!

Yesterday morning at 6 am we took the boat from Isabela Island to Santa Cruz Island. Colby was the only passenger to puke (twice). So all in all it was a much better trip. But we were all wiped out! Here's our day:

Wake in Isabela, 5 am
Water taxi to bigger boat
Boat to Santa Cruz
Pick-up truck taxis to the ferry between Santa Cruz and Baltra (this was 30 minutes of high-speed driving through the mountains--I think this trip actually made the bulk of us sicker than the boat ride.)
Ferry from Santa Cruz to Baltra (one student fell in the water because she got too close for a last-minute picture of a pelican)
Ferry to bus (they nearly left five of us, including Liam, Livya, and me behind!)
Bus to airport
Airplane to Quito
Bus to the hotel
Arrive 6 pm

So we were all exhausted and went looking for the quickest place to grab a bite. The hotel clerk mentioned three places, one of which was a Colombian steakhouse, which we immediately settled on. Too exhausted to budge, Liam stayed back and watched Cody Banks in Spanish.

We invited a UM student along with us and all had a great time! Brought food home to Liam, stopped and bought some pastries for breakfast, and got Livya some gelato.

Woke up at 3 am this morning to hop on a 4 am bus to the airport. That really left us all hurting! We all had headaches either because of the altitude or maybe the MSF the steakhouse used. Regardless, it was a welcomed relief to finally get on the plane home.

But after that we had an uneventful flight back to Miami.

We all miss the Galapagos—it was a amazing adventure, one that we definitely hope to go on next year! I'll post more pictures as soon as I've had a chance to download them.

Spread your wings!

29 June 2012

Day 11, updates and more pictures

Two more days before another treacherous boat ride back to the Baltra (Galapagos) airport. The last trip, 8 days ago had half our group puking up their breakfasts. Hopefully the trip back will be less eventful. Thanks to Geeta Rajpal for the anti-nasauea meds--they really helped me. I'm thinking of selling them for $30 a pop on the way back.  ;)

Liam has decided that he wants to move here (the beach on Isabela specifically). Livy has made a lifelong friend and has invited her to come spend a month with us in the spring. Can't ask for anything more. And now for some pictures from our daily life the past two weeks.

Liam eating a sandwiche de pollo y huevos por desayuno

Jamon y caso y huevos

Our favorite breakfast place—they even advertise that they have a coffee maker! 
This is definitely not a breakfast-eating cultural. 
There are a couple of pastry/cake shops and basically one restaurant. This is the best!

This is where we've been snorkeling nearly everyday. In the background you can see the Isla de Tortuga, a U-shaped volcanic island about 20 minutes away by boat. 

The cruise ships hit the coast in the last two days. Yesterday there were three and today there are five.

Bird tracks in the sand.

Just thought these were cool patterns in the sand near a little inlet at low tide.

I have no idea what this is, but the next few pictures are close-ups. 
I'm trying to find a book to identify them.

Close-up shot of the same thing.

This is the largest of the groupings.

There seem to be little plant-like things sticking out of this bunch.

This is the prettiest of all the pictures of these strange plants/animals.

28 June 2012

Day 10—snorkeling with rays

Today we went snorkeling for the second time at Concha de Perla on the island of Isabela. Today the water was quite cold—apparently you can never predict the temperatures because of the various current that move through this area. Regardless Liam and I jumped in and snorkeled for about an hour. Besides all the beautiful fish, one of the first things we saw was a huge ray (at least huge to us)—it was probably 3 feet in diameter. Here are a couple of pictures:

The dark grey spot in the upper righthand corner is the ray. Swam just feet away from us.

And here is the same dark, shadowy figure as it swam away.

Just to bring you up to date—haven't had a hot shower in 10 days and we're eating is pescado o pollo y arroz, papas fritas, y verduras, two meals a day. But life is fabulous. Last night we had cameron, which was a welcome change. Our Spanish is horribly broken, but we've mostly been able to make ourselves understood. Unfortunately I don't know how to decline Spanish verbs which is goofy so the first thing I'm going to do when I get home is to buy a book so I can learn. Then I'll be prepared for next year's excursion!

Spread your manta wings!

27 June 2012

Day 9, Sierra Negra Volcano Hike

Today we sent 21 people 11 miles up the side of the Sierra Negra volcano on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos. It was a killer hike, but we saw the second largest volcanic caldera in the world!

We could see 6 miles around the caldera where there are lava fields all around. It was absolutely spectacular. This was a lush, plush rainforest atmosphere. A little further up the path the whole climate changed as we approached the volcanic field where "new" mountains only five years old have formed. This place looked like we were on Mars—totally barren with the exception of a few cacti spread here and there. Even the birds and butterflies stayed away from this region.

We left on the hike at 7:30 am, took a chiva (bus) up the side of the mountain for about 45 minutes then hiked from about 9 am until about 4 pm stopping all the way to take pictures. We had lunch at approximately the halfway point and then had to hike the whole way back down again.

I have never considered myself old, but boy were knees aching after this experience! Our feet hurt, our backs hurt, and I think we'll likely go to bed at about 8 pm today.  :)

And now for some awesome (in every sense of the word) pictures!

"frozen" lava flow

lava tube

Far away little volcano

Very cool little spider web catching the morning dew


Fog coming in

26 June 2012

Day 8, Reality Check

So we are in the Galapagos to teach a course for the University of Miami on acoustic ecology—recording and preserving the sounds around us. These may be nature sounds, human sounds, and anything in between. There are 17 students with us, 4 profs, and our 2 kids. There are 4-5 assignments each student must complete before the end of the second week when we go back to Miami. Although we see them about 14 hours each day, today was a day for individual meetings and check ins to see how everything is progressing.

Reality check: Galapagos is definitely not for everyone. Santa Cruz Island was pretty touristy with lots of shops and restaurants, window AC units in the hotels, hot water and internet everywhere. Isabela Island, however, is a completely different case. We didn't have hot water for 3 days, no AC—only fans, and a limited number of restaurants and opportunities to shop. There are very few cars and trucks here, and most people walk or ride bikes everywhere. Open air chivos (busses) or water taxis are the method of transportation between islands. Please don't misread this as a negative. It is what it is. We weren't expecting a vacation trip to some tropical island, but rather we hoped to enjoy the opportunity to visit a culture that has remain largely unchanged in probably 50 years. It's been a fascinating to get a peek into another culture so different from ours.

We have recorded hours and hours of sounds around the four islands we've visited. The college students are now all gathering sounds as well. Tomorrow we head out on a 10-mile hike up the side of a volcano. Livya will remain behind and visit a local elementary school with Dominica (a little girl age 6 whom she met this week). Liam will hoof it with the rest of us. Should be awesome as we will pass through 4 different climate zones and many soil textures. We're hoping to gather sounds from the footsteps passing over various materials to see what it sounds like.

Spread your wings!

25 June 2012

Day 7, Tintoreras

This morning we had a breakfast of fried plantains diced up into little bits and mixed with cheese. These were served in about an ice-cream scoop size mound alongside a fried egg. May sound strange to Americans, I know, but it was really delicious.

We skipped lunch because we knew we'd be on a boat ride and then snorkeling. Brought lots of snacks with us instead. We left for Tintoreras, another island right near Isabela. That island is a microcosm for the entire Galapagos. We saw penguins, white-tipped sharks (for which the island is named), an iguana nesting ground (so lots of babies), sea lions, and many different kinds of birds. After about an hour of hiking, we got back in our water taxi and went to another smaller island and coastal area where we went snorkeling. This time we were greeted at the boat by a sea lion who wanted to play. At first we kind of panicked and Livya hopped back in. Then the guide took Liam and me to a shallowish reef area  where we saw a ton of different kinds of fish (the guide even saw a sting ray, but we weren't quick enough). But best of all a sea lion came swimming up to us and played around.

Here are some pictures for your enjoyment!

Baby iguanas on Tintoreras

Baby iguanas on Tintoreras

Big Daddy on Tintoreras 

Sea lion poop  :)

Say "cheese!"

Swimming with a sea lion off of Tintoreras

Doing tricks for us

Beautiful tropical fish

Liam (age 10) and me snorkeling in Galapagos

Video of a friendly sea lion swimming all around us—he's definitely showing off!

24 June 2012

Day 6, Snorkeling with critters

After a fabulous breakfast of pastries, eggs, and a fried mashed potato and cheese thing, we went snorkeling. Saw all kinds of fish, but the best thing was swimming with a huge green sea turtle and then spying a sea lion showing off for us! Can't describe how amazing this place is. We are already planning our trip next year.

Liam in his snorkel gear

A napping iguana near the beach

Angelfish swimming nearby

Spread your (manta) wings!

Day 4, Galapagos

We took a 5-minute taxi to a bigger boat that we took to the Island of Isabela. This is the largest of all the islands, but only has a permanent population of about 2500 people. The boat ride was very bumpy and about half our group puked continuously.

After our arrival we settled into the International Oceanographic Institute (IOI) and had an orientation. IOI was founded by a University of Miami grad. Yesterday the group had a great bike ride up to the Wall of Tears. Livya and I hiked most of the way with our own personal guide. He showed us how to track tortoises--see the footprints, find the scat, watch for the various tracking keys. It was all very cool. We finally found one near the end of our trip up--it was a smallish tortoise about the size of our kitchen sink and was about 6 years old. Along the way we saw yellow warblers, mockingbirds, and a lot of other birds and small lizards. We recorded all the sounds we could capture before heading back.

Liam joined us on the trip back and nearly took a dive into the ocean when he tripped on a  rock. All is well and we ended the day with a flock of flamingos flying overhead.

More later today, if we have internet!  :)

Spreading our wings with the flamingos in Galapagos!

black sea urchin nestled in the rocks

group of sea lions laying on the dock in the morning

the boat taxi, before everyone puked!

marine iguanas hanging out at the beach

23 June 2012

Day 2-3, Arrival in Quito, Ecuador and Santa Cruz Islands in the Galapagos

Intermittent internet access doesn't allow for daily blogging here in the Galapagos, but this is an amazing other-worldly place. The kids are doing great--we hiked several miles today and saw tortoises, marine iguanas, and flamingos. Having a ball back working with college students, but also exposing my own children to this country. Wow. Nothing much more to say. I'll post more ASAP about all our adventures.

Graffiti in Quito

Volcano outside of Quito

Cactus at the airport in Baltra

Water Taxi

Recording the sounds Galapagos tortoises make

up close and personal

tortoise poop

We are having an amazing time. Food is great—each lunch and dinner begin with soup (usually vegetable or cream-based), then fish (usually albacore tuna) or chicken, rice, French fries, and veggies. Every meal lunch and dinner is nearly the same. 

Breakfast consists of bread and jam, eggs, fresh fruit. Today the owner picked bananas off the tree right at our table.