A Couple of Socks

I had every intention of taking pictures of our semi-annual UMAC tie-dying session on Tuesday and then blogging about it. I even brought my camera. But people came waaaaaaay early, which made us not ready for them, and instead of being a planned, orderly meeting, it was more fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants meeting. It did go well, but no pictures. Instead have a couple pairs of recently-finished socks:

Green Tomatoes
Pattern: The Universal Toe-Up Sock Formula, by Amy Swenson
(using Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato Heel)
Yarn: Conjoined Creations Flat Feet, color #63

Pattern: Kai-Mei, by Cookie A
Yarn: The Yarn Yard Toddy, in Vibrant

The green ones are leftovers from the tail end of my summer internship; the reason they took so long is the heel. I really don't like it. It's not hard to execute by any means, but the fit's wonky, and it took me three times to get the proper placement for it on the foot (first the sock ended up far too long, then too short, then OK, rather than just right - at that point I just went with it because I was tired of knitting the thing). Let's just say that after I finished the first sock, I kind of ignored the second one for a while, hoping it would go away. It didn't, so I knit it, and it'll probably be one of the lesser-worn pairs in my drawer. 

Kai-Mei was lovely, and intriguing. While the loose gauge I had to knit at to get these things to fit makes me nervous, they knit up exceptionally quickly (interesting stitch patterns make you knit into the wee hours of the night wanting to see how they turn out) and came out beautiful. They're probably going to be house socks, or emergency footies, because of the looser gauge, but that works just fine for me. 
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Returning to Status Quo

First off, in case you were wondering, Isaac was a bust. We didn't even lose power - the most that happened was the TV satellite signal went out periodically. Luckily we still didn't have class Monday, as a nasty flash cold/cough hit me when Isaac did. I'm fine now, but Sunday and Monday were spent alternative sleeping, drinking fluids, and trying to get as much homework and knitting in as I was capable.

This semester I'm taking four classes: Physics III (the kind with calculus), Calculus III, Physical Oceanography, and... American Literature II (aka post-Civil War). So basically lots of math with a random gen. ed. Physics is more of the same - this semester is the last one, and it's electricity and magnetism, which should be fun. It's seems like Dr. Huerta's been teaching this forever, and really enjoys it, which means he has a good, entertaining narrative down pat. Not really sure how well that transfers to knowing how to do the homework yet, but we'll see. Calc teacher is pretty quiet, kind of speeds through things rather than elaborating, but whatever; the book is good and clear, problems not too difficult, so this should be fine. Physical Oceanography is basically Story-Time with Dr. Olson. A little bit of actual physical oceanography, a LOT of semi-relevant yet amusing tangents and stories (and jabs at Dr. Millero, much to Jen and I's delight). The English class, is, well... and English class. Today we analyzed some Walt Whitman, looking at how this word is an unusual choice and oh! look at the juxtaposition of the passive and aggressive voice in this phrase and what does he mean when he's talking about being cared for by dinosaurs? Yeah.

The most striking difference between "normal" classes and Galápagos classes is the aggressiveness of the students. In the Galápagos, we all sort of wandered towards the classroom five minutes after class was supposed to start, stopping for tea and coffee along the way. In "normal" classes, half the class is mobbed around the door five minutes before the previous class ends, pouncing the minute the outgoing stream falls to a trickle. I don't know if this is a new behaviour brought on by more and more competitive incoming classes, or a long-standing phenomenon I am only now noticing because of my absence. In any case, it is terribly frightening.

This semester looks to be semi-promising on the knitting front. This is what I have after two days of class:

When I was at my highest for knitting productivity, this would have been maybe one class. Lowest, probably a week. So right in the middle. And in case you're wondering, these are going to be footies. 

Plot Twist

Mention Miami to anyone outside South Florida (or really anyone outside Miami-Dade), and they instantly think of one thing: South Beach. South Beach, the drinking, the partying, best time of your life, etc. etc. etc. Now, anyone who actually lives in Miami knows that South Beach is highly over-rated, and really, really expensive. The best place to go if you want a drink and a little clubbing is Coconut Grove. The Grove is pretty much the place for a night out if you're a student at the University of Miami; me, being an introverted, largely party-hating, not-into-getting-plastered person, had never been. Until last night.

I know what you're thinking: "Sarah, it's a THURSDAY NIGHT. Don't you have class in the morning or something?" Well, not exactly. The way Miami schedules a lot of their classes (mostly business and communications classes...), a large portion of the student body does not have class on Fridays. This has given rise to the tradition of "Thirsty Thursday" among students. In my prior three years at Miami, I've always had a class of some sort pretty much first thing Friday morning, so even if I had the desire to go out, it was out of the question. This time was different: I have one class on Fridays, at 1:30PM (plus work after). The reason for this is so I can devote my mornings to research out at RSMAS, but I'm currently labless, and therefore have the whole morning free (hence the blog post). Plus, we've only had two days of classes so far, so there's not much in the way of homework yet. Thus while I initially refused when Hannah walked in last night and invited me to The Grove with Julie and Lindsay, I though about it, and figured I've never been, I don't have class until 1:30 tomorrow, I don't have heaps and heaps of work like I will later in the semester, and I'll be going with three people I really like and am completely comfortable with, so why not? And so I went.

Both Lindsay and I were "Grove Virgins," so Hannah and Julie were determined to give us a good time (luckily they both know us well enough to know that our definition of a "good time" is very different from most Miami students). First we hit up Moe's - a bar styled like Pub 199 back home but with only one animal head rather than using them instead of wallpaper. We decided to split two Moose Juice's - the house specialty - between the four of us. Hannah and Lindsay were more focused on drinking the thing, while Julie and I too small, careful sips, trying to figure out the flavor combination in the "top secret" recipe (we decided there's definitely pink grapefruit, coconut milk, a dash of pineapple, and vodka).

Then we went to Sandbar, which I could tell at a glance was the main club of The Grove. While getting in had a little hiccup (the people checking IDs suspected Lindsay had a fake, even though she's the oldest of all of us and has been 21 for almost a year), once we were in, it was packed. I ran into a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a while (Bree, Shannon, Colleen), and had a mini Galapagos reunion with a bunch of group pictures (Megan, Abby, Sara G, Christy, Alex). The music was way too loud, but still nothing compared to Carnival, so it wasn't terrible. The early music was questionable, but then the DJ started playing things like Living on a Prayer and the dance remix of Don't Stop Believing, to which Julie, Lindsay, and I badly sang along to and danced like dorks (chicken dance, anyone?). At one point in the night, we pretended to be rednecks, which evolved into replacing some part of each song's chorus with a rendition of "Vote Mitt Romney" as a massive inside joke (we got some really funny looks, but it was too loud for most people outside of our little dorky dancing circle to hear what we were actually saying). 

In all, I had a great time, though I don't think I go again. I feel like last night was one of those magical nights that can never quite be matched. It was a unique mix of circumstances: the people whom I went with, the fact that it was both Lindsay and I's first time, the musical taste of the DJ, and seeing a lot of people again for the first time in months. Anything else is just going to be disappointment. It was a great night, and I want to savor the memory. 

*tap tap* Is this thing on...?

Um... hi everybody? Been a while, eh? So it appears that the more exciting my life gets, the less inclined I am to blog about it, and the more inclined I am to just experience it. You can't really blame me, right? Um... here's a squid I just made to appease your anger:

Squidy Hanlon Squid
Pattern: Amigurumi Bobtail Squid by The Van Gogh Cafe
Yarn: Loops and Threads Impeccable Solids in Claret

That one's going to Dr. Roger Hanlon, who was gracious enough to incorporate me into his lab, and talk to me one-on-one, for a couple hours, despite the end result being that I would really need to work my arse off to even think of a PhD under him.

Anyway, I also have a problem in that if my life is incredibly dull, I don't blog either. I basically need ordinary with exciting sprinkles for an active blog - all that ordinary just makes the sprinkles that much better.

So, I'm back at school after a semester abroad and a summer internship. On the way back down to Miami, my family and I stopped in Charleston, SC and in Orlando, FL (HARRY POTTER WORLD *ahem*), which was a ton of fun. I moved back into my old room from last fall, which is nice. I'm still living with Hannah, but Jen and Michelle moved out (for health and financial reasons, respectively - not because they hate us), so I've got two new roommates. One is Hannah's sorority sister: I can tell she and I are going to get along (we spent Monday night watching American Pickers and Pawn Stars on History Channel together for four hours, getting really into it), except for those awkward moments when her and Hannah start the sorority gossip. Well, that's why I have my own room. The other is a random - I actually haven't seen much of her aside from her transit to and from her room and the front door. She seems cool, but I just haven't seen enough of her to make a legitimate judgement.

Other than that, the last couple days have been UMAC filled. UMAC is short for the University of Miami Aquarium Club, of which I am president, and this time of year is recruitment. We have a really bad retention rate (at the moment it's basically just he officers), so we're trying to get as many new people signed up and enthusiastic as we can. I'm optimistic this year - we've gotten a lot of people coming up and talking to us about their tanks at the orientation club fairs, which is a very good sign.

Well, that's about it. Classes start today, but my first isn't until 1:30 (Physics III) - fingers crossed I've got good ones this semester!
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Don’t Touch the Water

            It seems like something out of a Moffat script, “Don’t touch the water.” It’s something devious and cryptic to make you scared of a perfectly ordinary object or phenomenon, like statues, shadows, or gasmasks. However, I can assure you that this is not an episode of Doctor Who – there is no strange alien or technology behind it, no Doctor to come make everything alright, and it is most certainly real.

Don’t touch the water that floods the streets of Puerto Villamil.

            You know that game you used to play as a kid, where all the floor was lava, you had to travel across furniture, and if you touched the floor you died? This is kind of like that, only if you touch the water, you will most likely contract some sort of very nasty disease or parasite, become extremely ill, possibly have to be med-evaced out, and/or die. This is all due to the marvelous lack of sewage system, resulting in all sorts of animal feces, medical waste, garbage (including batteries), etc. regularly taking up residence in the streets, and letting loose their barrage of nasties as soon as the rains come.
Last week was the first time that the rains were so intense for so long (and the drainage, as always, wonderfully poor), that the street in front of IOI turned into a pond. The water almost came over the foot-or-so high curbs, and luckily there even are sidewalks on this road. There were sinsister puddles everywhere dotting my way home, some requiring some creative footwork to get around.
I did not touch the water.

(PS I apologize for the lack of posts for the past couple weeks. They’ve consisted largely of waking up, class, field trip, writing a paper, bed (and some Carnival), leaving very little time for blog posts. My photostream, however, has been updating (since that’s automatic), so if you don’t feel like waiting for me to post, you can follow that here.)

In the Highlands of Santa Cruz

Our campsite in the Highlands.
          Camping in the highlands of Santa Cruz was an adventure: we were told very little about what we were doing and what type of camping it was, only that we were to pack a daypack, overnight bag, and we were going to see tortoises. Therefore, us all being more intense outdoorsy types, we all expected that we would be hiking up to our campsite, setting up tents or something in the middle of the woods, and camping. Well, it turned out, we were at a lovely campsite with three cabins and two huge family tents that we took taxis to, and could drop off stuff before we went on our hike, which was really just walking down the dirt farming road down the mountain. Again, Dr. Meltzoff was in the last car to arrive, leaving all of us in standing around confused, trying to figure out what was going on until she got there (this has been a recurring theme).
The elderly tortoise hanging out at the campsite.
            Once she arrived, and we figured out who was sleeping where and took pictures of an older tortoise that was hanging around camp, we were introduced us to two of the three horses that our guide, René, who owns the place, has. Initially, we only interacted with two of the horses – two males, a larger beige one, who was about five, and a smaller brown one, who was about a year and a half old. All the horses had a white stripe down their face, and they were all siblings. The guys immediately took to the horses, and the beige horse was extremely interested in Tom, or more specifically, Tom’s rain coat. He kept sniffing, licking, and even nibbling at Tom’s coat, to the extent that Tom had to take it off and put aside to keep it from being destroyed. When René brought out a saddle, we all joked that Tom should be the one to ride the beige horse, because it took such a liking to him. It turns out, Tom is from rural southern Illinois, and actually knows how to ride a horse well, and was able to trot circles around us.
Tom and Rene with Tom's new horse friend.
While Tom was all set with his new horse friend, René mentioned towards the third horse, a female beige separate from the others, and wanted to know who was going to ride her. We all made huge, sidelong glances towards Marc – I think because he’s the only non-American, and adventurous besides, we automatically volunteer him for the more ambitious tasks – who then proceeded to lead the horse out of the brush for saddling. Initially when Marc climbed on, the horse started to buck nervously. René calmed her down, but, it turns out, after the rest of us started on the hike, she threw Marc off, and would only accept René as her rider. This made sense after it was explained that a little while ago, the horse had escaped, was found by people who abused her, and was only returned to René two week prior. The plan was to have everyone switch off and on both horses as we went along, but we were only able to do so with Tom’s horse.
The mudpool of tortoises we meditated around.
The entire hike was wet (because it was raining the whole time), and full of tortoises. The Galápagos Tortoises on Santa Cruz are the largest of all the species: we saw males as big as the garbage bins out put out on the curb. You can tell males and females apart in two ways: the males are larger and have bumpy shells, and the females are smaller and have smooth shells – worn down from being mounted while mating. At one point, we left the horses tethered to a tree, while we ventured down what was either a long forgotten trail through the underbrush, or a path René was making up as he went along with his machete. Then, at the direction of Dr. Meltzoff, we meditated around a big mud pool full of tortoises, which was… interesting. That night we had a huge tuna – roasted over the campfire – for dinner, and did some amazing stargazing. I saw more stars that I’ve seen in my entire life that night, and you could just almost see the milky way.
Anita Chapi, in the doorway of her home.
In the morning, we walked along the road for about an hour to René’s mother-in-law’s house. Anita Chapi is eighty years old, still farming and lugging her pineapples and plantains down to market every week, and was one of the first settlers on the island. She’s been there since 1959, and before that she lived in the Andes. She has six daughters and one son, all of whom still live on the island, most down in Puerto Ayora. She has twenty five grandchildren and six great grandchildren. She is one amazing woman, and we go to talk to her for an hour and a half, and sample some of her amazing pineapple. I know we could have stayed much longer, but we had a boat to catch to go to Isabela. After a little cab fiasco (one of the cabs drove off with a bag or two of ours, which was panic-inducing, but we got them back), we all gathered down at the port, loaded all our bags onto the boat, and we were off to Isabela!

Bienvendio a la Galápagos

It hardly seems possible that a week and a half ago I was frantically submitting REU applications and eating at the Pandan Room restaurant in Hackettstown. Really, it hardly seems possible that I’m studying abroad in the Galápagos Islands at this very moment, it is so fabulous. Yet here I am, sitting in this lovely breezeway on the second floor of IOI¸ on the island of Isabela, having the time of my life.
The room at La Casa Sol (top of the staircase)
Monday was a long day – a very, very long day. It started at 5AM to leave at six to drive to Laguardia for my 10AM flight. We anticipated quite a lot of traffic, it being a Monday morning, rush hour, and going through New York City, but ironically, there was no traffic to speak of. Security was a breeze (even if the layout of the airport wasn’t), so I was sitting at my gate for a good three hours before takeoff to Miami. Almost everyone in the program was on the same flight to Quito (save Marc, who’s Dutch, and took the later flight because he was flying in from Europe), so we all were delighted when there was something wrong with the plane, causing our flight to be delayed two hours while they found another one. The airport in Quito was a little confusing, but everything got through OK, and we set off to hour hostel for the night, La Casa Sol.
La Casa Sol is this adorable little hostel in Quito, with a lobby building in front, and a courtyard with all the rooms surrounding it. There were tiny little side offshoots, and probably about three buildings total made up the establishment. The lobby building includes a kitchen, dining room, souvenir shop, what appeared to be a small internet café, and a sitting area, complete with fireplace and library. I ended up rooming with Alex, in one of those offshoot rooms on the second floor, with our own staircase up to our room. I am really glad that, on my post-Galápagos with Elise and Amanda, when we’re in Quito, we’re going to be staying here. It was really a shame that such a lovely place served only as a pit-stop hotel.
The next morning, oh, the next morning was a mess. Breakfast was fine – delicious actually. In Ecuador, it seems, the standard breakfast is granola, fruit, and something that seems like a thin yogurt, with a side of eggs, juice, and bread or toast (with butter and jam). I could just have the granola part every day. I might switch to it, actually, when back in the US, if I can figure out how to make my yogurt that consistency. We loaded all our stuff into the two vans, and took off through the busy Quito morning traffic to the airport. What we didn’t realize until we got there was that we had somehow left Amanda, and Sarah Meltzoff, our professor and guide, at La Casa Sol. We all instinctively turned to Marc to lead us, mainly because he has the best Spanish (languages must come naturally to him – he’s fluent in three), and also because he has the most experience in international travel. Of course, he really didn’t have any idea what he was doing, because Galápagos flights have special rules, in addition to the Quito airport being confusing and a madhouse, but he could best understand what our drivers were saying to us.
First we had to go through a special inspection station, to make sure we weren’t bringing in any plant or animal material that might get onto the islands. That part was obvious. After that, we just sort of stood around confused until Dr. Meltzoff got there, and things didn’t really get any clearer. There was a lot of standing around and blocking lines while Dr. Meltzoff got all of our paperwork “clear,” and then we all slowly had our bags checked. Then there was a fiasco where the airline people at one desk were telling us to go to another desk for our boarding passes, but that was really just for overweight baggage people, and we should have gone to another desk, etc. etc. Let’s just say, when we all got through security and all we had to do was board the plane, we all cheered.
Ready to snorkel!
Left to right: Marc, Tom, Katie, Amanda.
We were all scattered throughout the back of the plane, though Elise and I both had aisle seats in the same row, so that was nice. The result of the aisle seat was that I couldn’t plaster my face to the window as we approached the islands, and had to be content with catching glimpses of the islands from three seats over at the right angle. When we were all off the plane and on the tarmac (the airport on Isla Baltra is pretty much a runway with a little open air building that resembles a picnic pavilion to serve as the terminal), we all let out a celebratory cry, doing a little happy dance as much as we could laden down with luggage. After passing through the park desk with our special paperwork, we grabbed our snorkel gear out of our bags, and set forth on a bus to the dock while our bags went ahead of us to the hotel in Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz.
Yes, all snorkels are like this.
The snorkeling was excellent, even if I was a little cold in just my dive skin (the water in the Galápagos comes up from Antarctica on the Humbolt current, so despite being on the equator, the water temperature is in the 60s). You know how everyone is always so enthralled with the terrestrial life of the Galapagos – the tortoises, iguanas, finches, etc? Well, the marine life of the archipelago blows it out of the water (no pun intended). On our first snorkel, there were comb jellyfish everywhere, the several species of the biggest parrotfish I’ve ever seen in my life, angelfish of all kinds everywhere, other species of fish besides that I can’t ID, a friendly sea lion, and a school of white-tip sharks, which is pretty rare, even for the Galápagos. The second snorkel was too deep with too strong of a current to see anything, though apparently that’s the spot to see schools of hammerheads. The third snorkel was just as spectacular as the first. I kept waiting to wake up from the amazing dream I was having.That night, after we checked into the hotel, we went to the local restaurant strip, where you could only find locals, tourists “in the know,” and, of course, our big, obvious group. We stuck out like a sore thumb, but we didn’t care. We were having the time of our lives.
The view from in the water on our first snorkel.
In the morning, we went on a hike up to a canyon just outside of town filled with seawater. The landscape of the Galápagos, especially the lowlands and the smaller, more desolate islands, is striking, especially when seen from the water. Across the landscape are dozens and dozens of tree and candelabra cacti, with the same sort of arid brush and thorns you expect out of a dessert. Below them lie lava rock and soil, and below that the sea. To see all that in the same picture, it’s confusing, and doesn’t not really compute the first several times you lay eyes on it. It’s something about seeing a cactus surrounded by a huge body of water that just doesn’t make sense. This expanse of cacti was what we were supposed to be seeing on our way up to this canyon, but we were all to busy watching our feet and trying not to trip over the lava rock all over the path.

The fabulous canyon swimming hole.
Eventually we reached the canyon: the walls are ten metres high above the waterline, and the water is supposed to extend thirty metres down, though it looked like much less due to a dense sulfur and salt layer that formed about ten metres down, which resembled white sand. The water was cool, but refreshing rather than uncomfortable. We swam around for a good hour – us, the other tourists and locals, and the parrotfish and blennies that occupied the pool. Almost all of us clamored up the wall to designated jumping ledges in order to throw ourselves in the water: on high one, one low one, with the high one being the only one anyone used once it was discovered we could get up there. I went off the high one, which was about two thirds of the way up the canyon wall. There’s nothing quite like jumping from eight metres up off a canyon wall into a deep, saltwater pool in the Galápagos.
A sea lion that played with us for the longest time.
            After our fun in the canyon, we went on another snorkel trip. These three snorkels were just as amazing as the previous day, this time with particularly playful sea lions, and the dynamic of a sea lion family – which, probably not surprisingly, resembles any sort of human situation involving a small child whining for a parent to do something with them, the parent eventually does it, and suddenly the child has lost interest. We also caught a marine iguana under the water eating algae, and exceptionally rare event that many that make it to the Galápagos never see. We snorkeled along the shallows with an abundance of sea lion pups and rays, and in a couple of large sea caves with astounding rock structures (Michelle, if you’re reading this, that’s for you). That night, we had Galápagos pizza – which is, sadly, better than any pizza you can get in Miami (Dear Miami, Pizza is an American food. You’re an American city. The Ecuadorian people in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can make better pizza. What’s wrong with this picture?) – and then, gelato. I, and many others, had the most amazing passionfruit gelato on the planet; I would not be surprised if the passionfruit were picked in the highlands that morning. It was a great ending to an amazing first two days.
And the next? Camping in the highlands.