MCS students, alumni traveled to Ecuador, Galapagos

By Brian Sweeney
A group of Margaretville Central School students and alumni recently experienced a nine-day travel adventure to Ecuador, including several days at the Galapagos Islands. The trip was organized by MCS science teacher Alan Seidman and his wife, Leslie. The couple began planning the excursion several years ago as their “dream trip when they retired” from teaching. The Seidmans have postponed retiring from their careers in education, but the trip was “a go” a year-and-a-half after 21 people agreed to participate.
Because of their interest in providing a unique educational opportunity, the Seidmans extended invitations to 50 current and former MCS honor students. They guessed about a dozen invitees would respond and were pleasantly surprised when 21 people said they would like to participate.
The long lead time allowed the would-be travelers to organize numerous fund-raisers both in group form and on an individual basis.
“We wanted to give everyone ample time to raise money to help offset the cost of the trip,” Leslie explained.
The trip was arranged as part of a tour, with two guides accompanying the group. There were also several participants from the Chicago and Seattle areas.

Environmental adjustment
Upon arrival in Ecuador’s capital of Quito on July 7, the group spent the first day getting acclimated to the environment. Despite their location at the equator, the travelers found daily temperatures only in the 60s because they were based at an altitude of about 9,000 feet above sea level.
One of the initial lessons learned by the group was that “they realized how hard it was to breathe at the high elevation,” Alan commented.
Another point of interest created by the equator location was that the sun would rise each day at 6 a.m. and set at 6 p.m.
On the first full day in Ecuador, the group toured colonial capital of Quito, visiting cathedrals, museums and the presidential palace. The sightseeing also included a stop at the famed Equatorial Monument, marked by geographers as latitude 000’00.” Here, the group had the interesting experience of standing in two hemispheres at the same time.
The following day, the group visited the central highlands and Cotopaxi National Park, an ecological sanctuary of nearly 90,000 acres and home to the highest active volcano in the world. The group hiked to an elevation of about 13,000 feet and had an awe-inspiring look at the peak of the 19,000-foot volcano.
The volcano hike occurred on the birthday of one of the group members, Garrett Fairbairn and the occasion was marked throughout the day with fun events. That evening at dinner, a mariachi band was hired to serenade the celebrant with “Happy Birthday.”
On July 10, the travelers took a flight to the Galapagos Islands where they stayed four days, visiting a different island each day. Among the highlights of this portion of the trip was a stop at the Darwin Research Center, a leading center for the study of tortoises.
Alan noted that “Lonesome George” was among the tortoises to which the group was introduced. This rare saddleback tortoise had never reproduced and researchers were concerned because Lonesome George had never shown any interest in mating — thus threatening the existence of the species. After returning home, the travelers learned that the tortoise’s mate had hatched three fertile eggs.
After leaving the Galapagos and arriving back on the mainland, the group participated in an event that many recalled as the most satisfying part of the trip. The travelers spent a day working at the Santa Isabel Community Center, on the outskirts of Quito.
The residents there farm community fields on steep hillsides community fields where they grow fruits and other crops. The MCS group assisted parents and bigger kids working in the fields where they dug drainage ditches, hauled compost, picked corn and removed kernels for making corn meal. Afterwards, a community soccer game was enjoyed.
“It was a meaningful day, the kids really enjoy it,” Alan recalled.
He said the group members are planning to continue its relationship with the friends they made at the community center and plan to send school supplies, photos and other items to them.
The Seidmans said the trip’s many highlights included snorkeling around the famed Pinnacle Rock witnessing from close range penguins, sea lions, manta rays, crabs and sea turtle nests.
Leslie pointed out that, in addition to natural surroundings, it was interesting for the travelers to witness a different way of life. She said it was common for children to sell items like gum and candy, offering to shine shoes, or even juggling apples to earn a bit of money. Just another interesting piece in the experience of exploring a new culture.
All of the travelers took countless photographs to document their journey. Thanks to the Seidmans, many local residents got to share their “trip of a lifetime.”
Along with Alan and Leslie Seidman, adult chaparones were Marlene Seidman and Kristin Hunger.
Current and former MCS students making the journey were: Kory Ancona, Kailee Atkin, Julia Brophy, Kaitlin Buerge, Shane Delameter, Emily Friedman, Casey Hubbell, Jonathan Lee, Holly McDonald, Gaetano Nobile, Serene Williams, Garrett Fairbairn, Christine Kelly, Brandon LaBumbard, Paige Miller, Robert Miller, Andersen Morse, Colleen McMurray, Jennifer Mc-Murray, Katy McMurray and Katie Palen.