Galapagos National Park is home to more than 3,000 plant and animal species, including many that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
That’s what attracted Jamey Pirring, a North Allegheny Senior High School teacher, to the island park about 600 miles off Ecuador’s western coast. He went to Peru last summer and Spain the summer before.
“Last year when I was on a bus ride in Peru, I sat next to a tour guide who had just taken a group to the Galapagos Islands. She loved it so much, and I decided from that moment to go there,” said Pirring, a McCandless resident who teaches 11th-grade American history at North Allegheny.
Pirring signed on this year to be a tour leader with EF Educational Tours and chose a trip to the Galapagos Islands and the capital city of Quito, on Ecuador’s mainland, from a list of offerings.
Pirring’s group included 21 students from North Allegheny’s senior and intermediate high schools, three other guides and three parents. The other guides included Jennifer Sabo, a sign language interpreter with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit; North Allegheny math teacher Jared Reck; and Andrea Peck, assistant principal of Seneca Valley Middle School in Harmony, Butler County. Sabo is Pirring’s girlfriend, and Reck is a friend who is engaged to Peck.
Sabo’s presence on the trip enabled North Allegheny student Gerilee Christina, who is deaf, to go along and participate in all activities, Pirring said.
The group spent nine days in the region, returning home July 1.
Visiting Galapagos National Park was the high point, Pirring said.
While the park, which encompasses 97 percent of the Galapagos Islands, turned 50 years old this summer, the islands have been drawing visitors for hundreds of years. The most famous was Charles Darwin, whose five weeks on the islands in 1835 ultimately helped shape his groundbreaking theory of evolution.
Today, the park welcomes about 60,000 visitors a year. The animals don’t seem to mind the attention.
“I feel like they were actually competing for attention,” Pirring said. “When we went snorkling off Bartolome Island, sea lions swam right up to us and blue-footed boobies were dive-bombing themselves into the water within inches of us. The Galapagos penguins were sort of fearless and would come right up to you, too.”
“It was great to see a bunch of different animals in their own environment. The best thing was swimming next to sea lions and sea turtles,” said Chelsea Davies, who is entering her senior year at North Allegheny.
The group also got a close-up look of the islands’ famed Galapagos giant tortoise, which can grow larger than 600 pounds and has been known to live beyond 150 years.
While in Quito, the group visited historic sites in the city and went to an equatorial site.
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