A group of three dozen Huntington High School students and teachers spent their mid-winter vacation visiting Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. It was a trip that none of them will ever forget.
The privately funded journey was coordinated by EF Tours and led by Huntington social studies teacher Camille Tedeschi, a seasoned world traveler. Among the six chaperones were high school teachers Pamela Piffard, Paul Caleca and Peter Crugnale.
“This trip completes my 15th EF tour,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “The adventure in the Galápagos and Ecuador is one that can never be forgotten. The Galápagos Islands are most famous for watching wildlife and on this tour we swam with sea turtles, sea lions, all types of fish, marine iguanas and sharks. It is a spectacular place and it is no wonder it provided such inspiration to Charles Darwin. I loved this experience with this group.”
While many of the trip’s participants had gone on previous trips, many others were traveling for the first time. Regardless of their degree of traveling experience, this trip offered something new for everyone.
“Every tour is special in its own way because of the people and activities and this one was no different,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “If you can envision a map that you scratch off the places you have seen, that is how my heart looks after these adventures because all of the travelers and adults leave a mark on it. This specific group of travelers was fantastic. My goal is to make each student a traveler and not a tourist and each one successfully achieved my goal. They tried new things, met new people and looked beyond what was right in front of them. These are the essential components to understand this amazing world we live in. I’m blessed for all of these experiences and I am grateful to all of my adult chaperones for their hard work, my amazing tour director Alejandro, all of the travelers and all of their parents for trusting me to take care of their children.”
An unforgettable excursion
Students were planning for the trip for months. By the time it came to leave, the anticipation was nearly unbearable. The nine day excursion was unforgettable.
The travelers embraced their new surroundings.
“This marks the tenth trip I have taken with students from the high school,” Mr. Crugnale said. “I am honored that Ms. Tedeschi continues to utilize me as a chaperone. She continues to run these trips in a highly organized and professional manner. In addition to the destinations we have traveled to, one of the most memorable parts of each trip is the reactions and excitement of students as they experience things for the first time.”
There was just enough downtime on the trip to let the travelers get recharged for their next adventure. There was plenty of fun and excitement along the way.
“This trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands was a challenging one,” Mr. Crugnale said. “There were physically demanding hikes and snorkeling excursions, early morning wake-ups, long boat rides, hot weather, and the occasional scary insect in their room. They were in a foreign country, in a totally different environment than they are used to and out of their normal comfort level. In each case, the students pushed themselves and were successful in overcoming all of the challenges they faced. They were a great group of students and I commend them for what they accomplished during the week. I certainly had a good time traveling with them, as well as the other teachers on the trip.”
The chaperones were just as impressed with the trip’s itinerary as the students were.
“My own children have accompanied me on some of the past trips, so I know firsthand the impact that these experiences have on students,” Mr. Crugnale said. “Since coming back to school, I have already spoken to some of the students who were on the trip and they are still excited to talk about their experiences and reminisce about what we shared. As an educator, I am so thankful to be able to be a part of such valuable experiential learning opportunities.”
The travelers had a great time trying new foods and learning all about different cultures and customs. What they learned couldn’t possibly have been absorbed by reading a book or watching a documentary.
“Once in a lifetime experience”
“This trip was a once in a lifetime experience for me,” Mr.Caleca said. “I kept asking myself ‘Am I really standing here?’ I have to commend the students, who I couldn’t be more proud of. A special shout-out to Ms. Tedeschi, who made a logistically difficult trip run like clockwork. She is the most organized person I know! She puts in a tremendous amount of work organizing these trips. The kids and I are fortunate to have these amazing travel opportunities because of her.”
The chaperones were especially impressed with the students who signed on to February’s journey. The teenagers were responsible, inquisitive and open to the new experiences that came their way.
“What a great group,” Ms. Piffard said. “These kids came ready to learn, ready for adventure and to experience life to the fullest! They were all kind, helpful and respectful travelers. May this be the beginning of a life full of travel. I know they will take advantage of every opportunity they get. Some of these travelers are already enrolled on the next three tours.”
Countless personal relationships were forged and strengthened on the trip. “Traveling with Ms. Tedeschi and the other chaperones to Ecuador and the Galápagos was an amazing experience,” Ashleigh Katigbak said. “I am so thankful for the many new friendships I have made. I will never forget our adventure together.”
Whatever preconceived notions the travelers had before departing, each day of new experiences created a sense of wonder among the entire group.
“Above and beyond my expectations”
Scenes like this one were amazing.
“My experience in Ecuador and the Galápagos went above and beyond my expectations,” Kelly Nicoletto said. “I’m so thankful for this experience and the amazing friendships I have made through this trip. The best way to learn about a culture is to live it and I feel like I have learned so much in just eight days. This is only the beginning of my travels as I hope it is for everyone else.”
The students woke up in Huntington the morning of their departure, but went to sleep that same night in a world far from home.
“I can’t wrap my head around everything I’ve seen and experienced here,” Christi Reinertsen said. “Every excursion was completely mind blowing and left me in awe of the world around us. This trip, along with a trip to Peru when I was a sophomore, was without a doubt one of the best and most memorable parts of high school. I’m so grateful for every second of it! Thanks Ms. Tedeschi!”
The students did quite a bit of reading about their destinations in the run-up to the trip. But nothing could really prepare them for what they experienced.
“Couldn’t imagine a better trip”
“Ecuador and the Galápagos are so special to me, not only because of the incredibly unique destinations, but also because of the experiences I had with the best people,” Grace Curran said. “I love that this trip introduced me to such great new people and allowed me to grow closer to the great familiar ones. I had the absolute best time snorkeling. I particularly loved Isla Isabela for its beauty and scary iguanas and millions of stars. I couldn’t imagine a better trip with better chaperones, better friends or better laughs. So much love for everyone in this group, especially Ms. Tedeschi.”
In a short period of time, the travelers began to feel comfortable in their new surroundings and among the new faces they encountered.
“Visiting Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands was an unimaginable experience,” Bethany Danziger said. “I never expected to meet so many amazing people and form so many new bonds. Every adventure was beautiful, especially Isabela Island. I’m so glad to have been a part of this experience.”
When the travelers stepped aboard their plane, they left behind what typically consumes them each day. They were all ready for an adventure and that’s just what they found throughout the nine day trek.
“This amazing trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands was always on by bucket list ever since learning about Charles Darwin and his travels,” John Riley said. “All the swimming and hiking was so much fun, but being here taught me to look up and see what’s around me. Sometimes we take the beauty of nature for granted.”
Hiked to top of volcano
This was a mid-winter vacation that none of the students will ever forget. “My favorite activity had to be hiking to the top of the volcano,” Jamie Spector said. “Although it was super tiring, the view at the top was breathtaking and made me realize how clueless I was about what the inside of a volcano looked like. I’m very grateful for this experience and I’m so glad I got to meet a bunch of new people.”
When the travelers returned home, each of them had dozens of stories to tell their family and friends. “This trip has been one of the most exciting experiences [I’ve had],” Serina Aguirre said. “It was really fun to get to know new people and to go through this adventure together. It was definitely a once in a life time experience and I’m so grateful I was a part of it. My favorite islands were Isabela and San Cristobal.”
Whatever preconceived notions the students had prior to the trip quickly dissipated. “I never expected to visit a place we learn about in textbooks, however I have had the most amazing adventures with the most amazing people in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands,” Mary Kate Wolber said. “This trip is something I will never forget thanks to all the memories we’ve made. A huge thanks to our tour guides, Ms. Tedeschi and the rest of our great chaperones for making this trip as great as it was.”
The students have been looking forward to the trip since last summer. “Visiting the Galápagos Islands and Ecuador is a once in a lifetime event,” Rachel Roday said. “I feel so lucky to have traveled with Ms. Tedeschi, the great group of chaperones and the other 33 students. This trip was adventurous, educational, exhausting and overall unbelievable. It was definitely the highlight of my senior year and I will always remember the hundreds of marine iguanas, the sea lions, the tortoises, the blue footed boobies and the countless other creatures that are unique to the islands. I hope to one day to come back and experience it all over again!”
While many of the days were long and hot, no one seemed to really mind. “The one thing that really impacted me was how untouched and preserved the Galápagos Islands still are,” Lindsay Saginaw said. “Whether it be snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of San Cristobal or hiking up to a massive caldera on Isabela, it is easy to see that these were the same islands Darwin sailed to so many years ago.”
Insight into culture and exploration
Each of the travelers went home with their own favorite memories. “This trip has provided me with insight into culture, exploration and laughter that I never could have imagined,” Miranda Nykolyn said. “I will always remember this adventure and appreciate not only the memories made, but the people I experienced them with.”
At times it was hard to distinguish whether the chaperones or the students were more impressed with their surroundings. “It’s hard to name a specific activity that I enjoyed the most because everything was so beautiful,” Noah Morris said. “No matter where we were, from hiking in the burning weather to stargazing on the beach, I didn’t want to be anywhere else with anyone else. I’m sad that this trip is over, but I know I will always remember it because of all the experiences we shared.”
The travelers had a sense of just how fortunate they were to have such an experience so far from home. “I am so appreciative to have had this trip,” Jessica Cordes said. “I got to bond with so many new people that I now call my friends. We have had endless laughs and have shared so many great adventures together.”
The travelers came to appreciate the value of taking a deep breath, clearing their mind and enjoy whatever place they happened to be in at any given time.
“One thing I learned from this trip is that you need to put down your phone and really get to know people every once and awhile,” Rebecca Toth said. “You can learn a lot about yourself and find some amazing people.”
Trip offered hands-on education
Many of the trip’s participants are now determined to make traveling a regular part of their life. “Between snorkeling, hiking up volcanoes and traveling amongst indigenous cultures, this trip has offered us a hands-on education that we’ll never forget,” Cailan Polishook said. “Personally, I improved my language skills and made several new friendships. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity.”
It wasn’t easy to get back on a plane to come home and leave a very special place where so many new memories were made.
“My favorite part of this trip was the swimming and the snorkeling activities,” Sarah Levine said. “I loved swimming in the lake at the beach on Santa Cruz Island because it was very relaxing, but fun. The snorkeling activities were especially my favorite because I never snorkeled before and I loved seeing the fish, the giant tortoise and the sea lions. This trip will be something I will remember forever. I’m so fortunate and grateful to have been part of every second of it.”