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Trip of a lifetime
It was early July, and 16-year-old Rachel Jappert of Oak Harbor had just spent six days traveling Ecuador. There she saw churches, the equator and a museum with real shrunken heads and jars of exotic organisms from the Amazon.
On the sixth day, she was on a plane flying toward an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, also known as the Galapagos. She would spend three days there.
“We flew into a small airport, with walls that weren’t fully enclosed. It wasn’t much bigger than this room,” Jappert said, at the Whidbey Wild Bird Store.
Jappert was traveling with teachers and friends, about six people. Teachers at Oak Harbor Middle School created a sign-up sheet for the tour earlier this year, and Jappert, who has an interest in science and evolution, was eager to go.
Phil and Lydia Sikes, owners of the Whidbey Wild Bird Store, sponsored her trip. The couple held raffles and fundraisers.
Phil said Rachel and her mother, Tina, have been coming to the store since it first opened.
“Rachel was just a little girl then and very quiet and demure. Then one day, she came in with a voice, and we liked her and the goals she had for herself,” Phil said. “It’s good to get behind youth who do something for themselves.”
In Ecuador, the students picked corn from a field to make tortillas for locals and visited children in the nurseries. The first leg of the tour was centered on experiencing different cultures, the second half, experiencing different wildlife.
Jappert remembers island-hopping in the Galapagos, by bus and ferry. One island was practically barren. The students studied plants that broke down the soil and hiked to the top of a volcano.
On day two, Jappert saw flamingos and blue-footed boobies nesting on the ground. The students snorkeled with penguins, sea lions and chocolate chip sea stars.
“There were locusts and crickets everywhere and little lizards. The crabs were brilliant red and blue colors.”
In Charles Darwin’s exploration of the Galapagos, the voyage of the Beagle, he studied and collected finches, which led to his theory of evolution. Jappert saw these same short-beaked finches and long-beaked finches that separated the species.
“My interest was in Darwin; the Galapagos was where he first saw characteristics of different animals that helped him develop his theory on evolution,” she said. “Every island has very unique organisms.”
Last month, Jappert gave a lecture at the Whidbey Wild Bird Store, sharing power point slides and answering questions. The Oak Harbor Christian School invited her to speak to a fourth-grade class and she plans to speak at Oak Harbor Middle School later in the year.
A main point in her message to young people is to explore the world.
“Traveling is a good way to get to know the world better and to see unique organisms out there and different cultures,” she said.