We just ended our short two weeks stay in Galapagos so here’s do a little (or not so little) recap.
First, the sheer remoteness of these islands. Melissa and I went to do a volunteering program for 2 weeks in Galapagos. In short, from San Francisco, it took us 56 hours with 3 flights, 2 boat rides, 2 water taxis and 2 bus rides, and some walking to get to where we lived for 2 weeks in Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, Galapagos.
Galapagos is an archipelago with its capital located in San Cristobal Island (3rd biggest island). Where we stayed, Puerto Villamil is located on Isabela Island with a population of 2,500 and tourism being their main mean of revenue. With that being said, it’s definitely a community in need. Basically no paved roads, no easily accessible drinking water, too many physically broken homes. Pretty much everyone I met there work in some fashion of tourism (restaurant, hostels/hotels, tour guides or national park employees). I certainly know that your donations and contributions went to the right place to the right people.
Even though the economy might not be on their side, the people (el pueblo) of Galapagos are absolutely lovely and take full advantage of the paradise, that is their land.
People like Freddy, who I got the privilege of getting close to over these 2 weeks, he is a 23 year old local who is training to become a tourist guide. During the day, he studies and is a diving instructor. As soon as he is off, he is off to Concha la Perla so he can do is his daily playdate with the Sea Lions. These Sea Lions will come up to him and say hello, drop a little piece of rock or dead animal on him so he can throw it…. Which is probably why in some languages Sea Lions are known as “Sea Dogs.”
As for our lives, I would wake up at 7am and make myself a little breakfast which consisted mainly of eggs, toast and yogurt juice. I would leave the volunteer house at 7:30am for a 30 minute BEAUTIFUL walk alongside iguanas, flamingos, famous Darwin finches and birds to arrive to volunteer at the Centro de Crianza (Giant Tortoise Breeding Center).
Honestly, my life was pretty simple there. 3 times a week, we would feed otoí plant (kind of looks like a mix between cactus and a regular plant) and other times, I would rake and clean their carrels and play with them. However, there where a couple times that were pretty special, connecting with specific turtles like Billy, helping collect eggs, and then watching them hatch and seeing the babies turtles.
These tortoises are what international animal protection organizations would call “in extreme danger of extinction – vulnerable.” At the Breeding Center, its goal is to increase the population of these Giant Tortoises and release them to their habitat when they are 5 to 7 years old. So the “breeders,” which are the 30 to 120 year olds have been captured from different parts of the island for mating and artificial incubation. Two things about this…
(1) Artificial incubation DRASTICALLY increases the chances of getting more female tortoises because temperature during the incubation period is the biggest determinant for gender. So during the incubation, the breeding center will keep the temperature above 28.6 degrees Celsius artificially; (2) mother and father tortoises don’t care AT ALL that their eggs are gone or taken. Tortoises provide absolutely no parental care/guidance once they lay the eggs. So once the eggs are laid, the eggs/babies are on their own to survive. So don’t worry, there aren’t any furious creatures roaming the breeding center.
This is a little insight into my volunteer job and the life of the people in the Galapagos. If you have a chance to go, I would say HELL YES. Why not walk alongside Iguanas and Flamingos in the morning. Have a playdate with Sea Lions and Sea Turtles in the afternoon and end a night with a surreal sunset while drinking a beer and playing volleyball or soccer on the beach with the locals. It’s safe to say that your trip will be full of experiences you will NEVER have anywhere else in the world. As the locals would say it, “Galápagos es muy chévere.”
To check out a little bit about Melissa’s volunteer experience, look for her blog titled “Work..work..work..work…work” (Rihanna’s hit song title) in a couple days!