I don’t just like to take trips, I also like to think about them, sometimes for months, weeks, even years afterwards. Unsurprisingly, a location like the Galapagos Islands gave me a lot to mull over. Some people have asked me if the islands were what I expected. I’m not exactly sure what I thought I’d find there. For me, the word “island” conjures up white sandy beaches, poolside bars, and pursuits and adventures you might not have access to at home. My experience in the famous archipelago of Ecuador was much different. So, what did I learn there?
Like many places around the globe, this small country is a land of contradictions. The landscape itself is a contrast of the rugged, harsh dark terrain created by lava and shaped by other natural elements and the almost improbable lushness and beauty of the fauna and flora of rain forests, highlands, and peaceful coves and bays. Poison apple trees grow next to Holy trees. Sharks coexist with friendly sea turtles and sea lions. You can’t drink the water without getting sick but the ceviche is reputed to be the best in the world. The people who live on the islands have found a way to protect their natural resources from human damage and coexist with the wildlife that I found to be far superior to any similar efforts we have made in the U.S.
Another thing that struck me is the difference between our two countries in relation to goods and services. Many of the things’ Americans take for granted simply can’t be found in the Galapagos. From what we could see, there was only one hospital on Santa Cruz for the entire chain of islands. There’s no postal service, very little (frequently no) access to Amazon or FedEx, the Internet is spotty at best, sometimes nonexistent. I did not see a single newspaper the entire time I was on Isabela or Santa Cruz. There’s no real wine or beer selection, though there’s plenty of innovative and tasty ways to prepare foods the islanders catch or grow.
Cash rather than credit is the preferred currency for most restaurants and shops. The rules and restrictions that define our lives don’t apply there. You can see an entire family, or even a couple with a dog or two, riding down the middle of the street on a motorcycle or bicycle with not a helmet in sight. Or young children playing in the town square after dark, with no visible adult supervision. No one leashes their dog or scoops poop. And, speaking of that, it’s taboo to flush anything, even toilet paper, down the toilet (which definitely takes some getting used to!).
But who really has it better? The people we met, people like Sebastian, Adriano, Sarah, and Miguel, seemed to have a positive, inventive, and resourceful outlook that, quite frankly, I found immensely refreshing after the abrasive, uncompromising, and often downright rude and insensitive, mindset in my own country this past year.
If nothing else, Covid has shown us there’s a different way to live, a simpler lifestyle that offers fewer choices and options. Being connected 24/7 can feel more nerve-wracking and less beneficial as time goes on and unplugging and interacting with nature on a regular basis, whether through purposeful or planned activities or simply hanging around outdoors and seeing what develops, continues to be one of the best ways to improve your mood, your creative output, and your energy level. Trying new things when your old standbys are suddenly yanked out from under you doesn’t have to be a loss, it can be an opportunity to learn and grow. For example, I hadn’t snorkeled in years because I tend to inhale salt water. With Sebastian coaching me how to breathe properly, I was finally able to master it and spend some rewarding time underwater; floating with the fish, stingrays, and starfish, swimming with sea turtles, and cavorting with sea lions!
As I mentioned in my first post about this incredibly special trip, I had to overcome a lot of new anxieties about traveling-about flying in close quarters with a group of strangers, about journeying to a remote location during a public health crisis, and about my ability to reboot a travel writing career after over a year of not going anywhere further than the grocery store. I persevered and here’s the good news. These days, any time I feel anxious or stressed about doing something, I say to myself “You went to the Galapagos in a pandemic. That was way harder than what you’re trying to do now.” It works every time!
Do I have any regrets? Only that I didn’t have more time to explore the islands. Would I ever go back there? In a heartbeat!