Teaching English – Service Learning reflections

by Stephanie E Neal

 

The Galapagos Islands are incredibly unique. Sitting far offshore from the South American continent they have a unique blend of isolation and ties to other regions. From a biological stand point, the islands are tied to other regions of the world through currents and winds that brought species to the islands. The Islands are also so isolated that they have developed high number of endemic species (species only found in the Galapagos) such as the marine iguana or the blue footed boobies. This pattern is also reflected in the human population. In the early days of Galapagos settlement, the islands were colonized by pioneers. These people lived off the land and rarely made contact with outsiders. Now, most of the people on the island have ties to mainland Ecuador. People here see the Galapagos as an escape from hectic dangerous life in Guayaquil or the hustle and bustle of Quito. Life here is often described as ‘tranquilo’ or calm. Not only do the people here have ties to mainland Ecuador, as the economic balance of the islands switches to tourism, the locals are becoming dependent on tourists from all over the world. Initially the Galapagos started as just a pioneer haven then, as people began to fish the islands, coastal towns began to develop. Now, the economy of the Galapagos has shifted to be based on tourism. 

 

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I look at my service project as a way to ease the transition to a highly tourist dependent economy. For the past ten weeks I have been teaching English classes through IOI. The host families must attend two out of the three classes offered by IOI. Mine is the least popular. Many of the families want to learn but have a fear of starting or really committing to learning. The moms who attend my class are all very eager to learn. All of them have or had host students at one point, so learning English will benefit their communication with their student. In some of their professional lives English is critical; one runs a hostel and another owns a restaurant. I look at what I have been doing as a way to empower locals to take charge of their growing economy to mitigate the effects of foreign business coming into the islands and taking charge of tour operations with a local as just the face of the company.

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed my service project not just because of the way I can give back to the community and make life for some of the locals a tad easier but because of the challenges it has presented me and the way it had made me grow. Firstly, it made me think of English in a different way with a new perspective. I was forced to step into my students’ shoes and understand what they found difficult and what they were stuck on. I was forced to be very creative through this experience. I have had to come up with fun games, vocabulary list, phrases, and verbs for my students to learn from. I have also had to make decisions on what is the most important for them to learn. With around only ten weeks of classes for just one hour a week, I had to concentrate my time on what is most important for them to learn and understand. Finally, this service project has made me more confident. I have always been fearful of using my Spanish, especially in front of a lot of people or with authority. With the class I had to put fear and inhibitions aside and use the tools I had to teach the class to the best of my abilities. I am so thankful to the members of my class for coming with curiosity and determination, IOI for offering such a wonderful experience and to the community in Isabela for making me feel welcome for the last eleven weeks. 

Weekend Activities : Los Tuneles

Waking up on Saturday morning I headed off with some other IOI volunteers to explore the lava tunnels on the south west side of Isabela. This is one of the many tours you can book and do during your free time on the island. This is a full day tour and allows you to travel an hour around the coast to see some spectacular wildlife. 

Roca Union

Roca Union

Heading out for the day we get on the boat and we are excitedly scanning the water in the hope to spot some wildlife, before we had even left the dock we saw a ray swimming past - surely this is a good sign for the day ahead. Our journey took us around the coastline of Isabela, we sailed relatively close to the shoreline for about an hour with incredible view of the Volcan Sierra Negra and Volcan Cerro Azul on the horizon. Just over half way we reached the enormous rock called Roca Union, where we spotted our first Nazca Boobie, one of the famous inhabitants of the Galapagos. Other than the birds living on the rock the surrounding area is nothing but deep sea, there were a few sea lions napping in the sun but this sight was like something from a movie. The azure blue ocean was crashing on the rocks and we circle the rock a few times enjoying the picturesque views. The water is a mix of aqua marine, blue, white and the Nazca Boobies perched on the top seem oblivious to the treacherous waters below - it seemed like a setting from Homer’s Odyssey.

We reached the lava arches of Los Tuneles, and our captain navigated carefully through the shallow lava tunnels. Inside the breakers the water is calm and clear, a near reflective surface was created due to the cloud morning the view was spectacular. We spent some time cruising slowly through the arches watching blue footed boobies, iguanas and the occasional sea turtle the views are unparalleled. Hopping off the boat we began to explore the maze of lava tunnel arches, and spotted some Blue Footed Boobies, we were incredible lucky because it was mating season and the male Blue Footed Boobies were putting on a show to impress the females. To attract the female they show off their blue feet by strutting from one side to another, and begin their mating ritual dance by “sky-pointing” which involves pointing their beak to the sky and raising their tail and wings to impress the female. 

Jumping back onto the boat we head to our first snorkelling spot, the water was calm and still with the waters being protected by lava formed tubes and rocks, even looking from the boat you can see wildlife in the crystal clear water. Our first snorkel took us through the arches, duck diving through the underwater tunnels our guide showed us some incredible views and wildlife - it was spectacular. Being passed by sea lions, they were twisting and twirling through the water like acrobats exploring the rocky landforms.

Back on the board the boat took us around the coastline to a snorkelling site near a mangrove forest - we weaved through the rocky coves and shallow tunnels which allowed us to see schools of fish and sea turtles. It was exciting to see the green sea turtles which are impressive due to their size and gracefully movements in the water. Diving down to the bottom we were able to see a seahorse camouflaged by the sediment. The guide finally asked us if we wanted to see some “big fish” and of course the answer was yes! One by one we ducked down and under a rock and saw a massive group of sharks swimming in the cave - the sight was incredible and I soon forgot about holding my breath and watched in awe as the sharks swam around the enclosed area not even bothering to acknowledge the swimmer peering into their underwater world. 

The whole day was unbelievable and I arrived back at the dock exhausted from an amazing day snorkelling and exploring the island. This tour was one of the best ways to spend a day on the Isabela. Where else in the world can you snorkel in shallow waters with white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles, sea horses and so much more!

 

-Georgia B

Volunteer Interview with Sarah Merzon

Sara is a student at the Maritime University of Massachusetts, in her free time on Isabela she loves lying back in a hammock reading a good book or snorkelling at the local lagoon, Concha de Perla. Sara feels that her experience on Isabela is something she will never forget. 

What Interested you in the Galapagos? 

This is so far away from my home town I love seeing the raw nature and habitat of the animals - it’s hard not to interest you. When you’re at home imagining waking up in the mythological archipelago everyday with the wildlife roaming more freely than the people - it’s magical. The climate is amazing and even though its rainy season the rainfall is short and the days are hot - Isabela is a haven of untouched magic. 

How did you become involved with IOI? 

I became involved with the IOI because a friend volunteered on Isabela last year and she told me about it, I researched it and spoke with Amanda and loved the idea and the work that the IOI do, so here I am. I am doing the IOI in conjunction with my degree which is a Bachelors in Science with a concentration in Marine Safety and Environmental Protection from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. 

How long have you been part of this program? 

3 weeks out of 4 

What are your goals? Why are you participating? 

I came to the Galapagos for credit for my school and to help in the completion of a project but in reality since I got here my goal became more personal it focuses on helping species thrive and the opportunity to give back to the wildlife and take part in things you don’t see everyday has also become a goal. The opportunity to work with the IOI is amazing and the ability to help preserve an ecologically sustainable and stable social economy whilst having an amazing time and helping to preserve this precious environment for further generations means so much to me. I would like my children to be able to see the tortoises, the boobies, and the iguanas in the wild and not just read about them. I also think it is up to my generation to step up and make a difference.

 

How are you liking the experience? Would you recommend this to other travellers?

I love it - working with the IOI the people are amazing, its super independent but if you have a problem the support is there and everything can be resolved quickly. 

I love living in the volunteer house - my room mates KiKi and Georgia have become some of my best friends, its nice to be able to have people who share the same goals as you do. I now have friends from Canada, Argentina, London and all over the US that have all become people I trust and rely on and we’ve only known each other for 3 weeks. I think the ability to make such great friends in such a short period of time is because of the lack of electrical connection (e.g. wifi) - it forces you to speak to each other, share stories or just play worldwide card games until you become more comfortable in each others company. There is no option to hide behind your phone sending messages to people from back home living on Isabela you get to see your true self, and discover a life on a digital detox - but you are also meeting like minded individuals, which is so amazing. 

I would recommend the IOI to other travellers for so many reasons but I think even if your here for just a month the impact it will have on your life will be forever. Living in such a small community it gives you the chance to stop and think, and breathe deeply living in a slower lifestyle it is the best contrast to life for me back in the States, whilst the work your doing is going to have such a positive impact you can't help but feel a sense of pride for the work your doing. 

For people coming after you is there any advice you’d tell them?

Be open minded - people in the states are accustomed to everything being catered to them but here their lifestyle and way of living is unique to what I've seen before. Animals rule the island in an interesting role reversal - the marine iguanas live their life freely whereas the people are more controlled. Life back home is fast paced and you need to take some time to slow down to island time and then your going to love it, it may take a few days but soon it will be your way of life and you will be accustomed to it and never want to go home. 

Keep your eyes open - when you’re on Isabela don’t spend all of your time looking through a camera take time to enjoy the view for yourself because sometimes memories are better than the photographs. I am all for taking my camera everywhere but sometimes you have to remember to put it down, switch of your phone lay back in the sand and watch the stars because trust me the photo will never beat the real thing. 

The one thing you wished you’d pack.

Peanut butter - I love it and its expensive here, living in the volunteer house we make our own breakfasts, the shops have most things but peanut butter is particularly expensive because everything has to be shipped in from mainland and then brought from Santa Cruz - if you love something so much its best to bring it so as to avoid disappointment. 

More books - I love reading a book on the beach usually lying in a hammock is my favorite way to spend the afternoon. IOI have a few books which you can borrow and then put one back in its place but I am reading a lot more than I expected. 

One thing you regret bringing. 

Hair Straighteners - I have no need for them here, since I unpacked on day one they have been a waste of space, Island life is very relaxed and its hard to imagine needing to dress up so much you may want to use them.

Highlight of your trip? 

Los Tunules - I got to snorkel with Galapagos creatures and see unique landscapes which I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world.

Meeting Kiki and Georgia (friends from the volunteer house) - we all met each other on our way to Isabela despite the fact that we come from two sides of the USA and London we got on since day one. All three of us have a sense of adventure and we headed straight up to the highlands on our first week - we have become such good friends on more than just a work basis. We eat every meal together, spend the days laughing on the beach nights playing cards in our house or star-gazing. I would consider them some of my closest friends and I’ve only known them for 3 weeks and it’s felt like forever. The chances that I would have met them in our normal lives is slim but IOI gave me the opportunity to meet two girls who are just like me and I am really grateful for that.

 

-Georgia B

Music on Isabela

Philip Tanabe – Music on Isabela

 

And just like that, my time in the Galapagos has come to an end. It seems like just last week we had arrived to the islands, freaking out at the sight of a single sea lion. Now we are exceptionally knowledgeable on the culture, flora, fauna, management, and geology of the Galapagos islands.

My first half had me learning so much about the islands and generally getting used to how things are here compared to home. Things weren’t as accessible, sanitary, and thermally controlled, and it took some time for me to get used to. I had some trouble getting used to sleeping in a hot room (as I usually like to keep my bedroom freezing) but the fan allowed me to bear with it. 

One of my favorite parts of this trip is that while I was told it would be difficult to get access to a guitar while I was here, I found a few musicians who I got to jam with and one of them, Will, even lent me an African drum and a full classical guitar! It was amazing that he trusted me so much with these instruments despite me just meeting him! This just showed how relaxed and unstressed the people here really are. The handful of musicians I met here were as follows: Javier, a Spanish guitarist who happens to be Shannon’s host-dad who is on his way to becoming an official tour guide. Will, a multi-instrumentalist who has a relatively extensive collection of instruments at his house (An acoustic and classical guitar, bass guitar, and many different drums) who is currently building a restaurant right by IOI. Mike, a Californian flutist who has been playing for over 50 years now (also plays the saxophone and likely many other wind instruments). Nelson, a guitar player who works at / possibly owns Maestro de Casa (owns an electric guitar and amplifier). Daniel, a guitar player who I played with a few times who I do not know much about. I have jammed with these people, mostly Javier and Will, many times and it exceeded my hopes by a mile. I was hoping to find someone who owns a guitar to let me play a few times while I was on the island but I got to own the instrument and even perform with the locals! The first time I played I was on the drums and we played at Bar de Beto. I am even part of a local musicians group chat on whatsapp, with many people who I have yet to meet being part of it.

 

My second half of time here was less stressful due to the classes being relatively easy. I had more time to practice and even started writing a few songs / pieces while I was here. This is the time where I met the last 3 members of the music group which I have talked about earlier and I was most impressed with Mike’s ability. Javier and I showed him a song (which I wrote about 2 years ago) that we liked to play and he was immediately able to jump in and play along tastefully. He told me that the song was trippy, and that he wishes he could write stuff like that and I took that as an incredible compliment (especially coming from a musician of over 50 years!). Javier also complimented me earlier in the semester saying that I write very unique sounding songs, it doesn’t “follow theory”, and that he enjoys playing what I write (which is just what I was going for so I felt very happy hearing this from a musician of such a high caliber). Playing with Javier especially has led me to pursue learning Flamenco and incorporating more Spanish flairs into my writing. He shared with me some traditional Spanish songs and techniques and, while it is a little weird learning all of this in the Galapagos, I still see this as immersing myself in local culture (despite it being a foreign culture). 

My final performance with them was at Iguana Point Bar, where we played the classic Dick Dale song “Misirlou”. We practiced for a total of no longer than an hour the day before and we never finalized on a song structure, nor did we figure out who was going to play which instrument (again, the culture here is very relaxed)! I ended up on the lead guitar, Javier on bass and rhythm guitar (switching partway through) and mike on the drums and Saxophone and flute (also switching partway through). We had to improvise a large part of it due to the lack of preparation but it was such a fun time and the audience looked like they enjoyed it as well! While I am usually stage-shy and prefer to do a lot of practicing before performing, I was surprisingly comfortable and had an incredible time up there. I believe this experience helped me become more confident in myself while performing and communicating with fellow musicians without words. While I was supposed to only play the one song, they wanted me to drum for them for the rest of the set (roughly 20 songs which I have never heard of and did not practice for beforehand) but we all played well enough (looked to me like some of them didn’t know the entire songs). I wished that I could have performed with them a few more times but I am more than thankful for how immersed I was with the music culture here. I hope to stay in touch and share more of my future music with them! 

Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico

Spending time in Puerto Villamil you are constantly being shadowed by the silhouette of Sierra Negra. Thus far I have managed to surpass the urge to hike the volcano, but last week I broke and felt the motivation to climb up the active geological formation which rises to 1,124m above sea level, with its caldera being the second largest in the world at around 6 miles wide. 

Jumping on the chiva we made our way up the winding dirt roads for about 45 minutes passing horses and donkeys shading themselves underneath fruit trees. The chiva dropped us off at the end of the hiking trail and the sun is beating down although we are protected by a cluster of clouds we begin to make our way along the path. Within the first few minutes of climbing the trail, the path takes us up and down winding around the edge of the volcano, gradually climbing higher and higher we began to witness some incredible views of Puerto Villamil below us. The clouds melted away and the panoramic views are spectacular. The lush green trees and hills contrast the bright blue ocean and rocky outcrops of Cuatro Hermanos in the Pacific below. 

About an hour into the journey we emerged from the trees to the spectacular view of the caldera below. The caldera seemed to appear out of nowhere, and with the little cloud cover now burnt off in the heat we have views of the entire caldera filled with old lava flows and there are view’s of the eruption site from the 2005. Walking along the rim, we stopped for a few photograph opportunities and the chance to enjoy the dramatic landscape before us which is so unexpected when you look up at the vibrant green highlands from the town. The stark contrast of matt black lava rock with the lush humid vegetation adds to the atmosphere. We continued along the caldera across the rocky terrain until we reached a suitable point where we could stop so that students from the University of Miami could take down information for their geology classes. 

We stand on the edge of the caldera and admire the magnificent views from our high vantage point and then begin the walk back towards the usual path, from here we begin the descent to Volcan Chico. 

Heading to Volcan Chico, a collection of small craters gives you the opportunity to see the fumaroles and impressive volcanic landscape. The climb is straight down meaning the return journey will be tough but the view is worth it. The grass quickly disappears and the remaining plants are cacti shooting straight out of the dried lava. The ground below changed from dirt to red rock and then crystallized black lava within in steps of each other you can feel the contrast from Chico to Sierra Negra. The size of the lava fields are immense and the hollow lava tubes running down the side of the volcano are breathtaking the area seems to be frozen in time as you can see the lava flow rolling over the sides of the cliffs it is possible to imagine the immense scale of the eruption. 

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Volcan Chico is an incredible site you can see the lava flows right down to the ocean, on the journey down to Volcan Chico we pass by many sulphuric vents with steam rising and ferns growing up inside, waving our hand on the edge you can feel the heat rising. Exploring Volcan Chico is how I imagine it is to walk on the moon the contrast is incredible in comparison to the white sandy beaches in Puerto Villamil or even the luscious highlands, as we sat on the top of the cone enjoying lunch and absorbing the view we could see the clouds moving in fast and it was not long before the views of the ocean had vanished and we were engulfed in clouds and rain. Although usually the rain would be a dampener on the trip this was a welcome break from the heat and humidity we had experience for the earlier part of the expedition. The return trip is along the same path and with the rain ceasing for a few minutes we could see the steam rising from the rocks. 

It is the perfect way to see how the Galapagos Islands were formed and the incredible raw, uninhabited beauty of Isabela, truly reflected in the hike up Sierra Negra. 

 

Day in the Life of a Volunteer

Isabela Island | The Galapagos

 

From a sunrise at dawn when the first rays of light hit the town to the watercolour of oranges, pinks, blue and yellows at sunset, everyday on Isabela is unique. 24 hours can feel like three days as there is so much to do and see - this week I spent the day with Kiki Hunegs one of the tortoise centre volunteers to see what she gets up to on a normal day on the island. 

We began the morning with breakfast in the volunteers house before heading on our way to the tortoise centre. The walk takes you through the colourful streets of Isabela down to iguana crossing and the spectacular broad-walk.  Turning onto the broad-walk takes you along one of the most unbelievable trails you will have step foot on, walking the half an hour journey takes you past ponds filled with wild flamingos, marine iguanas basking in the sun, giant-cactus' - the walk is breath-taking and Kiki says that it never gets old, every day she sees something new and it is the perfect opportunity to collate her thoughts and prepare for the day ahead. 

Upon arrival at the tortoise centre Kiki is greeted by full-time conservation staff Pato and Oscar, reminding her that its Monday, a tortoise feeding day. Three days a week volunteers at the tortoise centre begin their day by feeing the tortoises giant plantain stalks. Her morning continues with cleaning the corrals, raking the ground and ensuring that the area’s are kept in perfect condition for the tortoises. 

During their morning at the centre it’s not uncommon for tourists to stop and ask them questions - all the volunteers have learnt a lot about the project during their time here and have a gained an immense knowledge on the work their doing and the success its having on the overall long term benefits for the tortoise.


At around 10.00am the volunteers are called in for break time and they enjoy tostadas (grilled-cheese) and take it as an opportunity to cool off in the air-conditioned break room. For the rest of the morning the volunteers are assisting with measuring and weighing the tortoises and ensuring the records they keep are up to date and accurate helping to give the park accurate readings and information on the animals. Working at the tortoise centre allows them to get involved in the conservation of tortoises - this is only possible if you have a visa specifically for the conservation project. 

At 12.00 the volunteers finish their work and we begin to walk back down the sandy streets of Puerto Villamil to enjoy lunch at one of the many delicious restaurants.  All volunteers from any of the programmes can eat lunch at one of many restaurants which are participating with the IOI, we meet up with lots of volunteers and enjoy the menu of the day. Everyone discusses there mornings and plans are made for the long sunny afternoon ahead. 

This afternoon Kiki is heading to Concha De Perla the local lagoon, to enjoy some snorkeling at low tide. The water is crystal clear and visibility is perfect. We snorkel for an hour seeing sea lions, reef sharks, endless fishes and two penguins whizz past us across the lagoon.  The broad-walk to Concha de Perla is dotted with sleeping sea lions and the rest of the day is spent relaxing on the beach taking turns using a couple of rented surfboards we spend the late afternoon catching waves as the sky looks like a painting and the day ends with the most spectacular sunset. 

Volunteers living at the volunteer house eat out for dinner on the same plan as at lunch and those living with a family go home and enjoy a family dinner. Every day on Isabela is filled with lots of activities, things to do and endless sunshine - there is never a dull moment or lack of adventure. 

Volunteer on the Island

Volunteer on the Island

Having interviewed many of the current and past volunteers about there work on the island and why they choose to volunteer on Isabela rather than just travel to the island’s or the Galapagos as a whole it became apparent there was a trend. Many of the volunteers decided to work here because it gave them the opportunity to experience the island’s community and cultural side more deeply and by living here for a month or so they have been able to become part of island life.

COLIN MILNE, an Interview

COLIN MILNE, an Interview

Colin is a volunteer who has worked at both the tortoise centre and during the final week of his trip he has volunteered to work with the Galapagos National Park maintenance team. During his free time on Isabela Colin has taken many trips across the island, exploring the land and wildlife whilst documenting his findings with photographs. 

 ISLAND LIFE and WILDLIFE UPDATE : FEBRUARY  

February is a great time to visit Isabela, water temperature is around 25C and thew ildlife is spectacular. From the moment you step foot on Isabela there is plenty to see,  on the taxi to the dock this week we saw sea lions climbing onto boats, and the iguanas basking in the tropical sun. This was all before we had even so much as stepped foot onto the wooden jetty.  

As February progresses the mercury will rise and although this is one of the rainiest months, the moments of rain are followed by the bright sunshine and blue skies. Due to the rising temperatures the water is warmer and with underwater visibility at an annual high in these months there is a lot of wildlife to be seen both above and below. It is truly like paradise on the island.   

February is one of the most active breeding months for many of the indigenous species of birds.Whether you are a bird-lover, underwater fanatic or a land lover,  the wildlife is vibrant and the flora and fauna is abundant.   

WHAT TO EXPECT IN FEBRUARY?  

The Galapagos land Iguana is a common site on Isabela, they can grow to over three feet long. Until the early 2000s, it was believed that the only species to be found on the Galapagos was the yellow/green, then they discovered the pink and black land iguana here on Isabela Island. The land iguanas roam the beaches, one of their nesting sights is cordoned off to protect the species - this shows just how focused the National Park and conservation team are on protecting the species of this paradisiacal island.  

Giant Tortoises will begin laying there eggs on the beach - the land giants are unique to the Galapagos. We are lucky enough to have the tortoises here on Isabela one of the few places you can see them. Out of the 15 species globally Isabela is home to many of them. 

Similar to the Land Iguana the Marine Iguana is also beginning to nest . The Marine Iguana is the only lizard to split its time between land and sea, nesting season is a great time to spot the Iguana for this reason.   

Galapagos Green Sea Turtle spends most of its time in the ocean, during the winter months the females will come ashore to nest and lay there eggs. Students visiting as IOI volunteers to go out every evening to monitor the beach. The same happens in the morning, and a different group walk the 5km of beach to monitor the nesting sights and write down any tracks they have found in the sand. This is an opportunity to see how theGreen Sea Turtle nesting is going and the work is incredibly valuable to help build data about the islands turtle population - the students have found 3 nests in the past two weeks.  

The frigate birds are best known for there giant wingspan which can reach close to three yards in length which, in comparison to their body size, gives them the largest proportionate wingspan among all birds species. The males have a large, red throat pouch that inflates during mating to attract the females - during February they are beginning to nest.   

The greater flamingo of the Galapagos can grow to be over three feet tall. Their mainly crustacean diet is responsible for their bright pink color. In February the birds are breeding and nesting, but for their own safety they staying larger flocks- you can see the flamingos on the walk to the tortoise conservation.   

Galapagos Doves are found only in the Galapagos and the dove’s nesting season reaches its peak during the winter months. The dove is brown in color and will build its nests on the ground; in rock cavities or in the abandoned nests of the GalapagosMockingbird. 

February is the perfect time to visit the wildlife haven of the Galapagos, the perfect opportunity to enjoy the verdant green jungle and paradisiacal stretches of beach along the pacific coast.   This month the volunteers in Isabela are continuing on their projects with a keen focus on monitoring the turtle’s nesting - this is the first time the project has taken place and is extremely important work for the National Parks. In addition, the volunteers at theTortoise Sanctuary are continuing measuring the young to ensure accurate records are kept. Biweekly beach cleans are being done to make sure the environment and wildlife aren’t affected by the impact of tourism. 

February in Isabela is a busy month, but with crystal clear skies and beautiful beaches who can complain?

Georgia B.

Arrival in the Archipelago 

London | Spain | Ecuador | Galapagos Islands 

The journey to Isabela was long, and albeit the planning complicated, as I flew into Baltra it somehow seemed worth it. Flying over the ocean from Guyaquil I was greeted by the mythological Archipelago of the Galapagos, the azure ocean waves break on the arid rocks. The landscape on Isla Baltra makes you feel as if you are on another planet, the cactus’ growing high in the orange, red sand is a stark contrast to the blue ocean. The animals on these remote islands can’t always be found anywhere else, and the isolated group of volcanic lands are a wonderful showcase of vast ecosystems and biodiversity.  

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Although the flight might have amassed over 25 hours that is only half the journey (and perhaps on reflection it was the easiest part), upon arrival in Baltra, there’s a bus and boat to Santa Cruz a taxi over the island to the port and then the 2 and a half hour boat trip to the sandy town of Puerto Villamil, on Isabela Island. 

Puerto Villamil sits on an island shaped like a seahorse. Formed by an amalgamation of six large volcanoes, one ofmost volcanically active place in the world - a contrast to the otherwise calm and peaceful day to day life on the island.  

However remote you may think Isabela is, the population is bigger than we first expected and as I washed up on the shores of the island on my first day, overwhelmed by the accomplishment of getting there, I was aware of just how lucky I am to have the chance to live here for the next few months. I met up withtwo other volunteers Kiki and Sara on the way and we were greeted by Amanda on the dock. No sooner had we stepped of the boat but we found a few Iguanas lying in the sand, basking in the heat - it became quite clear that the animals are free to do as they wish. We were greeted by sandy streets, swaying palm trees, exotic wildlife and incredible people - we quickly realized that this island is pretty much paradise.  

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A tour of the town and swim in the ocean confirmed we had arrived in a rarely discovered haven and as the warm salty waves lapped on the sand it washed away all thoughts of the journey that had come before.  

The volunteer house is next to the IOI building in Puerto Villamil and a short walk into the town, we soon found ourselves sitting in a bustling restaurant on our first night enjoying the island’s buzz, discussing our plans for the trip and all the tours we wanted to do.  

From the enormous tortoises, and endemic penguins to lava lizards and a large population of cormorants the inhabitants of this island are remarkable. Among the immense flora and fauna the archipelago is known for being the place where Darwin began to formulate his groundbreaking theories of evolution. The Galapagos Islands are living proof to this theory, the ever-changing landscape, the birth of species and adaptation in these extreme conditions illustrates just that. The islands are filled with hope that, despite the odds being less than favorable on this planet, anything can happen.  

As the sunset on our first evening in Isabela we sat on the beach gazing at the clear skies and twinkling stars,  breathing in the salty air we all knew that our time in Isabela would be something we won’t ever forget.