Jody He - Galapagos Island Conservation in Ecuador
I’ve wanted to go to the Galapagos ever since I learned about evolution, Darwin, and his observations of the giant tortoises and the finches on the Galapagos Islands. Thanks to a recommendation that I take time to travel the world and some inspiration from my friends, I decided to check going to the Galapagos off of my bucket list.
Arriving in the Galapagos
The night before I arrived in the Galapagos, I stayed in the Holiday Inn next to the Guayaquil airport. When I arrived on San Cristobal Island the next day, I was rested and completely ready to go. When I got off the plane, my first thought was, “Wow, I’m breathing Galapagos air!” and I was so excited. It was so hot and humid but everything was beautiful.
I met two other volunteers (Jack and Jonny) in the San Cristobal airport and we ended up sticking together through most of my trip. We were relieved to find each other because we could bond over the fact that we were all in the Conservation project, all wanted to see the same things in the Galapagos, and all did not know any Spanish. After we got all our things, Projects Abroad picked us up and delivered each of us to our host families.
My host family
I stayed with the Coello-Morales family during my month in the Galapagos and my family was just the best. Even though I didn’t know any Spanish, we tried to communicate the best we could. My host mom, Gleniz, made delicious food for every meal and always had freshly-made orange juice ready. She was just the most warm-hearted person and always was smiling. My host dad, Orlando, loved joking around and my host siblings, Afro and Tyron, were lovely and always liked to have fun. Three other volunteers stayed in the house too so I always had Projects Abroad people to hang out with.
My family really wanted to welcome me into their home; they invited me to their extended family’s birthday parties and to their home in the Highlands and to Puerto Chino even though we couldn’t really communicate. They were by far the best host family I could ever ask for and I didn’t get homesick when I arrived in the Galapagos, but I was very sad when I had to leave.
There’s a big difference between the definition of conservation I was used to in the United States and the Conservation project in the Galapagos. While we occasionally had beach clean-ups, the majority of our Conservation project involved hard, laborious work. There were a lot of heavy loads to carry for long distances, a decent amount of hiking, awfully hot and humid weather and long spans of time where we did tedious work (cutting down blackberry bushes and guava trees with machetes for hours).
I definitely don’t regret choosing the Conservation project though. We of course got to see a lot more nature than volunteers in other projects. My first day of the project involved feeding Galapagos tortoises and then going to the most beautiful beach to enjoy the rest of the morning. Other tasks we had included cutting down invasive plants, planting native plant species (miconia trees) and monitoring petrel (a type of bird) populations. We did this all in very touristy, gorgeous spots; we cut down trees at El Junco (the volcano with the lake inside of it), worked with tortoises in Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, and planted miconia in Loberia. I would highly recommend the Conservation project if you’re a nature enthusiast.
The Conservation project works in the morning so we usually had afternoons off. Many people went to Playa Mann every day to see the sunset, and snorkelling at Tijeretas was just 10 minutes away from Playa Mann. I spent the weekends further away from home and would recommend doing the tourist activities when possible. Snorkelling at Kicker Rock was absolutely awesome and I highly recommend it. You don’t see sharks, sea lions, sea turtles and massive numbers of fish all in one place very often, so snorkelling there was the most amazing opportunity. Hiking around the island is also amazing because San Cristobal is just so naturally beautiful.
Projects Abroad really encourages its volunteers to explore the other islands too and I definitely recommend taking that opportunity! Jonny and I were going to leave the Galapagos on the same day so we decided to travel together the weekend before we left. We ended up going to Santa Cruz and Isabela and tried to see the major tourist attractions (Tortuga, the Tunnels, Charles Darwin Research Station). My personal goal was to see the penguins and flamingos (San Cristobal doesn’t have these) and that goal was easily checked off in Isabela when the penguins swam up to the boat we arrived in.