When people think about the Galapagos, most dream about the unique wildlife that inhabit the islands.
The islands are seen as an ecological paradise where exotic and rare animals roam. Believe me, they have all of this in spades but, what is rarely captured in photos or blog posts is that the locals are their unsung heroes.
Locals are not hard to find on the Galapagos Islands. You won’t see millionaire real estate tycoons building resorts on the water’s edge or foreigners living in an enclave. To control human population on the islands only people born on the islands or those who marry someone born on the island may obtain residency.
When I wasn’t playing with sea lions or having an intimate stare down with iguanas it was great chatting to them on my Galapagos Venture tour; hearing their take on eco-tourism, schooling me on how to defeat island insects, and of course, sharing a local beer on a makeshift beach bar.
Genesis was my first local encounter and arguably the best. A young woman just into her 20s with love for ecology and a passion for adventure was my Intrepid guide on day one. During my tour, she was just incredible. For being so young, she knew everything that could be known about the Galapagos, teaching me the history of the islands, how they formed, and of course giving me plenty of warning about the harsh sun.
In chatting with her after the tour, I found she spent much of her childhood exploring every inch of the untamed landscape. Her passion for adventure led her to the career of eco-tour guide, teaching tourists about her beautiful island. She knew nearly everyone on the island and waved to what felt like every person who passed by on a motorbike. We bonded over our shared love for adventure and wanderlust spirits. She has big plans to travel beyond her tiny islands to see the rest of South America, starting in Brazil.
Another trip-making local was a local boat captain. After spending the morning snorkeling around kicker rock, we stopped off at a small beach to enjoy the afternoon. It was quite warm, so I took a dip in the water…big mistake. After getting out to dry off, the battle began. A swarm of horseflies descended on me, biting any exposed skin. I swatted, jumped, danced, and even swore a little to get these annoying little devils away from me.
After about 10 minutes of dancing with little to no success. I looked over to see our boat captain lounging under a mangrove bush enjoying the shade and terribly hiding a snicker. I muffled a laugh myself since I realized he saw my impromptu dance moves. “How do I get them to leave me alone,” I asked in desperation. He said in a chill smooth voice, “Salt water.” “Salt water?,” I replied.
He goes on to inform this ignorant tourist that horseflies are attracted to salt water which my body was covered in post snorkeling. He ushered me over and told me to dry off and wait. After a few minutes, they moved on to other prey.
I thanked him as we chatted more about the island insects and tourism in the Galapagos, and he even helped me with my very broken Spanish. I came to find out he owned a tour company and by the end of our conversation I had talked my way into a job as a guide to which I politely and reluctantly declined.
From fellow wanderlusters to ship captains you can find all kinds of locals lurking on the islands but what they all have in common is mutual respect for the wildlife. Everyone cares – from toddlers picking up plastic bottles to a mother opting to ride a bike with her small son instead of driving. It all makes a difference in keeping these islands as they were when Darwin first set foot on them.
It’s a beautiful example of how when a community comes together, there is nothing they can’t do.
Ready to explore this dazzling part of the world? Check out Intrepid’s range of Galapagos tours.
(Image credits: Hero image c/o Intrepid Travel. All other images c/o Giela Thornton.)