Spring Break 2022: Galápagos Islands

Our “taxi” from boat to beach

Spring break came and went, and where did it take us? None other than the land of Darwin’s finches, volcanoes, blue footed boobies, and giant tortoises. The Galápagos, more specifically San Cristóbal, became our home for five exhilarating days of biodiversity. 

Christian enlightening us on the flora and fauna of San Cristobal

The BC in Quito abroad program has planned trips throughout the semester, and the Galápagos happens to be one of them. From deciding on which island to visit (there are four inhabited, but 127 in total) to procuring plane tickets, tour guides, etc. to navigating COVID procedures, I was happy that the organization was left up to our lovely program director. 

We landed in San Cristóbal after a three hour plane ride, where I had visions of sunshine and beaches greeting us upon arrival. Needless to say, we stepped onto the tarmac in a bit of a torrential downpour. We were picked up by Cristian, our local tour guide, who would be the one accompanying us to the various sites and activities of San Cristóbal. He was an attorney for a number of years (often greeted as “abogado” on the island), before deciding to pursue his dream of becoming a Galápagos naturalist guide. His passion for the natural world was evident- I think he and Darwin would have been good friends. 

A sea lion looking extra distinguished

After getting settled, our first stop was the history museum and Playa Mann. Thankfully, the rain passed by the time we arrived at the beach. Bustling with tourists, locals, street vendors, it seemed like your typical ocean shore experience. However, upon further inspection, the rocks that dotted the beach were not entirely all rocks, rather basking sea lions, unbothered by the human eb and flow of activity. Many of the animal species on the island never developed human stranger danger. So what did this mean for the island? Sea lions lounging on park benches or napping in the middle of the road. For us, it meant good photo opts.

On our second day, we first headed out in our newly fitted snorkel gear to a place called the Lobería. After a 15 minute walk marked by marine iguana sightings, we arrived upon a shallow beach ideal for ocean wildlife. Sea turtles that spanned an arms length, vibrant parrot fishes, and of course “lobos marinos” were the highlights of what would be the first of many snorkeling endeavors. Darwin’s Landing, fittingly named for where Darwin first arrived at the Galápagos, was our afternoon snorkel destination. While the location had a cool historical significance, the waves were stronger and the wildlife was harder to spot. Additionally, despite the numerous sunscreen lectures and valiant sunscreen application efforts from us all, everyone came back from this day a little crispy. While the tans/burns will fade, memories of the Lobería and Darwin’s Landing will certainly remain.  

Léon Dormido in all its glory

The third day was marked by the boat trip to Léon Dormido, aka Kicker Rock. Loaded up with Dramamine, we set sail for this small island off the coast of San Cristóbal, frequented for snorkeling purposes. Cristian mentioned that he had seen a hammerhead a couple of weeks back, so we were crossing our fingers we too would be lucky enough (some ever joked about potentially using their own blood to attract the sharks, but this was quickly shot down as being off-base). When we arrived, there was a strong current which made for great aerobic exercise. After two hours, we were able to spot sea turtles, a massive school of fish, three Galápagos sharks (not hammerheads, but sharks nonetheless), and brightly colored coral which lined the rock. 

On the fourth day, we traversed the highlands of San Cristóbal, to El Junco Lake, a freshwater lake formed by a volcano. During the walk around the rim of the lake, Christian facilitated a five minute mindfulness period. While we couldn’t evade the distant chattering of other tourists, the rustle of the wind, the Frigate bird calls, and the scurrying of different critters through the tall grass all called us out of the hustle and bustle that often consumes our lives. I think it was a good reminder to step back from time to time and to notice that which is in front of us, a lesson to carry back to Quito, back to Boston, and to wherever else the journey takes us. 

The trek around El Junco

A tortoise conservatory visit and a farm tour topped off our last full day in the Galápagos, and before we knew it, we were back in Quito. It’s crazy to think we’d come to know a place that had been the inspiration behind evolutionary theory. Our planet is pretty cool, and the world we have around us certainly reflects the beauty and individuality present in each one of us. Until next time, ¡que te vaya bien!