On my recent Evolve Tours community service trip to Ecuador, I got to experience the Galapagos Islands. It provided me with an authentic perspective most travelers will never see.
As part of our community service work, we spent 6 days at an eco-farm on San Cristobal Island, one of the Galapagos Islands. Our work was dedicated to the conservation of native plant species and the eradication of invasive species – such as the guava tree and the raspberry bush. Our first two days were spent wielding machetes to hack down tree’s of varying sizes. While the trees do produce wonderful fruit, they have stifled the growth of native plants.
The farm also dedicates time to research for the conservation of the Galapagos tortoise. Declared extinct on San Cristobal island in 2003, the Galapagos tortoise was rediscovered in small numbers on the island again in 2007. Since then the farm has been tagging and tracking the tortoises to monitor their progress. We had the privilege of participating in a tracking hike.
Lead by Alfredo, a stoic island local, we hiked through wild, untouched parts of the island. As we made our way through watery canyons, crawling up and over moss covered volcanic boulders I began to picture what the first settlers to arrive on the island must have felt. Upon encountering this wild land – large spikey plants, huge swarming black bees – all the while battling intense heat and a scarcity of water. It felt like a true adventure of the Indiana Jones variety. It made me appreciate the overwhelming contradiction of beauty and harshness that is the Galapagos Islands.
We stumbled along the rocks laughing and telling jokes. We stopped now and then to eat the delicious wild guava fruits from the many trees found throughout our walk. Which are another testament to the contradictions of the Galapagos, and also to the amount of work that has to be done to keep these invasive species in check. While we did not find any tortoises (a result of the scarce population), we were rewarded at then end of our journey with breathtaking views of the wild, Galapagos coastline and rolling green hills.
Back at the farm, we enjoyed a delicious homemade lunch of fried albacore, played cards and chilled in hammocks. A heavy torrential downpour, the first rains after a year of severe drought on the islands, were a true island experience.
An Experience Beyond
Snorkeling, watching sea lions and enjoying the town of Puerto Ayora was a major and unmissable component of our tour. But our time at the Finca was really an experience above and beyond tour boats and wildlife spotting. It has given me a much greater understanding of what the islands represent and the importance of conserving this sensitive eco-system.