It was a humid Sunday afternoon in April of 2010. I had just returned home after winning a three-day soccer tournament, and I was exhausted. I was lying in my bed watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit when my mother swung my bedroom door open with a smile exploding from her face. I asked her why she was so happy, and her smile grew even wider. I stood up and walked closer to find out what was going on when she grabbed both of my arms and started jumping while screaming, “You’re going to the Galapagos Islands!”
Three months later I was saying goodbye to my friends and family as I departed for Quito, Ecuador. I boarded the plane, placed my ear buds in my ears, and let the music drown out all other noises around me as I closed my eyes. Four hours later I was surrounded by unfamiliar languages and faces. I slowly walked through the airport trying to read the “helpful” signs. After wandering around aimlessly, I found my destination: customs. I approached the desk where a short, stubby man was sitting typing hundreds of letters per minute. He said something to me in Spanish, and I just looked at him with a blank, clueless expression. After staring back at me for a few moments, he grabbed my passport from my hand and continued typing into the computer. After what seemed like an eternity, he handed me back my passport, said “Bienvenidos a Ecuador,” and pushed me aside. I grabbed my luggage and walked through a sliding glass door where I met up with Heather, my counselor, and the rest of the people that would be traveling with me for the next two weeks. We all introduced ourselves and took a van back to the hostel. By the time we arrived it was already midnight, so we were given our room assignments and stayed there for the rest of the night.
I woke up the next morning to my alarm beeping. Avery and Lili, my roommates, and I slowly got up to begin getting ready for the day. All fifteen of us were in the lobby of the hostel by six A.M. sharp. Tired and lifeless, we all boarded a bus to begin our journey to Galapagos Islands. The journey to the islands was much more difficult than most people would think. It involved a forty-five minute bus ride, a ten-minute boat ride, a three-hour plane ride, which would take us to Baltra Island, a ten-minute bus ride, and then to get to our final destination, Isabela Island, we needed to take a three-hour boat ride. The trip took most of the day, but at last we were on Isabela Island.
We were split up into two groups and went our separate ways to meet our host families. Eight of us arrived at the tiny pink house we would be calling home for the next six days, and smiles lit up on all of our faces. Our host mother, Olga, welcomed us with a warm smile. She did not speak English, however, so it was difficult conversing with her. We were assigned our new roommates and immediately sat down for dinner. Being the picky eater that I am, I had to force feed myself the mysterious meal. After dinner we met up with the other group and toured the island. Stray animals, dirt roads, small buildings, bicycles, greasy foods, and crude men surrounded me, and I could not have been happier. As we walked by the beach, cameras appeared in everyone’s hands as pictures were being snapped continuously. We were told that the next six days would be focused on community service and observing marine life through snorkeling. During our stay on Isabela Island, we worked at a place called Campo Duro. We helped care for and protect rescued tortoises. I learned all about tortoises and the wildlife in Galapagos. Not only did we participate in teen volunteer programs, but we also snorkeled with Orchid whales, White-tipped Reef sharks, marine turtles, fish, manta rays, and sea lions. Terrified of everything that lives in the ocean, I was very doubtful about snorkeling. Finally, I decided to be brave and put my head underwater. Once I did, I could not leave. Beautiful fish with red, yellow, orange, and blue swam all around me as curious about me as I was about them. Manta rays were zooming through the water flipping through the air on occasion. I had never seen such a beautiful environment. The next six days were like heaven on Earth. Sadly, our stay on Isabela had to come to an end. We packed up our suitcases, said goodbye to Olga, and made our way to our new destination, Santa Cruz.
Although leaving Isabela was depressing for the entire group, everyone was excited to experience life on a different island. The trip from Isabela to Santa Cruz consisted only of a three-hour boat ride; therefore, we had the entire day to explore. As we arrived to the island, we met our new host mom, America, and settled in to our new home. We visited Lonesome George, the only tortoise left of his kind, and then traveled around Santa Cruz. Even though Santa Cruz was beautiful, it could not even be compared to Isabela. The new island was much more modernized in the sense that it had paved roads, well-constructed buildings, and fancy restaurants. We snorkeled, cliff jumped, tried unusual foods, and enjoyed the beautiful beaches during our stay. Finally, the four days were up and we were on our way back to Quito, Ecuador.
Our final two days in Quito were depressing, yet we all became closer than we ever were. We went to more open-air markets, enjoyed the beautiful scenery of Quito, and visited the Equator. The last night everyone exchanged phone numbers, E-mail addresses, and Facebook names and went to sleep early. The next morning everyone went to the airport in organized groups. David, Noah, and I were at the airport at 6:30 A.M. We walked through customs and security together and said our goodbyes. I arrived at Miami Airport to find my mother jumping up and down in excitement to see me. Before I could get a word out, the questions began. “Were the people nice?” “How was the counselor?” “Were the islands beautiful?” “Which island was your favorite?” I told her I would show her pictures and answer all her questions soon enough, but first I needed a warm shower and a nice nap in my familiar bed. Although I missed my dogs, friends, and family, going to the Galapagos Islands changed my perspective on life forever. After visiting a third world country, I cherish everything in my life. I will always remember the memories of Galapagos and the people I shared them with, and no other place in the world could ever compare to it.