Qué increíble y qué surrealista. How incredible and how surreal--these are the adjectives that I find myself using over and over again to describe my experiences in Ecuador. A week ago Saturday I was in the Galapagos Islands, talking a solitary walk along the beach beside our hostel at dusk and trying to absorb the holiness of my experience. There was absolutely no one on the beach (don´t worry mother and father, I wasn´t far from our hostel and it was perfectly safe) and nothing between myself and the ocean. The sun slipped behind las montañas uncovering las estrellas (side note: with the light pollution and pollution in general it is often difficult to see the stars in Quito) and bringing me into a moment of pure joy. I am in Ecuador. I am in the Galapagos. I am surrounded by beauty that is beyond the capacity to be captured by the pixels of my camera or the adjectives and metaphors of any language. I cannot describe why, but all I could do was begin to skip and twirl beside the ocean, splashing the water between toes. I know it seems incredibly silly, but that was really the only way to realize the overwhelming sensation of awe within me.This was just one of the moments that surprised and stunned me this past week during my stay in the Galapagos.
To give this blog some structure, I will begin with the wildlife. I met numerous enormous tortugas, including the famous George who is the sole member of his species. I saw pelicans, blue-footed boobies,
Darwin´s finches that I read about in biology classes years ago, iguanas marinas and iguanas terrestres and penguins that migrated years ago from Chile.
I saw sharks, crabs, and gorgeous fish (This is saying something, because as far as fish tanks go, I usually think that they are a waste of space). It is easy to see how Darwin developed his theory of evolution here--the wildlife is amazing.
Even more incredible I got to snorkel with sea lions and enormous sea turtles. The sea lions surprised me when they began to swim around me and several other students. I was too stunned to think about it at the time, but I am sure that I was close enough to reach out and touch them (Although, this is illegal in the Galapagos. Thankfully, they have very strict standards to help maintain the incredible biodiversity.).
Next, the landscape. Our group went island hopping, while our primary hostel was located in Isla Isabela. We walking on volcanic rock that gave birth to all sorts of types of terrain. One island with numerous sea lions was littered with cacti, but also with a type of ivy/coral type thing (sorry biologists, I am terrible with the names of species) that was a vibrant red and orange and contrasted photogenically with the black volcanic rock. It reminded me of fall in Indiana, only there was a brilliant sun, I was surrounded by an ocean and in the background were mountains of volcanic rock. One day our group hiked around a volcanic crater area that had an eruption as recently as 2005. We commenced the hike at a high enough altitude that we were walking through clouds and finished atop volcanic rock that presented a picturesque view that I don´t think even Kodak could capture in a postcard.
Finally, the people. We were led by two local Galapegeños who were incredibly knowledgeable and kind. We were lucky to have them, and I felt that they appreciated having a group of tourists whose median age was not 70 (we were only the second group of twenty-somethings that Gustavo, one of the guides, had hosted in a total of 3 years). In addition, I very much appreciate the way that Brethren Colleges Abroad approaches travel. For example, we used local guides, local restaurants and local forms of transportation during our time in the Galapagos. Although this may not seem revolutionary, the majority of tourists that visit the Galapagos use international cruise ships that takes money away from the people of the Galapagos. In fact, one night after playing ultimate frisbee on the beach (For not being a terribly competitive group, this game was pretty intense. I gained a bloody lip, but scored several goals, so it was vale la pena--totally worth it) Gustavo explained that a grand portion of revenue earned from tourism in the Galapagos, leaves the region. As tourism is the largest source of environmentally sustainable revenue for the Galapagos, this presents several problems which many Galapageños are working to rectify. I could continue to write more, but as I am still processing this experience for myself, and I feel I´ve given a fairly good picture of this amazing location.I know it has been a while since I have written. I´ve decided that it is in part due to business, but mostly because I have no idea how to explain an experience such as this. It is intimidating to even approach describing what I have seen, felt, thought and experienced in Ecuador, even more so now that we (my cultural exchange group) have begun to notice how quickly time is running away from us. Galapagos symbolized perhaps the most exotic trip during our stay, but it also signified the last one that we would complete together. As hard as it is to envision leaving the mountains, leaving this land, the language (at least the frequency with which I use Spanish), it is even worse to imagine leaving the people. In a little less than three months, I have met so many wonderful people that are truly cerca de mi corazón, very close to my heart.My goal for the rest of my stay is to focus on living in the moment and stop measuring my days. To find and love the times when I am so full of joy that all I can do is frolic to release it. Although it´s hard not to dwell in the memories I´ve made or what lies ahead for me when I return to Bethel, I have decided to put away the metaphorical ¨measuring stick¨ and attempt to appreciate every moment that I have been given in this wonderful country.Side note:Since I have neglected my duty to Bethel College´s Beyond the Green, I want to review a little bit of what you´ve missed.• I repelled off a bridge with my Andinismo class. It was probably one of the most frightening experiences of my recent life.• The new constitution in Ecuador was approved. The only immediate change is the number of people in the government´s assembly, but as the constitution begins to be interpreted through the court system, Ecuador´s government has the potential to change significantly.• Ecuador has no chance of making the world cup. We beat Chile, a very good team, 1-0 and then proceeded to lose to Venezuela, a not-so-good team, 3-1 the following week. You don´t talk about this game with Ecuadorians--it´s a sore subject.• I went to a Liga game. This is the club team that won the Copa de Suramérica last year. The first Ecuadorian team to do so ever (although their best players are now playing in Europe, so they aren´t quite as good as last year). I love how excited everyone gets here for soccer--if only it were that way in the U.S….• There was a stomach bug that traveled between several members of my group including myself. No more details needed.• I got confused for an Ecuadorian at the bus stop once. This was incredibly exciting for me, but, unfortuantely, the woman asked me a question about a bus stop about which I had no idea and so she quickly discovered that I was, in fact, a gringa.• I strongly feel that Bethel should build a Panadería on our campus. There is nothing that promotes peace, fellowship and the freshman 15 like fresh baked bread.