Galapagos Heaven

I felt like one of the luckiest people alive spending 13-29 October on the Galapagos Islands. I meet Becky, Sarah and Ken (all English!) in Quito and we are on the same flight over and all extremely exited!The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land and sea animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else. Darwin came here in 1535 on the Voyage of the Beagle, that contributed to his theory of evolution. Most people go on a 8-day cruise and hop from one island to the next but I’m here to volunteer at a school and experience life on Isabela Island.

He’s Huge!

We arrive on Santa Cruz Island and immediately feel the heat stepping off the plane. As we pass through check in and pay the $100 visitor fee I can feel excitement building inside me even more. We rest our bags on the ground and wait for a bus to pick us up. I can feel tears in my eyes, I feel completely overwhelmed that I am actually here, Harpreet is going to spend the next 17 days on Galapagos! During the 30-minute car journey from the airport to the Island port we are stopped in our tracks by a huge tortoise sitting in the middle of the road, he is massive! I snap away with my camera, never seen anything like it! We are spending our first night on Santa Cruz so take a look around and get our first glimpse of Sea Lions pottering about-so cute! We get to know each other whilst visiting Darwin Station and getting a photo of Lonesome George, an almost 100-year old tortoise suspected to be the only one alive of his species. We stop for some ice-cream and some pelicans are relaxing in the trees next to us, some walking nearby. This place is fantastic!

Adolfo’s House

The following morning we do the 40-minute walk to Tortuga Bay and on arrival our jaws drop, it’s quite simply breath-taking. The sky is blue, the air warm, the sand white. We smile and jump like school children and take a walk along the beach, photographing iguanas along the way. Little crabs are dotted about everywhere but disappear at the blink of an eye into the sand. After a light lunch we get on speed boat for two hours to Isabela Island, the sea is very choppy and the journey stomach turning to say the least but I wouldn’t know as my travel pills have left me snoozing whilst my new friends have one of their worst travel experiences by sea ever. I’m staying with the Adolfo family during my time here, a local family from a population of just over 2000 people-everyone knows everyone here. The family comprises of papa Adolfo, mama Pepita, daughters Ingrid and Lauren and gorgeous little grandson Adolfo. There are a few British and American people staying with the family, we have breakfast and dinner together everyday at the house and get on extremely well. Everyone is generally in a happy relaxed mood all of the time!

In the classroom with Julio

We have a very early start and arrive at school at 7.30am, it’s only a 15 minute walk away and on arrival I am very impressed. At Escuela Municipal Jacinto Gordillo the classrooms are all individual little buildings, the ambience is very friendly and welcoming. Julio the main teacher of English greets us and we meet the young people who are very lively and warm, they like to hug and greet you and want to know your name. Many of them on hearing Harpreet ask me if I have an alternative Spanish name, I should have found a new one by now no one in Latin America can say it easily so I suggest ‘Harps’ and that goes down well. My job is to assist Julio and the other teacher Celia to teach the children to speak, read and write English. We use many games and Bingo is one of their favourites. I do some one to one work with Saul and Sebastian and we end up teaching each other making it more fun and enjoyable. We laugh together at each other’s mistakes as we make good progress. Over the next two weeks I bump into the children in the street regularly and smile when I here them shouting ‘Harps!’ across the street and sometimes wrapping their arms around me. I’m quite surprised that our contribution to the school is only required until around 9.30am, after which we have the entire day free to do as we please. I would have like to have spent more time volunteering but after English lessons the teachers go on to teach other subjects and no longer require our assistance. The standard of teaching and quality of resources and the environment I have to say is excellent.

Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz Island

Life on Isabela is bliss. It takes about 15 minutes to walk around the centre and that is it, sand is everywhere some people don’t even bother with flip-flops (thongs to any Aussie’s out there!). Every day the Adolfo residents have lunch together at a little restaurant near the beach watching the same people cycle by, its very quiet and low season so not many people around-I’m a big city girl but surprise myself by loving it this way. I think we are served rice pretty much every day for lunch and dinner, it’s too much for most of us! The afternoons are spent on the beach, online (for a looong time the speed is very slow), exploring the Island and taking it easy. Before coming here I would not have even dreamed to book beach holiday, but I think I managed to learn the art of true guilt-free relaxation and now appreciate the benefits of just switching off and to simply STOP.

There is a friendly hostel right on the beach called Casa Rosada (owned by Claudia an Argentinian hostess with the most-ess) with hammocks and happy hour daily at 5pm. Iguanas of all sized hang about here, if one walked across the seat in England now I don’t think I’d look twice, well, maybe. Me and my housemates get into a habit of attending for a few beers and popcorn before dinner every day, watching the locals playing volleyball and seeing the best

The girls at Casa Rosada

sunsets of our lives. A beautiful Italian couple arrive the following week on their honeymoon and we learn the young gentleman is a chef. Claudia convinces him to cook for us and we have an ‘Italian Night’ with about 30 people at Casa Rosada-no rice! The drinks and food flow and we have a fantastic evening with soft music, candle-light, the sound of the sea, people talking and laughing; bliss. I’ve never felt so happy to eat lasagna and bruschetta!

I spend a few days with Eva, a 19 year-old German girl that I met very briefly in Banos. We go on a day trip to see a volcano and the second largest crater in the world. We decide to go on horse-back and everyone is amused by my white horse that has a purple mane, he’s a punk! I visit Tintorenas with my house mate Amanda, a dancer from New York and see blue-footed boobies, sharks, iguanas, sea lions and chocolate chip star fish.

One morning I take an early two-hour walk along a trail that starts from a section of the beach. Sarah and Becky both kindly give me their ipods to borrow. If there’s one thing I enjoy it’s a good long walk alone listening to music. I feel free, relaxed and energised. My father who died in 2006 was a keen walker, and I often joined him and this was always the time we had our chats, conversations I value deeply. He always comes to mind when I go for a stroll. The walk is long in the heat but enjoyable. As I walk back along the beach getting closer to Casa Rosada ‘Ain’t no Sunshine When She’s Gone’ by Bill Withers plays on Sarah’s ipod and a scene from Notting Hill flashes in my mind (my favourite bit) as it always does of Hugh Grant walking through Portobello Market and the weather changing from sunshine to snow. I love this song. Suddenly I am in my own movie bare foot walking in the soft sand with the beautiful beach to myself and I feel my heart flutter and my eyes filling with tears. I look up to the sky and think of my father, and think of him telling me only weeks before he left us, during a cold November walk in England not to waste my life, to enjoy it and to live it and not wait for one day, as we don’t know if that one day will ever come. I’m here on this beautiful island looking at the sky feeling pure true happiness inside and out; this one’s for you dad, I love you.

Beautiful Isabela Island

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