A Break From the City

Life on the Galapagos Islands is about as far away from life in the city as you can imagine.

Very few humans live there. Only about 4% of the islands is inhabited by our species. The rest is populated by birds, reptiles and sea animals, all secure and comfortable in their particular environments. They go about their daily lives sunbathing, foraging for food and raising offspring, oblivious to the few human visitors arriving with their fashion accessories: binoculars and cellphone cameras.

We boarded our temporary home – 15 passengers with 7 crew and a naturalist guide – on the Samba, a small boat adapted for human survival in a natural world. It didn’t take us long to fit in with life at sea. Our body clocks responded, although reluctantly at first, to the daylight hours of 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. We were often climbing into kayaks at first light and into our beds soon after dark. We exchanged our usual pastimes for new ones: snorkeling, exploring lava landscapes, watching seals as they swam nearby. There was no internet to distract us.

Our food, plentiful and delicious, came from our surroundings: shrimp, tuna, octopus, scorpion fish from the ocean; papayas, melons, pineapple, potatoes from local orchards and fields. The chef performed marvelous feats in his tiny kitchen, using leftovers and local spices, creating native dishes such as ceviche, naranja mousse, and tres leches cake. Plantain chips satisfied our yearning for junk food. There was no Loblaws anywhere in sight.

Space on the boat was tight. Food was stored inside our dinning room benches, our suitcases went under beds.We washed our bodies in tiny bathroom showers and our clothes in tiny bathroom sinks. We hung our underwear out to dry on the top deck in the wind, and quickly became friends as we learned to recognize who wore what brand. Our cabins were small, mostly outfitted with bunks, and shelves for clothes. There were no master suites on board.

But our daily lives were filled with miracles. We walked across volcanic lava fields where the hopeful heads of tiny flowers peeked out. We sat beside sea lions napping, snoring, rolling over and scratching themselves with their fins. We cheered along as male iguanas head-butted over territory. We side-stepped flightless cormorants searching for perfect twigs to build perfect nests. We swam and snorkeled with fur seals and sharks. We witnessed a huge male tortoise as he struggled to climb on top of his chosen female partner on the side of a dirt path. There were no Hollywood producers making R-rated movies on the scene.

Every so often on the boat our guide would yell out: “Dolphins, dolphins, dolphins!” and we would rush to the bow with our cameras. Other times he would summon us to a “feeding frenzy!” Underwater predators had driven large schools of sardines to the ocean surface which looked like boiling water as the gulls and other birds swooped down to feast. There was no media coverage of the events.

On the seventh day on board the Samba we stayed up until 9:00 pm toasting our trip and reliving our experiences. The next morning we awoke to the sights and sounds of a city – Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there were people everywhere. We hastily re-adjusted. We moved into a hotel with walk-in showers, flat-screen TV’s, and king beds. We ate meals in restaurants and bought gifts in souvenir shops.

It was all quite unnerving. Standing on flat land in the familiarity of city living, our sea legs kept us swaying and we felt a strong pull back towards the serenity, the solitude, and the wonder of life that had surrounded our little boat in the Galapagos Islands.


9 thoughts on “A Break From the City

  1. What a wonderful experience, Sue. Certainly well worth that 26 hour flying ordeal (I endured the same to Argentina in ’73). What your travelogue did for me was make me want to go there, to that wondrous enclave of natural history, though I have no craving to travel normally. Exploring our living world is a fabulous opportunity. Sitting on a plane…not so much. Can’t wait to read about where you go next.


  2. Sounds quite amazing but I would definitely miss the shopping. Maybe there is an entrepreneurial opportunity there. Tortoise shell earrings perhaps? Okay that’s really bad of me, I admit it!



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