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Hola & Hello!
I am writing this post right before my last class here begins. It has been an amazing experience and incredibly life changing. I miss a lot of things about home, but I really do enjoy my life here a lot. I cannot believe I only have 3 more weeks left. Here’s a summary of my life here and special events!
Everyday life (Vida diaria)
The island life is different. Island time is definitely a concept here, nothing is on time or has a definite schedule. Ecuadorian time is already behind, dinner at 6pm could mean anytime between 6pm and 8pm. So if you add being an island on top of that, well it might take you a whole afternoon to get what you need. There’s only a few areas where people can live here, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is right on the water, and El Progreso, a town in the highlands. Everyone knows everyone, for the most part. You could tell a taxi “La casa de ____” and they could probably get you there. I live near a park with two soccer fields, a basketball court, and a new skate park. So I typically just say “Parque de Alegría”. However, I rarely even take a taxi.
Although it is a touristy area, it is still an island. Do not expect to be able to use credit or debit cards everywhere. Also, do not be surprised if you cannot find the hours stores or places are open. They open when they can but it might not be on a schedule and if it is, well, the locals already know what times. In addition, the few hours after lunch, most tour agencies and stores are not open. Lastly, there is only like two bars and one discoteca on the island. Social life is pretty small scale here. But the locals, who all know each other and most have grown up together, make the most of it.
My daily life here is pretty simple. I usually bike or walk to the university for class in the morning with my friend who lives in my neighborhood. Some students are lucky and live close by, but I live on the exact opposite side of town from the university. Even though the island is small, it is a 30 minute walk (unless you walk fast but it is HOT here so that is hard to do). At least it’s a beautiful place to walk around and you get exercise to start the morning! I was going to rent a bike for the whole 3 months I was here but one of my program coordinators on the island had a bike she was not using that I could borrow. I just had to take it to the bike shop and the shop owner fixed it for free. He is a really nice man and is always happy to help.
The Galapagos Academic Institute for Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) campus is right across from one of the most accessible beaches, Playa Mann. It is convenient because after class you can sit on the beach and sometimes the WiFi can reach out there. There is a nice space for students to do homework and enjoy the view above the classrooms in the building. There is also a balcony with outdoor seating. One thing that is different about Ecuador and the Galapagos is that open air is much more common. Especially in Quito, the weather is so temperate that windows and doors can be open comfortably and you do not need air conditioning. In the Galapagos, it is preferable to have windows and doors open, unless you have air conditioning. It is somewhat rare to have it, especially in stores, houses, and restaurants. However, one bread shop, the discoteca, our classrooms, and some host families have it. Some students got lucky, but I honestly do not mind just having a strong fan!
After class, I typically get lunch. Our host families provide breakfast and dinner during the week but lunch is on our own. There are 3 restaurants on Playa Mann that have good food, but also there are a bunch of places a short walk away on the Malecon or in town. Many students congregate at Fresco, the vegetarian café. Where else can you get pesto pasta or quesadillas here? Most places have basic lunch specials that include soup, juice, and a meal for only $4-$7. Except it gets old sometimes because it is always some sort of meat, a veggie or salad, and a big serving of plain white rice. Rice is a primary food group here. Eating pasta? Let’s have some rice too!
After lunch, I will either stay at the restaurant if it has WiFi or go to a coffee shop. There is a bread shop, Sabor Cuencano, with great coffee and delicious bread. They also have air conditioning, so it is the best escape. I am also a fan of Calypso on the Malecon. In the past, I have had group projects or reports to work on, so I will spend the afternoon doing that. Sometimes I use my afternoons to do field work for research projects, which is sometimes going to other beaches. I am so school focused I have barely given myself much time during the week to just lay on the beach. However, in the past 2-3 weeks, I have been working on fixing that problem. Side note: best ice cream is on Playa Mann. You can get a cone for $1 and flavors are typically blackberry, coconut, or passionfruit. Tastes like frozen yogurt!
I volunteered in the afternoons for 3-weeks at a summer camp for local children here ages 6 through 12. I am taking classes right now, but the Galapagos is in the midst of summer. It was really fun to be with kids again and do fun things like painting or playing games with them. I also got to practice my Spanish and they got to practice English. I feel more connected to the local community after working with them. They are very intelligent about where they live and environmentally cautious. It was a pleasure to dedicate time to them. Although they were crazy, they taught me a lot and I understand the culture here a lot more. I also really enjoy being able to see them around town!
Elections & Fiestas
The Galapagos had elections during my time here. Ecuadorians use the elections as an excuse to party. And Ecuadorians party hard. There were concerts, parades, and parties. The political songs were always blaring from taxi car stereos. Flags and billboards were placed around the town. It was strange at first but we all got used to it. Some students host parents were even running for a position in the campaign. It was interesting to be here during that time.
In addition to the elections, the San Cristobal hosted beauty pageants. I understand the beauty pageant world in the United States pretty well and enjoy them a lot. However, this was not what I was used to. The audience acted as if it was a soccer game. There were noise makers, beer, entertainment (I saw singers and dancers more than the contestants), food vendors, and children staying up really late. I was shocked and by 3rd hour of the first pageant I went to, I was very ready to leave. This first pageant was in El Progreso. The next one was right downtown. I am not really sure how it all works, but all I know is they are LONG.
Lastly, I had the opportunity to participate in Carnaval on the Galapagos. It was not as crazy as it is on the mainlands, but it definitely was a lot of fun. There was live music, people throwing paint and foam on each other, and some people were unlucky to get egged. There were parades and lots of drinking. I had a lot to do that week for class so I only did it for one day.
Overall, I am really enjoying meeting new people, having new experiences, and making memories. The Galapagos is a special place with unbelievable things to offer. However, I really like being integrated into the community and being able to be less of a tourist. I am friends with locals and I have been able to learn how life here really is. Although the wildlife and environment are amazing, there definitely are some issues on the islands that cannot be witnessed from a boat tour with a naturalist guide. Being able to experience island life has helped me see this place with an interdisciplinary perspective and understand my role in nature, my career, and the world.