Life as a Galapagueno
When you hear the word 'Galapagos' I imagine the first thing that comes to mind is the wildlife. I wouldn't blame you, that is what it's most renowned for! But in this post I want to talk about a particular species inhabiting these islands that you may overlook. Humans.
On the island of San Cristobal where I was staying, there are approximately 6000 people. These are mostly centred in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno; the coastal capital of the Galapagos. On the first day of our field course, we all gathered with fellow coursemates to nervously await our host families for the next 2 weeks. We all waited for our names to be called one by one as we were paired with our families. I was one of the first to be called...greeted by a woman in her mid-50's shouting my name. Though, only just identifiable as my name as Spanish speakers can never seem to grasp 'Abigail'. It's more of an 'Abi-gaaay-eeeel!' But it amused me nonetheless. Her name was Monica Vasquez and she would be my Galapagos mum for the next 2 weeks. She kissed my cheek and off we were into a taxi to her house. From the start it was evident Monica didn't speak any English as she began listing many Spanish words which I realised were food items. I thought this was a little random for our first conversation but turns out she was asking me what I could eat. As a vegetarian, lucky she didn't list any meat as I just replied 'si' to everything...I never did Spanish in school...
It wasn't long until we reached Monica's house. It was in the centre of town, only a few paces down a road from the seafront. I climbed up the stairs to her house and saw that she owns a restaurant, and her front room was exactly that! She took me up another flight of stairs to my room which had a lovely 'Welcome Abigail sign, and told me to have a shower and come for dinner at 7 (perhaps telling me something...). As I came down for dinner, I met Monica's husband, Angel. A huge, tall man but with a sweet look about him.
Living in a restaurant meant that the meals I was given were wonderful! Amazing soups, lentil dishes, burgers, beautifully fresh smoothies and something called bolon-basically a ball of plantain, cheese, egg and salt all fried together. It was actually delicious! Galapagos cuisine isn't particularly unique. It seems like a bit of a mixmatch of different cultures, perhaps due to the high numbers of tourists that visit. It ranges from American classics like burgers, to simple, cheap, local food like lentils and rice. Obviously sea food is a major part of the diet there but I did not experience that as a vegetarian.
The wonderful thing about visiting the Galapagos and staying with a host family was that I really got to experience what living like a local was like. The 'real deal' as they say, not the usual silver-coated image of a country you get when staying in hotels and resorts. I think it's the best way to travel as you make friends with the locals, get advice on the best places to visit that won't necessarily be packed full of other tourists reading straight out of the travel guidebook, and most importantly, you give back to the local community. Living with host families meant that they get an income rather than it going to a large, cruise ship company (a popular way to visit the Galapagos). Cruise ships may seem like a fun, but they're often at the detriment to the local communities. Every morning, cruise ships will dock in a port of one of the islands and offload tourists. What they also offload is all their waste. Either to landfill, which in the Galapagos usually constitutes a hole in the ground, or directly into the sea. This pollutes the water and can result in lots of debris entering the ocean (a whole other issue I will talk about in a future post I'm sure!) What's more, as cruise ship holidays are usually all-inclusive, tourists tend to return back to their ship for meals and drinks, so reducing the amount of money spent in the local restaurants, cafes and bars. To put it simply, you could benefit the local community much more by staying in local establishments rather than letting a big cruise company organise everything for you.
I can only sing the praises of my host family, Monica and Angel. They were extremely kind and generous, welcoming me into their home as a complete stranger but treating me as a daughter. Nearly every one of my coursemates said exactly the same thing. With so much focus on supporting the wildlife of the Galapagos (and rightly so), remember to support the local people too! Because humans are inherently related to the fate of wildlife.
Happy humans = happy wildlife :)