People normally associate the Galápagos with their college biology textbooks. The islands seem almost untouched, even mythical, as the place where Charles Darwin dreamed up his theory of natural selection. Many of us have heard of, or have at least seen a National Geographic program, about the giant tortoises and the finches and the blue-footed boobies, but they hardly seem real. They seem like the perfect case study in the story of evolution, like a majestic, yet unreachable piece of the natural world. But after spending two weeks on San Cristóbal, the easternmost island in the Galápagos archipelago, over winter break, I can say that the place is not only real, but it is more remarkable, more stunning and more delicate than I could have ever learned from a textbook.
I flew to the island of San Cristóbal Dec. 27, 2014 to do conservation volunteer work through a program called Projects Abroad. I had never flown overseas before my trip; although I traveled to both Mexico and Canada as a kid, I had no idea what to expect once I got to the islands. I thought I did a great job preparing for the trip, buying all the supplies I could think of, planning my schedule, and compulsively organizing all of my travel documents. Turns out, traveling, for me, is a funny joke. Once I arrived at the airport in Quito, Ecuador for a ten hour layover, I almost instantly lost my wallet. And once I got to my host family’s house in town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, I realized that I had also lost my passport. Yes, I did end up finding the passport so that I was able to get back to the United States, but I never did find my wallet. It would all be okay, though, once I realized that I was in a place I may only see once in my lifetime.
I was assigned to a variety of projects as soon as I received an orientation of Projects Abroad’s conservation efforts in San Cristóbal. Depending on the day, I helped clean up shorelines around the island, counted sea lions at the local beaches in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, helped maintain the endemic plant greenhouse, and fed the giant tortoises at the Galapaguera Giant Tortoise Reserve. Aside from working directly with the wildlife there and contributing to island conservation, I had the opportunity to work with several other volunteers from all over the world.
My journey grant experience in the Galápagos has given me the chance to see more of the world than I could have ever imagined, and as a result, it has reminded me how grateful I am to be at William Jewell.