Latin America: Conquering challenges head on and loving life

Recently I had the opportunity to volunteer with a nonprofit rescue in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador at the grassroots level. It was a welcomed experience with many opportunities for collaboration, synergy, collective and unique problem-solving, personal growth, cultural experience, language exchange, and at times, stress. The latter is far more infrequent in comparison to its non-counterparts. I’ll provide an example of the above. 

I arrived in the Galapagos to a humid 31 degrees Celsius via LatAm and Avianca airlines. Both were a pleasure to fly with and were courteous and reasonably priced. I especially enjoyed the pillow and blanket with the free meal from LatAm. Avianca showed tremendous patience with my limited Spanish vocabulary while being able to laugh through the communication struggles. After departing the plane I found myself stuck in customs for about an hour. This was for two main reasons. The first was communication and the second was the 20 and 100 US dollars they demanded I pay to enter, which I didn’t have. The communication problem was answered after a short 15-minute wait when a very kind and fluent English-speaking coworker came to our relief. The second issue was a little more difficult. I had been misinformed, unintentionally, by the nonprofit on the waiving of the fee upon entry. It happens; this is a grassroots experience and we are all learning together. Turns out they were yet to be added to the exempt list so exempt I was not. And as I didn’t have the money requested for me, which was 20 dollars at first, we were at an impasse for a moment. I was informed there was an ATM around the corner where I could retrieve the money. So, after a quick trip around the corner, I returned with the 20 dollars. I paid the fee and was then informed there was now a 100-dollar fee associated with the entrance to the National Park. (all the islands are considered a national park so this is the entry fee to the park. The 20 dollars was the entry fee to the Galapagos, or at least that’s how I understood it). Back to the ATM I go, but this time it will not allow me to access my account; it’s been locked. I had tried to prevent this by informing my financial institution of my travel plans and dates, but alas it was unsuccessful. As I returned to the customs counter and expressed my conundrum no one really knew what to do. My phone didn’t have an Ecuadorian SIM card yet and the airport had no wifi. After discussing the situation the National Parks Employee on site came up with a reasonable solution. This is something not common in the United States which took me by surprise. His suggestion was he keeps my passport and takes it to the NP office in Puerto Ayora. When I get my banking situation resolved I can go to the NP office, pay the entrance fee, and reacquire my passport. Now that’s an equitable solution that considers the circumstances rather than being a rigid, black-and-white legislative approach. I accepted the offer feeling heard and appreciated. The US could take some pointers here. 

Now that I had cleared customs I was boarding a bus to head over to Santa Cruz Island. The actual airport is on a small island beside the main island. I take the short 15-minute ride to the channel where I depart the bus and board a boat to ferry me across. My only luggage is a 20-liter backpack so I was able to carry it with me. Everyone else with actual luggage had to load it on top of a boat. Once on the opposite side of the channel, I boarded a second bus that would take me to my destination, the market and final stop in Puerto Ayora. This is the meeting point for my host and contact with the rescue. The bus ride takes about an hour and is uneventful except for my first sighting of the legendary Galapagos Giant Tortoise. When the bus stops at the port in Puerto Ayora and the driver hops off I assume this is the last stop. So I depart the bus and start looking for my host. After about 5 minutes of searching, I notice the bus is leaving and others have reboarded. It turns out I got off at the second to last stop and the bus driver had simply gone to the bathroom. After getting directions to the market from a wonderful abuela, thanks to the help of a translation app, I was on my way to the market. Five blocks later I arrived at the market and noticed the bus station. It was denoted by a white dry-erase board with departure times for the bus. A small wooden plank situation on top of two milk crates; one on each end provided seating for waiting riders and a small tarp attached to what appeared to be branches offered a decent amount of shade. It is here I stood in astonishment, looking around and absorbing the sight of produce stands, street vendors, and patrons interacting with sellers, relatives, and strangers. It was a world away from what I was accustomed to and reminded me more of a large “farmers market” as it is called in the States. The fresh produce provided an aromatic melody of poetic beauty which held me captive in astonishment until I heard a voice calling, “HOLA”. I turn around and see a smiling beaming with the vibrant energy of living a good life. This is my contact Jamie and from here, I am taken to the place I will be staying, introduced to two other workaway travelers, and given a small tour. The rest of the day was filled with smiles and a sense of joy and accomplishment for navigating the challenges associated with international travel. 

Fast Forward a few weeks. I ventured into town to grab some ice cream in the evening after a rather long day of work. While at the ice cream parlor, I met a Swedish man named Adrian who I instantly clicked with. Oh, I had a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of coffee ice cream; I enjoy mixing them together. Over the next week, we would see each other frequently and develop a unique feeling of genuine appreciation for each other. We also departed the same day, unbeknownst to either of us, so we got to spend some time together at the airport before I waved a beaming smile and wished him well on his continued travels. It’s difficult to transcribe such intrinsic knowledge associated with knowing. Nothing I write can convey the expressiveness of the feeling we shared. On the same night, I went in for the ice cream I decided to stop by Jamie’s store and hang out. My internal guide suggested this as it would help me practice my Spanish and observe the different interactions with the customers. As I approached Jamie’s store she immediately greeted me with the same beaming smile she showed me on day one. She introduced me to a friend who was hanging out with her and we all started talking in Spanish and English; each teaching the other a little of our respective languages. Jamie’s mother also showed up to join in the fun. I had intended to stay for an hour. This however did not happen. I stayed for three hours laughing, learning, and loving. I felt included in a family I didn’t know and accepted for who I was. Even with my broken Spanish. They laughed as I mixed up words like mejor and mujer and I giggled and they tried to pronounce the letter V. We even created our first inside joke, Cheba. 😀 The fun was so intense Jamie was open almost an hour longer than she usually was and I missed the last bus back to the house. This meant I was walking, uphill the whole way, the three miles back to the house. There’s a bike path that runs the entire length that is lit and paved so it’s nothing unpleasant. I also had a good audiobook to keep me company (Mistakes were made but not by me: Carol Travis & Elliot Aronson). Jamie’s mother offered to take me, but I declined as the evening was nice and I desired to enjoy the sensation of walking. What a beautiful evening I had. Each day was a pleasant joy however; I found the most joy at Librería Legenda Bookery, Arts & Café 

This little off-the-path cafe was my sanctuary for quiet, peace, and philosophical contemplation. Ash, a world traveler, and philosopher himself, always welcomed a good conversation, could listen and consider with intent to understand, and provided a delightful musical selection of vinyl, including poetry. His wife, Faith, has a plethora of culinary knowledge and always shared her beautiful authentic personality freely. I spent many hours reading, discussing, and enjoying the company, environment, and peaceful energy these two beautiful beings of creation created. I found a delightful book (The monk who sold his Ferrari; Robin Sharma) which I read while listening to musical legends such as the talking heads, Beethoven, the band, Fleetwood mac, and the west side story to name a few. If you ever find yourself on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos you should consider stopping at Librería Legenda Bookery, Arts & Café. You won’t regret saying hello to Ash or Faith.

“I wish you joy and happiness. But above all of this I wish you love” ~Dolly Parton~

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