“You’re going where?”
“What on earth is a blue footed boobie?”
“You’re spending how much for one week away?”
I booked my trip to the Galapagos Islands a week and a half before I left which was a brilliant decision for more than one reason. First, I didn’t have time to stress over whether spending $4,500 on a nine-day holiday was smart when I have a wedding to save for. Second, I didn’t have to deal with months of waiting – I’m not the least bit patient. And finally, I didn’t have to hear these questions for months on end.
So, here’s the deal in case you didn’t know. The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of 21 volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador. You may have learned about the islands in school thanks to Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. I, however, learned about them from my dad. His mom had dreamed of visiting the islands just as her own father had done, but she didn’t live long enough to make that dream come true. Although I never met her, her dream became mine. After about a week of back and forth and seeing advertisements around town telling me to “stop putting it off,” I knew now was the time to go and complete this dream for both me and my late grandmother.
Before this trip, I thought of Ecuador as an almost unreachable exotic destination. There were so many places I wanted to see that Quito just seemed so far away. However, after a 16-hour journey and flights from Medicine Hat to Calgary to Houston, I landed in Quito. The air was thin and the roads were busy. English was hard to come by and my Spanish knowledge stopped at “gracias”.
But Quito, of course, wasn’t my final destination. That night I met up with the group I would be travelling to the Galapagos Islands with. Oonagh from Ireland, Keenan and Graham from Australia and the person I’d been paired up with for the trip – Hanna from Finland. It was an amazing contrast of big personalities, incredible senses of humour and a shared dream to experience the legendary islands of the Galapagos.
If I could, I’d probably spend the entire time talking about the personalities I met on this tour and how perfectly paired up me and my roommate were; like long lost sisters or something. But, if you are not familiar with the Galapagos Islands, I am sure you are still reading on to find out about these mysterious so called ‘blue footed boobies’.
Our first few days were spent on San Cristóbal Island, a lush and tropical island with sea lions sprawled out along the boardwalk in places meant for people. Imagine a beefy grey whiskered fellow sprawled out on a gazebo bench or another sunning himself in the middle of the walkway. That, with colourful houses and laid back locals scattered down cobblestone streets, was San Cristóbal Island.
Further north we ended up on a boat trip with a group of professional photographers – led by Ronnie Dunn of the legendary country duo Brooks and Dunn. After watching one of the photographer’s ten-thousand-dollar camera detach from around her neck and sink to the sandy seafloor, there was a bit of pressure on the day. After all, sobs like that tend to scare away animals. Thankfully, we got lucky and the fearless animals went about their lives like we weren’t even there.
Male frigatebirds with their red pouched necks flew over-top of us and nested in the surrounding trees. They are quite an interesting bird with their unique mating technique. Whereas the blue footed boobie does a funny dance which consists of moving their feet and showing off their feathers to attract a mate, the male frigatebirds puff up their throats so it looks like they swallowed a red balloon. Truly not the most attractive bird in the world, but quite an interesting site nonetheless.
But I know you’re still hanging on to find out about these mysterious blue footed boobies so I’ll stop stalling and answer your questions. Yes, they are a bird. Yes, as the name says, they have blue feet. And no, their name is not inappropriate. The name actually comes from way back when the Spanish explorers first came to the island. They’d call the birds “bobos” which meant “dumb”. Apparently the explorers believed the birds were stupid for being so fearless of humans. Over the years, the name changed to boobies but they remain the same fearless and friendly personalities.
Walking along the designated trails of the island, we came across many blue footed boobies nesting either directly beside, or smack dab in the middle of our path. Some had newborns that they fed as we passed. Others were still trying to woo themselves a mate. None of them paid any attention to us. If it wasn’t for the “stay six feet away from all animals” rule, we’d probably have been able to pet one, name him Blue, and come home with a new best friend.
However, the Galapagos Islands are not just funny birds with odd names. In fact, the most spectacular aspect of the trip came from the waters. And I’m not just talking about the very large Galapagos shark that swam alongside the boat or the eagle rays doing back flips out of the water – yes, I said back flips.
There was a serenity when we were in the water – wetsuits zipped up to our chin – that was like something out of a dreamy song. Swimming alongside sea turtles, their fins slowly gliding through the water or floating next to manta rays, illuminated in a spotlight from the sun. We saw sharks, jellyfish, sting rays, manta rays, eagle rays, sea turtles… we were kissed by playful and curious sea lion pups and accepted into schools of fish. I lived, if only for a moment, like The Little Mermaid – minus the dangerous dealings with an evil sea witch.
The Galapagos Islands have lived in my dreams since I was young. When others were planning their lives after high school, I was planning how I’d afford the trip down south. Every so often I really would dream of the islands – of their sandy shores and rocky cliffs. I’d imagine walking the beaches and running my hands through the tall grass, untouched by other hands. It was a magical place that seemed too good to be true. But it wasn’t too good to be true. It exists. Somewhere off the coast of Ecuador, a paradise of serene and natural beauty awaits you with a similar dream.
-Emily Wilson is still relatively new to the wonderful city of Medicine Hat, having moved here in May 2016. She was born and raised in Ontario and lived in Australia for a year. Emily has visited 31 countries and will share some of her experiences and advice for globetrotters of all ages.