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Volunteering Abroad: Galápagos Islands

Alright, let's catch up. I can't help but feel sentimental as I wait at the airport for my flight home. Knowing myself, this isn't my typical city trip filled with museums, bars, shopping, and so on. There was something that I needed to redirect my soul from the bustle and intensity of city life. While researching volunteer abroad opportunities on IVHQ, I stumbled upon the Intercultural Outreach Initiative social media volunteer position on Isabela Island in the Galapagos.

This promised to be a great adventure for me, especially since I had previously visited the Galapagos before, on a different island. I took care of all the arrangements independently – emailing the company, applying, obtaining visa information, arranging flights, and more. Despite my parents' doubts, and the uncertainty of whether this was a legitimate company with proper living accommodations, they trusted my judgment. When it came to packing, I limited myself to a single carry-on duffle bag and a backpack – quite a challenge for someone who tends to overpack, as you might have gathered from my article on packing tips for overpackers.

From there, my mom drove me to Atlanta, where I boarded my flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I spent the night there and departed early the next morning for Baltra Island. From Baltra, I took a small airhopper to reach Isabela Island. Upon arrival, a member of the IOI staff greeted me and guided me to my living accommodations. We had the option to stay in the volunteer house or with a host family.

Melissa :)

I chose the volunteer house, where I had a private bedroom and bathroom, access to laundry facilities, and a shared kitchen/common area with my designated volunteer roommate. And boy, was I fortunate – my roommate Melissa turned out to be the perfect match due to her kindness, intelligence, inviting spirit, and confidence. She became a role model for me, having spent the past 10 months studying female roles in conservation efforts in South America.

After settling in, I began to get a clearer picture of my daily responsibilities. I had a meeting with Emilio, a staff member, who generously granted me considerable creative freedom in my role.

Mayi :)

I decided to focus on interviewing and getting to know the host families, shadowing the English teaching volunteers to document their experiences, documenting efforts at the tortoise breeding center, and spotlighting the restaurants partnered with IOI (where I enjoyed complimentary lunch and dinner from a selection of 15 restaurants). This role allowed me to indulge in one of my favorite activities – truly connecting with people on a deeper level. For instance, Mayi, one of the host moms, invited me to dine with her family after our interview. I ended up visiting her house twice for dinner as we quickly became friends. Although she only spoke Spanish, I discovered that my Spanish was quite proficient during my time on the island. Mayi treated me to my favorite meal – fish, rice, beans, empanadas, and fresh orange juice.

El Dorado

Another meaningful connection was with the owners of my preferred restaurant, El Dorado. It became my go-to dining spot, and I forged a friendship with the charming couple who even surprised me with a farewell cake on my last night, bearing the words "Have a Good Trip!" The warm and generous people of Isabela truly made my experience unforgettable.

During my interviews, I was heartened to learn that the community deeply appreciated the work undertaken by IOI. Their recognition extended to the positive impact on the economy, the local wildlife, and the environment.

Once my fieldwork was completed, I spent time at the IOI office, crafting graphics for various topics while lounging in the cherished hammocks. As my stay came to an end, I compiled a PowerPoint presentation containing all the content I had generated, complete with their intended captions and suggested posting schedule.

Entering the program as a solo participant, I initially had concerns about making friends. However, those worries quickly dissipated after attending my first volunteer meeting (held every Wednesday).

Melissa, Hannah, Lizzie, and Hattie :)

I connected with some amazing individuals who became fast friends – Hannah, Lizzie, Hattie, and Melissa. Thank you all for embracing me so warmly and for being exceptional guides to the island. Hannah, your positivity and occasional clumsiness brought a delightful unpredictability to each day. Lizzie, your humor and willingness for anything made spending time with you an absolute joy. Hattie (I have a feeling you are crying and laughing right now while reading this), your sarcasm and unwavering loyalty will be sorely missed, as your care runs deep. And to my dear Melissa, your vibrant energy and authenticity are truly inspiring.

James and Benthe :)

As their program concluded before mine, I also had the opportunity to befriend the new volunteers who joined. James, though my surroundings are now quieter, I'll genuinely miss your presence. Your optimistic outlook and infectious joy brightened each day. Benthe, your laughter that's impossible not to join and your serene demeanor consistently kept me in stitches. Jodie, your relaxed manner and quick wit always made me look forward to our nights out and dinners. Beau, your style and composure set a remarkable example. And Demi, your confidence and passionate devotion to your loved ones are incredibly admirable. Each of you, in your unique ways, has inspired me to seize every opportunity and not fret over trivial matters. You're all remarkable individuals, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have crossed paths with each of you.

Benthe and Jodie :)

My weekdays were a blend of work and play, while weekends were reserved solely for play. I spent my days snorkeling at Concha de Perla, reading in the hammocks, savoring breezy outdoor lunches, dozing on the beach, wading through the crystal-clear waves, interacting with the local dogs, enjoying evenings at Pink Iguana and Bar de Beto, sampling ice cream from various mini markets, picnicking with empanadas, and relaxing at Zaroa with games and passion fruit wine.

This blog post ended up becoming more of an ode to my time on Isabela than a traditional guide detailing the best places to eat, things to do, and sights to see. However, I believe this approach makes it more intriguing. I wholeheartedly recommend this program to everyone, and I encourage each person to step out of their comfort zone and embrace the unknown. Such leaps can yield rich experiences and meaningful relationships.

Until next time.

- Lily


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