Author: Delaney Nolin
After a month in Quito, and a stressful evening/early morning of packing and repacking, we finally made it to the airport to leave for the Galápagos. As we drove to the airport, Cotopaxi bid us farewell with a picturesque emission of ash and smoke that spread across the sky for nearly a kilometer.
Upon our arrival at the airport, we had to send our bags through a special scanner to enter the Galápagos, since it is forbidden to bring in seeds or certain foods that could be detrimental to the national park. As we watched our bags disappear and reappear from the scanner, a tangible giddiness started to fill the room as we realized we were finally going to Galápagos. We first took a plane to Guayaquil and from there we boarded our flight to San Cristóbal, Galápagos. The flight was all ocean, as the Galápagos is about 1000 km off the coast of mainland Ecuador, but as we began to descend, I caught sight of land.
“This is it! The Galápagos!” I thought.
Seeing the wild landscape free of houses and people filled me with joy at the sight of a place, however artificially, safe from the daily scourge of humans. As we continued our descent into San Cristóbal, I recognized León Dormido, the famous dive spot, standing majestic and erect out of the deep turquoise waters. Soon after that, the wheels of the plane pounded on the ground and we walked off the plane and into the humid and sacred air of the islands. Upon arrival, we were all checked again for illegal items before putting all of our bags into a white pickup truck—a sight that would become very familiar on the island—and we all piled into a bus to head to the university. Despite our bags looking like they would all end up in various places along the road to the university due to their delicate positions in the back of the truck, they all made it. On the bus, we saw the sign saying Universidad de San Francisco and the large peach building emerge from beyond the hill, getting our first glimpse of our school for the next three months.
Departing from the bus, we excitedly waved at our friends who had arrived a week earlier and had already tanned to a shade darker. Although I had heard that the school was near the beach, I was not prepared for the incredible view it offered. Right across the street from the university is Playa Mann, a gorgeous beach that is always full of dozens to hundreds of sea lions. I had to stop for a minute to take it all in. I would be spending three months here. I would study here. Our normal classrooms literally had nature’s classroom on its doorstep. I literally wanted to jump up and down from excitement.
Unfortunately, we had three hours of orientation as soon as we arrived, forcing us inside when all I wanted to do was explore the outdoors. Once we were finally released from orientation, our host families arrived to greet us and take us to our new homes. My host mother arrived with her daughter and both were very nice and spoke only Spanish, so my Spanish skills were certainly about to be tested. They were extremely welcoming, and we had a wonderful welcome dinner where they tried to pronounce my name for almost an hours—a task nearly impossible in Spanish. This routine of practicing my name at dinner would continue for almost two weeks, which I found quite amusing and sweet.
For our first week of classes on the island, the workload began to pick up, leaving me with little time to explore as much as I would like. Class did, however, involve snorkeling, which was amazing. Where else does one get to snorkel in a national park as part of class? Snorkeling at Playa Mann was like swimming in a fish tank at the doctor’s office. The water was so clear and everywhere I looked there were the most vibrant and colorful fish and often a playful sea lion trying to swim with us. It was like living in a dream, even if that dream had to end with writing a field report about snorkeling and subsequently studying for an exam on the types of fish we had seen. After our first days of classes, we joined the other students who had arrived earlier with what became our routine of snacks and watching the sun set over Playa Mann.
Playa Mann faces west and has the most fantastic sunsets as oranges and pinks bleed across the horizon and illuminate the beach and boats in the harbor with a brilliant golden light. After the sun sets, I walked home to enjoy another fantastic meal with my family, work on some homework, and eventually fall asleep after another full and wonderful day.
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