When people hear that I've been going to Ecuador for over forty years, one of the first things they usually ask is "have you gone to the Galapagos?" The answer is NO, I have not -- the cost is high and we are usually there to visit family and take care of business.
But I've been thinking, it may be time to make the trip. After all, I do operate a tiny Eco-tourism business on the upper Chesapeake Bay -- it almost feels like my duty to visit Galapagos. Maybe this year, I thought. So off to the internet for a bit of research.
There are many options, both land based and sea based. The sea based tours are those in which you spend most of your time on a boat circling around the islands and getting off for brief land excursions at government approved sites. The land based tours put you up in small hotels and hostelerias in the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, and then take you on day treks around the islands -- hiking, biking, snorkling. Here is Wikipedia on the bustling town of Puerto Ayora:
"Puerto Ayora has the best developed infrastructure in the [Galapagos] archipelago. The larger of the two Galápagos banks, Banco del Pacifico, is located in Puerto Ayora. The walkable downtown area of Puerto Ayora is a small strip of hotels, restaurants, tour companies, gift shops, hotels, restaurants, clothing stores, marine stores, tourist shops and night clubs. The main Avenue is named Avenida Charles Darwin and begins on the main dock of Puerto Ayora and finishes at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Puerto Ayora is the best place in Galápagos for communicating with the outside world via numerous cybercafes with Internet access or telephone offices."
Well... this is not exactly what I have in mind when I think of the Galapagos. I wonder if Charles Darwin would feel honored that they named the main drag in Puerto Ayora after him.
I read more and discover that there are over 20,000 permanent residents on the islands. They live there primarily to serve the quarter of a million "Eco-tourists" who visit each year. Eco-tourism has always seemed to me to be a really good thing -- an economic alternative to more exploitative enterprises. But with these numbers, I start to wonder about that. I went back online to learn more about my hunch that there may be a downside to Eco-tourism. I stumbled upon Nomadic Matt and his articles "Can We Balance Travel and the Environment" and "Is Eco-Tourism Really Eco-Friendly."
After reading Nomadic Matt's articles and a few other related pieces, it occurred to me that there may be too many people with "golden" bucket lists -- those ambitious, expensive checklists of things to do that people with means pursue before their final journey. I wonder if we may be "over loving" the special places we crave... are we actually "loving" and caring for them... or are our visits there just boxes to check off our list. I don't know... perspectives on this legitimately vary and conflict.
As for me, I think I will not go to Galapagos. When I visit Ecuador I will stick to the more obscure and remote beaches on the coast, free of cruise ships, chatty tourists, and faux culture. I'll hang with the family, the locals, and the occasional itinerant bohemian. I'll buy some fresh fish on the beach -- and maybe a giant oyster or octopus from a native snorkler. Then I'll sip on some local brew and slurp a ceviche with not a Nikon or Canon in sight, except mine... ah, sweet hypocrisy.