Was my trip to the Galapagos Islands a dream?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself this question lately.
My present reality is so starkly different to the time I spent in Ecuador in early February — those days filled with endless adventure and spontaneity and sunshine.
Over the last eight weeks, I’ve been bound to my apartment, grappling with fear and uncertainty and grief in tandem with the rest of humanity.
As I continue to adjust to this new life of isolation and social distancing, I’m finding it hard to believe that two months ago, I was walking on a blindingly white-sand beach littered with marine iguanas; that I was snorkelling alongside penguins, and watching the sky alight in a blaze of gold and violet from a tiny boat in the Pacific Ocean.
Whenever the oppressive weight of this new reality gets a little too heavy, I look back through my Galapagos photos and those feelings of elation and wonderment come rushing right back.
I remember the euphoria I felt stepping off the plane in Baltra Island, the air thick with salt and sunshine. I remember the thrill of seeing animals I’d only ever read about — blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, and marine iguanas — a dream of mine since I first penned a list of the places I most wanted to visit nearly a decade ago.
From the moment I stepped foot in that otherworldly archipelago, I was in awe of the scenery and overwhelmed by the abundance of wildlife. The gargantuan pelicans and frigate birds coasting effortlessly over the open ocean. The baby blacktip sharks and spotted eagle rays gliding gracefully alongside my kayak. The playful sea lions that were completely unperturbed by my presence.
These animal encounters left me slack-jawed and speechless, but the Galapagos’ landscapes had me swooning, too. Yes, there were astonishingly beautiful beaches, but there were also sprawling lava fields and imposing volcanoes, lush highlands and arid lowlands dotted with six-metre-high cacti.
Every day in the Galapagos, I experienced something that made me gasp, or left me spellbound, or made me utter the phrase, is this real life?
I could ramble off a list of every superlative and overused cliché in the book and it still wouldn’t come close to depicting the magic of this unbelievable archipelago.
Given this new normal we’re all attempting to navigate, it feels bittersweet to reminisce about my Galapagos holiday. Despite all the spectacular memories, this trip serves as a reminder of all the seemingly insignificant things I foolishly took for granted when I travelled: unbridled freedom and carefree whimsy; the ability to hop on a plane and step foot on other continents; the immense privilege to explore this mad, beautiful world as I pleased.
At the beginning of February, I would have told you the Galapagos was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken because of the scenery and the wildlife and the sheer thrill of exploring a place that’s truly unlike anywhere I’ve been before.
Today, my reasoning is completely different. I’m now looking back on my time in Ecuador with boundless gratitude because it’s the last place I visited before lockdown — and it’s a place that’s helping me cling to the notion of what it means to be a traveller in a time when borders are closed and planes are grounded and travel is banned.
What’s the last place you visited before lockdown?
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