Why you should go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip twice…
It’s rather daunting to revisit a place that has become an undisturbed memory bank of halcyon days in your head. Can those unblemished days be repeatable? Will that memory bank be crushed by sour weather, diarrhea or turbulent seas?
When I first went to the Galapagos Islands in 2005, I had nearly unattainable expectations and experienced all of the above, in no particular order, but definitely on repeat. Despite my curdled stomach contents and an angry ocean on a nightly spin cycle, it was everything. I was ready to do it all over again.
I knew the Galapagos inside and out. Like every good pint-sized explorer, I had coveted issues of National Geographic that I poached from my grandmother’s collection. I recorded television documentaries on vampire finches and tortoise behavior on my tape recorder, long before the VHS existed.
If you asked any of my elementary school teachers, they would confirm that I was able to worm the Galapagos into every assigned project–whether it was for art class, a haiku or history. I could confidently fill every blank with blue footed boobies, Darwin’s theories and papier-mâché volcano replicas of Isabela’s Wolf.
I promised myself that I would experience the Islands when I turned 30–and I did. It was a sucker punch to my bank account as I was just finding my legs as a massage therapist in downtown Toronto. The 7-day voyage including flight, insurance and one pre-night hotel in Quito rang in at $2,675.71. I still have the invoice. It was the most money I had ever spent in my life in one go and was the equivalent of four months rent in the city. For seven days! Correction: Seven illuminating days that have continued to purr inside me.
Fast forward to 2021. Fast forward to landing a job as a content writer with Wild Women Expeditions. Fast forward to the opportunity to return to the Galapagos on Wild Women’s Islands Yacht Adventure–with my wife and sister-in-law! Fear nibbled at my tall tales. Had I been too braggy about my previous trip? Sixteen years is an incredible and unrealistic time span to expect sameness. I had changed–why wouldn’t the Islands? Was it all imagined? Did I really have the time of my life or was it just a collision of awesome coincidences that would never unfold the same way? Would the thrill of seeing boobies again be just so-so? A lunch bag letdown? In 2005, in the span of seven days, our group (of just seven) didn’t even see another boat the entire time! Lonesome George was still alive then (though elusive). Now I felt accountable for more than just myself–I’d convinced two other women that it was the most transformative place they’d ever visit. Would the boobies still deliver?
Could a once-in-a-lifetime trip be a twice-in-a-lifetime destination? I wasn’t entirely convinced but I can now confirm this: every single booby and frigate and Sally lightfoot crab and Galapagos penguin is a guaranteed heart rate catapulter. It doesn’t get old. I might be older, but the unmatched encounters—they’re a fresh, electric squeeze on the neurons and heart.
I did fret and worry that the Islands would be choked with boats and neglectful tourists trying to ride tortoises (as witnessed in the Seychelles). In the 1980s, the archipelago registered around 18,000 visitors annually. In 2019, that number surged to 271,230. The Galapagos Conservancy remains steadfast in their commitment to protecting the fragility in tandem with sustainable tourism measures. There is an understanding that the Islands and tourism are tightly braided together.
The Galapagos Islands were actually one of the first United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated sites. In 1972, UNESCO established a list of precious places that were deemed “irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” They are an irreplaceable source–the otherworldly landscape of lava tubes and fragrant holy stick trees sit in an impenetrable landscape behind my eyelids like a screensaver. I jump easily from 2005 to 2021 and back again. I see the same white-tailed tropicbirds dazzle, their tailfeathers like kite strings in the Pacific wind. Yellow warblers, butter-yellow against the brown sugar sand bop around in a startling surprise of colour. Fire truck-red Sally Lightfoot crabs clinging to pockmarked volcanic rock like an upset box of Christmas ornaments. Flamingos, as pink as bubblegum, glide into the salt lagoon as the sun falls into the ocean.
These indelible slides in my head prove that once-in-a-lifetime is an expression that should fall to the wayside like high-waisted jeans, TikTok and ugh, “staycations.”
The Galapagos are seismic. At the powerful centre of three ocean currents and three tectonic plates, these islands are full of oddities and unexpected days punctuated by manta rays lifting out of the Pacific in perfect spirals. Bryde’s whales spouting into the steel wool morning light. No day will be identical. Flamingos will tease while albatross will remain on a list for next time. Yes, there will have to be a next time.
After a somber visit to the Darwin Research Centre to visit a now taxidermied Lonesome George, the last-known century-old Pinta Island tortoise, our Wild Women guide and Santa Cruz native Lulu emphasized, “We do not want our Islands to become a museum. We want to be a living laboratory–a living museum–not this.”
A living museum.
I think I want to buy another ticket.
Here’s the view from Bartolome in 2005 and then 2021…once in a lifetime, twice in a lifetime.