I am so pleased to introduce you to Gin, who blogs over at Darwin on The Rocks and Around The World. Even though she started travelling later in life, boy has she packed a lot in! From the Galápagos Islands – which she shares with us now – to Borneo and Wisconsin in the USA, her wonderful descriptions are a joy to read, not to mention her stunning photographs.
Over to you, Gin…
I’m definitively not a beach person, mainly because I’m so pale that I will burn instantly despite being covered with sunscreen at 50+ but also because I got bored easily. I need to discover, explore and experience a country. I’m always craving for this feeling of adventure and most of the time, staying still on the beach doesn’t satisfy my needs. Don’t get me wrong, I can still enjoy a wild rugged coastline, but lying flat on the sand is not for me.
Usually, I’m choosing places where I can experience nature at its best (National parks of the US, Iceland, Borneo, Croatia for instance). I’m not really a museum person, either, unless it’s raining outside. The only thing I’m crazy about botanical gardens!
Where did you go?
My first overseas adventure was in 2011, when I decided to go to Galápagos Islands for a volunteering-holiday program of two months.
Why the Galápagos Islands?
As a biologist, I’ve always wanted to go there. You know, Darwin, the evolutionary theory, the late and fondly remembered Georges, the blue-footed boobies… it was my dream. After my master thesis, I decided to take some time off before starting a real job! It’s the best decision I’ve ever made!
Lonesome Georges died in 2012, and was the last male of the Pinta Island Tortoise subspecies, and was an icon and symbol of the archipelago. The blue footed-booby is also another iconic animal you can find on these enchanted islands.
I went alone, but I’ve met lovely people over there, including my dearest boyfriend, Le, from Seeing Through A 35mm Lens.
Where did you stay?
I stayed in the Jungle of San Cristobal Island, the oldest island of the Galapagos archipelago, amongst the mosquitoes and the spiders. I chose the GVI program because one of my friends went to South Africa with this organisation and she had a blast. For people interested in volunteering-holiday programs you can find more information here.
View of the house located in the jungle. The hammocks were perfect for siesta time
Tell us about the accommodation?
I chose to follow a volunteering program through the GVI organization. They only had accommodations in San Cristobal, so I didn’t really choose the location… It was very rudimentary. I was sleeping with mosquitoes and spiders, and I’m not kidding. There was no bathroom, no privacy. But we had some cubicles to take cold showers and toilets that had a door. The sink was in the open air, like nearly everything else. The first night I cried.
You have to know that I’m very scared of spiders, and when I saw the numbers of them resting on my walls, I just had a panic attack. They were huge and everywhere! Since they are endemic, we couldn’t kill them. If we wanted to get rid of them, we had to carry them to another place. Yuk, no thanks, I pretended not see them! So, my brain pretended and it was better afterwards. It didn’t cure my phobia of spiders despite the prolonged exposure!
Your most memorable moment/s of the trip?
There are too many of them to just pick one! This trip was AMAZING (despite the spiders)! I think the diving experience was pretty cool – the first time I saw a shark was quite spectacular, my heart was pounding.
Visiting Bartolomé Island was also a nice memory and climbing on top of the volcano on Isabela Island was breathtaking (in every sense of the word). While, tasting the Galapagos prawns was definitively my best culinary experience.
This young island is often considered as one of the most beautiful place of the archipelago and was named after Charles Darwin’s friend, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan
The wildlife was also stunning, sea lions, turtles, tortoise, iguanas… you are in awe the first time you lay your eyes onto these creatures.
The marine iguanas are quite fascinating and you can see tortoises when walking on the islands
Any sights, activities you want to shout about?
In two months, I did a lot and many things tourists wouldn’t do, because it requires specific access. For example, I camped on Floreana Island, which is usually forbidden for tourists; I counted tortoises in the national park; and I planted native species in the miconia forest. I also saw the Milky Way for the first time in my life over there.
On Floreana Island, the red plants actually change colour during the wet season and turn green
Was it good value for money?
Well, the flight from Europe was pretty expensive, it was more than €1000, but I booked it two months in advance. Otherwise, the accommodation was pretty cheap, and the life on the island was also reasonable.
Your top tip/s for the area?
Don’t book from Europe. Go there and find an accommodation yourself. We paid so little compared to the prices that are advertised in tourist agencies. Take the ferry between the islands and explore the archipelago at your own pace. The ride can be bumpy, so if you are sensitive to sea sickness, bring some pills with you.
Buy a pair of fins and a mask, – snorkeling is something you will do all the time! Buy good sunscreen if like me you get sunburnt easily. And, in the jungle, wear long sleeves and bring mosquito repellent, there are little creatures are everywhere that are active during the day.
Which photo is your favourite and why? Tell us the story behind it.
Oh, this is tricky. I would choose one of my first encounters with marine turtles. It was amazing to swim among them and to chase them around.
Would you recommend to a friend? Would you go back again?
Yes, it’s an awesome destination! We would love to go back! There are still some islands we would like to discover, and I would love to dive again and eat these delicious Galapagos prawns.
What are the five holiday essentials you couldn’t live without?
• Sunscreen, for obvious reasons!
•My camera. I love taking pictures and I couldn’t imagine myself visiting a new place without taking a few shots. It’s an addiction.
• A water bottle
• Ear plugs and an eye mask, so I can sleep in every condition!
What is your most favourite place in the whole world and why?
It’s really difficult to answer. Every place is different, and I’m in love with each of them for different reasons. Galapagos will still be very special to me, because it was my first big trip and was a dream that I accomplished. I would also say Iceland, because it’s raw nature at its best.