Monday, September 19, 2016

The Galápagos, Part 1: On the Farm

My mind is blown by this place. I'm still processing it all, but I want to share some photos and impressions with you while they're still fresh in my mind.

First, the farm. But before I talk about the farm I have to explain a tiny bit about the geography of the islands. When hearing about the Galápagos, most people think of this:

But volcanic rock and exotic animals are only part of the Galápagos. Two of the eastern islands - San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz - were volcanoes millions of years ago but turned into non-volcanic islands whose centers are now lush and green, practically rainforests. The volcanic lava turned into fertile soil for plants and trees to grow. These areas support a lot of life forms (including humans!).

It was in this jungle-esque part of the island of San Cristóbal where I was volunteering on a farm. The farm isn't a typical U.S. farm. It's called a finca in Spanish, meaning a small private farm or homestead. The best way I can describe it is a scattering of plots of vegetables and trees in the middle of the jungle, situated on a slope looking out over the ocean.

This was my cabin. I had a view of the ocean from my room!

Some of my activities at the farm included planting and transplanting endemic trees and plants, clearing and burning invasive plant species, and tilling potatoes. The worst invasive plant species is the blackberry bush, which has spread its thorny branches all over the islands. (It sure tastes good in milkshakes though!) 

I also got to go on a lot of excursions, mostly hiking through the jungle, collecting wild fruits and even swimming in inland waterfalls. I sampled close to a dozen different types of fresh fruit either directly from the tree or the next day for breakfast with granola and yogurt.

left: papaya, banana, and "badea" with yogurt & granola; right: fried plantains and eggs

From trees we picked red and yellow bananas, papayas, passion fruit, guava, red pears, oranges, lemons, and avocados.

...And also this exotic fruit:

This fruit is called badea in Spanish which the dictionary translates as "giant granadilla" (which doesn't mean much to me). The flesh is mild in taste and its color a bit like honeydew melon with much sweeter, even tangy, seeds and pulp. 

My hosts were Milton and Norma Aguas. Milton was born and raised in the Galápagos and Norma has spent more than half of her life here. Milton grew up farming, fishing, etc., but spent many years in politics, including 8 years as mayor of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of San Cristobal island, from 1992-2000. I also spent time with others members of their family, especially Milton’s nephew and neighbor, Fabricio. No one spoke more than a few scattered words of English. Thus, My time on the farm was as much Spanish immersion as it was volunteering activity and I learned a boatload of new words ranging from farming tools to fruits to general vocab, including one of my favorite new words chévere "cool" (pronounced sort of like "chebberay" with stress on the first syllable).

I also made friends with their Spanish-speaking farm animals, including the dog Lu (above with bananas), donkeys (burros & baby burros - burritos!), cats, and chickens.

Stay tuned for blog #2 on the Galápagos, including more of the "exotic" side of the islands!


patentexaminer said...

Amazing pics. Amazing commentary. My mind is actually blown. I'm so tired (count Monday) but can't wait to talk to you more about your amazing adventure. The pics are truly extraordinary. I've learned so much from your one blog post. :) And so glad to hear that you are honing your Spanish! XXOO

patentexaminer said...

Is that a Komodo Dragon? Are they dangerous? How do they relate evolutionarily-speaking to crocodiles?

patentexaminer said...

How kind the Aguas' are to share their life with you. So great to meet all of their animal friends! Can't wait for more info/pics.

slmcanal said...

Yikes! It sounds positively Delightful! The food alone is so luscious! To have a BERRY bush be a pesky plant is crazy! it's all very Indiana Jones

Unknown said...

Great place and all that fruit, wow. Cabin looks great.

Unknown said...

I'm Marilyn, sort of unknown😁

Christine Gardner said...

Very informative blog. Glad you had such a great experience.

Christine Gardner said...

granadilla just means passion fruit, according to everybody's favorite, most accurate source, Wikipedia.

slmcanal said...

OMG! That bird has blue feet!! Such a beautiful color of blue! I had a car that color once. 🤓

A said...

Super cool! How are the animals? Some of them aren't supposed to have the fear of human gene activated. And how much pollution do you encounter from the tourism? And what is the political system there?

Julia M. said...

@patentexaminer The "lizard" is the marine iguana. I saw them everywhere. They go swimming for algae and have developed special glands to expel the salt from the ocean water. When you get close to them you can sometimes see them "spitting" salt. It's sort of startling! They blend in really well with the black volcanic rock, so it can be hard to see them.

@unknown/Marilyn - I'm glad you're not an internet troll, lol ;)

@chris Here they call passion fruit "maracuyá" it's very popular. The badea (giant granadilla in English on Wikipedia) is something else, but it's probably related. It's confusing to have so many different types of fruit! (But delicious too)

@slmcanal I know! It's called the blue-footed booby. I couldn't get over how turquoise its feet are!

@A So many questions! Yes, the animals are relatively unafraid, though tortoises will retract their heads when you approach, and some of the iguanas will flee. The sea lions don't seem to care at all. Tourists are supposed to stay at least 2 meters away from wildlife so as not to disturb them. There's definitely some impact from tourism, but they have a law that says that only 3% of the islands can be inhabited and developed by humans. Politically, it's just another region of Ecuador, though interestingly not just any Ecuadorian can move to the Galapagos. People have to get special permissions, be born in Galapagos, or marry someone with Galapagos residency. Some islands are more closed off than others. Santa Cruz & San Cristobal seem to be the most open and have the most residents.

A said...

When are you taking us on a tour? My winter break is getting close!

Julia M. said...

I'm ready. Come and visit.