Adventure in the Galápagos Islands

Can you recognize the bark of a sea lion? Find the perfect rock to protect an endemic sapling from a giant tortoise? Or balance on lava rocks to snap a photo of a blue-footed booby? The 14 students and 2 staff who traveled to the Galápagos this summer certainly got a lot of practice with these skills. 

Arriving in Quito, Ecuador on August 5th and flying 600 miles further west a few days later, this adventurous group enjoyed an amazing 2-week trip that combined Spanish immersion, cross-cultural interaction, ecological knowledge, and hands-on volunteering, including days of heavy lifting on Santa Cruz island, and protecting and enriching the habitat of the Galápagos Tortoise. Organizer and Spanish teacher, Susan Bennitt, and fellow chaperone Alissa Davis, along with the 9th through 12th grade students were welcomed and guided by an awesome crew at GLA (Global Leadership Adventures) and benefitted from the expertise of two dedicated National Parks naturalists.  This strong team allowed students to maximize their adventures and learning whether it was finding the right channel to snorkel past the rocks on Los Lobos beach, or having a serene moment of sing-along magic in the lava tubes below the Primicias Farm, or finding a pick-up soccer game in San Cristóbal. Overall, it was the kind of experience that changes your life if you let it.  Please read on to hear from the students in their own words:

A Long Standing Tradition by Susan Bennitt

I started the Hopkins Spanish service trip with the New Haven León Sister City Project back in 2007. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to travel to Nicaragua recently, but we partnered with GLA. They embraced our experiential and Spanish language exposure philosophy. This last of our experiences was the best of all, as we added an environmental and ocean service component to it. I can't wait to keep the tradition going in 2024 and give this life-changing experience to all of our intrepid travelers.

A Commitment to Service by Wyatt S. '25 and Nate H. ’25
Over the four days we spent doing service at the Primicias Reserve in Santa Cruz, Galápagos, I was endlessly in awe of the lush ecosystem and, of course, the size of the hundreds of years old tortoises. From the start of day one to the end of the last day, the impact we had made on the reserve was clear: trees had been planted, invasive species removed, and the number of oranges from the lower branches of trees had dwindled as a result of mid-service snacks. Although the hands-on labor left me sore and achy, the feeling of fulfillment in seeing the impact we had made and observing all of the incredible endemic species of the Galápagos during our time greatly surmounted any physical drawbacks.

Though we only spent 4 hours at a local elementary school on San Cristóbal island, our experience went well beyond what can be quantified. Upon arrival, we were greeted by school children of all ages, who, if surprised to see us, only expressed their curiosity and enthusiasm. We quickly settled in repainting the basketball court with white lines and filling in the rest with greens, reds, and blues. Our results yielded a seemingly new basketball court. The students immediately rushed to play on the court, and we had to politely remind them of the still-drying paint. Once the paint had dried, we enjoyed playing basketball with the students. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Speaking Spanish
by Kaitlyn M. ’25 and Krish A. ’25

When we were in San Cristóbal, our group stopped at a shop to buy sodas. The shop was owned by an elderly couple who we had a long conversation with in Spanish. They were so kind and hospitable. When we came back on the last day to say bye, they gave us hugs and a bag of oranges to keep us fueled for our travel day.

The place where I used Spanish the most during the trip was with our Galápagos National Parks guide, Carmen. She was amazing and so patient with us while we practiced our Spanish! I learned so much about Ecuadorean culture and even more about the nuisances in the Spanish language. Meeting her was one of the best parts of the trip for me!

Wild Card by Amir M. ‘24, Kian S. ‘24, and Will E. ‘25

Plantain chips fueled me during this trip. They were everywhere, and I devoured them every opportunity I had. Plain, lime flavor, spicy, I didn’t care. During the grueling hours of service in the beating sun it was the vision of a full bag of plantain chips that kept me going.

One of my favorite memories of the trip was exploring the local marketplace near the equator on the last day of our trip. I really enjoyed interacting with locals and gaining an in-depth understanding of what daily life is like in Ecuador. I was able to buy souvenirs for my loved ones at home and a new hat, which I think fits me well.

My time in Ecuador was really amazing, especially when I was able to interact with elements of the culture, within the towns and in the spirit of the people. They all seem very fun and outgoing, and after meeting a nice girl on the plane I also have been introduced to her friend group, all of which have been very fun to make friends with! I really enjoyed the trip.

Ecology, Conservation, and the Environment by Josie L, ‘25 and Arjun A. ‘26

At Blue Kraft -- a local recycling initiative startup in San Cristóbal that takes wasted materials and turns them into items of practical use or art-- we were able to use recycled blue denim fabric to make Galápagos Tortoise keychains while discussing the importance of eco-friendly mindsets and practices, especially in an island community.

Endemic vs. Native vs. Invasive - An example from the Galápagos Islands involves the comparison between the endemic Galápagos giant tortoises and the invasive species like black rats. The Galápagos giant tortoises are unique to the islands and have evolved over millions of years to adapt to their specific environment, shaping the ecosystem and making them crucial to the islands' balance. Introduced species like rats, which were brought to the islands by humans, disrupt this balance by preying on endemic species of animals and increasing competition for the islands’ resources, which ultimately threatens the survival of endemic species. Understanding this made me more aware and thoughtful about the impact of human actions on the stability of different ecosystems. It underscores the importance of preserving the integrity of different habitats, which shows our role in maintaining and protecting biodiversity. 

New Language Glossary by Sonia Berliner '24

Lobo marino → sea lion
Inti → sun (Quechua)
Maracuyá → passion fruit
Fragata → frigatebird 
Hormiga → ant

The Most Random Photo
by Tai C. ‘26

Before our second day of service at Rancho Primicias, one of our local guides, Wilson, gave us a presentation about the Galápagos Tortoise. Afterwards, he encouraged us to try and fit into the shells they have on display. Everyone went in one by one, and it was fun. But then, our other local guide, Carmen, got an idea while Amelia was in the shell. She enlisted the help of Eli and Ben to lift Amelia up, stick a bandana on her head and give her a machete. Amelia, extremely confused, went along with it. Once we realized what they were doing, we burst out with laughter. We now had our very own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Top Ten List of Flora and Fauna of the Galápagos by Jesse L. ‘27 and Kendyll M. ‘27

1. Tortoise
2. Blue-footed boobie
3. Marine iguana
4. Sea turtle
5. Pencil sea urchin
6. Frigate birds
7. Sea lions
8. Sally lightfoot crabs
9. Blacktip reef shark
10. Cactus
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