It’s New Year’s Eve. White snow is outside. The CTA Red Line is rumbling past. My computer is humming. I'm enjoying the feel of my own bed and the coziness of my apartment. I've been home for three weeks. Everyday, in the back of my mind, I hear sea lion calls.
Once my last module class began, and the countdown to departure started, I decided to make the best of my last weeks on the island. My friends and I darted from souvenir shop to souvenir shop for last minute shopping. I sat on the curb of the main street, eating a strawberry and Nutella crepe while enjoying the tree lighting ceremony. This guy kept giving me a weird look but I didn’t care. As I always said, “When in Ecuador…”
My GIS class went camping and I went on a wildlife adventure with Brooke, Abbie and Laura. Apparently, neither of us could read a GPS to save our life. We crawled under sharp barb wire, trekked through dense and thorny mora bushes while cowering inside our jackets, and navigating across ledges. The thorns pierced our pants and scratched our faces, the mud sinked through our skin and our screams went unanswered.
I had a cliche movie moment when the group decided to turn back around and I had to climb up a ledge. This ledge had very little soil for footing, was wet and narrow. You had to cross it sideways and play a guessing game as to whether the branch you were going to grab on too would hold. Usually, it didn’t. As soon as I climb up the ledge, I slip and go over. Abbie rushes towards me and tries to grab my hand. It was movie worthy. We’re reaching for each other and the faces are full of fear. Our fingertips brush and I fall off into the water below.
Regardless, camping was a sightseeing, adventure-feeding time. The following week we went on a 360 tour of the entire island. More sharks! I became dive-certified! That was the greatest accomplishment for me considering that I didn’t know how to swim when I arrived. Shot out to Kira for being my dive-master and Planet Ocean for giving me the equipment and training.
My first real dive as a certified scuber was at Kicker Rock and it was amazing. The visibility was great, the temperature doable and the aquatic life a plenty. I saw two hammerhead sharks. I nearly screamed my regulator out of my mouth!
My friends and I did our last snorkel at Tijeretas and took pictures on the lookout. When I wasn’t stuck in the GIS lab, I was at the beach braving the cold waters. The last day on the island, most of us ran into the water as the sun was setting, hand-in-hand. I was devastatingly homesick, but I wanted to imprint the islands into my memory.
The hardest part of leaving was saying goodbye to everyone. I taught two courses of English to locals: one at the university and another at a high school. The high school class planned a goodbye party for my colleages and myself. It was emotional and unexpected. Teaching English courses was the most impactful I felt I have ever been in a comunity and could view the progress with each class.
I was completely aware that I had to say goodbye to the island. I somehow forgot that I was also saying goodbye to my peers. I was looking around the plane during a layover in Guayaquil, and it hit me. The first group of people leaving for the airport, including myself, started the first wave of goodbyes. Dinner was full of tears. I was leaving behind the people I spent everyday and shared numerous experiences with. They saw me overcome my obstacles and vice versa.
Three weeks later and I miss the warm weather, sunny beaches and sea lions. I miss my friends and our shenanigans. I miss cheap almuerzos and seafood. Me extraño la pandería Cuenca. I miss speaking Spanish everyday. My Spanish-speaking quality has decreased since I’ve been back in Chicago. Re-assimilating into American life has been easier than I expected. I flush the toilet paper. I can cross the street. I remember how to navigate my significantly larger than Galapagos campus. It’s almost as if I didn’t leave. I’m not suffering from reverse culture-shock. I’ve adjusted rather well to returning home and am relieved to be back.
A piece of me will always be in Galapagos and yearn to return. Each time I woke up, I was guarenteed a new challenge, adventure or learning experience. Never has a place forced me to learn more about myself as a person of face my fears like Galapagos. I plan on returning one day. As Priscilla said, I'm a Galapagaen.