The Galapagos Islands are one of the most biologically important places on earth and the location that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Until the arrival of mankind in 1535, the Galapagos was the land where time stood still. No longer is this the case...
Men and ships have changed the balance of natural selection since then. Today, there is a huge effort to reverse the effects of the human invasion. During both programs, we work with the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation on projects that center around environmental health, environmental education and assisting local schools.
One project is located in the highlands. We remove non-native plants, such as Mora and Cascarilla, so that the native flora will thrive once again. It was the view of these volcanic hills surrounded by low-lying clouds that originally gave the Galapagos the name Las Islas Encantadas - The Enchanted Islands.
Some days we find ourselves with paintbrushes in hand as we design and paint eco-murals of Galapagos wildlife for local schools. Last year, while painting a school, even the local students and their parents were there to help out; pride and accomplishment know no nationality.
When the work is done, we'll kick back at the beaches. Trips to snorkel at dramatic places, such as Bartolomé, Floreana and the famous Kicker Rock, are also organized so that we don't miss out on all the amazing things there are to see.
In the Amazon, we tour and learn about the incredible biodiversity. No doubt we will come across monkeys, tapirs, caimans, parrots and more in our exploration. We also work with Sumak Allpa, a non-profit foundation where Hector "Your Protector" and our inspirational guide has built a school for children who previously lacked education. We have dug a water well, a fish farm, built a greenhouse and dining hall in years past.
The children always learn from our team-building activities, and we see some pretty happy faces while playing simple games and teaching crafts. Our days often end with an international soccer match – which we usually lose! - as everyone, parents and children alike, are really good! We leave the Amazon with a feeling of awe, not just for the sights and sounds of the rainforest, but also for the meaningful work we've accomplished.
We round off our trip with a visit to the magnificent Andes Mountains for a taste of high altitude living. Here, colorful cultures intermix with the beautiful páramo, the high altitude grasslands. Lively markets, breathtaking hiking and some quiet reflective time against the backdrop of snow-capped volcanoes conclude the adventure of a lifetime.