Photo: Fernando DeCillis
The Galápagos Islands are unique in the world, formed over millions of years over a hot spot in the Earth's crust. Animals that exist nowhere else have adapted and evolved to survive in this particular place. And yet, one of the most astounding aspects of our trip? The fact that we survived it as a family. Seriously, three generations traveled to a spot 700 miles out at sea, spent nine days on a boat and no one was thrown overboard.
Despite all our various needs, interests, abilities, moods and personalities, everyone got along beautifully, and we're all still speaking to each other. Now that's amazing.
As an environmentalist, what struck me was the evidence of global warming that has begun to effect even this most pristine and remote of places. The Galápagos Islands have never known lightning, but now, with shifts in climate and ocean and air currents, lightening storms have begun to form. Imagine, in a place where pressure never built up enough to cause lightening, they are now seeing lightening storms every year. And lightening can mean wildfires. Wildfires are great for environments in which occasional fire is part of the natural system, but in the Galápagos, they would be devastating.
As a parent, one thing that will stay with me forever is how my son, Malcolm, blossomed over the course of the trip. Usually shy and introspective, Malcolm—who turned 10 in the Galápagos—was so much in his element that a whole other side of him was able to shine through. He knew as much or more about the animals, history and formation of the islands than the naturalist who accompanied us. He shared his knowledge with the adults and other children alike, with confidence and humor and even danced!
People ask if I would travel with family like this again. The answer is a resounding yes. Of course, visiting the Galápagos is such an incredible experience that it would be hard for anybody to not have a positive experience. And I'm lucky in that my children—then 6 and 10—are great travelers.
But the key is in feeding each person's unique interests, and this has become particularly easy with various online resources. Visiting Paris? You can download audio walking tours that highlight different aspects of the city: history, architecture, politics...to each their own. Want to visit the museums? Make sure to do it on a day that offers activities for kids.
Then again, we did just the opposite after leaving the Galápagos!
After everyone else went back to the States, the kids and I stayed in Ecuador for a couple more weeks, traveling by bus with our backpacks. We traveled up and down the country along the Andes mountains. We bought our lunches from vendors through the bus windows. We climbed to the base of the world's highest active volcano. We braved speeding buses on winding, mountain roads to drop down into the Amazon and explore the rain forest by canoe. We often didn't know where we'd stay, but we always managed to find a place. It was not easy, not even for the most experienced of travelers, but the kids were great—they got into the spirit of the adventure and went with the flow. But that's another story for next time...