The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected everyone around the world and travel has been put on hold temporarily.
While you cannot visit Latin America personally, we invite you to connect with our favorite destinations virtually.
Judy is the owner of our local partner company in Ecuador and she got caught on the Galapagos Islands when the pandemic started. She tells us how she has spent the past few months and how she and her family are developing new activities and income sources while tourism is paused.
How Is the Situation in Your Region?
The islands were literally closed to any resident who was not here on March 16th. This was a good move since our medical system here left much to be desired and the fear of an outbreak could have been very serious. The local government and all authorities involved did a very good job of controlling any spread by imposing very strict rules: curfew from 2pm to 5am (this was changed last week to 9pm to 6am); you could only drive your car one day a week (controlled by the last digit of the license plate); only one family member shopping at a time etc… Of course all restaurants and non essential stores and businesses closed. Only grocery stores and pharmacies; and total stay home rules.
More than 80% of the Galapagos economy is directly or indirectly related to tourism therefore this meant most people losing their jobs. There is an estimated 60% unemployment at the moment; 10% sub employed and the rest work for NGOs, the government, the National Park, the Darwin Station and agriculture and fishing. This is very serious for Galapagos. Residents who have a chance on the mainland have returned but most do not. We are at the beginning of a situation that could become very serious.
The National Park was shut down the week of March 16th and all scientists had to return to Santa Cruz or wherever their home base was so as to quarantine. Even the beaches close to the towns were closed; all National Park areas were shut down. About 10 days ago the National Park and the Darwin Station have started collecting data at the visitors sites and the marine reserve. This will be the first time ever since the park was established that data can be collected after no human presence for two and a half months. The plan is to collect information now and then at some point in the future after tourism resumes. This will be very interesting.
All tourist boats are at anchor either in Academy Bay or around Baltra. Our boats are in the channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz. Like everyone we had to let go of most of our crew and just the bare amount are on board while we wait. Once the Park closed on March 21, the boats had to anchor and the crew had to stay onboard in quarantine for three weeks.
Here on Santa Cruz island we did not have an increase of animals wandering around. It was the usual iguanas, rays, sea lions around the dock. Nothing different. The bay did look cleaner.
I got caught here when the borders closed. This was best since I have to be here now while I see what will happen. The boats will go back into operation, but when is the question. There are so many factors at play.
How Have You Been Spending Your Time During the Past Weeks?
We (my husband Rodolfo, my daughter Tatjana and her husband Dustin) have been making chocolate (artesanal) from cacao beans we harvested last year on our farm and never had time to do anything with them, of course baking our bread, Tatjana is making yogurt and quark to sell and now cheese.
The first time anyone makes mature cheese here on the islands. Rodolfo (his family has one of the oldest cheese making companies in Ecuador) and Tatjana have made a type of gouda, camembert and a type of gruyere and Rodolfo is maturing some in a lava tunnel on our farm. This has been his dream for 10 years but never had the time.
We are also getting our coffee plants back on track. The hope is that we can serve our coffee and our cheese to our guests on our boats and the lodge and our chocolate. Farm to table. The lockdown is opening new doors.
How Can People Bring Galapagos to Their Home While They Can't Travel?
I recommend watching Galapagos nature videos such as those of David Attenborough – these are fantastic!
For those interested in the birdlife of Galapagos, there is an app called BirdsEye Galapagos, which was created to help you identify birds and learn about the island’s unique avian fauna.
To learn about science work carried out on the island, I recommend to visit the blog of the Darwin Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to scientific research on the Galapagos Islands.
What Is Your Personal Travel Tip for Post-Corona Times?
If it is possible, to try to find a way to keep travelling while taking the proper precautions, and not let fear get the better of you. Life is too short! Of course this is not possible for everyone, especially for those at risk.
So many countries in this world rely quite heavily on tourism for their economies, and by getting back out there travelers will bring a bit of economic relief to residents of these places that have been hit hard.
Tourism is essential for Galapagos. For the economy and for the sustainability of the park also since a large portion of the tourist dollar goes directly or indirectly to conservation. Without tourism there is the fear of illegal fishing, lack of funds for proper control of introduction of invasive species, of illegal hunting etc..
Thus we hope that some form of travel to the islands will resume soon and we can welcome you on one of our Wildlife Cruises!
How is the situation in your country? Would you like to tell us your personal “coronavirus story”? Or is there anything else you would like to share with us? Drop us a line, we look forward to hearing from you!