It’s been over three months since my trip to the Galapagos, and I am still thinking about it. For seven days, we all woke up at 5:30 am on the boat, ate breakfast together, and went out as the sun was rising on our morning hike to catch frigatebirds mating or iguanas spewing salt from their nostrils. Our days were spent snorkeling with turtles, sea lions, and schools of fish, and our nights were spent sitting on the bow of the ship, talking all together under the stars. It was truly a spring break I will never forget.
I got to travel to the Galapagos as part of the Evolution class, Bi/Ge 105, taught by Victoria Orphan and Rob Phillips. This is truly a special course taught by masters—Victoria and Rob have a special way of showing you the beauty and wonder of evolution, whether it be through the incredible diversity of microbes or the way the Bird of Paradise plant evolved to spread its pollen (look it up!). As much as I would love to take the class again next year and go on the trip again, it’s only offered every other year, and only to juniors and seniors. The class is by application only, which means you write a short paragraph during fall term about why you find evolution so special, and you get notified about your decision just before Add Day for winter term registration. So be sure to plan out your schedule for a 12-unit class opening in winter term!
To get to the Galapagos, we took a connecting flight from Los Angeles to Miami, and then from Miami to Guayaquil, Ecuador! After a long day of traveling, we stayed at a hotel in Guayaquil before our flight to Baltra the next day. That flight was short and sweet—and we got to get a glimpse of the islands we’d be visiting while flying over the islands. We finally arrived on our boat over a day and a half after we first left campus, and the crew was just so welcoming. I had never slept on a boat before, and it was definitely an adjustment to falling asleep to the rocking waves. Once we set sail, we essentially got cut off from the world—without cellular service or Wifi on the boat, it was time for us to get to know each other. The Evolution class brought together a unique group of juniors and seniors, with majors ranging from my own bioengineering, to mechanical engineering, physics, chemistry, and even computer science. As the days went on, we bonded over our sunburns, seasickness (with many sporting the same seasickness patch!), and sharing our genuine wonder at the biology around us.
Here’s just a taste of the biodiversity we observed at the Galapagos:
- Rays just leaping out of the water into the air with a huge splash
- Mimicked finch calls and (mildly) succeeded
- Swam with white-tipped sharks who did not mind us at all
- Heard the mating calls of blue footed boobies, frigate birds, and flightless cormorants
- Watched lava lizards and iguanas scuttle along our path
- Played with penguins on an impromptu snorkel
- Spotted a minke whale spew water from its blow hole
- Fed a guava to a Galapagos tortoise
- Sailed with a pod of dolphins on an early morning panga ride
- Dodged a giant Galapagos carpenter bee on a hike
It feels a little cliché to say that my life changed after the trip. But after a trip like this, getting to live and breathe and sleep biology, shepherded by our incredible guides Ernesto and Fausto, it would’ve been weirder if my life didn’t change. Everywhere I look, I am in awe of the changes each organism took to get to its current form. I wonder how it will change in the future, and how we will change! It’s so easy to take the life around us for granted. Having the unique opportunity to go to the Galapagos and see life for what it is—biodiversity itself as a living, breathing, evolving organism—humbled me to the core. You don’t need to go to the Galapagos to see this, but hey! It can’t hurt :)