10 Things the Galapagos Islands Taught Me

Candice Gaukel Andrews June 12, 2012 17

Sometimes, you’ve just got to dance; even if you have two (blue) left feet (No. 6). ©John T. Andrews

If you’re a parent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend, you probably know someone who was part of Graduation 2012. And at this time of year, young, degree-holding students are being bombarded with tips and advice during countless graduation speeches across the country.

So in a Natural-Habitat-Adventures-kind-of-way, I’d like to offer my own list of things I’d tell new grads on how to move forward from this milestone in life.

Earlier this year, I visited one of the world’s most natural and pristine places: the Galapagos Islands. While I was amazed by the countless facts I learned about the exceptional flora and fauna there, I also picked up a few things about life in general.

10 Things the Galapagos Islands Taught Me

Away from the group, on the beach by myself, I discovered things others missed (No. 3). ©John T. Andrews

1. Don’t fear what’s new, even if it looks odd. Humans are a relatively recent arrival to the Galapagos; therefore, the wildlife has no fear of us. We are merely a curiosity. Birds and reptiles will often walk right across the toes of your sandals if you stay still. Try to channel that curiosity—not the fear—when you run into something different from what you’re familiar with.

2. Having the “latest” and the “biggest” isn’t always better. On a few of the islands, I ran into one woman (from a different boat than mine) who was carrying a 500 mm lens. It was heavy and long, and I wondered why anyone would need such a huge lens in a place where the animals don’t move away from you. I thought perhaps she had purchased it for her once-in-a-lifetime trip, so she was going to use it—no matter what. But it certainly wasn’t necessary, and she must have recognized that with the first island stop. Yet she still carried it around. The next time you think you must have that thing you’re eyeing, see first if what you already have will suffice; no one needs to be burdened with extra “baggage.”

3. You don’t have to always follow the pack to have a great time. I’m not much of a snorkeler—or swimmer, for that matter. And yet, here I was, in one of the largest marine reserves in the world. Almost every day during two snorkeling opportunities, I opted instead to explore the beach and tide pools. I saw and photographed the life above, while my shipmates got familiar with the creatures below. When we got back together in the evening to share what we saw, the variety in our perspectives made for some exciting conversation. We all experienced the Galapagos in different ways. That’s okay.

Don’t let an early dark sky influence the whole day. Let go of what you think is going to happen and just enjoy what is happening (No. 4). ©John T. Andrews

4. A gloomy morning sky doesn’t portend a dark day. Sometimes, our mornings would dawn dark and gray, and I would expect rain. But it never fell; not a drop. So let go of what you think is going to happen and just enjoy what is happening. You really don’t know what’s coming next.

5. Hurrying through life isn’t the best strategy. Sometimes it’s best to just stop and chew on something a while before making any quick moves. I learned that from a Galapagos giant tortoise.

6. Sometimes, you’ve just got to dance. We’ve all heard this one before. But it’s so true and bears repeating. Dance—even if you have two big, blue, left feet.

Chew on something a while before making any quick decisions (No. 5). ©John T. Andrews

7. You’re a lot stronger than you think, especially when you’re awed by nature. It got very hot in the Galapagos, and sometimes I wondered if taking another hike or spending more hours on the beach would be worth it. Should I stay on the boat this time or go ashore? But I always did venture out, and I was always glad I did. I either met a playful sea lion or saw hundreds of scuttling Sally Lightfoot crabs in all their neon colors. So go ahead and challenge yourself: go on that long hike or jump in the kayak. The payoff—an unbelievable view or an awesome animal encounter—might just be over the next hill or riffle. Nature can be a great motivator.

8. In the smallest of spaces, it’s possible to find solitude. Boats in the Galapagos tend to be small, and all your meals are taken communally. Yet, in the early morning hours and late evenings, I would go to the top deck and watch the stars. Rarely, did I find anyone else out.

When you’re awed by nature, anything is possible (No. 7). ©John T. Andrews

9. Boundary lines are imaginary. On our trip through the islands, our ship crossed the Equator three times. Whenever the captain announced that we’d be doing it, I’d run to the top deck to look out at the ocean. There were no lines, of course. The geographical and political boundaries we draw are artificial and don’t exist in nature.

10. Sunburns hurt, so wear sunscreen. This might be the second most popular piece of advice for new graduates. And speaking of the Equator, the sunburns you get on the front of your legs—in the place between where your shorts stop and your sandals begin—hurt. Even the little spots between your sandal straps can burn like the dickens. Always, always wear sunscreen.

There are a few other things I learned in the Galapagos, too; such as when you’re snorkeling for the first time and waves bump you up against coral, you bleed. And 100-percent cotton isn’t the best fabric for keeping you cool.

But I’ll save those for Graduation 2013.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Martha June 20, 2012 at 4:56 am - Reply

    This such a great and timely piece. I forwarded it to my nephew who graduated last weekend.

  2. Robyn N. June 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    This is the best list like this I’ve seen in a LONG time, well-written and full of humor. I’ve seen that same woman with the 500mm lens you mention, and may sometimes dance a little like a blue footed booby. Thanks for your insights.

  3. Peter June 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Great read. Thanks.

  4. Jon H. June 17, 2012 at 8:38 am - Reply

    good advice

  5. Consuelo A. June 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Hey Candice, I am so happy that you enjoyed being in the Galapagos Islands. It truly a paradise. When I went I was merely 12 years old, and I really wish I could go back and appreciate it in a different way. I liked reading you blog, and am happy that you ventured every time.

  6. Miruna June 14, 2012 at 6:44 am - Reply

    That’s beautiful! I would love to visit Galapagos Islands one day, but it seems so far away… . 🙂

  7. Jacqueline Deely June 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed reading this Candice. I laughed about the big lens as I have a 500mm. I don’t think I would even dream of lugging it around and think if and when I am lucky enough to visit this magical place, I will bring a smaller and much lighter alternative:)

  8. MF June 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Very nice, inspiring.

  9. Nancy June 13, 2012 at 9:59 am - Reply

    Loved your piece, Candice. Thanks for sharing with us here ~

  10. Lisa June 13, 2012 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Very nice piece, Candice. The Galapagos are on my bucket list.

  11. C. H. June 13, 2012 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Good advice!

  12. David H. June 13, 2012 at 9:56 am - Reply

    Great lessons, Candice. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Art Hardy June 13, 2012 at 5:36 am - Reply

    There’s so much to see; get up early; coffee is good; go to bed late; sleep is for babies.

  14. Nancy June 12, 2012 at 9:24 pm - Reply

    As a parent who just got home from celebrating an 8th grade graduation, and as a travel writer who visited the Galápagos Islands last summer on assignment, your article hit home with me, Candice. I can only echo your advice to new graduates based on your experience and add my own lesson from the Galápagos : let nature take its course. Usually what Mother Nature has in store for us is even more amazing than anything we could have imagined for ourselves.

  15. Pat June 12, 2012 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Your advice is not just for graduates–we can all learn something from your ten lessons. Thanks for sharing them in a new and different way.

  16. Travis June 12, 2012 at 10:57 am - Reply

    Also, I hope SPF 8 is off the market…

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