Galapagos Islands

Galapagos guide Roberto Plaza. Photo © Sarah Fogel

“Life takes on new meaning away from civilization,” said our naturalist guide, Roberto Plaza, as we walked down a quiet Galapagos Islands path on the first day of our Natural Habitat Adventures/World Wildlife Fund (WWF) trip. The full weight of his observation didn’t quite hit me until a couple of days later, when I truly began to understand the significance of his powerful words.

Rewind a week prior. It’s seven days before I’m due to set sail. I’m sitting in a conference room when my colleague causally mentions that we’ll be living “off the grid” for the entire trip to the Galapagos Islands, with no wireless access whatsoever.

“What?!?” I recall saying, with a stricken look of panic on my face. No email? No texting? No Facebook? I couldn’t remember the last time I’d completely unplugged from reality. That’s because I never had. I processed the information, took a deep breath and prepared for a journey that would be an adventure in more ways than one.

The term “getting away from it all” is a bit overplayed. We use it a lot, but rarely does a vacation destination truly live up to that expectation, unless you’re talking about the Galapagos. The Galapagos Islands are so remote that you can forget about using your smartphone or laptop. But trust me: all will be OK; in fact, everything will be better than OK. As soon as I stepped onto our sailboat, The Letty, the anxiety-producing thought of being detached from the outside world quickly began to fade.

I distinctly remember when that euphoric feeling of total relaxation happened. Day three, Isabela Island: cruising in a dingy along the north side of the island and watching hundreds of Galapagos shearwaters diving into the sea with nothing but rugged cliffs and deep blue waters surrounding us, I exhaled and let go. It felt blissfully wonderful. “Real life” would have to wait. For now, being present in this beautiful place was all that mattered.

When you shed 24/7 connectivity, it’s amazing what you gain. Everything becomes more pronounced without distractions: the calming sounds of the waves breaking against the shores, the harmonious song of beautiful birds overhead, the vibrant colors of majestic fish and coral life under the sea. Sights and sounds were richer and ten times more vivid. The stillness of it all is something I will never forget.

Were there pangs along the way of wanting to check my devices? Sure. But as soon as I looked up and took in the breathtaking view, that urge quickly melted away.

My time in the Galapagos Islands was one of the best weeks of my life. Having traveled all over the world, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the Galapagos had left such an indelible impression. I’ve been home for several weeks now, contemplating the answer, and I think I’ve finally figured it out.

Rarely in our “normal” lives do we give ourselves permission to truly live in the moment and experience pure, unadulterated joy. That was the Galapagos’ gift to me. I was calm and content to be in one place, totally absorbed in the landscape and wildlife with nothing to do except savor it. It was a deep level of intimacy with nature that I’d never experienced before.

On the last day of our trip, I made a promise to myself: when I returned home, I would remember my moments of stillness and serenity in the Galapagos Islands. And when in nature, no matter where it happened to be, I would stop, look up and breathe it all in.

The emails would have to wait—at least for another minute or two.

This guest post was written by Sarah Fogel, World Wildlife Fund‘s deputy director of media and external affairs.