“Life takes on new meaning away from civilization.” When our naturalist guide Roberto Plaza spoke those words as we were walking down a quiet Galapagos island path on the first day of our Nat Hab/WWF trip, the full weight of his observation didn’t quite hit me. It was only a couple days later that 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” the entire trip. 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 mean it, unless you’re talking about the Galapagos. So remote are the islands that you can forget about using your smart phone, blackberry or laptop. But trust me: all will be OK, better than OK. As soon as I stepped onto our boat, The Letty, the anxiety producing thought of being detached from the outside world slowly began to fade.
And I remember when that euphoric feeling of total relaxation happened. Day three, Isabela Island: cruising in the dingy along the islands north side and watching hundreds of Galapagos shearwater’s 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, this 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 technical devices? Sure. But as soon as I looked up and took in the breathtaking view, the urge always melted away.
My time in the Galapagos was one of the best weeks of my life. Having traveled all over the world, I couldn’t put my finger on why it 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, clear 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 I’d never experienced.
On the last day of our trip I made a promise to myself: when I returned home, I would remember my moments of stillness in the Galapagos. And when in nature, no matter where it happened to be, I’d stop, look up and breathe it in.
The emails would have to wait — at least for another minute or two.
By Sarah Fogel, WWF’s Deputy Director of Media and External Affairs