For most, mention of the Galápagos conjures up images of giant tortoises lumbering across the volcanic landscape. But five of these islands are also inhabited by a soaring human population; government workers, fisherman, tour operators, teachers, refugees from the mainland, dreamers and scientists who all call the Galápagos home. 25,000 of them.
Living with a family and teaching English gave me a unique insight into how life on an island 1000km from the mainland unfolds.
Here is my tongue-in-cheek guide to life on the tiny island of San Cristóbal, the Capital of the Galápagos islands.
- Firstly it is essential that you bring with you all close and extended relatives – Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins etc, they must live in the same house as you and your family.
- If you are male and over 3ft5 it will not be possible for you to pass as a local, in fact you may not be allowed onto the island at all. There is only currently one tall male on the island and his parentage has been questioned.
- Begin building your house using concrete only. Build one storey and then start the foundations for the next storey. Important: leave the house as it is now and do not finish the second storey, this would be a fatal mistake in your quest to pass as a local.
- Once settled, partake in the most popular form of evening entertainment: squeeze your whole family onto one moped and drive along the promenade, turn round and come back. Repeat several times until you see someone you know, at this point disembark and have a short conversation before resuming your lap of the promenade.
- Get a job in one of the local cafes. Be careful to take at least 30 mins to serve your customers with a drink though, and if they order food make sure you do not start cooking the food until at least 30 mins after they order. A drink should never be served until a customer has finished their meal.
- Alternatively get a job in the local supermarket. This will involve stacking the shelves with bags of rice and boxes of cornflakes for the first few months. If you are successful you may then be trained on the cash register. However you must not have a working speed of more than I item per 5 minutes if you work on the till, and you must do this one handed, the other hand is only for sending text messages to friends about what time you are driving up and down the prom that night.
- If you are a 17 year old female and not yet married you must find a mate quickly. Having your first child after the age of 18 would cause you to stand out from the locals. If you are a male aged 15-16 it is important to start learning how to chat women up. Foreign volunteers aged at least 10 years your senior are the best people to practice on, if they look at you quizzically do not be put off, simply keep on following them everywhere. If you are aged 18 plus it is important to have a girlfriend, again the foreign girls are good targets, however as they usually only stay 3 months so by the third month you should have your next girlfriend lined up to take over.
- If you decide to buy a car you must choose a white Chevrolet pick-up truck to match your neighbours and your next door but one neighbours. No other colours or models will be tolerated.
- Next you must perfect your manner of speaking. You must learn to talk alot without actually saying anything at all. Whenever asked a direct question be very careful not to answer it. Use very flowery language to skirt around the answer, throw in some deep observations about the meaning of life and finally end on a topic of conversation far removed from the original question. If you are female, be aware that on occasions you may be taking part in very normal activities (such as doing the shopping or dancing at the disco) and you may be approached by a young (short) man who will say nothing more than “This is what the meaning of life is, don’t you think?”. React positively and move away slowly.
- It is important to have prior training in the art of carbohydrate overload. To do this simply eat a huge plate of rice and mash 3 times a day every day for 2 weeks. Most meals have a special carbohydrate theme and consist of a soup for starter, this will mostly be potato soup but if you are very lucky it may contain a dog bone, chicken head or foot. (This was obviously intended for the dog so be sure to throw it to him.)Main course will be a plate of 2/3 rice, a bit of potato, a small piece of meat (which you will need to borrow the dogs teeth to be able to eat) or fish and a few bits of salad. Be sure that your meals do not contain any nutritional value whatsoever even if you cook them yourself, and that you eat a variation of the same thing 3 times a day.