I had the pleasure of joining the Galápagos and Mindo Ecuador Eco-Travel trip through the Urban Ecology Center in April of 2023. For me personally, it was a trip of a lifetime. For me professionally, it was a profound experience filled with fascinating natural wonders. Considering this trip includes up-close experiences with iconic flora, fauna, geology, and natural history of the most unique archipelago on the planet, it felt like a bucket list no-brainer and the culmination of a 17yr career as an environmental educator at the UEC.
I expected to be blown away by the beauty, the unique history, and the wildlife. We’re talking giant Galápagos tortoises, sea lions, sally lightfoot crabs, blue-footed boobies, Galápagos penguins, sharks, marine iguanas, 14 species of hummingbirds, life-list birds and marine life galore! I also expected to learn a great deal about ecology from these unique environments. Being situated on the ring of fire and more specifically on a conveyor belt of volcanic hot spots makes each Galápagos Island its own ecosystem. Plus, the science that stemmed from Charles Darwin collecting samples from these inhospitably remote islands changed the way we view life! This adventure definitely met all those expectations plus so much more.
But there were also several unexpected surprises that I experienced on this adventure. The first eye-opening aspect was seeing how focused the Ecuadorian government is on preserving the unique biodiversity of the islands and the conservation of their ecosystems. Not only is this a sustainable and practical way of operating a popular destination, but it provided a very personal, almost sacred experience that brought out a new respect for nature in me. That’s saying something from someone who has spent two decades teaching nature to kids! It also provided me with an even deeper respect for our little part of the world here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We should be just as serious in preserving our deciduous forests, tall-grass prairies, and fresh coasts. Exotic is in the eye of the visitor and all nature is worth protecting.
The second surprise was the experience of traveling with a group. I was one of four staff who accompanied a group of 12 participants on a 13-day trip 3,000 miles directly south of the equator. Despite being a very animated and outgoing educator, I would consider myself an introvert at heart and was slightly hesitant to travel with a group of people whom the majority of I didn't know. To my surprise, the people I traveled with and the bonds I made turned out to be one of the best aspects of the trip. I can honestly say I would not have had a better time traveling alone or with just a few people instead of experiencing all these great things with the group. It not only amplified my experience, but it caused me to reflect on the positive, shared experiences we provide children and families through our educational programs and field trips. Even a two-hour field trip can be an incredibly powerful experience. This adventure reminded me that shared positive experiences are essential to building strong relationships and growing vibrant communities.
In closing, I do have one warning that I must give…
You might want to strengthen the neck muscles before you go - I developed a bad case of nature whiplash! Everywhere you look is something incredible. Every day on this trip you think it couldn’t be more amazing and then you see new wildlife, or snorkel in a new area, or indulge in more fresh, local cuisine. It's hard to capture the true nature of this experience - even through the thousands of photos I took, but one thing's for sure, experiencing the Galápagos Islands and Ecuador with the Urban Ecology Center is the way to go!
-Matt Flower, Environmental Education and Early Childhood Specialist at the Urban Ecology.
Check out this video showing the amazing photos Matt took on the trip.
Inspired by Matt's incredible journey to the Galápagos? Ready to create your own unforgettable experiences in this breathtaking archipelago? Secure your spot today and be prepared to embark on a transformative eco-travel experience of your own.
All of the photos in this article were taken by Matt Flower and are under his copywrite.