Thanks to a friend, I was fortunate to live like a local on the Galapagos for two weeks.
About 12,000 people call Puerto Ayora home. This particular area is called Barrio el Edén and is the part of town that most tourists never see. There are mainly three groups of people who live here: the Galapagueños (true locals), the continente (mainlanders) and the small extranjeros (foreigners) population.
From Monday to Friday, the school alarm, which sounds like a security break-in, begins ringing at 07:00 sharp. Dogs barks and roosters crow in the background.
People here shop mainly at the tienda (store) that open whenever the owner feels like working. There is one supermarket in Puerto Ayora, but it’s by the pier. Pretty much all items in stores here have a markup of 25-50%. It’s not easy being all these things from the mainland! Tiendas are also a place to hang out and have some beer or play games with friends.
In Puerto Ayora, the main produce shopping time is Saturday morning at Estadio Sintetico. Everyone does their shopping there. Prepackaged bags of 4-5 onions and 10 baby potatoes can be bought for $1. A bunch of fresh basil will cost $1. Six small apples will run you $2. A whole pineapple is $4 if you’re lucky. It’s not cheap on the island! But the one thing that differs a lot compared to the mainland is that people bring their own cloth/burlap shopping bags.
Trash is supposed to be separated into three categories: organics, recyclables, and non-recyclables. All the non-recyclables are gathered up and loaded onto a plane for the mainland.
However, there is plenty of trash around the barrio that doesn’t make it back. At the edge of town, building materials line the unpaved road.
The majority of the buildings in Barrio el Edén are incomplete, yet people live in them. The building process is slow here and requires lots of patience when living in a partially-built building.
Electricity is a problem on the islands. Santa Cruz is powered by a diesel plant. Power lines are constantly being fixed. Blackouts happen about once a month.
Water and sanitation are other issues on Santa Cruz. Water is pumped by tanker trucks to each household. Sewage is also pumped out before it is shipped to the mainland. The government has begun putting in a sewer system, but it’s still in its infancy.
For being a small town, there are plenty of parks. Skateparks, basketball courts and of course, volleyball courts to play Ecua-volley.
Noise is a problem here, but mainly the problem stems from the people. In general, Ecuadorians don’t really like silence. While walking and talking, someone must blast some music. During the weekends, people would open their front door, point their speakers and play their music until 2 am, the city’s noise curfew.
For the most part, life in the barrio is quiet. Everyone knows everyone. For the most part, everyone is friendly and helpful. One can easily feel isolated here, but that can be more of a US/European kind of thinking. Many Galapagueños have never been off Santa Cruz yet alone the mainland. Many have neither dived nor snorkeled in their lives. Maybe our American/European mentalities lead us to believe that island life means isolation. But for the Galapagueños, this is life.