It was always going to be difficult to say goodbye to the Galapagos.
It was not only a paradise for me (all those animals and that beautiful scenery) but my home too.
But it is too easy to forget the little things that make a place special and I wanted to sketch a quick list of everything I always want to remember.
1) My ‘family’
I loved so much about my adopted family.
I will miss the way Norma carefully painted my nails and the sound of Camilo calling “hola chicas” whenever he walked through the front door.
I will never forget giggling through the dance video with my ‘sisters’; my confessional conversations with Norma in broken Spanish and the time she handed me her step ladder before a night out…
I will miss my secret English asides with Joss (and her dance lessons – “Figure of eight, figure of eight!”) plus the time Camilo accidentally outed her new turtle tattoo… at the dinner table.
There was also the World Cup when we painted Milton Javier’s face to look like an England flag (and were shocked when he still managed to look cool) and the way we teased him for his frequent failures to make breakfast, because he just loves to shower.
There were our hours of fun with Camilo – our day at Puerto Chino; the fair on the Malecon; his surprise birthday feast and his seriousness about his homework.
I cannot forget Hernan, an incredible guide during our final week’s ‘holiday’ and the only person I have ever met who would stand on a chair to drink to “I’ve never had sex on a plane” during a game of ‘I have never’… and declare “I travel a lot”.
2) My ‘sisters’ and friends
I assume at least some of you will have once woken up and been unsure exactly who is lying next to you.
I was similarly confused the morning I awoke to find Pippa spooning me, particularly considering she had her own double bed and I had only a single.
But at least I was in my bed.
I once slept on the beach in the early hours, guarded by Solaise and some of our Galapageño friends while they played the guitar, drank beer and tried to avoid the sea lions.
I already miss Monday night gossip club with Pam and Zack and I can honestly say the time spent laughing, partying and exploring the island with Titi, Fran, Kelly, Marieke and Tina were some of the happiest times of my life.
3) The Galapageños
You could tell which Galapageño was calling you, simply by the name they used.
“Muñeca” (doll) was always Diego, “Vaquera” (cowgirl) was always Andres – although he is the vaquero now, after I swapped my cowboy hat for his Ecuador football shirt and snazzy Charles Darwin Research Station sun hat.
Even though we were only ever going to live on the island for three months, the Galapageños went out of their way to be warm, funny and welcoming.
I will never forget Andres taking us fishing (not that we fished, there was too much sunbathing to be done) Chino cooking for us so beautifully – particularly the barbecue on the roof of his home – and Diego trying to help us get fit with his daily workouts.
I will always be grateful to Manolo for telling us about that incredible deserted beach (and helping us find it in a water taxi) and to Sebastian, Ivan, Lobito and co for their uncanny ability to obtain alcohol at any hour of the morning.
They were even better at finding somewhere random to drink it.
4) Trying not to become a fat, lazy sealion
With all the ice cream, chocolate cake and milkshakes on Galapagos, weight gain was always a risk – and our attempts to combat it became ever more adventurous.
We tried and failed to master Tae Kwondo, Norma’s cheesy Zumba dance video and Diego’s daily workouts.
We even talked Daniel into leading a workout on the beach – and regretted it when we found ourselves collapsing in pain to the sounds of him shouting ‘FLIP IT’.
But my favourite will always be the Galapagos Running Club, with Pippa and I in our matching blue-footed booby t-shirts.
Galapagos is the only place beautiful enough for me to set a 5.30am alarm and those runs were incredible – particularly the morning we ran to the top of Tijeretas Hill, back to Playa Amor and onto the lighthouse.
I also loved the time time Pippa, Solaise and I ran to a deserted La Loberia at sunset, listening to different songs on our iPods and all singing at full volume.
5) The school
I never expected to fall in love with going to Pedro Pablo Andrade every day and I never realised I would miss it so much.
Lucia and I became good friends in the end and, as my Spanish improved, I began to realise just how funny and cheeky the children were.
I loved confiscating their notes (until they learnt to draw pictures of me instead and just hand them over… I still have them)
I also secretly loved chastising them for insulting one another (“Fea!” – “Le mismo!”) and making a fool of myself, singing and dancing in a bid to help them remember their past participles.
I also loved the way Pedro Pablo Andrade knew how to party – it really was non-stop fiestas for the entire time we were there – carnivals, birthday parties, Mothers’ Day, Childrens’ Day. All that cake and coca-cola…
But I will also miss hiding in Paulina’s office when I didn’t quite have the energy and helping Girl X and her sisters with their reading in the ‘special needs’ block.
No-one has ever hugged me as tightly as those girls and, in the case of eight-year-old Girl X, I have never seen anyone so determined to learn to read.
I hope she becomes the President one day…
But I think I’ll stop there.
I know I will never be able to capture my time on Galapagos in a list.
The place is unbelievable and I fear it is impossible to summarise.
Just don’t take my word for it.
If you are ever lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Galapagos, make sure you grab it with both hands.