Galapagos, lockdown and the impacts of COVID-19 – Interview Series Part 4 – Pablo Valladares

As part of our interview series with staff, project partners, friends and ambassadors based on the Islands, looking at how their life has changed under lockdown, we spoke to our friend Pablo Valladares.

Pablo, who was voted the Top Conservation Guide at the Wanderlust World Guide Awards, is the resident tour guide for GCT’s Supporter Cruise and, in spite of being a Galapagos resident, spent a large portion of his lockdown in Guayaquil. Read on for his recount of his incredible journey back to Galapagos.

Pablo Valladares is an award-winning tour guide of the Galapagos Islands and GCT’s resident guide for our supporter cruise © Pablo Valladares

“We left our home on Isabela island for two weeks during our son’s school holidays and returned 84 days later – spending 68 days locked down in Guayaquil.

On 14 March, we were enjoying our last day in the Corn islands, Nicaragua, when I got a message from my sister saying that we should immediately return as the airports in Ecuador were closed. Ecuadorian citizens could only re-enter the country until midnight of 16 March – our return flight was 17 March!

When we got the news, myself, my wife Laura and our son Kian (8) started the most unexpected journey to Ecuador. We could not change our flights, so we had to buy new tickets and find a way to get from the Corn islands to Managua, Nicaragua, where the International Airport is.                             

Luckily, we caught a cargo boat leaving at 10pm from Little Corn to Bluefields, in eastern Nicaragua. After eight and a half hours, hardly sleeping as we were lying on the deck with dozens of other travellers, chickens being carried in boxes, outboard engines and other items, we arrived.

On arrival at 6.30am, we took a six and a half hour taxi to Managua, and that night finally flew to Quito, Ecuador. As soon as we left the plane the impact of the pandemic was evident: officers in bioprotection suits, temperature reading and long queues.

After a night in Quito airport, the next morning we flew to Guayaquil, where we stayed with my sister in her flat. At this point we had no idea that Guayaquil would became Ecuador’s epicentre of the pandemic and, for many families and people, very scary, sad, painful and terrifying days were to come.

We were worried about how to keep our integral health whilst locked down in a flat. We initially thought we would be able to return to Galapagos after two weeks, which turned to six weeks. Time passed, and the news on TV and in the newspapers was depressing. However, my sister’s hospitality, love and patience made our time in Guayaquil much easier than it could have been.

To remain healthy we had to adapt to keep our spirit, mind and body to keep in good shape. At home we can walk on the beach, go up into the highlands, and enjoy our horses. We love to watch the turtles, flamingos, pelicans and iguanas. Instead, we enjoyed watching red-headed parrots fly in the morning, and flycatchers and swallows gliding around. We could see the green of surrounding hills and a magnificent Ceiba tree across the street.

© Pablo Valladares

Pablo’s son, Kian, enjoying the view from the flat in which they stayed for six weeks during lockdown © Pablo Valladares

I dreamt about being in our backyard looking at the mangroves on our beloved Isabela island. Kian was missing his freedom. We all were missing home. The quarantine in Guayaquil strengthened our family’s bond, but we could not stay for much longer there.

We were three of over 3000 Galapagos residents waiting to come back to the Islands. Before flying we had to get a negative result for the COVID-19 test, which we got! We waited patiently for our flight taking Galapagos residents home.

We followed the protocols prior to returning – no visits, no going out, we did not even hug my parents when leaving the mainland. Instead we said goodbye from the other side of the fence the night before flying. The long awaited day came and we flew back to Galapagos, and it was like being born again – especially when we arrived on Isabela island!”

This interview forms the fourth installment of our blog series about the experiences of our staff, partners and ambassadors during lockdown and how they think the global pandemic will impact Galapagos’ wildlife. Follow this link here to read other blogs from the series.

How you can help

Please donate to our Vital Work at a Critical Time appeal and help us raise funds for the projects and wildlife that need support during these unprecedented times. Alternatively, you can pledge your long term support to the protection of Galapagos wildlife by becoming a member today and in return receive our biannual magazine full of colourful information about conservation work taking place.