A backpacker who stranded in the idyllic Galapagos Islands when the closure began described a trip of a lifetime – including swimming with sea lions.
29-year-old Ian Melvin struggled between a repatriation flight to Scotland or a stay in a tropical paradise – where he’s been on a dream vacation for ten weeks.
The former TEFL teacher flew to South America last November after three years in China.
On March 14, he traveled to the Galapagos, 800 kilometers west of Ecuador, and landed on Isla Santa Cruz.
Three days later, he took the ferry to the largest of the islands, Isla Isabella, with a population of just 2,200 people – and where a 2pm curfew was imposed since the closure helped him learn Spanish.
For the past three months, he spent his time relaxing and enjoying the tropical weather, beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters and amazing wildlife, including marine iguanas, sea lions, green turtles and penguins.
Ian said, “No one gets a chance to experience the Galapagos so quietly.
“The swimming is great here, the sea lions come straight at you.
Marine iguanas swim next to you and penguins peck your feet.
“I also cycle around the island and run on the beaches.
“It was a truly unique experience.
“When I got to the Galapagos, I had normalcy for a few days, I went diving with hammerhead sharks, which was great, and then I came to this island.
“At first there was some uncertainty, I didn’t know how the island would deal with the restrictions.
“There were some repatriation flights to the UK, but it was an easy decision to stay – I’m already on an isolated island.
“There are still restrictions and stuff, but it’s nice to go out on the beach, see the outdoors and nature.”
When Ian first arrived on Isla Isabella, he spent six weeks with a local family.
But he’s now moved into his own room in a beachfront hostel in Puerto Villamil – the island’s main settlement – which costs him around £ 280 a month.
Ian said: “Before I came to this island, I agreed to stay with a family.
“It was nice to have company.
“Now I have moved to my own house, I now live like a local.
“I do all my own shopping, cook my own food and teach online to get some money.”
The local store doesn’t let people in, so Ian has to order through a hatch.
And the Scot from Banchory, Aberdeenshire, eats a lot of porridge in the tropical climate.
Ian is not sure how long he can stay on the islands as he has a 90 day Ecuadorian tourist visa.
But due to a state of emergency imposed until June 15, he is not worried and would have 30 days to leave the country once restrictions are lifted – but although he wants to continue his travels, he is in no rush to leave .
Ian said, “I’ve been enjoying the Galapagos for so long.”
He is not sure how long he can stay on the islands as he has a 90 day Ecuadorian tourist visa but due to a state of emergency imposed until June 15 he is not worried and should leave the country for 30 days once the restrictions have been lifted.
If travel restrictions are relaxed, he would like to continue traveling to Colombia.
Ian said, “I just paid rent all month, and hopefully I have a better idea if I can travel to another country.
“I love being on the Galapagos for so long.”
And he has kept in touch with loved ones at home because of a good internet connection.
Ian said, “It is very easy to keep in touch now, because everyone is at home.
“I did online quizzes and training, such as doing 5k challenges along the beach.
“My family was a little insecure at first, but they realized it was going to be a difficult journey home and now they are happy to hear my stories and compare the different lockdown experiences.”