A Life in Harmony

Hurtigruten Expeditions guide Ramiro Tomala has an important job: guiding tour groups around the Galápagos Islands and determinedly showing how all creatures - including humans - can live harmoniously with one another.

JOHN BURFITT

5 min read

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There’s a conversation Ramiro admits he’s used to having with visitors when conducting tours of the Galápagos Islands, as they pass through the main town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.

That conversation Ramiro, 39, says always makes him smile, as it offers an insight that visitors are beginning to understand that life on this archipelago is a world away from what they’re used to. “In our towns, we have road signs warning of tortoises and iguanas crossing, and if we see a sea lion crossing the road we just stop and wait,” he explains. “That’s when visitors ask why we don’t honk to make the animal get out of the way or go pick it up and move it, and I have to explain it will cross in its own good time.”

“In our towns, we have road signs warning of tortoises and iguanas crossing, and if we see a sea lion crossing the road we just stop and wait.”

Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island has road signs warning of tortoises and iguanas crossing.

Ramiro Tomala says explaining to visitors the way all life can live harmoniously with nature is what drives him.

Ramiro Tomala says explaining to visitors the way all life can live harmoniously with nature is what drives him.

“It’s about respecting nature, living harmoniously and remembering that as humans we were the last to arrive and are not the dominant species here. We consider ourselves guests and behave accordingly. Once I’ve had that conversation, I feel like an understanding of what makes the Galápagos so special has begun.”

Ecuadorian-born Tomala has been having such conversations with visitors for the 17 years he has been an expedition tour guide with Metropolitan Touring, which works in partnership with Hurtigruten Expeditions to offer a range of tours around the archipelago. Previously, he had worked with the Charles Darwin Foundation, which heads up the islands’ scientific research work.

97 per cent of the Galápagos Islands’ landmass is national park, and each of the 127 islands boasts its own unique landscape. Photo: Shutterstock.

The Galápagos Islands are located about 1,000 kilometres off the coast of mainland Ecuador. What makes this pocket-sized corner of the world so unique is that 97 per cent of the land area is national park, and each of the islands boasts its own unique landscape – from black volcanic rocks and lush forests to sandy beaches fringing gemstone-blue waters. Then there’s the range of creatures the Galápagos are famed for like giant tortoises, marine iguanas, finches, penguins and dolphins.

Galápagos giant tortoise and marine iguana
Galápagos finch and penguin

In the waters surrounding the archipelago is the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Both the islands and sea areas are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, so paying attention to the environmental welfare of the place which served as the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution remains paramount. Teaching visitors about the magnificence of the wildlife and landscapes comes naturally to Tomala, who once worked as a school principal and teacher. He says seeing the penguins and marine iguanas are at the top of the agenda for most visitors, but it’s when the unexpected happens – like having an up-close encounter with an orca – that leaves a lasting impression.

“We were in the shallows and suddenly, this orca and her baby came in close,” he recalls. “We all stayed quiet, but the truth is the animal is usually far more scared than the people are. Everything was fine, and the orca swam on, but these are creatures most people have only ever seen in a documentary, and this is one of the few places in the world where you can have an experience like that.”

Photo: Getty Images

Tomala has spent recent months on a study trip in Europe but is now getting ready for a return to work on a Hurtigruten Expeditions cruise in October. He spends up to six months a year living on the expedition boat MS Santa Cruz II, which he calls his “second home” while in the Galápagos. Witnessing change taking place around him is a big part of the job, not just in the visitors’ reactions to the Galápagos, but also in the evolving environment. “The Galápagos is a place where things are changing all the time and in just the past few years, new species of iguana and marine creatures have been discovered, so there’s always something new to learn,” he says.

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