Her name is Anita. That’s at least what she said. She hesitated for a moment and appeared to think about it when I asked her name. So I was left with doubt as to the validity of the name she offered.
I met Anita on the white sands of Tortuga Beach on Santa Cruz, one of the volcanic islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago. I was crouched down taking pictures of the aquatic iguanas that are unique to the Galapagos, when she was suddenly standing behind me, shooting her own pictures.
When I rose, she asked if I could take her picture with the crystal blue waters of the beach as the backdrop, and handed me her camera. She wasn’t satisfied with the first two and asked that I shoot another one. The third one she reacted in a lukewarm fashion. Hey, I’m only as good as the camera and the subject, I joked. She laughed and launched into small talk about the beauty of the beach, the iguanas and Galapagos in general. As I continued to shoot pictures, so did she, walking in the direction of mangroves. I stayed put with my iguanas. In just a few minutes, she was way ahead of me on the beach, walking back to the bricked trail that leads to town. I noticed ahead, she caught the eye of some surfers, one of whom – surfboard under his arm – began to talk to her. He was in full flirt mode, from what I could tell from the distance. Then in a matter of minutes, he peeled away from her and rejoined his friends. When Anita stopped to take more pictures of the ocean and the volcanic rocks, I managed to catch up to her. She looked at me and said “it’s so beautiful, these beach”, then said she had just gone kayaking and it was great. We then began to walk back to town together, a very long walk, so I welcomed the company.
What I know about Anita I learned during our one-hour walk on the trail. She seemed to know a lot about the Galapagos. I asked if it was her first time to the islands. She said it was her eighth visit over the years. It was then Anita became interesting person to me: she said she loved the Galapagos and wanted to live on Santa Cruz, and she was looking for an islander to marry. Whoa! Say what? She smiled.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
The Galapagos is part of Ecuador, but in many ways it behaves and is treated internally as a separate country. Each of the inhabited islands in the chain have drafted very strong immigration laws, some even more stringent than the ones on the books in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. The laws were put in place to prevent the islands from being flooded with people. The immigration laws are mainly in place to stop Ecuadorians from the mainland from relocating to the very desirable lifestyle of the Galapagos.
So unless you were born in the Galapagos, marry someone who is a citizen of the islands, or score a job contract with a company that does business on the islands, you are not allowed to live or work in Galapagos, and that especially means folks from Ecuador who are clamoring to get in.
Anita said she had tried with no success to get a job with a company on the islands. So now she was trying the approach tried by many other Ecuadorians: gain legal residency through marriage.
She was therefore looking for a husband, but she did not wish to make it a business deal as so many have done: pay someone thousands of dollars and pretend you are a couple until all the legal immigration papers are issued and legal residency is gained. Then divorce.
No, Anita was looking to make her marriage real and lasting. So she wanted to marry a Galapagueño – as the islanders are known – but she wanted to be in love with the man she marries and to have children with him. So she was finding it tougher to find the man of her dreams to make three wishes come true: marriage, kids and Galapagos citizenship.
So on her eighth trip she had still failed to meet her future husband. It was the topic that dominated our conversation. When I, for example, invited her to join some friends and me at a party that evening, her response was maybe she would meet her husband at the party. When I told her about my hosts – he a Galapagueño and she half Ecuadorian, half German born in Germany – Anita joked maybe she should meet the woman to ask how she managed to snag an islander husband. On and on. I thought she’s obsessed!
What was immediately apparent about Anita was that she is a fairly attractive woman who gets her fair share of attention. The beach surfers certainly stopped to talk. She said the one surfer who stopped to talk to her on the beach was Galapagueño, but young and dumb. Hey, the woman has standards.
What was not so immediately apparent was why – on her eighth visit to Galapagos – she had failed to find the island husband she so desperately sought. When I mentioned her to men on the island, they of course first asked about her looks then jokingly said “send her to me”. Galapagueño, men and women, know they are a hot commodity to Ecuadorians seeking to move to the islands. But in recent years, the government has cracked down on such business marriages, checking in on couples and conducting investigations to make sure they are indeed a couple.
Anita, who is from Santo Domingo, a bustling city in the middle of the country, is not willing to take that chance. She wants the real deal.
When I first heard of this whole immigration status thing between Ecuador and Galapagos, I thought it was a rather strange arrangement. Think about it. You are an American citizen, for instance, and by law you cannot freely live in, say, New Jersey or New York or California.
You can’t work in a particular state unless you’ve secured a job contract. And if you simply wish to visit, your visits are limited to a certain number each year. All in the name of preservation and preventing a population and building boom and protecting the fragile ecosystem.
Adding to this interesting relationship is the fact that many Galapagueños don’t identify themselves as Ecuadorians. They say they are Galapagueño, not Ecuadorian, and say they are different culturally and in many other respects to the people on the mainland.
This relationship between the Galapagos and Ecuador surprised me. After all, the world views and treats the Galapagos as part of Ecuador. For that there is no doubt. Within the country, however, it’s a different story.
As for Anita, she plans a ninth visit to Galapagos. Buena suerte with the search for love and citizenship.