ASSOCIATES (2013, November, v. 20, no. 2)



Allison Sloan
Senior Library Associate
Reading Public Library
Reading, MA

The theme of the Massachusetts Library Association Conference in May 2014 is Library Expedition. I shouted out the word “expedition!” at the brainstorming meeting a couple months ago because I had just returned from a week in the amazing Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, and the concept of exploration and expeditions was bright in my mind.

We landed in Guayaquil, on mainland Ecuador, at about five o’clock in the morning, amazingly refreshed and eager despite just a few hours of sleep, seat-belted and sitting up in an airplane. We drove through the port city in darkness, unimpressed by the empty streets, wondering where all the people were in what looked like a reasonably modern small city, with paved roads and store fronts. I was a bit confused because I was already thinking about lava paths and cactus trees, with friendly sea lions nibbling at my toes. Yet I was looking at high rise office buildings, electric wires and traffic lights. And street signs that said “double via”, not one way, but both ways. I had already identified a fascinating cultural difference. In Ecuador there must be so many one way streets, that they feel the need to remind people that certain streets go both ways. I took a picture of one of those signs as the bus whizzed by, and posted it on Facebook when I got home. “It’s only 5am”, the hospitality guide reminded, “Nobody is up yet”. Even he was quiet as we drove through the silent streets. Ah, I thought, even people in Ecuador sleep late.

A few hours later, after more sleep and a shower, we piled into a shuttle bus and toured the beautiful Ecuadorian city. Our guide talked nonstop and shared the wonderful history of Ecuador, its fight for freedom and the key role played by this beautiful city. We walked the streets, took pictures in front of statues, and of the tall palm trees that lined the street in front of the Guayaquil Public Library. I couldn’t go in because our tour was running late, but it was fun just to stand on the steps of this lovely marble building and imagine shelves of books in Spanish, and paralibrarians behind the desks, here on the western coast of South America.

The next day we flew across 600 miles of Pacific Ocean to the island of Baltra, one of the smaller islands of the Galapagos archipelago, and one flat enough to put a runway and a tiny airport. Already the terrain was fascinating, desert, and a few scraggly trees. Once through customs we went straight to the port to take our first “panga” ride, the small rubber dinghies that transported us to the boat which would be our traveling home and hotel for the rest of the week. We congregated in the lounge area and Mario, the head naturalist, made introductions and divided us into groups of ten, named alphabetically: Albatross, Cormorant, Boobies… of course. These were the groups we would travel with on the pangas, he explained, as we enjoyed a “scientific expedition” through the islands of the Galapagos. Mario gave us each one water bottle and told us that the boat desalinizes its own water in two stages. First for showering, brushing teeth and toilet flushing. It was safe to drink he assured us. Second for quality drinking water that was available chilled in two large containers, which he pointed to. “You will only get one bottle for the week”, he told us seriously, and to our consternation, “so don’t lose it, and refill often. We leave no trash in the Galapagos, whatever we bring in, we take out.” He made eye contact around the room and realized this group of tourists, from America, Israel, Ecuador, Switzerland, and Canada, all looked confused. “Friends”, he said, “this is not a cruise ship. You will have plenty of water, fresh towels as often as you would like (and he was true to this promise), and fresh, local delicious food and fish (he was true to this promise also), and excursions every day to some of the most special places on earth. But this is not a cruise ship, this is a ship of expedition.”

Expedition: a voyage for exploration. We reached for our life jackets and grouped with the rest of the Boobies awaiting our turn to exit down the slippery stairs hanging off the side of our boat, to jump precariously into the panga with the wind and water splashing about us. It was the beginning of one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, hiking on crushed lava where a mess of iguanas lay in the sun, and snorkeling in deep cold waters with turtles, penguins and fish. Watching the baby sea lions toss shells in the air, the Frigates puffing out their red wattle to show prowess, and the Cormorants building a family nest, the mom and dad birds chatting about the fluffy teenage birds, while stuffing the nest with a hearty piece of seaweed that dad had brought from the sea and mom had tested, shook, tasted and approved. This, just a step in front of us as we walked the path.

Our last stop was the Island of Santa Cruz, which holds approximately 12,000 of the total 18,000 human population of the Galapagos Islands. It has the one hotel on the islands, and the Darwin Science Station, and coffee and sugar cane plantations. It also has a public library, right there on the main street, looking over the docks and bay. A small building, for a population about half the same size as the library I work in. I imagined the story hours, the book discussion groups, the homework club, and humans browsing among the stacks with the sea lions and the albatrosses, all as curious as I was to read. Indeed, this was an expedition, and I brought that excitement and the idea of a journey to discovery back with me, and look forward to what new ideas will be shared at the MLA Library Expedition Conference next spring.