Dream Jobs: How I Became a Galápagos Guide

We spoke to Ramiro Tomalá on what it feels like waking and being David Attenborough every day

by Chris Hatherill
Nov 24 2015, 12:00am

Ramiro Tomalá was born on Santa Cruz in the Galápagos Islands. After growing up surrounded by the incredible biodiversity which helped Charles Darwin pin down his theory of evolution, he gravitated towards a career in nature. After a stint at the not-for-profit Darwin Foundation, he now works as an expedition leader with Galápagos tourism pioneer Metropolitan Touring, who run tours of the 19 islands. We caught up to ask what it’s like basically waking up and being David Attenborough everyday.

Ramiro Tomalá, an expedition leader of the Galápagos Islands.

What was it like growing up on the Galápagos?
It was pretty cool: living away from civilisation, sometimes without basic services, you know, in nature. I remember when the kids used to have school under the trees because we didn’t have proper school. It was a nice life without any distractions. Nothing like what we have now: Internet and phones and planes. It was a very natural life – a very healthy, slow-paced, relaxed life.

What did you get up to when you were a kid?
We used to go to the beach a lot. We used to collect things, like shells. Lots of hiking, lots of exploring. There are lots of lava tunnels here on the Galápagos that we used to go into. We were always looking for pirate treasure… too bad we never found any.

How have the islands changed since then?
Today there’s a lot more development than there was before. In the 1990s there were a lot people who came to the Galápagos and stayed here, which has thrown the islands a little bit out of balance.

There’s more concrete, more built-up areas, more roads, more cars and therefore a little bit more pollution than we would like. We’re not ready for such a big population. Because of the amount of people we have now we have to have all these cargo ships and flights bringing in products and things. On a regular basis we now have three cargo ships per week and we know from prior experience how badly things can go if one of them runs aground.

The Galápagos Islands offers a very healthy, slow-paced, relaxed life.

How did you first get into being a guide?
I’m actually a teacher by trade. I got a job in a local school because I wanted to help; I wanted to do something for the community I grew up in. That’s why I came back. But after awhile, hearing about all the challenges we face here, I wanted to help nature.

So I actually quit my teaching job and applied for a job at the Darwin Foundation as a fundraiser on conservation projects. I started loving nature even more, understanding it and wanting to do more. Being at the Darwin Foundation later translated into being a guide so that I could do more and carry the conservation message to the visitors we have coming here.

What do you love most about being a guide?
For me, it has to be that I can have an impact on people’s lives with what I say and what I do and what I show them. I always say to my guests that I’m glad I’m part of their ‘experience’ and not their vacation, and I think that’s a really important difference.

Coming here is an experience, away from everything. The Galápagos is a place that’s ruled by different laws than other places – when you come here you have an intimate relationship with nature. My job is a part of that and I get to share it with lots of people who come here.

The marine life.

What’s a typical day at work like?
Basically I wake up every morning, wake everyone else up and check in with the bridge about our plan for the day, like where we’re going and whatnot. Usually by eight in the morning we’re out – either doing a hike, kayaking or in the zodiac.

So that’s the first part of the morning, then we come back, change and explore the underwater world: deep-water snorkelling or exploring the beach. We have lunch, and then by three we’re out again until six exploring. Dinner is usually around 7:30pm and after that everyone is usually dead. When people aren’t too tired we go outside and do some stargazing. So that’s usually my day on the ship.

Do you have any personal favourite species on the Galápagos?Of course – the sea lions! As far as marine life goes I love the sea lions. If I could come back as an animal I would probably come back as a sea lion. Both of the species we have here are endemic to the Galápagos. On land my favourite is the blue-footed booby. I don’t know, there’s something about those guys. Even as a kid I would just sit and watch the animals for a long time because sometimes they make funny faces, or sneeze, or yawn. So it’s amazing to see what they do, and how they act.

What would you say is the key challenge facing the islands?
The main challenge is probably the lack of control in our local laws. The Galápagos has different rules than Ecuador but the biggest danger is that those laws can be bent to serve people, or special interests – like developing hotels or allowing industrial fishing near our waters, which by law is prohibited. So tampering with the laws to serve man instead of nature.

'Isabella' the Galápagos Islands.

Several species that were once thought extinct have now been rediscovered in the Galápagos – is there any other positive news?
We do have quite a few conservation success stories. The national park authority, working with the Darwin Foundation, has been working to minimise and erase the impact of people on the islands. Isabella is one of the islands where we’ve eradicated almost 90% of the goats that were introduced and had a very negative impact. The goal is to restore the island to its pristine state, before humans came.

There’s another island called Santiago – and once we accomplish that they will be the two largest islands in the world that have been brought back to their original state. We’re not there yet, but 90% is pretty darn close. Another very successful project we have here is the breeding of giant tortoises on different islands. I was reading some recent findings, that on Hood Island from we’ve brought it up 15 tortoises to 1,200. So from almost losing an entire species, through the work of scientists and local Ecuadorians, we managed to get them to reproduce to a very healthy and stable number.

Read more Dream Jobs:

‘How I Became a Plant Hunter’

‘I Drink Champagne All Day’

‘I Hunt for Alien Life on Earth’

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