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The Galapagos Islands, The Ants Go Marching One By One

Jonathan van Bilsen



October 4, 2009

The Galapagos Islands, The Ants Go Marching One By One

Having travelled for 35 years has unfortunately desensitized some of the excitement of visiting far off places.. From time to time, however, I am pleasantly (and sometimes  not so) surprised by the unexpected.

Such was the case on a recent visit to the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador. The islands, as most of you know are remarkable examples of different strains of evolution and are excellent illustrations of life, which has been altered to adapt to its environment. An increase in human presence, unfortunately, is taking its toll on the pristine landscape and habitats of nature.

There has recently been a severe boost in ants, blackberries and goats, the latter of which has roamed the islands since the days of the Spanish explorers, but have of late increased their numbers to where the government is concerned.

I checked into my hotel, on Santa Cruz Island and found it to be quite acceptable. I had been somewhat concerned about the accommodations, as the Galapagos are primarily visited by cruise ships and do not specialize in land arrangements. 

My room, on the second floor was clean and painted white with blue accents. I tossed my gear on the bed and was about to head for dinner when I spotted a slight movement from the corner of my eye. An ant had made its way to my room and took it upon itself to be my roommate.

I did what anyone would do under the circumstances and removed it, only to see another scurry across the white bed sheet. I began to carefully scrutinize the surroundings and noticed several more of the crawly creatures creeping along the walls, the ceiling and the bed. In fact, there were dozens and they seemed to be everywhere.

I immediately thought of a fellow I had met on Easter Island who told me how he woke up one morning, while visiting Croatia, to find himself covered in ants, which apparently were living in the mattress of his bed. It was a vision I could not shake and under the present circumstances replayed it self continuously.

I made my way to the lobby and complained, using what little Spanish I knew. The manager seemed apologetic and reached behind the counter for an aerosol container. Unlike the cans of Raid, with which I am familiar, this was a pump style device probably found at the Scugog Shores Museum.

I returned to the room and began to spray. I soon realized the rules about insecticides, imposed by our local governments, have not reached the central Pacific Ocean, for it did not take long until I found myself unable to breathe. 

I left the room, assuming the ants were also having difficulty breathing and made my way to the dining room for an enjoyable dinner. I was impressed by the gourmet fare and attention to detail and had forgotten about my roommates… until I returned.

Upon initial inspection I saw no movement. The air, although still heavy with pesticide, was breathable. I was tired and made my way to bed, when suddenly I saw an ant crawling above my head. I was certain he smiled as he scurried away only to be followed by another and another.

I had endured enough. I quickly dressed and made my way to the lobby. I complained and was reluctantly given another room, this time on the main floor. I carefully inspected every corner and was pleased to see it was void of ants. The room was clean with no cracks in the walls. Even the bed frame was made of stucco-covered drywall which had been well sealed. There was a small crack under the door, but a towel, sprayed with insecticide (which I was not about to return) laid in front of the opening soon solved any potential problems..

I slept well and enjoyed touring various islands of the prehistoric chain. I had forgotten about my encounter with the ants and thoroughly enjoyed my visit, until a few days later.

During my third night I was awoken by what I thought was the crumpling of sandwich wrap. I immediately turned on the light, but saw nothing. Assuming I had imagined the sound I again closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I heard the noise once more and quickly turned on the light. I glanced in all directions, but saw nothing. 

Knowing that I had not been dreaming I decided to get out of bed and look around. As I circled the room I froze when I came face to face with a small mouse. I would not consider myself squeamish and I certainly did not intend to jump on the bed, but I was not about to share my room with a rodent, especially as he was not contributing to the cost.

Suddenly the mouse scurried away. I tried to see where it came from, but could not find any cracks in the walls or floor and felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I thought of the one place my friend could be living. I slowly lifted the mattress and bingo! There he was, his small eyes staring at me in bewilderment. 

It was time for another trip to the lobby. It was late and I assumed the management and staff had gone to bed. I wandered around and heard a noise in the kitchen. Two boys in their late teens, were laughing and washing dishes. They stopped when they saw me and stared. I tried to explain about the mouse, but without success.

I motioned that they follow me and they did. I pointed to the bed and lifted the mattress and they stood silently wondering what this Canadian was all about. Finally my little furry friend reared his head and the boys saw it. They picked up the mattress and ripped the sheets off it. It was quite comical to watch them dance around the room trying to catch the mouse.

At last, having had enough of the antics, the mouse ran along the floor and disappeared under the door. I quickly opened the door and saw it run across the outside hallway into another room, currently unoccupied. I looked at the boys who shrugged their shoulders and smiled. I too relaxed finding the amusement in the situation.

I replaced the bed sheets, replaced the insecticide soaked towel under the door, turned of the lights and went to sleep. The next morning I explained what had happened and asked the manager to have my room thoroughly cleaned. When I returned at lunch I did a careful inspection and found everything to be clean and free from things that move.

I was about to leave for lunch when I saw people across the hall checking in. I contemplated telling them about my little friend (now their houseguest) but decided not to take away from the potential fun they could have. 

The Galapagos Islands are spectacular to witness. A mere six hour flight to Quito and another two hours to the islands and you will find yourself in the middle of a time, which has stood still. The birds and animals know no fear and mingle with the 20,000+ human inhabitants. It is a photographer’s dream and since my visit, a mouse’s nightmare. 

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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