Galapagos Island native reveals paradise’s pros and cons

  • The island of Floreana is located some 620 miles from the Ecuadorian mainland 
  • MailOnline Travel spoke to Maximo Friere, 75, who calls the remote spot ‘home’
  • When he moved there decades ago, there was only firelight to keep warm

Maximo Friere, 75, lives on the remote island of Floreana in the Galapagos

Maximo Friere, 75, lives on the remote island of Floreana in the Galapagos

Living on a mystical island blessed with abundant wildlife and white sand beaches might sound dreamy.

But a man living on one of the world’s most desirable archipelagos reveals that there are plenty of minuses to the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle – along with the obvious pluses.

Maximo Friere, 75, who lives on the remote island of Floreana in the Galapagos told MailOnline Travel that he grew up by candlelight and today beer often runs out if the supply boat fails to arrive.

But on the up side, when he arrived on the volcanic nub, the female-to-male ratio was two-to-one and the ladies certainly kept him on his toes.

When you get to Floreana – some 620 miles from mainland Ecuador – it has a foreboding feel with nothing but a gravel main road, small school and a strip of houses signaling human life. 

There is no supermarket or ATM and the air is awash with hundreds of blood-thirsty mosquitoes. 

But for Maximo this desolate outpost – which today hosts 150 inhabitants – is the place he has called ‘home’ for decades.

Touching on his simple, island lifestyle, the thrice-married fisherman remembers growing up by candle light and keeping warm by the fire before a generator was finally installed.

Recalling what life was like when he first arrived in Floreana after relocating from Isabela island, some two hours away, Maximo said: ‘I came here after marrying my first wife as her family were here. There were just seven men on the island and no electricity.  

Marooned: The volcanic island of Floreana is set some 620 miles from the Ecuadorian mainland - it is one of the smaller inhabited islands 

Marooned: The volcanic island of Floreana is set some 620 miles from the Ecuadorian mainland – it is one of the smaller inhabited islands 

Desolate: The place has a foreboding feel as you sail towards it, with mist looming in the hills

Desolate: The place has a foreboding feel as you sail towards it, with mist looming in the hills

Unwelcoming: Most of the land in Floreana is carpeted in a tangled web of shrubs and trees

Unwelcoming: Most of the land in Floreana is carpeted in a tangled web of shrubs and trees

Longtime residents: Giant tortoises can still be found in the highlands of Floreana - they can live to be more than 100 years old

Longtime residents: Giant tortoises can still be found in the highlands of Floreana – they can live to be more than 100 years old

‘We would use donkeys to get around and fish for food. 

‘There were pipes installed which brought water down from the mountains. That was how it was. For entertainment we would play cards.’

The Galapagos-native revealed that Floreana – first colonized by Ecuadorians in 1832 – has grown over the years and getting electricity was a major turning point.

A couple of decades ago the neighbouring island of San Cristobel received a new electricity generator with the old one given to Floreana as a gift.

There were just seven men on the island and no electricity. We would use donkeys to get around and fish for food.

The piece of equipment was strapped to a fishing boat and lugged some 75 miles to its new home.

Cars were also introduced and took over from donkey power.

The first motor vehicle was shipped over by the Charles Darwin Research Station, a nature-focused non-profit which opened in 1959 under an agreement with the Ecuadorian government.

Today there are quite a few vehicles scattered around Floreana including a timber-framed bus which takes tourists to the surrounding hills for trekking and sightseeing tours.

On the food front, Maximo says the ocean provides everyone with plenty of food and chickens are also kept as livestock along with cattle.

NATURE’S LABORATORY: THE GALAPAGOS 

What makes the Galapagos so special?

The Galapagos islands are situated 563 miles west of mainland Ecuador, of which they are a part. They are some of the most remote land masses in the world.

There are 21 islands but only four of them are inhabited, with a population of around 25,000. 

They contain more than 1,300 species found nowhere else on earth. With the islands at the intersection of three ocean currents, the sea is a mecca for marine life.

The most famous species unique to the Galapagos include the giant tortoise, marine iguana, flightless cormorant and the Galapagos penguin – the only penguin species to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.

Unesco decided to declare Galapagos a World Heritage Site In Danger in 2007 due to a boom in tourism.

Indeed, annual visitor numbers have increased from 12,000 in 1979 to more than 300,000 today. 

Dozens of Galapagos species are now ‘critically endangered’. 

How to get there?

MailOnline Travel visited the Galapagos Islands with G Adventures. The travel company has recently launched a nine-day island hopping tour endorsed by world renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall.

The tour starts in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, with a connecting flight to Baltra in the Galapagos. During the tour, there are overnight stays on the islands of Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. 

The trip starts from £1,699 with flights from London to Quito, via Miami, available with British Airways. All accommodation is included, as well as the majority of meals.

Today Floreana has 150 inhabitants - 32 of these are children who attend a small school

Today Floreana has 150 inhabitants – 32 of these are children who attend a small school

Nature trip: Sea lions litter the  shoreline of Floreana island - you can find them basking on the sands day and night along with sea iguanas and crabs

Nature trip: Sea lions litter the  shoreline of Floreana island – you can find them basking on the sands day and night along with sea iguanas and crabs

Marine attraction: Many people flock to the Galapagos to swim with hammerhead sharks, which lurk in deeper waters

Marine attraction: Many people flock to the Galapagos to swim with hammerhead sharks, which lurk in deeper waters

Other creatures to lure divers include the spotted eagle ray

Other creatures to lure divers include the spotted eagle ray

However, some necessities – including beer – often run dry.

Nowadays, a shipment of goods arrives once a week but decades ago, boats were slower and it would sometimes be several weeks or months before drop-offs were made.

Another difficulty on Floreana, Maximo reveals with a glint in his eye, is dating. 

The septuagenarian says when he got to the place there were only seven men to around double the number of women. 

Therefore, the men had their pick. 

Maximo says because everyone knows each other so well on the island, it can all get a bit complicated. 

Indeed, he’s been married three times and still runs a restaurant and bar with one of his ex wives. 

Sunbathing: The marine iguana is unique to the Galapagos - it has the unusual ability forage in the sea, making it a marine reptile

Sunbathing: The marine iguana is unique to the Galapagos – it has the unusual ability forage in the sea, making it a marine reptile

Floreana island boasts pristine waters. Here a Galapagos penguin bombs through the blue 

Floreana island boasts pristine waters. Here a Galapagos penguin bombs through the blue 

Sea turtles are also in abundance on the shoreline, with little fish following them as they go

Sea turtles are also in abundance on the shoreline, with little fish following them as they go

Many people on the Galapagos own a fishing boat and go out daily for a fresh catch

Many people on the Galapagos own a fishing boat and go out daily for a fresh catch

Asked how he finds the crossover, Maximo responds with a chuckle: ‘Everyone’s friends, it works well!’

Over the years, with a tendency to have big families – the Cruz family down the road, I’m informed, have 12 children – Floreana has flourished.

At the school there are now 32 children and tourism in the area is encouraging more natives to stay instead of fleeing off to the more built-up island of Santa Cruz or mainland Ecuador. 

‘Some of the children come back but others don’t.

‘It’s often hard to find staff and I’m currently looking for a girl to work with us at the bar,’ Maximo explained.

Sun sets at Floreana island. There isn't much going on at nighttime, although Maximo has opened a bar with pool tables as a form of entertainment 

Sun sets at Floreana island. There isn’t much going on at nighttime, although Maximo has opened a bar with pool tables as a form of entertainment 

Sense of history: Floreana  island was named after Juan José Flores, the first president of Ecuador. It was visited by Charles Darwin in 1835

Sense of history: Floreana island was named after Juan José Flores, the first president of Ecuador. It was visited by Charles Darwin in 1835

Floreana is around a two hour boat ride from Santa Cruz (seen above)

Floreana is around a two hour boat ride from Santa Cruz (seen above)

Blue waters and pristine beaches on  Bartolome Island in the Galapagos

Blue waters and pristine beaches on  Bartolome Island in the Galapagos

Just metres away at the sea front a group of sea lions have congregated and dozens of marine iguanas bask on the hot, black rocks.

Pelicans swoop in overhead and a sea turtle rears its head from the ocean to say hello. 

Floreana might seem desolate on the surface but it is in fact brimming with wildlife – much more so than some of the other Galapagos Islands.

Maximo confirms that it’s this wealth of nature that has kept him so content over the years. 

Along with the abundance of women maybe, too. 

There are 18 major islands in the Galapagos (above, Gardner Bay on Española Island)

There are 18 major islands in the Galapagos (above, Gardner Bay on Española Island)

Boats are much speedier than they were when Maximo was growing up  and it is now easier to navigate the islands

Boats are much speedier than they were when Maximo was growing up and it is now easier to navigate the islands







Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

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