“In eight years, I want to be in the Galápagos Islands”. These wishful words Verónica found on a sheet of paper while organizing her documents. She jotted them down when she was about 15 years old. And reading them years later stunned her. She was about to take her second job in the Galápagos Islands at 23, exactly eight years older than she was when she first wrote the note. Her dream – her ‘clairvoyance’, shall we say– began when accompanying her sister on a medical mission to the islands, and as she enjoyed her free time kicking sand on virgin beaches and marveling at the mystical landscapes and unique animals, something, a magnetic pull, slowly and deeply took hold of her spirit. Verónica Santamaría and the Galápagos Islands were meant to be.
Her first job on the islands came rather unexpectedly as she accompanied a friend to a job interview, for a position as receptionist on a Galapagos cruise. Both were hired but after 3 months, both resigned. Verónica says she did so because it ‘wasn’t her thing’. Wasn’t the Galapagos, ‘her thing’?, we asked. And she explained: “Yes and no: I didn’t only want to work in Galápagos, I wanted to be a part of it…” She first identified her dissatisfaction at her first Galapagos stint as a need to be on the islands, rather than on a boat. So she took a position with TAME, the Ecuadorian military airlines, as a registration clerk on land. Her English skills served her well, and she enjoyed tending to the travelers’ needs, but she repeated to herself: ‘this is just not my thing’. And just as she uttered the words, a new opportunity popped up at Silberstein Hotel, where they needed an administrative assistant. She took that job, but in a year, that recurring thought echoed: ‘this is just not my thing’.
At the time she had made connections with certain employees at the Chamber of Tourism, and got involved in yet another project with the IDB: a large-scale initiative to strengthen service quality and sustainability of small and medium-sized tourism enterprises on the islands. “Was this more your thing?” we asked again. She only smiled. Two years later she became Fundación Galápagos’ general coordinator, chosen by the former coordinator as her unequivocal replacement, a position she filled to utter satisfaction for nine years.
Fundación Galápagos was created in 1998 by Metropolitan Touring, in an effort to reduce environmental impact and promote green practices amongst travel operators in the Galapagos. Verónica Santamaría took over in 2004 and during her tenure created noteworthy (and ambitious) projects that would strengthen the foundation’s reputation and positively affect the ever-fragile relationship between man and nature on the islands.
Perhaps the most notorious of these was that for which she was officially included as part of Coca-Cola’s worldwide “Every bottle has a story” campaign, which honored her personal efforts in creating a coastal clean-up program. She was even featured in a 3-minute spot that quickly summarized the patient, determined and committed work she began several years before, when she intrepidly contacted Coca-Cola to support her endeavor. Donations became more substantial as years went by, but what Verónica really feels proud of is how coastal cleanup made such a difference on the islands in many more ways than one. She saw how little by little the act of generosity of every person involved, from hardware store owners donating gloves to grocery store owners preparing sandwiches. “Everyone played a part… and today, Coastal Clean-up is a great party. A party that celebrates the environment in the style that a Galapagos party should be celebrated!”
Used battery collection campaigns, campaigns to minimize perilous waste, including used oil and grease from vessels, creating a waste management program on Isabela, which did not have one, as well as carrying out environmental awareness programs in Floreana, or inaugurating an interpretation center on waste management are some of the many projects Verónica Santamaría supervised, executed and promoted as head coordinator of the foundation. Her work continues to provide inspiration for all Galapagueños. We can say, in conclusion, it was ‘her thing’ not only to be stationed on the Galapagos, but to be able to make decisions that could make a real difference there. Since last year, Verónica has been transferred to Metropolitan Touring’s Quito office as Product Manager, but says she’s never truly far from the Enchanted Isles. “There’s like an umbilical cord that will always connect me!”