Giant Tortoise Sanctuary, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. 10am. We have been admiring this impressive 700-lbs animal for the past 10 minutes. We took a good look and plenty of photos, and we each had our picture taken next to him. The group moves on to observe the next specimen. As they walk away I remain next to the ancient one: somehow I can’t take my eyes off of him. Crouching a few feet away from his giant body, I just look at this 150-year old creature. Suddenly he extends his long neck to project his head out towards me, opens his eyes wider and looks back. His mouth opens slightly as if trying to tell me a very important secret. I smile and breathe calmly, enjoying every second of this amazing encounter. I sense a presence: two visitors appear at the corner of the path. They stop at the sight of our strange face-to-face. I thank the tortoise silently; take one last look, a deep breath, and stand up slowly. His neck retracts in slow motion and his eyelids shut again.
Baltra Airport, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. 11am. The check-in agent explains to our guide that we are showing up too late to get on our flight. If we are lucky we will leave on the next flight an hour later, otherwise the following one. After 5 days immersed in nature and wildlife, we are stepping back into a world full of rules and schedules. It feels like a cold shower and a slap in the face. People around me who were so laid-back and calm during our expedition suddenly become stressed, making angry and spiteful comments about the airline staff, about our guide who should have made sure we got here on time, etc. Blah blah blah. I can almost touch the stress. I breathe deeply and remember the face of the giant tortoise. In a flash I realize what it was trying to tell me. Words echo in my mind, the deep voice of a Mondoshawan in The Fifth Element: “Time is not important. Only life is important.” I smile to myself and calmly wait for the check-in agent to sort things out, totally detached from the agitation surrounding me.