The Human Dimension & Why It Matters
The expanding tourism industry has impacted the Galapagos’ local population by contributing to economic change and social issues.
Forbidden Refuge | 2012

In 2007, after a month in the hospital recovering from a brutal beating by her ex-husband, Margarita Medinas took her five sons and fled to San Cristóbal Island in the Galápagos. Five years later, she’s fighting to stay.

Ecuadoran law allows visitors to stay in the Galápagos Islands for up to 90 days. Beyond that, only marriage to a resident of the islands, a working contract, or a student visa qualifies a person to stay longer. Margarita has none of those; she has had to hide from the authorities to remain on the island. She has worked as a cook, a domestic worker, and is now a hotel stewardess. Though a contract working in any of these positions would qualify her to stay legally on the island, she would first have to return to the mainland for a year before applying to come back since she overstayed the original 90-day limit.

Margarita and her two oldest sons spend most of the day working, leaving her three youngest at home unsupervised. On San Cristóbal, it is safe for them to be home alone all day, and even spend their afternoons playing at the beach unattended. In contrast, the mainland is much more dangerous, plagued with violent crime.

Fear is part of what keeps Margarita on San Cristóbal. Fear for her sons, and fear for herself – that her husband might return to finish what he started a month before she came to the island.

But more than fear, love keeps her there. Margarita loves her sons more than anything, and her dream is for them to one day become professionals. So she stays, working and hiding, so that they can be safe and happy.

“I don’t have anything,” she says. “But I have the greatest thing; I have peace and happiness for my kids and myself.“

"I don’t want to leave, so I have to hide, or try to keep them from finding me."
-Margarita Medina