Katrien Bauters landed in Ecuador in 2009, stepping off the plane with two bags, a handful of words in Spanish and a job at a tour agency in Quito.
Left behind was an eight-year career as a tourism consultant in Belgium. Katrien hit the ground running. She lived in homestays to adjust to the culture. Her adventure took her to the jungle, spending time exploring with guests around Yacuma Lodge, two and a half hours from Tena.
A phone call while there landed her at Galapagos Safari Camp, where she presently works as the manager of the growing complex.
During her time in the islands, Katrien fell in love and put down roots. Today she and her partner of four years, Yunior, are building a house using containers and making plans for what's to come next.
Yunior grew up in the islands, first working as a fisherman, then on cruise ships and presently with the Galapagos National Park in the Department of Marine Life.
Katrien wears many hats at the camp including driver, chef and the last person on deck to clean the tents for an unexpected booking. She also keeps the light-hearted spirit of the camp afloat.
Often compared to top-notch concierges at high-end hotels in major cities around the world, Katrien has a knack for providing answers beyond the scope of the question and a reputation for inspiring guests to make the most of their time in the Galapagos.
On a break from overseeing the installation of a new solar project at the camp, Katrien took the time to talk about her time in the Galapagos and what she sees as the difference Galapagos Safari Camp makes for its guests when they visit.
I spoke briefly to Stephanie about the vision behind the GSC and what makes it different from other options. It seems like a more personal experience for both the guests and the people who work there. In your words, can you explain the philosophy behind what you do at the camp?
The Galapagos Safari Camp is like a sophisticated woman; we anticipate what our guests expect from the Galapagos and how we can make their stay here memorable. We create memories to be cherished.
We pamper people. I make sure that my team develops an eye for personal service and attention to detail, in an efficient way that surpasses expectations. This is a place where personal attention is paramount.
What are guests most surprised about when they visit compared to their initial expectations?
There is a very comfortable atmosphere in Galapagos Safari Camp, guests tell me it is because we make them feel at home. They also tell me that the tents
look much bigger than in the pictures!
From the outside, it looks like the camp offers an experience not found on a cruise. What are your thoughts?
The Galapagos Safari Camp is different from a cruise due to the level of flexibility in activities; we can personalize our tours to what the guests want.
On a cruise you have a set itinerary and you have no choices, at Galapagos Safari Camp we work around our guests' expectations.
What are your recommendations for families with children who visit? Are there specific activities that kids and parents enjoy more than others?
We are the most family friendly experience you can get in the Galapagos. Michael and Stephanie had their children here; they were actually born at the
camp itself and grew up on site. We have plenty of experience looking after families!
The Galapagos is an amazing place for families to bond. Imagine experiencing the tame wildlife, you can get so close! At the camp people love sleeping
under canvass, it is an adventure for them. We see families spending quality time together during their stay. Parents relax and enjoy their kids who
are constantly having new experiences.
Lifestyle fishing is the cherry on the cake, the national park is encouraging local fisherman to take visitors with them to show them how they fish. This gives families an opportunity to see Galapagos through the locals' eyes, to do some fishing, snorkel and to explore hidden beaches around Santa Cruz Island. When families do catch a fish, they bring it to the camp where we can make sashimi or cook it for, or with, them.
Art classes are always a hit as well, we have a local artist, Sarah Darling, who comes to the camp and paints silk purses with the kids while parents can
either relax or join them…it is lots of fun!
Can you put into context what changes you've seen in the Islands since you've been there?
The National Park together with the help of different NGO's and the Charles Darwin Foundation have been able to increase protection of fauna & flora in Galapagos. The number of Galapagos giant tortoises has also gone up, the land iguanas are doing fine and illegal fishing has decreased
There are more and more people living in the Galapagos, it has the highest birth rate in the country. My concern is what will happen if all the young ones need to start working, and there aren't enough jobs available. Socially it will get more difficult.
Author's note: After starting at the camp in 2010, Katrien found herself chasing a wayward cow that has strayed in the Galapagos National Park. Both Katrien and the cow never looked back!
We travel to lose ourselves, to set our sails in new directions, searching for those things that define and inspire us. On the way to the airport, we discard the tiresome routines and stormy weather of everyday lives. Stepping on-board a plane is both a literal and figurative way to take flight anew to distant points on the map.
Let us know if you have questions about what the Galapagos Safari Camp has in store for your next adventure; once you've step off the plane in the Islands!