Reading is an experience. A good book can make me laugh out loud or bring me to tears. There are books I can’t set down, and there are some that make me so emotional that I have to walk away and come back to them later. This is the power of good books, which I come across all the time. Finding a good book is easy. Every once in a while though, I come across a great book, a book that quite literally changes my life.
One such book led me thousands of miles from home. The summer after I graduated high school, I devoured novel after novel by Kurt Vonnegut. He had won me over with Slaughterhouse Five (I even have a line from the book tattooed on me: Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.) and I could think of no better way to fill my free time than to read as much of his work as I could. Everything I read by Vonnegut was a treasure, but the most captivating by far was Galápagos. I was enthralled by the sweeping tale of the end of the human race.
I loved the book for its fantastic story, but it also ignited in me a burning desire to see the islands it described. I dreamt of making the voyage, and I was heartsick at the thought I might never be able to go (especially after seeing the price!) My mind wandered the Pacific the whole fall semester, but it snapped back to the present when I was signing up for spring classes and discovered that an honors course would be traveling to Ecuador and the Galápagos that May.
The cost of the trip still seemed prohibitive, but it was too serendipitous to ignore, and NKU has always been generous with their scholarships to study abroad. The spring semester flew by, and before I knew it I was flying to Ecuador, reading The Hobbit on the way. My class spent two amazing weeks on the mainland before heading to the islands.
By night the Golondrina ferried us across the sea, and by day we explored the islands. I swam with hammerheads and white tip reef sharks at the Devil’s Crown, trekked through subterranean lava tunnels, sent a postcard home from the Whaler’s Post Office, and met the endling Lonesome George. The natural beauty of the islands took my breath away, and the wildlife stole my heart. Every inch of the islands is rich with history, yet thanks to Vonnegut I couldn’t help but imagine a future a million years away.
As the sun set on our last evening aboard the Golondrina, I immersed myself in the final few pages of The Hobbit. I had bookended my trip with it, starting the book on the way there and finishing it on the way back again. I closed the book, and as I looked out across the ocean I wondered where the next great book would take me.
Here are some photos from my trip.
Chelsea Swinford-Johantges is a Youth Services associate for Boone County Public Library. She graduated from NKU with a BA in English Literature, and is currently attending San Jose State University to get her MLIS. She’s always on the hunt for the next great book.