My love affair with the Galapagos started when I was 4 or 5, at a National Park in California. There was a nature talk and movie playing at the park amphitheater. I loved these things, and eagerly went to every one I could. The movie that night was about a weird island chain with sea dragons, giant tortoises, and hammerhead sharks. It was called the Galapagos and I was hooked. Since then I have read numerous books and a ton of documentaries on Darwin and the Galapagos. The more I learned, the more I needed to go there.
So after a thirty year wait and a short trip to Colombia I figured why not skip over to Ecuador and take a boat around the islands. As far as I am concerned the only way to see the Galapagos is by a live aboard boat. Cruise ships are ok if you are not in that great of shape, but you don’t get too see that much from them. You really want to stay in the smaller live aboard, where they have flexibility to island hop. Seven to ten days will get you a great trip, and you will see most of the hot spots. There are 18 main islands and 3 smaller ones in this volcanic arpeggio straddling the equator. To get to the islands you have to book a flight, and then also pay a National Park fee. They limit the amount of tourists that can come to the islands, so research your trip carefully and check out reviews of different operators.
The Galapagos Islands is where the ship the HMS Beagle, under Captain Fitzroy, mapped the islands out during the 1800s. Charles Darwin was a naturalist on the ship, and studied on the islands thoroughly all the animals and plant life. It was years later that his theory of evolution came to him, but it was the Finches with different beak types that lead him to his breakthrough.
Each of the islands animals developed different characteristics over time, evolving specifically for their needs. It is believed that the animals mainly arrived on natural rafts from the mainland tens of thousands of years ago. So for the finches, even though they all had a common ancestor, each of their beaks developed differences for what worked on in their environment. Enough on that, if you are interested in this there are lot of documentaries that can explain it better than I.
The one thing that was true was how amazing all the animals are here. Everywhere you go there is unique life like Giant Tortoises. In the 1800s whaling ships would collect and put in their holds to keep as living food. These beautiful, 100 year olds animals are amazing to look at, as they slowly lumber around. The most famous one is Lonesome George, the last remaining tortoise from Pinta Island. Unfortunately, he died last year, the last of his species. There are only 7 species of Galapagos Tortoise left.
There are two kinds of iguanas here, land and marine. The land one is a muddled brown color, while the marine iguana is very black and gray. This is the only place in the world where iguanas developed to live in the sea. They graze on seaweed, then laze around the rest of the day sunning them selves.
This is the only place in the world where penguins live at the equator also. These little guys fly through the water around you looking like fish more than birds. They are really like little shots of lightning. There are numerous other unique bird species here, like the blue footed boobie and Alcatraz.
Sea lions are everywhere here, and very friendly. In fact, all the animals are pretty friendly here, not shy of people at all. They don’t have any large predators here. Sadly, people brought rats, goats, dogs, cats, and other predators that take advantage of the native animal’s lack of fear. Making them easy prey. Now the rangers are trying to eradicate evasive species.
Under the water is as interesting as above, with numerous species of shark, sea snakes, and octopuses. I scuba dived numerous times and loved it. I did learn one lesson, which is never dive with an instructor who does not love to dive. Our nature guide got his license to make extra money, but he really did not like it. He tried talking me out of diving numerous times, and I actually was not comfortable diving with him. He put me in what I consider the most dangerous diving situation I have ever been it. We were diving between two pillars of rock that rose out of the sea. The currents shot through the middle of them incredibly fast. The only way to stay in place was to Spiderman the walls of the island, and crawl. Then at the peak we pushed off as hard as we could and kicked with all our strength. The girl in front of me kicked me in the face as we were crossing, knocking my mask down and my regulator off. I spun in the current flipping over like crazy as I tried to gain control and regain my air. I was able to, but I was hopelessly behind and had to swim to the bottom and back up. The guide never even noticed what happened. If I had panicked I would have been dead. On the plus side I was the only one in the group to see a hammerhead. Amazing sharks with a head that branches out to two eyestalks, just like a hammer.
Sailing between the islands is really relaxing and enjoyable. If you start to miss civilization a bit too much you can stay over at Isabela Island, where you can enjoy all the comforts of home. If you love nature, then this should be top on your list of places to visit.
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