The Galapagos Islands were all that I had hoped they would be. You know when you hear that the birds and animals don’t fear humans and you can get very close to them? I knew this also, but when you actually experience that—nose to nose with a great big red-footed booby bird, for example, and they don’t move—it’s awesome!
Our sailboat (the sails were only used occasionally) had 16 tourists and a crew of seven. The meals were very good, the other tourists were interesting and interested, and so were good company. We had about equal numbers of Americans and Europeans. We were quite vigorous in our activities—long climbs and walks over rocks. A couple of days I even went snorkeling! I had never done that before. As the water was very cold, I wore a wetsuit, which was reminiscent of pulling on a Playtex girdle back in the ’50s. The weather was not perfect, as some days were overcast but it didn’t really rain and the sun shone on most days.
I had brought along a Galapagos Wildlife Book so I checked off all the birds, animals and reptiles that I saw—kind of like my routine with my ‘Sister Wendy’s picks’ on Western Art.The frigate birds that followed the boat have a 50 inch wingspan; three kinds of Boobies were here and there (red-footed, blue-footed and masked);
One day we went looking for tortoises in the highlands—what a sight—we could see about 15 of them within one view. Ann said that with their shiny smooth carapaces, they looked like big golf balls in a pasture. We also saw them in the breeding program in the Darwin Station. The eggs are collected from the wild, but not until they’re ready to hatch, or they won’t. They keep the babies protected in pens until they’re about four years old (about football size), then return them to the wild with their carapaces numbered to learn about their habits. Tortoises continue growing throughout their whole lifespan (maybe 150 years) and weigh up to 550 pounds. Their heart rate is 10 per minute and they can live up to a year with no food or water. The whalers and buccaneers took advantage of that, piling them up on board as a meat source, killing hundreds of thousands.
We moved to a different island or area each night. The first night the sailing was beyond choppy—the boat really rolled and galloped. Other nights were smoother. We visited about nine islands in all.
As one would expect, the numbers of visitors are increasing by leaps and bounds and are putting a lot of pressure on the environment. Apparently bigger and bigger boats from bigger and bigger companies are pressuring the government to allow this kind of accessibility over the objections of the local people and the scientists. For the most part the boat operators take all the money out of the islands, and this business is very lucrative. The scientists deplore the effect this big business has on the environment. So it goes.
In the middle of the week, ten of our original group left (there had been a change for them when we six came on Monday) and a new bunch joined us, again to number 16. These were all Europeans. We ate our meals at two tables of eight. There were eight cabins on board—I roomed with a young woman who was born in Korea, raised in Panama and now lives in CA.
Our naturalist, Edwin, was excellent, giving enjoyable and helpful information. He was born and raised in the islands—we met his four-year-old daughter when we were in Puerto Ayora, the main small town. While there I also had another errand—to buy a new camera as I had managed to dunk mine in the sea. Luckily I was able to salvage my card with all the images on it so at least my pictures were not lost, thank goodness, though my camera was ruined. There was exactly one shop selling one brand (Kodak) with exactly two models to choose from, but so far my choice seems to be satisfactory.
One afternoon we walked for a couple of hours over fairly fresh lava (120 years old) that looked like beaten fudge, all in curls, swirls and ribbons. There were just beginning to be tiny bits of vegetation.
We saw flamingos posed in a pond with the late afternoon sun lighting their feathers and reflecting on the water’s surface.
On Espanola Island we saw colorful black and red marine iguanas along with albatross, and hawks, up close! A sea lion mother had just given birth. The small pup was fully furred and moving about some, while the frigate birds swooped in and fought over the placenta.
A week has gone by, and I’m back in Guayaquil, getting my clothes washed. The Galapagos were simply wonderful.