The Galapagos Islands best summed up in one word: Magical.
600 miles due west from continental Ecuador lies an archipelago of 20 volcanic terrain islands that are home to many brilliant animal species and diverse vegetation. It’s a place that is widely renowned for its famous visitor, Charles Darwin, who by happenstance passed through these islands in 1831. As a result of his curiosity, specifically related to “Darwin’s Finches”, as they were later named, the theory of natural selection was inspired and furthermore evolved through countless hours of research by many academicians and scientists. The Galapagos is a unique place where animals know no human predators and the experiences are simply beyond words.
When I ponder how to describe the sensation of observing these beings in their natural habitat, untouched by all, save natural selection, the best word that comes to mind is awe. Had I been a refined student of literature, perhaps I would be able to better articulate the depth of amazement and pure giddiness of frolicking among these beautiful, majestic creatures of Earth. The four glorious April days I spent hiking, snorkeling, exploring and observing a few of the enchanting islands within the archipelago were truly magical, far beyond my imagination.
My favorite day trip was visiting the island of North Seymour. This island is only inhabited by natives, i.e. no human settlement, similar to another 16 of the 20 islands. Specifically, North Seymour features the adorable Blue Footed Boobies and regal Frigate birds, who bask in the sun, allowing human trespassers to marvel in their mating calls, search for nourishment and general daily activities.
During breeding season, the male Frigates distend their red “gular sac” in order to attract females. It kind of looks like a heart shaped balloon under their beak, and who said chivalry was dead? The Blue Footed Boobies have blue webbed feet specifically due to the fish they eat. On an island a bit farther away, called Genovesa, there are Red Footed Boobies…and yes, they eat a different type of fish! How cool is science?
One of my most memorable moments occurred near the famed island of Bartolome. Soon after donning snorkel gear, I started off underwater, searching for marvels of the sea such as sea lions, baby sharks, sea turtles, marine iguanas, and more. All of a sudden…BOOM!…I spotted an adult sea lion. This graceful and playful mammal was swimming towards me and was within reach of my fingers. OMG, I could actually reach out and touch it! It all happened so fast, and when the sea lion passed by me, as if I were invisible, I found myself squealing like a kid in a candy store. Wait, can I request a replay? I wonder if anyone heard the high pitched, strange noises, that were emitting from my snorkel mask…probably not, but I certainly hope this gorgeous sea lion could feel my excitement and know that he or she made my day, or likely, my entire visit to the Galapagos.
I would be remiss if I concluded this discourse without mentioning a tidbit about the abundance of fresh fish and the vibrant nightly kiosk scene in Puerto Ayora. For a few hours each night, one of the small roads in the tiny town transforms into a festival of food. There are chairs and tables everywhere and restaurants, side by side, teeming with fresh fish and other simple culinary delights. Hands down, the ceviche, paired with an ice cold Pilsener beer, was superb and plentiful, a must!
Fascination, joy, charm, enchantment…I feel profoundly fortunate to have experienced the Galapagos Islands once and would spring at the opportunity for a second encounter.
Sonia’s trivia: Which island is best known for being the location of multi-decade in-depth Finch studies? Hint: aerial view shown here: