Darwin’s Inspiring Galapagos

Galapagos 521 If you love nature, a visit to the Galapagos is an absolute must! It’s really an astounding archipelago, consisting of some 130 wildlife-packed islands. After a while, you get used to hiking on narrow paths and having to step around sea lions, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies. It’s that kind of place.

Galapagos 066 As Gibson pointed out, we actually visited more islands in the Galapagos than Charles Darwin, who played a big part in making the Galapagos famous. Darwin, in his famous five-year voyage, spent a month here, and set foot on a total of just four of the islands. But his observations about each island’s distinct species helped catalyze his theories on evolution. And things haven’t changed since Darwin’s time — islands often have their own distinct set of species, including finches, mockingbirds, and lizards.

Quito 049 We flew from Seattle (although I came via Iowa City) to Atlanta, and on to Quito. The Atlanta to Quito flight is less than five hours and very manageable. Better yet, there are direct flights from JFK Airport to Guiyacil, which is the departure point for the flight to the Galapagos. You also miss entering Ecuador through the Quito airport, where they have about three customs people on staff to process hundreds of passengers; we waited over an hour to get through Quito’s customers.

Quito 070 We had a brief stay in Quito, but did manage to tour around a bit. We went to the old section of the city, which has a certain charm. And we went to a spot right, smack dab on the Equator. Gibson managed to throw a baseball all the way from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere there! They have a big tower, topped by a globe with the equator shown prominently, in Quito at the equator. And there’s a nice little museum inside the tower, so we had a great time straddling the hemispheres.

After our day in Quito, we then flew to the Galapagos, first stopping at another city in Ecuador (Guayacil). We boarded a ship operated by Lindblad, and were on it for seven days and nights. Each day, we’d take a zodiac from the ship to an island to explore, generally a couple of times each day. The ship was staffed by three naturalists (two were quite good, and one had a bit of trouble differentiating a bird from a turtle :-( ), who led each day’s hike or snorkle adventure.

Galapagos 073 Right away, we knew we were in for a treat. On our first day, we saw sea lions, frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, small ground finches, and marine iguanas. The wonder of it was in part the exotic species that were everywhere, but also how easy it was to be close to them. The area is so unspoiled, and the animals would let you get within a foot or two of them. At left is a male frigatebird, with its ballooned wattle, hoping to attract a mate. The male can be out in the sun all day like this for weeks, and as the wattle weathers and fades, so does his chances of attracting a mate.

Galapagos 451 We had snorkled in August at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and we snorkled this trip in the Galapagos. All of us agreed that Galapagos snorkling is better. There were a great variety of stunning tropical fish and fabulous coral in both places. But in the Galapagos, we encountered many sea lions (often swimming right by us), Pacific Green Sea Turtles (quite large), giant manta rays (very large, and got us all thinking about Steve Irwin), white-tipped sharks (not harmful), Galapagos Penguins, and Brown Pelicans. At one point, I ended up in the middle of a fight between sea lion and pelican, but escaped unharmed!

About the only negative with snorkling in the Galapagos is the water temperature, which is pretty chilly. One might think ocean water at the Equator would be warm, but it’s fed by the Humboldt Current, coming up straight from Antartica. So if you come here, be forewarned — even with a wetsuit, it’s still a cold water experience.

Galapagos 465 When we weren’t snorkling, we were hiking in our mornings or afternoons. The hikes were generally 2-3 miles long, but over challenging terrain. Interestingly, the islands are quite close to each other (tens of miles at most), but are quite varied. We hiked on one where its surface resembled a different planet, due to relatively recent lava flows. On others, we scrambled over boulders. And we would occasionally find nice, sandy paths.

Galapagos 167 But while the hiking was challenging, it was quite doable for almost all of the group. And, boy, was it worth it! Pictures will be far better at communicating the range and beauty of what you see in the Galapagos, and the animals are not spooked by nearby humans. So you really get to see them. We saw countless iguanas (marine and land) and lizards, so our kids were in seventh heaven! And the birds in the Galapagos are extraordinary, and fairly easy to identify.

Canon to be sorted again 110 One extraordinary sighting was a pair of Pacific Green Sea Turtles mating in the surf (picture courtesy of Gibson). We had hiked up over a hill and down to a secluded beach, only to discover a rather intimate interlude on the beach. The turtles didn’t seem to mind our presence, though, and we got some good photographs. Not sure if it’s National Enquirer material, but it was amazing to watch.

Galapagos 368 As we were cruising around the Pacific Ocean, we ran into pods of Common Dolphins and Bottlenosed Dolphins. They would swim around the ship for quite some time (half hour or so), and there were so many of them. The Common Dolphins really leapt out of the water, and it was worth getting to the deck at 6:15 a.m. to see them. And the Bottlenosed are really beautiful animals, that we could watch for hours.Galapagos 372

We cruised on Lindblad’s Islander, a boat holding up to 48 passengers, with a crew of 32. After a week on the boat, we felt like we got to know many of the other passengers well. We were fortunate that we shared the trip with some incredibly interesting and nice people, which made the entire experience that much more fun. And the staff was very capable, with a real eye for making the experience safe and fun. That said, we did run into our unusual cases, which can become an issue on a small ship over a week-long period.

Galapagos 119 So, we’re back in the swing of things on our trip. The biggest downer for the week here was the New Hampshire primary, where I was hoping Barack Obama would lead the field. But, I’m encouraged with his win in Iowa and a very close second in New Hampshire, so I am looking forward to following the Nevada and South Carolina results. Now, back to Quito, and then on to the Amazon!

Feel free to check out our (way too many!!) photos and some great videos of the Galapagos wildlife. And I’ve included some of our better wildlife pictures below.

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Here Sterling walks by a giant Galapagos Tortoise. These animals must weight close to 500 pounds, and are fascinating to watch as they plod along.

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Not all of the creatures in the Galapagos are big, exotic birds. This beautiful bird, the Galapagos Dove, could be found on a couple of the islands that we visited. Its markings are so striking that we often found ourselves looking at it for minutes at a time.

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We got a number of great looks at the Galapagos Penguin. It’s a great warm-up for us prior to Antarctica. We may also see more penguins further south in South America.

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With as many ready targets on the different islands, raptors are scarce. We got great views of the Galapagos Hawk, but there are almost no other hawks, falcons, or eagles on the islands.

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This Yellow Warbler can be found in North America, so isn’t quite as exotic as most of the animals we saw in the Galapagos. But its color stands out so gorgeously against the lava rocks that it’s worth including.

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Sea lions were everywhere. On our last morning, we went to a beach and it was literally packed with sea lions. They were beautiful to watch, and would often swim right around us when we were snorkling. Also, one night, we watched them off the side of the ship chasing fish and got to see just how fast they are.

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The Sally Lightfoot Crabs were everywhere. Their coloring is spectacular, and they are fun to watch as they scurry along the rocks.

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Galapagos-2 191Here a Hood Mockingbird plops down on a log next to Gibson for a little afternoon chat. They talked mostly about lava lizards, and Gibson wondered what they taste like. The Mockingbird just laughed.

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Feel free to check out our photos and videos of this special place.

One Response to “Darwin’s Inspiring Galapagos”

  1. Roland Richards Says:

    How cold is cold? Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Maine, Mass, NJ, SC, …?

    Great pictures.

    We will be there soon.

    R2

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