Feature Article: The Galapagos Islands

By November 21, 2012 January 21st, 2013 Adventure Travel Company, Trips

Adventure Travel Company

The Galapagos Islands is a dream destination for any wildlife lover. I’m a huge wildlife lover and I had the opportunity to visit the islands for 8 days this past October.

Nowhere on earth can you get so close to the wildlife. While I was there a juvenile Galapagos Hawk flew to us!  He sat and watched while clicked away with our cameras and after about 20 minutes, flew towards a new group of approaching tourists, posing and adjusting his feathers. The animals are just as interested in us as we are of them it would seem.

 Seeing the islands by boat is the only way to completely experience the diversity of the park. This is what most of the days were like: 6am, wake up – 7am, breakfast – 8am, wet landing and short hike – 10am, deep water snorkel – 12pm, lunch – 12:30-2pm, siesta – 2:30pm, wet landing/snorkel – 4:30pm, beer o’clock/tea time – 6pm, dinner – 8pm, bed time. I was never bored and never felt overly busy either. I had time to just chill out, read, tan but at the end of every day felt like I had done and seen so much.

We must have had the best guide on the island because I saw EVERYTHING and I mean everything. Everything she said we might see, we saw. I went snorkeling with Hammerhead sharks, most people need to take special dive boats and travel to the far North of the islands to see Hammerheads. I saw a brand new Sea Lion pup, placenta still attached. You had to watch your step because if the Blue Footed Boobies weren’t nesting directly on the trail, there was a lava lizard. We saw Albatross, Frigate birds, Nazca Boobies, Blue footed Boobies, Land Iguanas, White Tip, Black Tip and Galapagos Sharks, Fur Sea Lions, Giant Tortoises, Sea Turtles, Manta Rays, Sting Rays, Galapagos Mocking Birds, Lava Gulls, Lava Herons, Sally Lightfoot Crabs – everything.

Let me try to paint a picture…

To be a resident non-human of the Galapagos would be like living in Utopia. The majority of the birds, animals and reptiles there have virtually no natural predators. Marine Iguanas happily munch on green algae during the day (the brown algae gives them tummy aches) and retreat back to the shore early enough so they can soak in the waning hours of sunlight and recharge their biological batteries. In the highlands, Giant Tortoises (the namesakes of the Islands) spend much of their day munching on greenery disturbed only by the occasional Yellow Warbler or Galapagos Finch eagerly pecking at their shell for bugs.

Almost every beach is a sea turtle nesting area. You can spot them mating in the water one male on top of a female, two more males in tow. Kind of makes you feel awkward taking pictures. Their tracks on the sand when they come ashore to lay their eggs resemble construction truck tires. Then you realize there is only one set of tracks and remember there are no vehicles for at least 50 km in each direction.

 

Sea Lions litter the beaches; bulls, pups, expecting mothers bark, shimmy and bask. Upon surfing in from the shore, it seems as if a few “Steps” for a young male is more than he can handle before throwing himself on to the sand and lazily closing his eyes. It’s a start contrast once they hit the water: they become sleek black bullets and seem to conjure up speed out of nowhere. Playful teens tug on your fins while you snorkel and show off surfing waves.

  

There are no indigenous land mammals on the Galapagos Islands. Any rat, cat, donkey, goat or pig was introduced by visitors and inhabitants. The only mammals live in the water and lizards, birds and tortoises rule the land.

Many people say the landscape of the islands resemble an alien planet. Once the guide explains how the islands were formed and the volcanic eruptions that cause massive flats of black lava that melt directly into the sea, pinnacle rocks made of ash or black sandy beaches,  it all becomes very – Earthly. Some lava formations still resemble liquid and you can easily picture the hot, liquid-rock flowing into the sea that what will eventually become a black sand beach.

  

The Ecuadorian government is doing a fantastic job of protecting the islands. Many would worry that a government that had such severe problems with debt they had to adopt the US dollar would do just as bad a job of preserving such a delicate and vulnerable ecosystem. The reality is quite the opposite of the three inhabited islands only 14% of it can be used for human habitation. 97% of all the islands are a national Park and tourists can only visit .001% of that and must remain on clearly marked trails. Some islands are completely off limits to tourists and the park has strict rules about how many tourists can be on at visiting points at any given time. Of the 8 days I was there my group was at the same visiting point as another group maybe three times. I hardly saw other boats or people except when I was in Puerto Ayora, the capital of Santa Cruz Island.  Park officials are constantly working at eradicated the introduced animals that have severely effected the populations of Land Iguanas, Giant Tortoises and other endemic species.

People tend to be all doom and gloom when it comes to the future of our planet. The Galapagos left me with a tremendous amount of hope and inspiration. It’s the kind of trip you can go on and have a great time, see amazing things and come back having learned something. My kind of trip.

Elke Hinson l Adventure Travel Consultant l The Adventure Travel Company
408 King Street West  Toronto  ON  M5V 1K2
t 416 345 9726 x 2223 l f 416 977 8972
www.theadventuretravelcompany.com

Check out photos form my trip here

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