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In the Galapagos

November 17, 2010
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Galapagos: Is there anywhere on earth that inspires nature lovers like this small volcanic archipelago, bang on the equator? Before we arrived here, I worried that years of imagining and wondering about these islands, made so famous by Darwin, would mean that the actual Galapagos would prove something of an anticlimax. Would I actually see a tortoise in the wild, or are they kept in zoo enclosures?

One of the giant tortoises

They eat and sleep, and that's about it

I needn’t have worried: the Galapagos islands are magical. Sure, they have changed since Darwin’s visit – he noted 17 introduced species when he visited in 1835, just 3 years after humans first started permanently living on the islands. But, despite the very real problems of non-native invasive species, the Galapagos remains one of the most pristine ecosystems left on our homogenising planet.

An iguana and a crab

We stay on Santa Cruz, where the majority of locals are from continental Ecuador, some are born here and the remainder are drawn from around the world by tourism opportunities, conservation work or research.

The main town, Puerto Ayora, has a statue in homage to Darwin’s evolution theory, which is yards from the typical South American, very Catholic, cemetery.

Homage to Darwin's evolution

The Catholic cemetery

Pelicans line up in hope next to the fish stall

The rain follows us here from Quito – it’s a very unusual year, we’re told, normally the rainy season finishes by October. So we hire a driver to take us around the island. There are five of us: my brother David and his girlfriend Emily have joined us, plus another friend Jolyon, all from the UK.

Marvelling at a tortoise (from left: Emily, David, Jolyon, our driver, Nick)

Floating and farting

Indigenous cactus trees

We are five minutes out of the town when we spot our first giant tortoise, ambling slowly across the road: a huge, slow dinosaur tank, labouring on elephant feet. It’s an awesome sight, this ancient animal the giant size of so many extinct species. Giant tortoises were once found across the new world.

Look how big the tortoise shells are

Iguanas eat algae

Horse and foal

We stop at some fields, where tortoises graze like lazy reptilian cows; a muddy pond, where they soak, fart and enjoy the buoyancy of the water, much like hippos; and see them munching at the vgrassy verges of the road.

Charles Darwin Centre building constructed from volcanic rock

Baby tortoises bred at the centre for release are numbered according to their island species

Most of the indigenous flowers on the island are yellow to attract insect pollinators rather than birds

On the coastal path, we see iguanas and pelicans, frigates (which have recently been found to be a distinct sub-species to those on the continent, despite the fact that they fly thousands of kilometres) and a snake.

Young pelican

Mature pelican - the animals are unafraid of humans

We explore lava tubes, created during one of the still frequent eruptions here on the young archipelago.

Nick at the entrance to a lava tube

Marine iguana

Some of the buildings in Puerto Ayora are beautiful

It’s very exciting to be here. Tonight we set sail for a few days around some of the islands. We’ll report back with photos and video next week.

Don’t miss Nick’s photos.

Crab on the shore of Santa Cruz

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2010 10:00 pm

    It is indeed remarkable how the Galapagos experience is even better than the very significant hype. You’ll love the sail Gaia. It looks from the photos like you’ve probably already seen George. Hope you said hi from me and you managed to set up some interviews.

    • Gaia permalink*
      November 21, 2010 6:13 pm

      George says Hi and he misses you Henry – he hopes you haven’t abandoned him completely for pandas! Thanks so much for your help – have already spoken to some of researchers.

      The boat trip was amazing.

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