A volcanic archipelago

Text by Lyn Harley
Photos by Igor Yasno, the full album is here

We made it to the Galapagos! We were the last ones to board the ship because our flight was delayed, but they waited for us and we were on our way to explore some of the 24 large and small volcanic islands that make up the Galapagos. Most of these islands are devoid of vegetation and look more like the moon than Hawaii. Its most famous visitor is Charles Darwin, who developed his evolutionary theories after studying the wild life here and eating turtles that he shouldn’t have! The animals and plants that came to dominate these remote islands came by air, sea, and floating vegetation over the course of 10 million years. There were no natural predators so a very unique and special ecosystem developed that has been the source of amazement and excitement for every person lucky enough to visit.

So how do spend our days aboard this floating hotel? In order to explore an island, we board zodiacs, which are small, fast little motorized rafts, where we sit around the edge on bumpers “cheek to cheek”. Each zodiac holds 16 people. We take a large bag with our snorkeling gear. There is one excursion in the morning and one in the afternoon. Each island has its own unique topography, and some landings are wet, where we land in the water near the beach, and others dry, where we walk up on to the cliffs. Some of the beaches have beautiful soft white sand, whereas others are black and pebbly or shelly. We have climbed over paths filled with rocks and boulders, trekked on the soft sand, and carefully made our way over black, craggy, lava fields.

We have seen large candelabra cactus and short lava cactus bushes, mangrove trees, green patchy fields, high brown cliffs, bright red carpet vegetation, volcanoes, lagoons, and pools. The water ranges from turquoise to azure and is crystal clear. On the seahorse shaped island of Isabela we walked through a path bordered by poison apple trees (if you brush against the leaves you will get a skin rash), cotton trees with yellow or white flowers, sandpaper trees, whose leaves feel exactly like sandpaper, and sticker bushes. Here the land iguanas build burrows to sleep in, and we came across several on the path along with a huge tortoise resting in the shade of a bush. On most islands sea lions are prevalent (along with their adorable pups) and completely oblivious to our presence. I was walking along a narrow rocky path as a sea lion came towards me and lay down right in front of me. There was no way to go around her. I had no idea what to do! The guide finally noticed and said that I should clap my hands, and sure enough she picked herself up and scooted away. Go figure!

We have seen green and red marine iguanas and the large rust colored land iguanas that look more like mini dinosaurs. We have been amazed at the blue footed booby birds that dive straight in the water in a line to catch their prey. We have spotted brown pelicans swallowing fish so large that we were sure it would not go down her throat, albatross, flamingos, frigate birds that steal food when they can, and black flightless cormorants who have lost their ability to fly. The finches and mockingbirds are very prevalent and curious and will hop quite close landing on your belongings. We have swum with the sea turtles, schools of tiny fish, “chocolate chip “ star fish and large, colorful tropical fish of all varieties. Sometimes the sea lions join us in our snorkeling. We have seen sharks and a few tiny penguins!

We have enjoyed delicious food, particularly the seafood, which is caught locally and is quite fresh and delicious.We have met very interesting people from all over the US and the world. and have had quite interesting “political” conversations with a young Spanish couple. We have been entertained by the naturalists, who are multi-talented and can sing and play instruments as well as instruct us in wild life. We have listened to lectures about the formation of the Galapagos and seen fascinating documentaries about Darwin . We danced and sang and have loved every minute of this amazing adventure, and cannot get enough of the beauty and magnificence of our incredible world!

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