Traveling the Galapagos Islands
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012
By Kayla Tucker
For the Salisbury Post
Hiking over the rough terrain of black lava at Sullivan Bay was a challenge, but one that I found exhilarating as I felt that I was on the moon. This was one of the memorable moments of my trip to the Galapagos Islands this past summer. The amazing islands are located in the Pacific Ocean near the equator (in the Northern and Southern hemispheres), approximately 600 miles off Ecuador’s west coast. Volcanoes formed the islands several million years ago. There are 15 main islands, 3 smaller islands and 107 rocks and inlets.
The Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535; however, Charles Darwin made the islands known to the world in the 1830s. He is famous for writing the book, “The Origin of Species” and his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin is credited with categorizing the islands’ species as well as restoring the tortoise population. The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island houses the last know living Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George. He is at least 100 years old and a favorite among staff and tourists. Although he is admired, he still has not taken a mate, hence the name “Lonesome.”
Most vacationers stay aboard small expedition vessels that house between 20 and 36 people (including the ship’s crew). This allows for easy access between the islands, and visitors need to be prepared for wet and dry landings. Most islands are not inhabited by people. Visitors are not allowed on the islands without a naturalist licensed through the Galapagos National Park Service, and only 16 people are allowed in each group that tours the islands. The naturalists warn vacationers to not touch the wild life, sea life or foliage. This makes for unspoiled beaches, inspiring views, and animals and sea life that are curious and unafraid of humans.
Since El Nino and La Nina alter the currents around the Galapagos Islands, many different species have emerged from their harsh environments. During El Nino, fertilization of phytoplankton is reversed and the ocean becomes barren. During La Nina, the oceans are renewed with an explosion of sea life. Photographing the many endangered species on the islands is a photographer’s dream as there are Galapagos land iguanas, penguins (the only living tropical penguin), giant tortoises and mangrove finches.
One day while visiting Santiago Island I heard a lonesome cry from the beach. Investigating, I found a young sea lion pup in search of its mother. Between cries, the pup was following a marine iguana and attempting to play with the iguana’s tail. Strangely enough the iguana seemed to know the pup’s distress and allowed it to follow him around.
Sea lions are known for their frisky behavior and their love of play. Another day after a long hike, we set off to the beach for a swim. Scuba diving and snorkeling are favorite pastimes of visitors as brightly colored fish and sea life abound. As the water was a bit on the cold side, I decided to lie out on the red sand beach. As I was just getting comfortable, I noticed a big male sea lion gazing around as his harem of females lay beside him. All of a sudden, his enormous body was racing toward me, and in an instant I was standing. I had not realized while looking out upon the ocean that behind me another male sea lion was sauntering down the beach toward the females. Luckily, everything ended peacefully as the enormous sea lion showed his dominance with loud grunts.
The frigate birds near Balta are a sight to see. They are huge and beautiful yet they are considered the “bad guys” as they steal food from other birds that have worked tirelessly to obtain their meals. The blue-footed boobies are numerous on some islands, including Rabida. The males attract the females by making their webbed feet a beautiful shade of blue to show their health. They seem comfortable with the watchful eye of many photographers.
If you are into hiking rough terrains, spectacular ocean life, or enjoy breathtaking views that stretch for miles without another person in sight, than the Galapagos Islands are for you. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.