The Galapagos Islands: Where time stands still

Animals, birds, vegetation and topography are unique to each

If you enjoy the most unique in nature, mixed with exquisite
beauty and mystery, then the Galapagos Islands are for you
If you enjoy the most unique in nature, mixed with exquisite beauty and mystery, then the Galapagos Islands are for you.

Combine pelicans and sea lions, penguins thousands of miles away from the south pole, volcanoes that still shake the ground, British pirates that almost destroyed the islands, Charles Darwin creating his theory of evolution, birds of the same species with blue, red or gray feet depending on which of these islands they live on, lizards that dive for dinner, birds that can’t fly, and enormous tortoises that live to at least 160 years, and you have a small slice of the most unique group of islands in this universe. (Galapagos is tortoise in Spanish.)

The Galapagos, a part of Ecuador, is located about 600 miles from the South American coast and sits on the equator. This chain of 19 islands also include about 50 small rocks and islets, made of lava from volcanoes. The total land area is a little more than 3,000 square miles spread out in an area of sea covering 17,000 square miles. Only a few of the islands are inhabited by humans, partly due to the fact that only one of the islands has a source of fresh water and its proximity to civilization.

In 1835, Charles Darwin was a 22-year-old Cambridge student when he sailed to the Galapagos as a naturalist on a scientific expedition. In his five-week stay he collected evidence he later used for his theory of evolution. This became the foundation for his revolutionary work in revising set ideas in biology and changes in all sciences in his “Origin of the Species”. Due to pressure of the times, he felt he could not publish his work until 25 years after his return.

Due to the islands’ isolation from the mainland of South America, by deep water, treacherous currents and distance from one another, small animals and plants brought by the winds and currents developed differently. They adapted themselves to conditions on the islands and became unique unto themselves. Here is an unbelievable place where wild animals and birds have no instinctive fear of each other or humans; they are as friendly, curious and unafraid today as their ancestors were when Charles Darwin first visited the islands in 1835. The main reason is that no large predators made it to the islands in the very beginning, therefore the wild animal and bird population never had to fear harm. Even though man later came and sadly disseminated whole species, but amazingly, the animals and birds to this day are friendly and tame.

No two islands have the exact same inhabitants and there are creatures here that do not exist anywhere else on earth. Each has its own uniqueness and continues to challenge naturalists from the four corners of the world.

Each island is distinctive and has its own character and flavor. Animals, birds, vegetation and topography are unique to each one. Each island has at least two names given by the British and the Ecuadorians. The following first names listed are there more commonly used by the islanders for a few of the islands.

– The largest island, Isabella (Albrmarie), takes up more than half the land area and has the highest point of the archipelago called Wolf Volcano at 5,600 feet high. (There are four more active volcanoes on the island). Pelicans, penguins, flightless cormorants and boobies can be found on the shoreline. Darwin’s Salt Lake Crater can be found in the central area.

– On Fernandina (Narborough), Marine iguanas sun themselves on the black rocks of the coast, while sea lions joyfully play in the inlets and coves. Pelicans and penguins and cormorants congregate on the beach and are a delight to watch.

– Santiago (James) Island offers sea lions, pelicans, marine iguanas and a fur seal colony and a volcano.

– Genovesa (Tower) Island is a nursery for breeding colonies of sea birds. Red footed and masked boobies, doves and gulls can be found here. The male frigate bird with its inflatable red throat courting his mate is a memorable sight.

– Espanola (Hood) Island is the only known breeding site of the rare waved albatross. Blue-footed boobies and lava lizards enjoy this little island.

– A great place for snorkeling is on Plaza Island. Friendly sea lions and land iguanas will make you feel at home while a gathering of sea birds above will keep you mesmerized and in wonder. Just watching a blue-footed boobie make a landing or dive straight down into the sea for his dinner will keep you awe struck for days.

– On Floreana (Charles) Island, pink flamingoes live in one of the islands’ many lagoons. Volcanic cones are in abundance for great photo opportunities. The world’s oldest post office, consisting of a barrel that whalers in the 18th century left mail to be picked up by their counterparts going in the opposite direction, is located here. I am told that it is still in use. This is one of the few inhabited islands.

– San Christobal (Chathum) is the islands’ capitol. It has the only year-round fresh water source in the archipelago. Freshwater Bay has two freshwater waterfalls that run off the cliffs into the sea.

– Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) is a large, dormant volcano and is the most populated island. There is a research center and there are tours that give clear explanation of the projects that are being completed. Wildlife is in abundance with giant land tortoises, sea turtles, land iguanas and marine iguanas (noted as the only sea going lizard in the world; they can stay at the bottom of the sea feeding for an hour at a time). Lava lizards and the nonpoisonous island snakes can be found here.

Birds found only in the Galapagos can be viewed at leisure. Hawks and mockingbirds with 13 species of finches, frigate birds and gulls will keep your interest as they will sometimes land and pose for photos. Three species of boobies, (blue-footed, red-footed and masked) each has established different nesting times as they live on different islands and types of habitats. They fish for food in different areas of the sea, so that they do not interfere with their survival. (A lesson that could be well taken.)

Also, there is Lonesome George, the only surviving giant tortoise on the Galapagos Island of Pinta. George had been alone for years. Naturalists imported two voluptuous females believed to be under the age of 100 to keep him company and hopefully reproduce. George gets the naturalists hopes up by having the females leaving a trail of eggs in his enclosure. So far none have hatched. The naturalists and George keep hoping.

For a fascinating trip of a lifetime, find a reliable travel agent that is familiar with the Galapagos, and enjoy.

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