Thursday, October 17, 2013
The Galapagos - The Most Amazing Place on Earth
Clambering over the bow of the Zodiac, we were immediately amongst hundreds of sea lions lounging and socializing along the sandy beach. Some were dozing in the sun. Little pups suckled their mothers. Others waddled into and out of the sea. The sea lions were indifferent to us humans, so we wandered, barefoot, among them, staring wide-eyed and photographing to our hearts’ content. Pelicans and blue-footed boobies patrolled in the sky and every few moments one would transform into a svelte dagger and plunge into the water. A hawk watched from the cliff top.
I was on a tour in the Galapagos Islands, those isolated, arid volcanic islands that sit astride the equator about 1,000 kilometres west of Ecuador. As I was learning, these islands are home to the most remarkable displays of nature on this planet.
At one end of the beach, we saw what appeared to be a confrontation. A pelican stood atop a great rock, like the king of the castle. Its long beak pointed diagonally downward at a black marine iguana only two feet away that appeared to be climbing to conquer the top. Dozens of bright red and black Sally Lightfoot crabs were scattered on the rock like spectators, a few small ones even riding on the iguana, which was about 3-feet long and looked like it had come directly from the Paleozoic era. It was an unusual and beautiful tableau. I was excited!
We proceeded to walk around the island, barren, dusty and dotted with large cacti. But where the land met the water, life thrived. The most bizarre were large groups of the prehistoric-looking marine iguanas. They lounged lazily together, often flopped right on top of each other. The guide explained that they swim and seek food in the sea and then later, back on land, blow saltwater out their nostrils.
Too soon the tour ended, and we motored back to the Galapagos Legend, a 100-passenger cruise ship, where we lived in comfort. Over four wonderful days, we did three tours daily.
Each tour was fabulous, with one incredible surprise following another. We saw 150-year-old, lumbering tortoises, one with a black cowbird sitting placidly aboard its shell. We strolled amongst a colony of blue-foot boobies and watched intricate courtship dances. In the frigate-bird nesting area, males puffed out large bright-red balloons under their chins, striving to impress females. At a lake, elegant flamingos walked, seeking food under the shallow water. We saw yellow warblers and, of course, the ordinary-looking finches, whose beaks helped Charles Darwin decipher the processes of evolution.
When snorkeling, I marveled at schools of colourful fish and at large turtles, who swam underwater like ballet dancers. A young sea lion swam just below and turned upside down to get a better view of me. Occasionally a shark would glide past like a stealth bomber, causing my heart to momentarily stop beating.
Every night we would recount the astonishing sights we had seen — as Darwin and his companions must have — while watching the blazing sun drop into the sea.
If You Go, You Gotta Know
Galapagos Info: www.galapagosislands.com/
Galapagos Legend: www.discovergalapagos.com/GalapagosLegend/