Wednesday, May 1, 2013

It's all in the name

There's one word that will make anyone looking at this photo of some rather forbiddingly barren-looking islands instantly want to make the long journey there: Galapagos. David Attenborough's latest TV series, about the islands, has just started here and reminded me how lucky I was to go there two years ago with World Journeys. That's our yacht, La Pinta, our home for four days, moored beside Bartolome Island, the first one we visited after flying from Guayaquil in Ecuador to board the ship at Baltra. I was puzzled by the sterility of the place - I'd been expecting teeming wildlife, and it was disappointing to climb up this bare volcanic peak and hear there were only 10 species of any sort of life to be found on the entire island.
But that's why the islands are so interesting, and so vital to Darwin's studies. Not only are the various tortoises, finches and so on all differently adapted to their separate island environments, but the islands themselves are different ages, Bartolome one of the youngest, so the establishment of living things on them also makes for useful comparisons. We visited five, each with its own take on vegetation and wildlife, and finished up on Espanola, which is the cliche Galapagos island literally heaped with animals: well, the iguanas were heaped, on top of each other on rocks and on the path so we had to step over them, completely indifferent to our presence as they sunbathed and sneezed salt all over each other.
There were seals surfing up onto the beach to galumph over and sniff our boats and shoes, blue-footed boobies fixated on performing for and mating with each other as we stood right next to them, feeling somewhat embarrassed, fuzzy albatross babies stretching our their wings as they waited for their parents to come home with some food, the adults running down to the cliff edge to launch themselves off into the thermals, big-eyed nocturnal gulls preening each other... It was everything I'd hoped for, on top of a day of kayaking and swimming, with tropical penguins, bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs and playful seals, diving pelicans and balls of bait fish. And it had started with gentle Marimba chimes to wake us up with the announcement from the captain that there were whales off the stern of the boat. Fabulous place.

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