Posted by: luisabaldwin | January 8, 2012

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR
January 8, 2012
BY:
LENA BERLOVE & LUISA BALDWIN

A pre-historic Galapagos Island land iguana.  Wow!  I wouldn't want to get too close.

Photography by:
Lena Berlove
© All rights reserved

CLICK TO ENLARGE

My dear friend Lena Berlove dropped by to visit us in Boquete, Panama after the trip of a lifetime – a snorkeling and land safari in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.  Any visit to Ecuador merits a Galapagos excursion.  So stay tuned. Lena’s about to take you on a unique adventure of the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos Islands are volcanically formed and geologically new, hence, quite arid

The sky was true blue and the waters glistened as the tall sail sucked in wind and quietly propelled our catamaran towards one of the most wondrous places on earth.  I had waited a lifetime for this adventure and now goosebumps manifested on my arms.  Excited anticipation infected my soul and all of my senses tingled.  I was experiencing that hypersensitivity that comes from something brand new and very different.  In other words, I felt truly alive!  For I was one of the very few who were privileged to visit the Galapagos Islands.

Wow! I'm in another world

This archipelago of young volcanic islands is located in the Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Ecuador and is famous for its endemic species so I knew I was going to see wildlife never seen anywhere else on this wondrous earth.   I’m not particularly interested in geology, but these islands are fascinating because they are in constant geological flux.  The Galapagos Islands straddle something called the Galapagos hotspot.

Boy, the sci-fi movie producers only have to go to the Galapagos to get ideas for their extra-terrestrial characters!

This hotspot is constantly creating volcanoes because, the earth’s crust is being melted from below by a mantle plume.  The islands are moving in geological time with the older ones moving away from the plume and new islands starting as just rocks.  This has been going on for a very long time; some say up to 90 millions years.   Given all of that, I also knew the snorkeling was going to be spectacular and I just couldn’t wait.

These land iguanas come in all sizes, colors, and shapes

The true experience of being in the Galapagos Islands is not only the majesty of Mother Nature but the symphonic harmony of the species co-existing together on these small but magical islands.  Being able to witness a place void of trash (no flotsam in the ocean), pristine beaches, and animals that exhibit no fear of humans is a very humbling and inspirational experience.  This is really their place and I felt like I didn’t belong there.  I was just a visitor, allowed to have a glimpse of this unique place of nature.

Our first destination was Isla Lobos.  It was hard to believe I was really in the Galapagos and surrounded by such amazing wildlife.  As we walked over the sharp lava rock we started hearing a symphony of loud grunts.  The closer we got the louder it got.  We strained to see where it was coming from.  Up ahead we heard a screech from one of the other hikers and we dashed to see what all the commotion was about.  Right ahead of us on a rock outcropping we experienced a true pre-historic sight. Directly in front of my eyes was a huge land iguana and I knew this was the only place on earth I would get to see one.

Can you imagine coming within 2 inches of this land iguana? They're not afraid of humans in the Galapagos.

My camera started frantically clicking.  Wow!  I was in another world.  I didn’t want to leave this magnificent creature but onwards in search of the many grunts we went.

A mama Galapagos sea lion succling twins. A rare sight indeed.

Turning the bend was a delightful little cove with a white sand beach and all over the beach were hundreds of Lobos del Mar Sea Lions (also known as Galapagos Sea Lions).

A baby sea lion nursery. Couldn't you just watch this all day?

The most amazing thing about it was that they weren’t afraid of us.  We were able to get within two inches of them!  Imagine looking right into their soft brown eyes or looking at the smooth but coarse whiskers.  We were privileged and inspired to watch the mothers tenderly suckle their young.  These huge marine mammals just waddled right up to us. It was a photographer’s dream come true.

Lena finds the true inspiration for her trip to the Galapagos. The Galapagos Island land tortoise

On another day at the Charles Darwin center, we headed up to the highlands to see the inspiration for my initial desire to visit the Galapagos Islands…the Galapagos Island tortoise.  I finally found my true love but he had a little weight problem.  Well, I guess it wasn’t a little problem it was a whopping 350 lb weight problem.  This is a species that is really old and was bordering on extinction but due to the hard work and efforts of the Galapagos National Park and research scientists from around the world, these tortoises are now thriving.  But back to my true love.  He brought a lot to the relationship after 250 years of experience.  Amazingly, they live that long.

Check out the blue webbed toes and beak of the blue-footed boobie!

On our daily hikes we were able to experience the variety of flora and fauna on each of the nine islands that we visited.  I had been expecting a lush flora and fauna and was surprised to see the arid volcanic makeup of the islands. Despite the aridity of the islands there was a plethora of wildlife, which varied greatly from island to island.  Hiking was truly a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Red-beaked tropic bird

I had never seen an albatross and now there were colonies of them with their babies nesting right in front of my eyes.  The blue-footed boobies were a real favorite with the group.  The brightly colored webbed feet and beaks of the adult male boobie were a real delight.

An adult male frigate lures his ladies with his showy red plumage

A baby albatross

There were frigate birds galore and young, adult-male frigate birds with red-ballooned chests that are used to lure the females for mating purposes. There were terns, red-beaked tropicbirds, oystercatchers, warblers, wrens, bats and more – much much more.Oh, did I mention the bright red crabs that are found on all of the islands.  Of course, the bright red crab is the male.  This was the daily feast for our eyes.  We never knew where to look first.  There was always so much to see.

A blue-eyed Galapagos Island dove - sweet!

Each day, there was a morning snorkel and a hike, each one-hour’s duration.  Then we would sail on to another island for a repeat performance.

Red male island crabs are plentiful. But I would be willing to bet the National Park won't let you harvest them. Oh well, no crab loui salad on the boat at sunset!

Now you may say that sounds easy but think about it; you’re up at the crack of dawn every day.  Then you pile into the dinghy with wet suits and snorkels to explore the underwater wonder world of Galapagos sea life. The water was around 75 degrees with clear visibility.  Occasionally, there were strong currents, the sea could be rough and the sun intense. The daily routines of snorkeling and hiking are strenuous and not for the feint of heart.  In short, it’s not a passive vacation.  It’s arduous and physically challenging.

An oyster catcher

That being said, there was no where else I would have wanted to spend 8 days celebrating Christmas and New Years than watching the sunrise over the magical Galapagos Islands.

Sunrise on the Galapagos Islands. Inspiring!

The feeling I had when first stepping on island terrain was that I was entering a unique place where Mother Nature was in harmony and I was the visitor.  The ancient and prehistoric creatures inhabiting the islands were allowing me to share their world.  There was an overwhelming feeling of reverence coupled with a sense of gratitude for being able to experience this animal kingdom.  The very energy generated by the wildlife and the beauty of the sea felt sacred.  Exploring the islands on a daily basis was a thrill beyond comprehension.  The magnitude of this magical place was a testament to the magnificence of Mother Nature which leaves you feeling like there truly is a peace on earth….which actually can be found in the Galapagos Islands.

It was an adventure of a lifetime. The Galapagos Islands never cease to amaze.

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Responses

  1. Truly an inspirational post. Thanks to both you and your friend, Lena, for this!

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