In my early high school years for a science fair project, I innocently created a poster illustrating the evolution of life on this planet including the transitional phases of primitive apes to modern man. This little poster created quite the firestorm in my town of 1000 people, because apparently the theory of evolution that was taught to us in Biology 101 was not consistent with the Creationist beliefs of most parents in the community. Despite the fervor of arguments for and against evolution, I did have the opportunity to read about Charles Darwin, a British scientist that originally proposed the theory of evolution as a logical explanation for the diversity of life on our planet, consistent with the available scientific evidence. The place where Charles Darwin in the early 1800’s observed nature in an active evolutionary dynamic, was in the Galapagos Islands located about 500 miles due west of the Ecuador coast. This distance from the mainland and the obvious isolation of these islands provides a unique laboratory to observe nature’s creatures as they adapt to ever changing geological and climatic events. The islands also serve as a wonderful vacation spot and were to me, the highlight of the entire trip.
It took Darwin, weeks to sail in his tall masted ship to the islands, but our flight from Quito routed through Guayaquil was only a couple of hours until we landed on San Cristobal island. There was a very stringent screening process leaving the Quito airport and entering the Galapagos to decrease the chance of tourists introducing new animal or plant pests to the islands, such as done in the past with infestations of rats, feral goats, dogs, cats, feral cattle and the myriad of invasive plants choking out native species. There are basically two ways to tour the islands - stay in lodging in San Cristobal or Santa Cruz island or subscribe to a local cruise boat. Travel to out lying islands is tightly regulated and you must be accompanied by a certified naturalist guide to set foot on any of the islands besides the two I mentioned. It was always my fantasy to sail our boat to the Galapagos and island hop for an extended time, but this was not a realistic plan considering that you can only moor your private boat in two harbors and cannot travel to outer islands unless you have a guide on board and meet very stringent conditions. My advice is to get on one of the smaller cruise boats like we did, to visit the islands, get up close and personal to the wildlife, and gain some familiarity to the crew and other passengers. Our boat, ERIC, operated by EcoVentura, accommodated only up to 20 guests but offered all the services you needed, excellent food service, and stability in rough seas. There are two different cruises of about 7-8 days that are available, one that features the northern islands and the second touring the southern islands. In our cruise of the northern islands we landed and hiked/snorkeled the islands of San Cristobal, Genovesa, Santa Cruz (both sides), Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, and Rabida.
Every island is different due to unique geological and climatic conditions around/on the island as manifest by differing populations of wildlife and plant life. Some appear tropical with rain forest environments whereas other nearby islands are more desert like covered with cactus. The naturalist guide always had a logical explanation why one island had predominantly Nasca Boobies (birds) whereas another island would have more Redfooted Boobies - often dictated by the type of food that was available or the presence of introduced predators like rats or cats. Evolution in progress! The other thing to consider during your visit here is that these islands are quite young, geologically speaking, and still actively being affected by periodic volcanic eruptions. Apparently, 4 weeks before we visited the islands there was a major eruption and lava flow on Wolf Volcano on the northern end of Isabela Island. As we cruised on the west side of this island you could still see the black tracks of cooled lava flows on the mountainside reaching from the volcano crater rim down to the waters edge. Now, that would have been exciting to witness close up! At the end of 8 days, ERIC reached its mooring back in San Cristobal and we boarded our flight to the mainland, leaving with many memories of this magical nature’s laboratory set of islands. This would be high on my “recommended travel” list.