By Nancy Van Veen
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who
learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
- Charles Darwin
Arriving on the Galapagos Islands feels like landing on another planet. The volcanic archipelago lies isolated in the Pacific Ocean and is home to a plethora of bird, animal, reptilian and marine species that are found no place else on earth. The diversity of these endemic critters is mind-boggling! This was a bucket list trip for me, as I was turning 50 and Charles Darwin had long been one of my heroes.
Cruising the Galapagos was an extraordinary adventure. Our little ship and crew, which included naturalist guides, made it fun-tastic and educational. Every day brought a unique experience as we explored the islands of Bartolome, Santiago, Espanola, Fernandina, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela. Drifting from one trippy island to another, I couldn’t help but envision the HMS Beagle’s epic journey with Darwin scribbling furiously in his journal as he unraveled the mystery of evolution and the origin of species.
The numerous up-close and personal encounters I experienced on these sacred grounds were thrilling. One such encounter was with a Galapagos mockingbird. He came be-bopping out of the shrubbery directly to my hiking shoe and proceeded to peck apart the shoelace — which would be just dandy for his nest! I froze, marvelling at the little fellow. The wildlife there have lived such insular lives that they have no fear of man, which is ironic — for of all the planet’s species, we are surely the most dangerous.
The undersea world of the Galapagos also makes for astonishing diversity. A cruise on a glass-bottomed boat and snorkelling trip provided a stunning view of colourful fish, sea turtles and marine iguanas diving bravely to the sea floor to munch on algae — hopefully escaping capture by sea lions or hammerhead sharks.
Trekking the rugged coast, one spots amazing wildlife with every step. The bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs capture your eye as they crawl along the lava flows amongst the iguanas — you turn and snap a shot of a flightless cormorant, while the frigates soar above — turn again to witness the waved albatross run clumsily along, jump and take flight. Walk a little further past the Galapagos flamingos and you’ll discover a bleached whale skeleton laying in stark contrast against the black lava landscape. But of all these spectacles, I was most enamored with the comical blue-footed boobies. It was mating season during my visit, so their shenanigans were extra silly. My Galapagos adventure was completed with a stop at The Charles Darwin Discovery Centre, where I fell madly in love with the giant land tortoises.
These drifting islands are ever-changing — older ones sink, while young ones form — and the flora and fauna just go with the flow. It’s a magical, super-natural place where every morning is met with child-like wonderment and vivid sunsets melt into starry nights, while the waves rock you to sleep.
During this extraordinary trip I pondered evolution, including humankind’s brief history. I sadly concluded that for such a complex species (with the intelligence and technology to “Make the Planet Great Again”) we’ve failed miserably at collaborating and improvising — and with climate change, pollution, over-population and the constant wars, time is of the essence. We are, after all, in the throes of the sixth mass extinction on earth. It’s happening more rapidly than any other and we humans are oblivious to the fact that we are on the endangered species list. Mr. Darwin is surely rolling over in his grave.