December 5, 2006 > The Galapagos
by Pat Kite
The Sally Lightfoot crab - turquoise, orange, gold and cranberry red - sat on the water-washed rock and posed for me. Every so often, it raised a little claw and waved.
Elsewhere on Bartolome beach, some of the 26 people on our tour were busy cooing over mother and baby Galapagos sea lions. You could walk almost right up to a mother nursing her baby, and it was completely mellow. The one thing that is absolutely singular about the Galapagos Islands is the animals are not afraid of you. The sea lions aren't, neither are the blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas, land iguanas, sea turtles, land tortoises, flightless cormorants, brown penguins, flamingos, and a host of at least 50 other birds species, some found only in this protected piece of world.
That's why I came. Being somewhat of an environmental nutcake, I needed to touch base with open space that wasn't in a running duel with pavement. My trekking days a memory, I wasn't initially certain if the trip would be more than my round shape could handle. Not to worry. Guest age range on this voyage was from teen to early 80s. All managed to get down the cruise boat's metal ladder into our 14-passenger Zodiac boats (i.e. pontoons), choppy seas part of the bargain. We donned life vests, waded ashore, and at day's close, the careful crew helped boost us back up the metal ladder to our home ship for gourmet meals.
Some folk borrowed snorkeling gear from the ship’s ample stock. They went nose to nose with playful sea lions, had pelicans swimming circles around them and saw a rainbow of fish. Me, I waded, letting warm wavelets wash over my rump, and made happy noises.
The Galapagos Islands were formed several million years ago by underwater volcanoes erupting and rising above the ocean's surface. The nearest mainland is Ecuador, about 600 miles away. To get to the Galapagos, we flew from Quito to Baltra Island, and then took a bus to the boat dock. There are small ships, handling about 16 people, and larger ones, handling about 100 passengers. It's big business these days. The Galapagos became a national park in 1959 and is an international destination.
Basically, the Galapagos are composed of about 15 islands; people inhabit about five. Local folk are the only ones allowed to work, live and fish in the area. The islands are extremely protected, as they should be. Some of the animals here are found no place else in the world.
My favorite? The Galapagos tortoises, of course. The Darwin Research Station and tortoise-breeding center is on Isla Santa Cruz. Once, all 14 Galapagos species were in danger of extinction. Now National Park staff collects tortoise eggs of the 11 remaining species, bringing them here to hatch. The babies, tortoise babies are ever so cute, are raised here for five years. Each has a little number painted on its back, indicating what type of tortoise it is, and what island is its home. In time, each will return. We even got to walk among 100-year-old Galapagos tortoises in the "wild." To me, they seemed like a cross between an armadillo and an elephant. So splendid! A wonderful world, and well worth the voyage.
PAT'S TRAVEL TIP: Make certain your travel insurance covers "trip delay" in addition to cancellation.
Pat Kite, a Newark resident, has checked out dinosaur bones in Mongolia, slogged through Scottish moorland, wheezed her way up the Inca trail in Peru, taken Spanish language classes in Costa Rica, enjoyed the James Herriott "All Creatures Great & Small" home in Yorkshire, seen the Taj Mahal at sunrise in India, looked for leprechauns in Ireland, and done Flying Doctors medical volunteer work in rural Mexico. From time to time, she will report on her local and foreign walkabouts for Tri-City Voice.