18th-19th June 2018
You don’t have to try very hard to encounter wildlife on the Galapagos, it finds you. That was something I learned very early during my time here. Even as I strolled out of the airport and onto the shuttle boat – towards the main island, Santa Cruz – I saw my first pelicans. Most of them were resting on the rocks, but I witnessed a couple of them circle the air above and then dive, head-first, into the water, and rise again with fish wriggling in their beaks.
And then I got onto a bus which trawled across a strange, dry, and yet beautiful land of volcanic rocks, small trees and cactuses.
The Galapagos Islands are unique in a number of ways. They were largely cut off from the rest of the world from the day they rose up from the oceans and the species which did manage to make it here found their selves in a dry and barren place. But, even though the landscape was harsh, they didn’t have much competition, so they diversified – often in very strange ways – to survive.
And there are no predators. Which is why the wildlife here are so tame and even playful. Over thousands of years, fear of other creatures has been bred out of them.
You soon get desensitised to the sight of sea lions and iguanas. They are everywhere, lazing on the beaches and piers, indifferent to the humans wandering around them.
On my first day, I only had enough time to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. It was a good place to begin, for it had lots of information about the island’s history and the numerous projects of its volunteers to help maintain and restore the archipelago’s huge diversity. Much of their efforts are spent raising the number of land tortoises. When I said the island lacks predators that were true until the invasion of humans who – until recent decades – used to eat them. The sea-farers and pirates, who were among the first humans to visit these lands, learned that the hardy creatures could be stored on their backs and live for up to a year without any food or water, making them an irresistible food source while out at sea.
The Charles Darwin Research Station was also a great place to spot finches, and I spent much of my afternoon there wandering around with my camera, trying to get good snaps of them as they flew between the trees.
I also got to see ‘Lonesome George’, the sole survivor of a subspecies which were wiped out when feral goats were introduced to the island of Pinta. In 1971, he was taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station and given a comfortable life for his remaining years. A few attempts were made to try and breed him with females of a similar species, but none of the eggs were viable. He died in 2012 and was estimated to be over 100 years old.
Visitors are only allowed to see him in small groups at a time and are also made to acclimatise in cold rooms when they enter and exit so as to not let too much heat in to stop body decomposing.
During my second day on Santa Cruz, I went to see the rest of the sights around Puerto Ayora. Beginning with the walk to Tortuga Beach, I got to see more of the Galapagos’ strange vegetation.
I was one of the first to arrive at the shore and there were lots of iguanas. I also got to see a great heron up close.
I then walked to the far side and reached a mangrove forest which was full of crabs, more iguanas and pelicans and, possibly the highlight of the day, a blue-footed booby. I think I was very lucky, as most people have to go out on tours to see these creatures.
I also went snorkelling in the lagoon, which turned out to be a nursery for lots of young black-tip and white-tip sharks.
Las Grietas was another highlight of Puerto Ayora. It is a small canyon formed by tunnels of lava and its brackish waters are fed from both underground rivers and the sea. There are lots of tropical fish.
Tomorrow I am sailing to Isabela Island, where I am hoping to encounter even more wildlife from the Galapagos.
For more photos, click here!