Most visitors nowadays come to these “Enchanted” volcanic isles aboard large boats, or some take land-based organized tours.
Renowned underwater expert Valerie Taylor
Our expedition, several years ago, was very different. Ron and Valerie Taylor, pioneering underwater photographers from Australia, were special guests aboard the first small-boat expedition (apart from Jacques Cousteau’s trip aboard “Calypso” decades earlier.)
It was a dive-snorkel trip that included shore visits to the major islands. Since I don’t dive, I opted for snorkeling instead. There were only 10 of us, not like the large numbers who travel by ship nowadays.
Each island is different. Fierce currents surround the islands: most well-known is the Humboldt current, which brings cold waters from the Southern Ocean, but the Cromwell and the Panama Flow are not friendly to snorkelers either.
Although the Galapagos are located right on the Equator, the water can be very cold - the Galapagos Penguin is evidence. But ashore it’s a different story - very hot, especially when walking on the lava rocks and beaches.
While snorkeling we witnessed schools of fish speeding by, suddenly changing direction. Quite a sight to see! Then there are Barracuda, Hammerhead Shark, Golden Rays, Big-Eyed Jacks, Damselfish, Barber Fish, Yellow-tailed Surgeon fish, Pacific Reef turtles, Sea Lions, Fur Seals and Elephant Seals, just to name a few.
And you can’t forget the prehistoric-looking Marine Iguana grazing on the sea algae. I mentioned the strong currents, these are the reason each island has a different kind of Marine Iguana.
They cannot swim from island to island and through eons of evolution have each developed unique characteristics. On one island, they are skinny. On another, they’re green, on another, fat and grey. And so forth.
The Galapagos Islands are part of the Ring of Fire and have active volcanoes. Even now, the Fernandina Island volcano has erupted 24 times in the past two years alone.
One day while enjoying a leisurely snorkel amongst a group of ‘lady’ seals – who are curious and come right up to you while performing what looks like an aqua ballet, suddenly I felt a nudge against my fins. Then another.
Bull Sea Lion shows me who's boss.
Before I knew it, I landed on the lava rocks! The cause? A sea lion bull had literally tossed me out of the water. Needless to say I was stunned. I realized what had happened – he’d been protecting his ‘harem’ and showed me who was boss!
Charles Darwin demonstrated how all the Finches of the different islands are different. There are giant tortoises, some born when Napoleon was alive, land iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, frigate birds, owls, cormorants (who continue to ‘dry their wings’ even though they don’t have wings anymore), and of course the different kinds of Boobies.
Boobie comes from the Spanish word for clown, “Bobo”. The blue-footed ones surely honour that name, when you see them stepping dapper, lifting their pastel-blue feet up for all to see!
The Galapagos are an archipelago, a ‘crucible’ for Life, a microcosm of planet Earth, and one of the most pristine areas in the world. Let us take good care of these Enchanted Isles and do our very upmost to protect this precious realm.
To be continued, Part Seven (coming soon).
Henri van Bentum