The Galapagos: A Window of Time

Posted by Carl Rosen on May 22, 2014 10:46:36 AM

Albatrosses courting

Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835 served as the practical foundation for his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. This year, we vacationed on those same islands and explored, as he did, the various species-- from the prehistoric-looking giant tortoises and iguanas to the playful sea lions and penguins. We were surprised that the animals were so accessible and did not fear humans or other species in this beautiful, yet sometimes eerie, UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site.

The Galapagos is a volcanic archipelago created millions of years ago. Located 600 miles west of the mainland, the Galapagos became part of Ecuador in 1832. The grouping spans the equator and consists of 13 main islands and 6 smaller islands. There are 25,000 people living on the five inhabited islands

As the animals and vegetation were isolated from the mainland and each other, only those species that were able to adapt survived. Many species of animals and flora are endemic to the area – they only appear in the Galapagos. The Floreana mockingbirds, which number 100 in all, inhabit just one island in the world. We were able to see five of them on one of our hikes!

During mating season the frigate bird expands its red gullet to attract mates

The Ecuadoreans have learned to respect the environment and protect it; they limit the number of visitors and require tours to be accompanied by licensed naturalists. The typical tour is ship-based with shuttles back and forth to the islands by way of Zodiac tenders. We opted for a tour with National Geographic Lindblad Expeditions on a 48-passenger boat staffed with four naturalists who led us on a host of activities including land hikes, kayaking and snorkeling expeditions.

Each activity provided a different vantage point from which we could study the islands and their treasures. My wife and I have traveled around the world, and we enjoy learning about a region's history and culture. On this excursion however, in addition to learning about the people and their way of life, we also developed an appreciation for the geological past and dynamics of animal behavior - all in a spectacular setting.

Passion Flower

The snorkeling was remarkable. We never expected to swim with penguins and sea lions or to snorkel near hammerhead sharks, octopuses, sea turtles or stingrays. From our kayaks, we saw an array of birds such as Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies perched on the rocks and island vegetation. On one of our hikes we observed adult birds nesting with their eggs and their newborn chicks. We even watched a fledgling albatross attempt its first flight.

We witnessed giant tortoises mating in a natural setting. We also had front row seats to observe curious courting rituals and behaviors such as the exchange of twigs and rocks or the display of bright colors to attract the opposite gender. Male sea lions fought one another to claim a harem of females.

Sally Lightfoot Crab

The sunsets over the equator were breathtaking, and the constellations of the night sky of the southern hemisphere were crystal clear. The pictures on these pages can only just begin to show the natural beauty, unique terrain and distinctive animals one sees up-close-and-personal on a trip to the Galapagos. Depending on the island, one could imagine being in Jurassic Park or perhaps in the midst of the lava flow of the volcanic eruption of 1897 at Sullivan Bay on the island of Santiago. New plants are just beginning to grow through the lava openings created by this eruption, thus beginning a new cycle of life. On Santa Cruz, we were able to walk through a double lava tube which offered us an insight into the early geological formation of the area.

Land Iguana

In order to preserve the ecological balance of the islands, the government is extremely strict about preventing the introduction of non-native species of animals, insects and vegetation to the archipelago. For example, although they had been introduced by pirates and other early travelers to the Galapagos, wild goats no longer remain on the islands. While the goat population exceeded 500,000 as recently as 1970, a well-planned eradication effort took place to eliminate these animals which were eating the vegetation needed especially by the giant tortoises for their survival.

Darwin was on land for only nineteen days during his visit in 1835, but during this short time he solidified his hypothesis of evolution and survival of the fittest. It was not until 1859 however, that his famous book was published, since he feared reaction from the British religious community. Today, the Charles Darwin Foundation, which is based on the island of Santa Cruz, is thriving and employs 100 people who conduct important research and breed the giant tortoises whose species was once in jeopardy of extinction.

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There is additional human history as well. One tradition, which started over 100 years ago, remains to this day on the island of Floreana. Unstamped mail is deposited into the Post Office Barrel there, and travelers to the island are urged to select a few pieces of mail to carry home for hand delivery. One couple on our trip deposited a letter addressed to their daughter in New York. It was picked up by a subsequent visitor and then hand-delivered within a week! In a few days, we ourselves will deliver a postcard to a recipient in Massachusetts.

Whether you are looking for a very different and active experience, want to visit a beautiful setting or have a passion for learning about animal species, a vacation to the Galapagos would be a ?natural’ selection.

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Carl and Arlene Rosen

Carl E. Rosen is principal of Shelter Rock International, a consulting company specializing in watches and other luxury goods. He had a 30-year career with Bulova Corporation, serving as Chief Operating Officer and President of Bulova Swiss, S.A. He is the Director of Anti-Counterfeiting for the American Watch Guild and International Fine Jewelers Guild. He and his wife, Arlene, reside in Connecticut.

Topics: Travel, Editorial, featured, Galápagos Islands, UNESCO, Charles Darwin Foundation

Author:Carl Rosen

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