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Galapagos Islands

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No one will ever forget a journey to the Galapagos Islands, if they make one in their lifetime. I am one of those amazingly fortunate people who have had an opportunity to briefly visit this Pacific archipelago.
Edging ever nearer is the close of our 2007 trip to Ecuador. Already, the H*******s, and my cousins and family, the J*******s, have been guests to the Napo River and Amazon Rainforest, as well as the spectacular Andes Mountains. Now is the long-anticipated, most looked forward to point of the vacation. Now is the time to fly (on “V.I.P. Airlines”), toward a Very Imminent Panga ride, (panga being the locals’ name for a motorized raft)! Our fifth flight of the entire trip so far carries us a thousand kilometers off the coast of Ecuador.

Immediately upon landing in the San Cristobal airport, we pay the entry fee of one hundred dollars per person. Cost is, I imagine, a leading cause of why people aren’t able to go here (because anyone in their right mind wouldn’t refuse the chance). A man is standing nearby holding a sign: “H*******/J*******.” We have been told to look for the clue, and eagerly set off in his direction. He is the captain of our small but cozy seventy-eight foot ship, The Samba. She takes on twenty people including the six crew members. Cozy quarters with a young Australian couple and their parents, and our Californian family’s friends are a perfect way to experience the lovely Galapagos.
We walk to the docking area, awed at the abundance of animals we are already seeing. Cameras snap viciously into the faces of sea lions laying perfectly content on a bench, merely feet from the two-legged tourists. A short ride on an inflatable panga boat takes us to our place of residence for the next eight days. Once aboard, our guide, Santiago, who shares a name with one of the islands, gives his introduction. Before we know it, we’re off on our week of fun at sea.

The first few days, our poor cameras don’t get a rest. Finally, realizing that blue-footed boobies aren’t rare and sea lions are everywhere, enjoying the experience is what really matters. Still, it’s impossible to lay hands off the device that can preserve our memories forever. One of our earliest days is filled from morning to dusk with activities, only stopping for food prepared by the master chef onboard. We snorkel with playful sea lions acting like clowns, lay hands on multiple sea turtles, and sight sharks, flamingos, pelicans, and other aquatic life all in one span of about twelve hours.

The islands are so amazingly varied that each one has different types of organisms on it. Almost every island has a separate subspecies of “Lava Lizards.” Based on the terrain—volcanic rocks to wetlands—the plants are distinctive as well. We visit a separate one almost daily: Floreana, Isabela, Fernandina, Espanola, and many other pieces of the Galapagos puzzle, all with new excitement to offer.
Santa Cruz, one of the few isles allowing human inhabitants, also includes the Charles Darwin Research Center, where we first sight the famed Galapagos Giant Tortoise and its offspring, (it is hard to imagine the size they get to when they’re only five inches long), in captivity, and then with a quick hike, come upon half a dozen grazing pleasantly in an open field. I pose with the wild tortoise in its true habitat, and am close enough to see the food it’s eating come through the other end. Giggles sneak out from everyone’s sealed and silent lips, but we eventually recognize the lumbering giant isn’t the least bit frightened by our noise. Then, an encounter uncommon even in these undisturbed parts of the world occurs. A scarcely seen male Vermillion Flycatcher, shining brilliantly red, and its sunshine-feathered mate, are spotted in the branches, and this event is considered to be the South American equivalent of a desirable fortune being drawn from a cookie—good luck for years to come.
A northerly section of Isabela shows us the beauty of the breeding and mating season in this place doused in natural wonders. Dodging “Booby” nests underfoot is a precaution unique to the Galapagos, where animals’ usual fear of humans is nonexistent. White, fluffy fledglings cluck incessantly to their nurturing parents, asking for food. Some chicks are less lucky—as is typical for this bird, normally only one baby can be supported, and the weakest is kicked from the nest and left, sadly, to pass away and strengthen the health of the population. Waved Albatrosses appear to have a gleeful smile on their face as they perform in an intricate courting dance in front of our eyes. Marine and land iguanas battle out with a soldier’s resiliency—for food, females, and other objects of concern.
One evening, midway through the trip, a Blue Whale is seen in the distance by our skilled Santiago, the naturalist. Well known to be the largest animal on our planet, these massive marine manmmals do not often showing themselves openly to inquisitive eyes. Another stroke of luck (perhaps by the flycatcher?) has found our party and allowed us to capture on tape the rising and plunging great fluke as the whale leaves us breathless.



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