We set off in Darwin’s wake for the Galapagos islands, on his 200th anniversary. We brimmed with anticipation not knowing what to expect from the islands that have captivated travelers for centuries. What we found was a place not far from the one Darwin himself would have seen, a place of incredible natural diversity which slowed us how complex nature is. Every seemingly irrelevant trait served a purpose – although we never did get an answer to the colour of the blue footed boobies’ feet. For inspiration before you go read the collection of letters Darwin wrote from his Beagle voyage.
The Galapagos is made up of around 20 islands which are all so incredibly different that there is really only one way to travel; by sea. There are boats of all sizes from a dingy to a luxury cruise liner. Very pleased with the low key and friendly “Princess of the Galapagos” we adapted well to life at sea. A life which began daily with sunrise from the roof deck, followed by two island walks a day, as much swimming as we wanted, 3 delicious home cooked meals and happy hour at sundown before falling asleep under a carpet of stars.
Word of advice number one is take your time, and go on as long a tour as time allows. Every day was a brand new experience and the more time you have the more islands you see. A different island awaited us each morning as we had sailed through the night. The landscape changed dramatically from barren black volcanic rock, to towering volcanoes, to gangly mangroves, to wide white sandy beaches, to sulphur mud pools. Each island came with its own specially adapted species of wildlife too.
Lets start with the iguanas. Black iguanas which hid against the volcanic rock, swimming iguanas, bright blue and red iguanas, and then land iguanas. These were different again, the fierce brothers to the much more sociable marine iguanas.
Tortoises. It was no wonder they were rumored to be the inspiration for Spielberg’s E.T.. These Tortoises were huge, looking so very uncomfortable pulling their shell around with them everywhere. They make life look like a lot of effort. All 100+ years of it. Life is so hard that the research centre on the island is very active at rearing many of the different tortoise species endemic to the islands – it was great to compare the tiny one year old tortoises to the fully fledged grandads. You have to marvel at all the life advice they must impart.
Mating tortoises were not the only mating ritual we saw. The prize for the best mating ritual of all belongs to the blue footed boobie. On a sunrise hike we were fortunate enough to see a male and female blue footed boobie locked in their mating dance. In an attempt to secure the female’s affection the male blue footed boobie put his blue suede feet to work and danced for his belle, while spreading his wings and whistling along too. She let him carry on with his performance for a good five minutes before being satisfied of his intentions. Blue footed boobies mate for life so this wasn’t a decision she was going to take lightly. Once her decision had been made she nuzzled her beau and responding to this return of his affections, the male then brought her some token twigs. He was going to waste no time in getting her to build the nest, lest she change her mind!