Sea lions swimming underwater
off the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands, which are the tips of enormous
volcanic, submarine mountains, have been there, in some
cases, for millions of years. What makes them so special is that
97 percent of the area, now a national park, has been allowed
to exist as it has done since the beginning of time – the terrain,
animals, fauna, wild and marine life.
There are no vets to help when wounded, no water
brought when the temperatures soar to over 100 degrees, and
virtually no shade on many of the islands. It is fascinating that
although the islands are all comparatively near each other, no
two are the same – that is the actual land surface – what grows
on it, and even the animals and birds will vary from island to
island. This is very much because the islands lie at the meeting
point of the wind and ocean currents coming from the North
to the South.
This determines the climate and distribution and
abundance of the species. Although you would expect a
tropical climate, Ecuador is on the Equator, the majority of
the land is arid, although there is lush vegetation growing in
the highlands of the larger mountains.
Another aspect which can be confusing is that they only
experience two seasons, dry and wet, with the latter between
December and May being the better time, as although it rains,
this is only likely for a short period, and makes the area lusher.
What is particularly exciting is the close proximity you can get
to the animals who, although living in the wild, have no fear
of human beings.
The number of people allowed on the islands is very closely
monitored and no large ships are allowed in the area. Our
ship, one of the bigger ones, the Santa Cruz, held 90
passengers plus crew. There were no frills aboard except for a
bar and small jacuzzi.
The day started early with a wake-up call, often at 6am, and
an itinerary that included land visits and lectures, which left
you exhausted by the time you have had dinner. Guests come
from all over the world, with 14 different nationalities on
board when we first arrived. Ages vary from a group of
university students to the mature traveller.
Guests are divided into groups for the land visits, each with
their own naturalist, dependent on their native language.
English and Spanish appear to be the most prominent. Our
expedition – we were not allowed to call the voyage a cruise –
started on San Cristóbal, the official capital, and one of the
older islands. This is where Charles Darwin came ashore in
September 1835. The ship sails from one island to another, or
to a different part of the same island every day, so each time
you go out, you are enjoying a different experience.