Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Reflections on Darwin's Islands

As the bowsprit rises and falls the ocean is parted as we make our way back across the open ocean towards Baltra, our final destination. Our week aboard the Beagle has exceeded my expectations in every way. I was expecting to see wildlife and to be able to enjoy the sunshine on deck but the experience has run deeper than that. The Galapagos is a truly special place, unique in its flora and fauna and yet only accessible to a few. Each island is distinct and offers something that cannot be experienced anywhere else on earth. Common themes run through the islands: the tinder dry grass; the eponymous Palo Santo; the scurrying lava lizards and the itinerant marine birds; but, in each case, something is transformed. The islands and sea team with life and nothing 
is suspicious of human interaction.

As we stood atop the small island of Bartholome yesterday evening we could see flashes of silver dotted around the ocean as Eagle Rays were breaching the surface in an ostentatious and spectacular mating ritual. As they emerged from the ocean they would rotate onto their belly, flashing silver, before tumbling back into the ocean. These displays are typical of the daily spectacle in the Galapagos. Whatever time of year you are here there is something unique to see and each day brings something new and unexpected. Over the last three days we have seen a boobie chick emerging from it’s egg, mating penguins and giant tortoises and hunting herons. We have come to expect the unexpected as that is the only constant on these islands.

Life on the open sea has been an entirely new experience for both Sarah and me. At the beginning of the trip we had misgivings about sleeping aboard and the threat of motion sickness. As it happens, Sarah has only been laid low once and I seem to have escaped pretty much unscathed. Life aboard a yacht has a fantastically self-contained and harmonious feel. The sight and sound of the sea becomes second nature and begins to lull you into deeper and deeper states of relaxation. When time is short again, I can imagine that holidays aboard a charter would be instantly relaxing and yet engaging enough to not get bored.

The other element of the vacation that has surprised us is how much we have enjoyed the snorkeling. Sarah was particularly worried about the prospect of snorkeling but has taken to it like the proverbial fish to water. The sight of tropical fish and even sharks has not put her off so the next step will be to take a scuba diving course when we are back in the UK.

Tomorrow we head back to the mainland to begin our journey South to Peru. Our next fixed date is the Inca Trail in late January and we will need to be in Cusco to acclimatise a few days in advance. As such, we plan to make our way down to Cuenca in Southern Ecuador on Wednesday and then Towards Lima on Thursday by long-distance bus. In the meantime I leave you with a few photos from our week in Las Islas Encantadas (The Enchanted Isles). Like Odysseus I was seduced by the Siren calls of the islands. I suspect that this won’t be our last trip to the Galapagos.

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