- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Visit the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are protected under strict environmental control that promotes tourism while providing sustainable income for the 30,000 or so locals. Partnering with National Geographic, Lindblad Expeditions is the stand out cruise operator with their 96 passenger National Geographer Endeavour expedition vessel. Heavily focused on protecting, preserving and showcasing this fragile environment by a team of naturalist crew, founder Lars-Eric Lindblad says, ‘we have a duty to pass the planet along to future generations in as unspoiled way as possible’.
Blue footed boobies
Twitchers please contain your excitement. Blue footed boobies rank right up there with albatrosses for those inclined to ticking off exceptional avian sightings.
The poster child for the Galapagos Islands, blue footed boobies are comical, rather gorgeous and mesmerising. A coastal seabird with wings spanning up 1.5m apparently their name derives from the Spanish word bobo, meaning clown. Watching their antics, as they hop from one striking blue foot to the other, kicking out one foot to the side in a sort of dance with head bobbing in unison and wings spread, it’s easy to see how they got their name.
A lapsed student more inclined towards the natural world than studies in medicine or Christ, Charles Darwin leapt at the chance to become a gentleman’s companion to Capt Robert Fitzroy on-board HMS Beagle. Though prone to seasickness the budding naturalist spent just 5 weeks in the Galapagos Islands, spending his entire time taking notes and collecting samples. His observations would later challenge the world’s perception of nature and evolution.
Publishing Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection almost thirty years later, the Charles Darwin Foundation on Santa Cruz Island conducts scientific research based on Darwin’s original theory. Visitors are welcome at the Charles Darwin Research Station where giant tortoises are bred in captivity.
Seriously endangered, Galapagos giant tortoises are the world’s largest, weighing up to 250 kg and up to 1.5 metres long. When Darwin visited in 1835 he observed 15 distinct species though only 11 species remain. Hunted as food by whalers, pirates and explorers as well as being decimated by introduced pigs, dogs, rats, cats and goats, less than 20,000 giant tortoises remain.
Centenarian Lonesome George was the last of his particular species, becoming a conservation figurehead long before he passed away in captivity in 2012.
Turtles are usually skittish, ducking swiftly below the surface the moment they spot a human within cooee. Not in the Galapagos though. Seemingly knowing no fear of Homo sapiens, they forage, mate or simply hover (are they sleeping?) motionless allowing swimmers to admire the intricate patterns of their carapace. Snorkelers may feel inclined to reach out and touch them they’re so docile. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Like everything in this precious ecosystem, visitors should admire but don’t touch.