Saturday, August 30, 2014

Become One with the Animals of the Galapagos

Creatures of nature, in all their glory. All photos by Jessica Smith

Playing with sea lions, roaming with turtles, squawking
with boobies. Tune into the vibe of the Galapagos and become one with
the animals. A reader story.

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS – In crystal blue waters, I frolick with sea lions.
It's a dance with twisting and turning currents, and the sea lions
out-wit me every time. Their eyes open so wide the whites are almost
comical through the lens of my goggles. Holding my breath, I try my best
to dazzle with aquatic abilities but inevitably fall short.

Brightly colored fish stick close together until a mammalian friend
ventures too close, resulting in the instantaneous scattering of one
hundred little bodies.

This is the Galápagos. An archipelago so unique, so diverse in its
flora and fauna, it is the living cornerstone of Darwin's theory of
evolution. A place so uniquely diversified that no single island,
animal, or plant goes without its own special set of characteristics.

It's accessible to visitors in a number of ways, but cruising in
small ships maximizes one's exposure to each island. Forward-thinking
when it comes to environmental impact, outfits like Ecoventura remain far ahead of the pack. I'm on a yacht with only 20 passengers and excursions are intimate.

Every day, the islands hold a new set of experiences. There's
snorkeling with turtles off the beaches of Española, their massive
shells harboring centuries of stories. Wise eyes connect with mine below
the waves as bodies float on top of the water.

Sharks take shelter on the sea floor as water fills their gills.
Silently disappearing, their absence fills me with an instant shot of
adrenalin. Like ghosts, large rays glide along the bottom, shadows out
of the darkness.

A birding paradise, species are abundant, each more mysterious and
mesmerizing than the next. Unafraid, I can get close and enjoy the
delicate lines, like fingerprints, on feathered plumage. Stoic mocking
birds, boobies, and albatross with beautiful faces are highlighted by
deep black eyes. Frigate birds, black as night, wear red breast "hearts"
on their sleeves. Brightly colored finches bop along the trail like
little soldiers.

In the rainforest of Santa Cruz, I spy giant tortoises. They have
fascinating faces, wise and eerily attentive, with rough cracks and
calluses on their feet like roadmaps depicting their slow journey
through life. Almost pushed to extinction by the islands' early
explorers, the Darwin Research Center has been crucial to the breeding
and repopulation of these gentle creatures.

Very few of the islands are inhabited by humans. Floreana Island
remains the most mysterious. Riddled with unexplained deaths,
disappearances, and even murder, its turbulent past originated from its
reputation as a new Eden. As the word spread, other outsiders sought
residence — including the Baroness Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet,
who anointed herself Queen of Floreana. Disappearing with her lover in
1934, their mystery surrounded the shores of the island for decades.
Stone ruins dotting the beach serve as a reminder of the past.

Few places hold onto magic as strongly as the Galápagos does. The
islands leave a mark on the heart; past, present, and future are
ingrained all at once in my mind.

 | FATHOM Travel Blog and Travel Guides

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