“What made them revealing to Darwin, and what makes them illustrative for us, is that they are strange in exactly the same way other islands tend to be strange.”
Part of our ‘slogan’ to promote our journeys to the Galapagos Islands is that there is no place on the planet like Galapagos; that if Charles Darwin had not reached these coordinates, he would never have found either inspiration or evidence for his theory of the origin of species.
It is important to be proud of this archipelago and its contribution to science, but basing our identity and esteem on certain arguments.
The world – and its circumstances – are perceived differently when we put our feet on the Galapagos Islands … It is the emotion of discovery. Probably the same impression was felt by the young naturalist Charles Darwin, who traveled aboard the British Beagle and landed in those latitudes during his scientific research trip around the planet.
The pleasure of traveling is to contemplate what happens in the world from the first row, and in the case of the Galapagos, it is the opportunity to access the habitat of this peculiar animal universe in which its inhabitants show no fear before the surprised ones looks of the intruder human being, predator par excellence. Unusual.
Before the famous English scientist, the Spanish Dominican Fray Tomás de Berlanga, at that time bishop of Panama, had already been there in 1535, when he was traveling from Panama to Peru by order of Carlos V. In 1570 the islands appear for the first time in the navigation maps described as Galapagos Islands (Islands of the Turtles).
From that date, the Galápagos were a kind of no-man’s-land in which pirates and buccaneers (usually English) found refuge, who used them as a place of supply and hiding in their trips of pillage to the galleons (generally Spanish) that They transported gold and silver from America to Spain. Famous became the name of the navigator Richard Hawkins, captain of a galleon in the expedition of Francis Drake, that according to the legend was the first corsair that visited the islands in 1593.
Many decades of historical obscurantism passed through the pirates Davis, Eaton and Captain Knight, who say the chronicles that chose those islands to hide their treasure (not yet found). The Spanish explorer Alejandro Malaspina also visited them in 1790, and three years later, the British James Colnett settled in them. He suggested that they be used as a base for whalers and seal hunters. The looting practiced in this sanctuary of the fauna during the 19th century was such that some species were at risk of extinction.
Finally Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands in 1832, baptizing them as the Archipelago of Columbus. Today, the antediluvian animals can remain there quietly, miraculously showing the same senseless indifference to the human presence they showed during all those centuries of rugged historical development, surviving their free will as they deserve from the beginning of time and wandering from here to there; adapting to the climatic and geological conditions of each island.
Three years after the archipelago had its owner, in 1835, Charles Darwin stayed there for five weeks collecting information about its flora and fauna, and left his first impression in his diary: “The archipelago is unique. The islands are a living laboratory of animal species that do not exist elsewhere (…); we are facing the mystery of the mysteries, which is the appearance of new beings on Earth.
The theory of natural selection
His enthusiasm turned into investigative passion and his observations about the different shapes and sizes between the finches of the finches, the diversity between the shells of the turtles, and the variations in the skin color of the iguanas, led him to deduce that the particular conditions of each place determined the characteristics of the beings that inhabit it, through a mechanism that he called ‘natural selection’, and that subsequently led him to the revolutionary conclusions of his mythical work The Origin of Species, published in 1859, that changed the course of modern science.
The Galapagos emerged from the Pacific Ocean five million years ago and the evolutionary process and climate changes have made them one of the strangest places on Earth, in some cases it looks like a lunar landscape.
To start the trip, the first thing will be to fly to the Baltra Island airport, a small island north of the large mother island of Santa Cruz and the main point of arrival for tourists, which we access via the Itabaca channel on a ferry. We still will not see exotic animals, but in the center of the island we will have the first stop of the trip to get into some peculiar volcanic sinkholes that have a unique view framed by a milky forest (scapes), dense and populated with birds. There I saw for the first time Darwin’s finch, the yellow-billed bird that was the beginning of his research.
In the so-called Rancho Manzanillo, located in the upper part of the island, inhabits a large population of Galapagos (giant tortoises), one of the oldest and longest-lived reptiles in the world, which we can accompany in its slow walk and see how they stretch their necks with restraint and tear off the green stems grown from the Earth.
A paved path that starts from the capital of Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora, leads us to Tortuga Bay. The end of the road will bring us the first strong emotions of the trip. The route, flanked by giants and prickly cacti, called opuntias, in which some finches, mockingbirds, flycatchers and other endemic birds “pose” ends in an immeasurable expanse of sand that bathes a rough sea.
The seabed of the archipelago are among the most intact on the planet. There awaits a party of exotic fish.
At the end of the beach, dense mangroves give shade to a large group of marine iguanas that sunbathe exposed to the sun. The imagination shoots up and we believe that we are in the Jurassic. We can get so close that we can see his eyes half closed … we almost have to be careful not to step on them! From time to time, some of them expel a whitish liquid to eliminate excess salt … Thus we perceive that they are alive. After the experience, we finished the walk in Playa Mansa, a haven for those who want to practice snorkeling. Or just breathe.
A wild welcome
Next to Santa Cruz is a set of small islets called Islas Plaza. Desolate and dry landscape; volcanic black rocks, porous and sharp. Startling. We arrive by boat and the reception at the pier can not be more spectacular: a family of sea lions frolic and offer us their playful show, juvenile iguanas coming out of holes and rocky holes, gigantic red crabs climbing up the roundness of the splashed rocks by the foam of the waves, colorful lava lizards crawling on the heads of the old iguanas … as if they wanted to see what was happening.
Cormorants on land, unable to fly, perhaps envying the fast flight of the brown pelicans and the majestic gliding of the eagles. Along the precipice of the sharp cliffs: blue-footed boobies and masked boobies. And from among this animal noise, the terrestrial iguanas that prowled among the hollows of the stones, passed as if they were minidinosaurs with their ridged crests and prehensile claws.
Relics of the past
The terrestrial iguanas are true relics, belong to the family of the saurians so they are related to the great reptiles that disappeared 100 million years ago. To take your breath away.
The seabed of the archipelago are among the most intact on the planet. There awaits us another marvel, that of intruding on an exotic fish party: the yellow-tailed damselfish, the hieroglyph, the parrotfish, the flag, the rainbow … On the Tintoreras islet, next to Isla Isabela, we can swim alongside sea lions while below you can see sea urchins, blue starfish and sea turtles. Sometimes it can happen of glancing a blanket-stripe or a hammerhead shark. The adrenaline ascent is guaranteed.
In the Galápagos, humans are in an imperceptible dimension for animals.