On the last full day of our excursion aboard the National Geographic Endeavor, we were fortunate enough to visit Genovesa Island. This island was closed to visitors for years because of its fragile environment. Over a million birds call Genovesa their home. There are colonies of swallow-tailed gulls, red-footed boobies, petrels, and frigatebirds. Short-eared owls hunt smaller bird prey over cracks of dried lava millions and millions of years old. The entire island is an extinct volcano slowly sinking into the sea. The center of the cone is now filled with sea and one side has been entirely eroded away so that our ship was able to sail directly into the c-shaped center. The only word I could come up with to describe its landscape is “otherworldly.”
My father-in-law asked me what my impressions were of this trip compared with other trips we have taken as a family. We’ve been treated to trips to England, Alaska’s Inside Passage, Norway, and now the Galapagos Islands. Hands down, this has been my favorite trip. When I told other people I was going to the Galapagos, their responses were always the same. I was told repeatedly, “That’s the trip of a lifetime.” The truth is, though, that it’s not the trip of a lifetime because that implies we will only ever visit these islands once. I want to come back to this place again someday, maybe in another season, maybe to visit a few different islands, but I definitely want to return. I completely understand how the naturalists here never tire of their job. This place is enchanting. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m having a hard time with the reality of leaving these islands. Tears have been shed. But, that just proves that these islands are beyond the trip of a lifetime. They are the love of a lifetime, and I will have to return to them again someday.
When we found out we had been booked on an excursion to the Galapagos, I was intrigued. It hadn’t been a place I had ever thought I would travel to, so I hadn’t allowed myself to become too excited about the location. Now, though, after nearly a week here, I can’t believe I had ever left this magical place off my list. Yesterday we visited Bartolomé Island to view Pinnacle Rock. Pinnacle Rock is an icon. It is to the Galapagos what the Statue of Liberty is to New York City or the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. To take in the grand view, we climbed over 300 stairs before 7 a.m. It was well worth it.
Afterwards, we were fortunate enough to snorkel from the beach just below the rock, around the point, and to another sandy beach. This time we were accompanied by both boys. (Earlier this week Luke had decided he was too afraid to deep sea snorkel and after an hour with his grandparents where he was given boundaries he decided that snorkeling with his parents was a better option.) Although seeing the schools of yellow-tailed surgeonfish and king angelfish was incredibly cool, what meant more to me was being out in the ocean with my boys, having them swim along with us, and sharing the experience of pointing to new and different fish. At one point, Joe decided to return to shore with his aunt. On their swim back, they came face to face with a white tipped reef shark. Joe, whose nickname is Shark Boy in our house because of his vast knowledge of all things shark, was thoroughly freaked out. Personally, I was thrilled that he had that encounter. He told us he wanted to see a shark on this trip and he did.
Our boys are growing fast and these are the experiences I want to share with them. I want us to try new things as a family, to see new sights together, and to learn new things about the world. It doesn’t really matter what brand of shoes we wear or how nice our dining room table is. What matters is that we are together growing as a family. I think this trip has changed our priorities a bit. Well…I will still buy clothes for myself from Boden; I’m simply going to buy fewer of them so we can increase our travel savings account.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit the city of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. This is where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located and where we would have been able to meet Lonesome George had he survived just 40 days longer. Alas, no George. Still, the station was well worth the trip as we were able to learn about the breeding program designed to increase the population of giant tortoises around the islands.
After our visit to the station, we were able to spend some time wandering around the town. Approximately 20,000 people live here, so it’s less of a town and more of a city, I suppose. Still, compared to Denver, it’s small. The best part of the day (well, aside from standing in the Santa Cruz highlands just feet from giant tortoises) was a small fish market we encountered in town. There was a crowd of tourists gathered with cameras when we got there. There were the usual fish market thieves (pelicans) and this time there were a couple other added guests…sea lions. They stood at the foot of the fish counter where the fish were being cut and begged like dogs at a table for scraps. Cutest thing ever. A fellow passenger on the cruise told me yesterday that he read that sea lions here are like dogs in wet suits. No wonder I like them so much.
Our day yesterday was spent on Floreana Island. Our Galapagos expedition leader, Paula, told us that Floreana is called the Mystery Island. I’m not surprised. Our excursions there yesterday had me thinking about the now defunct ABC television series, LOST.
We started our day with a very early morning hike to try to see some flamingos. Yes. Flamingos. These are Greater American Flamingos that came here from the Caribbean. There is a small population of about 500 of these birds living in the Galapagos. So, we hiked a bit inland from the ocean to a brackish lake on Floreana, hopeful we would see some pink birds but also doubtful because their population is so small. We were in luck. There were about 15 of them at the lake. How crazy to see an American flamingo out here in the isolated Pacific.
Later in the afternoon, we were doing Zodiac cruises around Post Office Bay (here there is a barrel that was set up in 1793 and you can deposit letters without postage and hopefully someone will stop by, take your letter, and hand deliver it to the recipient at a future date). As we skirted our way around the bay, we saw an eagle ray jump from the water just ahead of us, spied several sea turtles coming up for air, and even saw a penguin. The Galapagos Islands, in addition to flamingos, are also home to a small population of penguins. These are the only penguins that live north of the equator and they can do this because of the Humboldt and Cromwell currents that cool both the ocean and the air here.
I sat in our room last night thinking about seeing a flamingo and a penguin on the same day on the same island in the Pacific near the equator. The Galapagos Islands truly are a magical, mysterious place. On LOST, people who were marooned on an isolated tropical island were stuck pondering how polar bears came to be there. Today I saw a flamingo and a penguin on the same island. Apparently LOST wasn’t that far fetched after all.
So, I just spent an hour here in the Miami airport writing a blog entry in response to the vitriolic rhetoric on both sides of the CEO of Chick-Fil-A Dan Cathy’s remarks regarding marriage. I worked on it, labored over its message, and finally felt good about what I had to say when the app crashed without saving my work. So bummed. But it happens. As I’m getting ready to board our flight to Ecuador, I am going to assume that I was not meant to deliver that message today.
So instead I will leave you (and this country) with a couple quick thoughts. As we were flying over the Gulf of Mexico, I stared down into the sea. Perpetually a landlocked land lover, I am fascinated by the vast seas on this planet that I rarely see. The view from my airplane window of the gulf, the white sand beaches of Florida, and the clouds flashing lightning reminded me how small and insignificant I am. I think more people need to consider their transience and relative unimportance on this rotating rock. No person here is in exclusive possession of Divine Wisdom. We all struggle. We all love. We all want to be happy. We spend too much time absorbed with things that are not our problem and none of our business. Not one of us has the answer for another person. If we could just shut our mouths, open our minds, and accept that we don’t all the answers, we might be a lot better off.
Heading off now to grow my world view with my children. More from the Galapagos!