Lonesome George and the Beachmasters
by Mark and Kelly Logan
The Galapagos archipelago, discovered by the Spanish in 1835, lies on the Equator and boasts 13 large and 8 small islands and 40 islets. The barren volcanic landscape is home to unique flora and fauna that has evolved to adapt to the hostile environment. The Galapagos inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and captured our hearts over 8 ideal days cruising around the islands, exploring, snorkeling and marveling at the abundant wildlife.
Arriving at Quito airport for our flight to San Cristóbal, the capital of the Galapagos, we wondered whether we had booked the wrong boat, as the average age on the plane was at least 75 and counting! Alas our 14 fellow passengers on Estrella del Mar II were a sprightly bunch and proved excellent company.
We landed daily on the island's rocky outcrops and white, black, red or green sandy beaches to explore the landscape, walking amongst sea lions, marine & land iguanas, lava lizards and giant tortoises.
We met Lonesome George, the gay giant tortoise and the last male of his sub-species, bought to the Darwin research center to mate - unfortunately LG doesn't want a bar of it, preferring to eat cactus and ponder on nothing in particular each day! The marine and land iguanas, varying in colour and size from island to island, were straight out of Jurassic Park, only smaller. We spotted one of 7 hybrid species, the result of a female land and male marine iguana getting confused.
Throughout out journey, we were surrounded by beautiful bird life; flamingos, Blue-Footed, Masked and Nazca boobies, Great and Magnificent frigates, pelicans, gulls, petrels, finches, oyster catchers and the Galapagos mockingbird. Many of these species are endemic to the Galapagos, some to particular islands in the archipelago. The flamingos are the deepest of pink and the rarest of their species, with approximately 100 in existence and we saw 56 of them. The boobies were comical, with the blue-footed variety demonstrating their mating dance in between bomb diving for fish. The male Magnificent frigates were spectacular, displaying their vibrant red gullets, inflated in the hope of attracting a mate.
We snorkeled daily, exploring the colourful marine life around the rocky lava outcrops of the islands. Cheeky sea lions accompanied us, swimming up to our masks, blowing bubbles and performing their underwater acrobatics! We were wary of the giant 'beachmasters'; male sea lions protecting their harem of females from potential competition. Once a male loses his harem, it is unlikely he will breed again. Many males never succeed, forming bachelor groups - natural selection in process! We snorkeled with a giant green sea turtle, a variety of sting rays and Mark even swam over a couple of white-tipped sharks (strictly vegetarians!).
The sign of a good holiday is not wanting it to end, and despite pleading with out guide to smuggle us on board for the next departure, we were swiftly delivered to the airport for a return flight to Quito, where we will spend the next couple of days planning our next Ecuadorian adventure.