Friday, July 22, 2005
The Galapagos Islands
As per the Lonely Planet, a visit to the Galapagos Islands is the wildlife experience of a lifetime, a mind-blowing lesson in natural history set in a barren, volcanic land with a haunting beauty all its own. Here you can swim with sea lions, float eye-to-eye with a penguin, scuba dive with hammerhead sharks, stand next to a blue-footed booby feeding its young, watch a giant 200kg tortoise lumbering though a cactus forest, and try to avoid stepping on iguanas scurrying over the lava.
That this little string of islands, 1000 km away from the mainland of Ecuador, has so profoundly influenced human thought, that the handful of animals which somehow made it out here and isolated for so long lost all fear of predators and developed into species entirely on their own, and that today you can see these unique animals living practically as they have for aeons, is simply astonishing.
That being said….we had an incredible time in the Galapagos Islands. The archipelago has islands ranging from 750,000 yrs old to 3.25 million years old. Each island we visited had different species and vegetation making each day an unique experience. As we explored each island, the animals had no fear, and frequently we could literally touch them without them even flinching. We never imagined how many different species of birds inhabited these islands. Everything from a yellow wobbler to a red footed booby (yes, a booby is a bird and you can only imagine the 5th grade jokes that were told) to a Darwin finch to even a hooded mockingbird (that doesn’t even mock as we learned).
Here’s an idea of our daily itinerary: The bell would ring (yes quite like elementary school) at 7am sharp for breakfast. Afterwards, we would pile onto “dingies” (basically rubber boats) off to explore a new island. There we would go on a 2 hour hike, seeing the amazing vegetation and getting literally into the animals faces. Then we’d hop back on the “dingy” to Daphne (our lovely boat) for a quick change and then onto snorkeling. The water was absolutely freezing, and of course, not surprising I (Sharvari) was the only one in a wet suit. During our snorkeling adventures, we played literally with sea lions (they came close enough to make me scream), saw beautiful schools of fish, sea turtles, penguins (actually swimming or more like a torpedo in the water) and even a few white tip sharks (that will make you pee in the ocean). Afterwards, back on the “dingies” to the boat-where we’d have snacks followed by our meals. By this time, we all needed a small siesta before another afternoon excursion to the beach.
As everything couldn’t have been perfect…there were definitely some rough spots. First of all, thank God for scopolamine patches and dried ginger (thanks to my parents). Otherwise, we would have been vomiting machines, as many times at night,-the boat would be thrashing side to side, and I would hear a “oh shit” which was Tarak being thrown into shower while brushing his teeth, or we’d be awakened by a large “thud”, in which the cabinet next to our heads, came crashing down. Another downfall, was the damn menu selection for vegetarians. All I can say is that I have had EVERY combination of eggs and freakin’ heart of palm (I did not even know what that was before, and now I never want to see it again).
Another thing that turned out well was the diving in the Gallapagos, which only Tarak did. I (Tarak) was a little worried about diving at first since the guidebooks recommend experienced divers, which I am somewhat. However, once I saw what was awaiting below, all fears disappeared. I not saw only tons of amazing fish, but also witnessed at least 30 white tip sharks swimming about 10-15 feet away and even some sleeping in caves. We were so close we could see them breathe!!!. On another dive, the sea lions came up to us and wanted to play. They found our dive equipment interesting and literally came within inches of our faces. They would open their mouths as if they were going to bite us and then swim away. Which each encounter, I couldn’t help but flinch. Then on another dive, we saw giant sea turtles, rays, barracudas and the coolest thing….hammerhead sharks. We saw at least 3-5 schools (10-30 in each school) of hammerheads swimming effortlessly….The Galapagos experience will never be forgotten and difficult to match anywhere else in the world.