Before we get to the Galapagos, a few Quito photos to whet the appetite.
When people first arrived in Quito there was lots of room for you to build your dream castle so people did. And when the city sprung up the castles were nice, so modern buildings were simply built around them. There are castles all over the place.
Some of them were particularly eye-catching (code for “hideous”).
We went to an artsy street with galleries and cafes. Since everything is on a hill, within one cafe you can see many different levels. I thought this picture of an elderly couple have tea was sweet.
Heck, speaking of sweet, we passed an apiary which displayed a paper model of a bee. Hi Miss Bee!
The coolest establishment we visited on this street was a master chocolatier. Most of our chocolate comes from Africa and goes into Hersheys and Mars but the finest chocolate is grown in Ecuador.
We learned about the whole process in a presentation that contained some of the best Engrish I’ve encountered outside of Japan.
Okay, GALAPAGOS! I went to where Darwin looked at some finches and figured out… something science-y! (I used to think it was evolution but I recently learned it was actually natural selection.) The Galapagos Islands were formed about five million years ago from volcanoes. Considering the earth is about four billion years old, the islands are pretty fresh. Here, a helpful diagram:
So in the history of the planet we live on, not very long. And it shows. Every time I walked on an island I thought, “Should I come back later? You know, when it’s done developing? I can come back later.” If you squinted the pelicans looked like pterodactyls. It was raw. I would find myself singing the theme song from Jurassic Park from time to time.
Here’s an important thing for you to know: at no point on this trip did I touch any animals. Not one. Not a single beastie. I could have touched the crap out of fur sea lions and tortoises and possibly some fish but I didn’t. I would like to be commended for my self-control.
We took two flights to get from Quito to the islands. 97% of the Galapagos are natural reserves but there is an airport and people do live there, about 30,000 people. Because protecting the ecosystem is extremely important the amount of paperwork we had to fill out before we got there was redonk.
Shortly after we landed I walked to baggage claim only to see an airport employee with a disinterested expression on his face carrying two very large land iguanas out of the building so he could release them into the wild. Our Galapagos guide Luis said, “The iguanas probably come into the airport all the time.” As you can imagine I have a new career goal and that is to be an iguana herder at the Galapagos Airport. Luis told us he was going to take us to a cool experience on the same island as the airport and then we would head to the boat that would be our home for the next five days. We drove for a while in a bus which had the second-best Engrish of the journey.
Eventually we got to a farm where we put on knee-high galoshes and walked into a grassy area. And that’s when we saw these guys.
If you’d like you can imagine these are videos. Because these guys, not so much with the moving. It’s almost as if they know their long long lives will be all about eating bland bland grass for 150 years. It’s impressive how large they get. All these fellers were varying ages but one of them was quite old and about 750 pounds. We got two watch two males get in a fight. Let me clarify, a tortoise fight is not like a normal fight. Here’s the way it goes down: a gigantic male tortoise ever so slowly lumbers into the space of another gigantic male tortoise. There is now tension between the two of them so they open their mouths and extend their necks as far as they can. The one with the longest neck wins and the lose saunters away. Very intense fight. My niece Drea got some great pics.
This guy was so cute. He was scared of all these people so close to him so he pulled his head into his shell. He was hiding. Awwww.
I got really excited about this picture – a Darwin Finch perched on a Galapagos Tortoise.
The tortoise did not share my excitement.
Something I had no idea about when I got to the Galapagos: each island has its own type of tortoise and they cannot interbreed. So when an island’s specific tortoise is wiped out, that’s the end of that sub-breed, they’re extinct now. That’s what happened to Lonesome George. More about him later.
A bit more information about the Galapagos themselves. The Galapagos is an archipelago of islands, about 13 big islands and then some small ones and finally ones I called “Yorkshire Puddings” (because they looked like Yorkshire puddings) which were a small outcrop of lava with a bird and a tree and that’s it. It covers about 600 square miles so the schedule was visit land during the day using an inflatable raft called a panga, return to big yacht thing at night and then spend the night traveling to the next island. We would travel six or seven hours because the islands are very spread out. If I had to say one thing about the area is I could not believe the color of the water. These are untouched photos. It really looks like this.
Doesn’t it look lovely and smooth sailing? LIES. ALL LIES. At the time of year that I went down there the Humboldt Current is slamming through the area and to say the water is choppy is the understatement of the century. I took some video of the panga when we dropped anchor in a harbor. Again, this is in a harbor. Imagine what it was like in the open sea.
I get motion sickness pretty easily so armed with that knowledge I brought every possible drug and pill and potion to alleviate the symptoms on this trip. I ended up using them all at the same time. I had the patch on my neck, I was swallowing six Dramamine a day, I wore Sea-Bands and to top it off I would occasionally pop a Klonopin to dull the anxiety. If you’re wondering about side effects, I had two. I appeared completely hammered drunk for the whole five days (“Yaaaaaayyyy! Pelicans! Zzzzzzzzzz.”) and I swelled up like a water balloon to the point where I could not make a fist. Totally worth it. Didn’t barf once. Went on every excursion. Total team player. Thank you, Modern Medicine!
Next entry: Some of the islands themselves.