By ARMAND RODRIGUES
So you think that because
you have been to the National Parks or wildlife habitats in places like Africa,
In stark contrast, the
Since the archipelago
Choco and Tumbesian in
Ninety kilometres from
A thousand kilometres from the mainland, in the vast expanse of the Pacific, lies the GALAPAGOS archipelago. These scattered volcanic islands, within a 45,000 sq.km. Marine Reserve, are between 4 and 10 million years old and straddle the Equator. They constitute a vibrant crucible of life unmatched anywhere else in the world. In the genesis of this most-volcanic milieu on earth, each island has its pre-historic character, where eruptions below the crust are constant. Somewhat alarming is the fact that the islands are moving an inch or two towards the south-east, every year. Cut-off from the rest of the world, with inter-island isolation and no natural predators, wildlife has morphed into abnormal sizes and become utterly fearless and unique. All islands have both English and Spanish names.
In 1535, the Bishop of
Panama, Fray Tomas de Berlanger, drifted off course from
Bipeds and quadrupeds are
part of the 1900 species of endemic flora and fauna found here, with a
preponderance of some on particular islands. Fur seals, sea lions, iguanas and Sally
Lightfoot crabs seem to be everywhere.
Penguins, albatrosses, petrels, pelicans, boobies, frigate birds, gulls,
herons, egrets, flamingoes, ducks, oyster-catchers, stilts and flightless
cormorants, are resident sea birds. Migrant birds include sandpipers, plovers,
Small, self-contained cruise vessels --- 100 passengers or less – are the preferred means of island hopping. Zodiacs (called Pangas) take you from ship to shore. Without docks, a wet or dry landing becomes necessary, in eight visitor sites in five days. In a wet landing, one steps out of a Zodiac sideways, into the water when the crashing tide is receding and wades ashore. A dry landing entails clambering up uneven lava boulders while keeping one’s equilibrium. The whole experience is aptly called an expedition. You soon find yourself in a pristine and irregular volcanic terrain, with a mandatory Naturalist/chaperone keeping you in line on a narrowly defined path. Rain can turn some paths into a slip-sliding, bog, which cakes one’s footwear in gooey mud. Walking and walking and walking, comes with the territory.
Bartolome island is an
exception when it comes to being above ground. It has a steep boardwalk with
1300 steps leading to the top of a cone. The oppressive heat and rarified air
at the top only acerbate fatigue. But
the reward is the breathtaking views in all directions, with Pinnacle Rock
taking pride of place. For the more adventurous, snorkelling (equipment
provided) is an option, while landlubbers can keep dry in a glass-bottomed
A degree of fitness and endurance are essential to cope. Also, with no restrooms around, bladder control is crucial. Other than water, participants are not allowed to carry any food or fruit, or to smoke. Once committed to a particular hike, turning back is not an option. Conservation measures are strictly enforced. Plastic bags and water bottles have to be taken back to the mainland for disposal. Shoes and feet are hosed down on return from an island. Practising the highest levels of environmental stewardship is an indispensable prerequisite.
This is an incomparable expedition that gets etched in one’s memory.
Copyright @ arodrigues