How do we love thee, Galapagos? After a week on land and sea (and with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning), let us count the ways.
For Your Monsters
We love you for your prehistoric monsters. For tortoises the size of boulders, marine iguanas so thick underfoot we risk stepping on them, land iguanas that surely were models for every celluloid Godzilla that ever terrorized Manhattan or Tokyo.
For Your Marine Life
We love you for your curious sea turtles who swim up to our noses, your schools of fish that do not scatter when we join them in the water, your countless contented sea lions nursing, napping in the sun and playing with our feet in the shallows.
For Your Birds
Though birders we are not, we love you for your tuxedoed penguins and your coral flamingoes, for your wee little Darwin finches and thick wingless cormorants and for the countless pelicans that somehow manage to look far more impressive in your islands than when they do when stalking outdoor diners in Southern California.
We admire you for the red bling your frigate birds flaunt to woo the ladies and for the blue feet your boobies dance upon for the same purpose.
And we adore your downy chicks and the way mamas and papas keep sitting them long after they emerge from their shells.
With only 283 Galapagos hawks left in the wild, we especially love that we spotted at least half a dozen of them perched in trees and on rocks, soaring on updrafts and breakfasting on the less fortunate in the food chain.
For Your Sallys
Even your crabs win our hearts. Consider the Sally Lightfoot. In this species, females flout the general rule that males in the creature world are more colorful than females. When predators bear down, these Sallys stay put while the young (and the dull males) scatter and live to produce new generations.
For Your Flora
We love you, Galapagos, for your adaptive flora – for the way your endemic scalesia tree develops white bark to cool itself in the summer and drops its leaves to reduce its need for water in the dry spell ahead. We are awed by cactuses with trunks like trees and even more awed to learn they are ancients who survived their youth by growing bark to prevent iguanas from munching them to death.
For Your Rains
We love you for sprinkling us with a cooling rain that draws beasts out of the grasses and into our path, where they take their half in the middle and we are the second-class citizens stepping into the mud to keep out of their way.
For Your Landscape
We love your beaches of hardened lava or red, black or white sands, your other-worldly volcanic skylines and your calderas that sometimes nest one after another inside other calderas like mammoth turduckens in stone.
For Your Endurance
We love you for being the seed from which a young and passionate man named Charles Darwin nurtured a theory that forever changed humankind’s understanding of how earth’s species (including our own) originated and for today’s young and passionate men who were born on these islands, studied “on the continent” in Ecuador’s universities and came home to teach awestruck visitors like us.
And we especially love you for being so ferociously protected by the Ecuadorian government and national park service that when we anchor where Darwin anchored and maybe even walk among tortoises that walked here when Darwin walked, we see very much what Darwin saw.
For the Memories
At the end of each long day of discovery, we love your waters for rocking us to sleep in our live-aboard home, and then waking us up, hungry for more.
Tips from the Partout toolbox: Age still pulls some privileges, at least in South America, where it appears common for pre-boarding privileges to be extended to travelers 65 years and older. We have yet to hear the policy announced in the boarding area but, if the priority boarding sign at the gate includes an icon of a man leaning on a cane, we are warmly welcomed among the queue of babes in arms and semi-mobile flyers. Able-bodied though we are, we enjoy having a little extra time to board (especially when there is no jetway) and avoiding the crush of general boarding.
COMING SOON! Travel Mercies and Other Minor Miracles