May 21, 2003
|The Galápagos archipelago, comprised of 13 main islands and six smaller ones, sits in an isolated region of the Pacific Ocean, approximately 1000km west of Ecuador, at the meeting point of three ocean currents. The islands are a unique laboratory of evolution. For example, a Galapagos tortoise shows subtle differences from its cousins living on other islands of the Galapagos. The shell reflects the type of vegetation found on its island. Other wildlife shows variations from their mainland ancestors or other animals of the same species from a different island. Thirteen types of finches, descended from a single species, have evolved different beaks for different jobs: stocky and powerful in the nut-eaters, smaller in the fruit-eaters, and slender in the insect-eaters. Animals here have lived without natural predators, so they stand face-to-face with visitors. The islands' renowned bird and marine life also include albatrosses, penguins, boobies, iguanas, sea lions, whales and dolphins.
|If you aren't visiting in high season it's best to fly to Quito without a reservation and book your Galapagos trip a few days before: prices can drop by 50% or more. Flights to the islands leave daily from Quito for the Isla Baltra airport, which is about two hours by public transport from Puerto Ayora, the main town of the Galapagos on the central island of Santa Cruz. We flew to Baltra and joined our 180 foot sailing vessel, the Heritage. She got underway immediately and carried us to the island of North Seymour for afternoon walk.
The Galapagos are the best place to see boobies (of the avian kind). The birds perform mating dances without help from a disco ball. When they aren't mating, they're fishing. Boobies are brilliant swimmers - it's fun to watch a booby plunge dive into the water from great heights.
Frigatebird family huddle: these seabirds don't land in the water because they'll drown. Yes, a seabird that can't swim - their feathers aren't oily and become waterlogged if wet. Therefore, frigatebirds eat by swooping down to snatch flying fish from the surface or by chasing and forcing other birds like boobies to regurgitate their catch.