The plane touched down on the runway of one of the main Islands called Isla Baltra. The airport was built by the US army and airforce during World War 2. It was a beautiful day, sunny but it was a dry heat and good for walking. We left the airport which is situated very close to the Pacific Ocean and walked down to the harbour where we were picking up our boat to visit five islands over a period of five days. Because the Galapagos is a National Park and an area of conservation, only so many parties of human beings are allowed to tramp around each day so you have to book well in advance or you will be disappointed. Although there are 15 main islands in the geographical area and 3 smaller ones, the islands we were to visit were: Hispaniola, Darwin, Espanola, Floreana and Santa Cruz. Each island had something spectacular to offer us and I had to pinch myself to believe I was really there.
The weather in the Galapagos is often drizzly however, there is not sufficient rain to produce many lakes or drinking water. As a result the land is extremely arid which is one of the reasons why not many people have chosen to settle there. The most common form of vegetation you will see is the prickly pear which grows in abundance but is threatened because it comprises the main diet of sea lizards, or iguanas. More of that later. . .
The first thing you notice as you approach the islands are lots and lots of boulders, or at least that is what they look like from a distance but as you draw closer you realise they are seals. Hundreds of them litter the shores and they are pretty indifferent to humans. We are not allowed to touch, especially the babies as their mothers reject them once they smell human being on them. This doesn`t stop some irresponsible people from stroking them so we encountered a number of tiny seal corpses as we were travelling which made us angry and sad.
Seal pooh is incredibly smelly by the way, so visitors are made to remove their shoes before boarding boats to try and keep down the pungent odour of rotting fish.
I made the mistake of swimming with some seals one day. I was on my own as my companion The Australian had gone out with our party snorkelling which I didn`t fancy. The sea was quite cold and choppy that day with strong currents so I didn`t have the confidence to snorkel. After a few minutes of playing around in the water I heard a roar of rage as a bull seal who was about the size of half a grown elephant, came lumbering along the beach towards the ocean to shoo me away from his harem. Fortunately I could move faster than him on land so scrambling out of the sea, I scarpered pretty sharpish! Just imagine being on your own, on a white beach, surrounded by seals and no humans, it was absolutely one of the most magical moments of my life. I will never forget it.
The boat was made of wood which is no longer allowed now as in the harbours, wood is considered a fire hazard. The chef was apallingly bad serving us fish soup which was bland and had the consistency of snot, it was vile and made me sick. The nights were the worst, we had a tiny cabin below deck with a very small port hole and as we sped along to the next island, we dipped and dove over the waves and all I could see was a wall of ocean towering above us. I was quite convinced I was going to die but slept anyway thinking, “Well, it`s out of my hands that`s for sure!”
It didn`t matter in the morning though for the islands offer you something so amazing you soon forget the nights. Pelicans bob around on the sea waiting for a catch. One morning I saw a manta ray swimming in slow motion through the ocean. It was enormous, it would have stretched the length of two rooms of my house and it was absolutely stunning to see something so elegant and so beautiful, in real life. I saw lots of turtles moseying along in the waves without a care in the world. I saw cormorants and was amused to notice how they put the brakes on in mid air, prior to landing, you have to see it to understand how funny it is. When they do land, their colours are so gorgeous, beige bodies, pale blue heads and very bright primrose eyes. Beautiful. I saw scores of bright pink flamingo standing on one leg in a lake, hundreds of Galapagos penguins, everywhere on the rocks and beaches. I saw tiny hooded mockingbirds, totally unafraid to try and steal water from bottles in your back pack which you have to hide or they dive bomb you to get their beaks into it. I saw spitting iguanas who do so, usually in your direction to rid their bodies of accumulated sea salt. They pile up at the bottom of prickly pears until there are enough of them to knock a tree down which they then eat. I saw the famous Darwin giant tortoises, reaching the height of my waist, you could easily use them as small dining tables on moving legs they are wonderful. The breeding programme has been so successful after they were nearly wiped out in the last century, it`s a problem now knowing how to feed them all.
I didn`t want to go, it was my great privilege to visit the islands. None of the animals or birdlife show any fear of humans whatsoever and I do so hope it remains that way. On our way back to the airport to leave I noticed a rubbish truck driving along the main road. Written along the sides were: “Donated by the European Union,” and I thought well at least we know some of the dosh is being put to good use!