It could be difficult to find conditions that lend themselves to having a feeling of serenity during a somewhat hectic holiday trip, but we did nonetheless experience some such moments during our visit to Ecuador.
We stayed at the Finch Bay Hotel on the island of Santa Cruz while in the Galapagos. We spent our evenings at the hotel while making many day-trips to different places to take in the sights. While at the hotel, you could sit out in the open area next to the swimming pool and look out over the bay. On a clear night, one could see the cruise ships resting in the bay under the peaceful light of the moon.One was also likely to be greeted by the great blue heron (who seemed to have set up residence in the neighborhood) in the quiet early morning, and one could also join it in greeting the dawn of another new day.Back on the mainland, on our way from Quito to Otavalo, we stayed in cabins beside the San Pablo lake. The lake was beautiful in the early morning light. A light mist rose over the quiet waters.The awakening birds flew low over the waters of the lake as we looked out over it. It was very peaceful.At Papallacta, a little village situated in a mountain valley high in the Andes, we could see the the lazy clouds floating across the sky in the evening light, past the snow-capped Antisana volcano, as the sun began to set.In the morning, while we were taking a lazy walk, we saw the cows grazing peacefully on the mountain pastures with not a care in the world.We traveled further east to the Amazon region of the country. In the evening light, under the gently rising clouds, we could see the winding Napo river wend its way towards the Amazon, just as it has been doing for thousands of years. This was the view from our room in the resort where we stayed.We experienced the sunset on the Napo river. The river and its surroundings, and even the repetitive phut-phut sound of the engine on the boat, have a calming effect, as we head back to the resort for an evening of relaxation.Our hacienda on a mountainside near Patate was also located in very serene surroundings. The view included the Tungurahua volcano in the distance.
It took some effort for us to get to North Seymour Island from the Finch Bay Hotel where we were staying. We had to first walk to the dock to take a boat to the town of Puerto Ayora. We then got on a bus for a ride from the town (which is towards the south of the Santa Cruz Island) to the north of the island, to the point where one takes the ferry boat to Baltra Island (which used to be called South Seymour Island) to get to the airport. Instead of taking the ferry to Baltra, we transferred to a rubber dinghy, which took us to a yacht that sat out in the middle of the waterway between the two islands. We then took the yacht to get around Baltra Island, heading in a south to north direction. We finally made a landing on the rocks of North Seymour Island from the dinghy after transferring from the yacht. Once on the ground, we followed our guide, Soto, as he took us on a walk along the rocky trail around the island.It was towards the tail end of our walk, when we were getting back to the seashore, that the following scene played out.
Soto had sighted two different kinds of sea lions in close proximity to each other on the rocks next to the ocean. It was apparently something that he did not see that often. Furthermore, he had sighted the pup of the fur sea lion hidden under a rock. It appeared to be resting.It did not take much to wake up the pup and to have it come out of hiding.The pup seemed to be well aware of the people who had stopped to look at it, and it was approaching them while making some sounds, while the parent kept a careful eye on it.The parent would occasionally try to caution the pup about getting too far away by making some sounds, and the little one would respond, not necessarily by turning back, but by making some sounds itself.Nothing seemed to stop the curiosity of the young one. It was also pretty noisy. There was a different kind of sea lion sleeping close by with its young one. The pup that was out-and-about tried to wake the other little one up, but there was no reaction. The parent of this other pup also seemed to be asleep through the whole incident.Soto noted that seeing this episode play out was something very exciting and special even for locals like him. We stood by for a while enjoying the spectacle, and then it was time to move on to our next amazing experience on the trail.
The birds and animals of North Seymour Island have not learned to be afraid of people, and tourism is done in such a manner as to protect the environment of these creatures. The experience that results when you are there is quite unique.
The visit to Galápagos Islands and the rest of Ecuador was a great experience overall, but it did not go off too well from a perspective of my ability to take pictures during the trip. My DSLR camera which had been showing signs of some mechanical distress (a problem exacerbated by software in the device that I think could have been better designed to compensate for the situation) finally gave up the ghost on the islands. Fortunately, we had bought a point-and-shoot camera with an extended zoom as a backup. I had to quickly learn how to use it properly. This plan worked decently for a couple of days until I found out the deficiencies of the new camera. It was chewing up battery power at an unimaginable rate whenever I tried to use its zoom capability! You would think that the fact that the camera used standard AA batteries would be a plus in this situation, but the problem was that we were traveling in areas where availability of such batteries was limited. Indeed, the only batteries I was able to find in some of the places were of dubious quality, some with a local brand name, and some others with a date of expiry that had long passed. I did try out some of these batteries and they failed in the camera within no time. My last line of defense was the camera on the smart phone, a device that produced pictures of marginal quality. Anyway, I managed to get some pictures during the trip using both the smart phone and the point-and-shoot camera, the latter in a somewhat more judicious manner than I would have done otherwise.
Galápagos is an amazing place! The government of Ecuador has shown great foresight in establishing more than 90 percent of the land on the over hundred and twenty islands (of which only five are inhabited) as an ecological preserve. They have taken significant steps to make sure that the flora and fauna are not contaminated from the mainland these days. Although the ecology of these volcanic islands has developed in isolation for thousands of years producing unique species of flora and fauna (a circumstance that allowed Darwin to work on the theory of natural selection), the coming of man in recent years had begun to contaminate and change the place. Indeed, some of the islands have changed significantly because of human habitation (including the effects of cultivation and meat consumption, and the impact of the non-native flora and fauna that have been introduced on purpose or inadvertently), but amazingly there still are places you can see nature in its purest form, places where the birds and the animals are still not afraid of the humans. Visits to such places are managed carefully with a goal of preserving the local flora and fauna and their ecosystems. Where indigenous animal and bird populations have been depleted because of human encroachments, there are attempts at recovery. The giant tortoises of the Galapagos are making a comeback with help from the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island. There are regular attempts to eradicate the rats and other pests that have been introduced on some of the islands, pests that are killing off the local species slowly. Some local species have disappeared completely over the years but there is still hope for many others.
Here are just a few of the pictures I took during during our visit. (More will be posted in a regular photo gallery elsewhere.)
This is a fascinating article that is worth a read in spite of its length. We are going to be visiting a couple of the islands later this week. It is good for us to know more about the circumstances of the places we are visiting.
“Three years before Darwin’s arrival, a zoo’s worth of invasive species had become entrenched on Floreana. It is no accident that in the scientific literature, the earliest date for many invasive species is 1832. That’s when General José de Villamil, the first governor of the Galápagos Islands, arrived on Floreana to organize the penal colony. As Cruz—farmer, amateur historian, sometime bus driver and the largest landowner on Floreana—puts it, “He brought everything—goats, donkeys, cows, mules, horses, dogs, pigs, rats, everything.” Similar animal importations occurred on other islands in the Galápagos during the 19th century, with devastating consequences on the local flora and fauna. Villamil brought the mules and donkeys to haul tortoises down from the highlands. At the time of his visit, Darwin reported that a previous ship visiting Floreana had loaded up on 200 tortoises in a single day (other ships reportedly collected as many as 700 apiece, according to Darwin).”
“Humans don’t get a waiver from these waves of invasion, and their impact is increasing, too. In 1984 only 6,000 people total lived on five of the 129 islands and islets; more than 30,000 do today. And tourists? Three decades ago there were 20,000 a year; in 2016 there were 218,000. Just as more people began to come to the Galápagos to marvel at the local biodiversity, that biodiversity became increasingly threatened by the invasive species.”Credit: Mapping Specialists
I found the the following article in the Washington Post fascinating. These scientists working in the Galapagos have been able to observe the progress of evolution even during their own lifetimes. Not only that, they have been able to associate the evolutionary change to the DNA that is responsible for it. Darwin had to do his work without the benefit of the tools of genetic engineering.