Did you know it is possible to travel from your home to the Redmond Airport, plunk one's self in the innards of a Continental airliner at 6 a.m., and - with only three connecting flights - find yourself in Quito, Ecuador, at 9 p.m. that same day? It is. I did just that a couple of weeks back on my way to the Galapagos Islands.
Never in my wildest dreams of "things to do, and places to go," did I think that some day, when I was over 80 years old would I set foot on what is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting biological and geological treasurers on planet Earth. But thanks to many, many friends, and three people in particular - Jay and Teresa Bowerman and my dear wife Sue - it happened.
I first became aware of the Galapagos when I was about 12 years old, spending hours with a woodcarver/storyteller who lived in a little shack between my grandfather's farm and the Heinie place that adjoined our apple orchard.
Grandpa Heine's snug little home was my usual destination Saturday after Saturday. While most of the kids in the neighborhood went to the Rivoli Theatre in West Haven to watch Johnny Weissmuller swing through the trees as Tarzan, a few of us kids from that era would go to Grandpa Heinie's little cabin and listen to his wonderful stories of the places he visited when he was a young man. Among those exciting, far-flung places was the Galapagos.
Then, we went down the western coastline and bays of Isabela (crossing the equator for the last time) where we snorkeled, hiked and swam. From there, we visited the island of Fernandina, back to Isbela again, around the other end of the island to Puerto Villamil; south to Florena, then on to the second largest island of Santa Cruz, south again to Espanola, on to San Cristobal, where the capitol of the Galapagos is located and back to Baltra.
And everything living and volcanic is all guarded over scrupulously by the Galapagos National Park Service. There was not one piece of litter to be found anywhere on or in any of the uninhabited islands.
The national park system keeps track of every tourist who is on or near the islands every moment of the day. (The number of visitors to the Galapagos rose more than 250 percent to 145,000 in 2006, while the number of commercial flights to the area has increased 193 percent from 2001 to 2006.) The NPS insist that each tour group setting foot on the islands and in the waters is doing what the park dictates, which is necessary. In every bay we stopped, there were at least three to five other tourist vessels coming and going.
Marine and land iguanas greeted us at most islands, with blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies within an arm's reach; frigate birds, albatross and gulls - many doing mating displays, several nesting while others wheeled overhead. The first animal I photographed was the Galapagos snake, and all I could think was: "Oh, I wish Al St. John was here..." We came up to within a couple of feet of black-crowned night herons (try that the next time you come upon a yellow-crowned night heron at Summer Lake), snorkeled with marine turtles, white-tipped sharks, flightless cormorants and marine life that would knock your socks off.
And of course, the most famous birds of science, Darwin's finches. When we stepped off the jet that flew us from the mainland of Ecuador to the island of Baltra, the first bird to greet us was Darwin's cactus finch building a nest in a cactus alongside the pathway from the plane.
With that beginning, everything from there went from great (frigate birds) to magnificent (frigate birds) to beautiful Galapagos gulls, blue-footed (and other) boobies, swallow-tailed gulls (that only forage for food at night). There are countless numbers of marine iguanas (we had to be careful we didn't step on them) to the rare and awesome Galapagos tortoises, to, well... visit tsweekly.com and check out all the photos. Or just hit the QR code on this page to view them on your mobile device.
Lastly, I'd like to thank all my dear friends for making this experience possible.