Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Wilds of the Galápagos

Made famous by Charles Darwin in 1835 and more recently by Russell Crowe in Master and Commander, the Galapagos really are every bit the evolutionary marvel. Largely unchanged over millions of years, it is possible to get a truly prehistoric experience amongst the unique and incredibly rare animals of the Galapagos Islands.

Rescued from plunder in 1959, the islands were declared a national park by the Ecuadorian Government. But the road to recovery has been anything but smooth. Local fishermen still work the waters and a recent oil spill highlighted the extremely delicate environment in which these special creatures exist.

Tourists to the Galapagos arrive by air from the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador and are ferried immediately to their waiting charter boat. The best choice is to embark on an expedition tour itinerary of about a week, which will visit most of the major islands and a few of the smaller ones. Shorter 4 or 5 day cruises are also available. There is ample time to see every major species of animal that is there before you in abundance. Vessels range in size from around a dozen to over one hundred passengers.

Sea Lions cavort in the shallows with you while gnarly frigate birds wheel overhead in search or morsels to plunder. All around, nesting boobys squeal, honk and trumpet as they go about their bizarre mating rituals.

Devilish marine iguanas congregate in packs at the waters edge, soaking heat from the black lava and occasionally spraying their neighbours with salt spray from their nostrils. Fiercely territorial, the lone land iguanas patrol the nearby undergrowth in search of interlopers. Their dramatic clashes reminiscent of classic Godzilla bouts!

The giant tortoises are much harder to find in the wild, so a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station is a mandatory inclusion on any itinerary. Here visitors can get truly up-close-and-personal with these 200kg centenarians as well as see the world’s rarest animal – the only Pinta Island Tortoise in existence, fondly known as Lonesome George.

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