Sunday, September 20th, 2015 22:32 Position: 0deg 24’ 36’’ S, 90deg 33’ 28” W
The early Galapagos: A distant world, slowly grows beneath the surface. In the depths volcanoes belch magma, basalt rises and cools from mantle to sky. This world, first empty, brims with potential—waiting. Settlers will come eventually, propelled by great rains, riding on rafts of plants and soil flushed out to sea and forsaken. Still some castaways will find salvation—an act of provenance, or random chance— through their unlikely convergence with these new specks of land in a sea of empty. In this way the petri dish is inoculated and the Galapagos experiment begins. These colonizers will sculpt a life from lava and wind, from cool nutrient-rich currents and equatorial rain to form an environment like none seen elsewhere before or since.
Los Encantanadas was the first name given to this improbable land, home to even more improbably creatures. We have not yet been here for two full days, and already I am enchanted. My mouth is agape and head spinning with the curiosities and wonders that surround me. It does not matter how many books you read or how many films you watch, on arriving in the Galapagos, you enter into a surreal dream, which cannot fully be imagined or told. This is a place where you can crouch eye-to-eye with marine iguanas as they scribe an unabashed line directly past you in the sand, where you may be surrounded by boisterous frigate birds whose throats inflate red like birthday balloons in proud yet comic display, and where you can even rest your head for a moment with your underrepresented fellow mammal, the Galapagos sea lion.
In the day and a half since arriving, we have ventured onto three islands (Baltra, Santa Cruz and North Seymour). Along our path, we have threaded our way through cacophonous frigate bird and blue footed boobie colonies, contemplated the life of land iguanas whose long lost relatives washed from the mainland on early floods tens of thousands of years ago, and even spied a lone flamingo poised one-legged in a shallow lagoon picking through the memory of the last high tide. We have snorkeled alongside pacific green sea turtles, surgeonfish, and manta rays in the deep waters off of Rabida Island. Amid all of this, I have jumped into a crash course on biological illustration, vowed to learn at least the basics of digital SLR photography, met a diversity of interesting people from around the world, and have even managed to sleep just a little bit in between.
Tonight we sail across the equator back into the northern hemisphere and around the seahorse head of Isla Isabella to Fernandina, the youngest island and most recent magma column belched from sea to sky only half a million years ago. This is where the deep Cromwell current upwells from the depths of the Pacific feeding the diverse marine life with energy rich phytoplankton. It is a place where Galapagos penguins share waters with green sea turtles, a stretch of waters visited and valued by Darwin, and a place I am very excited to see.