On Board H.M.S. Beagle, in September ? October of 1835, an unpaid 26 year old naturalist, Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos. His observations on this, his only, visit to the Archipelago supported the postulation of the Theory of Evolution and it's subset Natural Selection. Today, one hundred and sixty years later, forty thousand visitors to the Galapagos Islands marvel at the plants, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals which were studied by Darwin. Among the visitors, in May of 1999, were Ellie and George Menkart and their 11-year old granddaughter Alison Smith. A report on the Menkart ? Smith trip follows.
"The trip was great. Our ship, the recently renovated Santa Cruz was perfect. Featuring a capacity for 90 passengers with approximately 60 on board the ratio of crew to passengers on our cruise was essentially one to one. The crew and staff were efficient and friendly. Alison, being the only child on board, received much special attention.
Our island excursions featured acres of birds. Walking near birds siting in nests, birds gathering material for nests and birds courting potential mates ignoring us, the human intruders, was awesome. We were lucky to be visiting during the mating season for several of the bird species. Displayed for us to observe up close were the courting behaviors of boobies, albatross and frigates.
Sea lions rested on beaches and frolicked in the ocean, some ignoring the two legged visitors others observing them without fear and still others amusing themselves by swimming with snorkeling intruders provided some memorable moments. Ellie had her flipper tugged by one young playful sea lion as she snorkeled in among them.
Iguanas of the sea and land variety eagerly photographed at great distance when first spotted were seen so many places in such quantities as to become just a lizard with the annoying habit of resting in paths requiring care to avoid stepping on them.
Excursions to some of the islands were physically demanding. One of the most testing outing was the 800 foot high climb on Bartolome island, on day two of our Galapagos cruise. The exertion was rewarded with a spectacular view. This was but the first of many outings featuring treks over lava beds all of which required us to pay close attention to where and how one placed feet.
Food, facilities and service on the Santa Cruz were superior. The naturalists
who led the on shore expeditions, two or three per day, were
Following our Galapagos adventure we spent three days on the mainland where we also enjoyed first class facilities and most competent guides. On an overnight trip to Otavalo we had a van, driver and guide to ourselves. We visited out of the way native villages and observed wood carving, bread dough sculpturing and weaving. We visited the market in Otavala and loaded up on gifts and mementos. We enjoyed an overnight stay at La Mirage, a deluxe resort, with facilities, food, amenities and service which deluxe implies.
Pictures complete the story."
Our ship, N/M Santa Cruz anchored in the bay as we explored virtually barren, volcanic Bartolome island. To reach the picture postcard view we climbed to an 800 ft high point. Our path started on hardened lava and ended going up steep wooden steps, 350 of them according to Alison.
In the course of our seven day cruise we explored eight islands. Sharing a common volcanic heritage their climates differs markedly, ranging from arid to semiarid to near rain forest. Vegetation ranged from virtually none to lava cactus to grasses, bushes and trees. Sea birds were the most common island inhabitants, closely followed by sea lions and iguanas (sea and land types). Rare but observed on at least one occasion each were penguins and sea turtles. The wildlife and it's complete lack of fear of man was fascinating. Flightless Cormorants qualified as the most extreme adaptation to a unique environment, one lacking predators. Thus the bird traded flight for diving capability. It can go deeper and dive faster then it's flying cousins. The result a more efficient and effective fisherman.
Busy, discovery filed days, were the hallmark of our seven days in the Galapagos. Meeting interesting people and making new friends was another feature of the trip. Alison acquired a number of these not the least of whom are Amy Hanson and Phil Wetzel with whom she is pictured on board the Santa Cruz.
A great sunset provided a fitting close to our Galapagos cruise. Returning to the mainland we traveled north from Quito to Otavalo. On this journey we crossed the equator for the seventh and eighth time. Alison, with a little assistance from our guide, made a coin stand on edge on the line bisecting the planet. We followed this feat by the touristy thing to do, be photographed straddling the equator. A great trip providing fantastic memories of fauna, flora, great views and many new friends.