This month’s guest blog was kindly written by Jo Clough, who has been a member of GCT for 19 years.
My fascination with the Galapagos Islands started in my childhood, when I was imbued with a love of nature and animals by my parents. I was awestruck by such a unique place and hoped to go there one day. An encounter with a King Penguin at an animal park endeared these creatures to me, despite being splashed deliberately and repeatedly by his flippers. Time passed and my boyfriend gave me a Christmas present, which turned into a honeymoon, that included a visit to Galapagos. Anticipating what adventures I would have whilst there, I really hoped that I would see the adorable Galapagos penguins.
Flying into Baltra, my husband and I joined 70 others on board the original Santa Cruz for a four day, three-night cruise around the Islands. With so fragile an environment, the Ecuador Government’s limit of 100 in the size of such ships is essential. Our first exploration found us on a panga, the local name for a zodiac craft, around Santa Cruz which meant we could see at quite close quarters the nesting sites of birds such as the blue-footed booby, which would be inaccessible on land.
Later, we made a wet landing ashore to see marine iguanas and sea lions. Despite limited human contact now for several hundred years, Galapagos land creatures have not developed any fear of us. Hence the iguanas did not move as we approached where they were basking. Being coloured slate grey, they blended almost imperceptibly with the volcanic rock and it was quite difficult not to tread on them. Adult male sea lions are very territorial. The top males are beach masters, who have a stretch of beach they claim as their own where they guard a female harem. Other males, who cannot command a territory, live in a separate area akin to a gentlemen’s club. The most humorous incident of a creature not being afraid of humans came when we encountered a diminutive Sally Lightfoot crab, whose territory we had inadvertently strayed into. Despite being badly outnumbered, as well as probably one-hundredth of our size, it still put up its most fearsome display.
Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Centre will always be synonymous for me with Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise. He was around 87 when I saw him and lived until 2012. Although I had expected him to be big, his size was a surprise. Even though the Galapagos Archipelago is geographically tight-knit, island isolation for the giant tortoises eventually brought about a degree of genetic diversity and this helped in developing an understanding of evolution.
Undoubtedly, our most memorable encounter came by chance because poor sea conditions forced an itinerary change. We had gone ashore to see giant tortoises but as we came ashore, a shoal of fish in the bay had prompted a feeding expedition by penguins. Our guides had not expected to see them there but this was an El Nino year and this can disrupt life in Galapagos waters. We were not on our own with these enchanting birds. Pelicans also wanted the fish and dived into the water very close to us. Meanwhile, further along from where we were swimming, a beach master sea lion warned loudly to warn us off getting too near to his harem. Whilst some of our party went to see the tortoises, several of us stayed to have the chance to snorkel with the penguins. It was this encounter of swimming with penguins that cemented my love of these magical little creatures. On returning home, I joined the GCT and more recently have sponsored a penguin, and I would like to think he/she was related to the ones with whom I had swam. Since our Galapagos visit in 1997, my husband and I have visited over 100 countries, yet snorkelling with those penguins remains my top travel memory, and I would dearly love to go back one day.
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