Memories from the Galapagos Islands

Memories from the Galapagos Islands

Jun 12, 2015|Where we travel| by Julia Holbrook-Rasmussen

When I was ten years old, my family and I embarked upon an incredible and unforgettable journey to the Galapagos Islands. I distinctly remember landing in the Quito, Ecuador airport and seeing young boys selling packets of gum to passing travelers. From Quito, we boarded a tiny plane, barely large enough for thirty people, and headed west over the mountains towards the Pacific Ocean. Our talented pilot maneuvered the aircraft onto an alarmingly short strip of bare earth. From that moment, it was evident we were in truly wild territory. Leaving civilization and the comforts of home behind, we boarded a small passenger ship with living quarters, which would serve as our mobile hotel for the duration of the trip. First stop: an island the size of a shopping mall and shaped like a horseshoe (I later learned its real name: Tortuga Island). The majestic rock formation rose in steep cliffs hundreds of meters above the sea then plateaued, providing a home for hundreds of iguanas, dry shrubbery, and the blue-footed boobies. After observing the large green reptiles and a few Darwinian finches, we descended to the rocky shore and adorned ourselves in snorkeling gear. In the cold Pacific waters, we witnessed hundreds of undersea creatures. From sea turtles to parrot fish to gigantic eels, I had never been so thoroughly amazed. The creatures that call the Galapagos home are uniquely unafraid of humans, as they have never been particularly bothered by the occasional mammalian visitor. Being this up close and personal with wild animals was completely foreign to me, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Luckily, these one-of-a-kind encounters weren’t limited to Tortuga Island.

Our next destination was much larger, with rich forests and white sandy coasts. Sitting on a bench at the beach, my mother and I watched as the sea lions interacted and went about their daily lives. Hearing their playful barks and grunts, we basked in the sun much like the native reptiles. Before we knew it, one of the majestic beasts had waddled its way over to our bench and sat down, sniffing in curiosity with its fuzzy snout, inches away from my face. If there was ever such thing as a Kodak moment, this was certainly one of them. The sea lion, after deciding that we were painfully boring, made his way back to the pack, happy to rejoin his boisterous friends.

Later that day, my mother handed me an egg-shaped fruit with a hard, rough shell and told me to walk into the lush jungle. She followed close behind, with a guide from our boat. We witnessed a myriad of bird species which on my part were severely under-appreciated. After about an hour of exploring, we heard crunching vegetation not too far ahead. I turned around to see their eyes light up. “Go ahead” they urged. “Walk slowly.” Making my way through the vines, I came upon what seemed to be an enormous, shelled dinosaur. Its head right at my eye-level (given I was about 4 feet tall at the time), the giant tortoise munched away, barely noticing my presence. The guide used his knife to cut open the passion fruit, revealing a mass of slimy seeds. He handed it back to me and told me to try it: the inside of the fruit was sweet and gooey. He then told me I could offer some to the tortoise. I held out my hand with the sticky seeds exposed. Within seconds, the world’s largest reptile turned towards me and curved his neck to take a bite with his pointed beak. He finished the passion fruit, peel and all, and went back to his staple diet of various grasses.

Ten years later, my trip to the Galapagos is still crystal clear in my mind. Since then, throughout my travels, no other place has made such a lasting impression. If anything is certain, it is that in the future I will bring my children back to the Islands for an experience filled with the wonders of the animal kingdom and natural world.