Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Wow! It's only been 10 days into our trip to South America and I find myself a mere 600 miles off the Ecuadorian Coast in the Galapagos Islands. Two weeks ago I was on my green couch glued to a Maury Povich show. He comes on at 11:00 am just about the time I find myself rising these days. The contrast between 711 East 43rd Street and my position at this moment is staggering. I just can't get over how much one can do when they just get up and go……
OK now here's a quick tip for ya……. 'Ecuador' say it out loud 'Ecuador' say it slowly 'E C U A D O R'. Does that word sound like a word we have in English. I believe it does. The word is 'Equator' and when one goes to the 'Equator' one needs to not only take with them but also apply liberally a product that we have in the States called 'sun tan lotion'. Something of the 4000 block variety should do the trick. See I tell you this as a seasoned and now I might add rather crispy North American tourist. Lobster Boy here forgot to bring and apply sun tan lotion because he wrongly thought that his experience in the Texas sun would have prepared him for the Ecuadorian sun. It's the same sun as we have at home! Wrong!!!!! This is not the same sun as we have in Texas…. It's an angry sun that takes great pleasure in turning Americans into raisins….
Anyways, I digress….
My Blog
Sunday, November 11, 2001
We flew in to Quito Ecuador on December first. We had no real plans, just a return ticket 6 weeks later from Lima, Peru. The only must do's were the Galapagos Islands and the Inca trail leading to Machu Pichu. We arrived in Quito on one of their biggest holidays. A week long festival called 'Quito Days'. The festival celebrates the city of Quito and has hoards of people dancing in the streets screaming
at the top of their lungs, 'Viva Quito' The festival also involves buses laden with drunk, singing Ecuadorians dancing on the roofs of the moving buses.  These buses are called 'Chivas' and can be seen throughout the day and night. Sometimes there are 6 or 7 piece bands on the roof of a bus with approx 30 people stomping about. It's really something to see.
Upon our arrival into Quito, Scott and I immediately headed out into the streets to check out the scene. Sami had a touch of altitude sickness (Quito's altitude is approx 9,000 ft), which manifested itself in the form of a headache. She opted not to partake in the drunken madness that was erupting outside the hostel. Scott and I ventured out into the streets.  We were soon met by an extremely drunk fellow who handed each of us a shot of some type of alcohol. Two shots later Scott and I were on our way. We stopped and ate at a typical street vendor. I think we were drawn to the extremely large, severed pig head gently resting on the tabletop. Surprisingly the food we ate was really good. Although, I hate to admit it I think I chewed up and swallowed more than my fair share of fried pig skin and other unrecognizable deep fried parts of pig innards.  

We didn't stay out too long. Our squillion hour flight and the altitude were slowing us down a bit. So before too long we hit the sack hoping to get up early and tackle the city fresh in the morning. Sami and Scott had been to Ecuador previously and had met a couple that taught at the American School in Quito. Rachel and Andy had lived in Ecuador for approx 3 years and offered us the use of their house as a base. They came straight away to our hostel, picked us up and took us back to their house. They had a beautiful house, which rested high upon a hill overlooking the entire city of Quito. One night while we were all chatting in the living room fireworks unexpectedly began exploding over the city. Their living room window framed the whole spectacle perfectly. What a treat! Rachel and Andy are really warm and friendly folks. They also have the cutest little girl named Ruby and another one on the way.
Andy taught us an Ecuadorian card game called Quarenta (that means '40' in Spanish). Four people play with two teams of two. Andy then took us to a Quarenta party where we played with approx 16 people in a tournament like manner. Fun Fun Fun….

Rachel met us the next morning at the Plaza de Toros.  What would a trip to Ecuador be without a good bullfight? The event was completely sold out. That didn't stop Sami Scott and me. We just showed up 10 minutes before the opening ceremony and bought three tickets from a scalper. Sami and Scott wanted
to opt for the cheaper tickets but I couldn't stand the thought of making our way all the way to South America and not paying the extra 20 bucks to sit in the center of the action. So I kicked in a little extra and within 5 minutes of showing up at the stadium we were ushered into some of the best seats in the house. We were seated with the very upper crust of the Ecuadorian society. This was THE place to see and be seen! What better statement could one make about themselves than to demonstrate they were well versed in the art of slaughter. That they could appreciate the fluid movement of the matador as he swiftly defeated a beast 10 times his size. Never mind that a 'Picador' or a gentleman on an armed horse stuck the animal repeatedly with a 15-foot spear just minutes before.

I was trying to get into the whole… ok here comes the bull…. Let's kill it gracefully and watch it bleed and slowly die… wondering the whole time after the animal is dead should the matador be awarded one ear or two…. Possibly a tail if the event really goes to my liking. (After the matador kills the bull an official comes out to award the matador. Depending on the show the official will cut off one or two of the bull's ears and award it to the matador. If the official is just beside himself he may also cut off the tail of the bull and give it along with the ears to the matador. Geeze talk about an award!) What ya think ladies? The matador gets ya back to his pad. He's working the moves on ya and then he thinks. I know! I'll show her my trophy collection. Here check this out….He opens his trophy case and proudly displays his ear collection. That should loosen ya up. That's what I love best about traveling. Contemplating the differences in customs and tastes….

I suspect my dad (bless his heart) has similar visions. He has a huge dead elk head hanging on his bedroom wall. I guess this conveys to his potential mates that he is a killer. Grrrrr baby! That he is a provider…. That he is a real man… I don't know. I guess it could work…. To each his own!

We ambled on in to a travel agent to find out about the Galapagos Islands. The lady at the travel agency showed us a picture of a boat and proceeded to give us the spiel. We patiently waited for her to finish and then
asked just for fun if they had a boat just a bit more upscale. (I mean how often do you get the chance to do the Galapagos Islands?)  That's when we first saw her and we knew right then and there we simply had to have her. She was 110-foot yacht and her name was the Beluga. She was to set sail in three days. If we acted quickly we could book a flight to the Galapagos and set sail by the end of the week. Scott looked at me. I looked at Scott. Sami looked at both of us. Waamo! We acted. Three passages SOLD to the Norte Americanos….

We arrived safely in the Galapagos Islands two days later. What a treat this place is. It's simply not to be believed. If your idea of a good time is sitting on a white sand beach drinking a Pina Colada and watching the beautiful people strut their stuff up and down the beach, the Galapagos Islands may not be the best place for ya. However, if you like observing wildlife and geology you could hardly find a better place to see how nature and the earth interact and evolve.
I may have to nerd out on ya'll for just a moment to bring everyone up to speed on Charles Darwin and his epic voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. This is important because the Galapagos Islands are particularly interesting when contemplating how the earth was formed and how life came to and evolved on the islands. In 1835 Charles Darwin took a job as a naturalist on board a ship bound for the coast of South America. Darwin visited 4 of the islands in the Galapagos and spent 5 weeks here. His observations made here and in other parts of South America stimulated him to ponder the subject of evolution. Twenty-four years later, he published the classic Origin of the Species, which shook the foundations of biological thought and led to profound changes in man's philosophy on nature. Darwin claimed that:
In any population of plants or animals, a relatively large number of young are produced. Since not all survive, there must be a struggle for existence.
Within a population there is much variability. Some differences may confer an advantage in the struggle for existence. Those organisms which are best adapted to their environment will survive.
Due to heredity, offspring tend to resemble their parents. Well-adapted organisms tend to have well-adapted offspring. Thus, certain traits become established in the population.
I could go on for ages about evolution theory but there are plenty of books on that. What is interesting to see here in the Galapagos is how evolution manifests itself in this isolated microcosm of a world.
The Galapagos are on oceanic archipelago (an archipelago is a cluster of islands and 'oceanic' means that the islands were never attached to land. Some islands were once attached to a mainland and then due to continental drifting moved away out to sea.) They are unique in that once life some how made it to the islands they were often trapped there. Isolated from their previous world. They had to either adapt or perish. The reason most of the animals couldn't get back to the mainland was due primarily to the winds or the tides. Anyway once isolated from the main population animals slowly began to change to fill certain untapped ecological niches. Finches, for example evolved to have different size beaks or tortoises to have different shaped carapaces. Cacti too are a good example of plants that evolved to take advantage of the unique nature of the islands. Some folks find this stuff boring or dry but it fascinates me so I had a great time contemplating how the earth and the animals change over time.
As there were no carnivores on the islands, the animals didn't have any natural predators. Most of the animals endemic to the islands are vegetarian. As a result, they never 'learned' that man was a rather nasty creature who could wreak great havoc on their little oasis in the sea. So when they see a human they really don't care. Actually, they are rather curious about what exactly we are. They come right up to you and I MEAN RIGHT UP TO YOU! Especially the sea lions and mocking birds.
inoculars are somewhat superfluous on the islands. Time and again we would see an animal off in the distance and break out the binoculars to investigate, marveling at what a great opportunity it was to see this rare animal. Any way after staring at the small creature from 30 or 40 yards away we would simply walk closer and closer to the animal until we were standing right beside it. Looking the creature in the eye as they would look back into our eyes. It seemed as though we were both marveling at each other. Not an experience I have had in the past so it was very exciting.

The giant land tortoises suffered horribly at the hands of sailors and whalers. There were approx 14 different species of tortoises on the islands but most of them were killed off to the point of extinction. Amazingly, tortoises can go a full year without any food and water and (get this) can live up to 300 years. They also float which could explain how they originally drifted to the islands. 100 years ago sailors didn't have any refrigeration abilities. They would land on the islands and stock up on tortoises. One log had recorded that just one ship had taken 15,000 tortoises on board. They would just throw them below deck and when they were hungry pull out a tortoise and have some tortoise soup or meat. A few species remain on the islands and it looks like finally man is getting his act together and is no longer a threat to these animals.
Now I can see how some of this evolutionary stuff can be hard to understand. Afterall this topic isn't even approached until the 10th grade. Unless of coarse you live in Kansas but that's a whole other story altogether....The interdependencies of the species, the fragile ecosystems, the passage of great amounts of time, etc. sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. So after a week of exploring the islands, making many of the same observations as my friend Mr. Darwin, I will try to explain in laymen terms just how this whole Theory of Natural Selection works and how we are all connected in some way or another….
Bull Sea Lions for example, are large and fat.  From what I could observe, they like nothing better than sitting in the sun burping and making lots of noise. They also have harems of what appear to be 6 or 7 females. Hmmmmmmmm…. I too would like to have a harem and sit my large fat ass in the sun. Burping and making lot's of noise isn't much of a stretch for me either…. See how related we are???… See how I am just a biological micro step from my brother the bull sea lion?
Now lets take a closer look at animals that sudddenly get thrust out of their native environments and are free to make their way about in an unfamiliar terrain. Some animals have the smarts and adaptability to make it others don't. For example, I have watched the week long special 'Sharks' put on by the Discovery Channel. Ferocious beasts with big teeth that can chew up and spit out just about anything in their path. I even remember seeing a movie called 'JAWS' whereby lot's of handsome teenagers got chewed up and swallowed. Perhaps you too remember that movie???.... Anyway, prior to snorkling our trusty guide filled us in on what we might see. One of the 'friendly' sea creatures we might encounter was the 'Galapagos Shark' which, by the way, measures on average around 12 to 14 feet. Cool eh!! So off we go into the deep blue ocean. Sami, Scott and I are all gleefully froliking about in the water (what's that line about ignorance being bliss?) when suddenly we happen upon one of these giant Galapagos Sharks.

Now the jury is still out on my smarts but Sami and Scott clearly have more brain power than your average American. I mean they both are doctors for Gods sake! Anyway ya throw the three of us in the ocean (not our native environment) and we all merrily swim towards the man eating 14 foot shark. I mean we actually chased the damn thing. We all swam towards the shark!?!?!?! We needed a closer look to see just how big it really was. I guess we thought that maybe the shark was full. Perhaps he had just eaten a sea lion or one of the older weaker snorklers. I mean there were squillions of tourists over the age of 60 bobbing about with bright yellow snorkles and pasley bathing suits. I mean wouldn't it just make more sense for the sharks to go for the weak floating tourists as opposed to the aggressive young meaty ones chasing them. Hey it made sense at the time! So as you can see, taken out of our environment some of us wouldn't have fared too well. I would have certainly been culled from the sea herd in no time flat!

OK not convinced yet? Let's take a closer look at a cactus. They are prickly and tough and can go many days without water. While I am not prickly I have been called a prick. Once when I was in the 8th grade I won a junior high wrestling tournament, which proved, as far I am concerned, the mettle of my character and the word 'tough' does come to mind. Actually, I do get thirsty especially when it's hot out. Hmmmmmmmm maybe the cactus analogy wasn't such a good one. Hey nobody said understanding this stuff was easy ;-) That's why Darwin was so highly acclaimed.
Now I don't want to make light of Darwin's theory of evolution. What is interesting to note is that Darwin's work was so highly acclaimed that England paid their respects to Mr. Darwin by upon his death burying him alongside Sir Isaac Newton inside Westminster Abbey. Ironic that Darwin earned such a prestigious resting place in one of the holiest churches in the world. Especially since Darwin's work 'Origin of the Species' seemed to fly in face of the church's approach to the creation of man. The Church held that the world was only about 6 or 7 thousand years old and that God created all the animals and plants. The Church maintained that the world (or the species) was more or less static. Darwin proved that the world was indeed more than 7 thousand years old and that species seemed to change or evolve over time. He demonstrated that the world was older and significantly more dynamic than the Church was espousing.
Blah Blah Blah Blah…… I know what many of you are saying… 'Enough of the discovery channel crap nature boy get on with the story'….. Right then off we go……

So Sami, Scott and I spent our days on board the Beluga eating. Eating and napping. Occasionally we would land on some small exotic island check out the wildlife, snap as many pictures as a deranged Japanese tourist and return to our ship. Sometimes we would throw on a mask and snorkel and gaze at
the sea floor below. Nights were spent on the top deck viewing the stars. I counted 14 shooting stars and each time wished for peace on earth. It was an excellent voyage.  Highlights of the trip included swimming with penguins, sea lions, sting rays, puffer fish and a galapagos shark (as noted above). We also got to observe the famous blue footed booby doing their erotic mating dances and feeding their young by swallowing the baby booby's head and vomiting down the little boobies throat. Yummy... Oh! and of coarse we got to see frigate birds inflate their red throats and strut about in a frantic attempt to draw in a mate. Perhaps some of you too have a particular red outfit that makes you look svelt. (Again see the connection?)
Actually, our nature guide was especially good and the crew on board the Beluga catered to our every whim. The trip surpassed ALL of my expectations. So if you are planning a get away to the Galapagos Islands I highly recommend the boat the Beluga and the guide Juan Tapia Vera.
We are all having a great time and send our love back home!
Dave and crew ;-)