We had long wanted to go to the Galápagos Islands after watching many exciting documentaries about them on the TV. There are some weird and wonderful creatures that dwell on these volcanic islands that apparently lack a fear of humans. You can walk right up and sit next to them, which we did often. The Galapagos is a group of 13 main islands of which we visited 7.
These islands are relatively young. The strange thing is the islands in the west are very young and the islands in the East are much older. This is because the earth's crust is moving across a hostspot of the earth where volcanoes are created. These volcanoes have formed the islands of the Galapagos chain. The islands are very dry and the dominant vegetation are cactus trees (big ones!). On the higher slopes of the hills in the centre of some islands are greener because they get a little rain.
But what is really interesting about these islands are the unusual animals. The tortoise, lizard, small bird, and insect ancestors all arrived by sea a long time ago, and found themselves in a land with less food and fresh water available but also less competition and predators. This meant that they needed to adapt to take advantage of this land and they slowly changed (evolved) from their mainland dwelling cousins. The most obvious examples of this are the Galapagos tortoises who grew to a massive size - they can weigh up to 300kg - and even developed different shaped shells on the different islands, and the iguanas (a lizard) which took to the ocean to enable them to feed on algae under the sea (the only sea-going lizards in the world!). These unusual animals gave clues to the scientist Charles Darwin, when the ship he was on visited the islands, and who eventually came up with the theory of natural selection after observing them! Ask your teacher about natural selection!
We spent two weeks exploring these islands, five days of which we splurged on a cruise to get to the harder to reach places. The cruise felt very luxurious with being served up three meals a day, relaxing on sun-lounges and being ferried around. The Galapagos attracts a very large number of tourists and the easiest (and most expensive) way to see everything is on one of these cruises.
Everday we snorkelled with the Galapagos sealions. These guys are incredibly friendly and curious and loved to swim in circles around us, blowing bubbles and even occaisonally planting a kiss on our heads. There were sealions everywhere on the islands even sitting on the seats across the road from our various hotels,and we were warned not to be suprised if we woke up to one or two resting on our yacht.
Another common sight while snorkelling were big hawksbill and Green seaturtles - one day we counted 14 in a small area, each one as wide as you are tall!
Marine Iguanas were found all over the black volcanic rocks and white sand, basking in the sun to raise their body temperature enough to be able to dive in the cold oceans. They feed on the sea-weed and drink the sea-water, and it is funny to watch them remove the excess salt from their body - by big salty sneezes! We learnt not to sit too close. We even got to snorkel with these guys, but they weren't quite as playful as the sealions.
The blue-footed boobies attract a mate by dancing to show off their beautiful blue feet.
The waved-albatross meet up with their life-partner every second year on only two of the islands. They perform a beautiful dance which can go for hours to welcome each other, and repeat this every day they are together.
This is the most northern and only tropical penguin in the world.
The underwater world is pretty exciting as well. Four ocean currents meet right where the Galapagos sits, and when they hit the islands they push up all the nutrients for the small fish to feed on. Where there's small fish there's big fish hanging around to feed on them. Although we'd seen a lot snorkelling already, we decided to explore it further and spend the day scuba-diving. We dived on a massive rock split perfectly in two. In the gap between the rock the sealions proved even more playful when we could stay down deep with them (they would dive down to us at 30 metres!). Bull rays hid in the sandy bottom at 20 metres, while a school of Hammerhead sharks prowled above! On the side of the rocks the floor dropped away to 500 metres where Octopus and other cool creatures hid in holes in the wall. Schools of Galapagos sharks cruised past us in the channel, while we followed the sea turtles.
Next instalment: Deep into the Amazon Jungle!