The Human Galapagos

One of the reasons people travel to the Galapagos Islands is because they, along with the animals of the Galapagos have been left so untouched by humankind. On your Galapagos cruise, remember that these islands are best left in their wild and unadulterated state.

It was accidently discovered in 1535 by the Bishop Tomas de Berlanga, on his way from Panama to Peru, and he wrote that the Galapagos was an “abrupt landscape is desolate and mysterious, with no signs of human presence”

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When he left the islands remained untouched until pirates used it as a base to attack Spanish ports and trade routes in the 1600s.They pillaged the natural resources, stocking up on fresh meat the in doing so decimating the Galapagos tortoise population.

Unfortunately, tortoises were prized because they could be kept alive on board ships for months without food or water. Whalers and hunters also exploited the bounties of the Galapagos and came to hunt whales and fur seals in the plentiful waters of the Galapagos. They also introduced goats, which still remain the biggest threat to Galapagos ecosystem.

It was in 1835 that the Galapagos’s most famous human visitor arrived, on board the British ship, the H.M.S Beagle. He proceeded to catalogue Galapagos’ flora and fauna and from what he learnt in the Galapagos, eventually wrote his theory of origin of species.

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The Ecuadorian government established prison colonies in the Galapagos until the middle of the twentieth century and in World War Two, there was even a secret US military base on the islands, used to defend the Panama canal.

And now: Us, the eco tourists, the world travelers, hoping to get as up close and personal with the islands themselves, their surrounding seas, and the creatures that inhabit this remote and isolated realm.

Tortoise Galapagos Islands

Jorge is our naturalist guide in the Galapagos. Jorge introduced himself as “George” and we know it should be pronounced Hor Hay! We discover that in fact he is known on the islands as “Lonesome George” afforded him for his involvement in the project of the last remaining Pinta Island Tortoise.

Jorge is funny and very  knowledgeable about everything Galapagos and often calls himself ‘endemic’. He is also a non-negotiable part of the trip as a certified guide is required by law. We discover later that in fact Jorge was born San Cristobel Island and his father was the first national park Ranger.

On board our cruise catamaran, we have a fabulous crew who are always happy to help.

Athala II

 Although only a small population of people live on just four of the islands – some 20,000 souls- there is a strong contingent of naturalists and guides who live and breathe this beautiful part of the world.

We learn the Galapagos rules: no eating on islands, yes really no food in the islands, no stepping off the trails, no shoes on board, and always use the Galapagos Grip when boarding the pangas.

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And then there are the rules prescribed by Ecuadorian law that we would never even dream of disobeying as they make too much sense!

  • No plant, animal, or remains of such (including shells, bones, and pieces of wood), or other natural objects should not be removed or disturbed.
  • Be careful not to transport any live material to the islands, or from island to island.
  • Do not take any food to the uninhabited islands, for the same reason.
  • Do not touch or handle the animals.
  • Do not feed the animals. It can be dangerous to you, and in the long run would destroy the animals’ social structure and breeding habits.
  • Do not startle or chase any animal from its resting or nesting spot.
  • Stay within the areas designated as visiting sites.
  • Do not leave any litter on the islands, or throw any off your boat.
  • Do not deface the rocks.
  • Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of plants or animals from the islands.
  • Do not visit the islands unless accompanied by a licensed National Park Guide.
  • Restrict your visits to officially approved areas.
  • Show your conservationist attitude.

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Everything is highly organised, right down to our 6.30am music wake up call which resonates through our cabin for our next day in the Enchanted Isles.

We are constantly reminded of the need to preserve this beautiful place and our cruise company, Haugen, recycles all rubbish, purify and discharge waste water into the deep ocean and Jorge is constantly thanking us for co operating.

We don’t see too many other boats, as they are spread evenly among the nineteen islands, and tourist numbers are controlled to prevent over crowding of the Galapagos.

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There are fifteen of us on the catamaran, a great group, and everyone gets on well together.  We truly share a once in a lifetime experience also with our fellow guest species comprised of a mix of nationalities and cultures: four Brits, two Americans, three Israelis, two Dutch, two Australians and the two of us Kiwis.

This is how the world can now access the beauty of the Galapagos, together in small bands of global wanderers, coming together for a week or so to see how the world looks like when left relatively untouched and unspoilt by our human works.

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We drink it all in, every interaction with the creatures of the Galapagos, and every stunning and unique landscape.

Our trip to the Galapagos leaves its mark on all of us.

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We sincerely hope that in return for our wonderful experience we leave no harmful mark or blemish on these magnificent islands or their surrounding seas and that they will be preserved for future generations.

 

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