Natural selection
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

On Floreana Island, I spot stingrays dancing in the water, then watch flamboyant flocks of bright-pink flamingos wading in the brackish lagoon. The plant life here is equally fascinating – mangroves in a multitude of colours and endemic palo verde trees. At Devil’s Crown, I snorkel among colourful fish, oceanic whitetip sharks, starfish and enchanting giant sea turtles. The sea lions here are very playful, especially the pups. It helps them find their place in the world and develops their physical and cognitive strength. They’re insatiably inquisitive, demanding interaction in an adorable way. One swims close and smiles, as if waiting for me to point my camera at it, before showing off its underwater acrobatics. 




On the populated island of Santa Cruz, I realise that I’m not alone out here in paradise. There’s a bustling harbour that’s a jumping-on point for daytrippers. It’s also home to the Galápagos Islands’ most well-known mascot, the giant tortoise. We come across a pair of these huge, slow-moving beasts mid-coitus and witness their evolution in progress. Theirs may not be the most effective example of reproduction – imagine two large, boulder-like creatures trying to mate – but since they live for centuries, I guess they have all the time in the world. Patiently and persistently, nature gets its way – a firm reminder that sometimes you just have to take things slow.

After a quick lesson in geology in some subterranean lava tunnels, I enjoy local human company back in town with the students who benefit from the Galápagos Biodiversity and Education for Sustainability Fund. I leave them content and reassured that the future will be in the hands of some young truly switched-on human beings.

I can’t actually remember another trip when I’ve spent so much time in the water, not just in the hot tub, but actually in the sea. Here, near Bartolomé, I’m going to get up close and personal with the penguins we spy in the shadows of Pinnacle Rock, with the promise too of spotting some hammerhead sharks. The thought of equatorial penguins is absolutely nonsensical, but there they are. They’ve adapted to the heat by becoming much smaller than their ancestors and developing the ability to regulate their body temperature.

A strenuous hike to the very top of the island is to follow. It is said to be the most spellbinding view in the Galápagos. Tomorrow, we cruise to South Plaza Island to see Darwin’s prickly pear cacti and the yellow land iguanas that hug them for their moisture. We’ll also head to North Seymour to witness those dinosaur-like frigatebirds, with their inflatable scarlet throat sacs.

“This natural order of the world seems all the more poignant in these times.
I resolve to go forward with my glass half full, rather than defaulting to complaints.”

Reflecting on my time here, it dawns on me that, beyond the enjoyment of this luxury expedition cruise, I’ll go home with some amazing life lessons. From the swarms of birds (and my fellow passengers), I’ve learnt the power of community, coexistence and camaraderie. From the playful sea lions, I’m reminded to find more fun in my adult life, to indulge my guilty pleasures now and again and to expand my creativity and imagination. From Santa Cruz, I realise that patience is a virtue. From the penguins, I contemplate the notion of ‘adapt or die’. This natural order of the world seems all the more poignant in these times. I resolve to go forward with my glass half full, rather than defaulting to complaints about the way things are. 

Moreover, my time in the Galápagos has reinforced the power of travel in broadening horizons and drawing unique perspectives on life. Yet more importantly, it’s also taught me lessons in resilience, overcoming adversity and even thriving in the most challenging of scenarios. Pachamama, as they call Mother Earth here, doesn’t always play nice, but it is how you adapt and come out of the other side of events – stronger and oftentimes more colourful than before – that really matters.

Uwern travelled with Scott Dunn, who offer a seven-night Galápagos cruise on Ecoventura’s Theory or Origin yachts, including international and domestic flights, private transfers in Quito, dining and activities. Also included are three nights at Casa Gangotena and Illa Experience Hotel in Quito, a tasting experience at Terra restaurant, a Quito city tour and Ingala card and Galápagos National Park fees. You can book Ecuador, Latin America and more at www.scottdunn.com/outthere. Ecoventura also has special experiential sailings, from photography to deep-dive ecology and wellness.

Photography courtesy of Ecoventura, by Renato Granieri, Yolanda Escobar Jiménez, Matt Dutile, Harry Skeggs, Martin Tychtl via www.laidbacktrip.com, Nathalie Marquis via Unsplash and www.travelleap.co

Get out there

Do…

… bring an underwater camera or GoPro – you’ll want to use it lots. But double-check if you need a separate case to keep the water out – splash-proof is different from submersible.

…put the Galápagos at the end of a busy South American trip. While the cruise itinerary is packed, there is plenty of time to rest between excursions and the weather is delightful.

…consider staying on a few days if you like scuba diving. At the end of your week’s introduction to the Galápagos, Ecoventura runs scuba live-aboards on a 16-passenger luxury vessel that will give you a whole different perspective.

Don’t…

…forget to pack plenty of memory cards or bring a large hard drive. There are photo and video opportunities galore and you will run out of space otherwise.

…think you can land on every island in bare feet – some places are rather craggy. Pack sturdy waterproof footwear (flip flops won’t cut it). Second-skin expedition socks are what those in the know bring.

…miss the elusive Galápagos passport stamp. There is one and it’s one of the world’s most collectable. But because you’re on a domestic flight, you won’t automatically get it. So, if you want one, ask for it. Por favor…