Where did November go? It seems like yesterday that we were in the Galapagos, and I’ve had one more blog post in me from that trip for . . . weeks. But life gets in the way sometimes.
Ah, the reptiles. In many ways, we’ve saved the best critters, and most emblematic of the Galapagos, for last. What’s the animal you’re most likely to picture if someone says “Galapagos” to you? Chances are it’s a giant tortoise or iguana. We really loved getting to see these fascinating creatures up close and learning more about them.
THE SEA TURTLES
Anyone who knows me knows I’ve had a connection with sea turtles for a long time, going back to a mystical moment I had swimming with a green sea turtle in Santiago Bay on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. But that’s another story! Fifteen years and one turtle tattoo later (a little honu, done on Kauai to mark my 50th birthday), they’re still just as magical – and John and I were able to come full circle and swim with them once again. Like their cousins the honus in Hawaii and my friend in Mexico, the ones we saw in the Galapagos were green sea turtles.
Here’s a little video we put together from our time swimming with the Galapagos turtles and sea lions.
THE GIANT TORTOISES
We visited the giant tortoise breeding center and sanctuary on San Cristobal Island and fell in love with these lumbering, stately, and highly endangered creatures. A few facts:
- They are the largest tortoises on earth and among the world’s largest reptiles, and they can weigh up to a quarter ton.
- They can live to be up to 100. The biggest ones we saw were several decades old.
- The tortoises on different islands have evolved separately to adapt to their particular surroundings. For instance, the ones we saw on San Cristobal have long necks and “saddleback” shells that enable them to reach up and grab vegetation on trees and shrubs. Charles Darwin observed these variations, which gave him more data points as he developed his theory of evolution.
- The islands themselves are named after the tortoises. Apparently, galápago is an old Spanish world that means either “tortoise” or “saddle,” depending on whom you talked to back in the 16th century. It could be that the early explorers of the islands spotted the tortoises and saw the resemblance of their shells to saddles, and that was that.
THE LAND AND MARINE IGUANAS
Both the land and marine iguanas in the Galapagos are entirely endemic to the islands – found nowhere else in the world. Supposedly they both evolved separately from a common ancestor, but developed separate characteristics for adapting to their own habitats. And they also show variation from island to island. More data points for Darwin.
AND NOW, ON A NON-REPTILIAN NOTE
Just a quick word about Post Office Bay on Floreana Island, per the photos below. The human history of Floreana is really fascinating (and sometimes scandalous) – just Google it. As a matter of fact, the island was home to the first person ever born in the Galapagos, Rolf Wittmer, who founded the cruise outfit that operates the boat we were on.
Post Office Bay is rooted in the 19th century, when passing whalers would leave mail for the European settlers on Floreana and take outgoing mail. It’s a tradition that continues (albeit in a touristy fashion) today. If you’d like, you can leave a postcard or two in the mail barrel, and passers-through are supposed to sort through them and find some they can hand-deliver once they get back home. Since I had a later trip planned to Austin, Texas, I took a couple for the Austin area. Once I got there, I was able to deliver one of them to a delightful man who had actually been in the Galapagos a few weeks before and “mailed” the postcard to himself. He was thrilled to see that “it worked!” And the other postcard? Well, I just ran out of time and had to mail it to the lady. Theoretically that’s against the rules, but I did include a note!