A couple of hundred miles off the west coast of Ecuador, the GalÃ¡pagos Islands are little pieces of paradise situated in the Pacific Ocean. As my family and I left our cruise ship, “The Ambassador”, I found it hard to believe I was actually on the little islands I had heard so much about. By then I had scheduled everything we were going to do for the next week. This included hiking on Alcedo Volcano, locating the legendary vampire finch, visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, and lounging at the beach in Gardner Bay.
We first landed on Isabela Island and decided to start our adventure with a hike.
We met with our guide at the base of Alcedo Volcano. On our way up, our guide pointed out some of the most magnificent sights I had ever seen. We hiked up a winding dirt trail outlined with lively flowers and forests of towering trees whose drooping branches casted shadows throughout the jungle below. Also, there were incredible views of brightly colored birds soaring just beneath the canopy. We even witnessed the rare GalÃ¡pagos hawk spread its glorious wings and take flight only a few meters above us. By late afternoon our invigorating hike ended at the summit of the volcano and we were astounded by the pure bliss of the surrounding vista. In the caldera itself hundreds of giant tortoises were resting lazily in the mud underneath the crimson sunset. We were captivated by the natural beauty of the entire island.
Over the next few days,we encountered numerous displays of the GalÃ¡pagos Islands’ magnificence. Subsequent to our hike on Isabela Island, we ventured northeast to Wolf Island. We weren’t allowed on the island itself because it’s part of a nature reserve well known for the many rare creatures that live there. I was extremely disappointed because it’s the only place in the world where the famous vampire finch could be seen. This grotesque creature uses its sharp beak to puncture other birds’ skin and feed on their blood. However, we made up for it by scuba diving offshore and witnessed truly awe-inspiring views. There, we observed hammerhead sharks pursue a school of fish only a few meters away while above us manta rays glided gracefully through the water alongside green sea turtles.
Two days later, we sailed back to Santa Cruz Island so we could finally visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. There, we observed a few more rare species we hadn’t seen within the islands including the marine iguana and lava lizard. As the tour continued I realized that even as perfect as this place seemed it had a very delicate ecosystem. Ten years ago the invasive feral goats nearly drove the fauna and flora to extinction on Alcedo Volcano. My visit on Wolf Island was also restricted because of its delicate ecosystem, which was damaged by the sailors who first landed there and hunted the wildlife. I realized this tropical paradise was as fragile as it was beautiful.
On the final day of our visit we relaxed at Gardner Beach on Hood Island. As I swam against the rolling waves of the crystal clear waters of the Pacific, I looked back at all that I had learned over the last week. Even though the GalÃ¡pagos Islands seemed like a perfect, carefree paradise, it had a very delicate ecosystem and required extreme care and consideration to preserve its rare inhabitants. Everything is not what it seems on the GalÃ¡pagos Islands.
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