The Galapagos Islands have long been a source of mystique and adventure, ever since they were first explored by Charles Darwin. Located on the equator, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos are a two hour flight from Ecuador.
Although many people choose cruising as a means of transportation when visiting these unique islands, I flew into Baltra, stayed in Santa Cruz and went out daily to explore different islands on a 20 foot boat, operated by a crusty old captain and his mate (who also cooked lunch).
The main reason for opting to take a small boat daily was in order to visit more remote regions, not accessible by larger ships. One such island was Daphne, a volcanic, tuff crater. There is actually a second island (Minor Daphne), which has only been rock-climbed twice since its discovery.
The Captain has been given permission ten times in the past two years to visit this rare, treeless island and fortunately I was able to take advantage of the opportunity. No more than five people are allowed to set foot on Daphne at any given time, so to consider myself extremely fortunate was an understatement.
The boat ride, albeit only 50 km, took a good two hours through some of the choppiest waters I have ever encountered. The only time I experienced a more formidable sea trip was on the way back. Three metre swells were common, and the boat bounced continuously creating a need to hold on to something for fear of falling overboard. The only thing missing was that the vessel should have been called the ‘SS Minnow’.
When I saw Daphne Island in the distance it closely resembled Mokoli‘i Island in Hawaii, which is commonly known as Chinaman's Hat. I did not see a landing spot or anything that resembled civilization, and when I asked the Captain why he was circling the island, he explained he was looking for a place to moor.
My comfort level had now dropped significantly, especially as the coast line of the island was rugged and the water had carved a 3 or 4 meter rim around the edge. The First Mate inflated a Zodiac, dropped it into the water and helped me into it. A few minutes later we were bobbing next to a very craggy rock face, which I was told we would have to climb. Need I say more!
Backpack secure, shoes on tight, I ventured forth, grabbing rocks and climbing in the footsteps of Rohit, the First Mate, who also acted as our guide. Once I stood on the sloped ground of the volcanic island I felt more secure. I looked down and was impressed with my climb, and although my fear of heights stayed with me during the entire adventure, it was more the concern about ‘how do I get down?’ that worried me.
The island was gritty and slippery so caution was always in the foreground of my thoughts, but I soon became mesmerized by the unique and fearless Masked Booby Birds, which inhabited the rocky slopes. The birds sat and stared at me, no doubt wondering what I was doing there. I was amazed, for they did not move and I had to step over them to continue on my way.
Rohit was adamant about staying on the path. He explained that heavy fines were levied if we strayed. The slopes are steep, but fortunately pathways have been made through the jagged lava fields, making it somewhat easier to avoid slipping.
One of the unique inhabitants of Daphne Island is the Darwin Finch, which has been intently studied by biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant over a period of 30 years. Their findings strongly support Darwin's theory of evolution.
The centre of the crater is the nesting habitat for Frigate Birds. These large Aves puff air into their throats and produce outsized, red bellows in order to attract females. When flying they present a sleek, aerodynamic ability.
Another very strange creature was the Blue Footed Booby Bird. Similar in shape to its cousin, the Masked Booby, the main difference is the bright blue colour of its feet. Again fearless, these birds simply sat in our path and stared at us as we climbed over them or sidestepped their nest, many of which had eggs in them.
The trek back to the boat was just as treacherous, if not worse than the morning adventure. I did discover the waves of the Pacific Ocean increased as the day goes on and I was glad when we completed the three hour voyage back to port.
The Galapagos Islands have to be one of the most amazing places to visit on the entire planet. Many of the 13 major islands, 6 smaller islands, and scores of islets and rocks are home to strange creatures, not found anywhere else on earth. Destruction of the eco system is restricting travel, so if you have an opportunity, visit now, before it becomes too late.