Alien world of the Galapagos

Hugh Todd

So, I just spent a week in the Galapagos Islands.

As vacations go, it wasn’t on the top ten list of destinations I’ve always wanted to visit, but some family were going and there was one cabin open on the small ship, so we went for it. I thought, when is the next time I’m going to have an ready-made opportunity to go someplace as unique as the Galapagos islands.

It, of course, turned out to be very different than what I had imagined. I knew it was on the equator (around 600 miles west of Ecuador). I knew that Charles Darwin’s trip there helped inspire his later theory of evolution. I expected it to be hot and humid, lush with plants and animals, much like other south pacific islands I’ve visited.


While there are parts of the Galapagos that are wetter than others, our guide said that the annual rainfall is around 30 inches, which isn’t much next to many islands in the pacific. The dry parts were as desert-like as anyplace I’ve been. The islands are volcanic and active, the most recent eruption happening in 2009. However, because of a low silica content in the magma, they eruptions aren’t explosive and most of the islands are wide and the volcanoes aren’t particularly steep.


While the plants and animals are often quite different from their mainland counterparts, ┬áthere isn’t a huge variety and it seemed like there were a number of holes in the ecosystem. For example, the animal highest on the food chain (apart from the nearby killer whales) is the Galapagos Hawk. It will eat many of the finches and most eggs or hatchlings of the various animals. However, once most of the animals get above a certain size (apart from the finches, which never get very big), they have no predators. This, combined with the islands being a protected park since the 1950’s, means that most animals aren’t bothered by or particularly scared of humans.


I had an awesome time! I saw plants that didn’t look like any plant I’d ever seen before. I watched a single newly hatched sea turtle make its way to the surf (only 3% make it alive to the water!). I saw a 400 pound tortoise wallow in a pond. I walked on a 1000 year old lava field only just barely beginning to look terrestrial. I watched a blue footed booby show off its feet to attract a mate. I played chicken with a young sea lion over and over, while others swarmed around, pitying us being such lame swimmers.


On a strange note, a few scenes I had written in my new book take place in a lava tube. Little did I know that a month later, I would be walking around in one! Luckily, my description (bolstered by wikipedia), was pretty accurate.

Lava_tube Tortoise

It wasn’t the most restful vacation I’ve been on. I hiked and swam multiple times a day and didn’t sleep so well as the ship moved us over not-so-smooth seas to the next visiting spot. But we ate well and I very much enjoyed the interesting sights that the islands had to offer. If you are at all interested in geology or odd plants and animals that nature has ingeniously devised, this is the destination for you! And now… back to writing!


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