After four days getting enriched by sixteenth and seventeenth century exploitation in Quito, we all disembarked for eight days of evolutionary discovery on islands where iguanas swim and fish fly.

Oh what wondrous life we would see.

Red footed boobies

Blue footed boobies of course

Some feet red and some feet blue, some that swam and others they flew.… one such flew five thousand miles to meet us on Isabela island for its annual mating season. The world’s largest seabird, that is – the waved albatross, which nests nowhere else in the world and never touches land for the first five years of its life. Three kinds of boobies nesting and raising young chicks. There were tropical penguins, killer orcas. Rainbow-colored crabs named Sally Lightfoot. Sea lions, sea turtles, gigantic tortoises and spectacular thieving frigate birds disguised as batman while in the sky, clowns holding big red balloons while in their nests.

Nesting pair of waved albatross

Hundreds of Galapagos sharks, up to 10 feet long, even crashed the party one night for several hours. They surrounded our boat in an ominous scene, lurking there for the next flying fish to be attracted to our boats’ lights and go thwack against the hull and fall back into the waiting fracus of sharks. Our hearts sank as we watched in fascinated horror as the sharks tumbled over one another in their frenzy for the now stunned fish. The thump-splash drew groans from the attending audience on deck, and cheers arose when a fish flew away from the boat to its freedom — notwithstanding a few of the contrarian smart alecs aboard.

Juvenile frigate bird

We generally had two excursions per day which consisted of loading about fourteen people onto a zodiac boat and cruising to a landing or snorkeling destination. On one of the last days we were exploring a beautiful white organic sand beach; meaning, it is composed of digested coral thanks to the coral-eating parrotfish. While watching the marine iguanas crawl back onto this beautiful digested coral, I barely spotted a huge fin not thirty meters from the shore and very near a volcanic rocky jetty. At first I yelped out, only to have the inevitable question posed, “Are you sure you saw a fin?” Steeped in half-remembrances and self-doubt and feeling deflated, I was about to answer, “No… probably not” when there it was again only it had moved off a few hundred meters. It was that of a huge male orca, which was making a quick scan of the bay we were in. The few swimmers we had in our group were quickly pulled from the water. We watched in awe as the massive fin rose and fell, getting closer and closer to shore like the incoming tide, while his mate stayed out to sea quite a bit further. Finding nothing of interest to eat, we watched him depart to rejoin his mate.

The giant tortoise, today only found in the wild in the Galapagos and on one of the Seychelles islands

Other days we were treated with a variety of different rays. We saw huge, 6 foot sting rays while we were snorkeling, one even chased me away! Thirty golden rays all swimming in formation around and under our zodiac. Six spotted eagle rays were spotted as well from the boat. They were fascinating to watch as they are both majestic and spellbinding. Other than the one that was chasing me, of course.

Golden rays

We saw thousands of Sally Lightfoot crabs

We snorkeled with white tipped reef sharks, sea turtles of various sizes and types, playful sea lions, eagle rays, and huge schools of fish. Denise remarked once to another passenger that this was what diving is like. The snorkeling at Devil’s Crown in particular was some of the best we’ve ever done. It was like swimming in an immense aquarium that had been stocked with all of the above.

Great (or magnificent?) frigate birds playing batman…

…and a great frigate bird with his balloon

Back on the boat, my dad, not to be undone by Mom’s land based exploits in Quito, took the initiative and managed to get us a tour of both the captain’s bridge as well as a trip into the bowels of our ship to view the engine room and chat with one of the engineers that made our ship float in the right direction. The two enormous German-built, 12-cylinder, 15 foot long engines made it very hot down there in the belly of the vessel.

Peter and his parents on the bridge

The Galapagos islands are many, of which we only visited a half dozen or so, but from what we saw we would recommend going. I think the thing that we appreciated most was the accident that is evolutionary change. We were able to almost see it in action especially, at least for me, in the marine iguana’s divorce and evolution from the land iguana. Firstly, a land iguana getting to the islands some thousand miles from the nearest coastline. To secondly, managing to eek out a living on some very tough terrain, which by itself leaves little wonder as to how a species might venture forth into the ocean itself for sustenance. Which leaves us with marine iguanas that swim. I thought seeing this process in person was itself reward enough, but when you get to see a myriad of other species make this same type of transition you are left with what feels like watching some grand experiment play out in a large lab of a mad scientist. For more Galapagos wonder, click through the below: