The Galapagos Islands, the chain of volcanic islands about 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador, are a wildlife lover’s dream. On my trip this summer, I got to see creatures found nowhere else: pre-historic looking marine and land iguanas, a variety of aquatic birds, including blue-footed boobies and the impressive gigantic tortoises. Hiking among its landscapes—sandy beaches, expansive lava fields and desertscapes, which change from island to island—I got to experience how unique this region truly is. As Charles Darwin so aptly said about the Galapagos Islands in The Voyage of the Beagle, the account of his expedition to the islands that led to the development of the theory of evolution: “The archipelago is a little world within itself …”
Kicker Rock: impacted ash thrust from the ocean during volcanic eruption
Kicker Rock from afar
View from Sombrero Chino
300-year-old pricky pear cactus
As the islands are considered a national park, tourism is highly controlled. Upon arrival, we were given a list of regulations, particularly about how to interact with the wildlife. In a word: Don’t! No physical contact, no aggressive gestures and keep voices down. Consequently, the animals don’t consider humans as predators, and they freely come right up to you. Let me tell you, when sea lion pups would flop at my feet or glide around me while I was snorkeling, I’d have to fight every impulse to reach out and touch them.
This sea lion barked at the person sitting here to move, then when vacated took the spot.
Soaking up the sun
Sea lion pup
Nice life if you can get it
Next post: boobies and tortugas!
Recently, I visited Peru and Ecuador, and I prepared for the trip by reading Kim MacQuarrie’s book, Last Days of the Incas. While I already knew about the Spanish invasion and colonization of Central America, I became fascinated by how 168 conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, seized control of the Incan empire of 10 million, using brute force, advanced battle tactics, i.e., horses, and deceit. The vestiges and lasting impacts of South America’s bloody and oppressive history are well documented, particularly in the churches throughout the region.
La Compañia de Jesus, located in Quito’s historical center, is a dazzling and mind-blowing testament to the Spanish conquerors’ obsession with gold and religious dominance. The entire interior is covered in gold leaf—4 tons of it! Their desire for the precious metal had everything to do with accumulating wealth for themselves as well as colonizing and controlling access to the rich lands. As MacQuarrie says the conquistadors were “entrepreneurs with guns.” For the Incans, gold was considered sacred but it had no monetary value like it did for the Spanish.
View of the altar
The Jesuits broke ground on the church in 1605 and it was completed 160 years later in 1765. It’s a spectacular example of baroque architecture, craftsmanship and Moorish design influences. It’s an overwhelming sight, especially when you think about its history and what it ultimately “cost” the indigenous culture to help build it.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons