Floreana, Galapagos Islands August 2004

Helen Rose Hill Diary

Photo: Sealions.

I have a mental list of places in the world I want to visit. For some reason, the Galapagos Islands have featured on this list and this summer I visited them. I have to confess that I knew very little about the Islands other than bits and pieces I had read over the years mostly relating to Charles Darwin. There was no hill walking as such on the Islands but plenty of rambling about seeing the animals and birds which are not afraid of humans and very obligingly pose for photographs.

The Galapagos Islands lie about 700 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean and comprise about 18 islands with only a few having settlements. The islands are a National Park and numbers of visitors are strictly controlled although this has been increasing over the years? reaching 100,000 p.a. in 2004. Even with this limit, I was advised by the National Park Guide that there has been a significant decrease in wildlife over the last ten years? so I felt privileged to be allowed to visit the islands and see the unique wildlife.

We travelled as a group of 16 on a motorised cruiser for a week visiting nine of the smaller islands and sleeping and eating on the boat. Signposted short trails on the islands must be strictly followed and groups must be accompanied by a guide. We generally landed on the beach from the cruiser?s launch and spent a few hours walking amongst the wildlife. It did feel like an outdoor zoo with tame wildlife but unusually these were wild animals and birds in their natural habitat without any fear of humans as they have no predators.

Photo: Post Office Bay.

I am going to tell you about the Island of Floreana which is infamous for the Galapagos Affair in the early 20th Century when a German couple decided to settle on this uninhabited island. Being a dentist, he decided that both of them should have all their teeth extracted as there would be no accessible dental services and he made them stainless steel dentures which they shared! They were soon joined on the island by an Austrian woman, purporting to be a Countess and her two lovers. She immediately declared herself the Empress of Floreana. Several other people arrived but it was not a harmonious community and gradually people were poisoned or disappeared leaving only Dora Strauch who subsequently wrote a book about the Galapagos Affair titled ?Satan came to Eden?. However, John Trehearne has given a different story in his book ?The Galapagos Affair?. Surprisingly, it has not yet been made into a Hollywood Blockbuster but if it is, remember you heard about it first on this website!

The walk on Floreana was our first introduction to sea lions on the beach and we avidly photographed them not knowing we would see thousands more during the course of the week. On Flour Beach, there were the tracks of a sea turtle but no eggs in sight as they would be poached by frigate birds. We watched the frigate birds sweeping over the sands looking for the eggs.

After lunch on the boat, we sailed onto Post Office Bay where there is a makeshift box on the beach which has been used as a mailing system for 300 years. The system works by leaving an addressed card without a stamp and looking through the bundle of cards to find one addressed to your local area. You take the card and hand deliver it to the addressee thus making personal contact between two people who know each other. I addressed a card to my Mother and it arrived at her house in Glasgow a few weeks later but unfortunately the person who collected it in Floreana posted it in Glasgow and did not make themselves known. Still, it is a fun thing to do on holiday and you never know, it might lead to a friendship or romance!

Photo: Blue Footed Boobies.

On the island, we spotted blue footed boobie birds, penguins. pelicans, frigate birds and a sea turtle. Every day in the Galapagos was packed with seeing varied wildlife and fascinating islands such as volcanic Bartolome where the film Master and Commander was shot and also Sullivan Bay where the volcano last erupted in 1890 with interesting lava formations given quaint names such as ?intestinal lava?.

I would like to say go and see the Galapagos Islands for yourself but I do fear for the future of the wildlife there with mass tourism so if you go, limit yourself to only one visit and feel privileged.

Coming attractions; Munros at Loch Quoich, more Galapagos Islands and a walk at Loch Goil

Contact me at [email protected]

Thanks to Frances Rickus for the photos.