When my daughter was a young child, we learned the courtship dance of the blue-footed boobies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was part of their “hands-on” — or was it “feet-forward” — children’s program and I’ll never forget it because it was hilarious fun … and educational. We faced one another, standing in the “footprints” of two boobies, and were guided through their dance, clicks, honks and all.
Little did I know that decades later I’d recognize the dance steps of two real blue-footed boobies as they performed their stylized ritual on a rugged windswept island in Ecuador’s Galapagos chain.
The dance was strangely thrilling, the setting wildly spectacular, and the memory hauntingly intact. Yet it was “just another day in paradise,” as our naturalist guide Harry Jimenez would announce each morning over the intercom of our small ship, the Letty, as he’d wake us for breakfast and a full day of activity.
The rhythm of those magical days revolved around early morning and late afternoon excursions on different Galapagos islands to hike, swim, snorkel or kayak. Highlights included a walk through a fern-draped lava tube, deciphering patterns of green sea turtle prints in the sand, and surprising a pair of giant tortoises mating in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. These gentle giants, which gave the islands their name, have come to symbolize the Galapagos.
The drama of watching nature up close and in the raw never failed to astound us: a male frigate bird ballooning out his chest like a giant red tomato to attract a female; an orphan sea lion pup approaching – to no avail — a mother nursing her own. Shrieks from the rejected pup cut the air, as our guide told us the chance for survival was nil.
Snorkeling, whether deep sea or off the beach, was thrilling, especially when our companions were white-tipped reef sharks, Galapagos penguins and sea lions. Rocky shoreline ledges lined with chartreuse and coral-hued sea horses, magenta sea stars, and crabs cloaked in flame orange dazzled like an exquisite underwater jewelry display.
On Bartolome Island, a 30-minute climb led to the summit of a once active volcano. The panorama took in surrounding Sullivan Bay and the spatter cones, lava tubes and other volcanic features that define this otherworldly landscape. What a suitable perch from which to ponder the world-changing observations of the young Charles Darwin.
When choosing a trip, consider the operator’s record of social and environmental responsibility. Ecoventura, the company I traveled with, has a long and proud record.
The Ministry of Tourism’s Official Ecuador website
Charles Darwin Foundation
Galapagos Conservation Trust
Galapagos National Park
Monterey Bay Aquarium