I haven’t written about the Galápagos Islands since 2007. That’s when we visited connection number one, Scott Henderson, MHS class of 1981 valedictorian. He moved there 35 years ago and runs a coffee plantation. He also works for Conservation International in Marine Preservation. Now he is married and has a 10-year-old son, Ian. Scott and his family will be moving to Vermont in the near future so Ian can be educated in the United States.
Connection number two is a future trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands by Girl Scout Troop 50570 with high school-age members who are now or have attended Marysville and Fairbanks high schools. They will leave on Monday for a 10-day sightseeing trip, which will cost each person about $5,000. They have been raising money for this for two years.
Connection number three is Marysville residents, John and Charlotte Eufinger and Dick and Linda Smith, who have just returned from a trip to Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. They spent some time with Scott Henderson and his family while they were there. Now they share some of their adventures.
The Galápagos Islands, formed by numerous volcanoes, have a population of about 25,000. They are located about 600 miles west of the Republic of Ecuador and are part of that country. The last eruption was in 2009. The islands move about 2 to 3 inches a year.
The Smiths and Eufingers began their trip by landing in Quito, Ecuador. It’s called the middle of the earth and has the highest point in the country, about 9,000 feet, in the Andes Mountains. On their way up to the top of one of the highest points, the guide drove them on tiny, narrow roads, with no guard rails, barely wide enough for a car. John said it was scary as they could see straight down from the car window and were grateful to be at the top without slipping off the side of the road.
Quito is located near the Equator and I thought it would be very hot there, but they said it rained a lot and the temperatures were not excruciating. Strange things happened there, however. Interestingly, year-round there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. The sun comes up at six every morning and sets at six at night.
Also, water does crazy things when you stand right on the redline of the Equator, which was about three inches wide on the ground. The guide held a barrel with water that had some leaves in it. When the bottom funnel-like opening was opened on the red line, the water emptying into the bucket below flowed straight down because it was right on the Equator.
Just 10 feet south from the line, the water with leaves in it swirled clockwise in the bucket and ten feet north of the line the water swirled counter clockwise. This is called the Coriolis effect.
The main religion in Ecuador is Catholic, and most residents speak Spanish. In the big cities there is some English spoken, but little in the countryside or on the Galápagos Islands.
John said that Quito was not particularly neat and clean in the streets, but the islands were the opposite. It was about a two-hour plane flight from Quito to the airport in Baltra, the first island. There they paid $100 each to enter on top of their fee for the visa. Upon entering each island they continued to pay a lesser entry fee. The boat trip between islands about an hour long and was extremely rough and loud from the giant engines.
Once on the islands, they realized they were in another world. Large iguanas three to four feet long crawled around near them at the airport area. At the boat dock, there were sea lions lying on the benches, which Charlotte said could even scratch their ears like a dog.
Later they would meet marine iguanas, which are black, but can swim and eat under water. They saw them spitting out salt water left over from the seaweed they consumed. If they didn’t do that, the salt would eventually kill them.
Animals are all protected on the islands. Visitors are not supposed to touch them (really, would you want to touch an iguana?), so they are not afraid of humans or anything else. In fact, there are no real predators for these animals, so when they die, there is just a mummified carcass lying around.
Charles Darwin used the islands to perfect his Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection.
The travelers reported there are no mammals naturally on the islands. Any that are there now have been imported because all animals that came to the islands had to fly or swim there.
Conservation is important. Only three percent of the Galapagos Islands are used, because 97 percent is a nature preserve. You may not remove any natural product from the islands, like sand, rock or even a feather.
Here’s an interesting thing – in Quito and in the Galapagos Islands you are not supposed to flush toilet paper. It is often provided on the door outside, before you enter the restroom and the paper is to be deposited in a trashcan after use. I have experienced this on a boat, but was surprised it was on land. In the Islands, it was wise to have your own toilet paper with you at all times, just in case.
Some final thoughts … special immunizations were recommended for the trip and visitors are warned not to drink the water. That necessitated brushing teeth with bottled water and not eating fresh fruits and vegetables washed in water. U.S. currency is the norm everywhere and cash is appreciated. John said it was a restful, laid-back trip and felt extremely safe everywhere.
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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