Human History In The Galapagos

Oral history from Incas in Ecuador say they were the first humans to visit the islands sometime between 500-1200 A.D. There’s no evidence that happened, though they were certainly capable of doing so and there would have been no reason for them to stay if they had. Then, in 1535, a Spanish bishop named Fray Tomás de Berlanga got lost on his way to Peru. In a letter to King Carlos of Spain he noted it was a barren place where “God…had rained stones” and the land so infertile that it had not “even the power of raising a little grass.” He noted the saddle-shaped tortoise shells and that name, “Galapagos,” has stuck. As far as we know, no one came back for another 11 years. It was then that the islands got their sobriquet “Las Islas Encantadas” (“the Enchanted Islands”), when sailors banished by Pizzaro after a failed coup saw them appear and disappear in heavy fog, and reached the not-terribly logical conclusion that the islands were moving under their own power. Then it was back to the ship for lunch, and we had time to relax while the ship headed to Buccaneer’s Cove on James Island (aka Santiago Island). After lunch I went to the lounge to hear Enriqué, a Galapagos native, talk about the human history of the Islands. What that talk drove home is part of what makes these islands so unique— there basically isn’t any. Consider:

Few places are as remote from the human world of artificial light as the Galapagos Archipelago, and the night sky is spectacular. Enriqué, the most experienced guide, traced constellations for us with a green laser- poiner, filling us in on the mythology behind the names as well as more practical things like how sailors of old used the Southern Cross and Summer Triangle for navigation. But the best part for me was simply being there, seeing the bright points of the stars and the soft luxurious glow of the Milky Way for a night; what all humans were once treated to when they looked up. When we awoke the next morning, we were anchored off of Santa Cruz and boarded Zodiacs for an easy hike up Dragon’s hill. Here we walked among dozens of terrestrial iguanas up to four feet in length nose to tail. These easy-going herbivores dig large burrows to sleep in at night and spend much of their time soaking in heat from the sun and eating various plant-life with a special affinity for cactus. As with all of the animals we encountered, they ignored us completely and cell phone cameras were fine for close- ups. We watched a male and female interact for a while, she seeming to want to get to know him better and he cautiously disinterested.

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