World War II brought the US military to the island of Baltra, where they built an air base to protect the Panama Canal. This is the location of the current airport. From the 1950’s on various steps were taken to end commercial fishing and salt mining operations and begin steps to strictly limit human population and preserve and restore the environment. And that’s about it. Few places on the planet have had so little contact with humans.

For the next three hundred years, buccaneers used the islands as a base to hide out between attacks on ships and hide treasure. Enrique showed us pictures of a Spanish dagger he found and told us about a neighbor who got rich after finding actual pirate treasure. Whalers also came to the two places in the entire islands chain where fresh water can be found and of course took tortoises for fresh meat, but no one lived there. Charles Darwin showed up for five weeks as a 22-year-old in 1831. He didn’t publish Origin of Species until 1859, more than 27 years later. After a number of failed attempt to colonize the island of Floreana in the 1800’s, a successful colony was finally established on Isabella in 1893. By 1908, 200 people lived there. Enriqué showed us old black-and-white photo of some of the first permanent settlers on the island, a couple with a young son and a baby. “That guy,” he said, pointing to the baby, “still lived in my town when I was I kid.” Enriqué, (though he looks about 25 years old) is only in his mid-forties.

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