I treasure the turtle image Galapagos officials stamped on my passport. It is a souvenir of a life-changing experience for me and for others on the trip. Because I was dean at a Florida college, the biology faculty invited me to go along on a summer field trip to those extraordinary islands to observe the pedagogy as well as the amazing flora and fauna. You see, every other summer, a couple of our biology professors and a theology professor took 15 to 20 science majors down there to walk in the steps of Charles Darwin. During the journey, we all read books about Darwin’s theory and, each evening, heard lectures from the theology prof, balanced by discussion led by the scientists.
We flew into the largest of the complex of islands and boarded The Corinthian, a large boat that would be our home for the eight-day tour of the region. In a sense, every morning we opened our eyes to a new world, as each island is unique: some desert, some jungle, some forested and some tropical. I had heard our biology folks say that animals had not learned to fear humans down there, but I was not expecting a mocking bird to land on my shoulder. When that happened, the leader of our group said, “The bird sees your water bottle, but don’t give it any water because the national park folks do not want the birds to become dependent on tourists for their water.” I obeyed, but was certainly tempted not to. I had never seen such a thirsty look in a bird’s eye.
The sea lions were not afraid of us either. They just gave us a look as if to say, “Hello, folks, don’t step on me or my kin.” We went for a swim right there in the colony and some of the younger ones came in with us. It is an eerie feeling to be nuzzled by a sea lion pup. They are playful, very much like canine puppies. Penguins also darted about as we swam, yes, right there on the equator.
Frigate birds let you get up close enough to watch their mating ritual, namely blowing their red throat sack out and waving their extended wings while they look to the heavens. That was a sight to see, as was our leader’s imitation of the phenomenon. He carried a red scarf with him for just the purpose of hilarious reenactment. Students loved to watch their professor in his role as frigate bird seeking a mate.
Other birds such as the blue-footed booby and the red-footed booby allowed close observation as well. I read that Darwin was going to shoot one for observation, but discovered he did not have to do that. He could get up close and personal without taking a life. I recall actually handing a twig to a booby for her nest. She almost said thank you.
On the way back to Florida, we landed in Quito, where we took pictures standing on the equator and feasted on the best steak in the world. It was our frigate bird professor’s birthday and we had a wonderful meal and celebration in a restaurant overlooking the sparkling city. When we landed in Miami, I felt as if I had been to the beginning of the world in the Book of Genesis.