There is probably no place on earth where the old adage “the pen is mightier than
the sword” holds more true than the Galapagos Islands. If some guy—say a junior
member of a ship’s crew bumming a ride with his friend does not pen a book about his
theory on evolution, the Galapagos Islands will remain just another grouping among
countless other islands in the Pacific Ocean. But Charles Darwin was on that ship, wrote
the book that made these islands famous, and today life on the Galapagos is much
different than it might have been.
Of the scores of islands in oceans around the world, many have been the cause of
wars but few have had an impact or gone through changes like the Galapagos. Case in
point, the Falklands on the other side of the continent: if it were not for the skirmish
between England and Argentina most of us might never have heard of the Falklands. In
contrast, Darwin makes some observations about animals changing over time in a group
of islands bisected by the Equator, and life is changed. Today many people around the
world relate these islands to the theory of evolution.
The Galapagos, a chain of volcanic islands—only Hawaii has more active
volcanoes—has been a World Heritage site since 1978. Thirteen are more than 10 sq. km,
another nine measure from one to 10 sq. km, and 100 or more are smaller than a sq. km.
These islands are famous for their sea turtles, and there was a time they were home to
English pirates waiting to prey on Spanish vessels.
Sometimes when I visit a place I cannot help but wonder what it would be like if
it were not for the tourists; Galapagos was one of those places. Few locals do as well
marketing their location without ever mentioning their people or the culture of the area.
The Galapagos sells itself strictly on sighting blue-footed sea birds (Boobies) and giant
I wanted to meet some of the locals but English is not the language of the working
people. When I arrived at the docks in the early morning there was a lot of smiling and
hand waving. I am far from an expert on the harvest of the sea but I did not recognize any
of the fish these fellows were pulling from the net; the pelicans on the other hand knew
what breakfast looked like.
The fishermen lost little time in cleaning their catch on the boat and the offal was
caught mid air by the pelicans. I watched the sport for a considerable time and did not see
one scrap hit the water. Whatever was not cleaned on board was brought to shore where
there were a few tables under a roof. The cleaning process was much the same here,
though the pelicans did not have as easy an access to the refuse and I am not sure what
happened to the containers that held what they left behind. I had the distinct feeling it was
not going to waste, there might be some other creature that would be waiting for it; again
my lack of Spanish kept me from asking questions.
The life of these fishermen had changed little over the years. They headed out
very early in the morning and were returning with their catch by eight o’clock. I assume
there was an afternoon nap in their future; perhaps a bit of work on their nets, and the
process would be repeated again the next day. I was back for more pictures and it was
very much the same.
Tourist trade was obviously the major employer in the town. Buildings on Main
Street alternated from tourist shops selling t-shirts and mugs with the ever-present blue
booby in various positions (with politically incorrect slogans) to restaurant/pub places
that provided evening entertainment to the tourists. A visit to a local brewpub serving a
very acceptable draught revealed prices that I am sure kept the local fisherman from
Search as I might I could not find a store that provided groceries or a pub that
might provide a Saturday night refreshment for the locals. I do try to find one of those
establishments when I visit a place and this one stalled even my best efforts.
Nightfall provided a light show on a bridge across from our hotel and I did my
best to enjoy it at least one night but a day on the water and the equatorial heat takes its
toll on us landlubbers.
Having spent four days on the main island and various smaller ones, I felt a bit
like a pampered cat in a television commercial: the menu varied from chicken to tuna,
and they did not even bother to reverse the order the next day—it was chicken and tuna.
There is something about the cost of living on an island that cannot be denied; it is high.
I was frustrated, not being able to speak Spanish and communicate with the
locals. It was not an issue for our tour and the service industry was adequate in their
English but I wanted to know more about life for the local ‘Galapian’.