For the journey of a lifetime: The Enchanted Isles, where “it seems to be a little world within itself” due to the remarkable natural history of the island archipelago (Darwin). The Galapagos Islands, made famous by Darwin’s revelations regarding Evolution by Natural Selection, or Transmutation, as it was known then, continue to figure prominently for scientists, adventurers, travelers, and dreamers. (All of which pertain to me). Darwin was the first to realize the significance of the differences between very similar species across the archipelago. These differences were known by the locals, but the importance was not considered.
‘I never dreamed that islands about 50 or 60 miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted; but we shall soon see that this is the case. It is the fate of most voyagers, no sooner to discover what is most interesting in any locality, than they are hurried from it; but I ought, perhaps, to be thankful that I obtained sufficient materials to establish this most remarkable fact in the distribution of organic beings.’ (Darwin)
Darwin spend the rest of his life (and he was a young man when he journeyed to the Galapagos) pondering the significances of the similarities and differences between finches, mockingbirds, and tortoises and creating a compelling argument to sway his colleagues, politicians, religious leaders, and folks back home. We know this today as “Origin of the Species”.
Montclair State University has teamed up with Hofstra University to send a group of faculty and students to the Galapagos and the Amazon for 20 days in January 2014. The organization for the trip began last spring and I was invited to travel with MSU despite graduating in May. We will spend 10 days visiting San Crisobal, Isabela, and Santa Cruz among other places within the Archipelago whose names will have more meaning once I am there. Right now whenever I hear or think of one of the locations my mind because exceedingly gleeful, my cognitive abilities momentarily diminish and I just experience glee. Highlights are to include the Charles Darwin Research Station and volunteering with Conservation International. (Side note: I’m pretty sure my undergraduate keynote speaker was Peter A. Seligmann, CEO and founder, of Conservation International.)
‘I am very anxious for the Galapagos Islands. I think both the geology and the zoology cannot fail to be very interesting.’ (Darwin)
After the Galapagos, our trip isn’t over. We will spend some time in Ecuador visiting the highlands and the Amazon. We will visit Cotopaxi Volcano and the Tiputini Research Station in pristine Amazon wilderness.
So far I’ve only really had a chance to study the Galapagos natural history and what I can hope to see. I think my greatest hope is not to see the Mockingbirds, the true avian inspiration Darwin’s epiphany, the credited finches, but a Galapagos Penguin, the only penguin found on the Equator and thus in the Northern Hemisphere. Regarding the rest of our travels and what we might see: who can say? There are 1600 birds in Ecuador. I’ll be happy with whatever comes my way!
I leave tomorrow, that is if the weather cooperates. We’re supposed to fly out tonight evening a few hours after the snow is expected to stop. Either way, it’ll be an adventure!
Additional Notes of Interest:
- David Attenborough on the Galapagos Islands
- Darwin’s Field Notes on the Galapagos: a little world within itself