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Destination: Galapagos Islands Cyber Field Trip

Sherri Steward's Expedition Journal
Day One

Click here to see Sherri's video journal.

Mandy Williams and Sherri StewardI knew from the moment I set foot in Ecuador that I was about to have the adventure of a lifetime! After 12 hours of traveling, my former student, Mandy Williams, and I finally arrived at the beautiful Colon Hilton in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Guayaquil is located on the Pacific Ocean and is our stopping-off point for the famed Galapagos Islands, better known as "the Enchanted Islands." Even the hotel arrival turned out to be interesting, since an Ecuadorian wedding party was taking place!

After getting about five hours of sleep, we were ready for the hour-and-a-half plane ride to the Galapagos Islands, which lie about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Our crew consists of the Scientific American Frontiers camera crew, actor Alan Alda, a delegation from PBS, and about 80 others from all over the world. As I stepped from the plane and touched down on the red volcanic soil of Baltra in the Galapagos, it occurred to me that the general landscape looks a great deal like west Texas. There were lots of Opuntia cacti, the flowers of which provide food for the giant Galapagos land iguanas in this desert-like environment.Cactus

It only took a few moments, however, for me to realize that I was definitely not in Argyle, Texas, and that the animals in this fascinating place were nothing like those Texas Longhorns! As we were stepping down into the panga, or small zodiac boat that would shuttle us to our ship, we were greeted by one of the most interesting of all Galapagos creatures, the marine iguana.

Marine iguanas are the only sea-going lizard on Earth, and are known here in the Galapagos for their boldness around humans. This particular marine iguana quietly fed on algae, its main source of food, as we loaded our gear into the pangas. He appeared to be completely oblivious of his Homo sapiens admirers, as we snapped away with our cameras.

After a short zodiak shuttle, we finally came aboard our home away from home, the MS Polaris, a grand old ship loaded with character and history.

Sally Lightfoot CrabThis is my first long adventure on a ship and I am definitely hoping that I'm not prone to seasickness. The ship is beautiful and I'm already pretty sure that I'm going to be right at home with her friendly crew and beautiful teak deck, with its spectacular views of, perhaps, the most pristine islands on Earth. Although many tourists visit the islands each year, most of the islands remain much the same as they were in 1835, when the legendary naturalist Charles Darwin visited and postulated his theories on natural selection and biological evolution. In the Galapagos, evolution unfolds before our very eyes, with volcanic eruptions occurring frequently, creating new land masses where the forces of succession and natural selection reign supreme. The wildlife and even the plants on this island are undisturbed by their human visitors, since many had no natural predators.

We set sail for the beautiful island of Santa Cruz, the only island where we see the giant land iguanas. Approaching the northeast coast of Santa Cruz, we are afforded amazing views of this incredible and dramatic volcanic landscape.

We passed a beautiful marsh area, complete with two brilliantly pink flamingos, as well as a friendly yellow warbler, one of many beautiful bird species on the islands.Ground finch

We were fortunate enough to come face to face with a giant land iguana...right in the middle of the trail. He was definitely not in a hurry to move, since he seemed to be basking in the warm, midday sun. And here in the Galapagos, the animals ALWAYS have the right-of-way. After filming Alan Alda with the iguana, we moved further down the trail to see an iguana resting in his burrow. When Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835, he actually pulled on the tail of a burrowed iguana. The iguana turned, looked at Darwin as if to say, "What the heck do you think you're doing? " then turned around as if nothing was wrong!

Sunset on the GalapagosAll great adventures must eventually end, and we went back to the Polaris for an evening meal of great seafood, but there was still time for one last look at the beautiful sunset against the backdrop of the magical place. As it turns out, I actually like the gentle swaying of the old boat; it puts me right to sleep. Tonight I'll dream of what awaits tomorrow on this incredible journey in these beautiful islands.

Read Mandy's Day One Journal

Back new entry Day 2


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.