Visiting Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos Archipelago

Galápagos Observations (continued)

 
A male frigatebird soars overhead. This is the only frigatebird I saw that had its red throat pouch inflated. When in the nest during mating season the male can inflate the throat pouch much more. Frigatebirds are also called man o' war birds; they sometimes steal food from other birds.

 
A brown pelican.  


 
A sea-lion playing near Nine of Cups. We saw them frequently in the anchorage, sometimes chasing schools of small fish.  


 
Small fish in the shallow water near shore, as seen from the tourist pier that extends out from the shoreline. I'm sure these fish would be tasty snacks for sea-lions.  

I found it interesting how complex the ecosystem was, especially for a relatively recent volcanic island that started out not only isolated but definitely sterile, too. From the highland peaks to the coastal mangrove swamps, there were many different habitat zones each inhabited by specially-adapted plants and animals. The characteristics of the habitat zones vary significantly due to changes in altitude. This variation is wider than for similar altitude changes on the mainland because the humid maritime winds in the Galápagos can produce rain clouds even at the relatively low heights of these old volcanoes (2,835 feet on Santa Cruz). We didn't see the highest zone which would have required a lengthy and strenuous hike, but the intermediate areas we saw during our land tour were surprisingly green and productive with fertile volcanic soil.

The lowest habitat zone was another story, though. The uneven terrain was strewn with pockmarked volcanic rocks on top of raw basalt with occasional gravel and scarce soil. The rock colors ranged from jet black through brown to rust red sometimes with yellowish streaks. In some areas it looked like a moonscape and I half expected to see people wearing spacesuits. Passing through dense thickets of dessicated spindly trees it was almost unbearably hot and airless. It was amazing that plants could have evolved an ability to thrive in such inhospitable terrain—there were impressive giant cacti with trunks like ponderosa pines and stark scaly white scalesia trees (which means "scaly" in Spanish). The resulting forests, though not very green or traditional-looking, were still a major, well-defined, and productive ecosystem.

Along the tidal shoreline, the mangrove zone was equally impressive, with dense stands of trees and shrubs producing an impenetrable tangle of roots. Under the oval-leafed canopy was a fetid miasma of mud, sand, and rotting vegetation—not someplace a tourist would visit but an important way of trapping soil and stabilizing and enlarging a beach.

I'll say this about the Galápagos and Ecuador in general: The people I have seen show great vitality and self-sufficiency. Despite midday slowdowns and siestas (required by the heat), people are nevertheless fully and actively involved in supporting themselves and their families. There doesn't seem to be the entitlement mentality as in the States, or even any significant form of welfare, so you work or you go hungry. Also, hard work seems to be a respectable lifestyle, unlike in the States where some people pride themselves on avoiding work or doing things the easiest way possible. Sometimes there aren't any easy ways to do things in Ecuador. Consider several examples like construction projects, road maintenance, or auto repair. Due to the lack of power equipment and specialty tools (which may be too expensive or simply unavailable), manual labor still accomplishes a great deal of the work at hand. People don't seem to look down on manual labor, instead manual labor is just what you do to get things done, and as such is very ordinary and commonplace.


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