The history of the Galapagos Islands dates back millions of years with the volcanic formation of the archipelago. It is the natural habitat of thousands of species and full of mysteries, pirate stories and amazing natural beauty. Galapagos fascinates those who visit them and one could easily argue there isn't a place like the Galapagos on the face of the earth.
We strive to preserve the fragile environment of this pristine archipelago. The Galapagos and its conservancy is a living laboratory of evolution, life and human conduct and man’s good will to give back to nature. Galapagos communities work hard to preserve these unique species with the hope of having a healthier future to maintain this wildlife sanctuary.
The Galapagos Islands are the result of a two-fold geological phenomenon: the volcanic hotspot from which they've risen and on which they sit and an ongoing tectonic movement that slowly shifts the older islands towards the southeast, giving way to newer ones. Today, the most westerly island, Fernandina, is the youngest and most active.
The first islands to be created on this hotspot are not technically considered Galapagos Islands, and the first of which that was considered a Galapagos Island has disappeared into the sea. Today, 19 so-called major islands and more than 100 islets make up the Galapagos Archipelago.
Pre-Columbian visits have been confirmed from artifacts of Incan and pre-Incan periods, yet it is believed that the Galapagos was more a shipwreck destination than a stopover on an actual trading route.
Description of an expedition to the islands during Inca Tupak Yupanqui's reign has been considered a figment of early colonial imagination, whereby abundant gold and silver was supposedly collected and brought back to the mainland.
These are the first legendary tales of the Galapagos, which soon took the name of Islas Encantadas (Enchanted Islands) because of their ability to appear out of nowhere from the misty waters of the frightful Pacific Ocean.
The Galapagos Islands were first discovered for the Western World by Tomas de Berlanga as his vessel fortuitously drifted off course and ended up in the ‘dragon-ridden’ volcanic headlands – but the dragons were nothing more than harmless marine iguanas!
The archipelago was quickly considered evil in the eyes of the highly superstitious conquistadors and they avoided them as much as humanly possible.
This proved quite convenient for the thieving pirates who kept an ideal lair from where to attack Castilian ships taking gold and silver from their mining exploits in South America. Another treasure was discovered when whalers took heed of the nutrient upwelling on the western side of the Galapagos Archipelago.
For some strange reason, the Galapagos Islands, quite a sterile, dry and inhospitable place, seemed to have a Dorado effect as a strategic site for thieves striving to get rich, and while attracting some of the most infamous characters in history including Captain Cook, Captain Morgan and Hermann Melville, the world's most literary whaler.
The face of an iguana: primitive, monstrous, rugged, fierce? Or an omen if you ever saw one? In reality, as Karl Angermeyer would prove back in the day, there couldn't be a more harmless and friendly creature than an iguana, but to those who didn't care to know them better, they represented the evils of a newly discovered land.
Legend has it that Spaniards who happened upon the islands would shoot at them with cannons from the shore, fearing their dragon tongues and premonitory gaze. What spell were they casting upon those who lost their way and washed up on their shores?
It is common knowledge that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was inspired by his short stay in the Galapagos Islands, the last stop the HMS Beagle made before leaving the Americas.
As he dismissed the many clues that most of the animals where providing him while sluggishly trekking across the inhospitable, scorching volcanic terrain, home to what he himself called unpleasant plants and hideous creatures, a drab set of birds struck his curiosity just at the time his crew was preparing to head across to Australia.
It wasn't the finches with beak shapes adapted to the food source of each individual island; not the remarks of Governor Nicholas Lawson who could tell which tortoise came from which island just by looking at the shape of their shell.
It wasn't the behavioral distinctions between marine and land iguanas, and it wasn't the cormorant's weakling wings. It turned out that a simpleton group of similar-looking mockingbirds made him ponder.
Charles Darwin was to be a clergyman upon his return to England, much to his father's liking. He had graduated in Theology and had ventured to participate in the Beagle's second survey voyage around the world because of his burgeoning interest in nature and geology.
Religion and science still went very much hand in hand in the early 1800s, at least there was no clear movement that contradicted the general belief that all creatures where created as they were since God created them.
At least not until 1859, when a cautious, proof-ridden document shared with humanity the inkling that Darwin had observed in those Galapagos mockingbirds, which would later be confirmed in the finches, the land and marine iguanas, the tortoises and the Flightless Cormorant. The simple observation: Nature is change.
It somehow makes sense that islands situated off the equator would belong to a country named Ecuador.
But it could very well not have been so. It was only 1832 and tiny Ecuador was taking the scraps that were being left behind from territorial distribution of the larger, more economically prominent Bolivarian nations.
Ecuador got very little out of the deal, and was further reduced to the 256,000 km2 it is today when Peru invaded during World War II. But one can say, in this case, that good can come from evil.
Ecuador is today one of the most convenient travel destinations in the world, a country whose small size makes for wonderful vacations, where everything (and all very different indeed) is situated at close distances and can be visited in virtually no-time.
And not only is being small an interesting asset, but some of the scraps were in fact a gift in disguise. What better good could have come from claiming the inhospitable pirate’s den that was the Galapagos Islands? The land that no one cared about in 1832 would be visited by Charles Darwin only three years later.
Now, the road to making something out of a true no man’s land has not been easy. Ecuadorians ventured to make these islands everything from mining emporiums to secluded kingdoms, and so little did the islands produce, that they were even rented to the United States as a strategic outpost to protect North America from Japanese insurgence in exchange for extra cash during World War II.
But times changed, a shift was experienced throughout the industrialized world upon the end of the tragic World War, and little by little other world priorities began to pop up, one of those being environmental awareness.
Bizarrely enough, the Galapagos Islands suddenly stood at the forefront of this change in attitude, and as tourism grew stronger within the so-called first world countries, a series of circumstances came together and created a reason to be for these infertile islands, which in 1959 were declared the first ever Ecuadorian national park.
Fifteen years later an entire national park system was implemented throughout mainland Ecuador, and only very recently have national authorities begun to understand the importance of preserving the natural world and supporting environmental efforts.
What a story, and what a journey it has been.