I celebrated my birthday a little early this year with a bucket list gift to myself of a trip to the Galapagos. It has long been my dream to walk in Darwin’s footsteps, in that exotic place that launched our understanding of our evolution as species.
The Galapagos are a World Heritage Site that is well maintained by the Galapagos National Park Service, but it is not the barren volcanic landscape that Darwin landed on in 1835. The archipelago is now a verdant, equatorial paradise with lots of new plants and species (bananas, grapes, melons, insects, Norwegian rats, and domestic animals). There is a major airport here, and the port town of Puerto Ayora is a bustling tourist mecca with 12,000 residents. It is also the home of the Charles Darwin Research Center. who I think would roll over in his grave if he saw the nightly appearance of the Disneyland-like trolley that carries tourists through its streets.
Whatever the changes, the birds and animals that bring people to this equatorial paradise are still well preserved. The birds, sea lions, iguanas, tortoises, have no fear of human’s you can almost get close enough to touch them. The protected waters teem with marine life, and I wanted to see them too.
I am a certified open water scuba diver for over 30 years, and been entranced by the undersea life in the waters of the Caribbean, South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Red Sea, and the Great Barrier Reef. It’s been at least 3 years since I last dived and Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos is a hard dive; strong currents, cold waters, and big sharks. This was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. I went out on a large schooner that rolled in the choppy waters, I’m not a good sailor and got a little wobbly. We changed into our full-body wet suits, a process that left me short of breath, sweating profusely, and having to ask for help pulling it up.
By the time I climbed down into the inflatable Zodiac, which would take us to the exact dive site, sat down and got strapped up, I found I couldn’t reach down far enough to strap on my fins. I’m sitting there thinking maybe I bit off more than I can chew and I’m too old to be doing this.
But when I finally rolled backwards into the water, and the sea opened herself up, I was again enveloped and my world transformed. There were millions of schooling fish, and suddenly out of the darkness 2 Hammerhead sharks that cruised by not more than 2 arms lengths away; my heart pounding and breathing real fast.
In this awesome place I feel Darwin’s seminal discovery in a very personal way. Everything in nature is in a constant state of transformation and those who survive are not the fittest, rather those who are the most adaptable. I’m not as fit as I once was and I will adapt to my growing limitations (shallow dives, warmer waters). I’m letting go, life is about the experiences we’ve had, not the things we hang onto