How The Galapagos Islands Are Changing
Head due west from the coast of Ecuador. Maintain just the right latitude. Continue for, oh, nearly 1,000 kilometres, give or take. Eventually, you’ll reach a small series of volcanic islands that for decades has helped shape our understanding of biology and evolution, a place we go to learn about ourselves.
The Galapagos Islands are a collection of volcanic islands split in two by the equator, the belt of the globe, the doldrums. In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge talks about a belt around the world where the winds stop and motion ceases, the sun rises and sets at almost the same time all year long. The magnetic poles are balanced around you, while the motion of life swirls around the place. It is balanced, constant, yet constantly struggling at all times. This is what it means to be in the Galapagos, a place that admits of multitudes.
A Groundswell of Change
I’ve been travelling and guiding in the Galapagos for a number of years, and it has always been a place that elicits the imagination and excitement of travel. Going on a hike in the Galapagos, you get the feeling you could discover a new creature or species; there is so much change and morphing going on here.
I felt this most profoundly on a recent trip. Something new was happening, a groundswell of change and excitement you could feel in the air, like right before the Beatles landed in the U.S. Sophy Roberts, a friend of B&R and writer for publications like The Financial Times, Condé Nast Traveler and Departures, was there with me, and we discussed what the future might hold for the islands.
“The magnetic poles are balanced around you, while the motion of life swirls around the place…This is what it means to be in the Galapagos.”
Recently, its morphing and evolving have been most evident in the hotels and tourism on the islands. The Pikaia Lodge is one such evolution. Popping up on top of a volcano on the east side of Santa Cruz Island, it feels like the set of a 007 movie (circa Roger Moore) mixed with a little Jurassic Park.
There are also new places to explore, as the park authorities and Ecuadorian government have changed some laws, allowing previously closed places to be experienced anew. My favourite place to stay on the islands, the Galapagos Safari Camp, sits perched on the hills looking west, enclosed by vegetation perfectly matching the feel of this far-off destination.
In the Galapagos, A New Breed of Travel
It used to be thought that the only way to see the Galapagos was by sea, but a new breed of travel is beginning here. There are things to see, places to go, and people to talk to, and land-based trips increasingly offer you the ability to do just that. Most don’t realize these islands have been peopled for more than a hundred years; there are cities, markets, trade, the hallmarks of human history.
Don’t be confused, it is not the sort of place you visit to sit on the beach and hide in the shade of palm trees; things here are ephemeral, immediate, more like the appeal of large mountains or vast deserts, something sublime.
But it is becoming a destination sought not just for education, but for expedition, the chance to feel that you, too, are on the verge, next to, or amidst a period of “undiscovery.” (I know, I made this word up; but in a land that constantly reveals new wonders without ever shedding its ephemeral essence, I think it works.)