Charles Darwin journey to the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands and Much More
Charles Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species' was a book that changed the way human beings think and is undoubtedly the greatest work of his, and arguably anyone else's, scientific career. However, the journey that gave birth to his great work was also recorded as a travel journal in the publication commonly referred to as 'The Voyage of the Beagle'.
Setting sail from Plymouth, England on 27 December 1831 for a proposed 2 year journey, the Beagle would not return until 2 October 1836 after almost 5 years. The journal, first published 3 years later, with further revised editions following, hints at Darwin's future grand theory, but can also be read as the wonderful adventures of an enthusiastic and inquisitive young man experiencing the fascination of a world not yet well-travelled.
Although one tends to associate the voyage with Darwin's experience of the fauna of the Galapagos Islands, his travels encompassed much more than that. He records a broad range of scientific observations in the fields of geology, anthropology and of course, biology, for which a reading of his main opus is a necessity. 'The Voyage of the Beagle' however, gives more of an insight into the man himself and the world that was opening up to him through his many fascinating experiences in foreign lands.
In an early chapter Darwin embarks on a trek along the Portillo Pass in the Cordillera, which runs through Argentina and Chile. The high, cold ridges were clearly impressive to the young Englishman whose observations reveal his sense of wonder:
"On each side of the ridge we had to pass over broad bands of perpetual snow, which were now soon to be covered with a fresh layer. When we reached the crest and looked backwards, a glorious view was presented. The atmosphere resplendently clear; the sky an intense blue; the profound valleys; the wild broken forms; the heaps of ruins, piled up during the lapse of ages; the bright-coloured rocks, contrasted with the quiet mountains of snow; all these together produced a scene no-one could have imagined. Neither plant nor bird, excepting a few condors wheeling around the higher pinnacles, distracted my attention from the inanimate mass. I felt glad that I was alone: it was like watching a thunderstorm, or hearing in full orchestra a chorus of the Messiah".
Darwin displays not only a love of nature (and semi-colons) but also a gift for lyrical prose that fully conveys the beauty of his experience. The Voyage of the Beagle is heavy with detailed scientific data but to the layman, Darwin's personal touches are what make it such an interesting read. He is also deeply touched by the individuals he meets and their struggles to survive in sometimes very harsh circumstances. His journal is peppered with interesting anecdotes such as the following also from the same area in South America:
"In the Cordillera further southward, people lose their lives from snow-storms; here, it sometimes happens from another cause. My guide, when a boy of 14 years old, was passing the Cordillera with a party in the month of May; and while in the central parts, a furious gale of wind arose, so that the men could hardly cling on their mules, and stones were flying along the ground.