Charles Darwin Ecuador
By Lee Foster
A traveler can find many inviting places in the world to see the wonders of nature amply expressed, but there is one place, above all others, where the phenomena of nature had a profound effect on modern intellectual history.
But the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, offer something beyond an encounter with nature. The Galapagos happened to be where young Charles Darwin did much of his crucial observation of the changes that occurred in finches, mockingbirds, and the shells of giant tortoises in this isolated location. Why did the finches on different islands have slightly different beak size and shape, varying body size, alterations in plumage, and different feeding habits?
Retrospectively, he would ask: could these different species of birds, with their slight variations, have evolved in their island isolation, descending from a single species? The information that Darwin gathered in 1835 in the Galapagos was critical for his seminal theory, which he published much later, in 1859, in The Origin of Species. Darwin’s thinking, which later became characterized as the theory of evolution, markedly changed western thought.
Every visitor going to the Galapagos will have a truly wondrous encounter with wildlife, especially birds, reptiles, and mammals. The experience is made more poignant with the knowledge that Darwin saw these same species on these remote islands in 1835, and his careful observations contributed to a massive shift in western thought. An explorer today also makes the trip just as Darwin did, moving from island to island by small cruise boat or yacht.
Quito: The Ecuador Capital
Enroute to the Galapagos, try to arrange a stay of two days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. You can spend one day exploring the Spanish colonial cultural treasures of the city. On the other day take a drive through the Andes to witness the fertile highlands and the major Indian craft market at Otavalo. Arrange for a guided tour to do this exploring efficiently.
In Quito, climb the bell tower of La Basilica to get a bird’s eye view of the city, including the Old City, which sits in front of a low mountain, called Panecillo. Then proceed to walk through the Old City, starting at Independence Square. Be sure to see the gold splendor of two colonial churches, the Cathedral and the Jesuit church La Campania. Nowhere does the opulence of the Spanish colonial era show itself more lavishly than in these churches. Nearby, the City Museum shows a visitor life in Quito for each century since its founding in 1534. One new attraction is the Chapel of Man, presenting the works of the noted contemporary Ecuador artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin, whose thematic preoccupation is the oppression of most people. On the ceiling of the main room he symbolized oppression with a mural of the harsh life of the silver miners of Potosi, Bolivia, who fueled the Spanish colonial prosperity.