Invasive mainland iguana

List of Galapagos Islands

The M/V Queen Mabel, in the waters around the Galapagos Island.Wait. Check that.

Those aren't rocks.

Because that one just sneezed.

They are creatures! Dirty black with skin as rough the hardened lava beneath them, long tails and dorsal scales.

Up close and personal with the iguanas on Fernandina island, in the Galapagos.

They are poodle-sized Godzillas. And they are EVERYWHERE, thousands of them sunning in lazy clumps and sneezing piles. To make this scene even more bizarre, scattered among them are hundreds of smooth, cuddly blobs with big, limpid, take-me-home-and-raise-me-in-your-bathtub eyes.

And then a hawk floats from the sky, perches an arm's length away and gives a look that says "you're not from around here."

Welcome to the Galapagos.

These islands off the coast of Ecuador have been on my Wonder List for a very long time. I expected a few giant tortoise encounters and of course, Darwin's famous finches, but I never imagined standing on a forbidden beach of newborn rock, surrounded by sea iguanas and Galapagos hawks, sea lions and fur seals. Never imagined animals reacting with more puzzled curiosity than fear, because I am something they never see. I'm human.

Let's pretend Earth is 46 years old (instead of the mind-boggling 4.6 billion years the best science provides).

On this scale, people showed up about four months ago.

The industrial revolution began 60 seconds ago and in that "minute, " humans have erased over half of earth's forests and almost half the fish.

Granted, a lot of that destruction went into feeding 7 billion people, lifting millions out of crushing poverty and extending life expectancy around the world. But in the process, we are moving a scary number of our planet-mates onto the lists of the endangered.

There have been five mass extinctions in earth's history. We are living through the sixth. This time we can't blame asteroids or a sudden ice age. This time it is our fault, in ways both intentional and accidental, and there are few better places to understand how and why than the Galapagos Islands.

The M/V Queen Mabel, in the waters around the Galapagos Island.

Charles Darwin was a wet-behind-the-ears divinity school graduate when he was tapped to keep the company of a depressed sea captain named FitzRoy on a ship called the Beagle. As they sailed around South America, he walked these beaches covered with creatures, gruesome and cuddly and curious. They planted ideas in his young brain that would change the world.

Nicole goes to the Galapagos Islands
Nicole goes to the Galapagos Islands
The Travel Lady takes us to the Galapagos Islands
The Travel Lady takes us to the Galapagos Islands
Galapagos: Walking with Dinosaurs on Fernandina Island
Galapagos: Walking with Dinosaurs on Fernandina Island
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