Darwin’s First Island

The next day we changed hotels and took a 3-hour boat ride to the east side of the archipelago to the last island we would be going to – San Cristobal. On the way we passed Santa Fe Island, a smaller island, uninhabited by people, but had a lot of resting blue-footed boobies. San Cristobal however, is larger and is one of the oldest islands. It the first island that Darwin stepped on. It was also the island where we switched tour guides – Juan left to lead another group, and Jessica stepped in his place. Jose, Daniel, and Jessica all lived in San Cristobal.

Two of the three nesting juvenile frigate birds

Two of the three nesting juvenile frigate birds

A female lava lizard

A female lava lizard

We went to the Interpretation Center, which tells you everything you need to know about the Galapagos and had outdoor trails around it. I learned a lot of very interesting facts there. The Galapagos islands are continuously moving to the south east on the Nazca tectonic plate which moves about 5-7 cm per year. Therefore, the youngest islands are on the west side (ex. Isabela) and the oldest islands are on the east side, including San Cristobal. The islands have two seasons, dry and rainy; we had arrived at the tail end of the rainy season (May-November). There are only 6 endemic mammals on the islands, which evolved from ancestors that were able to survive the journey from the mainland – 2 bats, 2 rats, and 2 sea lions. There is a small island in the Galapagos where hybrid iguanas have been born through the mating of a marine iguana and a land iguana. There are no more than about 20 of them. They look like a marine iguana but act like a land iguana, and are infertile. Another cool piece of information that I learned was that Darwin did not directly create the classification of the finches, because he saw only a few of them. After he returned, other people helped him develop it further.

Some students of the BIOL 4506 class in front of the Darwin statue where he first landed in the Galapagos

Some students of the BIOL 4506 class in front of the Darwin statue where he first landed in the Galapagos (Photo by Peter Nosko)

Me swimming with a sea lion

Me swimming with a sea lion (Photo by Joey Patapas)

While on the outdoor trails outside the Interpretation Center, we saw 3 juvenile frigate birds nesting. The adult males are known to inflate their bright red throat sac while mating to attract females, but because it was not the mating season we did not see this occur on the trip. This island is also know to have a separate subspecies of lava lizard, where the females have a red belly, which is different that the ones we saw on the other islands. Many times throughout our trip we saw these tiny lizards courting, where the male would bob his head in some sort of dance, and sometimes even chase the female. The trail lead to a huge statue of Darwin where he physically first stepped on the island – numerous pictures were taken here!

Many of us including myself got to swim with sea lions. For me, the sea lion I was swimming with wasn’t as curious with humans as some of the others, but it did pick up a drifting snorkel and started playing with it like it was a bone. It was really cool to watch!

On this island we had some free time, which was actually a rare occurrence on this trip. Some people like myself went shopping. You had to get your timing right though, because most of the shops closed during lunch. Others went to a volcano where a lake had formed from the rainwater. Those who had their diving license went scuba diving and saw hammerhead sharks and a sea turtle. The islands hold many opportunities – I believe we barely scratched the surface.

– Vincent Evans-Lucy