Puerto Ayoro Galapagos
Machu Picchu Peru
Machu Picchu Photos
Lake Titicaca Peru
Lake Titicaca Photos
La Paz Bolivia
Santiago Chile 1
Santiago Chile 2
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Back Home in California
Ponderous musings from the Galapagos Islands,
A Frigate bird hangs nearly motionless, then stretching its tail feathers in a scissor like maneuver swoops down gracefully circling the bay before once again climbing to a stationary place high above. Pelicans struggle to flap, glide and twist into the water, occasionally raising their long beaks to swallow a fish. Several smaller black Marine Iguanas laze on a nearby breakwater of volcanic rock, nearly invisible against the dark surfaces. A statuesque Crane stands motionless, seemingly oblivious to my close presence. Fur Seals effortlessly climb concrete stairs out of the water barking nonchalantly and waddle onto a warm area of the patio where they flop down to sun themselves like lazy dogs on a hot summer afternoon. Fearless Finches flutter about as I walk among them. Admittedly some of this wildlife activity is attributed to this Santa Cruz Island hotel owner's deliberate program of feedings to amuse her guests.
Few people who visit the Galapagos Archipelago are aware that Charles Robert Darwin started his professional life as a divinity school graduate after rejecting his father's urgings to pursue a medical career. Fortunately, his insatiable curiosity about the natural world led him to take a few college classes in the physical sciences before graduating. At the impressionable young age of 22, one of his professors who had himself declined the opportunity, arranged for Charles to join the planned two year around the world voyage of the HMS Beagle as the ship's naturalist, a position for which his undergraduate academic training hardly qualified him.
Standing in the midst of so much wild life myself and with a hundred and seventy year historical perspective, I could imagine the amazement and wonder with which that young man must have beheld the array of strange species and variations found in the Galapagos. Little imagination is required to see how differently land, aquatic and jungle Iguanas evolved colorations which hide them from predators in those different physical environments: brown on desert sand, dark gray on black volcanic rock and green in the jungles. Likewise, the beaks of 13 varieties of Finches, collectively known as Darwin's Finches over time have assumed different specialized adaptations compatible with available foods from one ecosystem to another.
History tells us Darwin studied his copious notes taken during the five year voyage for thirty years before publishing his paradigm shifting theory of evolution in "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection." I enjoyed this succinct discussion of Charles Darwin's life around that time; check it out. His personal journal entries make it clear his observations spanned the entire voyage, not just the more famous month in the Galapagos.
So simple and logical that it is now accepted as the most plausible explanation for the observed evidence by virtually every well educated person in the world, Darwin's theory rankled fundamentalist religious leaders of his day. At variance with the anachronistic pre-scientific creation myths reflected in the Christian Bible and religious dogma from other traditions, large numbers of true believers still cling to the ancient teachings and remain unable to dispassionately examine the abundant evidence supporting Darwin's conclusions.
I am saddened by the realization that the human mind has not yet evolved to the point where rational thoughts can reside in the same mind space as comforting emotionally powerful beliefs which appear to conflict with objective reality. Each realm makes enormous contributions to the well being of individuals and societies. The values of absolute faith are so overwhelmingly obvious to any rational person I am at a loss to explain why beliefs in preposterous ideas cause so much cognitive dissonance among those of us who worship evidence. Similarly, the throngs who base their lives on "revealed truths" joyfully embrace most of the fruits of science and the technology. It is only in the specific particulars which contradict one another that our minds rebel against the non-dominant realm. How sad. How short sighted.
Physicists know that Einstein's Theories of Relativity are in harmony with cosmic observations, but lead to wrong conclusions at the subatomic scale. The theory of Quantum Mechanics describes our observations at that level, but is worthless on the galactic scale. So, we hold both theories (and others) in our minds ready for use when appropriate. Why not the same approach with faith and reason? My knowledge that Ultimate Reality is forever unknowable does not prevent me from enjoying a performance of the Salt Lake City Mormon Tabernacle Choir or delighting in the glee with which small children approach a Macy's Santa Claus. Fully understanding the art and technology behind a contrived video production does not prevent me from suspending judgment for a while and enjoying the performance... as if it were real! Nor, am I distressed when I learn my temporary beliefs were in fact mere illusions.
But, I jump ahead. The short flight from Quito on the mainland landed on the Galapagos island of San Cristobal. After paying the (cash only) $100 park entrance fee, a fifteen minute walk got me into the unique village of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It is a very small village, easily walked top to bottom, east to west in under an hour. I checked several hotels; none could vaguely be considered first class. The best I could find turned out to be the $50 cash Yeclas Surf Guest House at the westernmost end of town, not far from the main boat dock. During my two night stay I managed to visit the impressive Galapagos Interpretation Center and hike trails through the La Loberia National Park where I nearly stumbled over brown Land Iguanas and got close enough to many Fur Seals for close up pictures. None of the wildlife seemed to have any fear of me and allowed quite close approaches without protest.
There are two airports in the Galapagos archipelagos, one here on San Cristobal and the other on the tiny island of Baltra just above the main island of Santa Cruz. That one has been closed since May 2005 for runway maintenance. Political considerations have delayed completion much to the consternation of many business people who claim commercial activity has slowed noticeably. A narrow channel separates Baltra from the main island of Santa Cruz.
After my two night exploration of San Cristobal a fast and bumpy speedboat ride got me to the island of Santa Cruz in a little over two hours... the longest two hours I've endured in quite some time. Everyone on the 14 passenger craft looked like they were about to be sick most of the way. A nursing baby and its mother actually did vomit. At one point a huge wave rolled our little boat clockwise nearly ninety degrees dumping all the passengers on the port side into the laps of those on the starboard side. Ron and Cindy, a young backpacking couple from Britain who arrived in a different speedboat said three people on their boat got sick. One of the little kids on our boat cried the entire trip. This is not a pleasure cruise! I resolved on the spot to find an alternative for the return trip.
The first hotel I tried in Puerto Ayora, the main town on the island of Santa Cruz was the twice recommended $84 Hotel Silberstein. On first inspection its elegant tropical decor is pleasant enough, but the rooms are small and feature cold showers! Two nights there and a day of hotel shopping led me to my second Hotel, the Sur-y-Mar "Sun and Sea" sitting right on the bay. The Hotel is charming for several reasons. First, the owner feeds the wild life to keep the place swarming with docile friendly critters. The Pelicans and seals get whole fish; the Frigate birds get the leftover guts. It is a small place with just five screened rooms... all open to the breezes night and day. Nights are chilly, decor is funky, mornings are announced by barking seals. At $45 the place is a good value, but two mornings of sneezing and I resolved to sample something fancier.
One of the three most expensive lodges on the island is the Red Mangrove Adventure Inn. Breakfast in the polished wood, glass enclosed dining-room overlooking the perpetually active bay one morning while still at the chilly Hotel Sur-y-Mar convinced me to spend the big bucks for a chance to stay there a couple nights. An artistic carpenter's dream, every room is handmade. My $107 room, the cheapest in the hotel is reached by a nine foot high overpass that crosses tangles of Mangrove roots submerged periodically by the high tides. The kitchen advertises Japanese cuisine for dinner, but only the uninformed would consider the enjoyable fare actually Japanese.
One of my explorations took me to the highlands and a visit through the lava tunnels. All of the islands owe their origin to under sea volcanic activity. Another day I walked the beach at Tortuga Bay where I found Blue Footed Boobie Birds and a large huddle of Marine Iguanas. Photos taken while on Santa Cruz Island are here.
With memories of my stomach retching roller-coaster speedboat ride still fresh, I searched out the small light plane service back to San Cristobal where the airport with service back to the mainland is located. The eight passenger plane operated by Emetebe flies six times a week at 09:00, but I had to wait three days for an available seat. Then, on the day of my scheduled departure the plane had a mechanical problem that delayed our departure five hours, necessitating a layover on San Cristobal to make connections with the next daily flight to Guayaquil. As a reward for my persistence I ordered one of the $13 lobster dinners available at the Miconia Cabanas Restaurant in San Cristobal. Popcorn is served as a vegetable in Ecuador and a big bowl accompanied my lobster this evening... along with a large bottle of Brama beer for medicinal purposes.
Onward now to Guayaquil, Cuenca and then into Peru for a visit to Machu Picchu. More in the next postcard.
"Too much religion may be a dangerous thing." An article by Rosa Brooks in
the 10/1/05 issue of the LA Times entitled
"The dark side of faith,"
discusses the implications of
reported in the October 2005 issue of the Journal of Religion and Society, a
publication of Creighton University's Center for the Study of Religion.
The study, by evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, looks at the
correlation between levels of "popular religiosity" and
various "quantifiable societal health" indicators in 18
prosperous democracies, including the United States. FB
San Cristobal Galapagos: Looking out into the very busy harbor from my room in the Yeclas Surf Guest House.