Pete Oxford: Innocent Wildlife
The mere word Galápagos conjures up a plethora of mental images, from savage pirates and scurvied whalers to giant tortoises centuries old and rivers of glowing, molten rock to sea monsters snorting plumes of salty spray. However far-fetched the images may seem, in Galápagos they are real.
Today the volcanic archipelago has become a hotbed of debate, a political arena in which to flaunt power, a center of corruption, a struggle for existence. In spite of the internal strife and seamier side of the human factor, the innocent, wide-eyed, nature-loving traveler can still revel unabashedly on Nature’s palette. Made famous by Darwin, the islands have since been hailed as a living laboratory by scientists.
Privately, my pleasure is derived from the innocence and extreme approachability of the wildlife. In the space of an hour I have swum within meters of hammerhead and white-tipped sharks, a giant manta ray, sea lions, and a bull killer whale—my finest hour anywhere in all the oceans of the world. In the hour that followed I sat among friends on a green volcanic beach, bemused as an adult, a juvenile, and a baby flamingo wandered through our ranks. The sun melted into the ocean, and a three-masted galleon (a naval training vessel) in full sail slid over the horizon towards our beach. We sat, transfixed, in another time, another world—such is the enchantment of Galápagos.
Twisted black plates of tortured lava lie testament to the growing pains of these youthful islands. Visitors walk where still few have trod. The miracle of growth is omnipresent. Man’s firmest point of reference is shattered: islands, rocks, considered immutable, are given life in the Galápagos. We have watched the night sky glow red as candescent bombs of molten rock streak in fiery arcs across the firmament. By dawn, shapes of life were lit by the tropical sun. Rivers of living rock coursed down the volcanic slopes. Nothing in their path was spared. Vegetation and marine iguanas burst spontaneously into flame on contact until the immense power of thermal energy was dampened by the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean. With explosive union, masked by billowing clouds of dense white steam, the rock cooled. Before our very eyes the western shore of Fernandina Island grew.
Galápagos is still wild. A place where God goes on holiday. It will not disappoint. By the first afternoon, one is usually snorkeling in some beautiful bay with a dozen or more playful sea lions swimming rings around you, peering with intelligent eyes from a few inches directly into your mask or nibbling the tips of your flippers. Moorish idols, king angelfish, guineafowl puffer fish, parrot fish, and even the occasional, harmless white-tipped reef shark share the dream.
The moment you immerse your face in the water or set foot onto the alluring shores, the pressures of the western world are immediately shed. The charisma of the Enchanted Isles is unleashed and the instant magic of Galápagos leaves you spellbound.
Footnote: Pete Oxford first came to live in Ecuador in 1985 and visited Galápagos in the same year. Soon after, he became a licensed National Park guide and has been leading trips and photographing in the islands ever since. His home remains in Ecuador. With his wife, Reneé Bish, he has written numerous articles about the islands and also two books on the subject, both of which were released in 1999. They continue to maintain a strong link with the archipelago.
Galápagos: The Untamed Isles, Pete Oxford & Reneé Bish. Natural Highlights Publishing, 1999.
Galápagos Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide, Horwell & Oxford. Bradt Publishing, 1999.
Galápagos Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide
by David Horwell and Pete Oxford
A compact guide to the birds, reptiles, insects, plants, and marine life of the archipelago. Separate chapters cover visitor sites, history, conservation, and habitats.