My wife and I travelled to the Galapagos Islands for our honeymoon. Not your typical destination to bask in the ‘luna de miele’ you may well be thinking, but Lucy has a PhD in animal behaviour and adores wildlife. She had wanted to visit the islands since she was a little girl and as a photographer and nature lover myself, I was more than willing to submit to this request.
I have been lucky enough to travel to many exotic destinations across the globe but I cannot ever remember a more palpable sense of anticipation on board a plane, than there was that morning as we made our descent towards that giant sea-horse archipelago of the Pacific. My wife and I had both long read that this was a place to savour and before we had even touched down, we had experienced our first taste.
Out of our window in the middle-distance, giant frigate birds flew in parallel to us, flanking the plane like fighter aircraft, escorting us down to land. There is definitely something of the pterodactyl about these amazing birds and this only served to enhance the feeling that I was about to set foot in ‘the land that time forgot’. Leaping over lava lizards and circumventing cacti, we scampered across the runway to the surf-shack structure that is Baltra Airport. Finally, we had arrived.
Of course, Galapagos is famous for the tameness of its animals; as a photographer it is simply heaven. For starters, there is a non-stop abundance of unique and rare creatures to be found in this tiny sanctuary of our planet. But not only this, much more than this, they also advertise themselves completely openly for you to look upon their beauty. Devoid of natural predators for so long, the animals here live without a fear of man like nowhere else on Earth. Sleeping, eating, occasionally affording you the pleasure of their curiosity, they go about their daily lives undaunted. It was truly wonderful to feel so insignificant and unthreatening to such defenceless creatures.
The local people here too, it seems, are as relaxed and approachable as the animals themselves. Our guide and boat crew in particular were polite, friendly, helpful and calm. In fact, for islands born of fire, it is surprisingly hard to imagine Galapagos life getting heated at all. Everything seems peaceful and tranquil; from the sunbathing marine iguanas, strewn like confetti on the rocky shores of San Cristobal, to the park-bench sleeping sea-lions I found in the town of Peurto Ayora.
On each and every excursion, I was able to get up close and personal to the wildlife with my camera, in a way I could only dream of elsewhere. Whether snorkeling with sea turtles, watching waved albatrosses enjoying their first dance, or trekking with giant-tortoises, there was something breath-taking to photograph at every turn. Even between excursions the wildlife was never too far away, with dancing dolphins ushering us along in the waters below and endless bridal trains of birds flying behind us overhead.
It may be surprising to learn then, after reading of all this wonder, that the islands were originally described as ‘worthless’ and as ‘hell on earth’ by their early visitors. Even Charles Darwin compared them to the ‘Infernal regions’ but to be brutally honest, I can understand why. If you are expecting an equatorial paradise with miles of unspoilt gleaming white beaches, waterfalls, tropical lagoons or unbroken sunshine, then think again. A mass of black volcanic earth, peppered with scrub-land below an overcast sky, is a more accurate description of these somewhat drab and desolate isles.
However, long ago, pirates would often use these islands for refuge; and if you look more closely you will quickly uncover their hidden treasures. The Giant Tortoise, The Galapagos Sea Lion, three iguana species, lava lizards and snakes are all found here and only here. As for unique birds; along with the albatrosses there are herons, hawks, doves, penguins, gulls, mockingbirds, finches and of course, the indomitable Flightless Cormorant. Yes, beaches, waterfalls and sunshine can be found in any corner of the world – but make no mistake, there is nowhere quite like Galapagos!
And so, as we taxied the runway, accompanied by the frigates for one last time, my thoughts vacillated between waves of sorrow and delight. I felt sad to be leaving but extremely fortunate to have visited the havens of volcanic sand, which get under your feet and under your skin. The honeymoon was over but I knew I had been wedded to these enchanted islands forever.
For more of Glenn’s thoughts on travel and photography, among other things, follow him on Twitter, @asher_gordon.