About six hundred miles off Ecuador’s Pacific Coast, there is this mysterious archipelago called Galapagos Islands. The archipelago is made up of 13 large islands, six smaller ones and over 40 islets. Said to have emerged from the Pacific Ocean as a result of underwater volcanic eruptions, it is nature in its purest state.
Here the young English naturalist Charles Darwin visited in 1835. He served as a naturalist with a British scientific expedition aboard H.M.S. Beagle. The expedition visited many places throughout the world. And he studied plants and animals everywhere he went.
In Galapagos in Ecuador, Darwin noticed many strange variations of plant and animal species. He found giant tortoises, marine and land iguanas, lava lizards, small penguins, sparrow hawks, flamingos, albatrosses, boobies, seals and dolphins. He found fossils of extinct animals that closely resembled modern species.
On his return to England, he began his speculations about his observations in Galapagos. He speculated about how varieties of organisms appear and gradually become separate species! As a result he wrote the book ‘The Origin of the Species’. Thus, Darwin’s ‘Theory of Evolution’ was born and the world was never the same again.
His theory set off a bitter controversy among biologists, religious leaders and the general public, which last until today. It was Darwin who implied that human beings descended from monkeys! And many people angrily criticized his speculative ideas. Yet modern science is showing how the theory remains just that -a theory. The discovery of the DNA now shows how each of the species is entirely different from the rest.
“Galapagos Islands became known worldwide after Darwin”, says Juan Leon, “but not mainland Ecuador nor its native cultures. Ecuadorians generally remained untouched by time”. A common observation made by Baron Alexander von Humboldt, the German geographer and naturalist who visited Ecuador in 1802, still remains relevant today. He says:
“The Ecuadorian people are the strangest in the world. They live in poverty on mountains of gold; sleep tranquilly at the foot of volcanoes; and cheer themselves with sad music”
Juan Leon says, “One has to be a true-blooded Ecuadorian to fully appreciate the people’s sentiment. Sometimes strangers just cannot understand. Investors and other profit-oriented people become frustrated with Ecuador. They say it refuses to grow economically, too backward”.
As a grown-up man whose boyhood days were spent in the cool mountain slopes of Tungurahua, Juan Leon says, “It’s not that we refuse to grow, it’s just that what we experience in our simple lives is already naturally fulfilling”.
Come to think of it, if we too could drink to the sweet taste of the mountain rains, and bathe in the many rivers of Ecuador with joyful solemnity, do you think we would trade it for anything in the world?
If we too could hear the singing of the forest birds of the steaming Amazonian forests, do you think we would want to give it up?
If our eyes could capture the tangled brilliance of wheat and barley, grains waving as splendidly as banners, don’t you think it would make our hearts leap? Such that we would rather be regarded as ‘strange’ than to ruin our surroundings will “economic development” and “modern advancement”?
Resources about the Ecuadorian Galapagos Islands
- Charles Darwin & the Galapagos Islands – gogalapagos.com
- Juan León Mera, the most relevant Ecuadorian historic figure – Wikipedia