Whole Life Magazine

December 2013/January 2014

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Navigating B Ecotourism efore arriving for sons. The latter half of the year a seven-day cruise brings dry, cool air, invigorating in the Galapagos, I the animals. In December, the wondered what the warmer Panama Current causislands might be like. Were there es tropical temperatures, more buildings? Surely enterprising rain and clouds. Swimmers locals would sell cold drinks and are less likely to need a wetsuit wide-brimmed hats on beaches. from December through May. But on the first day, when our For several hundred years, naturalist said to use the baththe islands' few settlers and room on the boat because revisitors included buccaneers, lieving yourself wasn't allowed pirates, exploiters of natural reonshore, I knew I'd miscalculatsources and others who chose ed. We had arrived on islands to stay far from the law. The with no signs of human life other most famous Galapagos visitor, than roughly marked trails. Upon Charles Darwin, wrote of ridwhich, the naturalist emphasized, ing giant tortoises and seeing Story & photos by Teresa Bergen we had better stay. how far he could toss marine Soon we were making our iguanas. Happily tortoise riding way over black lava rocks, squintand iguana throwing came to ing against an equatorial sun. The only sounds were waves and sea an end when the Galapagos was pronounced a national park. birds, the strong smell of guano occasionally relieved by a whiff of palo santo. So sweet is the scent of this very dry tree—what our A STUDY IN ECOTOURISM guide Ivan Lopez called "the smell of paradise"—that it is sometimes By 1965, new policies were in place. According to park naturalist burned as incense. Orlando Romero, that year the park service cracked down on locals. It turns out that there are a few towns in these volcanic islands, "The park said, 'That's it. What you have, you have. No more,'" he with a combined population of close to 40,000. After all, the Galapa- said. Residents could live on 3 percent of the islands land. The other gos has two airports. But many of these islands are about as pure as 97 percent was strictly national park. the world gets these days, as far as human influence is concerned. If This set the stage for numerous altercations within this pioyou crave a destination where iguanas and sea lions far outnumber neering experiment in ecotourism. The park's prohibitions against cell towers, the Galapagos may be for you. exploitation of natural resources, notably sea cucumbers, led to much fighting and even death threats on endangered wildlife. SETTING THE SCENE Nowadays, the park service works to control fishing inside the Three millions years ago, the Galapagos were rain forest. No more. marine reserve and to educate locals. "People don't understand that Now the islands are primarily volcanic ash, ice plant and cactus. Only what happens in the inhabited 3 percent affects the other 97 percent," a couple of larger islands sport lush banana plants and coffee-grow- said Ivan, our naturalist. When he's not showing tourists around, Ivan ing highlands. Most islands have little soil and no fresh water. teaches local kids about preserving the islands. "We have to behave Ocean currents converge in the Galapagos, dictating the sea- like we are living in paradise or it won't be forever," he said. in the GALAPAGOS 28 wholelifetimesmagazine.com WLT-DEC-JAN-11-24-10pm.indd 28 11/24/13 10:34 PM

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