Sea Lions cluster together for a nap on the beach.
Special Moments Keep Stacking Up in the Galápagos
A whitetip reef shark glided by me in the clear shallow waters. It was just one more breathtaking moment. Just when I think it can't get any better, it does.
It's hard to capture in words the intimacy you experience with the natural world in the Galápagos Islands.
I moved a little farther and 30 feet straight below me, four hammerhead sharks swam in a circle. It reminded me of images from old westerns when the pioneers circled their wagons for protection.
Except it is generally the opposite for sharks. They swim in circles to get a better view of what's in the water with them.
Juan Salcedo, naturalist and owner of our boat the Samba, said, "It was probably some kind of behavior practice."
Just as long as I'm not in the middle of the circle when they practice, I'm happy.
A pair of whitetip reef sharks swim in the Pacific Ocean near one of the Galapagos Islands.
Sharks get a bad wrap. Most of that stems from the movie, "Jaws," which permanently embedded into the brains of every moviegoer since 1975 that the ocean is filled with man-eating sharks.
Yes, sharks can be dangerous. But according to statistics, cows kill more people every year than sharks. And we don't go into a tizzy every time we see a cow in the countryside of Nebraska.
Sharks play an important role in the ecosystem, especially by clearing crippled or diseased fish. It's our job to have a healthy understanding of this fact and not get distracted by a well-created Hollywood movie. But this is a tall task.
As my snorkel trip continued along one section of the coast, I came across a bottom filled with sea stars. It was like the ocean and the night sky had traded places - except when I reached for these stars, I touched them.
Sea Stars cluster together on the bottom of the ocean.
A couple of days later, I sat on a white sand beach next to a group of sea lions. They didn't pay any attention to me as I sat and wrote in my journal. But my presence did spark the interest of a small flock of mockingbirds whose courage is only second to their curiosity. They hopped all over my bag that was next to me in the sand, inspecting every pocket and area they could get their head into. When they were done, they seemed to look at me in disappointment upon finding nothing and then going on their way.
At another stop, we went for a long hike across one of the islands to see the albatross. As I wound my way through the brown scrub brush, a mockingbird perched on the end of my monopod. It hitched a free ride for a couple of minutes before flying off in search of more food.
And finally, at one location where we explored the tidal pools and the wonderful creatures that call them home, a yellow warbler perched on the lens hood of my camera. It was December and the beginning of nesting season for the species. For a couple of minutes, the warbler sat inspecting my lens hood and checking its own reflection in the glass. I am fairly certain it was checking out my lens as a future home and maybe who its neighbor might be.
A yellow warbler checks out my camera for a potential nesting site (left). A mockingbird checks out my bag and camera gear (right).
The natural experience of the Galápagos Islands is humbling and heartwarming. It left me in awe and hungry to experience more than just the eight days scheduled on the Samba.
"Do you want to return?" Salcedo asked. "The crew and I have enjoyed your company. We want to invite you to lead a group here in December of 2016. Are you interested?"
The Samba is a popular boat, and it is already booked through most of the summer of 2016.
December in the Galápagos Islands or winter back home in Nebraska for eight days?
I replied, "Juan, there just might be a few people back home in the states who think this is a good idea."