Travel/Ecuador, Part II: Miraculous Galapagos

Travel/Ecuador, Part II: Miraculous Galapagos

By LAWSON LAU

Six hundred miles off the Ecuadorian coast in South America are the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago of volcanic islets bathed in equatorial warmth emerging from the enormous expanse that is the Pacific Ocean. What scientific mysteries are harbored in this land closely linked to Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution?

My family spent five poignant days wandering among the wondrous flora and fauna, transported from island to island by the ship Galapagos Legend. These islands do harbor many a mystery, but not of the macro-evolution variety.

A consensus emerged from my wife, Pam, daughter, Andreana and son, JohnMark: It's a marvelous vacation like no other. God's majestic, astounding, diverse, creative genius is evident here, there and everywhere in this unique paradise for a wide range of birds and animals.

Sea lion gives birth

Teenagers are no match for sea lions when it comes to sleeping. These critters (sea lions, that is) sleep anywhere, everywhere and anytime. On piers, benches, boats, rocks, beaches. Absolutely nothing, even bright sunshine and noisy tourists, could disturb their soundless slumber. They are reputed to sleep 18 hours a day. And, ahhhhh, every day is a work-free weekend.

It was our privilege to witness the birthing of a sea lion pup on St. Christobal Island, the easternmost of the Galapagos, with an airport and a population of 6,000.

Her well-toned body augmented by the glowing orange hues of the setting sun, the sea lion gave birth a few feet from us. She was "alone, alone, all all alone." But, no problem. She did it all by herself. And with far more ease, patience and finesse than a 2-year-old insisting that she ties her own shoelaces in the long-ago days before Velcro.

As instructed before we went to the islands, we kept as quiet as quiet could be. Oblivious to our close proximity and in an air fraught with the wonder and barely contained excitement of ogling human eyes, the sea lion did what came naturally. And mothers, it took all of four minutes of silent, seemingly painless pushing in a natural birthing environment. As easy as sipping free quality wine in the lazy, hazy days of summer in an air-conditioned lounge overlooking a glistening ocean.

Hunger pangs struck the equally quiet pup when it was not yet fully out of its mother. It sought her nipples. Reaching back with her flexible yoga body, the empathetic mother caught hold of her baby and yanked it out. An expert gynecologist.

She took one last look at her newborn and, satisfied that her motherly duty was accomplished, flopped contentedly on the white sandy beach speckled with small fragments of black rock. Her pup, with its wet dark fur where a couple of dozen pesky flies settled, was drinking, drinking, drinking without a care in the wide, wide world.

As the setting golden rays of a weary sun called it a day, a busy newborn called it a refreshing new day.

It was Dec. 23, 2016. Two days too early to be a Christmas baby, but it's all right. It was Mother Sea Lion who opened the Galapagos Christmas present for us. Mother knows best.

Survival of the fittest? These magnificent mammals haven't heard of such a human academic concoction.

Tortoises a-plenty

Christmas Day was spent wandering Santa Cruz island. We visited Rancho El Manzanillo, a tourist sanctuary for giant tortoises with a restaurant for hungry watchers.

Ever patient, tortoises always choose the scenic byways; highways are for harried humans. They rest in comfort in shallow waters or amble along with no apparent schedule to keep. They are on lifelong vacation. Like a dog taking its master out for a walk, it's the same old journey, not destination, that's everything. Unlike some liberal firebrands in the human political world, they are ever amiable, never bored, and reprehensible violence is never in their placid temperament. Life is usually good.

Tortoises are remarkable creatures. They can consume 80 pounds of low-calorie food a day, but can also go without food or drink for a year. When it comes to sleeping, they rival sea lions. They slumber 16 hours a day. They usually live to 100 years, with some hitting 150.

Currently, there are 10 types of giant tortoise, five less than when Darwin was in the Galapagos.

In the nineteenth century, whalers hauled them on board their ships as tortoises were a source of fresh meat.

My previous experience was of leathery turtles that laid their eggs on the golden sands of the east coast beaches in West Malaysia. Once the female started laying its eggs, nothing could bother it until its mission was accomplished. We could cup our hands and their soft, warm eggs would fall into them.

These Galapagos tortoises, too, seemed to be as unconcerned over us. Unless we got too close. Then they tucked in their heads into their shells but kept a watchful eye open. They are cute giants.

Where wildlife thrives

Banana trees, coffee plants, sugar cane, huge clumps of aloe vera, orchids were all being cultivated.

Flamingoes, pelicans, herons, hawks, finches, frigatebirds, penguins, sparrows, waved albatrosses, marine and land iguanas as well as sting rays and crabs were a feast for our cameras.

Some of the birds were sitting on eggs or tending to their newborn. We could walk up close to them. Or they would fly or come ambling up to us even though they were not expecting a handout of food. They were not informed of the rule to stay a safe distance from camera-toting tourists.

Most intriguing were the blue-footed boobies. Blue feet? Why? They once had orange feet that gradually turned blue after a billion years so they could escape predators. Which predators would hunt for orange-footed but not blue-footed birds? It is said that God works in mysterious ways. It is so in the world He created.

A floating legend

Of several agencies offering their services to Quito and the Galapagos Islands, we went with Andean Discovery.

We flew from O'Hare to Quito and toured the capital city for four days. Then we flew to the Galapagos Islands and boarded the Galapagos Legend before returning to Quito for the flight back home.

From the ship, we donned life jackets and transferred to rigid-hulled inflatable boats called Zodiacs. There were dry and wet landings. It was dry if there was a pier on the island; wet when we slid off the Zodiac and waded through the water onto a beach. It's not meant for those in wheelchairs.

On the wall of the Galapagos Legend were Darwin's words: "As far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men. I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it."

An imaginative mind can cook up all manner of hypotheses. Hence, the theory of evolution. And many are the people who have followed it — blindly.

A major flaw in the theory is that no evolutionist or scientist has ever produced organic from inorganic matter. Darwin thought that a one-cell organism is a simple creature. We now know otherwise.

I have every reason to believe that "(i)n the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." DNA is a major building block that is widely used by God.

Embedded in the creative process is the dynamic ability of both the animate and inanimate to evolve. God did not create a static world. This is micro, not macro, evolution. The Galapagos Islands is a magnificent instance of the past and continuing presence of divine creation.

Lawson Lau was a journalist, a magazine editor and an officer in the military, and taught business English and humanities at two colleges and the University of Illinois. He's been the pastor at All Nations Baptist Church, Mahomet, for 20 years.

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Jane Billman wrote on August 21, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Lawson Lau must have spent a lot of energy denying the obvious while in the Galapagos Islands. I also went there many years ago. The visit settled any quesitons I might have had about evolution. It was obvious everywhere I looked. This "article" was more about opinion than fact. Please title these as editorials.