National Geographic : 1949 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine the tracks stepped aside at the last possible minute. Later we saw the sights of Quito.* Six hundred miles west of Ecuador lie the Galapagos Islands, our next objective. These volcanic eminences are so unlike any other spot that they seem transferred from another planet. In places their black lava faces expose weird bubbles, craters, and spires, giving the impression of having just cooled. Galapagos Islands: Nature's Freak Show Almost waterless, the Galapagos are not inviting; the discoverers found them unin habited. Today's small population is com posed mainly of Ecuadorian convicts, who don't want to be there, and a tiny band of settlers, who like to be left alone. So inhospitable to man, the islands look attractive to birds, fish, reptiles, and wild beasts. Their very name comes from the mammoth land turtles which Spaniards call galdpagos. These the old whalers, dumping them in ships' dank holds, used to carry off as fresh meat for long voyages. Survivors share a reptilian domain with dragonlike 3-foot iguanas. Flightless cormorants, vivid flamingos, hawks, frigate birds, bosun birds, boobies, and small white albatrosses make their home here. One evening as we rocked at anchor, some one shouted, "Owls!" Fifty birds circled the ship, occasionally alighting on the rigging. Catching one, we took him to the cabin, where we admired his owlish eyes and perfect composure. Though the Galapagos stride the Equator, they shelter colder climes' seals and penguins, which here enjoy the Antarctic's Humboldt Current. On an islet off Elizabeth Bay, Albemarle Island, we found seal and penguin colonies almost side by side. Penguins bowed to us in a courtly way. Seals were friendly until Arthur, wishing to play, chased them into a cave. They glowered at him from the gloom. On a tiny island we captured seals at will. One baby sea lion we deposited in Yankee's bathtub, which is built on two levels, wet and dry. Using these, our bathing beauty happily flopped in and out of water. She became Yankee's official seal (page 28). Meat Is Free; Fish Never Fail The few islands with rain and grass in the high interior harbor wild cattle, goats, and pigs whose ancestors the whalers marooned to provide fresh meat for future visits. From James Bay, San Salvador Island, where we anchored a couple of nights, we spotted dozens of wild goats and pigs on an old crater. The sight sent a boatload of hunters hot for shore. Memory does not tell how many animals they shot, skinned, and thrust into our deep freeze (page 17). With his army rifle Don Crawford brought down two pigs. Eric Wolman, out of ammu nition, ran down a goat and took him by hand, like the speedy rabbit hunter of popular jest. Fish? No one could miss a grouper or blue dolphin. "How many can you use?" a fisher man might ask the cook. "Six," came the answer. Hook and line were dipped six times. Up came dinner. Sharks and 20-foot manta rays abounded. Sea turtles, caught by hand, replenished our larder (page 14). For a fishing thrill we rendezvoused one December day with the tuna fleet anchored in Tagus Cove, Albemarle Island, 3,000 miles from its San Diego headquarters. That night a bright red star of electric lights flashed at the masthead on one of the boats. The rollicking Portuguese fishermen's Christmas Eve celebration was in full swing. Girls Dance with Bearded Tuna Men The fishermen were amazed to find girls on Yankee and did not neglect the opportunity to arrange a Christmas Day dance aboard Bernadette, one of the fleet. A 300-pound accordion player perched on a hatch and pumped dance music tirelessly. Yankee's five women got a tremendous rush from the bearded fishermen. We danced, sang, and caroled through an evening long to be remembered. Bernadette's cook, accustomed to powerful appetites, out did himself, serving an enormous dinner. For two days and nights half our party went fishing with Belle of Portugal's men to see how their iron-muscled arms haul in 10 to 50 tons of fish a day for the canneries. We worked beside them on platforms awash with heavy swells (page 19). Even the girls agreed it was the fishing thrill of a lifetime, though some of them were nearly jerked overboard. Henceforth every tuna salad will remind them of excitement galore. Chum (here live sardines) was cast into the sea to attract a hungry school. Snapping greedily, the tuna did not distinguish between bait and feathered, barbless hook. No one had to wait for a bite. So heavy were our catches that one man could not always lift the load out of the sea. * See "From Sea to Clouds in Ecuador," by W. Robert Moore, December, 1941.