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Galapagos Adventures

Exactly fifteen days ago, I found myself sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor, with clothes, electronics, books, and shoes scattered around me. A third-party observer might just conclude that I’m a terribly messy person, but I was actually in the midst of prepping for my evolution class field trip to the Galapagos, taught by Professors Rob Phillips and Victoria Orphan!

Packing for the Galapagos is a slightly daunting task, but instead of starting early, I whipped out my parents’ nice DSLR and took dorky photos of the various items sprawled across my room.

After I’d had my photography fix, I decided to get to work. When actually packing for the Galapagos, I’d recommend travelers bring:

  • SUNSCREEN, the sun there is unrelenting

  • Swimsuit and wetsuit for the many snorkeling opportunities

  • SPF protected long-sleeve clothing

  • A field notebook

  • Leisure reading material (I brought Beak of the Finch and Sixth Extinction)

  • Camera

  • Underwater camera case

  • Hiking shoes

  • Waterproof sandals


By midnight that night, I was done packing. By 2 am, I’d “fallen asleep” (I can never actually fall asleep before exciting and important events). By 5 am, I’d “woken up,” eaten a hardy breakfast, and convinced my mom to drive me to the airport.

By 7 am, I’d met up with the rest of the class and started regretting my decision to not sleep at all before a 24-hour journey. Oh well! The excitement of seeing everyone kept me awake all through check-in and security. We joked at one classmate’s comically large luggage, and marveled at another’s expertly packed 10-pound backpack. While I slept for most of the 3-leg journey, Prof Victoria Orphan woke me up just in time for this spectacular view:

Let me pause here and say that seeing Daphne Major excited us for a variety of reasons:

  1. The island was our first glimpse of the Galapagos!

  2. It is the island featured in our required class reading, The Beak of the Finch, in which the Grants (scientists at Princeton) conclusively showed natural selection at work by measuring beak lengths and finding that the birds adapted due to environmental conditions

  3. Coincidentally (or perhaps our profs planned it that way), the boat we’d be staying on for the next 9 days was named Daphne!

As soon as we boarded off the plane, this quirky fellow greeted us:

Ernesto has been a naturalist for over 20 years, and it shows. The man knows the ins and outs of every island, the vast amount of scientific literature out there about the Galapagos, & the observable nuances of the area’s flora and fauna. Not only is Ernesto ridiculously knowledgeable and sharp, he also genuinely cares about the islands. He speaks passionately about the effects’ of invasive species on the islands and is part of several efforts to protect the islands’ biodiversity.

Often, his knowledge of Galapagos far exceeds what one might find on the Internet. For example, prior to the trip, each student was assigned a topic to research and present upon. I chose the peculiar relationship between Opuntia (prickly pear cacti) and its consumer and seed dispersal, giant tortoises. According to my research, Opuntia in the Galapagos can reach as high as 10 feet tall. Seemed like an impressive statistic to me! Well, on our first field day, Ernesto quickly pointed out a prickly pear cactus that was easily 15 feet tall. During my presentation, Ernesto mentioned that he himself had often seen cacti that reached 30 feet. Sure enough, throughout our trip, we saw several other Opuntia species that were easily over 20 feet. Ernesto: 1, Internet: 0.

Throughout the next week, we hiked up active volcanoes, learned the difference between Aa and Pahoehoe lava (I’m REALLY glad these were first discovered and named in Hawaii, because it’s so much fun to pronounce them), snorkeled with sea lions and sharks, got stung by jelly fish, and witnessed many a mating dance.

Stayed tuned for more details about the trip, and be sure to check out Laura and Lori’s posts about the adventure as well!

That’s all for now,


Ketaki Panse