October 2, 2000
A dream-come-true Galapagos adventure
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
Last February while Washington drivers sat hypnotized by windshield wipers swiping at gray drizzle, the Trowbridge family was aboard a 100- year-old sailing vessel slicing through the Pacific. They were headed for the enchanted Galapagos Islands.
"It is the most marvelous place," said Cynthia Trowbridge, who is offering the class "Exploring the Galapagos Islands" at Kenmore Junior High on November 2nd.
She and her husband, David, will recommend ways others can experience the remarkable wildlife preserve which conjures up images of giant tortoises in most people's minds.
Their adventure to the Galapagos Archipelago, 600 miles west of Ecuador, was sparked by a friend's suggestion. It was their friend's dream to visit the islands ever since as a child he read about Charles Darwin.
In addition, the Trowbridges' son read "Song of the Dodo" when in ninth grade and the book had captured his imagination about the islands.
Most people might say, "some day" to their dreams and imagination, but not this Kenmore family. David and Cynthia Trowbridge, along with their three children and their friend and his family, began to make plans for their Galapagos adventure.
"We planned it with a Canadian travel agency," said Cynthia Trowbridge. But she added, "A great deal of research was on the Internet."
They chartered a motorized yacht, and the two families, plus a crew of five and a naturalist guide embarked on the dream-come-true journey. Trowbridge explained that all boats to the islands must be licensed by the Ecuadorian government and everyone must have a naturalist guide.
Ecuador designated 97 percent of Galapagos land as a national park in 1959 and rigorously preserves the wildlife on the islands. According to Trowbridge, visitors must rinse their shoes off after leaving each island so not to transfer microorganisms to another island.
"There are species that exist only on one island," she said. "It's like a biological laboratory."
Not only did they snorkel in the blue-green water and hike amidst flora and fauna, but the two families were up close and personal with the animals. "We're not allowed to touch any of the wildlife there," Trowbridge said.
But it didn't make a bit of difference because the animals are so tame and friendly due to lack of natural predators. The families were able to observe the courtship rituals of the blue-footed boobies from three feet away. The seabirds displayed amusing poses, clacked their beaks and offered each other pebbles. Trowbridge said, "It was so wonderful, there were no barriers between us and the wildlife."
She mentioned that sea lions were everywhere and that she had fun swimming with schools of hammerhead sharks.
"Those sharks generally don't attack people," she said, offering assurance that her safety wasn't at risk. But this revelation paled compared to her daughter's underwater experience. While diving, her daughter caught sight of a whale shark which was between 40 and 60 feet long.
"It was a very exciting moment for her," said Trowbridge.
But there were exciting moments out of the water, too. For example, the family sighted many of the well-known giant Galapagos tortoises, their shells easily three foot wide. The humongous animals are protected today with a breeding program at the Darwin Research Station in the islands. However, in the 19th century the tortoises weren't as fortunate. Captured alive by whalers and pirates, the tortoises were tossed on their backs and kept in the ships' holds to be used as a source of fresh meat.
Today, the National Park and Darwin Station protect the wildlife and islands by establishing visitor sites to limit visitor impact.
In the protected group of islands there are 13 large islands, 6 smaller ones and 107 islets and rocks. Trowbridge explained that each island is of volcanic origin and some are moon-like, but all are different. "Some have very little vegetation and are very arid and dry. Some have cactus. I wouldn't say that any of them are our picture of a tropical island with palm trees."
She added that the air on the islands is not humid but emphasized, "It was hot."
The Trowbridge family has taken other adrenalizing vacations, including a trip to Nepal where they hiked the Himalayas. Their next trip is scheduled for this Christmas when they plan to spend the holidays in a Mexican town known for very special Christmas traditions. And in June of 2001, the family will view a total eclipse from Africa.
Through a multimedia tour, everyone who attends the class will be transported to the exotic Galapagos Islands, a place where penguins dive with marine iguanas and tiny cacti grow on lava flows. The class will meet in room 105, 7 pm to 8:30 pm. The fee is $12. Ages 12 and up are welcome. For further information, call Northshore Community Schools at 425.489.6204.