By this point, the voyage of the HMS Beagle has now lasted nearly four years. Robert McCormick’s decision to quit his position as the on board Naturalist for the HMS Beagle (back in Rio de Janeiro) moves none other than Charles Darwin up to the position that McCormick leaves open. A month before departing from the Port of Callao (in Lima, Peru) on the 7th of September, 1835, Charles Darwin excitedly writes a letter to his sister Catherine, informing her that “[he] is very anxious to see the Galapagos Islands – [he thinks] that both the Geology and Zoology of the archipelago will not disappoint.” And Darwin wasn’t mistaken – the marvels that were awaiting him in the enchanted archipelago were about to blow him and his crewmates away in terms of what they held.
Due to the overly strong presence of southeast trade winds throughout this time of year, it’s not all that hard to imagine poor Charles Darwin desperately awaiting land aboard the HMS Beagle, especially as the winds constantly rocked the ship and made him very seasick. It wasn’t until the 15th of September, 1835 that the Beagle encountered the first of its Galapagos Islands – Española (Hood) Island – marking their first day in the Galapagos.
As the Beagle sailed onwards, the giant Mount Pitt (the volcanic cone situated at Pitt Point) loomed to the port side of the boat as it approached San Cristobal (Chatham) Island. Officers and crewmembers of the beagle all stood in awe and despondence as they realized just how massive and rugged the archipelago is. Fortunately, for them, Captain Fitzroy was there to lead the way and lend his expert mathematician abilities to the HMS Beagle; himself being incredibly adept with chronometry and the complex surveying duties at hand. The Santa Cruz II Galapagos cruise explores this island during its Eastern Islands itinerary.
In his book, the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin discusses the unique way in which the islands presented themselves. Given their position below the equator, Darwin posited that the Galapagos Islands were much cooler than expected due to the low temperatures of the surrounding waters brought in by the southern Polar current. In doing so, Darwin was directly referencing the fact that these tropical islands indeed hold a type of weather unlike any locations along the equatorial line.
His first impressions of the Islands aren’t actually all that different from what visitors get a taste of upon setting foot on the Galapagos – it’s barren, arid, bleak and yet simultaneously filled with otherworldly, mesmerizing landscapes.
Earlier in his logbook, Darwin also makes note of the interesting geological features of the islands, focusing on the craters that he claimed “surmount the largest islands” and “rise to a height between three and four thousand feet (900-1,200 meters).” With the vast amount of craters and “small orifices” that he witnessed, Darwin speculated that the whole archipelago must contain “at least two thousand craters.” And Charles Darwin wasn’t all that far from reality in terms of what modern-day science has discovered. The archipelago indeed offers a plethora of volcanic vistas and craters that are truly mind-blowing in size and number.
Not long after encountering the first edge of the islands, the HMS Beagle prepared itself to send out its first exploration boat (the closest version we have to these on the Santa Cruz II are perhaps our pangas, as they’re known in Spanish, or dinghies/skiffs in English). It was Stephen’s Bay, over on Cerro Brujo, that was chosen as one of the first landing spots on the Galapagos excursion. Not far from where their boat was located, Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) stood over them, majestically keeping an eye over the waters like some kind of tall sentinel.
On the 17th of September, 2017, Darwin writes in his logbook about his first encounter with two giant tortoises, quizzically recalling that one was eating a piece of cactus that “stared at [him] and then slowly walked away; while the other gave a deep hiss and drew in its head.” He describes them as being surrounded by black lava and that they reminded him of some sort of prehistoric group of creatures. The birds surrounding the tortoises didn’t even flinch at all when Darwin approached them.
It was then and there that the islands slowly began working their magic on the intellect of the young Naturalist, presenting him with volcanic features and unique wildlife that were unlike anything he had ever experienced. You can actually follow Darwin’s exact footsteps (even on the same day) on our Galapagos Western Islands itinerary (for this 29th of September) and Northern Islands itinerary (on the 8th of October). There’s no better time to explore the Galapagos Islands than having your trip coincide with Darwin’s own dates in the archipelago!
Text & Photography by Francisco Dousdebés – Galapagos Expert, San Cristobal Island, September 7th, 2018 : Lat & Long: 0° 49’S / 89°24’W