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Spitting Images

Nobody likes being spat at, but that’s what iguanas do. They sit there, the marine iguanas, unceremoniously piled on top of each other pyramid-style, like German businessmen in a hotel pool, spitting and mating, mating and spitting, ridding their mouths of the salt.

If the marine iguana - sometimes so jet black you need it spitting at you just to remind you it isn’t a rock - is exotic, than its cousin, the land iguana, is downright bizarre. This creature is so pathologically shy you could give it a soppy accent and call it Greta Garbo. Don’t bother interviewing the land iguana - you won’t get a word out of it. Salt, yes, but a word... forget it.

And yet, when mating time comes - and be assured, the land iguana is the Casanova of the Pacific - this mucky great devil, with its scaly green and yellow skin, emerges from the bush, eyeballs popping, tongue darting, wheeling round and round like some sort of whirling dervish on Benzadrine in frenzied search of a coupling with anything of God’s creation. You’ll see lots of mating on the Galápagos Islands; it’s a very intimate place. And therein lies its attraction. The wildlife, unlike the golden retriever in your living room, is not a guest in your home, we are guests in theirs. This is their domain, their realm, and to be their guest is perhaps the greatest privilege known to the itinerant globe-trotter.

So comfortable are creatures of the Galápagos,  there is little they will not do in your presence. Lava gulls, flightless cormorants, vermilion fly-catchers, waved albatrosses, all have put their mating rituals on display for the carefully controlled numbers of tourists that visit the islands each day. Blue-footed boobies, redfooted boobies, immature boobies (like the red and blue ones, but with childish jokes), Galápagos sea-lions, all will sit at your feet guarding their eggs, or their young, while the giant frigate bird inflates its brilliant red pouch to basketball proportions when under hormonal siege, which, in true Galápagos tradition, is really rather often.

To most people the Galápagos Islands means giant tortoises (which is what ‘Galápagos’, literally translated, means). This means a visit to the Darwin Research Station to meet the 150-year ld, 270-kilo brutes that sit there, gazing dewyeyed into oblivion, doubtless wondering who would want to mate anything that old and slow and wrinkly - and I speak from experience - while elsewhere on the archipelago you can encounter the long-necked, pot-bellied, cranky-looking saddleback tortoise which, forlorn and encased, looks oddly like John Prescott on a commode.

From the moment you set foot on the tiny airstrip on the equally tiny isle of Baltra you are enveloped in a sea of pelicans. From the moment - a few minutes later - you descend the steps into the dinghy that waits to whisk you to your ocean-going craft you all but fall over the iguanas and seal pups that vie for space on the jagged rocks with the luminescent yellow and red sally lightfoot crabs.

Snorkelling the waters of the Galápagos is a real blast. Eyeballing rays and turtles and dolphins and sharks (yes, sharks, some of them quite arrestingly sizeable, but utterly benign) rings my bells every time, never more so than those hair-raising moments when gulls and boobies dive-bomb the ocean in search of a light lunch.

Don’t expect the Galápagos to be picture-postcard pretty. The landscape is barren and volcanic, albeit with its own haunting beauty. A visit to the islands is for lovers of wildlife and wilderness, for inquisitive, wanderlustful souls with an unquenchable sense of wonder and an endless need to interact with creatures far more beautiful, way more beguiling, ineffably less judgmental and altogether nicer than we mere humans.

Your first visit to the Galápagos is overwhelming. Your second visit only makes you hungry for your third... and so on. Seeing such fabulous creatures in their natural and perfectly unique environment is a drug, pure and simple, and I for one am hooked for life.

Peter Moss

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