them for food and oil), introduced rats, pigs and dogs that developed a taste for the eggs and hatchlings, and goats and donkeys that destroyed their habitat.
Three times a week at the station, armfuls of elephant’s ear are delivered to the tortoises. They scramble to reach their favourite snack, defying all preconceptions of how fast a giant tortoise can move. The staff member bringing the greenery says the tortoises recognise him and know his smell.
My favourite Galapagos moments, however, are not on land but in the rather bracing waters (wetsuits can be hired, but I’ve brought my own). Not once, but twice, a playful sea lion twirls through the water, coming straight at me in a blur of big brown eyes, whiskers and bubbles.
Suddenly, I’m no longer an outsider here. I’m just another one of the animals that call the Galapagos home.
Katrina Lobley was a guest of Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism. All flights to the Galapagos Islands originate from mainland Ecuador (flights from Quito go via Guayaquil). Visitors pay a $US100 national park entry fee upon arrival. Metropolitan Touring operates Santa Cruz II and the yachts La Pinta (48 passengers) and Isabela II (40 passengers). More: metropolitantouring.com. • ecuador.travel
Clockwise (from far left): a marine iguana on the island of Santa Cruz; an American flamingo; a giant Galapagos tortoise; guide and naturalist Lola Villacreses; a blue-footed booby