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Exploring the Discovery and Historical Background of the Galapagos Islands Aboard Santa Cruz II

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Española Island a badge of the history of the galapagos islands

The Anthropological History of the Galapagos Islands

Bishop Tomas de Berlanga accidentally found the Galapagos Islands on March 10, 1535. He saw the islands to be rather disappointing and wrote of them as “a land where God seemed to have showered stones in the middle of the ocean, stones inhabited by bizarre animals – like tortoises carrying a ‘Galapagos’ (saddle), stupid birds, and dragon-looking lizards.” This may surprise people today. Fortunately, circumstances have changed. Today the globe rejoices in the geological and natural “quirks” of the Galapagos, just as we did on this memorable day spent sailing the Santa Cruz II.  

History of the galapagos islands: Monument of Tomas de Berlanga un Soria, Spain. Photo by: Zarateman, Wikipedia Commons.
History of the galapagos islands: Monument of Tomas de Berlanga un Soria, Spain. Photo by: Zarateman, Wikipedia Commons.

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Imparting Our Heritage to Our Visitors

We had a colorful board with fascinating information about this fortunate event from the 16th century when our guests first entered the Expedition Lounge. People needed to understand that it was only partially round and then fully. It was widely held that if you sailed away from South America’s Pacific coast, you would eventually run into a bottomless hole. Utilitarianism was another powerful philosophy: anything that helped people was seen as a gift from God and anything that didn’t help people was seen as the work of the devil. The Galapagos Archipelago, with its rocky shorelines, arid landscapes, thorny vegetation, and lack of fresh water, didn’t qualify as a place that Bishop Berlanga would ever be likely to come back to. As they were named back then, the Enchanted Islands were not called that way because of their inviting charm. No. The word “enchanted” referred to its original context: bewitching, spellbound, cursed. The Islands floated on the ocean, seemingly appearing and disappearing at times.

A lecture about the history of the Galapagos Islands, given by guest and Naturalist Fabio Lacoponi.
A lecture about the history of the Galapagos Islands, given by guest and Naturalist Fabio Lacoponi.

Pirates, Spaniards, and Whalers, What a Sight!

We decided to continue educating our visitors about the fascinating history behind the islands’ discovery on our second day at sea. We enjoy sharing our history with guests in our stunning nation! We prepared presentations on the subject to discuss how human events shaped the Archipelago into what it is now. Discovering more about the Galapagos’ popularity among pirates and how the globe eventually altered its initial impression of this mystical location always piques visitors’ curiosity. In addition to discovering a few freshwater grottos, pirates also discovered giant tortoises were an incredibly nutrient-dense source of protein—a tragic discovery made many years later. After receiving this information, whales were able to hunt over 100,000 tortoises for food. The history of the Galapagos Islands did not begin to appreciate their genuine value and beauty until decades later.

Learning about the human history of the Galapagos aboard Santa Cruz II.
Learning about the human history of the Galapagos aboard Santa Cruz II.

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Honoring the History of the Galapagos Islands Onboard the Santa Cruz II

Every evening this week, our briefing started by outlining how the public’s opinion of the Galapagos had shifted. It was once frequently compared to hell, but throughout time, it came to be considered a safe sanctuary for pirates, whalers, and sailors. Subsequently, people discovered that they could cultivate crops in volcanic soil, and Charles Darwin marked the entire archipelago’s location on maps by emphasizing its scientific significance for comprehending evolution. Today, it’s a region where tourists continuously stimulate the economy, and there is a strong sense of community. It now acts as an excellent global model of sustainable tourism and management.

We can all agree that at least a lot has transpired since March 10th, 1535!

Updated:June 5, 2024

Published:March 27, 2018

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