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spacer spacer spacer spacer September 18, 2008
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Galapagos—The experience of a lifetime by Deborah Stendardi

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Bob Rothman on an earlier trip to the Galapagos.

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Deborah Stendardi, fourth from right, poses with traveling companions and the Galapagos’ giant tortoises.

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This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to join RIT biology professor Bob Rothman on his annual trip to the Galapagos Islands, a remarkable archipelago off the coast of Ecuador that prompted Charles Darwin’s seminal work on his theory of evolution, The Origin of the Species. The trip was a long-awaited adventure for me, and it was more than worth the wait. The islands are truly a sanctuary for the many species of birds, tortoises, sea lions, land and marine iguanas and other wonderful creatures of nature that call the Galapagos home. And Bob Rothman is a veritable font of knowledge about the islands and the wildlife that inhabits them.

There were 13 of us on this year’s trip, including Professor Rothman, Linda Siple of NTID and her husband, Tom Gibbons, seven RIT students and two other students who were siblings of a couple of the RIT students. We had the opportunity to get to know each other in advance of the trip by taking a weekly class with Dr. Rothman. The class provided us with important information about the history of the islands, its culture, geography, and of course the characteristics, habits and other facts about the amazing array of wildlife that we would have the chance to see up close and personal. Over the course of the 21 years that he has led this trip, Dr. Rothman has assembled an incomparable inventory of photographs that week after week made us anticipate the experience with growing excitement.

We were not disappointed. The trip offered us a bounty of wonder and respect for a place where the wildlife still rules. Most of the islands are in fact inhabited only by the animals and almost the entire archipelago is protected by national park status. Each of the islands that we visited was different, both in the terrain and their endemic species. Most mornings began with an invigorating hike, occasionally on a sandy beach or trail, but more often on volcanic rock or other rugged terrain. Walking the islands, you have to look down not only to stay on your feet, but also to avoid stepping on “critters” such as the lava lizards and iguanas that are well camouflaged into their environments. Balancing on rocks to take photographs was also part of the challenge and the adventure. Our guide, Santiago, was with us at all times, helping us to stay on the designated trails and steering us from protected areas such as the sea turtle nests buried under the sand. But in terms of key facts and information, as often as not, it was Bob Rothman who had the greater depth of knowledge to share with us.

Another important part of the experience was living on a boat for seven days. The Samba was our home away from home, with a friendly and helpful crew and great food. We snorkeled with sea turtles, sea lions and the most adorable penguins (one of my personal favorites!). We visited the habitats of the famous blue-footed boobies, waved albatrosses and numerous other beautiful seabirds. We saw the colorful and impressive land iguanas and the fearsome looking, although very benign, marine iguanas. And yes, we spent some time with the giant tortoises which are even bigger and more impressive than they look in pictures. It was truly a trip of a lifetime.

Thanks to Bob Rothman for leading this trip and for making this experience possible for myself as well as Linda, Tom, Carlyn, Lauren, Mike, Kate, Allison, Robbie, Steven, Nicole, and Sonny, and the many others that have had the joy of this adventure over the past 21 years. For those who are interested, it is an experience not to be missed.

Stendardi is vice president for government and community relations.

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