Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
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Bruin travelers to the faraway Galápagos
islands seek adventure, beauty and clues to the origin of life
By Anne Burke
Photography by Anne Burke
and Cory Kiesel
A JOURNEY of 5,000 miles, Charles Smith '34 has come face
to face with Lonesome
George. The most celebrated inhabitant of the Galápagos Islands,
Lonesome George is a saddleback tortoise of about 200 pounds and
the last known member of his subspecies of giant terrestrial turtle.
Doomed to bachelorhood, George is thought to be at least 90 years
old, the same age as Smith, who is the eldest among our group of
Bruin adventurers exploring this strange and wonderful archipelago
that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection nearly
a century and a half ago.
Clutching the arm of his daughter, Chris Hunt, for balance, Smith
peers at George from under the brim of a floppy hat that shields
his face from the equatorial sun. George, munching leaves under
a tall cactus in his seaside compound at the Charles Darwin Research
Station on Santa Cruz Island, returns Smith's gaze with unblinking
Smith hopes that Lonesome George's prehistoric face holds the answer
to a question that torments him as his long life draws toward an
end: Did God create the universe or did life — man and tortoise
alike — originate in the primordial ooze?
"I think it's got to be either-or, but I'm not sure,"
Smith says the next morning at breakfast onboard our floating hotel,
the 238-foot Polaris, as it rocks gently at its anchorage in Genovesa
Island's Darwin Bay.
We are 76 passengers on a weeklong cruise of the Galápagos
Islands, bobbing in the eastern Pacific Ocean some 600 miles off
mainland Ecuador, worlds away from the humdrum of our daily lives
back home. Thirty-three of us, from California to Georgia, signed
up for this once-in-a-lifetime voyage through UCLA Alumni Travel,
the university-affiliated travel office that has been organizing
trips for UCLA graduates and friends for more than six decades.
Joining our band of Bruins are contingents from the University of
Washington and Wake Forest University and a smattering of travelers
who signed up directly with the tour operator, the New York-based