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UCLA Magazine Summer 2004
Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
The Providential Scholar
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Summer 2004
Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
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Click to view Galapagos Slideshow

For more on the UCLA Galapagos trip, listen and watch this audio slideshow.

[This download is graphics intensive and requires Flash 5 or greater; 3 min download on 56K modem]

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

Lonesome George the Saddleback TortoiseAFTER 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 eyes.

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 Lindblad Expeditions.

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