Natural Progression

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Long overshadowed by the Galápagos Islands, the Ecuadoran mainland is finding new footing as an exclusive—and reclusive—adventure destination.

The sea lions are lively today. I have just tumbled backward over the edge of a dinghy, and already I am surrounded by the beasts, which whip and twirl around me like fat and furry ribbons, somersaulting and zigzagging in and out of my akimbo legs. At times during this majestic dance, we come face to whiskered face, sending me wriggling backward in a state of alarm. But just millimeters before nose-diving into my head or lashing me with the leather-like tips of their flippers, the sea lions spin out of the way, staring at me with their cartoonish round eyes and chattering away in what sound like giggles.

Our underwater encounter, of course, is a quintessential Galápagos Island experience. Floating some 600 miles off the western coast of Ecuador, in a tiny inlet off Floreana Island, I am beyond time and progress. The sea lions have been zipping in and out of this crusted white coral reef for millennia. A passing sea turtle, its wrinkled neck earnestly stretching toward me, appears as though it has been plying these waters for the last century. And ashore, where thousands of dragon-like marine iguanas sun themselves on the warm surface of the volcanic rock, the scene is much the same as Charles Darwin found it in the 1830s.

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