The Scum Also Rises… Galapagos Diary # 2

How Charles Darwin’s ‘Struggle for Survival’ theory produced a sick-minded, hell-bent humanity which has failed to notice that…  the scum also rises. hunter2 Jetting into the Galapagos Islands is like taking a slow-motion swan dive into the infinity rock-pool of the cosmos.

You rise out of the hell that is Guayaquil – with its horrendous infestation of glittery malls – rinse the sweaty sock taste of ‘progress’ from your tongue with a gulp of Inca Cola, and behold! – the wet boudoir of the enchanted isles!

galap 3 Twinkling, teasing in their silky blue negligees and hot lava panties, the Galapagos, from 39,000 feet, appear untouched, innocent, and yet… tantalisingly prone to spontaneous acts of passion. These are lovely thoughts to nurture on the plane, because as soon as you get off all such fantasies will be ruthlessly murdered.

In my three months here I mourn over the sad realities of the islands, and discover that a paradise spoiled is a paradise still.

Galapagos is on her knees, but even battered and exploited, she offers that call expressed in nature everywhere –  her longing for harmony with the human animal.

To really see Galapagos is to be slain and inspired by how desperately we all need to change our way of thinking, being and doing.

On the enchanted isles I will learn to talk turtle, find a father for my never-born son… and learn to cry underwater.

Largely untouched by human hands, conserved forever in the remotest Pacific as an intact wilderness, teeming with protected wonders, and proof of man’s ability to keep his oil-stained mitts off just one pristine ecosystem, the Galapagos National Park is the one peace covenant in the galaxy between mankind and nature – or is it?

Swan diving into the Galapagos ends with a nasty head-on collision with the bottom of the pool. Just like when you dive into any illusion.

Galapagos is unwell, according to all indicators, and needs rest without visitors. There’s fat chance of that though, with over US$418 million moving through her skirts a year.

Scientists are sending out word that one of the planet’s most treasured oases is sustaining an, err… unsustainable invasion by a dangerous new species bringing hell down on just about every living thing there – except weeds and ants.

galap4 The Guardian reports a Galapagos Conservation Crisis, while Sea Shepherd, WWF and other observers warn that yet another paradise is choking on a bone. Humans – as usual – are trashing the place.   As the BBC describes.

galap6 Tourism will wreck the wonders of the Galapagos, the paper reports. And I roll my eyes and sigh, because, well… it’s not just when they’re dressed up in their wrinkle-resistant, snap-dry adventure wear that Homo sapiens tend to wreck wonders.

Apparently Darwin’s most highly evolved, fit for survival, first place winner for the tippety-top of the pyramid of life’s wunderkind is entirely hostile to the nature that evolved it. How… weird!

It’s a situation which could easily set one to wondering… if evolution really does select for the fittest members of species to become most succesful at survival in a process creating better and better life forms – then how come humanity is even still here, given the mess we’ve made of it.

And does this selection process, which Darwin said was driven by “constant action in combating the environment and human rivals,” really produce a human animal that reflects the best of our species?lance

Apparently. Not.

For most of us it’s a shock to discover that even the Galapagos is up shit-creek. And a surprise to discover that people actually live there.

Of all the species used as mascots for Darwin’s paradise on earth – the human inhabitants are discreetly kept out of the brochures.

As you jet down into nature’s most cloistered little boudoir, it’s thusly a bit disappointing to discover the bed sheets are well-stained with a heavy traffic of human soles.

It’s because of them, and the Boeing-load I’m arriving with, that various wildlife species are teetering on extinction, being ploughed under taxis, roads and housing estates, or fished out, drowned and chopped up by boat propellers – while Galapagos’ human population hits 40,000 and keeps booming.

The islands have one of the fastest-growing economies in all South America, the highest per capita income and a serious, seeping, seething human underbelly wracked by poverty, contaminated ground water, leaking sewers, decrepit housing, isolation and pollution.

According to research back in 2010, when the population was half as big, 52% of the well-hidden human species in Galapagos was in poverty. Back then two out of five didn’t have access to fresh water or waste systems, and dengue, depression, alcoholism and stress were causing all manner of very big trouble in paradise. Today it is exponentially worse, with the population increasing at about 100% every five years!

Oh dear. This does not bode well for my mission at all. I’ve set off for Galapagos at the fag-end of a rather fruitless search so far, for signs that evolution is working for Earth.

It’s almost my last hope. I’m looking for ways to shake off that strange sense of dread and home-sickness that stalks the human soul, and any evidence at all that humanity can play nicely with any other sort of Life on the planet.

galap7 Upon this quest, seeking evidence that ‘progress’ and ‘natural selection’ have indeed led to the success of a superior animal, I have mostly followed the advertising and been thusly mauled and battered by various storms in the chipped tea cups of lifestyle cults turning a trade on the current existential crisis in middle classes everywhere.

I’ve tried and failed to become more evolved, which is the latest thing in fending off human suffering – by becoming better than everybody else – just as Darwin and his ism have encouraged.

evolution1 I set out suffering from boredom in the burbs, dread of not getting richer than my neighbours in Sydney, disgust at the ploughing down of wilderness around me and that sense that everything just seems to be going to shit.

It was a hopeful misadventure via Bali’s yoga circus, the David Wolfe’s superfood con, a hijacked American plant medicine ride, and the shamelessly hypocritical gringo shaman scene for almost a decade… all of which reckon they’re higher lifestyles that just fretting away in the burbs, watching The News, but are actually… Not.

hippy1 I narrowly escaped the psychedelic cactus cult, meditation mafia and the violent malice of hordes of expatriating Americans all over the planet. And washed up on the Galapagos Islands – which is somehow perfectly fitting.

I am here to kick the tyres on Darwin’s wonky pyramid. Test the supporting beams on this ‘reality’ of survival of the fittest we’re building our lives around.

And to ask some questions like, “How come, when people become successful, powerful, wealthy or dominant, they tend to immediately, and by exponential degrees, turn into hostile assholes who make life hell for every thing and every body else?”

America1 Could it be possible that Darwin’s nasty little idea that Life is a “Struggle for Survival” in which “the strongest party always carries off the prize,” in a system designed by nature to serve and support the best possible expression of life is just horseshit?

In between wondering about all this, I’ll just stare at finches, penguins, clouds, stars etc to see if they might whisper me an insight about Life that will either release me from my unevolved uselessness, or at the very least, provide a suitable cliché for a book deal.

I’ve come because I’m having doubts about Darwin, but want to snuggle in his arms as well. I’d like to just let myself go, in a lovely safe place, where somebody with a beard is confident they have a grip on reality.

Darwin portrait1I’ve been advised by my conspiracy theory mates to keep an eye out at Darwin’s iconic HQ for hidden vaults, codes, Masonic isymbols and bloodstains. There are many who claim the so-called naturalist was nothing but an Illuminati stooge with connections to all sorts of Bad Guys. Bad Guys in high places, with the specific agenda of misleading humanity into the idea that life is supposed to be a rat race of competition, fear of failure and dog-eat-dog survival.

Human elites did this in order to plant insecurity and fear into the masses, keep them at hard labour, and profit from their misery. They did it to perpetuate a system which guaranteed them privilege, arguing that only the best and most competent emerge on top (by which they meant themselves) and to justify abandoning the poor, the sick, the gentle, the negro, women, children etc to the lesser lives they deserved, due to being less violent contenders in the battle of life, and therefore lesser beings.

It’s a mind-fuck we’ve all bought in to. I’m afraid. Because everything from kindergarten to TV, sports, beauty pageants, economies and our ideas about success, power and identity are designed to entrain us to Darwin’s central curse: that life is a struggle.

darwin story2 Evidence of this dastardly plot stretches from Ladakh to London, and has a file here too, because while Galapagos’ human predators thrive, everything else on the islands is bracing for a grand mal seizure.

Predictable,” say both scientists and skeptics.

Darwinism, the brand that still sells Galapagos, was a trick of the intellectual light, they say, that ripped a hole in the history of human thinking. The islands are nothing more than a living theme park – the lies about which reflect a grand human lie about everything, really.

Nothing will be left untouched by a humanity out of grace with the cosmos, they warn. Progress will be the end of us, because it’s just, basically, wrong!

darwin story1 As it turns out, evidence for the gross stupidity of nature’s triumph of evolution: us – hits like a hot skillet before you even order your first latte on Galapagos.

Touted as the world’s first ‘Green’ airport, Baltra, is hotter than a tin roof in the Nevernever and resembles a sort of glorified car park cum Pet World contraption. This hideous testimony to the green revolution sports a few feng-shui-inspired living things, like trees – which wilt about its flanks, and sparrows, which slip off its glossy exposed steel beams.

galap8 Squatting triumphantly over 6000 square meters previously known as habitat, Baltra is an example of developers’ dedication to preserve the wild by building all over it.

Shimmering amid a halo of heatsnakes at about a squillion degrees in the scrub, it issues a sort of Auschwitzy glow as it elbows the little wood and coconut palm-fringed previous airport behind it into the non-renewable past.

It’s a strange use of US$24 million, when you consider that just down the road the sewers are over-flowing, the water is polluted and the little sea lion babies, penguins and boobys that support this limping community are dying all over the place from causes not exactly linked to natural selection.

galap9The new airport is the prefect icon, actually, for what we’re doing to our Galapagos – indeed, to our planet, as humanity oxymoronically bulldozes its life-giving wilderness for what the brochure calls sustainable development.

Built to receive 3 million people a year (nearly eight times the present, devastating horde), the airport, let’s admit it, is an up-scaled syringe for siphoning cash-dollar out of a carefully planned stampede of Homo sapien across one of the most fragile environments on Earth. galap14

Ecuador wears heavy lipstick on the international tourism and development scene. She has indulged in the flagrant seduction of foreign nationals to her bosom with easy residency and mass marketing since 2008. She touts herself as a world leader in social reform and brags about her constitutional protection of Mother Earth, while filleting her own womb for gold, oil, wood and anything else tradeable for cash. The present regime spouts a socialist rhetoric that is beginning to give the whole nation a migraine.

Galapagos is a microcosm of the macro economics of Ecuador, and the whole industrial world. Despite creating a climate of growth and wealth that will undoubtedly destroy the environment, the governing agencies – both governmental, and National Parks, say their chief priority in Galapagos is conservation of all the lovely flowers, bugs and myriad creatures that inhabit these faraway islands. They say they’re all about nature.

To which the locals sigh, “Yeah… right.”  And the rest of us cheer, “Right on!” As we book our package tours.

galap12 A visit to Galapagos is how middle class people get to marvel at the intoxicating loveliness of life on Earth.

On the Galapagos you can also experience what it is like to get very, very close to wild animals who aren’t so terrified of humans they shit themselves or pretend to be dead.

This experience is so profound for many people that they actually cry. Which is evidence, I think, that life is more than a bloody battlefield for survival driven by ruthless genetics and a hostile environment.

It is evidence of a bond between all species, and a native space in the human soul not utterly indifferent to other living things – both of which Darwin and his cronies have all but bludgeoned from our experience with sick thinking and violent politics.

Anyhow. What cannot be argued over is that as the middle classes everywhere crack up with depression and sickness, as loneliness cripples economies in the world’s richest nations, fear of war, contamination, climate crisis, politicians and a deep, bubbling un-nameable misery sweeps the human biomass, the promise of a lovely holiday in a pristine wilderness full of happy sea-lion babies is a bloody good business proposition.

Ecuador is well onto this. And so are its international partners. They have tailored the Galapagos experience to mine US$500 a day, on average, from your pocket. The intricacies of this extraction are understood to a degree more rarefied than anything scientists can say for sure about any other life cycle on the islands. Which is disappointing. When you think about it.

Tourists thrive on a diet of jpegs and polo shirts. For this bounty they make extra-ordinary pilgrimages from all across the Earth. Their quest, driven by a need to make sense of life and impress the Jonses, is for digital evidence of Intimacy with Nature and Moments of Happiness. There may be, too, a primal urge to stand on the stage where Charles Darwin coughed up the idea that ferocious competition in a pitch battle for survival on a hostile Earth are the facts of our reality.

On their adventures, tourists will unwittingly reduce at least 10,000 birds a year  – to roadkill. The props of the boats they cruise on will frequently slash the bellies or sever the spines of dozens of the baby seals that have been frolicking with them on day trips.

I saw injuries like this often in the Galapagos. This image is of a California Sea Lion from
I saw injuries like this often in the Galapagos. This image is of a California Sea Lion from

As they sip sundowners on the decks of their cruising hotels, smugglers might be stowing illegal catch, trafficking wildlife or dumping waste overboard as the tourist fleets, oozing oil, plough their dogged routes. The slick that seeps from the Galapagos myth shimmers so voluptuously off Puerto Ayora at sunset, will thicken and ripen, causing the sea to shine a picturesque scarlet at dusk.

Humans will suffer their own casualties. Thousands will get very nasty sunburn indeed and be cranky unless air conditioned. Hundreds will decided to watch the stunning BBC series Galapagos instead of getting off their luxury boats to actually see the place – hot, ridden with mosquitoes and tricky to walk about on – and not get the most out of their adventure-wear. A few will somehow fall into the lava and suffer very nasty injuries indeed.

This is not to poke sticks at Galapagos. It is to show that there’s something kinda smelly about human behaviour, in general.

Is this really all we can hope for from the triumph of evolution?

Me, I am unlikely to be injured, even though I possess only a pair of flipflops, and no adventure-wear at all. But I am destined to be a Failure of chilling proportions during my Galapagos migration. I am not likely to buy an I Love Boobys T-shirt, have nothing like $500 to spend and lose all my photographs anyway.

I will spend three months poking about behind the set, seeing through the hologram, getting involved in the deaths of several sea lions that could have easily be saved, recording interview after interview with scientists, ecologists, politicians and guides who have given up, reluctantly, on Galapagos, on humanity, on the survival of anything much.

As these real-life stories constellate, I will hear echoes of the words of my hero and mentor, one Dr of Gonzo, H.S Thompson, who, after reporting on the American Dream, politics and human nature his entire career wrote, with a sigh composed of various opiates…

“The scum also rises.”


18 thoughts on “The Scum Also Rises… Galapagos Diary # 2

  1. Well, that’s another place in S America I WON’T be visiting. Much worse than I had imagined. What a tragedy! Your piece has echoes of Mark Twain’s “This Damned Human Race”, as I remember it. I have often been prone to feel the same about humanity and despair for the Earth, but those of us who are awake just gotta get on with the good stuff, the beautiful, healing, beneficial work we are capable of.
    BTW who’s the scary guy in the cover photo? I assume he’s your example of ‘the fittest’.
    PS Pls respond to my FB messages! xx

  2. Excellent writing my dear friend, I was in Galapagos 20 years ago and the garbage, the depredation of nature, the death / injure animals, the shiny rainbow waters (oil spills?) the really high prices, the huge lack of imagination from the locals solving any problem, and the pretense of being a paradise and the huge corporations selling the “magic” wile dumping huge amount of plastic and human waste “behind the scenes” was already there. I went out of the “path” away from the “tour” and explore the place on my own and it was very sad, actually heart braking to witness the human “foot print” and the complete carelessness of authorities, locals, tourist and “scientist”. I meet a couple of good souls from Quito trying to do their best for nature (ironically they where hunting feral goats, rats, cats and dogs with rifles) that care enough to pick up the garbage, free baby seals from wire and plastics and talk to locals in the importance of keeping the place for future generations. I guess nothing has change.

  3. I haven’t read Mark Twain, but I have just started listening to hundreds of hours of interviews I did in South America about ‘things’.. and am excited to find myself somewhere quiet, with a nice desk and a fishpond, so I can write them.. Oh! Here I am – perfect!
    Please read the rest of the series (am trying to get them done now) and maybe you will be inspired to visit the islands anyway, because there are some beautiful people there – and some lovely iguanas… I enjoyed it a lot – even though it was suffering the same wounds as most places.
    You’re right though Annie, the thing is to get on with offering the healing work we can do… I have those things in my basket, but apparently I am still pre-occupied with getting clear on what the problem is. xx

  4. Hello Gaby – are you my Montanita Gaby? Oh, my goodness!! The goat-killing thing!!! Horrific! I spent about a month out with the people who live deep in the lava, photographing their homes and lifestyles. It was a rubbish dump out there, but oh – how beautiful many made their little shacks!! There’s something so tender about that. I am so SAD SAD SAD I lost all those photos, but it does make me happy to think I will have to go back.
    Because even though it does not live up to its press release, there’s still a kind of magic this uniquely Galapagos. x

  5. I await them with bated breath! (whatever that is). I also have a backlog of articles/stories to write, but am not finding the time & the quiet place with a desk and internet (tho I can live without the fishpond!)

  6. I think you meant to say “decide” instead of “decided” regarding the BBC choice. I really enjoy your work. I will be visiting Vilcabamba soon. Keep writing. 🙂

  7. Hi Jade…You’re writing is as breathtakingly inspiring as the scenery you describe. You have really opened my eyes to the pitfalls of humanity and their contemptible influence on the natural world. Nonetheless I hope you are still able to appreciate nature’s beauty/wonder and to humbly contemplate the “finches, penguins, clouds, stars etc”… you my love & best wishes and thanking you for writing/sharing your inspiring blog. Please stay in touch. Love Elizabeth x

  8. hello…. I found your blog, and think i worked out how to press Follow – I hope so! I read some of your stories there and can get a picture of your life, where you’ve been and how you are looking for a way to make that connection.
    I think this is the time for it.. for so many people.
    It’s quite beautiful, this re-membering of the animal family – just wait until we get to the plants, the rocks and the soil as well!!
    Slowly, slowly does it.
    Do you have any Aboriginal friends there?
    My life changed so much when I met my Uncle Max down south. He actually has a beautiful book now… My People’s Dreaming.
    There are so many stories to be shared. x
    Spent the morning with the fish in my pond here – underneath the lotus leaves.
    I honestly cannot work out for the life of me why Darwin needed to go to Galapagos to work out things about life – it’s all right here – in the fishpond, playing out quite obviously, and charmingly – every day.
    Love to you xxx

  9. Yes.. i know…. CHOOSING to write can be such a battle. To be honest, I think the fishpond was a big part in my settling into it recently – something very calming about it, and Ooo – the love that comes off them when you arrive with a piece of bread!

  10. Thanks for thinking of me…I remember The Golden Rules we wrote in our teens very well. I only wish I had a copy of them. I have burnt all my journals – too much pain & misery contained in them. I’m glad you are following my blog. I don’t get a chance to write very often but have just started revisiting my blog and hope to write more animal stories/poetry in the future. I love your writing…It is so inspiring! I am so glad we have re-established our connection and that we both share an appreciation of the healing power of the natural world. I am currently contemplating a career in Animal Assisted Psychotherapy. To study in this field, I must first qualify as a psychologist and this path will involve years of study in completing a Grad Dip in Psychology, a 4th year and then a Masters. I know my life’s purpose is to be of service to animals, I am just not sure which direction/path this may manifest in my life. I believe my healing journey through animals and nature may offer hope to other people suffering from depression/mental illness, but I am not sure I really want to work with people. I have lost my trust in people and have retreated from the world. Perhaps it is time to reconnect with people and offer them hope & healing through my writing? I would love to know your thoughts on this and look forward to hearing from you…

  11. It would be great if you really tried to understand evolution. Read some neo-darwinism and evolutionary psychology. Its elegant, and beautiful, and the paradigm has shifted to one of cooperation. Social Darwinism is not Darwinism, he rejected it. Its nothing more than self serving ideology. You may as well villify Jesus because of the actions of the Catholic Church. Darwin was and intellectual GIANT, A brave explorer seeking truth, as may scientists are. Wallace also deserves credit and mention. Evolution is a great starting point for rconciling the truth of science and religion. Btw, I really like your posts and your perspective.

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