Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Back To Ecuador

I will be back in Ecuador in a little over two weeks! I will be traveling to the Galapagos with a group of Johns Hopkins alumni. Eric will be lecturing several times during the trip and I am not sure what my role is, but I will find a way to be useful. I missed the Galapagos in January, so this is my chance to return. Visiting the Galapagos is easy and relaxing. We cruise around the islands and stop for excursions a couple of times a day. The best part is the snorkeling. We swim with huge sea turtles and penguins and seals and even sharks. We see animals that have no fear of man or other predator. I try to imagine that Darwin saw exactly what I am seeing, and made his conclusions about evolution based on what he saw on the islands. I try to pay attention to the finches, but they are not compelling.

It is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book 'On the Origin of the Species' which outlined his theory of evolution. I was expecting all sorts of exhibitions about Darwin and his theories. There is an orchid exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, which is supposed to relate to evolution and Darwin. A patient of mine who volunteers at the Smithsonian greenhouse urged me to see it soon before the orchids start looking too tired. Otherwise I have not found many museum events celebrating Darwin's life or accomplishments.

I keep wanting to read 'The Voyage of the Beagle', I want to be more knowledgeable about the islands and the theory of evolution, but I must admit that I am less interested now that I have traveled to the Galapagos several times. I like to experience the contrast between the jungle and the Galapagos. In the jungle the animals are hidden, we have to search for them. Evolution is happening all over the place in the jungle and it is truly an adventure to see it.

Eric is an organismal biologist, a neurophysiologist, a neurobiologist, a neuroethologist, an evolutionary biologist, I am sure there are more words to describe what he does. He is interested in animals and their behavior and examines what neurons are doing while the animal behaves a certain way. He researches electric fish from the Amazon. One of his aims next year is to start a research station in the jungle, a project I would like to participate in. I believe this is a way to preserve and provide another option for 'developing' the jungle. So far the oil companies have destroyed so much, along with the colonists who follow them. Research and 'ecotourism' may save some of the jungle, at least for now. I find it shocking each time that I fly from Quito to Coca : more and more of the jungle disappears each year, and this is evident from my seat in the plane. Eric shows it to me on 'Google Earth', but looking at the satellite images is too disturbing -- the percentage lost every year around Coca is astonishing. I am sure this is happening all over the Amazon.

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