Journal (Part Eight)
shall I end?
on the boat in the glowing moments after the sun has set, watching
the colors drain out of the day.
The blue sea has already turned gray and the bush-covered
hills of San Cristóbal Island are fading from green to smoky
brown. Jupiter has appeared in the sky.
The team has gone ashore to celebrate while I sit
alone, writing this last piece.
Normally at this time the boat is abuzz with activity.
We'd be preparing our daily Web reports, shouting questions to each
other, reading each other's pieces aloud and haggling over which
pictures to send. Now it's uncomfortably quiet, like a classroom
after the day's last bell and everyone has gone home.
For four weeks, eight of us have lived in very tight
quarters. We've spent eight hours a day gathering information, pictures,
video and sounds, then spent another eight hours creating what goes
onto the Web. It's exhausting, stressful work. But we've all learned,
grown a little stronger and accomplished our goal.
We presented difficult issues regarding resource
use and human needs. In all cases, our 100,000 online collaborators
decided in favor of environmental declaration. Thousands of them
signed the declaration asking the Director General of UNESCO to
make these islands a "World Heritage Site in Danger."
But why should people in Gainesville, or St. Paul,
or Tacoma care about 14 tiny islands off the coast of Ecuador? What
difference does it make if, for example, the slug-like sea cucumbers
The answer represents a dilemma that faces all of
us no matter where we live whether it's spotted owls vs.
the lumber industry, timber wolf vs. cattle, or wetlands vs. shore
development. It boils down to this: Do you protect the environment
or exploit it to benefit people?
I've led three Quests: MayaQuest, AfricaQuest and
now GalápagosQuest. In all three expeditions, we've tried
to solve a mystery. Why did the Mayan civilization disappear? Why
are Africa's big animals declining? Why is Galápagos wildlife
In all three cases the answer is too many people.
Each year, 100 million people come into the world. This means we
as a species constantly require more land, eat more food and create
more waste. On a global level, we haven't yet figured out how to
live in harmony with other creatures.
GalápagosQuest has given me a new appreciation
for animals. This is one place on Earth where you can get close
enough to animals to see how they live. You can swim with sea lions,
walk within inches of birds, and sit next to 400-pound tortoises.
You can't help but develop compassion for them. I
will never forget snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of Punta
Espinosa. A marine iguana leapt off a rock into the water, paddled
down to the bottom and began to graze like a miniature dinosaur.
It was like watching a scene from "Jurassic Park."
Tomorrow, we all leave the islands and head back to
the U.S. There, the team will split like pool balls after the break,
all of us going in different directions.
Some of us will go back to our regular jobs. John,
Christina and I will start organizing the next expedition, AsiaQuest.
In some ways, we won't fully experience GalápagosQuest
until we see it on the Web. Then we will have enough time to make
sense of what we experienced.
We've all heard the saying, "Life is a journey,
not a destination." I've never liked it. It's one of those
sappy quotes you see on inspirational posters a half-baked
thought that sounds good until you really think about it.
After all, if life were just a journey, wouldn't we
all be nomads?
It seems to me that it's better to think of life as
a string of destinations, a series of goals accomplished. After
each one, we become a little smarter, stronger and bolder. Perhaps
we look at the world in a different way.
So let me suggest an inspirational poster of my own.
Under a picture of a marine iguana pondering the sea and his daily
undersea journey for food, a caption reads: "Life may be
a journey, but it's the destinations that light the way."
Look for Dan's cover story in the November
issue of National Geographic