Brian Monnin & the Galapagos Kids


Some years ago I put together a book, Paths Less Traveled, for which I dispatched well-known authors to adventure destinations and asked them to write of their experience. Tom Robbins reported from Tanzania; Bobbie Ann Mason from New Zealand; Edward Hoagland from Yemen; Roy Blount, Jr. from the Amazon, and on.

For the Galapagos I sent Daniel Boorstin and his wife on a small-ship cruise around the islands, but he never delivered his essay. When he missed the deadlines, I called and asked if the article might be forthwith, and he replied, “No.” His experience had been less than positive, as he had been housed on a small boat with another family with kids, and the children had compromised his experience. I countered that the only restriction on how he wrote his piece was that he be honest with his impressions and feelings, but he still declined, and the book went to press without the Galapagos.

This hole puzzled me, as it always seemed that the great joy of visiting the Galapagos was witnessing the natural world in a sense of child-like wonder and awe, and that that take is only enhanced when tadpoles are there to swim and submerge in the magical realism of these islands.

A few years ago I took my then five-year-old son to the Galapagos, and his eyes grew large at every wildlife encounter; his hands waved with excitement; and his whole being vibrated with marvel and curiosity. And, here’s the cool part, I did as well, fueled by my son’s energy. Yes, the Galapagos is a seminal experience for all ages, but there is something transcendental in the uninhibited response of a child, and it carries upwards all within orbit as well.

A couple months back I was discussing this phenomena with my friends Brian and Janine Monnin, who have two boys, eight and twelve, and they immediately decided to test the notion with a family trip to the Galapagos. They just returned, and Brian sent me this report, picking up where Daniel Boorstin left off.

A mess of marine iguanas | Photo by Brian Monnin

Dateline: The Equator, Pacific Ocean
Dispatch by Brian Monnin

Charles Darwin spent only five weeks in 1835 amidst a cluster of 13 volcanic islands resting astride the equator nearly 620 miles off of modern day Ecuador. His time on the Galapagos stood out to Darwin, compared to the other 243 weeks he spent circling the globe on the HMS Beagle, for good reason. Years later, his recollections, notes and observations on evolution would rock the world, challenging mankind’s understanding of the natural world, with the publishing ofOn the Origin of Species. Its hard to fathom after touring the islands, but Darwin’s theories on natural selection are still controversial to some today.

Darwin transformed the study of biology by telling the story of only a few in the diverse display of Galapagos wildlife (mostly mockingbirds and finches). One hundred and eighty years later, I set out with my wife Janine, and our two boys (Duncan 8, and Theo 12), to follow the story of Darwin’s voyage, and see what we might discover about the modern natural world, and maybe even our kids, and ourselves.

Doing my best to pack light & right thanks to #underwhere

I can’t imagine the logistics involved in circumnavigation in the 1800’s as just finding time in between summer schedules and sports camps is hard enough. Luckily, Mountain Travel Sobek (MTSobek) specializes in family adventures worldwide, and the team behind the Galapagos Wildlife Adventure removed many obstacles getting us from Seattle to Ecuador so we could begin our expedition.

One modern challenge is to simply disconnect. The onslaught of data signals and entertainment on our devices is overwhelming. I am determined to pull up from Seattle and pull away from our iThings. I don’t want any of my family or me to be that guy looking at his phone while a whale breaches a few feet away.

Darwin himself joined the voyage of the Beagle to get away and disconnect in his own way. His father and seminary school were constantly hounding and distracting him from his naturalist and scientific urges. A circumnavigation in 1835 for a 24-year old certainly seemed to hold the potential for a transformative adventure.

A three-hour tour

Life aboard the HMS Beagle was tough on Darwin in the 1830’s. Quarters were cramped, food often scarce and the ship nearly capsized rounding Cape Horn on January 13, 1833. Darwin suffered greatly from seasickness, and as a land surveyor, he was grateful whenever ashore.

“For a moment, our position was critical but, like a cask, she rolled back again, though with some feet of water over the whole deck,” Charles Darwin wrote to his sister Caroline describing a close call during the voyage of the HMS Beagle.

Fortunately, neither the Monnin family, nor any other MTSobek guest, had any such maritime challenges in 2015. The 100-foot Galaxy is large enough to find solitude and comfort for all fourteen passengers, and small enough to crab into remote bays and coves. Aside from a couple nights of rolling waves, we experience none of the hardships Darwin endured on the Beagle.

Galaxy | Photo by Brian Monnin

With hearty fare and comfortable cabins, we are free to focus on the details awaiting with each day’s adventure. Two three-hour outings punctuated by wonderfully prepared feasts become the norm. Often we begin with an early-morning hike on rugged volcanic terrain with trails shared by scores of reptiles, mammals, invertebrates, birds and plants listed in our materials and field guides. Our afternoons are spent mostly underwater snorkeling with fish, mammals and reptiles too numerous to count. Our guide reminds us daily that there are “no guarantees,” but slowly he loses credibility as close encounters with Giant tortoises, Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Land Iguanas, Wild Pink Flamingos, Black-tipped Reef Sharks and Blue-Footed Boobies become common place.

Galapagos Land Iguana | Photo by Brian Monnin

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Richard Bangs

Richard Bangs has often been called the father of modern adventure travel, having spent decades as an explorer and communicator, pioneering “virtual expeditions” on the World Wide Web and leading first descents of 35 rivers around the world. At present he lives in Venice, Calif. Explorer Richard Bangs has spent 40 years as an explorer, leading first descents of 35 rivers around the globe, including the Yangtze in China and the Zambezi in Southern Africa. During that period he founded Sobek Expeditions, the first multi-national river running company and the pioneering outfitter for global active wilderness travel. Author and Producer Richard has published more than 1000 magazine articles, 19 books, a score of documentaries, several CD-ROMs, and all manner of digital media. He has lectured at the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club and many other notable venues. He writes a semi-regular feature for, occasionally freelances for other print and online publications, and produces and hosts “Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose, as seen on national public television.

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