PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: There are no docks in paradise. That's how they try to keep it pure, and when anyone goes ashore it is aboard small, inflatable pongas. Our first such landing was, I believe on Fernandina, newest and most westward island of the archipelago. Fernandina last erupted in 2009. It sits directly above the hot spot.
I wasn't prepared for the joyous greeting we received as we landed. It was like passing through crowds of well-wishers in costume at Mardi Gras. As we stepped across rocks to where stone steps climbed to a bluff above the sea, a booby was perched beside the steps, and we gasped. Three steps up and we were eye-to-eye. Almost by habit I checked for my ID, and the booby might as well have been checking them, as each of us had to stop and pose for and snap a photograph before proceeding to the top of the bluff.
Overhead, boobies and frigate birds cruised for mates from among the many birds who were building nests around us near the shore. Pelicans fished and sometimes carried food back to their young, and along the trails baby boobies were being groomed or scolded by their parents, or they played or pecked for our attention while parents watched. The trail across the island was filled with the commotion of courting and mating and raising new families, and as we walked, birds looked into our eyes in calm wonder. In mid-May Paradise is alive with the feracious celebrations of scales, feathers and fur. Even hermit crabs were out searching for larger dwellings, and we were privileged to be included in the ancient and annual pageant inebriations that had long ago adjourned on other shores.
Like all tourists, we thrilled, thinking we were part of the parade; the parade was for us. Later I saw the next cycle of tourists pouring expectantly onto the tarmac from the plane that would soon carry me away. I understood then our place in this fearless bliss. I thought about that never-ending line of us, and I was glad the world had limited access here to small groups arriving via ponga. I understood why new limits had just been imposed, capping the number of landings allowed at each site, and, as I fastened my seatbelt for take-off, I understood why paradise can never be reclaimed.