The Day of the Iguanas

When I visited the Galapagos Islands, I was struck by the vast tonnage of wildlife lying around like bumps on a log. Stepping over them, I might as well have been the shadow of a cloud for all the threat they felt. Sea lions littered the pristine beaches like driftwood washed up after a storm. By the time my visit was over, I had seen (or stepped over) almost everything there was to see, cormorants, lava gulls, lava crabs, lava lizards, the blue-footed boobie, the Nazca boobie, frigate birds, Sally Light Foots, pelicans, sea turtles and the flicker of a manta ray.
A struggle for the upper hand (sort of)

I mustn’t forget the iguanas, as prolific as confetti at a victory parade. During a walk on the smallest of the Galapagos, Isla EspaƱola, I picked my way past piles of them lining the path like so many garbage bags on trash day. I passed a breeding ground where a sea lion pup that couldn’t have been more than an hour old was wriggling in the wetness of a puddle. I arrived just in time to watch the mother expel the after birth. The bloody mess had barely started to stink in the hot sun when a lava gull began to feed on it.
Uncomfortable author

This must have been the kind of thing Darwin ate up. Sad to say, it is not my cup of tea. The truth is I am squeamish. Had I come upon one more gull eating iguana excrement, I would have expelled my own version of an after birth. Nature may well be red in tooth and claw. From where I sit, holding my arms across my belly, she is also disgusting.

There is something to be said for civilization. Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, has close to four million inhabitants and maybe 300 iguanas. Unlike the wild iguanas of the Galapagos, which are untouchable, the iguanas that live in Seminario Park just across from the Catedral Metropolitana, couldn’t be more pet-like. Some parks have pigeons. Some parks have swans. Seminario Park has iguanas. They crawl over one another, fighting for what seems a pointless dominance. They climb over benches, scuttle over people who happen to be seated on them, and scuttle up into trees and down into holes where the females lay eggs. Seminario Park is dominated by a haughty stature of Simon de Bolivar. He does his best to look triumphant. That is hard to do with a pair of iguanas sunning themselves at his feet.

At the foot of the statue of Simon Bolivar
The iguanas of the Galapagos might as well be living in a bubble. Tourists daren’t brush up against them on pain of at the very least a scolding. Quayaquilians, on the other hand, feed their iguanas the way people feed birds on Boston Common. I watched one Ecuadorian sitting on a bench with a large black satchel next to him. Every so often he reached in, pulled out a banana, broke it into several parts and threw it on the ground. The iguanas lunged for it, pushing one another out of the way, literally grabbing food out of one another's mouths. When Hobbes said that life was brutish, nasty and short, he must have been thinking of iguanas.
Iguanas snatching food in Seminario Park, Quayaquil, Ecuador
Nancy pets one. She says it is like petting a wall. She urges me to do likewise. I haven't the slightest inclination to. She keeps at it. I keep saying no. As we are about to leave the park for the cathedral across the street, a lone iguana crosses my path.

“Last chance,” she warns.

I reach down and pet it. It is like petting a wall.