The bulk of this was written on May 17th 2018, the day of the hike.
As my father and I heaved toward the crest of the most active volcano of the Galapagos Islands, walking in the footprints of thousands of visitors, cars, and fire ant trails, our guide Pablo pointed into the red-barked forest.
“These,” he said, “are Guava trees.” The squat invaders are virile in proportion to the help they receive from the natives: symbiotic Brown Moss captures water sustains them in summer, Carpenter Bees pollinate their flowers, and Finches transport their fruits’ hundreds of seeds. This natural encouragement would have heartened those who, trying to tame a world much less habitable than ours, introduced the fruit here in the 1840s – Ireland’s Great Famine in the same decade killed a million people and forced another million to leave the country.
To be fair, the colonizers have pluck. The five-meter Guavas stand three times as tall as the Galapagos’ native ferns and grasses. They monopolize the sunlight and demote everything else to undergrowth. International cargo ships and the grooves of visitors’ boots were bound to errantly seed the Islands eventually, but visitors may not know that the Guavas dominate every ecosystem they’ve met, and are now, according to Pablo, “impossible to eradicate.” The Holocene, the period of natural history defined by human activity, will be geologically evidenced by the world’s blanket of plastic and nuclear radiation. It will be ecologically evidenced by sudden inhabitants who thrive but don’t fit.
So how to coexist with the scrappy trees? Park rangers have found one use for the wood: a few morose signs that say that the number of tourists in the Galapagos is twice what would be sustainable. This message unites our group in disquiet. Nobody wants to live in a fouled nest. But how do reverse so much inertia?
Back on the balcony of my hostel, surrounded by the smells of fresh asphalt and hot rubber, I tried my first Guava fruit. Reception: mixed. Some good flavor, too much pulp, too many seeds. Well, I thought, forward. Onto the next thing.