"Bapa, look!” shouted 10-year-old Will as four young sea lions swam playfully into the small group of kids swimming and clowning in the clear waist-deep water off the white sand beach of Española.

Bapa sat on the beach, his hands clasped about his knees, watching his grandson and the other children, about as far from his usual hospital environs and routine as he could be.

This southernmost island of the Galapagos archipelago teemed with life; the beaches were crowded with sea lions, many with newly born pups. Hawks picked at a pink, meaty placenta nearby.

Oblivious to people, the sea lions basked in the sun, nuzzled and barked at one another, wobbled clumsily toward the water, then swam gracefully away.

Earlier that day, Will and Bapa hiked across another part of the island, walking among numberless blue-footed boobies, spotting Darwin finches and swallow-tailed gulls.

They stepped carefully around profusions of marine iguanas, drying themselves in the sun, sometimes snorting misty sneezes in the air. A few lava lizards crawled atop them, hiding from the hawks circling above.

They looked from the cliffs to the pounding surf below and watched as waved albatrosses leapt from the cliffs into the wind, to launch themselves into graceful flight. Others postured as they danced with their mates in a choreographed ritual permanently ingrained in the genetic memory of the species.

The boy and his grandfather traveled to these islands in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles west of Ecuador, in a huge, noisy, cramped jet airplane; but once there, human civilization disappeared and they found themselves in an otherworldly place of volcanic rock, calderas and sea and air creatures oblivious to humankind.

No man-made objects intruded, no sounds of motors, no television sets, no straight lines. They thought the world must have been like this before people changed everything.

On other islands, they saw huge iguanas and giant tortoises on land; sea turtles swam beside their rubber boat on many occasions as they explored sea caves and watched the antics of penguins.

In a beautiful, calm mangrove glade, they sat quietly, absorbing the peacefulness and serenity of stilled time.

They agreed to recall these tranquil moments whenever frustration or unhappiness subsequently intruded into their lives.

Overhead, brown pelicans and frigate birds, silhouetted against the sky, looked like pterodactyls in a lost world.

The sun declined to near the horizon, and it was time to board the panga to return to the ship, leaving the island to its permanent inhabitants.

The old man and the boy left their footprints in the sand, but only until the tide erased them, not forever. Forever was something they took with them from this enchanted, prehistoric place.

Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you. It’s not heavy enough to press your trousers with, but it may please you in other ways.

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