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Gainesville couple takes "bucket list" trip to Galapagos Islands
Bob and Reesa Hawkins explore remote archipelago and its wildlife
Bob and Reesa Dawkins pose for a photo on the shore before boarding a zodiac boat to the National Geographic ship Endeavor. A sleeping sea lion lies on the sand a few feet behind them, completely undisturbed by their presence.

“I want to be on every continent before I leave this world,” Reesa Dawkins said flipping through photos of her latest adventure — a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

As a retired flight attendant, the 59-year-old woman has visited five of the seven continents. She still has Australia and Antarctica left.

She and husband Bob Dawkins, 74, have made it a point to travel as often as they can. The Gainesville couple retired in 2008.

“(Travel) breaks up the boredom in life,” said Bob, a retired airline pilot. “I think, among other things, you’ve got something to look forward to. You’ve got something to compare to what you have, whether that’s comparing what others have or don’t have in other parts of the world. You get to see things that you might just read about or dream about. But you get to be there and see it firsthand.”

Bob said their latest trip was unlike anything they’ve experienced so far.

In their careers, they’ve traveled to Africa; Asia; Europe; North, Central and South America; and everywhere in between. The couple has visited historical cities such as London and Athens, rode horseback through the wilderness in Wyoming and visited Third World countries. But their trip to the isolated and biologically diverse islands in the Pacific was nothing short of an adventure.

“It was not a sit-back-relax and get-your-martini-and-sit-up-by-the-pool trip,” Bob said. “It was a trek. It was what they call an adventure.”

The couple, who have been married 20 years, took a 10-day trip with National Geographic to the Ecuador in June and toured each of the archipelago’s islands by zodiac boat or foot. They stayed with 90 other families in a ship called the Endeavor.

The Dawkinses and small groups of other travelers took daily trips to explore the unique islands.

Reesa said she was impressed with the variety of not only the wildlife, but the variance of the terrain. One island may appear to be paradise while another looks like a desert, she said.

Tourists visited the Charles Darwin Research Station and learned about the famous biodiversity of the islands. According to the Galapagos Conservancy, a group that protects the islands, the center’s namesake visited the island in 1835 where he observed the subtle and not-so-subtle differences among birds on a few different islands. Darwin’s observations on evolution and natural selection led him to write “On the Origins of Species” almost 25 years later.

Reesa said she knew the historical and scientific importance of the islands when she left but had no idea how many, or even if, she would get to see some of the islands more famous animals.

“I figured I’d see one or two blue-footed boobies,” Reesa said, noting the bird lives on the western coast of Central and South America.

But it was way more than that. The Dawkinses were given a checklist of all the different animals they might encounter while on the islands and at sea. Most of the boxes on Reesa’s checklist were marked off several times over and a few other animal names were scribbled in the margins.

The couple got up close to sea lions, sea turtles, Galapagos tortoises, land and sea iguanas, humpback whales, blue-footed and Nazca boobies and many others.

Visitors are strictly asked not to take rocks, seashells or plants from the islands. They are also told not to touch the animals. But that doesn’t mean the animals can’t touch them.

“The one thing about the Galapagos is that it’s always been a protected place and site,” Reesa said. “You can get close, the animals aren’t afraid of you. You can’t touch one, but if it comes over to you, you allow it. Like a little mockingbird came over and started playing with my shoelaces. I had to stand really still until it decided to go.”

Later in the trip a baby sea lion met Reesa.

“It was just a wonderful experience to be so close,” Reesa said. “The animal doesn’t feel frightened, because it’s always been protected.”

The Dawkinses said after going on their adventure they have a greater appreciation for nature. Even the animals they see in their backyard seem more worthy of notice.

Bob said a lot of people don’t pay attention to the animals around them. He said he enjoys watching a nest of red-tailed hawks across his yard. The buzzards and deer that sometimes visit their property are always worth taking notice of.

“You’ve got your own things,” Bob said. “If you’ll just open your eyes and look around to see it.”

The couple has already booked an excursion to Antarctica, similar to their trip to the Galapagos, for December 2014.

Reesa said she will spend the next 18 months learning everything she can about the icy continent, so they will be able to appreciate more of what they see.

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