I clambered into the back of a white pick-up truck, camera in hand and anticipation in abundance, with barely enough room to stretch out my legs. I was sandwiched between a group of young, local boys, all eager to show me the delights of their unspoilt island, that they were lucky enough to call home. The atmosphere was jovial and full of excitement as we ventured into the islands interior, bounding along the dirt tracks. The few buildings at the start of our journey were replaced by a vast expanse of vegetation, hiding the islands violent volcanic past.
We came to a stop in what seemed to be, the middle of nowhere. No signs of human involvement, it felt like we were the first humans to step foot on this unchartered territory. The group of young locals led me across the empty field and my feet crunched on the long grass below. I strained my eyes to try to take in the surrounds, looking for something, anything, that would explain why we had stopped at this inconspicuous location. The midday equatorial sun glared down on me, with nowhere to take shelter from its intense heat. The untouched vegetation seemed to spread for miles, an unspoilt array of greens and browns, interwoven with strands of golden yellow, dancing around with ease in the light breeze. I looked up to the sky and I could see a couple of frigate birds, their forked tails lingered behind their slender torsos, as they sliced through the air with ease.
I was briefly distracted by the dancing birds high above, and I came to a halt as the rest of the group moved on. They disappeared into the distance and silence fell around me. I could feel the warm breeze roll along my bare arms, my eyes had adjusted to the suns glare and my ears were alert to the most miniscule of sounds. Suddenly, a loud and rhythmic crunching came from behind me and I was pulled out of my daydream. I turned around to see where the strange noise was coming from. Out from the dense vegetation behind me emerged the extended, wrinkled neck of a giant tortoise. His small head was held high above his body, and his mouth was stuffed full with fresh grass. Our eyes met, both as startled by the presence of the other. I saw a flicker of curiosity across his eyes. We lingered in the moment for what felt like an eternity, as we measured each other up. I stood still, frozen to the spot, and I felt my heart quicken in excitement.
The giant tortoise briefly paused his rhythmic chewing, blades of green grass were sticking out of either side of his mouth, and they occasionally moved as the breeze caught them. He eventually began to chew again as he emerged fully from the long grass, one, large, wrinkled foot after the other. He reached my feet and there was barely a few centimetres between us. He strained his neck even more, seemingly inviting me to engage with him. I came down to his level. I reached out to touch him and he didn’t even flinch, his skin was like leather to the touch and I glided my fingers along the wrinkled texture, down his neck to his shell. His shell was covered in scars from the many years he had lived, every experience he had been through was etched into his shell, a detailed story of his life. It was such an intimate moment, I felt an unparalleled sense of understanding as I gazed deep into his eyes. I removed my hand from his hard shell and almost simultaneously he started on his way again, one slow footstep at a time until he had disappeared into the dense vegetation once more.