A postcard from Post Office Bay - Gareth Lloyd wishes he was still talking to the incredible animals of the Galapagos
"WE SEEM to be brought near to that great fact, that mystery of mysteries, the first appearance of new beings on this earth," wrote Charles Darwin of his encounter with the Galapagos Islands more than 160 years ago.

Amongst the more exciting of these "new beings" were the famous giant tortoises, the curiously named blue-footed booby bird, and the amazing marine iguana - which has a mucus problem to match a premier league footballer.

If you're interested in boobies, one of the best places to find them is on Fernandina Island. Despite their maladroit manner on land, few birds can match them in their main business of diving 30 or 40 feet into the sea to strike a fish with surgical precision.

As fortune would have it, this is also the place to catch a glimpse of the marine iguana. Darwin's "horrible" description of these prehistoric-looking reptiles had nothing to do with their black-and-white colouration which matches the guano-spotted jet- black volcanic rock. Marine iguanas have a "horrible" habit of regularly clearing their nostrils, a process which involves sending a spray of mucus over several feet.

Fernandina's other famous resident is the flightless cormorant. These comical birds enjoy nothing more than standing on a rocky spit, drying their miniature outstretched wings as they dodge the incoming spray. They were a favourite of the pirates who actually discovered the islands long before Darwin.

The young naturalist was just 23 when he visited the Galapagos. Among the first things he discovered upon landing on San Salvador were hundreds of crates of marmalade which had been captured by buccaneers who mistook them for gold.

Another legacy from the days of the pirates is to be found at Post Office Bay on Floreana Island where an old barrel on the beach serves as a makeshift post office. Simply place your letters to mum (without a stamp) in the barrel and the next passing ship with passengers bound for your country will pick them up.

Apart from a pirates' post office, Floreana is one of the best places in the Galapagos for snorkelling. The water is generally clear and there's a fair chance of seeing some dozing sharks, leather-backed turtles and giant manta rays. Even more amusing, though, are the fish with ridiculous names like the Panamic Sergeant Major, the Blackspot Porgy and the Blue Chin parrot fish; names which are only bettered by their shapes.

The fauna of the Galapagos are famously unafraid of man and one of the real bonuses of a trip to the islands is being able to get so incredibly close to some of the world's most amazing creatures.

On Espanola Island, you can smell and hear the sea-lions long before you even see them. Inquisitive young pups waddle up to examine visitors and nibble their toes, shying away only when a 500lb bull comes roaring out of nowhere to bring them back into the fold.

Bolder still are the island's Galapagos mocking birds which seem to take pleasure in running between peoples legs with wings and tails extended while squawking at one another. But without a doubt, the boldest birds of them all are the vampire finches of Darwin Island.

In scenes reminiscent of a Hitchcock thriller, these feathered fiends have been known to attack other birds and even grown men for a slurp of their sweet blood. Perhaps even more chilling is their ability to work as a team to raid the booby birds' nests for their eggs. Thankfully though, few tour boats go anywhere near this very remote place.

Anyone wishing to meet the incredible creatures of the Galapagos Islands should typically expect to pay anything from pounds 1,300-pounds 2,500, depending on the itinerary and the duration of the trip. Some of the most respected operators include Abercrombie & Kent (0171-730 9600), Regal Holidays (01353 777 950), Penelope Kellie (01962 779 317) and Galapagos Island Cruises (0181-933 0613).