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Travel books: History of Galapagos, tips for traveling women

"The Galapagos: A Natural History"

Basic Books, $27.99

The 13 islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago lie off the west coast of South America. Author Henry Nicholls, an ambassador for the Galapagos Conservation Trust and the editor of its magazine, Galapagos Matters, refers to the history of the Galapagos as rather strange, given that the modern history of the islands begins with the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The island group was a perfect place, the U.S. government maintained, for a military base from which to defend the crucial Panama Canal.

Today, though, the Galapagos is better known for more peaceful reasons, specifically its unique wildlife. More than 4,000 species are native to the islands, and of that amount, around 40 percent are found "here and only here," Nicholls writes. In fact, he calls the Galapagos, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, among the most biodiverse areas in the world.

Of course, one can't write about the Galapagos without mentioning Charles Darwin, who sailed on the HMS Beagle and arrived on its shores in 1835. Darwin played a major role in shaping the modern identity of the islands. "Just as the Galapagos became a model for Darwin, so it is a model for anyone who cares about our future," Nicholls writes. He notes that 97 percent of its land mass was created as a national park in 1959, and the Galapagos Marine Reserve was established in 1998.

Nicholls describes the natural life of the Galapagos with both knowledge and zest: its rocks, the ocean and the sea life that surround it, its seabirds (including the "famously small" Galapagos penguin), its plants, its invertebrates, its land birds (including mockingbirds and Darwin's finches, which inspired the naturalist's theory of natural selection) and its reptiles. He devotes several pages to the Galapagos' remarkable giant tortoises.

The human element — good and bad — is a big part of the Galapagos story too, not only Darwin but also that of naval officers, explorers, privateers and, later, conservationists. The struggle between balancing conservation and development continues, Nicholls notes.

The book is a fascinating portrait of the archipelago's natural and human history and includes a color insert.

"101 Tips for Women Travelers", free

Even the most experienced travelers can learn something new. With that thought in mind, the folks behind Overseas Adventure Travel have published a free travel-tips e-book for women in an updated version of the print version, which was released a few years ago. Customers can read it online or download it on their favorite digital device.

At a svelte 79 pages, it includes 10 chapters on such topics as trip preparation, packing, health and hygiene, traveling solo, social media, digital photography and video. Interspersed throughout the text are inspirational quotes and stories. Key words here are "minimize" and "ruthless." "If you're not planning to wear something at least three times, then don't take it on your trip."

The tips are from various sources, including other female travelers, online Travel Forum and Facebook followers. Most of the tips come from common sense and hard experience and are very practical. Email your vital information to yourself, writes one source, by scanning important documents, then save them on a flash drive. Get a dental checkup before you go, offers another. Others are almost inspirational: Take duct tape along because it can serve more than one function. Don't throw away shower caps, says another. They are ideal for wrapping shoes before packing. And wear a wedding ring, whether you're married or not.

The appendix includes lists of travel-related books, films and Internet resources and apps. A convenient foreign phrase guide has translations of basic words in Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Thai and Turkish. My favorite appendix list is 25 uses for a scarf, which includes the obvious (to dress up an outfit) to surprising (camera lens cleaner). It also can be used for emergency purposes (as a tourniquet).

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