Monday, 15 September 2014

The Galapagos - Santa Cruz

Our arrival at our fourth and final island was somewhat of a shock after our first three landings. There were actually people here, and lots of them, both tourists and locals. Welcome to Puerto Ayora, the biggest town in Galapagos, where over half the population of the entire archipelago live. Although, at least seemingly, in relative harmony with the wildlife. Watching fishmongers fillet enormous fish caught that day with a wild pelican eagerly awaiting one side and a sealion waiting below for anything that may fall off the table, was ever so slightly surreal.

Galapagos mocking bird at the Charles Darwin
Research Centre
Our first taste of this island was the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Although we unfortunately missed 'Lonesome George' by a couple of years, we did meet his two female companions who shared his enclosure. This was also the first and only time that we were able to see a land iguana. The animals here are part of a breeding program to increase numbers in the wild population again. Similarly, there were species of giant tortoise from a number of islands being used for breeding and release programs. Our guide told us, as we were standing by the monument of Lonesome George, how, as a child, he belonged to the 'friends of Lonesome George'. This meant he got to help feed the giant tortoises here and speak on the radio. To me, at least, this seems like a place where people and animals can coincide harmoniously and where the local people love and respect their environment and what a special place it is.

Captive giant tortoise at the Charles Darwin Research Centre

Captive land iguana at the Charles Darwin Research Centre

Wild giant tortoise in the highlands
The next day, our final full day on these 'charmed islands', we hired kayaks in Tortuga Bay, and went looking for, and found, white tipped reef sharks, green turtles and spotted eagle rays. The spotted eagle rays were in large groups, and some of the individuals had an enormous wingspan; easily wider than I am tall (I am 5' 7")!

Me with a wild giant tortoise!
In the afternoon, we were taken to farmland in the highlands where wild Santa Cruz giant tortoises come to graze. There were so many of them, it was difficult to believe really. Some were bigger than others, but some truly were giants, easily 500 - 600 lb. The small cafe by the entrance had three tortoise shells, which really made you appreciate how large these beasts are. We each had a photo with us inside the shells and there was little if any struggling required to fit (although it was a little more challenging getting out again)...

White cheeked pintail who was happily bathing with
the giant tortoises
On the same land, we also got to explore the lava tunnels. Amazing geological formations, created when huge flows of lava cooled down faster on top than below, causing a river of still hot and flowing lava to continue through and out, leaving the outer shell behind. These have then been further eroded by rivers of water during floods and other events, leaving them heavily scarred and patterned inside.

This unfortunately spelled the end of our time here, and the next day, we headed back to mainland Ecuador and to Quito. Most definitely the best holiday ever.

Me in a giant tortoise shell
Ribs and vertebrae inside tortoise shell

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