Darwin Lake, Isabela Island
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
15 Days In The Galapagos Islands
We pulled into the harbor at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island in the wee hours of the morning. The ship has been moving during the night, and it's not too bad. The engine acts as white noise during travel. However, the raising and lowering of the anchor wakes everyone - that's certainly the most unpleasant part of sailing overnight.
I got up early to watch the sunrise.
After joining everyone for our 5:30 a.m. breakfast, we got ready for our very early excursion. Today was the end of the first leg of our journey, and our other shipmates were leaving. But not before our trip up into the Santa Cruz Highlands to see the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoises.
We boarded the Zodiac, and headed into the dock.
Sea lions were lounging around on the dock and on some of the other boats.
We boarded a small bus and headed up into the highlands of Santa Cruz to visit Rancho El Manzanillo, a ranch where the Galapagos Giant Tortoises roam freely. They tend to leave the thick vegetation of the adjacent Galapagos National Park to enjoy the cleared, easy to navigate land of the ranchers. Many also mate in these turtle-friendly ranch areas.
The trails can be muddy, so they told us it would be a good idea to wear rubber boots. Only the bright yellow ones fit me.
Our guide, Myra took us on a walk around the property.
It wasn't long before we came upon our first tortoise, a huge male under a small tree.
These Santa Cruz tortoises are of the “dome-shelled” variety. According to the Galapagos Conservancy, there are 14 different species of Giant Tortoises that correspond with the different populations located in the islands. Some are island-specific, and some have been divided into different communities by volcanic activity which cut off migration to other parts of the island.
In addition to the “dome-shelled” giant tortoises, there are “saddleback-shelled” giant tortoises for which the islands were named. The old Spanish word “galapago” refers to a saddle that has much the same shape as the shell of the “saddleback-shelled” giant tortoises. The tortoises were given the name first, and then the islands were later named after the tortoises.
We would see the “saddleback-shelled” variety later in the day.
Next, we came to a small wallow where males and the smaller females were hanging out.
There, we could see the differences in the massive males and smaller females. Myra continued to tell us that the tortoises would sit in the ponds to drown bugs and parasites. She also told us that the more rings on the shells, the younger the tortoise. The older tortoises’ shells become smoother over the years.
More tortoise photos in the slideshow below.
While walking in the Highlands with the tortoises, we saw a Common Gallinule, which we call a Moorhen in the U.S., a Galapagos Flycatcher (endemic), and a Vegetarian Finch (endemic).
After the tour of the ranch, the two other couples continued on the bus to the north side of Santa Cruz Island where they would then take a ferry to Baltra Island and continue by public bus to the airport.
We were provided a taxi (white pick-up trucks on Santa Cruz) back to Puerto Ayora where we had the option of staying in town or going back to the boat. We had to dodge a tortoise on the road on the way out.
Back in Puerto Ayora, we had the option of hanging out in town or going back to the ship. We decided to find an internet cafe and upload some photos and check emails before being picked up at the dock at 10:30.
On the Domenica, we rested up and waited for our new shipmates. We would have a full boat, and we were looking forward to meeting the fourteen new guests.
We met everyone at lunch and all but four were from the U.S. Three of those four were from Switzerland and the fourth was a Canadian married to a fellow from California.
At 2:00, the new arrivals went through orientation and the safety drill we went through a few days before.
Now with sixteen people instead of six, we needed two Zodiacs to shuttle everyone. We went back to the dock at Puerto Ayora where we boarded a bus which took us on a short drive to the entrance of the Galapagos National Park. And then it was a short walk to the Charles Darwin Research Station.
We didn't have access to any of the buildings, so it was basically a walking tour of a very limited "zoo". The highlight for us was seeing the "saddleback-shelled" version of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise which we won't be able to see in the wild.
These tortoises reside in different terrain than the “dome-shelled” variety, and their food sources are more difficult to reach. Thus they have longer necks, longer limbs, and have evolved for their environment.
We also saw a couple of Land Iguanas and some more tortoises, and Myra explained that the Darwin Research Station is sort of the “brain” of Galapagos regarding conservation and protection, and then the park service is the “body” which carries out the recommendations of the scientists.
After our short tour, we had the option of going back to the yacht or staying in town until 5:45. Either way, we had to walk the few blocks back to Puerto Ayora. We passed several shops and restaurants and bars and the open air fish market.
Ultimately, we decided to go back to the internet café for one last opportunity to check on things before we move on to other more remote locations.