Galápagos Adventure – Santa Cruz Island – August 12, 2016

31 Aug

 

To enlarge a photo, please click on the image

To enlarge a photo, please click on the image

Santa Cruz Island is the second largest of the islands and is a major hub for tourism (with Baltra just to the north). It is one of the only islands where visitors can access the interior and highlands.

I might add here that only 3% of the Galápagos Archipelago is public land (inhabited areas of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Floreana and Isabela Islands. ) The Galápagos National Park protects the other 97% of the land in the islands (3,091sq. mi). The 234 landmasses of the park are distributed within the Galápagos Marine Preserve, which has a range of 40 nautical miles from the island archipelago. So we were going to see a fair amount (I think) of the 3% public land when we went into the interior and highlands of Santa Cruz. Whatever, it was a great day.

Our day ashore began at Puerto Ayora, a charming port town at the south end of Santa Cruz, where we boarded a bus to go to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Shirley and I had been looking forward to this place, as it’s the first place we would see the famed giant tortoises. The Station is home to tortoises ranging from new hatchlings to about 4 feet long.

Again, it was a photographer’s paradise. Everybody was clicking like mad.

Again, it was a photographer’s paradise. Everybody was clicking like mad, even at us.

The greeter

The greeter

From what I understand, the Station does much research with tortoise DNA to try to get “pure” tortoises back to their home island. Erick told us a story about a particular specie that was dying out and the primary male was not able to do his duty. They put out a worldwide call to zoos asking them to test for a certain DNA strain in a Galapagos tortoise. The San Diego Zoo in California responded positively and shipped a male to the Darwin Station. He was named Diego and he immediately responded. Diego is now SUPER Diego because he’s fathered hundreds of hatchlings.

I felt really lucky as Super Diego was right up in front by the gate when I took his picture. Don’t you think he looks like a happy dude?

I felt really lucky as Super Diego was right up in front by the gate when I took his picture. Don’t you think he looks like a happy dude?

This one looks tired.

I’m tired.

There must have been some sort of conversation going on here. Perhaps they were excited to see folks from Grand Junction, CO!

You win by a nose!

A male Galápagos mockingbird

A male Galápagos mockingbird

A male land iguana. We would see more of them in the wild the next day.

A male land iguana. We would see more of them in the wild the next day.

Cacti showing the adaptation of no lower leaves with sharp needles in areas where there are land iguanas

Cacti showing the adaptation of no lower leaves with sharp needles in areas where there are land iguanas.

A modern day Charles Darwin with a little girl checking out the situation.

A modern day Charles Darwin with a little girl checking out the situation.

Shirley and I walked from the Station back to downtown Puerto Ayora where we were free to do visit some of the many shops selling some cool souvenirs. We had been told that they would take credit cards but we soon found that most didn’t. That was disappointing.

Here is another aside. The currency of the Galápagos and Ecuador is the U.S. dollar. That is due to a depression that pretty much destroyed their economy. They asked the U.S. for help and somehow our currency became their currency. I don’t pretend to understand all of this but it worked for us on this trip.

Due to some miscommunication about tips and whatnot, Shirley and I needed to visit an ATM in hopes our cards would work. The first ATM we visited was scary because it said for $600, one would be charged $300. I hemmed and hawed about this and finally decided to go for it, in hope we misread the cues. The ATM didn’t have a decimal point and the charge was $3. In the end, it all worked out; we breathed a sigh of relief and got what we needed to tide us over. On with the shopping!

We boarded our bus once again for a trip in the highlands to Rancho Ortiz for lunch. It was a pretty trip as we passed many farms, pastures and a couple of small towns. The trip reminded me of going into the highlands of Maui. Trees, farms, and pastures and the air felt the same. The main difference was that on occasion, we could see a giant tortoise wandering around a pasture. Amazing!

We arrived at the Rancho Ortiz and found that Erick’s family lives there. They have a ranch and have fashioned a restaurant/bar area where they host luncheons and dinners. It was really fun and the food was tasty.

The view from the restaurant. There are 3 tortoises in this photo. Can you find them? Floreana is the island on the horizon.

The view from the restaurant. There are 4 tortoises in this photo. Can you find them? Floreana is the island on the horizon.

We met Joaquin, Erick's son, who loves trucks, cars and buses. He checked out our bus.

We met Joaquin, Erick’s son, who loves trucks, cars and buses. He checked out our bus.

After lunch, we wandered the ranch a bit and here is what we saw.

I had to take a picture of these unique bar stools

I had to take a picture of these unique bar stools

Kinda pastoral, eh?

Kinda pastoral, eh?

Rich was just sitting on the ground and this young tortoise walked within a couple of feet of him.

Rich was just sitting on the ground and this young tortoise walked within a couple of feet of him.

Shirley and her new friend.

Shirley and her new friend.

One reason we’re not fooling around in these pictures is that we were warned many times not to get too close to the animals or make sudden motions. So we tried to abide by that and then forgot we could make silent expressions or gestures. Oh well.

Too soon, lunch time and our little tour was over and it was time to head on to El Chato Tortoise Reserve. It allows visitors to observe giant tortoises in the wild during the dry season and also learn even more about the animals.

What a great way to learn more about the giant tortoises!

What a great way to learn more about the giant tortoises!

224Pato and shell

Pato is demonstrating how the tortoise shell looks inside and some of us got to try on a shell.

Shirley

Shirley

Cora

Cora

Julia, our tour leader

Julia, our tour leader

We walked around the Reserve and saw many tortoises doing what they do every day…walking, sleeping, eating and soaking in mud.

The mud's fine!

The mud’s fine!

I need a napkin.

I need a napkin.

Cora, Nancy, Shirley with a poser.

Cora, Nancy, Shirley with a poser.

Tortoise drinking with a follower into the pond

Tortoise drinking with a follower into the pond

One unexpected attraction at El Chato was the huge lava tunnel that was 80 meters long. It was long and perhaps 15 feet tall at its highest point. It was also very humid in the tunnel. Where the illuminating lights were, little plants were growing. I’ve never seen anything like that in the lava tunnels in Hawaii.

One unexpected attraction at El Chato was the huge lava tunnel that was 80 meters long. It was long and perhaps 15 feet tall at its highest point. It was also very humid in the tunnel. Where the illuminating lights were, little plants were growing. I’ve never seen anything like that in the lava tunnels in Hawaii.

When one drinks a lot of water, certain things have to happen. Of course I had to visit the restroom and was well aware of the custom in the Galápagos to not toss the toilet paper into the toilet bowl. It’s not gross. It’s just the way it is. I was not prepared for the fact that in this particular restroom, the toilet paper was not in the stall. A big roll was hung on the wall by the sinks. Of course, I didn’t discover this fact until I had finished my business. Oops!!!

Oops! My bad for not being more observant

Too soon we had to leave El Chato and head back to Puerto Ayora. It was so interesting to me to see all those tortoises doing what tortoises do naturally, without any gates or fences.   I forgot to tell you that we did not see any hatchlings because they are kept in a special secure area where they are kept from people trying to steal them or predators like big birds eating the babies.

On our way back to the main road, we encountered this big guy strolling along the dirt road. Of course we had to stop for him until he moved enough to let us pass….a bit different than stopping for wild horses in the road in Virginia City, NV

On our way back to the main road, we encountered this big guy strolling along the dirt road. Of course we had to stop for him until he moved enough to let us pass….a bit different than stopping for wild horses in the road in Virginia City, NV

We had a bit of time to stroll around Puerto Ayora upon before boarding our Zodiacs to return to the Galaven. We discovered that the area around the port is quite active around dusk. We watched teams of men play volleyball while many, many locals watched the competition. A lot of cheering and hooting was going on during the games while kids played on playground toys nearby. Vendors were hawking their wares and it seemed like everyone was having a good time. I enjoyed that short time watching the people.

This was the view of the little port as we wended our way back to the Galaven that was anchored in the bay.

This was the view of the little port as we wended our way back to the Galaven that was anchored in the bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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