Day 5

April 27, 2007

Charles Darwin Research Center

We had breakfast at 6:30, then walked through Puerto Ayora to the Charles Darwin Research Center (CDRC). The CDRC primarily focuses on conversation and preservation of threatened or endangered species in the Galapagos Islands. It also serves as a visitor center that most tourists visit. The star attraction are the giant tortoises. For most Galapagos tours, there are limited, if any, opportunities for seeing tortoises in the wild, and the Charles Darwin Research Center provides an opportunity to do so, and see them up close. Most tortoises at the center are brought here before they even hatch, to protect them against feral dogs, goats, and pigs. Once they are large enough that they are no longer prey, they are returned to their native islands. It is estimated that the tortoise population was decimated, mostly by early settlers and visitors, and that over 150,000 tortoises were taken or killed. The population is much lower today, but has begun to rebound thanks to the efforts of the CDRC.

Lonesome George and other Giant Tortoises

Our first stop at the Charles Darwin Research Center was the area with the baby giant tortoises. Some of the babies are quite tiny, about the size of the palm of your hand. It's hard to believe that that some of them will grow to be 500 pounds. From there we moved on to the area of the most famous giant tortoise in the world, Lonesome George. George was discovered years ago and it believed to be the only survivor of his sub-species. The search has been on for decades, hoping that a female from his species can be found so they can mate and prevent extinction of the species. We were not allowed to go into Lonesome George's area, but a camera crew were down there interviewing him.

We then went to a few different areas, view tortoises of various sizes -- some of them truly massive.

Michelle and Giant TortoiseShoe Eating TortoiseLittle TortoiseTortoise Feeding TimeMark, Michelle, and TortoisesTortoise ToesMark and Giant TortoiseMIchelle and TortoiseTortoise HeadChow Time for Giant Tortoises

Puerto Ayora Shopping

While we were at the Charles Darwin Research Center, part of our group had to leave. Their tour is now over and later this afternoon, new people will join us on the boat for the remainder of our stay. Since Michelle and I did not have to go, we took the opportunity to spend more time at the CDRC and take several hundred more photos and videos of the Galapagos Giant Tortoises. We also took a look at the land iguanas, but they were lying there motionless, and we weren't allowed to get that close to them.

Next was some free time in the town of Puerto Ayora. This means shopping, of course! We stopped in to a few shops on our way back to the port and picked a few souvenirs, including Bobby the Booby, a small wooden blue-footed booby who stands on one foot. Before going back to the boat, we pickled up a few things at the small grocery store by the port.

Tortuga Bay Beach

After lunch, Michelle and I decided to visit a beach that is not far from Puerto Ayora, called Tortuga Bay Beach. After getting some advice and directions from a few members of the crew, we decided to go for it. It was 12:45 as we left the boat, so we didn't have much time to waste as we had to meet up with the group at 3 PM at the port. And Tortuga Bay was a bit of a hike, several kilometers, depending on who you ask. First step was to walk through the town. We had to aks directions once or twice, but soon found the entrance to the Tortuga Bay Park, a large park that includes the beach. It was a long walk along a pathway that seemed to never end. And it was hot. Very hot. The sun was beating down and there was no shade on the path. Plus we had to walk at a pretty good pace if we wanted to have any time at Tortuga Bay before we had to turn back. A few times we though about just turning back as the walk seemed longer than we expected. But it was hot, and we needed a swim. Finally we arrive at the beach, a nice white sand beach with rolling waves. We were told that there are actually two beaches. This one, which is popular with surfers but dangerous for swimmers due to the current. The other, was another 10 minute walk down the beach. Since we didn't have enough time, we swam at the dangerous beach, but did go that far out. A few surfers were there but the waves didn't seem quite big enough for them, as they just sat on their boards way out there.

Sign at Tortuga Bay BeachTortuga Bay Beach

Santa Cruz Highlands

At 3 PM we met our group at the dock in Puerto Ayora. We had just enough time to buy an ice cream to cool us off after a quick hot walk from Tortuga Bay. Most of the group is new people, whom we have just met. We boarded a bus for our first trip in the Galapagos highlands, which has a distinctly different climate that the arid zones not far from the shores. As we gradually ascended, things became more and more green, and trees became taller and leafy (no cacti to be seen up here). Away from the town, we passed farms growing banana and papaya, and some cattle with white cattle egrets everywhere (a heron-like bird that feeds by picking ticks off the backs of cattle). We also passed through a few small towns.

Our first stop was a property situated on the edge of the Galapagos national park. Because of this location, giant tortoises often migrate back and forth from the park and into this area, which is privately owned. While the owners used to grow coffee and passionfruit, they realized a bigger opportunity to give tourist an opportunity to see tortoise in the wild. After a few minutes, we came across a large giant tortoise sleeping in the shade of a bush, and later we saw one wallowing in a muddy pool.

Huge Lava TubeNext stop was very large lava tube. A lava tube forms when a lava flow begins to cool and solidify. The outside of the flow cools and hardens first, while inside, the hot lave continues to flow downwards. When the lava stops flowing, it can leave a tunnel or a "lava tube", which then looks like a cave. This one was very large, about 20 feet across and 50 feet high in places. We were able to walk several hundred meters and that wasn't the end. Very cool.

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