On the way to Santa Cruz Island in the small plane, I photographed the spot on Isabela Island where we swam with sea turtles, where Galapagos penguins swam with us, and where we saw marine iguanas and sharks.
|Brown Noddys fishing between Baltra and Santa Cruz Islands|
Our hotel was in Puerto Ayora located on the other side of the island. Like Isabela, Santa Cruz has many different micro climates. To get to the hotel we drove through the highlands of Santa Cruz stopping at Rancho Manzanillo for lunch and a walk through their grounds. The tortoises of Santa Cruz are free and wide ranging. Tortoises traverse the island stopping along the way to hang out at the lush grounds of Rancho Manzanillo.
The rounded, dark lumps in the grass beyond the foreground tree are giant Galapagos Tortoises. Once our eyes adjusted, we saw tortoises everywhere.
Before lunch we took a brief walk at Los Gemelos (the twins). Los Gemelos is the highland location of two large sink holes or volcanic subsidences. Once there, we walked through a forest of giant sunflowers called Giant Scalescia. Ernesto said the clubmoss plant was alive when dinosaurs walked the earth.
|one of Los Gemelos|
|An endemic cucumber (Syciocaules)|
Some people rent boats that are at anchor in the cove. The water taxi delivered these riders to their boats and then took us to the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn. The view from our room was stunning.
The next day, we water taxied back to the port, walked several kilometers over a mountain and down to the magnificent Tortuga Bay. On the upper part of the hike we saw more finches and Ernesto explained some of the flora and fauna along the way.
As the Galapagos prickly pear cactus ages, it develops a tough bark for protection. The fruit of this cactus is not edible.
The beach at Tortuga Bay is another seemingly endless stretch of fine white sand. While we were splashing along in the shallows, we were joined by several young black-tipped reef sharks.
Again, the animals are unafraid of humans. We were ignored as were all the sun lovers sharing the beach.
After a short snorkel in the mangroves, we walked back to Puerto Ayora for lunch and a tour of the Charles Darwin Station.
We were already familiar with the story of Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his kind, but on our visit we found out that he was probably impotent (or perhaps simply not interested in the opposite sex) and the story just a fairytale made up to get funding. We learned about the real star--an Espanola Island Tortoise named Diego the Beast.
Sometime in the 1930s a group of 13 Espanola tortoises went to the San Diego Zoo in California. Diego was a member of that original group. In the late 1960s, the remaining Espanola tortoises (2 males and 12 females) were brought to the Charles Darwin Center.
Back in California, Diego wasn't happy in the zoo and didn't play well with any of the other tortoises. By the 1970s he was the only surviving Espanola tortoise in the San Diego Zoo. In 1977, the San Diego Zoo offered Diego to the Charles Darwin Station where Diego was reunited with the remaining Espanola tortoises. He shares his space with a rotating couple of female Espanola tortoises who he successfully impregnates. Each year a new set of two females are rotated in and tortoise sex continues. Many of Diego's descendants have been returned to Espanola Island. To date Diego is responsible for at least 1,000 new tortoise births. What a stud--no wonder he looks so tired!
Then, it was time to leave the Galapagos. We left our hotel before sunrise the next morning, crossed the cove by water taxi, drove 45 minutes to the channel, took the short ferry ride to Baltra Island, bussed to the airport arriving at 8 am for our 10 am flight, and then waited until 5:30 pm for our flight to arrive and whisk us away to Quito. We were scheduled on a Tame Air flight. Tame is a government airline, and they have about four planes. Unfortunately, our plane was broken so they had to wait for the Miami-Quito flight to arrive and then send that plane to Baltra. The biggest annoyance was that the airline never explained the situation nor could they tell us if a plane was on the way. We were stuck at the airport 9-1/2 hours with no internet and pay phones that did not work.