Day 37: Tortoises, Tick

Wed. 19th September 2012

Our first (dome) tortoise sightingIt was a 7am collection from our hotel for our transfer to Baltra on Galapagos. At least everything was organised for us – once we got to the airport, we were presented with our boarding passes and pointed at the entrance to security.

We were also met at the airport by Juan our naturalist & guide and we also met up with the rest of the group that we will be spending the next week with. There are 16 of us in total (including the two of us) of whom twelve had spent the previous week or so walking the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. No doubt we will be picking their brains for hints and tips for when we walk the Trail in a couple of weeks time. We were relieved to hear that they were very enthusiastic about the whole experience.

Sealion taking it easy on a bouyThe airport at Baltra is separated from the main island of Santa Cruz by a canal and so we had a short ferry crossing before loading on to a coach for a drive across the island to Puerto Ayora where we would later join our boat. Before that, however, we were promised a stop off in the highlands to see some tortoises and a visit to the Charles Darwin centre.

Land IguanaOur first impressions of Galapagos was the ruggedness of the island (not surprising as it is volcanic and relatively recent) and the diversity of the habitats. In just a short drive from the ferry at Santa Cruz, we went from littoral (coastal) zone to dry zone (incense trees that looked dead but weren’t), through a greener zone and then up to the highlands – where we had a good old-fashioned English drizzle.

[On further reflection, this diversity of habitats is crucial to Darwin’s insight – the ability of species to adapt to the subtle variations of habitat. So, my apologies if I have only been stating the obvious.]

In the highlands we stopped at a farm for lunch and then it was off for a walk to see the giant tortoises. We must have come across a dozen wild tortoises. Here we got our first experience of wild animals being unafraid of humans. The tortoises would bulldoze their way through the grass and chomp away on whatever vegetation. You could then walk up within a metre or two of them and they would completely ignore you. They weren’t as graceful as the turtles we saw at Akumal, but they were still an incredible sight.

Lonesome George was an Abingdonian!After lunch it was on to the Darwin Research Centre, where they have a programme of breeding tortoises in captivity and then releasing them into the wild (on the correct island) in order to rebuild the population. We also saw the memorial to Lonesome George – who we learned was named Abingdoni. Other facts that we learned include:

  • The Galapagos islands were so named by the Spanish as they thought the shape of the Saddleback tortoises looked like a saddle;
  • Darwin was in his twenties when he came to the Galapagos and he was only here for 5 weeks, 2 of which were spent sailing between islands;
  • He destroyed a lot of evidence that would have been valuable later – including a number of tortoises that were eaten on the voyage home and the shells  thrown overboard.

Little and Large - Pelican at the fishmongersThe Darwin centre was a bit disappointing – it is hard to get enthusiastic about animals in captivity even if it is in a good cause, and there was relatively little in the way of exhibits and information. Afterwards we had a short walk into Puerto Ayora town where we took the opportunity to have a beer with our new friends and get to know them a bit better. We also found out that there is an Ecuadorian football club called Barcelona who were playing a televised match that drew strong local support.

There was a small fish market in town and this drew a lot of interest from the pelicans who flew in and perched on the counter or the floor, entirely ignoring both locals and tourists.

Our ship for the next week is the M/s Cachalote and our transfer out to the Cachalote was on the rigid inflatable tenders (pangas) that I think we will be using alot when we go off to visit islands.

All in all, it was great to see tortoises in the wild and the rugged scenery but I hope we get to see more over the rest of the week.

Today we saw:

  • Dome tortoises (wild and in captivity)
  • Saddle-back tortoises (in captivity)
  • Marine iguanas
  • Land iguanas
  • Pelican
  • Yellow warblers
  • Mockingbirds
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