Santa Cruz Island
What a full day! Starting from early in the morning until late afternoon we packed the hours with all sorts of experiences, from watching young, recently-hatched giant tortoise hatchlings, to planting trees in the highlands, to watching fish get filleted in town.
We started with a visit to the tortoise rearing center operated by the Galápagos National Park. As mentioned above they young were stumbling around, and the adults were also hopping restlessly from foot to foot (…just kidding…but if they could, they would…) because today is meal day. Three times a week they get their greens. Lonesome George was visible, and not hiding his light under a bush, Diego was also moving around, and many histories were told of their lives.
After that visit with the tortoises, well over half the group had chosen to join the project set up by Exclusive Resorts to help the National Park in a reforestation project up in the highlands. We arrived in delicious cloudy conditions, and the air was fresh with less humidity. The shrubs we were planting were the endemic Cafetillo, or Psychotria rufpes. The area was in the buffer zone around the last remaining stand of the giant daisy, Scalesia pedunculata, an endemic plant of Galápagos that forms a forest of elfin-like ambience of mosses and lichens. Many endemic land-birds as well as native and endemic plants require this habitat to survive, and the infamous blackberry has invaded. The park personnel had cut back and eradicated the blackberry in a two-hectare area, but they needed to replace it with native and endemic plants that won’t allow the blackberry to return. Blackberry doesn’t do well in shaded areas, so this is the project. Plant Cafetillo now, Scalesia trees next month, and hope the blackberry can be kept at bay until perhaps a better, more permanent method can be found.
In a little over an hour, 280 seedlings were left in the soil ready to start a new life, 25 guests were dirty and happy with their efforts, and the Park personnel thrilled to have had so much help and see the area covered with hope.
The others spent some free time in town, stopping briefly in the town of Bellavista to try some coffee grown on the island and see how sugar cane is squeezed for juice. Then we all met up in the restaurant for lunch (and plenty of cold beer!).
The afternoon took all to some land halfway up the slopes of this inhabited island where giant tortoises roam free. At this time of year they are mostly closer to the lowlands where both food and warmth can be found. We found several of these behemoths slowly grazing in open areas, so close observations and photographs were had by all.
The late afternoon in Puerto Ayora is usually the liveliest time, when people are getting off of work, the air is cooling down, and folks still get out promenading down the sidewalks. Shops were open, too, so many decided to stay in town for an hour or two more before returning home to the National Geographic Islander, showers, and rest.
But not for too long! That evening we had talented local musicians come on board to perform some of their unique “Galapageña” repertoire of music and dance…THEN we went to sleep!