We wake up anchored at Academy Bay of Santa Cruz Island, the second largest of the group of islands and also the economic capital of the province of Galapagos.
Early in the morning after breakfast we headed into the main dock to reach Darwin Station by a short bus ride through the town of Puerto Ayora, the largest of the province with about 15 thousand people.
Getting off the bus we walked into the national park area to visit the giant tortoise breeding and rearing program facilities. This program started to operate about four decades ago with the mission of bringing the giant tortoise, and also some land iguanas, population back to stable numbers from almost extinction in some of the cases, especially the ones from Pinta Island. That island’s only survivor was kept here for many years in hope of recovery but all efforts were finally in vain as he just passed away after years of hoping for good results.
We continued our expedition to see more giant tortoises, especially the one from the island of Espanola, which after predation by pirates came near to extinction with only fifteen individuals left alive. One male lived in California; his name was Diego, so named after the San Diego Zoo where he spent many years. Now the population is substantially increasing into the thousands. It has become one of the most successful breeding projects that have been carried out.
Finally we meet the future generations of tortoises. They are very small to begin with, then after five years of growth, we send them back out into their natural habitat. Now we have time for shopping! This very unique town has a great sense of tourism that they actually end up giving a percentage of their money back to the conservation projects. This helps the people’s economy in a very sustainable way which also helps to the conservation of the precious place we are blessed to be in.
From there we boarded a bus that took us to a local sugarcane press where we were able to try the juices of this sweet juicy plant. We also were able to try the local coffee distributers chocolate covered coffee beans, the coffee itself, and also purchase these wonderful products.
Finally we get to a restaurant in the highlands; but before lunch we enter a lava tube formed from past volcanic activity. There are quite interesting formations inside it as we walk through.
After this break we board the buses again; this time to go look for giant tortoises in the wild. This is a exiting part of the expedition because at this time of the year they can be seen in the area eating grasses that are quite abundant due to the regular mist at this elevation.
The vegetation is also impressive as this area is cultivated by local farmers; large trees paint the scene unlike those along the shore where we mostly do our activities.
Return to town after this fantastic excursion for a little more time to explore and then come back on board. The grandiose sunset at Academy Bay concluded a phenomenal day.