From the National Geographic Endeavour in Galapagos
Feb 28, 2013 - National Geographic Endeavour
Santa Cruz Island
Last night the National Geographic Endeavour sailed southeast towards the older part of the archipelago. The islands in the center of the archipelago are significantly older than the western part and we therefore did some form of time traveling. It is unique in the sense that despite the small distances between the islands, the differences between them are significant.
Santa Cruz is a relatively big Galapagos Island and has on its southern flank a lush, tropical forest. Puerto Ayora, the biggest town on Santa Cruz, is the main hub for tourism and inhabitants. The still small coastal town stands as a model for a modern boomtown; construction sites are prominent and unpainted cinderblock walls and floors are everywhere you look. Out of control and unregulated urban growth made a town that has no true identity or city planning; when walking through its streets one could be in any one of the many impoverished Latin American small towns.
And yet there are still the unique houses and scenes of real Galapagos life as it was not long ago on the four inhabited islands. These breathe the old times, when the town’s power plant would shut down every night at ten, the cargo ship with supplies from the mainland would arrive only once every ten or twelve days, and tourism was more an oddity than a means of living.
We disembarked early in the morning to visit another important part of this town: the oldest tortoise breeding center of the islands. Here we find pens that are crawling with young tortoises and hear about the success stories of island restoration. The center is situated in a unique dry forest that wraps around Puerto Ayora everywhere except on the waterfront. The forest boasts the tallest Opuntia cacti in Galapagos and since it is spring time the cacti, trees, and shrubs are flowering. The air is heavy with fragrance and we spot many finches of various species in their hurried state of courting and nest-building.
Later we head up into the hills to have lunch and afterward we see another unique landscape; that of the transition zone of a medium high Galapagos Island. We see a unique mix of tall endemic trees and grasslands, and giant tortoises complete the picture as if they were cattle.
As we take the ride back to town some of us decide to hang around in town for another hour. When we arrive at the small court on the waterfront we spot the same Galapagos animals we know so well by now. Next the area fills up with a local crowd to see the men of town play fanatic games of volleyball, and the playground next to the court is busy with dozens of children. Tonight, even this boomtown looks charming and unique.