Feb 15, 2017 - National Geographic Islander
We navigated north overnight and dropped anchor just before dawn in Academy Bay. The bustling town of Puerto Ayora was spread along the coast and we could see farms in the highlands. This island is home for over 20,000 inhabitants and also boasts the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station. Tourism, agriculture and fishing provide jobs for most of the people who live in one of the three towns on Santa Cruz.
We spent a couple hours this morning visiting the Research Station and learning about the successful captive breeding of giant tortoises. Where wild tortoise populations are endangered and have reduced numbers, the park and station are hatching the eggs in captivity, keeping them well fed and protected from possible introduced predators like rats, cats and dogs, and repatriating them to the islands of their origin, once their shell is strong enough to protect them. On Espanola Island, from a low of 15 adult tortoises we now have 2,000 in the wild on the island again!
We walked through town and shopped and photographed – and sweated! This is the hot and rainy season in Galapagos and we received a good dose of each of those climatic options today. We gathered briefly at The Rock Café to cool off, sip a glass of juice, and refill our water bottles. Then we boarded the buses for a 20 minute drive up into the lush green highlands where we had a delightful visit to a family run coffee and sugar cane farm.
Don Adrian Cabrera and our naturalists explained how the sugar cane is pressed and put a friendly burro named Angelito to work. They cooked the syrup to make brown sugar and fermented moon shine; we enjoyed tasting it all! They showed us how to remove the husks from the coffee beans and toast them while they are constantly moved. We laughed and photographed and then return to the buses to drive through a pouring rain to Narwhal restaurant where we dined on delicious grilled chicken (or other options) and drank a few welcome cold beers.
Next on our agenda was a visit to a farm on the southwestern slopes of Santa Cruz where tortoises were grazing, plodding along and soaking in a muddy pool. We put on rubber boots and had just begun to photograph the tortoises when the down pour began. Galapagos has had two years of severe drought so these rains are welcome – just not conducive to taking pictures….
But we had a wonderful adventure, we walked inside of a lava tunnel and back in town only a few brave souls stayed on shore for additional shopping. Most of us shuttled via the “pangas” – our local term for the Zodiacs – back to the National Geographic Islander. We learned about the tool using woodpecker finch during recap, had a hearty buffet dinner and then were thoroughly entertained by a folkloric group EcoArte with musicians and dancers.