Santa Cruz or Indefatigable Island

Feb 08, 2019 - National Geographic Islander

Today we disembarked at the pier of Puerto Ayora and went by bus to entrance of the Darwin Research Station to see the Giant Tortoise Rearing Center. This complex is located close to the town and among a forest of centenary giant cacti, some of them about 30 feet high. The place has an above ground wooden boardwalk, with a fine view of the corrals where baby tortoises are well protected. Continuing our walk on the same trail, we found large tortoises of different shapes, sizes and islands, some of them known as “saddle backs,” because their shells look a lot like a saddle for a horse. Spaniards called them Galapago, which is where the name of the islands came from. Other tortoises found in the same place look like rounded camping tents with a dome shaped shell and can reach average weights of 500 pounds. During this short visit, we saw about fifty tortoises from five different islands of the Galapagos. The walked continued to the building where the famous tortoise Lonesome George is exhibited. George was the last individual of the island Pinta, he died in 2012 and after a very careful taxidermy process developed in New York, was brought back to the Giant Tortoise Rearing Center. Now he is located in a special temperate room behind a glass.

Later on, we walked along the main street of the town of Puerto Ayora, and we stopped by the fishing dock, where we saw the daily catch of the local fishermen. We also saw some sea lions and pelicans trying to get a piece of a fish after being cleaned up to be sold to the clients.

After visiting the town, we took our bus again, and reached to the town of Bellavista. Here we were able to visit a lava tube and a sugar cane farm as well. We saw the old ways to make brown sugar, “melaza” syrup and agua ardiente -- translated as “fire water” -- a strong “moonshine or schnapps,” we also saw how coffee and cocoa beans are processed after being harvested, and we tried both as well as a very tasty cold sugar cane juice with a tiny bit of buzz.

After a wonderful lunch at a local farm, we walked for about an hour and saw many tortoises of different sizes in the wild, these “giants” were wandering around a water pond and along the trails located in this forested area on the island of Santa Cruz.  It was wonderful to see them in their natural environment, where some of them have lived peacefully for many, many years.

By the end of the day, we enjoyed cocktails onboard our vessel, watching a very nice sunset and a very calm sea around us, with the company of some artists from the island of Santa Cruz.

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About the Author

Lenin Villacis


Lenin was born in the capital city of Quito, where he grew up surrounded by the mountains and volcanoes of the Andean region of Ecuador. At age 17, he received a scholarship to study in Mexico, and a few years later traveled to the U.S. and finished college with a degree in Earth sciences. In 1994 he returned to Ecuador to undergo a training course to become a naturalist guide for his incredibly rich and biodiverse home country, and started working in the Amazon rain forest of Ecuador.

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