Santa Cruz or Indefatigable Island

Dec 18, 2019 - National Geographic Islander


Today we disembarked at the peer of Puerto Ayora and went by bus to the Darwin Research Station to see the Giant Tortoises Breeding Center. This complex is located close to town and among a forest of centenary giant cacti, some of them about 30 feet high, and perhaps 200 years old or more. The place has a beautiful wooden boardwalk, and next to it are the corrals where baby tortoises are sheltered. Continuing our walk on the same trail, we found large tortoises of different shapes, sizes and islands, some of them named “saddlebacks” because their shells look a lot like a saddle for a horse. The Spaniards called them “Galapago”: this is where the name of the islands come from. Other tortoises here have a dome-shaped shell and can reach a weight of 500 pounds or more. Overall, we saw a hundred or so tortoises from different islands of the Archipelago. We continued our walk and headed over to the building where the famous Lonesome George Tortoise is housed. 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 Santa Cruz Island Center. Now he is exhibited in a special temperate room behind glass.

Later, we traveled to the town of Bellavista where we walked in a lava tube and visited a sugar cane farm. We saw the traditional ways of making brown sugar, “melaza” syrup and “agua ardiente” a strong moonshine schnapps. We also saw how coffee and cocoa beans are processed after being harvested and tried both, plus a very tasty cold sugar cane juice drink with a tiny bit of buzz!

After a wonderful lunch at a local farm, we walked in the middle of some mild rain for about an hour and saw many tortoises in the wild. These giants were wandering around a water pond and along the trails located in the forested area of the Island of Santa Cruz. It was wonderful to see them in their natural environment, where some of them have lived peacefully for thousands of years.

To end our day, we enjoyed cocktails on board our vessel, watching a very nice sunset and a very calm sea around us.

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About the Author

Lenin Villacis

Naturalist

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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