Santa Cruz or Indefatigable Island

Dec 13, 2019 - National Geographic Islander

Today we disembarked at the peer of “Puerto Ayora” and went by bus to entrance of the Darwin Research Station to see the Giant Tortoises Rearing Center, this complex is located close to the sea and among a forest of hundreds of years old giant cacti, some of them about 30 feet high. The place has a beautiful wooden boardwalk and next to this path some corral in which baby tortoises less than two years old live in protection from the outside world. Continuing our walk on the same trail, we found also several large tortoises of different shapes and sizes. Some are known as “saddlebacks” with shells resembling that of a horse saddle, while others look like a rounded camping tent and able to reach weights of 500 pounds or even more. By day’s end we saw around a hundred tortoises across five different islands. We ventured on to pay homage to Lonesome George: the last individual of Pinta Island’s tortoise population. He died in 2012 and after a very careful taxidermy process developed in New York City, was brought back to the Giant Tortoises Rearing Center. He now dwells in his new temperature-controlled environs behind glass.

Later, we walked along Puerto Ayora’s mainstreet, stopping along the fishing dock where we saw the daily catch of the local fishermen. Here we saw sea lions, pelicans and frigates vying for the fish scraps left from cleaning. We re-boarded our bus to visit a sugar cane farm where we observed traditional methods of sugar production, melaza syrup and “agua ardiente,” a very strong alcohol comparable to moonshine. We also saw how cocoa and coffee are processed after harvest.

Following a wonderful lunch at a local farm, we walked for an hour and saw many tortoises of different size in the wild along the way. These shelled giants wade and wonder around ponds off the trail. It was quite something to see these individuals in their natural environment, where they have lived peacefully for many, many years.

By the end of the day, we enjoyed cocktails on board our vessel, watching a charming sunset and calm seas around us.

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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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