Santa Cruz or Indefatigable Island

Jan 01, 2020 - National Geographic Islander

Today on the first day of this new decade, we had an early 8:00 a.m. disembarkation at Puerto Ayora. Our destination was the Giant Tortoises Rearing Center, located close to the town and among a forest of centenary giant cacti, some of them about 30 feet high and 200 years old or more. This place has a beautiful wooden boardwalk above the corrals where baby tortoises are sheltered. Continuing our walk on the same trail, we found large tortoises of different islands, sizes, and shapes; some of them named “saddlebacks” because their shells look a lot like the saddle for a horse. The Spaniards called saddles “Galapago,” thus the name of our location. Other tortoises observed had shells resembling camping tents or a dome shaped shell reaching weights of 500 pounds or more! We continued exploring and learned about the famous “Lonesome George” tortoise. George was the last individual of Pinta Island. He died in 2012, and after a very careful taxidermy process developed in New York, was brought back to the Giant Tortoises Rearing Center. Now he is exhibited in a special temperate room behind glass. Overall, we saw about one hundred tortoises from five different islands of the Galapagos.

Later, we walked along the town’s main street and saw the remains of a burnt dummy – this is a typical Ecuadorian tradition, symbolizing the ending of the year, and the beginning of a new one full of hope. After, we traveled to the town of Bellavista and visited a lava tube and a sugarcane farm where we learned about the old 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 were able to try both, plus a very tasty cold sugarcane drink 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 in Santa Cruz. It was wonderful to see them in their natural environment, were some of them have lived peacefully for many, many years.

We closed the day on board with sunset cocktails, a calm sea around us, and 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.

About the Videographer

Joshua Vela

Video Chronicler

Joshua is our first Video Chronicler from the Galápagos Islands! He grew up on the island of Santa Cruz where he developed a strong connection with the natural world that surrounded him, and where he learned the importance of conservation.

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