Santa Cruz or Indefatigable Island

Jan 10, 2020 - National Geographic Islander


Around 8:00 a.m. we disembarked in Puerto Ayora to see the Giant Tortoise Rearing Center. The 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 shapes, sizes and islands, some of them called “saddlebacks” because their shells look a lot like a saddle for a horse. The Spaniards called them “Galapago,” and this is where the name of the islands come from. The area is very beautiful and it is surrounded by a forest of centenary giant cacti, some of them about 30 feet high and 200 years old or more. Other tortoises found in the same place look like rounded camping tents, with a dome shaped shell, and can reach weights of 500 pounds or more. Overall we saw close to a hundred tortoises from five different islands of the Galapagos.

The walk continued to the building where the famous tortoise known as Lonesome George was housed. George was the last individual of Pinta Island, and he died in 2012. After a very careful taxidermy process developed in New York, he was brought back to the Giant Tortoise Rearing Center where he is now exhibited in a special temperate room behind glass.

Later on, we walked along the main street of the town of Puerto Ayora, and we saw the remains of the effigy burned last night, a typical Ecuadorian tradition, symbolizing the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one full of hope.

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. We saw the old way to make brown sugar, “melaza” syrup and “agua ardiente” (a strong moonshine). We also saw how coffee and cocoa beans are processed after being harvested, and we tried both plus 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 of 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 on board 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

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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