El Chato, Santa Cruz and North Seymour

Waking up at 6:00 AM is not everybody’s cup of tea, and going for a hike before having the “official” breakfast (you should see the “early morning snack”…Good bye diet!) sounds like boot camp and not like vacationing on board the Islander, but those little sacrifices pay off generously. First the bus ride to the lush and green highlands of Santa Cruz island, going through several vegetation zones, then the descent to the tortoise reserve of el Chato for a hike in search of giant tortoises in the wild. We counted 13 right on the trail and around the lagoon where we also saw a few white-cheeked pintail ducks. A couple of those male tortoises were so large that they looked like a prehistoric version of a Volkswagen beetle. Doubtlessly the zoological highlight of the morning was the spotting of what looks like an albino medium billed ground finch (check out the picture). This rarity could not be seen by all of us in the wild, but we got a picture that also shows a female small-billed ground finch in the background for comparison.

We came back on board after shopping in Puerto Ayora from where we departed and headed for North Seymour island. Along the way we briefly spotted a Bryde’s whale. At arrival, everybody in the group was deeply fascinated by an island vibrant with life. The landing spot was carpeted by sally lightfoot crabs. Land iguanas and blue-footed boobies were everywhere. The male great frigatebirds were proudly displaying their enormous red gular pouches, competing for the attention of the females. Some sea lions decided to ride the waves at the west side of the island for all of us to see. Nobody wanted to leave the island. Too bad the sun sets and such beautiful day comes to an end.