This morning we headed ashore to Santa Cruz island to visit the town of Puerto Ayora. This bustling metropolis of almost 20,000 people is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which we headed straight to after breakfast. Our naturalists guided us around the facility to see various aspects of the research being done here – everything from controlling invasive species to breeding endangered species of tortoise. We got to meet Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his species (though a couple of half-breed females of his species have recently been discovered!) and watch baby tortoises being fed. We also heard about Super Diego, a tortoise which was brought back to the Galapagos from the San Diego Zoo for breeding purposes. Today he has over 1,000 offspring and will soon be returned to the wild as the conclusion of his successful breeding program.
After the research station, we shopped our way across town to The Rock, a café where we rendezvoused for the rest of the morning's activities. Some of us visited a school which Lindblad-National Geographic supports. The kids showed us around the classrooms, playground, soccer field, and café. The principle spent time talking to us about the school and how they are helping kids in the local community. The rest of the group went to a lava tube, where they descended into its cave-like maw and trekked into its depths. Later, everyone went to a sugar cane plantation for a demonstration of how sugar cane is processed into various products. We got to sample the raw sugar and sugar cane juice as well as local chocolate and coffee. And then there was the moonshine…
Lunch was at a farm full of tortoises! After our buffet meal, we walked around the fields and ponds to see the huge animals lumbering along and placidly grazing. This is an area where they roam free and take advantage of this farm's fields and water sources. Several were enjoying mud baths during our visit.
When we returned to the ship, we had local artisans join us aboard to share their wares. After dinner, a local band and dance group performed for us. All in all, a very full and satisfying day!