After a delicious breakfast with a traditional option of a plantain-based dish called "tigrillo,” we were fortified for today’s exploration of Santa Cruz’s western side. At Dragon Hill, we found an arid landscape much different from the humid highlands of Santa Cruz. Instead of a forest of asteraceas and giant tortoises, we came across many land iguanas. These terrestrial reptiles are related to marine iguanas, but they eat prickly pear and nest in burrows. Afterward, it was time to hit the water on Zodiacs, kayaks, and paddleboards. Off the coast of Santa Cruz, we encountered more wildlife, even a giant manta ray.
National Geographic Endeavour II
Today was an exciting day on our expedition. We went back to civilization and visited the town of Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. We wanted to see what life is like in the Galapagos, and we were eager to see a healthy population of giant tortoises in the wild. Early in the morning, we landed at the town’s main pier and headed to the Charles Darwin Research Station. We learned all about conservation programs of the past and present in the Galapagos, and we got to see the process to breed giant tortoises. This is one of the most iconic conservation programs on the islands. Afterwards, we walked through the town. We encountered a fish market that had some unusual customers, including sea lions and pelicans waiting for some leftovers. For the rest of the day, we planned to visit the highlands. We boarded our buses and headed to a local farm that produces coffee, sugar, cacao, and moonshine. Don Adriano, the owner of the farm, is a charming man who enjoyed showing us his craft. While the sugarcane juice was fermenting, he demonstrated why Spanish moonshine is called “agua ardiente.” He threw some of the moonshine onto the fire, which created a big flame. He encouraged everybody to taste the potent spirit, as well as his flavorful coffee, sugarcane juice with lime, and roasted coffee grains with “panela.” It was a really fun experience for everyone. The giant tortoises in the wild were the highlight of the day. A delicious lunch at “El Manzanillo” ranch gave us energy for our walk. We put on rubber boots and wandered near these antediluvian creatures, as Darwin described them. It was a magical experience to get close and personal with them. We heard about their history and biology from our naturalist, and we learned how to take amazing photos of them from our photo instructors. What a remarkable way to spend the day.