We dropped our anchor before dawn in Academy Bay off the southeastern coast of the second largest and centrally located island of Santa Cruz. Boats, ships and yachts of all description were anchored here and we could see the docks and buildings of the town of Puerto Ayora hugging the shore and also the farms scattered in the distance of the highlands. Over 20,000 people reside on Santa Cruz and the headquarters of both the National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station are located in PA (abbreviation for Puerto Ayora). 

This morning we learned about the very successful captive rearing program for endangered species of giant tortoises. Our naturalists informed us that from just over a dozen surviving adult tortoises found on Española Island in the mid 60’s, CDRS and the NP have brought that population back from the brink of extinction and there are over 2000 tortoises now lumbering again in the wilds on that small arid island. We learned the story of Lonesome George from the northern island of Pinta. We visited the new museum and photographed George who was preserved abroad and with pomp and ceremony returned to Galapagos just a few months ago.

We walked through town, enjoyed seeing the fish market, and shopped in the many colorful boutiques. We then gathered at The Rock Café for a welcome cool drink of passion fruit juice. It was a hot morning, as I had warned our guests that it would be. Walter took a small group of guests to visit a private school, Tomas de Berlanga, and we were cheerfully led by students who were happy to practice their English and answer our questions.

Socrates and Jose escorted their groups around the Trapiche farm where sugar cane, coffee and cocoa are grown and processed. Adriano Cabrerra, the energetic farm owner, showed us how they produce coffee, cane juice, sugar and liquor and we enjoyed sampling his wares and of course, taking photos. Then we boarded the buses again for a short drive to “los tuneles de amor.” This huge and impressive lava tunnel runs underground for over 2000 meters. It was formed when a lava river crusted over and then emptied out thousands of years ago. We climbed down slippery steps and walked for a while inside the dimly lit cavern.

Our next and final stop of the afternoon was at the lush and green Rancho Manzanillo where we indulged in a delicious buffet lunch. We could see tortoises in the fields beyond the restaurant grazing on grasses and soaking in puddles and ponds. We followed our naturalists and found several large males and everyone had ample time for photography! It was delightful to see these ancient and emblematic reptiles roaming freely in the lush highlands as they have for millennia.

Back in PA by late afternoon we chose to return to the National Geographic Islander for a shower and a rest or to do some additional last minute shopping in town. In the evening a full moon rose, magnificent and splendid in the dark sky. Following dinner the folkloric group EcoArte entertained us with Andean and Galapagos music and dances. Our own guide Jose and barman Octavio joined in the fun and many of the guests surprised us with their hidden talents for dancing! It has been yet another full, interesting and enjoyable day in the islas encantadas!