Today could not have been better! It was filled with giant tortoises from beginning to end and exploring the local community of Santa Cruz.
In the morning, our guests had the opportunity to learn about conservation programs through visiting the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center of Giant Tortoises and the Charles Darwin Foundation. This was an especially exciting day, since we had the chance to meet an icon for the breeding program, the very famous Diego, an older male that had been taken from the island of Espanola on 1906 and it returned in 1975 to the breeding center, to father more than 1,000 babies. The Espanola tortoise breeding program was part of the restoration of the island. This included eradicating feral goats, recuperating a giant opuntia or prickly pear cactus endemic to that island (which is the main food source for the tortoises) and of course, repatriating over 2,000 individuals to the island.
With a steady number of tortoises already reproducing on the island, it is now time to finish the Espanola breeding program. It was exciting for everyone to see Diego for the last time in captivity, and a bit sad to see him go after so many years of working hard to repopulate his island. At the same time, a sense of fulfillment came upon everyone, as this afternoon, he was taken to get ready to go back to the island from where he was taken from 113 years ago.
As the day went on, the groups separated, and some guests had the opportunity to visit the local school that Lindblad Expedition and National Geographic support. It was a perfect opportunity to visit with the kids that are learning to become critical thinkers and the future leaders of the islands. Another group went to El Trapiche, a small farm where our guests had the chance to see how they harvest sugar cane and coffee and of course, enjoy a good cup of coffee and even some moonshine.
All the groups reconvened for lunch, and not long after, went to enjoy a walk in a farm where we could wander around the gentle giant tortoises. It was a magical moment to walk on the paths of giant tortoises, where they have walked for thousands of years.