Academy Bay, Santa Cruz
AM: Visit to Darwin Center
The 5th day of our Galapagos tour would be spent in relative high levels of civilization. There will be village life and bus rides on paved streets which was somewhat of a novelty after 4 days of visiting islands with no or little human infrastructure. In the morning we went with our guide to the famous Darwin Station that is home to many endemic species of Galapagos animals, but in particular home to a variety of turtles and tortoises. The most famous tortoise called Lonesome George, who is somewhere around 150 years old. His name comes from the fact that he is the last remaining member of the Pinta Tortoises on this planet. Researchers and biologists have been trying to play matchmaker and find Goerge a girlfriend, but as of yet, he was still a bachelor.
All of George's fellow turtles were killed off by humans passing by on boats through out the history of human presence in the Galapagos. Specifically turtles where favored by sailors in centuries gone by due to the longevity and endurance of these animals. They would be stored, alive and upside down, on the ships and eaten at will. They would continue to live that way without food and water for months to come and hence turned into great fresh food supply for sailors. This way 100,000s of turtles perished from the Galapagos. Sadly, sailors would take younger or female animals that were not that heavy to carry, making procreation much more difficult. (Adults of large subspecies can weigh over 300 kilograms (660lb) and measure 1.2 meters (4 ft) long). According to estimates as many as 250,000 tortoises inhabited the islands when they were discovered. Today only about 15,000 are left, mainly due to harvest by whalers and pirates as describe above. In addition, non-native species such as goats, pigs and dogs were introduced on many islands, but specifically Santa Cruz, resulting in destruction of the vegetation that provides the tortoises' diet; destruction of their eggs in nests (found by pigs) further diminished the tortoise population. Unfortunately, the other hindrance to increasing the tortoise population is that hybrid species tend to live only two months. So even if Lonesome George could find a girl and make some babies, it wouldn't really be a solution to his genetic problem
The work of the Darwin Station is focused on reintroducing turtles to the islands by letting them grow under supervision until old enough for the wild. We returned for lunch on the boat, where we would also meet our new passengers.
PM: Bus ride to La Chota highlands to experience tortoises in the wild
Before we left on the afternoon tour we had to say good by to Andres and Andrea, who were leaving the Guatanamera to return home. The afternoon excursion by bus to La Chota (the highland region in the middle of Island Santa Cruz) allowed us to visit large tortoises still living in the wild. They were migrating north, through farmlands and lush greenery - it was crazy to see this massive shell, popping up thorugh the grasses. The grazing cows did not seem to mind them as all, and vice versa. Many of the animals we saw were older then 100 years. This was followed by a visit to a lava tube which we walked through from one end to the other (about 850 meters in length). At the end, we had a vast view over the valley and sea and even had a chance to slip into an old tortoise shell.
Back in town, we had enough time to buy a few more snacks for the road and watch the local world come alive. A volleyball tournament was forming at dusk in the town square, and the crowd of spectators was grwoing. Alex observed that it was only men playing and mostly men watching - perhaps the women were at home. In town, Alex also had the opportunity to learn more about the Angermeyers. Alex had been reading the book, "My Father's Island" about this German family who settled in the Galapagos in the 1930's. They had helped to settle Darwin Bay, and Alex was excited to see their name on the pier when we arrived and spot their family home from our boat. At the pier, waiting for the water taxi to return us to our boat, we watched the garua (heavy fog/mist) come into the Bay and make for a very intimate atmosphere. Dinner was served on board and was followed by a little salsa dance party on the roof top. That night the boat would leave with our new passengers – two Danish guys and Nicola, Dave and their Irish friend Sarah – to the island of Rabeda, where we would wake up.