The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago consisting of over a dozen islands, only a few of which are populated. Santa Cruz is the hub of the Galapagos; it is the central island with the largest population of all the islands at a whopping 15, 000 inhabitants. The change of pace from Quito has been nice. For the past 3 nights we stayed at Hotel Espana in Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz.
On our first morning in Puerto Ayora we went around to all the travel agencies in town to get the lowest quote on a day trip to one of the farther islands – I kept notes of all their offered prices to then use them against other agencies – this approach seemed to intimidate them. In the end we got a price from Michael at Galapagos Mural S.A. agency, which none of the other agencies would match. We felt good about being such bargain hunters.
Once our next day’s trip was settled, we headed to the Charles Darwin Observation station to learn about the efforts on the various islands to rebuild the population of giant tortoises. Before man began visiting the islands the population of giant tortoises on the Galapagos flourished as these beautiful and slow-moving animals had no natural predators. Since the arrival of various pirates, colonists, etc. the tortoises have had a tough streak, being killed off by the thousands mainly for their meat. Despite what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have you believe, giant tortoises are basically defenseless – they simply hide their heads in their shell when threatened. Thus, the authorities at the islands have started a breeding program to rebuild their population. While visiting the station we saw what looked like giant tortoises at all stages of development in individual pens – some of them just a few centimeters long. Then we moved onto the adults.
The first time you see a giant tortoise your mind become blown. The best part about these tortoises, and basically all animals on the Galapagos, is that they aren’t scared of humans. One female giant tortoise easily weighing over 200lbs actually chased me – at a tremendously slow speed, mind you (see photo above). I pulled some leaves off the nearby tree and fed her – it was fantastic. We then moved over to the male tortoise enclosure. While the guys weren’t nearly as playful as the females, they were absolutely gigantic – 300-400lbs easy. We got up right beside them and they barely moved a muscle. This became my personal highlight of our trip up to that point.
Right after this, we saw male and female giant tortoises making passionate love. We were literally a few feet away as their shells grinded together and the male moaned with each thrust. We didn’t stay until the climax – one of the staff there told us tortoise sex can go on for hours.
The following day we boarded a boat on a day excursion to Floreana Island – one of the most southern of the Galapagos islands. Due to prior experience on rough seas while traveling from Malta to Sicily a couple of years back, Marina and I knew we had to prepare for this excursion which included about 2 hrs of very rough waters each way. So we went to one of the local pharmacies and got sea sickness meds – sold by the pill, over the counter for 25 cents each.
I love this medication!
Aside from a strong sedative effect, my stomach and head were perfectly fine despite the VERY rough water. Marina also felt perfectly fine, even falling asleep at one point.
On this trip we saw some more giant turtles being bred, some tunnels that developed from the flow of lava from one of the volcanoes that created the island. Apparently, a bunch of families from Europe colonized this island and used these lava formations as their homes. After lunch we went snorkeling. This was not the greatest idea as this was probably the roughest snorkeling I have ever done – the sea was angry, very angry. While we were being sloshed around by the waves we saw a couple small sharks and a sting ray. On account of the rough seas we moved onto another site with calmer water. This part was fantastic – we got to swim around with sea lions. They were so playful, doing all sorts of tricks in the water for apparently no other reason than to entertain the tourists. Marina tried to mimic the sea lions by following their every move. At one point, she started to blow bubbles in the water and two small sea lions mimicked her – spectacular!
Although the sea lions seemed friendly in the water, this morning I learned a very important lesson: they DO NOT like to be touched. We were walking by a tiny fish market, where a fisherman was selling off today’s catch to the locals piece by piece. Amongst the shopping locals and the fisherman were two sea lions, who would slither around, sniff around the counter, and patiently wait until they got a scrap of fish. Batting the sea lions for precious scraps were half a dozen huge pelicans and one stork-like bird with a giant and sharp beak. Given the cute mannerisms of the sea lions, and the way they moved around the fishermen, I assumed they liked people.
So I decided to pet the sea lion.
The teeth of the angry sea lion grazed my forearm as I quickly pulled away when it started to twist its head around to bite me. I nearly soiled my pants. Right as it happened a few of the fisherman who saw the encounter altered me not to pet the sea lions as they can bite – advice that would have been very useful only seconds ago…
This afternoon we took a boat to the biggest of the Galapagos islands – Isabela. Once again the sea was very angry, possibly even angrier than the day before, but once again our butts were saved by the meds. Although Isabela is the biggest of the islands, it only has about 2000 people living on it. In other words, this islands is almost deserted. The roads here are not paved. There are no names of streets, or numbers on buildings. From what I can gather there are 1 or 2 places with internet access here, and that access is rather patchy – I will have to see tomorrow if I can actually post what I am currently writing.
Once again, we arrived at this place with no accommodations arranged, but as I write these words, I am sitting in a two bedroom ‘home’ with a bathroom, tv, dvd player, a makeshift kitchen. The owner of this place, Lauro, just happened to be at the pier as we got off our boat. We hopped onto some rickety truck, threw our backpacks on the flatbed and headed into town. Oh and did I mention we are paying 10$ per person per night?
It is now 10:05pm – as in 5 minutes past my bedtime. Marina has been sleeping for the past hour. She will have an unfair wakefulness advantage tomorrow morning. I must retire.
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