TORTOISES IN SANTA CRUZ HIGHLANDS:
In the morning, we went to the main pier in town and then took a bus to the highlands where we can see the giant tortoises in the wild. It is sometimes hard to see them in March, and there was a huge rain the day before, which flooded many areas, but we were going to try.
Our first stop was a quick one to view a couple of lava sink holes. These were very deep, large holes with vegetation where the earth gave away.
Next we went to Primicias Ranch, which is private land next to the Galapagos National Park. They have rubber boots, snack bar, and ping pong tables.
Apparently, it is muddy on most days (hence the boots), but it was particularly goopy today. We could see where the trails should be, but the area was so flooded, we mostly walked through water 6-12 inches deep and mucky mud. I was very happy to have the boots….
We went with a local guide from the ranch, who knew basically where the tortoises were. I guess in August and September, there are dozens of tortoises right around the restaurant area, but in March, you have to work a bit to see them in the wild.
I felt very lucky – we saw 5 of them in different areas (2 males and 3 females), and they are gigantic! We could hear 2 of them mating (they make a loud grunting/groaning noise), but by the time we got there, the female had "run" about 100 feet away.
After the hike, we all went back to the restaurant to wash off the boots, and many people bought snacks and sodas.
Our next stop was the lava tunnel. Typically, you can walk all the way through and stay dry, but with the recent rains, they recommended that we keep our rubber boots.
You go down stairs into the tunnel. The beginning part of the tunnel was cleared of rocks, smoothed out, and with a nice gravel floor. Most people just hiked into the tunnel a little ways and then hiked back out to the bus, but a few of us chose to hike all the way through.
Further in, it got more rocky and uphill. Near the middle, the tunnel squeezes down to about 2 feet high, and you have to crawl on your hands and knees. On the other side, there was one more area where we had to duck down, and then we came upon the stairway back up.
We got muddy crawling through, but I think that is unusual. The tunnel is very well lit throughout, so no headlamps are needed. Photographs were difficult, however.
After the tunnel, we got back on the bus and headed back to the boat for lunch.
CHARLES DARWIN STATION:
In the afternoon, our pangas took us to a different dock near the Charles Darwin Station, which is just outside of the main town.
At the station, we went in one tortoise pen which had 5 males and we could walk right up to them for pictures. This was the only area where we could go inside.
There were other areas with different kinds of tortoises, and you can really see the difference in the shells depending on which island they came from. One pen has famous Lonesome George, but he was hiding in the shade, and we could only see his shell from a distance. There is another area where they have baby tortoises of different types and ages. Very cute! Finally, there are 3 pens with 1 land iguana each as they are trying to improve their population as well.
Puerto Ayora is the biggest town in the Galapagos with lots and lots of boats in the harbor. It’s interesting to see the other cruise boat options. When the sun is out, the water is a beautiful aquamarine, and the town is rather cute if touristy.
After the visit to the station, we were free to walk down the road into town. The main road is lined with cute shops, restaurants, and hotels. We window shopped a bit and then found an outdoor restaurant with WiFi. Some French fries and lemonades later, we were connected!
We met our group at the main pier to catch the pangas back to the boat for dinner. At the main pier area, there is a nice playground for younger kids as well as a grocery store to get any necessities. There was also lively game of volleyball going on amongst the townspeople.
There are also water taxis, so I think it would be possible to stay later in town and take one of those back to the ship.
By now, everyone on the boat is very familiar with each other, so the evening was spent chatting, watching the kids’ Monopoly game, and looking at the stars.
This was our first day without snorkeling, and I must admit that I missed it….
For the morning excursion, we all wore long pants because of the mud. I felt fine in a short-sleeve shirt, but many people had a loose, long sleeve shirt.
For the afternoon, it was very hot again, so shorts, short-sleeve shirts, and hats. Some people wore a loose, long sleeve shirt again for sun protection.
Breakfast was scrambled eggs with peppers, toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt, and pineapple juice.
There was no snack after the morning excursion because it was already lunch time. Most people purchased a snack at the ranch.
Lunch was a buffet of chicken, fish with capers, rice, vegetable, salad, and fruit.
After the afternoon excursion, we had berry juice and cheese empanadas.
We got back pretty late from the island, so there was no separate kids dinner.
Dinner was a buffet of BBQ pork ribs, cheesy noodles, rice with mushrooms, green beans, salad of cucumbers/tomatoes/mushrooms, and dessert of corn/cinnamon/milk cake.