Galapagos - Santa Cruz

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galápagos,
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So the next part of the trip was a week's cruise in the Galapagos. I have for many years had the Galapagos on my top 5 wish list of places to visit in the world. I had this vision of a desolate volcanic landscape, a pristine wilderness where strange looking animals roam around viritually untouched by human influence.The island for me had virtually taken on a mythological status, forever linked to Darwin and his theory of evolution and this was going to be somewhere that I was going to see something you will never see anywhere else in the world (at least I hadn't bigged it up at all).  

I am going to include quite a bit of factual information in here (it just means Mum can answer even more questions on Eggheads).  Pretty all of it I've looked up on t’internet  since my return. On the trip we did have a fully qualified naturalist with us (not the naked on a beach type), called Efrain. However, I never really heard much of the stuff he was telling us because I was usually off taking photos or had just wondered off because in such situations I have the attention span of a gnat. I am sure all of this he did tell us – I just wasn’t there.

The Galapagos are an isolated group of volcanic islands located in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 1000km off the coast of Ecuador, straddling the equator.and about 90 degrees west of Greenwich. 

The archipelago encompasses over 50 islands of volcanic origin that are spread out over an area of about 4500 sq. kms. The oldest of these is not more than 2.4 million years old, a baby in geological terms. The islands are among the most volcanically active group of islands in the world.

The Galapagos were officially discovered in 1535 when the then Bishop of Panama, Fray Tomas de Berlanga and his ship were becalmed and carried out to the islands. In 1570 the islands first officially appeared on a map and were called the "Insulae de los Galopegos" (Islands of the Tortoises). Isla Isabela is the largest island within the archipelago and there are 12 major islands and 12 smallers ones.

The most famous visitor to the Galapagos was Charles Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle, arriving in 1835. Darwin stayed for 5 weeks, making notes and collecting specimens that provided evidence for his theory of evolution. In reality he spent most of his time on the island San Salvador (Santiago) observing and eating tortoises.

So on the Wednesday we were up early as we had a flight to catch. I also had to get up even earlier in an attempt to get the blog up-to-date before I headed off (leaving my homework to the last minute again!). So we had a 35 minute hop to Guayaquill, followed by an 1hr 30mins flight to Baltra. The plane food was my worst nightmare. For some reason they had decided the 7 of us who were with Exodus were vegetarian and I had a salad of lettuce, mushrooms, asparagus and olives. I also had the joy of sitting next to David and Nicki. They are both lovely but David spend the entire flight talking about statistics from plane crashes and which types of airbus planes he has flown on.  When we landed we were hoarded onto a clapped out bus and made to stand in the aisle with all our luggage. Then we had a bizarre ferry crossing to Santa Cruz Island before being put onto a coach.

So finally we were ready to head out and see our first Galapagos wildlife – the famous giant tortoises. I had visions of them wondering the highlands, but no we were off to a farm! It turns out that tortoises are quite elusive in the wild, and to help preserve the species the national park has made it off limits to visit many areas on various islands where the tortoises roam free. However, many of them do roam onto farms, where they are allowed to feed, and in turn the farmers do not kill them and get the revenue from the tourism.

So the tortoise is the most recognized symbol of the Galapagos. The word Galapagos is Spanish for saddle; referring to the shape of the Galapagos tortoise shell. With weights over 500 lbs (250 kg) and shells measuring 59 inches (150 cm) Galapagos Tortoises are among the largest on earth. These land-based turtles are slow moving and known for their long life span of more than 150 years.

The tortoise played an important role in the Theory of Evolution. When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands, the vice-governor of the Islands told him that he could identify what island the tortoise was from simply by looking at him because they all had slightly different characteristics.

Naturalists believe tortoises arrived in the islands clinging to a piece of driftwood (Titantic spring to mind anyone?) from a river mouth along the Pacific Coast. A relatively large tortoise, related to the Galapagos tortoise lives on the South American mainland. The tortoises arrived in San Cristobal then spread throughout the archipelago. Those on individual islands or in isolated parts of the larger islands developed into its own sub-species. Tortoises that evolved on the larger islands – like Santa Cruz benefited from the lush plant life and grew to be the largest of the species. They had plenty of food and did not need to travel great distances. They can be identified by their larger size, domed shells (making it easier to push brush out of the way) and by their shorter legs and neck.Tortoises that came from smaller drier islands had a saddleback or flatter shell with longer legs and a longer neck making them capable of traveling greater distances. The main staple of tortoises from these areas was the pad of the opuntia cactus and the long necks allowed the tortoises to reach their meal.

Then we headed into the town (yes town!) of Puerto Ayora. Caroline and I were most despondent by all of this as this is so not what we were expecting.  Where was the volcanic rock?, iguana’s? cacti?, sea lions? This wasn’t how it looked on the DVD. It turns out (because I hadn’t actually read Lonely Planet ) that the island of Santa Cruz is the most developed of the islands with a population of 15 000 people and much of the island is given over to farming. The town itself is just one big souvenir shop, it was like being on the promenade at Blackpool. Rather than 'Kiss Me Quick’ there was the  ‘I Love Boobies’ mechandise.  We also went to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Again we were a little bit disappointed as there was not much to see here except Lonesome George. Poor old George is a tortoise and he is the only surviving tortoise from Isla Pinta and has been living here since 1972. Unfortunately for George he has thus far been unable to impregnate any female (or males for that fact) and the scientists are very concerned that when poor old George dies that his sub-species will die with him. So after an hour to roam around the town we then made our way to our boat. In order to minimise the enironmental impact on the islands most of the tourism is done on small boats. We were on The Cachalote. It’s a schooner (It’s got some masts and sails). In the end their are 13 of us on the boat. 7 from the Exodus group. 4 French people who we didn’t have much to do with, and then Samantha (BA Cabin Crew – Short Haul) and Nick - yah young British people - who joined us at the last minute. There were also 7 crew with us.

There was also meant to be Margaret who was booked with Exodus, but she did not turn up. This in the end turned out very well for me as I got a cabin to myself. The cabin’s are what you would describe as compact (they are en-suite though), and all the couples were having problems with the amount of space they had. I’m not too sure how me and Margaret would have coped at all. So basically from this point our week on the boat began.
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Mum on

I wish the tortoise I had as a child had been as big as George, then I wouldn't have lost him under your Pap's shed. But there again, he would have needed a big Iceberg to feed him.

Caroline W on

Loved the bit about all the two randy ones have it easy compared to the lonely life of George!

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