Darth Vader Tortoise

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
Trip End May 09, 2008

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Galápagos Voyager

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Saturday, March 8, 2008

We took an ungodly 5:30am taxi from our hotel to the airport and checked in for our TAME airlines flight at Quito airport.  After a short layover in Guayaquil, we arrived on Baltra Island, one of the Galapagos Islands.  We got off the plane and it was raining pretty hard.   Well, we kind of expected it since we came during the hot and rainy season.  Before we hit immigration we were greeted by an iguana sitting amongst some cactus, which was cool - our first animal sighting right at the airport!  After sorting out our $100 park fee, we met our tour guide, William, and the rest of the passengers on our ship.  Altogether there were 3 couples from the UK, 1 couple from Switzerland, a guy from Argentina, and us.   We took a short bus ride, followed by a short ferry ride from Baltra Island to Santa Cruz Island and then took yet another bus to the south end of the island. 

Our first stop was Primicia Ranch, where we saw a few giant Galápagos land tortoises in their natural environment.   Man, these things are really gigantic!  One huge tortoise was breaking branches as he emerged from under a shrub.  He breathed like Darth Vader, so we nicknamed him, "The Darth Vader Tortoise".  See video of him here.
We then transferred to Puerto Ayora and checked onto our boat, the Galápagos Voyager.   Once we saw the boat, we felt really good about spending the extra money to go on a first class boat.  The cabins are roomy (no bunk beds), with big private bathrooms with granite countertops, and wooden floor and trim. The two main decks have really nice wooden floors both inside and out.  The outside floors are unfinished sanded wood, and it feels really nice to walk on barefoot.  The boat can take up to 16 passengers so we had extra space since our group was only 11.  We then had our first meal on the boat, and Shari took a preventive sea-sickness pill, Mareol.  This actually wiped her out for the rest of the day and she was a zombie.  No more Mareol for Shari.

After lunch we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, where we saw more land tortoises in captivity.  This research laboratory is directed by scientists from several countries. Raising the Galápagos tortoises in captivity is one of their most important projects.   The most famous tortoise there is "Lonesome George," the last tortoise found on Pinta Island due to the thoughtless exploitation by humans.  The center has been unsuccessful so far in finding a close genetic mate for George, so he will probably be the last of his kind.  So sad!  

We then walked back to the boat, and got totally soaked by the rain.   The most exciting thing we saw walking back was the local fish market.  The locals were gutting fish in a concrete area of the pier.  Pelicans were swarming all around, and fighting each other for the fish head leftovers.  We saw a pelican with a bulging fish head protruding out of its gull, trying to escape from several other pelicans biting it on its head.  Another one tried to fly away with a fish head, and a seal attacked it and stole the fish head away.   It was quite a lively event!  We took a short clip here.

At 6:30pm, William gave us a briefing for the following day.   We would be visiting South Plaza and Santa Fe Island.  He said he would also be writing the daily schedule on the whiteboard in the main cabin.  That night the boat ride was only a short 3 hour ride overnight, and wasn't too rocky.
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