Happy Thanksgiving from The Galapagos!
This morning, we woke up early and packed our things; we are sadly leaving Isabela and heading to Santa Cruz, the last island of our visit to the Galapagos. Santa Cruz is the most inhabited and built-up of the islands, and it happens to be the home of our tour guide, Maritza.
Instead of taking a small plane again, this trip was via speedboat. Our group boarded along with 20 or so other travelers and off we went. Despite a loud and bouncy ride of approximately one hour, Rachel fell fast asleep, and I tried listening to an audiobook. Unfortunately, I started feeling a little motion sick about half way through and gave up on the audiobook so that I could focus all of my energy on holding myself together. I stared at the only available fixed objects I could see from my side of the boat; a series of small islands and/or large rock formations between Puerto Vilamil and Puerto Ayora. Finally seeing Santa Cruz was quite a relief, and I was able to keep my motion-sickness in check.
After transferring to water taxis and setting foot on the dock, we took a short walk through town, then piled into a few (land) taxis en route to our hotel, La Casa de Judy. It was a beautiful hotel, with an outdoor eating area on the first level beside the pool, and 2 levels of rooms above, with a roof deck and penthouse room beyond.
Breakfast was waiting for us when we arrived, and then we settled into our rooms briefly before departing to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where we saw more giant tortoises , iguanas and several species of birds.
We had already seen all these animals, but it was very interesting to hear the history of the different animals and learn about the efforts that have been made by the National Park to preserve and protect the endemic species. They now take many precautions in order to prevent entry of invasive species and are doing their best to remove any that have already made it to the islands. Most of the Galapagos species are not used to competition and predators, so any new introductions have the potential to be devastating.
Goats were a particularly devastating invasive species. They were brought to the islands by pirates years ago, and wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. By the time that the National Park was established and they began making efforts to remove the goats, their population was in the thousands. Eventually they were successful in eradicating the population, using so-called “Judas Goats” which were GPS-tagged and helped them to locate all remaining goats, which were shot from a helicopter. Other problematic invaders are as small as flies – a common fly was introduced from the mainland. The flies hatch larvae in the Galapagos finch nests and the larvae find their way into the fledglings’ nasal cavities to feed on their blood. This is presenting a major challenge for the park to combat, and often times like with the lady who swallowed the fly, there are unintended consequences for the solution which requires additional measures to be taken. One last example is the Smooth-billed Ani. They were brought to the islands by farmers to eat ticks and other parasites off of cattle, which is all that they tend to eat on the mainland due to competition for food. However, in The Galapagos, they have found something that they prefer to insects: finch eggs and/or finch chicks.
Later on, we ventured into town again and passed a small fish market, which had plenty of sea lions and pelicans begging for scraps. We were all very tempted to get fresh lobsters.
In the afternoon, we ventured into the highlands to see a few attractions. The first was to see and hike around two massive sink holes. We were surprised to see that the main road was built in the narrow gap between the two enormous sink holes.
Next, we ventured to a farm with giant tortoises and large lava tunnels. The tunnels reminded us of Mammoth Cave National Park, and watching the giant tortoises roaming about was fun as always; they truly seem pre-historic and always had me thinking to myself, “Where are the rest of the dinosaurs?”.
However, the most memorable part of the farm was a giant tortoise shell that we all tried on!
We all took turns sliding in feet first and then doing push ups. The shell was heavy, but everyone in our group was able to do at least one. Then Maritza offered me a chance to feel like a real-life Ninja Turtle…
It was another great day that we surely won’t soon forget!