Air Temperature: 24ºC
Pressure: 961 hPa
Wind: 4 knots
The Island of Santa Cruz has the largest human settlement of the Galapagos Islands and we started our day at the town of Puerto Ayora on the island’s southern shore. I boarded a small bus that waited for us just outside the municipal pier and we began a picturesque drive up into the hills.
We passed a lot of farms with cows and non-native (introduced) plant species. As our guide explained to us, an attempt is being made to integrate the cash crops of the island with survival of native species. For example, farmers plant endemic tree species to protect coffee plants that require shade. In turn they produce the Galapagos Coffee for sale in Puerto Ayora. In this way local farmers are encouraged to protect endemic trees rather than cut them down.
After a half hour drive, we arrived at the Gemelos (=Spanish word for “Twins”), two enormous sink holes formed as a result of magma chambers emptying and having their roofs collapse. Today their sides and bases have been colonized by invasive blackberry plants and the park is working on an eradication plan.
After another twenty-minute drive we arrived at a small farm with pastures filled with giant tortoises. I photographed them plodding through the long grass and lounging around in a small lake with muddy banks. The Santa Cruz tortoises are some of the largest in the Galapagos and it was fascinating to watch a 400 pound male sliding into the muddy lake, obviously enjoying the cool water in the heat of the day.
After lunch we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station and once again we got an opportunity to see giant tortoises up close. The research station has a breeding program for three different tortoise species and it was a delight to watch the very young tortoises with different coloured numbers painted onto their shells scrambling around their compounds. They are much more active than the adults and I took some wonderful video footage.
After leaving the research station, I strolled back into Puerto Ayora and visited souvenir shops. I bought a wonderful little replica of a marine iguana made in the Galapagos Islands out of recycled plastic and glass. It looks very realistic and I will put it somewhere in my house peeking out from behind some books or a flower pot.