Day 13 - Thu May 31, 2007 – Santacruz Island – Bob: 139, Kathy: 184

Today was a lot different from the others. This was tortoise day. This morning we woke up to find the Flamingo parked in a harbor off the island of Santacruz.

After breakfast, we were taken to shore and disembarked near a silly statue of a blue-footed boobie. Then we were taken by bus to the highlands where there was a nature preserve for giant tortoises.

We only saw four tortoises there, but it was cool to see them in the wild.

The tortoises had large primitive-looking feet that reminded me of dinosaur feet.

There were also a couple of ducks sharing the same pea-soup pond, but they looked like ordinary mallards.

One of our guides, Orlando, gave us a lecture about the tortoises. Apparently, their shell keeps growing all the time. Each plate expands outward in all directions, just like a fingernail. You can also tell the male tortoises from the females because the male's shell will be concave on the bottom so he can mount the female for mating.

Afterward, we had a little bit of free time. Except for the tortoises, there wasn't much to do there except eat at the refreshment stand or visit the few horses on the property. We opted for the horses.

Next, the bus took us to a giant lava tube. This is a giant tunnel made by the lava as it rolled down the volcano thousands of years ago. Since the Galapagos islands are all volcanic, we had seen many small lava tubes before, but this one was bigger than I ever imagined possible. This tunnel was so big that you could drive a semi-trailer truck through it, and it went on for several hundred feet. They didn't let us go more than halfway and I couldn't even see the end of the tunnel.

After that, we visited the twin craters. This is a pair of small volcano calderas that are very close together. The paved road went right between the two. The first one we saw was slightly bigger than the other one. And actually, there was a much smaller third one next to the second one. The craters were unimpressive, but I guess it was something to do.

Next we were taken back to the Flamingo, and ate lunch.

After lunch, we were taken by boat to the Darwin Station, named after Charles Darwin, which does a lot of work in saving the tortoises that the Galapagos were named after.

Iguanas sunned themselves lazily on the concrete walkways as we walked by.

At the entrance,

there was a very strange looking cactus. It was very tall and looked like half-tree and half-cactus.

Oddly, some of its “leaves” were shaped like a heart.

We saw hundreds of baby tortoises, which was delightful. I had never seen baby tortoises before. They looked just like regular turtles.

We also saw some very old ones that were very big.

We could get pretty close to them as well, as long as we didn't touch them or interfere with them.

What amazed me was how active they were. They were up walking around all over the place. These were not lazy animals for the most part. It was amazing how they could be strong enough to lift all their weight up with their legs, but somehow they did.

It was very fun for me, because I've always loved turtle-like creatures: turtles, sea turtles, and tortoises. A turtle or tortoise can bring a smile to my face as much as a bouquet of roses can bring a smile to Kathy's face.

They also had some huge iguanas, but they didn't thrill me as much as the tortoises.

There was a sad note to this visit. Apparently there are many different species of tortoises. One of those species was down to its very last member, a male tortoise they called Lonesome George. It's the last of it's kind. The people there have been working to try to find a compatible mate that would produce offspring, but so far, they've been unsuccessful. Lonesome George was very old. Probably more than one hundred years old. He hid in the back of his pen, hard to see, but we still got a picture of him from a distance.

After leaving the Darwin Station, we walked outside the gates and I saw a very strange sight. There appeared to be a fish vendor, but the men selling the fish were not men at all, but pelicans!

They stood behind the counter like they owned the place!

There was also a crane or two there behind the counter, completely unafraid of man.

Upon closer examination, it seemed like the proprietors had left and the pelicans and other birds had taken over the fish stand and were pilfering as much fish as they could stuff in their mouths.

I went back behind the counter to have a talk with the new owners.

We walked back to the pier where we needed to catch our Zodiac back. While we waited for the Zodiac, we watched three blue-footed boobies fishing: they fly in a tight formation, then they aim for the water and drop from the sky like rocks. When they hit the water, they make a huge splash that goes five feet up in the air. This is truly dive-bombing, and it was delightful to see. They dive so fast that they're almost unnoticeable as a blur Kathy's camera. She tried to take photos in rapid succession of them diving.

I also caught one dive on camera, but my camera isn't fast enough to catch the action like Kathy's camera is.

That's all for now.