Galapagos and Beyond: day 8 - Santa Cruz island Turtles, Tortoises and Rays

Published: June 28th 2018
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Today was our last trip with Hernan who was leaving the ship after the morning excursion. We were up at 6 am - our bodies awoke an hour too early! - and it was pitch black. We dressed and said our morning prayers as the sun rose, then joined the group for breakfast as usual.

We piled into the Zodiacs and went to Black Turtle Cove on the north shore of Santa Cruz island. En route we saw Golden Rays gliding and leaping out of the water. These manta rays leap high above the sea and land on their backs. This is because they have parasites on their backs and this is the way to rid themselves of them. (We did not imagine that we would experience this phenomenon so emphatically the next day.)

On the way to the inner part of the cove we saw sharks with their babies, as well as sea turtles. We floated past mangrove trees of which we saw two varieties - the white mangrove and the red mangrove.

The Galapagos Sea Turtles are able to live in peace with the sharks because they take shelter in the cove which is dark and cold and shallow and the sharks can’t live there. We also saw pelicans, frigatebirds and herons.

The silence in the cove was amazing. All you could hear was the sound of the water lapping against the sides of the Zodiac, and the aperiodic calls of birds. The driver of the Zodiac shut down the motor and just steered or pushed with a paddle.

We went back to the yacht for some people to leave the cruise. This was the end of the 3 day cruise. More people were coming to join us. There had been 31 of us and this was going up to 35. As a result we were also taking on an extra guide as each guide is not allowed more than 16 in a group. Coral I and Coral II both operate a series of 3 day and 4 day itineraries which can be booked back-to-back for 7, 10 or 14 day cruises. We were on board for a week of what they call their 'western Galapagos islands' 3+4 day tour.

While we were waiting for the others to arrive, Don and Caroline and Max went snorkeling. Don was enthusing about the sea lion he found on the beach. Caroline came face to face with a shark and turned around and fled back to the beach! In her haste she kicked a sea turtle.

After lunch we went to the Highlands El Chato 2 - a Giant Tortoise reserve on Santa Cruz island. This was a new adventure as we went by bus! It certainly was something else - maybe a bus designed in the 1950s. The interior had torn leather seats and there was a doorway between the passengers and the driver. We rocked and rolled over the uneven roads (did this bus even have springs?) to the tortoise reserve. My only adventure was when I rescued a woman from the ladies’ bathroom. She had somehow managed to lock herself into a stall!

Then we set off to find the tortoises. In our first encounter with highlands wildlife we followed a giant tortoise as he sauntered across the parking lot and into the grass. Eventually he reached some tasty vegetation and stopped for a meal. We captured this sequence on video. Our movie was enhanced by a bright orange Monarch Butterfly that flitted onto a yellow lantana flower behind the tortoise as he ate! Here is the composite video with some long slowwwww stretches of tortoise-walking edited out.

We learnt about the life cycle of the giant tortoise. We learnt that it reaches sexual development at the age of 25. Once the tortoises have developed they are released into their natural habitat. We saw them feeding on prickly cactus and fruits. There is a fruit which looks like a small green apple and which is lethal to humans - manzanillo de la muerte (little apple of death). The tortoises love these and their metabolism processes the nutrients without harm.

See more about these fascinating and protected Galapagos tortoises in our blog of day 5 in the afternoon when we visited the Charles Darwin Research Center which is also on Santa Cruz Island.

In the Highlands reserve we continued to a lava tunnel which we walked through. This was a natural phenomena and it was fascinating to see how the tunnel had been formed. When the outer layers of the lava had cooled the interior lava was still hot and flowing fast. Eventually the lave flowed out of the interior and left a tunnel or tube.

Back onto the bus to rock and roll our way back to the Zodiac! En route we picked up a workman who was going home after a day’s work. We dropped him off in one of the villages we passed. We got back into the Zodiac to go back to the yacht. When we reached the yacht and I was trying to climb out of the Zodiac carefully, some complete idiot decided that I needed a “bunk up” and shoved me and as a result I ended up on hands and knees on the yacht deck. Fortunately only my pride was hurt!

Bed was at 9 pm after the briefing for the next day of touring.

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