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Published: February 22nd 2008
Giant Land Tortoise
Eating grass in the Santa Cruz highlands
On February 14, I flew from Cuenca to Guayaquil (about 30 minutes) and then from Guayaquil to Baltra Island in the Galapagos (about 1 hour 45 minutes). The Floreana (my boat) was waiting in a bay off of Baltra, about a 5 minute drive in a bus from the airport. With the contingent from this flight, all the guests were on board, and we were under way shortly afterward towards the island of Santa Cruz. After about an hour, we arrived at Santa Cruz where a bus was waiting to take us to the “highlands” about 30 minutes away. It was quite interesting to see the difference in vegetation from sea level, which was mostly desert, to the highlands, which were more of a rain forest (Scalecia trees) . The highlands are perhaps 600 meters above sea level, but do a good job of catching clouds and forcing precipitation. In fact, it was raining when we arrived at the location where we could view some giant land tortoises. These big boys have a shell span between one and two meters. Apparently they live for 150 years or more, and keep growing the whole time. The females stop growing at sexual maturity,
Santa Cruz highlands
but the boys keep growing until they die. On the way back from viewing the tortoises, we stopped to see an underground lava tube. This particular tube was about a kilometre long, and had lighting in it. This is where magma had run at some ancient point. We also stopped to see two large lava sink holes, apparently caused by very large oxygen bubbles at the molten stage, which later collapsed. The name in Spanish means “the twins” because there are two of these large sink-holes side by side. After we finished viewing these, we were back on the bus, and then on the boat by 6 PM. We left right away for the all-night trip to Isla Genovesa.
We arrived at Darwin Bay (for some reason there are a lot of things in the Galapagos named after Charles Darwin) on Genovesa Island in the early morning (February 15), and anchored. I was asleep for the night, and don’t recall exactly what time we arrived, but it was probably around 4 AM. Darwin Bay is a very large sunken crater, bordered mostly by 25 meter cliffs. There was one beach, where we landed in the morning. We had two
Lava Sink Hole
Santa Cruz highlands
types of shore landings, “wet” and “dry”. This was our first wet landing, where the “panga” (zodiac) would pull up to the beach, turn around, and we would jump off into shallow water and wade ashore. A dry landing usually involved the panga pulling up to a rocky shore and while it pushed up against the rocks with power on, we jumped off onto the rocks (with assistance from our guide Rodrigo).
That day, we walked on old lava beds and saw lots of red-footed boobies, masked (Nazca) boobies, and frigate birds. Along the cliffs of the ocean, there were thousands of “storm petrels” flying about in the updrafts from the ocean winds. We saw one “short-eared owl” making a snack of one of the petrels. Fortunately with my long lens, I was able to get some good shots of the owl, as it was quite a distance away from us. The visitor sites on the Galapagos Islands are carefully controlled as to where you can walk. The trails are marked with wooden stakes painted white, and you can not venture outside of these areas. Each island that is permitted visitors has specifically documented areas where they are allowed
to land, and then where they are allowed to walk at each location. An accredited guide must accompany each group of visitors to each site. Our afternoon landing was at a site called the “Prince Phillip Steps”, because the Queen’s husband had visited the site in the 1960’s.
We were back on the boat at 5 PM, and under way shortly afterwards for the long overnight trip back to Santiago Island. I recall that night started out as one of the rougher ones as we were heading into wind and some decent chop. The boat slowed down below its normal cruising speed of around 8 knots to give us a little smoother ride.
Tot: 0.105s; Tpl: 0.017s; cc: 12; qc: 71; dbt: 0.0163s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb