Ecuador · Uncategorized

Santa Cruz and the Giant Tortoises!

Originally published on 17 August 2015.

We arrived! Now to pay to get in. Even though people actually live on some of the islands, the whole archipelago is a national park, and you have to pay $100 per person (cash) to visit. Fortunately, we knew that in advance and budgeted for it! We got off the mid-size LAN Airlines plane and onto the tarmac, then walked into the only building on the tiny island of Baltra. We all got in lines just like we did at customs in Ecuador, and when it was our turn, we handed in our passports and forms stating who we are, where we’re from, and that we don’t have any fruits (they call them “organics”) with us. Some people didn’t follow the rules, though. Our little passport control man actually had to go chase down and older lady because she bypassed all the lines without showing her documents or paying her fees! Turns out, she had to use the little girls’ room. Anyway, our guy came back to finish checking us in, passed us on to the girl who would take our entrance fee, and we were officially IN!

We went into the gift shop area of the airport to wait for our guide, and within a few minutes, he was there! He apologized for being a few minutes late, and he said he is usually early or on time, but he actually had a good reason for being late… There were construction workers unexpectedly tearing up the roads!

And off we went! We and many others from our plane piled into a bus and made our way to the ferry that would take us to Santa Cruz Island where our touring would begin! And this was our first spectacular view:

Our guide, Tommy, was very knowledgeable. He said he was born on Santa Cruz! We got into a cab with our driver, Caesar, and made our way to the highlands! We saw the very invasive construction (no wonder he was a few minutes late), and we were amazed at the drastic change in the climate and landscape! Baltra and the side of Santa Cruz where we started were very dry and brown, but the farther we went into the island (and the farther up), the greener and wetter everything got! He told us about the wildlife on the island, plants that grow here, and the lava tunnels! We saw it all!

First stop: lava tunnels! The tunnels were formed way before people came around, of course, but when people moved in with cattle and other livestock in the mid-20th century, the cattle discovered these underground tunnels… by falling into them! They were formed by lava (of course) and gas building up to create the tunnel effect.

Next up (and the original reason I wanted to come to the Galapagos in the first place): Giant Tortoises! Caesar took us to a ranch where a family grows fruit, raises cattle and goats, and has… giant tortoises! We slipped into some galoshes (it’s very rainy and muddy in the highlands), and set out in search of the great giants!

There is no way to definitively know how old they are, but we do know they can be over 200 years old! And they are just too funny. We saw some in a couple of ponds taking a bath. Apparently, they get themselves muddy, then wait for it to dry and break off, and then they’re clean! They do move very slowly. When the mothers lay eggs, they make a journey to the egg laying area that takes three or four months! They can go as fast as 800 meters per day. Whew!

It’s like a dinosaur!
 After a few pictures with the big guys and scrubbing ourselves and our galoshes off, we had a special surprise waiting for us… A snack at the lodge on the property! We had fresh-squeezed papaya juice, fresh cut fruit, and cheese empanadas! All of it was grown and/or made right there on the ranch–from fruit to cheese! It was soft and the cheese was stringy. It was by far the best empanada I’ve ever had!
Yummy snacks
 And then… Onward to the hotel! We would be staying in the Galapagos Suites, one of the nicest hotels in the town! And we were fortunate at get a room on the third floor, the very top! There was a hammock for us on the balcony, and we have a coconut tree just outside our door! The bed was huge–two full beds pushed together!–but it had a lump in the middle that connected the two beds. It was funny to us! Steve called it a “chastity bump.”

Our hostess told us where breakfast would be, reminded us not to use the tap water, especially for brushing our teeth, said not to put paper in the toilet, told us our Galapagos Alternative (that’s the tour company we used) representative would be by in about 15 minutes. She said if we needed anything, please let her know! What a sweetheart.

By that time, Steve was pooped, so he took a nap! Since he was snoozing away, I went downstairs to see about our representative, Louis. He’s such a sweet guy! He gave us a print out of our full itinerary and some contact info, as well as recommendations for dinner. He had it all together for us and was so professional! He was supposed to take us to a snorkel gear place to pick up our gear for the week, but since Steve was asleep, Louis offered to go get it for us. That was definitely above and beyond what was required! He even had to go back again because the first fins he brought for me were too big!

He went on his way, and Steve slept, and I enjoyed the downtime. We were both pooped! When my handsome sleeping husband finally awoke, it was time to explore and find supper! It was only about 4:00 (6:00 pm Eastern Time), but we were getting quite hungry. We met some friends along the way:

Marine Iguanas
Pelicans!
Our crabby friend

We roamed around for a while, found a place to eat, and ordered some delightful seafood! I had wahoo fish in coconut sauce (mahi mahi), and Steve had octopus… Though he intended to order shrimp! Oh well. It was good, and we just needed food!

Wahoo!

Join us again soon! There is much more to come, including dancing birds that swim under water!

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