Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Our Trip to the Galapagos Islands -- Part 2 of 5

Isla Santa Cruz (also known as Indefatigable)
A little bit of trivia:  The Galapagos Islands have both Spanish and English names, but the official names are in Spanish.

After we landed and took the boat across the channel, we took a taxi to Puerto Ayora, the town on the other side of the island (about a 45 minute drive).  This drive takes you past the dry desert area into the highlands, and down to the beaches on the southern coast.

We stayed in a house managed by the Hotel Ninfa ( in Puerto Ayora.  Here are pictures of where we stayed for 5 nights:

Our deck overlooking the bay

Living Room

Looking outside from living room to the deck

Floating stairs leading to bedrooms

View from Master Bedroom

Hotel Pool

After we checked in and had lunch, we were off on our tour of Puerto Ayora:

Welcome to the Galapagos National Park
Our little tour group walking along Charles Darwin Avenue
The island we're on in the archipelago
Puerto Ayora waterfront
Our 20 minute walk has taken us to the Charles Darwin Research Station ( We walk through the Breeding Center for the giant Galapagos tortoises, which takes about 90 minutes.

Along the way we see an Opuntia tree, which is a cactus that grows as a tree with a bark.  This tree is found only here in the Galapagos Islands.

Opuntia tree
As we enter the tortoise Breeding Center, we are told how the eggs are collected from nests in the field and brought to the Breeding Center, where they are kept in incubators for 120 - 150 days.  The tortoises' sex is determined by the temperature during incubation.  Eggs incubated at a temperature of 29.5 degrees C. become females, and those incubated at 28 degrees C. become males.

Around their second birthday, juveniles are moved to a natural area within the Breeding Center to "toughen up" for the harsh conditions they will face in the wild.

When they reach three to five years of age, and 20 cm. in length, the size needed to ensure their survival in the wild, the tortoises are taken back to their islands of origin.  Before being released, the tortoises are measured, weighed and permanently marked with small microchips inserted under the skin.  These "bar codes" allow scientists and park wardens to track the progress of each animal, its growth rate, location, distribution, and a female's reproductive status, if she is found again.

This little guy will grow up into a giant tortoise

The most famous giant tortoise was Lonesome George who was the last survivor of the dynasty of land tortoises from Pinta Island.  He was found in December of 1971, and taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station in March of 1972.  All efforts to find other specimens from that island have been in vain.  Sadly, Lonesome George died in June of 2012 from old age, after having lived for more than 100 years.

Some of these may live longer than 100 years!

Galapagos Land Iguanas -- Unique, Threatened:

The Galapagos Islands are home to two endemic species of land iguana, which exist nowhere else on earth.  They are among the largest iguanas in the world.  Adult iguanas are extremely vulnerable to human activity.  Any unnatural predators, competitors or loss of habitat can rapidly cause their extinction.

Animals introduced by early visitors and colonists have pushed some land iguana populations to the brink of extinction.  Wild cats prey upon juveniles, feral dogs kill adults, and wild pigs destroy nests.  Competitors like goats and donkeys strip vegetation, leaving little food, shelter or nesting sites.  Scientists estimate that tens of thousands of land iguanas once roamed Santa Cruz Island; by 1976, fewer than 100 remained.  Their life span is about 40 years.

After learning about the tortoises and iguanas, we continue on our walk to Playa de la Estación, a beautiful beach.

Entrance to Playa de la Estación
Mike sitting on the lava formations
Lava formations contrasting with vibrant blue water
Mike and Patty enjoying the sunshine at the beach
Sally Lightfoot crab (aka red rock crab)

That's all for this day.  The next blog will be our next day's trip to Tortuga Bay.  Hasta luego!

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