Saturday, January 16, 2010

Giant Tortoises - at last!

Yesterday afternoon, I took an excursion to Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz island. Dad stayed on board, which was a good idea, it turned out. I went with Dwight and Simon, and I suggested we wait for the next zodiak, as there was one woman I didn´t want to be with on a tour. She and her husband are perfectly pleasant to eat with, but I find her very annoying on the tours. She asks lots of extraneous questions, which delays the tour while the guide struggles to figure what she´s trying to find out. She and her husband and a guide got into a protracted debate once over the difference between the terms "endemic" and "native."

The skies had cleared from the morning and it was quite sunny as we had our dry landing on the volcanic beach. It was a spectacular setting: a cove formed by lava deposits, black and craggy, sheltering a blue bay and shell covered beach. Green, salt water friendly plants were just above the beach. A short walk later we reached a lagoon with more flamingoes and some white pintail ducks, and some stilt wading birds (whose formal name slips my mind).

From there the trail turned very rocky, very dry, and very hot. We walked through a forest of dry white palo santos trees, still dormant as the rainy season has just begun. Eventually, we reached a dusty, flat trail where we could see the trails of land iguanas, and eventually found a large (4 foot) yellow and red one, right next to the trail. From there we climbed up Cerro Dragon, a low hill in the shape of a sleeping land iguana. We could see the blue bay, the ship, and the highlands where we would go on Saturday (today).

On the way back, we passed two land iguanas, a male and female, where the male was slowly circling the female and getting ready to mate. On the way back to the beach, I helped an elderly woman having a lot of trouble navigating the rocks. I had returned our snorkling equipment, which was a good thing because we heard the water wasn´t very good back at the cove. It was hot, though, I dipped my feet in the water to cool off. Then it was back to the boat.

Dad was napping when I got back so I went up on deck and had piña coladas (see, they have tildes on Ecuadoran computers) with Dwight and Simon. Lunch had been a mexican buffet (really good, I particularly liked the chimichangas and went back for thirds), but dinner was surf and turf. I had the cold asparagus soup (very good). They did the march of the baked alaskas, but they only had candles on top, rather than flaming. I had the tiramisu.

We were up at 6:45 am this morning, so we turned in early. A good night´s sleep, but heavy rolling after 6 am. I felt like I was in the Poseiden Adventure. Today we went to Puerto Ayora in the morning to see the Charles Darwin Research Center. We saw the baby tortoises they shelter in the early stages of life, before they release them back into the wild. They´re trying to restore the population. We did see the famous "lonesome george" and several other large adults. In one corral we got up right next to them. I yelled to dad to take a photo of me with one of them and he eventually did.

Afterwards, he decided not to walk back to the dock but take the bus. I walked and found an internet cafe for one thirtieth the price of the ship (hence my long, detailed account). After some shopping, we head back for lunch on the ship, and then we come back on land for a bus drive to the highlands to see the giant tortoises in the wild. It´s very humid this morning, and has been drizzling, so we´ve been told to expect rain in the highlands this afternoon. I´ll wear my windbreaker and since dad has decided not to bring his camera, I´ll take the plastic bag.

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