26.09.2012 - 28.09.2012 24 °C
A couple of years ago, in my bid to convince Sean we should travel to South America with our kids, I bought him the BBC Galapagos Islands DVDs for his birthday. As a family we have watched thses DVDs many times and when we decided to do the trip, we talked about meeting Lonesome George, the last remaining Giant Tortoise from the Island of Pinta. For centuries sailors caught and ate tortoises as they travelled past the Galapagos Islands and many of the species have died out. Attempts to mate Lonesome George with similar species have been unsuccessful. Sadly Lonesome George died in June before we were able to meet him.
The Galapagos Islands are to an Athiest the equivelant to Mecca for a Muslim, or a Palpal Sermon at the Vatican for a Catholic. They are the birth place of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Darwin discovered species specific to each of the islands, adapted based on the particular food source. Hence on islands where there is abundant food on land the iguanas remained land-based, but when the island had no food on land they adapted to become marine iguanas, capable of swimming underwater for long periods. Tortoises also adapted the shape of their shell and the length of their neck in order to reach food. Darwin's main focus was on studying the various species of finches. We have seen an abundance of these birds since we have been here and it is quite amazing to see what Darwin must have seen and to realise the significance of this. This is kind of the holy grail for us.
From before we even set foot on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands the wildlife has entertained us. Daisy spotted a seal on the boat ramp as we aproached from the ferry after flying into Baltra Island. (You fly to one island, which has nothing but an airport, then catch a bus to the ferry, then ferry across a channel to another island, then catch a bus or a taxi to the town 40km away - quite a palaver after 2 flights to get there!). Once we arrived at our hotel we headed straight to a waterfront cafe for lunch and across the road some fishermen were bringing in their haul, fish and lobster. Brodin and Daisy were not the only intrigued observers. A couple of pelicans and a seal came to have a look too. The seal made a real attempt to steal some dinner but when he realised none was coming his way he took off into the water and disappeared beneath the boats. A pelican had more luck.
The animals are so friendly as they have not been harmed by humans and have very few natural predators on the islands.
A walk around the bay and we discover yet more wildlife, a red crab or two and a few marine iguanas sunning themselves. The Charles Darwin Research Station did not disappoint after a fairly long trudge up a dirt road. Giant tortoises everywhere! Poor Daisy kept asking where Lonesome George was, dispite having it explained many times that he died. We had hoped to see him preserved on display but no such luck. We did find his old pen.
Day two began with a tour of Santa Cruz's top tourist spots. The lava tubes, tunnels underground created by lava, awfully muddy and wet inside but kind of fun. There were no bats in this one thank goodness!
A private farm where Giant Tortoises roam freely. The mud is created by all the tourists rather than the tortoises. It was amazing to watch how slowly they do move. The hare would have to sleep for a century to lose the race against these creatures! Some were quite happy to be approached and others hissed if you got within their comfort zone.
Then we visited the twin volcanic craters of Santa Cruz. These enormous craters are quite spectacular and one lies on each side of the road.
Driving through the island there are fruit trees growing wild everywhere, as well as some farms of them. Papaya, avocado, bananas, mango, vanilla, orange and coffee. Everything here grows as if on steroids. It is clearly the perfect environment for them.
We are really impressed with Ecuador's conservation attempts. Customs into Galapagos was quite strict and a DVD telling us what we were not allowed to do was played at the airport whilst we awaited our baggage. No touching the wildlife, no feeding them, no flushing toilet paper, recycle bins are everywhere and take your rubbish with you. There is very little rubbish around which is a notable difference between Galapagos and the rest of South America. You must have a guide to do most things and this is a way of ensuring tourists respect the rules. Pretty much any local will act as a guide, but they don't all speak English. Our taxi driver and the daughter of the travel agent acted as our 'guides' and spoke very little English, but we were happy as the kids didn't care for a commentry and we have read most of it in the travel guide already. As it was just us on the tour we didn't have to endure other people's topics of interest and we were able to complete the tour in good time. And it'skind of fun getting by in Spanglish.
After lunch we walked 6kms to Tortuga Bay with high hopes of flamingos and turtles however none were to be found, but we did literally stumble across these crazy little marine iguanas.
One was walking along the path towards us and we stopped, unsure how to continue. I said "desculpe, Senor Iguana" and he just stared at us. So I explained to the kids that he didn't seem to understand Spanish so I would try in English and said "excuse me, Mr Iguana" and he very kindly and prompty moved off the path!!! The kids thought this was ABSOLUTE proof that iguanas understand English! Tortuga Bay is an absolutely stunning beach with powdery white sand and surf on one side with a still lake-like cove on the other side where we did some not-so amazing snorkelling. We had read that the water this time of year is freezing due to the Homboldt current, but actually it was a lot warmer than Wellington water ever is, and would compete with the Coromandel Penninsular that we swim in each Summer. I guess cold at the equater is not the same as cold at 42 below.....
The kids coped remarkably well with the 6km walk, despite not seeing the turtles they had been promised, but returned to the hotel with blisters and sand chaffing. But still smiling. They are such amazing little troopers. I have aways said I can take them anywhere, and now I actually know that to be true!
Daisy has said she is not missing daycare but she wonders if they miss her. Brodin has been talking a lot about what he wants to show his class when he gets home. I think he may be starting to miss his friends, but not once have either of the kids asked when we are going home.