Friday 10 December
No snorkelling today. We had a full day excursion ashore on Santa Cruz Island, landing at Puerto Ayora. From port we took a bus up into the hills to see the twin sink holes, caused by some kind of big bubble left by the volcanic eruptions of millions of years ago. On the bus to and from the sink holes, we saw many giant tortoises in the paddocks, grazing amongst the cattle and horses. At the way back to the port, we stopped at the Tortoise Farm where we could wander through a paddock snapping pics of giant tortoises to our heart’s content – but walking ever so carefully to dodge the gigantic piles of tortoise poop.
Back in port, we took a panga to the Finch Bay Eco Hotel for a delicious lunch and a snooze by the pool, before ‘panga-ing’ back across the water to bus our way to the Charles Darwin Research Station. There we saw in pens the saddle-backed and domed shelled giant tortoises, as well as Lonesome George (the last of the Pinta Island sub-species of the saddle-back), and lots of baby tortoises being reared in predator-proof pens, until they are about 4 or 5 years old and are large enough to survive in the wild. We also saw some land iguanas, no longer in the wild. There aren’t many left, and sadly, there is no ‘rescue/breeding program’ in the pipe line. Very nice looking iguanas, though – quite a bright yellow!
After our visit to the Research Centre, we strolled back along the shopping strip into port (about 20 minutes) being tempted by many ‘Double Bay-looking’ shops with exclusive designer jewellery, clothes, tapestries and woodwork. Found a vibrant, stunningly beautiful tapestry by a Peruvian artist Maximo Laura for…wait for it…only $3200!!! We resisted! Would like to check his stuff out in Peru – bound to be cheaper there!
Sprinkled amongst the flash shops were the usual, ‘made-in-China’ t-shirt places, where Nic was tempted by an $8 t-shirt and was promptly ripped off $2 by the merchant when he saw that she didn’t have change, but only $10. The irony is that she would’ve been happy to pay $10 in the first place, but NOT be told $8 and then have the price change. Not cool.
Saturday 11 December
With each new island visit, we continue to be amazed and in awe of what is spread out before us. Today was Genovesa Island (or Tower Island) and there was such an abundance of red-footed, blue-footed, and Nasca boobies, as well as frigates, that it was overwhelming. The juvenile red-footed boobies were particularly endearing – a huge bunch (twenty or more) on low lying branches following our every move, with an arm outstretched like a conductor, they followed our movements as though in a trance. So very curious and so very adorable! The swallow-tailed gulls (the only nocturnal gulls in the world), were nesting, and determinedly, if subtly, protecting their young from the testosterone-driven and cranky Nasca boobies. They are a very pretty gull, with a dark smoky head on a pale grey and white body, red legs, and huge dark eyes rimed in red – almost like a fashion accessory to the feet!
The morning deep-water snorkelling didn’t yield much – the water was murky, polluted with feathers and bird poop. But that was ok – yesterday was such a feast in that department that we were quite sated by the experience.
The afternoon included a panga tour around the edge of the caldera (Darwin Bay) with more sightings of sea lions, gulls, herons, finches and mockingbirds – interspersed by the marine iguanas lying on the warm volcanic rock. This tour led us to the Prince Phillip steps (the guides have no idea why they are so named – we will have to investigate at another time!). This was a short climb up some stone, unevenly carved steps to the top of the cliffs where we walked amongst yet more boobies (a large colony of Nazca boobies), and saw frigrates and storm petrels as well. This walk culminated in our search for a short eared owl against the huge expanse of rock of the same colour. One of the guides said he saw one, but no-one else had that luck. John took a photo of the area the guide was talking about, then blew up the photo when he got back to the ship and found the owl – he hadn’t been pulling our leg!