The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature...of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter — such health, such cheer, they afford forever...Shall I not have intelligence with the earth...

Henry David Thoreau

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Day 3: Tuesday May 16, 2000
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click once for larger imageWe have yet to encounter the famed Galapagos land tortoise, that slow moving giant German army helmet with the head that looks like ET—not coincidentally, as it turns out. But it is not running free (however slowly) around the islands that we expect to see them today, since this morning’s visit is to the renowned Darwin Station in the town of Puerto Ayora. Or as I call it, “Puerto Aorta, the heart of the Galapagos”.

The panga ride to the town dock takes us across still-choppy waters and in amongst the many boats at anchor here. There is lots of activity at the dock—crabs and lizards everywhere, people loading and unloading barges and selling crafts to the tourists. We board a bus that takes us the short distance to Darwin Station, where we are presented with a short video and other learning material before we tour the facility.


click once for larger imageThe Darwin facility is most visitor’s best chance to see giant tortoises, including the famed Lonesome George, last of his subspecies. Eggs are gathered from nesting sites high in the remote areas of the islands and brought to the facility for care and nurturing, the baby tortoises eventually repatriated to help manage the dwindling populations and ensure their survival.


click once for larger imageWe are reminded as we walk amongst the tortoises that we should not step on the large flat areas that are their feeding stations. It would be like walking on their dinner plates, we’re told. While Lonesome George remains aloof, a sad and solitary figure kept apart from the visitors, other large specimens are available for our close inspection. Their legs are reminiscent of an elephant, from which their Latin name – geochelone elephantopus – is derived.

We are treated to some “mating” behavior by two of the large fellows (reportedly both male, perhaps explaining their declining numbers, but I'm no scientist). Like everything else they do, it is slow but sincere.

Left to our own devices for the stroll back to town (at tortoise speeds, if I have anything to say about it, as the day is a humid one) we stop for souvenirs and e-mail. Paul is kind enough to let us fumble through a couple of hotmail messages using his account, for which by now he’s likely been rewarded with incomprehensible replies from complete strangers. It seems an incongruous thing to be doing—computers in The Garden of Eden—but it’s impossible to resist the opportunity.


click once for larger imageThis afternoon’s landing is at Cerro Dragon, on the north side of Santa Cruz Island (Puerto Ayora is on the south side). We are told we might see flamingos in the lagoon, but this does not happen. We do learn that flamingos are pink due to the shrimp in their diet, but we have to take it on faith.


click once for larger imageWe do hope to see land iguanas though, and once past the flamingo-free lagoon Christian, our guide, informs us that we should go silently from this point so as to maximize our chances of a sighting. This is especially difficult for Paul, but he copes, and we are rewarded with several good sightings of land iguanas, fairly close to the trail, some actually on the trail. We are even treated to the delicate sound of a Galapagos land iguana farting. This breaks the silence.

click once for larger imageBack to the ship, another day behind us. We agree, as the Boobies gather for the now traditional sunset cocktail on the Lido deck, that each day feels like two days. It’s a good feeling.

Day 3 (recap)
07:00 breakfast
08:00 Santa Cruz Island (Puerto Ayora - Darwin Station) - dry landing
10:30 return to ship
12:00 briefing on tomorrow's visit to Bartolomé Island
12:30 lunch

film on Galapagos Islands in main bar

16:00 Santa Cruz Island (Cerro Dragon) - dry landing
18:30 return to ship
19:30 slide show and farewell cocktail for those leaving tomorrow
20:00 dinner
21:30 live music and dancing (or off to bed)
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