Charles Darwin Centre
This was our last day at the Galapagos Islands. We were finally going to get to see a giant tortoise and we were very excited at the prospect. Its not everyday that you get to meet someone who could have feasibly been born in 1834.
We disembarked our boat and made our way to Puerto Ayora. Puerto Ayora is where the Charles Darwin Centre is located which is home to the Giant Tortoise sanctuary. Its also the main town/hub for the Galapagos Islands.
We arrived at the Darwin Centre at around 8:30am. It was already very hot and humid which was a real change from the ocean breezes that we had become so used to.
As we made our way along the path towards the tortoise enclosures we were being constantly buzzed by wasps. The same big buggers that pestered us on one of the previous islands. It wasnt long before we encountred our first casualty. I heard a loud yell behind me and saw Louise flapping her arms around like a bird about to fledge its nest. She’d been stung but very weirdly on her back in between where her rucksack was. Luckily there were some doctors in our group who helped out. We administered some sting cream and Louise was informed that she was gonna make it!
As we turned the corner from where Louise had been attacked we came across a small number of baby tortoise pens. Each enclosure contained around 20 baby tortoises and started from the very youngest at a couple of months up to about 18 months. The smallest tortoises were about 3 inches long, probably about the same size as a Cornish pasty. Each tortoise had a number painted onto its shell to help identify them. I couldnt help but think that it made them look like a member of a football team.
The longer we walked the bigger and bigger the tortoises became until we reached a point where they were adults. One of the first fully grown Giant ortoises that we saw was “handsome Diego” or “el guapo Diego”. He was around 120 years old and considered to be a bit of a lothario around these parts.
Each of the tortoises that we saw was within touching distance. Though we didn’t touch them of course!
After an hour or so with the tortoises we made our way to the fish market. I thought to myself “what do we want to come here for?!?” however I’m glad I did because this was not like any other fish market. You had a couple of locals gutting some fish. Nothing new there. What was surreal was the amount of birds and sea lions mooching about waiting for some scraps. Words don’t do it justice, so I have included some images below.
One of the birds that turned up for some food was the Lava Gull. These browny/grey coloured birds are a little bigger than your common pigeon. It turns out however that these are the rarest gulls in the world. They number around 250/300 pairs and can only be found in the Galapagos Islands. We had a naturalist in our group who in between Almost passing out at seeing such a rare creature confirmed the facts to us.
After the excitement of the Darwin Sanctuary and the fish market we made our way to the waiting coach which was going to take us to the tree planting area and then finally some well earned lunch which just happened to have tortoises in situ that roamed free amongst the gardens.
We arrived at our remote location to do our bit for Galapagos conservation first. Armed with trowels, gloves, Wellington boots and our Scalasia trees we set about digging small holes to plant our trees. You’d think it would be easy but most of us either dug too deeply or not enough. Anyway, our “work” was done for the day and it was time to head off for some lunch
We arrived in the Highlands for our planned lunch. Along the way we saw a number of Giant Tortoises. In the UK we might see rabbits on the side of the road, here it’ was Giant Tortoises!
Lunch couldn’t come too soon and most of us vacuumed up what was on our plate in short order. Then it was back for seconds! After we had finished eating we were treated to a dance routine by a local school. From what I could make out they did a kind of country dance with the girls balancing dolls on their heads. It was quite entertaining. After they completed their routine they grabbed members of our tour party to dance with. I managed to avoid this fate! (I must have had a lot of practice when I was younger avoiding adults for dancing at my parents parties when growing up) One word summed up the dancing as one watched on and that word was, awkward! Anyway, after 5 minutes or so the “entertainment” finished and we were informed that we would be heading out to the gardens to see the Giant Tortoises.
As we looked across the grass we could see perhaps 30 or 40 Giant’s strewn across the fields. It was a curious site. They looked like a battalion of tanks or chariots coming across the field but only in slow motion. There’s nothing to chill you out quite like a tortoise. They’re so slow and ponderous that they end up being quite relaxing to look at. A bit like smoking weed without the after affects or legalities.
When you see them up close it’s hard to imagine how they have survived all of these millions of years. They’re slow, cumbersome but incredibly endearing creatures. I’d have one in a heartbeat if I were allowed to.
At this point we were allowed to get a bit closer.
However, if you get too close and alarm the big beasties, they retract their long necks and stubby legs back into their shells, whilst at the same time making a hissing sound that is the tortoise removing the air from its lungs. Though it does rather sound like a car tyre going flat.
However slow Giant Tortoises are they are also very very strong and can weigh up to approximately 700lbs/350kgs! There are stories that when Darwin first arrived at the Galapagos Islands and discovered the Giant Tortoises he would ride around the islands on the back of their shell’s. I bet that wasn’t a fast ride. It’s also said that Giant Tortoises have pulled out fences and their fence posts that must be two or three feet deep just because they wanted to get to some grass on the other side.
These animals truly are one of nature’s miracles and they left me with a profound sense of gratitude. Fortunately the Ecuadorian government seems to be taking its responsibilities very seriously which should ensure the future of these amazing islands and their inhabitants for future generations to come. I feel very blessed to have been to the Galapagos Islands. If anyone reading this post who hasn’t been then I cannot strongly recommend it enough.
Now onto Quito!