Puerto Ayora and Santa Cruz Island, Take II

A tortoise ambles by a sign at the tortoise farm
For day 4 of our Galapagos cruise, we’re back to Santa Cruz Island, where Stoytcho and I spent our first days in the Galapagos. This may not seem like the best choice for a high-end cruise, it means that the local community here gets a share of our tourism revenue and we get to see who the locals actually are. The Charles Darwin Research Center is also here, serving as a base for much of the conservation work in the Galapagos.
We start with a morning visit to the Charles Darwin Research Center, a place which emphasizes how much work it takes to keep the Galapagos as a near-pristine ecosystem. The researchers here do everything from breed tortoises to develop plans to restore damaged ecosystems, and we are given a tour of conservation efforts on the island and the animals kept here for care and breeding. This is famously where Lonesome George the Pinta Island tortoise spent his lonesome days before passing away in 2012. It’s also where we meet a less famous but more successful tortoise, Super Diego, who has fathered more than a thousand offspring and helped save the Española tortoise species.
Diego (back right, I think) with a friend in his enclosure
A land iguana, looking kind of bored
A lava lizard, not actually on display at the research center because conservationists don’t seem too concerned about them. They’re a bit underappreciated.
After our visit at the research center, we’re turned loose for an hour of free time. Stoytcho and I spent it exploring the rocky shoreline behind the research center, reached by a bike path near the gift shop.
A marine iguana rests just out of reach of the pounding surf
One of Darwin’s finches searches for seeds
A hangout place for locals, or marine iguanas? We stumble on a cluster of pallets in the underbrush.
Our next activity is a bike in the highlands to a local distillery and coffee farm. We meet back at the docks and catch a bus to the edge of town, where the guides have prepared mountain bikes for us. Those unwilling to bike continue on by bus. The rest of us, uh, bike. And bike. The slope is nearly flat at first, and then switches to gentle hills, but there’s always more uphill than downhill. The final stretch up to the distillery is a steep slope up, so Stoytcho and I huff and puff in the lowest gear setting to reach the top. We stumble off our bikes and are given water, then a tour of how the farm turns sugarcane juice into hard liquor known as ‘fire water’ in Spanish.
Pressing sugarcane to extract the juice
Our host demonstrates why the booze here is called “fire water”. And yes, that is the still, a system under pressure, engulfed in flames. The researcher in me was silently screaming and desperately searching for a blast shield at this moment.
Finally, it’s back into the bus and off to a tortoise farm in the highlands, where we get lunch, explore a lava tube, and watch the tortoises here roam free and happy.
We wander among the tortoises
Just not that into you: a male attempts to mate with a female and she rejects him, crawling away rapidly.
Another of Darwin’s finches, this one resembling a small dinosaur
Taking an afternoon mudbath

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