Aguas Calientes, Peru (Yvonne Smith)
We begin our day with a short walk from the Red Mangrove to the neighbouring Charles Darwin Research Centre. We focus on giant land tortoises but also learn a little more about the broader work of the centre - to sustain threatened species and eradicate any aggresive, non-indigenous ones (rats, ferrel dogs and cats as well as a variety of plants). The people here are fiercely protecting the land, a whopping 97% of the land is National Park. It is comforting to know that this place will look much the same for our grandkids!! After toruing the centre we board a van which takes us from the coast to the highlands. At our first stop, we take a short walk to a view point overlooking two massive sink holes created when underground voids created by lava flows collapsed. After that we move on to a second site where we could walk underground through large lava tubes (cool but a bit claustrophobic for me!). Lava tubes occur when the top layer of a lava flow hardens and the flow below eventually drains off to create these amazing caves. Back up on the surface, we walk around and are able to interact with several giant tortoises within a few feet in their natural habitiat. It was awe-inspiring to see these beautiful gentle giants, 300+lbs and up to 100+ years old lumber about in the pastural highlands. After lunch we board a fast boat for the 1.5 hour journey to neighboring Floreana Island. This is one of the least populated with just 120 residents (2 small hotels, 2 restaurants). Our accommodations in Floreana are these cute little cottages, about 10 of them in all which line the waterfront. They are simply a small bedroom and washroom. There are no common facilities other than the little boardwalk that runs in front of them on the rocky beach. We have our meals at the little open air cafe down the road. Shortly after our arrival, we set off for a short hike along the waterfront with our snorkel gear in tow. After about 20 minutes, we reach a small cove with a sandy entry point. The waterfront is otherwise black lava rock. We gear up and within minutes of entering the water, we encounter numerous sea turtles and stingrays calmly swimming around us. It is a wonderful experience and the kids are thrilled. We snorkel over to a little sandy island not far away and as we get to the island we are happily greeeted by sea lions. We then come across this adorable little guy who our guide tells us is about 2 wks old. One after another we come across his 5 little brothers and sisters!!! These sea lion pups are unbelievably cute and like most species in the Galapagos, have no fear of humans so you can all but touch them (trust me, I wanted to go and hug them but contact is forbidden!) After this wonderful experience, we return to our little cabins, enjoy a simple meal and retire to the sound of the surf crashing outside our door.
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