In the town of Puerto Villamill, we strolled along a shady nature path that was part of an outpost of the Charles Darwin Research Center, admiring the flora—real trees!—and trying not to bump the marine iguanas sunning themselves on the railings. Then into the giant tortoise breeding center, dedicated to repopulating the islands after the whalers and pirates did their best to eradicate the poor beasts. Some of the islands have lost their endemic species altogether (and then there’s Lonesome George, the very last tortoise of his kind).
We were shown how the eggs (rubbery and white, and big enough to cross the palm of your hand) had to be marked and then placed for hatching in exactly the same position they’d been found in. A pen held one-year-old tortoises scooting around like animated silver dollars; another held the two- to- three-year-olds; and on up to adults, some of whom were mating—him tipped up like a flying saucer over not-particularly-interested her, with major grunting as the sound effects. We were amazed at how fast the tortoises could move. And just so you get the point, a graphic along one wall showed a tiny tortoise next to a human baby; a knee-high one next to a young man; a waist-high one next to an elderly man; a larger one yet next to a gravestone; and, 200 years out, a truly huge tortoise next to a blank space where the human was not even a memory.
We loaded onto a bus for the journey partway up Sierra Negra, then slipped and slithered on foot the rest of the way up to the edge of the caldera in truly slimy mud and a downpour. Well, we knew it was the rainy season. At the top, the mist cleared nicely for us to see down into and across the caldera, six miles wide, where a few fumeroles spewed steam, and the greenery within was striped by long streaks of lava from the eruption of 2005.
Back down at the beach, some of us lounged over tropical-style drinks at Coco’s Bar while others swam in clear, turquoise waves surging onto white, white sand.
After supper the crew went back to town—and returned in the open panga in another downpour. We departed in the dark. I stood at the after rail with Peter from London watching fireworks explode over the town (we never learned what they were for). Sometime in the night, we anchored at Floreana Island.