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Day 13: Santa Cruz, Galapagos

Saturday, May 19, 2001. Sunny 65°

The next morning we were up at a reasonable hour for once (7:00 AM). After breakfast our destination was the Tortoise Reserve. At the dock, a bus met us with a driver, Caesar, and two beautiful daughters (Simone and Donna), who would take us 35 miles into the highlands. The girls laughed at every bump we hit - clearly they hadn't been to Disneyland. We noticed that the driver didn't stop at any of the Pare (or Stop) signs. The bus looked like it has seen better days in spite of the white linen headrest. Glenn and Don were quick to notice that two lug nuts were missing on each of the front axles. Guess a full complement of lug nuts is only important on freight-carrying vehicles. We observed that all drivers in South America rely heavily on their horns to signal and warn on-coming traffic and pedestrians of their presence. We suspected that if the horn didn't work, they wouldn't drive. Charlie slept through the whole discussion.

Galapagos TortoiseOnce at the park, we walked through muddy fields to a small pool of water to see our first tortoise in the “wild,” weighing about 400 pounds. The park ranger, Carina, said it didn't stray too far from here unless it was during mating season when he walked down to the shore. Takes about 30 days to go 30 miles. They eat passion fruit and guava that are in abundant supply.

Glenn was able to see the Galapagos Rail, one of the island's rarest. Very lucky. We also spotted a Woodpecker Finch, which didn't look anything like a woodpecker. We them found two other very large tortoises. Unlike the ones at the Charles Darwin Center, these didn't stretch out their heads when Jorge raised his hand. But one certainly did hiss loudly indicating he didn't like you. Jorge said he was very aggressive and fights with the others. Wonder what that means. At the end of our tour, we were offered fresh watermelon that was delicious.

The bus driver dropped us off at the edge of town so we could find that perfect T-shirt and other souvenirs. Linda found an ATM where she could get more than the $60.00 limit in Quito. Lana and Joe found a book about the Galapagos that was written by Peter Oxford and Reneé Bish, who had been their tour leaders on a trip to Siberia, the Bering Sea, and the Aleutian Islands 10 years earlier. She was South African and he was British and we knew they lived in Ecuador. We just never connected it to Galapagos, Ecuador. The book was beautiful. Everyone came back to the boat with more goodies and some new travel bags to carry it all.

Iguana Eating a Pri ckly Pear on Galapagos Islands, EcuadorThat afternoon we motored to South Plaza Island on the eastern shore of Santa Cruz. One side of the island slowly rises to form spectacular cliffs on the other side. The perfunctory sea lion guarded the landing spot and had to be encouraged to move with the flick of Jorge's hat. The island has a large population of land iguanas who love to eat the prickly pear cactus. During El Niño, a large number of the cacti were killed by excessive water and the following long-term drought. As a result the land iguanas were fewer and skinnier. They still looked large to us, especially the two fighting nose to nose.

Galapagos Swallow-tailed GullHere we saw a small Ground Finch. As we walked along the sea cliffs, we saw, Audubon's Shearwater, Masked Boobies and Red-billed Tropicbirds soaring. Jorge also showed us a Swallow-tailed Gulls nesting in the rocks. We were only about four feet from it. The feathers shown like satin. Unbelievable.

Further down we came upon a bachelor sea lion colony made up of very old males and young males recuperating from fights. To get here, they climb up a very steep step incline rather than the more gradual several hundred feet away that is guarded by the herd's dominant male. The smell was overwhelming from two dead seals. As we headed back to the boat, several seals swam along with the dinghy. We witnessed a fight between several males thrashing around in the water. It was very violent and lasted for about 10 minutes.

That night we sat at the front of the boat and watched the stars. The first star out was Venus. Next were the stars of the Southern Cross. The Milky Way, the paint brush of stars in the sky, was bold and beautiful. The Big Dipper appears upside down from the way it looks in the Northern Hemisphere. The itinerary said we were to sail all night back to San Cristobal, so why were we heading north. Jorge said it was to find a quiet anchorage for dinner and some sleep before we set sail at night for San Cristobal. Quite frankly, we would rather eat while underway, reach San Cristobal early, anchor, and get a good night's sleep. It wasn't until we rafted up with Freedom's sister ship, Pelikano, a 72-foot trawler that carried 16 passengers with a crew of 7, that we found out that the purpose of the raft-up was to transfer fuel to the Freedom. Now we understood why we didn't immediately go to San Cristobal. We were very surprised to see how small the Pelikano's dinning area was and how much larger the cook's galley was. We were envious of the baked cake we saw, while the Pelikano's passengers were envious of our Jacuzzi (we never told them it had not been filled).

Farnco, Cook on Freedom Galapagos YachtWhile the refueling was going on, Franco the cook was frantic. He'd planned dinner for a certain hour that had come and gone. When we did sit down to eat, it was worth the wait. We had fresh lobster that the crew had dove for the night before along with fresh Wahoo and red snapper caught earlier that day. Franco even managed to bake a cake, complete with decorated frosting top honoring los amigos. What a treat. And it tasted delicious. Toasts were given between the crew and the passengers.

Lana and Joe presented Don a t-shirt with a hammerhead shark that said, "El Tiburon Martillo es Vegetariano" (or Hammerhead Sharks are Vegetarians). Very funny.

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