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Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Santa Cruz has the largest population of the five inhabited islands of the Galapagos. The town of Puerto Ayora has 15,000 residents and is home to the national park headquarters and the Charles Darwin Research Center. One of the interesting laws in Equador is that citizens are required to vote. When they do, they get a card certifying that they voted. If a person does not have a card, they can not buy land, get a passport, get a loan, etc.

Baby Tortoises at Research StationOur first stop on Santa Cruz was the Darwin Research Center. Though primarily an international scientific research station, it is one of the most visited spots on the islands. There is a tortoise raising center in an effort to replace the population of tortoises that were destroyed during the whaling days (see Tortoise Photo Gallery for more information and photos of the Giant Tortoise). Tortoise eggs are retrieved and tagged with the island they were from. At 5 years old, the tortoises are released back on the same island. The temperature of the eggs determines the sex of the tortoise, females require warmer incubation. Lonesome GeorgeThe most famous occupant in the research center is Lonesome George. He is the last tortoise of his species from Pinta Island and researchers are trying to get him to breed with females of a sub-species close to his. But so far, nothing has worked. At over 80 years old, he just doesn't seem to be interested!

Land Iguana at Research StationThe station also has a couple of land iguanas.

We walked back to town from the Research Station, stopping at the t-shirt, art and other colorful souvenir shops along the way. It was the only time we had rain during our entire visit in the Galapagos. Santa Cruz Shop



Media Luna CraterFrom town, we boarded a bus up to the cool, moist highlands of Santa Cruz, a lush green landscape very different from anything we have seen so far. After a nice barbecue lunch at a private home and restaurant, Altair, we drove up to see two huge pit craters called Los Gemelos.This is an eroded volcano cone that is covered in vegetation. There were many unique plants around the crater with long latin botanical names!



Vermillion Flycatcher on TortoiseFurther down in the highlands, we visited a ranch which the Giant Tortoises use as a migratory route this time of year to feed on the lush grasses and luxuriate in seasonal pools. The Polaris supplied us each with rubber boots as we had to tromp across the open pastures thru high grass and muddy fields (which were also full of Tortoise poop!). The highlight for all us photographers was a tortoise with a bright red Vermillion Flycatcher perched on his shell. We saw tortoises slowly making their way through the field, happily munching away, and others wallowing in a duckweed pond.Tortoises in Pond



After dinner, local musicians came on board and entertained us with Ecuadorian music and dance.



Great Blue HeronThe next day it was an early morning (5:30) wake up for the photographers to take zodiaks around Venecia Islet. After breakfast, we went back in kayaks for a wonderful paddle around the lagoon. Saw pelicans, great blue herons, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies and flightless cormorants.Pelican

Back on board, one of the naturalists gave an excellent presentation on of the life of Charles Darwin. One of the most interesting facts we learned was that he only visited 4 islands and he was seasick during most of his journey to the Galapagos.




Trail on Cerro DragonLater in the afternoon we went for a walk around Cerro Dragon, which has historically been the home of the famed, endemic Galapagos land iguanas. The population was almost wiped out by feral dogs in the sixties, however a hugely successful captive breeding program has allowed the population to recover. We saw a couple as they stuck their head out of their burrows.Prickly Pear Cactus This part of the island has some forests of the giant prickly pear cactus which glowed in the late day light. They are a favorite food for the land iguanas.






Land IguanaTonights coctail was a land iguana - rum and pinapple juice mixture. After dinner, those with laptops set up a rolling slide show of their best photos.


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