Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 6: Tortoises and Civilization!

Note: Because I had no internet connection on the boat, I'm posting these about a week after they actually happened. I'll post one Galapagos post each day, followed by Machu Picchu posts, so you can live vicariously through my diaries and photos.

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Our morning trip to the highlands of Santa cruz started with Two Craters. Volcanos are huge magma chambers that expand under the surface of the earth, creating a mountain. They erupt when the magma finds its way to the surface via fissures in the earth around the sides of the mountain. Once all the magma (lava) flows out and down the side of the volcano, the magma chamber is empty and it collapses, leaving a caldera. Craters are similar, but they're secondary chambers on the side of a volcano. So we saw that.

From Galapagos5-Santa Cruz

While we were walking around today, I was feeling like I was still on the boat. Or like I'd had one drink and so my balance was a little off. Am I getting my sea legs? I took a Bonine (non-drowsy Dramamine) on days 3 and 4, but since then I've been fine without it. We've been traveling at night, or in smoother water. I also thought the Bonine made me sleepy, so I avoided taking it if I didn't need it. Hmm.

From Galapagos5-Santa Cruz

Next, we went to a private ranch (agricultural land) where they leave some of the land uncultivated, to let the giant Galapagos tortoises in and out. (They can pass through the barbed wire fence easily, but cattle and horses can't.) Then they charge $3 a head for people to come see the tortoises. They had an extensive gift shop and plenty of galoshes for us to wear while we tromped around in their backyard. (It was muddy.) We stood around watching one old male tortoise eat his passion fruit, and I had some too. Male tortoises have a curved lower shell for mating, and large curved tails. This one was very large, implying that he was old. It's tortoise mating season, so he's either already been to the mating grounds and done his business, or he's not interested anymore. He was lovely.

From Galapagos5-Santa Cruz

From Galapagos5-Santa Cruz

Finally, we visited a lava tube, which is a kind of cave formed by lava. When it flows out of a volcano, the top and sides cool faster than the middle, and they become solid while the lava still flows through. Eventually the lava runs out and a tube is left. This one was easily big enough to fit a bus through, and went for 400 m, though we didn't go that far.

From Galapagos5-Santa Cruz

In the afternoon we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station. I have to say it was a disappointment. It was more like a zoo than a laboratory. They do breeding and biodiversity education, but it was clear that the focus there is to display the tortoises. I was hoping or expecting to get to talk to at least one real scientist, but I didn't even get to see the labs. It was clear they need more funding. There should be a tortoise genome project going on, and some aims to clone a tortoise. But I saw no evidence of anything like that. Still, we got to see plenty of tortoises. There were males penned in together, females penned in together, and babies (1 to 6 years). They were cute. We also got to see Lonesome George, the last of a dying breed. They're trying to breed him with females of a related sub-species, but so far none of the eggs have been viable.

From Galapagos5-Santa Cruz

We walked back through town to the dock, and I forgot my money on the boat, so I didn't buy any souvenirs. I totally would have, though. Hopefully I'll get another chance. We walked by a fish market where some guys were cleaning fish and lots of pelicans were waiting for a handout. I sat down and watched a little girl chase a marine iguana down the sidewalk. After all the talk of pristine islands and biodiversity and not messing with the delicate ecosystem, that stuff made me sick. After trying and failing to get wi-fi on the dock (it's free, but spotty), I came back to the boat.

Click here for the whole day's album.

See vacation summary (with links to each day).

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