Day 151, Year 1: A Trip to the Highlands
Date: Friday, March 17, 2006
Weather at Anchorage: Sunny, clear blue skies
Daytime Air Temperature: 82 degrees F daytime
Water Temperature: 77 degrees F
Location: Academy Bay, Puerto Ayoro, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

I am writing this log on Saturday morning as I was so totally wiped out when we returned from our Friday afternoon explore of the highlands that I knew I couldn’t do justice to a log reporting on such an exciting day. We started the day by meeting Johnny from the Naugala Agency at a street café ´o discuss tour possibilities. Kathy and Bud from Invictus, who arrived on Thursday, Margaret and Patrick from Aqua Magic, and Erin and Zak from Audentes, who had just arrived, went to the meeting with us. Erin and Zac went to the meeting to meet with Johnny and get their arrival paperwork started, but the rest of us were interested in the highlands tour. We all decided to go and Johnny made arrangements to meet us at 1430 in the town square to introduce us to our guide. He said an afternoon tour would be much better as it would be a bit cooler.

After our meeting, Windbird, Invictus, and Audentes took off in search of a marine store. Aqua Magic split and went to the Darwin Center. Patrick arrived here with an infection in his finger and has been a bit under the weather, so this was their first explore of the island. As we started walking, Kathy and I hung back a bit from “the boys” and did a little window shopping on the main street in town. “The boys” were Mark, Bud, Erin, and Zak. Mark and Bud are both in their sixties and Erin and Zak are in their late twenties, but age makes no difference. Put a sailing man on land and they immediately search out a marine store. After a little searching, we found Bodega Blanco. We were all amazed. This small marine store 600 miles from the mainland of Equador is the most well stocked we have seen since leaving the US. Amazing!

By this time, it was time for lunch, so we found a neat little café ·ith blue checkered table cloths on tables with outside seating. Sandwiches here cost about $3.50 and a double-sized Pilsner cervesa (about the only choice) costs $1.80. Dinners here seem to cost about $8.00 with the exception of shrimp and lobster, but we hear there is one restaurant with a great lobster dish for $7.00, so we will certainly track that one down.

After lunch, we again roamed about town and then met Johnny at 1430. He introduced us to our English speaking guide, Marcela Fonseca, and off we went in a taxi. Taxis here are small pick up trucks that seat three in the front seat, including the driver, three in a back seat, and the rest pile in the truck bed. Mark and Bud opted for the back, and off we went. At the edge of town, we were in the outback. There is nothing for about five miles and then you reach the small village of Bellavista. In another five miles, we reached the village of Santa Rosa and headed further out into the wilderness. We came to the Primicias Ranch in the “Cerro Chato” area. There is a pavilion where you can buy drinks and souvenirs and then the minute you begin to walk the path, you see a mud pond and then you see dome-shaped tortoises. Our guide, Marcela, was so excited because the very first pair we came upon was just completing the mating process. We were amazed at the size difference between the male and the female. Adult females weight about 50 kilograms, whereas the adult males weigh 250 kilograms. There were many tortoises milling about the mud ponds. As we continued to walk through the woods, we found another couple mating. When we came to an open field, we could see one big guy walking toward a mud pond that was totally encrusted with green pond weed. These tortoises let you come right up to them and they pay very little attention. We also saw a female Bahama White-Cheeked Pintail or Bahama duck. This is the only duck to reproduce in the Galapagos. We walked back into the woods and saw more tortoises, this time learning to tell young males from adult females. They are both about the same size, but the young male has raised rings in each of the 13 plates on this back, whereas the adult female has a smooth shell. Basically, old equals smooth and young equals raised rings. So next time you see a tortoise, you’ll know the difference!

As we were getting ready to leave the area, I spotted a huge male up on a hill. He was partially hidden by tall grass and looked like a large rock. But when I pointed him out to Marcela, she said, “Let’s go.” He was a neat find as were able to get very close to him and watch him eating grass. We all got great pictures and video and then we were off to the next stop-Los Tunneles (The Lava Tunnels).

Lava tubes come in different sizes and lengths, but evidently there are many under the land on Santa Cruz. This tunnel was about the right size for a subway to run through when we started, but as we got further in, there was one point where we had to crawl. After that, the walls of the tunnel were eroding and there were large boulders to climb around. Marcela explained that the tunnel walls are formed as the first lava spreads out from a crater. The surface cools off quickly and hardens while the inner lava flow continues to rush downhill. Once the inner lava flow is gone, it leaves behind a tunnel through the original lava.

We emerged from the lava tunnel and hopped back in the taxi to continue our explore. Next we were to visit Los Gemelos-The Twins. These two huge pit-craters are over 30 meters deep. They were either formed by an explosion, or they may have been formed by the collapse of a magma chamber. The craters were interesting, but the most exciting thing was our sighting of a Vermillion Flycatcher. This tiny, but very colorful bird, flew all around us and landed various times allowing us to photograph him. We saw other Darwin finches, but this little red bird won our hearts for this explore. Marcella said that sighting the Vermillion Flycatcher is very rare and birdwatchers search for days for just such a sighting. We were very lucky.

Tomorrow (Saturday) we are walking to Tortuga Bay to see nesting pelicans, more Darwin finches, yellow warblers, and maybe flamingos in the lagoon. Every trip into town gives us opportunities to watch the blue-footed boobys, red crabs, and marine iguanas that hang out around the taxi dock. Wildlife is everywhere here.

060317 Day 151 Highlands, Santa Cruz, Galapagos