Galapagos, Santa Cruz

"This morning, we visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. Scientists from all over the globe work at the station and conduct biological research from anatomy to zoology. Get your picture taken with the giant tortoises. Observe year-old tortoises and learn about the captive-breeding program. Stroll through the town of Puerto Ayora (population: 12,000) the largest town in the Galapagos. Buy souvenirs, mail postcards and absorb local charm in the social heart of the Islands. After lunch on board, we travel by bus to the highlands of SANTA CRUZ Island. The scenery gradually changes as we wind our way through all seven vegetation zones found in Galapagos. From June to January you can find giant tortoises on a private farm in the highlands. We visit Los Gemelos, Spanish for 'The Twins', a pair of large pit craters where we find the bright red male vermilion flycatcher. We stop at "the tunnels", the largest lava tubes found in Galapagos." - Itinerary

Santa Cruz Island is the economic capitol of the Galapagos Islands. It is the home of the Darwin Research Center, where visitors are invited to see giant tortoises and to buy souvenirs. We saw both juvenile tortoises and adult tortoises, including the well-known "Lonesome George," who didn't seem so lonely to us as he chased around a female in his pen. We also saw "Diego," (from the San Diego Zoo), who was also trying to make baby tortoises with a female in his pen. Diego successfully mounted her, but it looks like he aborted his attempt, for some unknown reason. Perhaps he doesn't like to be watched.

The highlight of the research center is a large pen where you can walk with tortoises. The animals at the station are accustomed to humans and permit our presense in close quarters. We also visited a local farm that tortoises wander through, and found out that in the "wild," giant tortoises become very upset if approached. They pull their heads and necks in and make a strange hissing sound. Truly, they are bizarre animals.

In the afternoon we took a bus up to the highlands to walk through a lava tube and to see two, large sinkholes dubbed, "The Twins." We also saw a beautiful red bird whose name I have forgotten. I will have to look it up when I return home. This is also where we saw giant tortoises in the wild.