Today was a little different than usual. Rather than stay on the boat and go on a couple of excursions, we left the boat for the day while it docked in Puerto Ayora, the most populous city in the Galapagos, and re-stocked its supplies. Puerto Ayora has somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 people, and is on the southern coast of Santa Cruz. First thing in the morning, the people who were on the 5-day instead of 7-day cruise departed. By the time we got up, they were already gone.
After those of us still on the boat had breakfast, we departed for the Charles Darwin Research Center , which is right near one of the landing spots in Puerto Ayora. After seeing so many animals out in the wild for so many straight days, it was a little odd seeing animals in the zoo-like environment at the CDRC. The center serves numerous purposes, but the most visible is the breeding program for the giant tortoises. Because of several factors – hunting during the colonial period, introduced species, etc. – the population of the species (and the various subspecies specific to each island) has dwindled dramatically. Supposedly, back in the early 1800s the islands were literally covered in giant tortoises. Now, some of the subspecies are extinct, some are endangered, and one of the species is down to a single tortoise. Lonesome George has been in captivity for about 30 years now, and they have been trying to find him a suitable mate. They don't believe there are any other of his species remaining, so they tried to find the closest species in the hopes that through several generations of breeding they could get something approaching a 99% similar species. To date, however, that is not working either, as Lonesome George appears to be sterile. They are currently looking into cloning him, but cloning reptiles is much more difficult than cloning mammals. Fortunately giant tortoises live a very long time, so there is still hope.
In addition to Lonesome George, we also saw a bunch of young tortoises that they are caring for until the tortoises are large enough to place on their native islands. Baby tortoises are prone to rats and other introduced species, but once they are about 4 years old they are large enough to fend for themselves. Due to the breeding program at the CDRC, tens of thousands of tortoises have been repatriated to their native islands. We also found out that one of the highlights of the breeding program is Diego, a tortoise that the CDRC obtained from the San Diego zoo. Diego is 100% certain to accomplish his task, and so he has his own harem of six females, while the other male tortoises have to share the other six females. We also saw some land iguanas and some adult tortoises of unknown origin that cannot be released to other islands because they may mix the gene pool.
After our time at the CDRC was done, we were on our own in Puerto Ayora for a couple of hours. We had two hours to take a 20 minute walk down the beachfront, so the intent was that we would do a lot of shopping. Most of the places weren't much more than t-shirt shops, however, so we made it through town pretty quickly. We ended up at a restaurant at the other end of the beachfront and had some papas fritas (French fries) and drinks. The walk was very hot, but the scenery was good – there were many outstanding specimens of Delonix Regia – both red and yellow.
At noon we were picked up by a couple of buses and we went up to the only fancy resort in the Galapagos, the Royal Palm Resort. They had a very nice lunch prepared for us. We ate with Laurene & Chelsea and John & Phillip. Justin asked for a couple of chicken wings at the buffet line, and they must have had a difficult time giving those away, as they brought more chicken wings to him at the table. After lunch we went up to a nearby lava tube and walked through. It was about 600 meters and was decently lit, but we had flashlights anyway. It was quite a bit more cavernous than the lava tubes we had been in on the Big Island of Hawaii. After finishing the walk, the buses took up to the main part of the resort – the restaurant was separate – where we could use the pool or the business center or whatever. The business center was air-conditioned, so we went there, but there was a line to use the computers. Justin fell asleep while waiting; Crystal realized the line was only for PCs (no one knew how to use the Mac), so she used the Mac for a bit.
We left the Royal Palm Resort around 3:15, and then went tortoise "hunting" on a private farm nearby. One of the farmers with a large lot lets people come in (presumably for a fee) and walk around to look for the giant tortoises. We thought the tortoises would be a little harder to find, but they stuck out easily. They were much taller than the tall grass, and they left a trail of matted-down grass wherever they walked. We walked around for about an hour, getting close to the tortoises and coming up with creative poses for pictures. Phillip tried to get a shot where his head was coming out of the tortoises shell, but the tortoise never retracted his head so it didn't quite work. Every now and then, if we got too close, the tortoises would hiss a little bit, but then they would keep on chowing down on the grass. The trees on the farm were very nice. There were a couple of very large African Tulip Trees, as well as a whole grove of Cedlera odorata.
We left the farm and headed back to the boat. We hung around and did crossword puzzles for awhile, right up until Giovanni got on the PA system and told us to come to the lounge for his talk on "Sex and Murder in Paradise ." It was all about the first settlers on Floreana – a bunch of crazy Germans, the Ritters, the Wittmers, and the Baroness and her boy toys. We don't remember much of the story - more information can be found here. Dinner was outside again, and we had a band again (this time a band from Puerto Ayora), and then we went to sleep.