Andrea: Today we would be seeing the '5th most famous turtle in the world', Lonesome George. This was a very exciting moment so we asked Gino, our guide, who the 4 more famous turtles were and he said, 'The Ninja Turtles.' So it's Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo and George. It goes without saying that we were pretty excited. We would also see other, not-so-famous giant tortoises while we were there, which was good because there would be less paparrazzi around.
It was changeover day on the boat which meant all the people on our boat were leaving (except us) and we were getting a new group on. There is some crossover with the cruise days because there are both 4 day and 7 day cruises so they rotate people every 4 days. So, after an earlier breakfast than usual (who is hungry at 6:00 am?), everyone scrambled around to finish packing while we just relaxed and watched the newly risen sun light up a pale pink sky.
We arrived at the Darwin Research Center and blew past the other tour groups as our guide, Billy, informed us it was better to start in the back of the park. We arrived at an area to find the first giant tortoises of the trip. There was a group of about 5 tortoises lazily lying all over each other. They weren't moving much, but I suppose that's on account of their 150 years on those joints. They were the size of a boogie board, but much harder and more rotund. They were very cute with their leathery faces and wise eyes. Billy explained about Lonesome George and why they call him that. Apparently he is the last Pinta Island tortoise and they have searched the entire world for a Pinta Island female for him to mate with (people used to take tortoises from the Galapagos so they are scattered all over the world). They are still offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who can produce a Pinta Island female. They have tried to mate him with other subspecies of giant tortoise, but all attempts have failed. George is only 100 years old and in good health so the folks at the Darwin Research Center are still hopeful that they will be able to breed George to get Pinta babies.
After the information session, Billy rushed us onto the next group at the feeding platform. Here we saw another group, but this one was slightly more active than the previous group. The comparisons to grandparents continued as we all laughed at the lettuce stuck to their lips with a collective 'Awww!'. The feeding platform allowed us to get pretty close as long as we didn't stand on the platform itself. There was another group from a bigger boat gawking with us. They rivalry between boats was obvious when the giant ex-military man, Don, from our boat stepped onto the platform (which is forbidden) for a closer picture and the tour guide from the other group whispered to a passenger, 'He's obviously not from our boat.' Me-ow!!
Billy left after the feeding platform so we were free to wander on our own through some other tortoise pens. We stumbled across Lonesome George far out in the distance in another enclosure. We could barely see him and there were two very frustrated women tortoises in the pen with him. We snapped a photo and moved on because it was a tad anti-climactic. After Lonesome George and his harem we got to the pens with the babies! They got smaller and smaller with each enclosure. When we got to the tiniest ones we spied a baby that had rolled on to it's back. A few people from our boat and us formed a cheering section for the tiny turtle and every time he stretched out his neck to the ground and tried to turn himself over there was a resounding 'Ahhhhhhh' and then when he failed and was still left arms flailing there was 'Awwww!' A group from another boat came and joined in. They left and the poor thing was still on its back and I refused to leave it like that so while we were all alone I grabbed a really long stick and quickly flipped him over before anyone else came. He was a bit confused for a minute, but then scuttled off far from the ledge he had fallen from. We left with feeling like heroes for saving a tiny giant tortoise.
After leaving the Darwin Research Center, we decided to head to Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay) for a swim before getting back on the boat. On the way we passed the fish market of Santa Cruz. We watched for a few minutes as the sea lions fought the pelicans for scraps of fish and laughed when the lone sea lion beat the 20 or so pelicans pecking at his face. Blue footed boobies just watched the show without getting involved.
The imposing heat and humidity beat down on us for about 20 minutes as we made it to the entry gate of the national park in which the bay was situated where we were informed that it was another 2.5km for the beach. This would be a well deserved swim! Lush green mangroves covered the banks of the beach at Bahia Tortuga where land iguanas found shade from the sun. The warm, turquoise water was worth the hour-long walk, but unfortunately we could only stay for about 20 minutes before we had to turn around to get back to the boat. By this time the rain was rolling in so we walked back racing the rain clouds. The rain poured down as soon as our dinghy pulled up to take us to the boat again.
We had some down time on the boat while the new people boarded and we sized them up. Our afternoon excursion was to see the giant turtoises in the wild. The rain had made it very necessary to don wellies for the journey through the lush forests of Santa Cruz Island on the hunt for tortoises. We saw a few more in their natural habitat that were much more active than the ones at the Darwin Research Center. These ones actually ran away if you got too close, but were still quite tame. After about an hour of tortoise spotting, we jumped back in the van (after the obligatory 10 minutes at the gift shop and snack bar) to get back to the boat. On the way back the traffic came to a complete stop, which was rare in this sleepy town. After about 40 minutes we were checking our watches to make sure we weren't going to miss dinner when Gino reported that it was a Good Friday ceremony. It is a tradition to hold a procession on foot through the town to celebrate Good Friday. Our quick thinking bus driver (possibly in the hopes of getting some tips) went off roading in order to get us past the traffic. We navigated large dirt piles in a tiny minibus while we passed the crowds of worshippers and a line of other cars. It was an exciting 3 minutes and we made it back in time for dinner! We still didn't tip the driver, though.