Thursday, March 5, 2009

Puerto Ayora

We sailed into the harbour at Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galápagos. Its economic base is tourism, so that every person who lives in the town depends on the tourists in some way. I hope that means that all are intent on preserving their environment, because tourists will stop coming if the animals disappear. We visited Lonesome George at the Darwin Center today. He is the last of his kind and has resisted efforts to have him mate with female tortoises. He either cannot or won’t fertilize the females that are offered to him. He was found on the island of Pinzon, and it was puzzling that no females were found with him. Ships would come to the Galápagos Islands for years and collect thousands of turtles for food. The islands were full of turtles once. The Darwin Center was developed to preserve the tortoises, by finding the eggs and incubating them, hatching them and keeping the hatchlings alive until they are ready to be reintroduced to the wild. They have had some success in that there are islands that have healthy populations of tortoises.

We visited a farm in the highlands which had tortoises wandering about. They hear us and smell us and are frightened when we come too close to them. They make an odd hissing sound as they pull their heads into their shells. They truly look like ancient animals, like dinosaurs really. Tortoises live on land and turtles live in the sea; we saw a sea turtle swimming yesterday and last year when we were snorkeling near Isabela Island there were many sea turtles swimming about. It was quite the experience to see them swimming nearby, often two and three together. They are quite magnificent.

Our agenda today included a visit to a lava tunnel. We could not go far into the tunnel because the lights in the tunnel were out and it was too dark. There are several of these tunnels throughout the island, originating from ancient lava flows from the no longer active volcano on the island. There are also massive sink holes, and we visited two of them. They were much like the sink holes we saw in Belize, except that that the latter were steeper and deeper and led to an intricate cave system. In Belize, Tara and I rappelled down to the bottom of the sink hole, some three hundred feet or so, and then explored the caves, which had been used by the Mayans for ritual ceremonies.

The Galápagos Islands were never inhabited by indigenous people, so there is no evidence of ancient cultures or traditions.

We returned to the boat for the evening and had a dinner of Ecuadorian specialties, which somehow were not as interesting as I had remembered. We will be leaving the Santa Cruz in the morning and flying to Guayaquil. This will be my first visit to this city, and I have heard so much about it, both good and bad. It has improved much, and has an entirely different feel to Quito. Quiteños call people form Guayaquil ‘monos’ or monkeys, and those form Guayaquil call those form Quito ‘Serranos’ or potato worms. I am not sure why, but I will try to find out. There is certainly a rivalry between the two cities.

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