Day One: From Baltra to Santa Cruz

| January 3, 2011 | 2 Comments
This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Exploring the Galapagos

December 19: Baltra/Santa Cruz. Guayaquil to Baltra. Transfer to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz). Afternoon to Charles Darwin Research Station. Here, scientists work constantly on research and projects for conservation of the Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The Charles Darwin Research Station, established in 1964, has a Natural History Interpretation Centre and also carries out educational projects in support of conservation of the Galápagos Islands. Overnight to Chinese Hat.

Following our first lunch aboard the Millenium, Mauricio takes us to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. Twelve of us board two pangas. Stored aboard the Millenium, these soft-hulled and very agile boats are powered by an outboard motor and are perfect for both wet and dry landings. Once landed, we are cautioned to choose our steps carefully. The dock, surrounded by several varieties of mangroves is covered by marine iguanas warming themselves in the sun. This is the first endemic species we view, and they are plentiful, dog-paddling (or is it iguana paddling?) across Puerto Ayora’s bay, their heads bobbing just above water and their powerful tails tracing a stroke through their wake.


charles darwin research station galapagos Day One: From Baltra to Santa Cruz

The Charles Darwin Research Station

On his visit to the islands, Charles Darwin was revolted by the appearance of marine iguanas, writing:

The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2-3 ft), disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. I call them ‘imps of darkness’. They assuredly well become the land they inhabit.

However, Marine Iguana are not always black; the young have a lighter coloured dorsal stripe, and some adult specimens are grey. The reason for their dark coloration is that the species must rapidly absorb heat to minimize the time it takes them to recover after emerging from the water.

The grounds surrounding the research station are dotted with Darwin’s finches, and are painted in the subtle palette of a Galapagos on the cusp of wet season, all dusty browns and sandalwood greys painted over a vibrant green just waiting to burst forth at the first hint of seasonal rain (even the cacti on the grounds had begun to flower. The station is first and foremost a breeding centre for several species of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. It’s also home to ‘Lonesome George’.


yet another galapagos tortiose Day One: From Baltra to Santa Cruz

This is not Lonesome George. But he's a reasonable facsimile.

Lonesome George is the last known member of the Pinta Island which is one of eleven subspecies of Galápagos tortoise, all of which are native to the Galápagos Islands. He has been labeled the rarest creature in the world, and is a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos and around the world. Unfortunately, attempts at mating Lonesome George have been unsuccessful for several decades, possibly due to the lack of any females of his own subspecies, and have prompted researchers at the Darwin Station to offer a reward once a suitable mate is found.

Mauricio explains to us how the tortoise is bred, and how its eggs are incubated. A mere difference of 1.5 degrees Celsius will determine its sex. After approximately four years at the research station, tortoises are repatriated to their respective islands. The efforts at the research station have improved the tortoises’ chances for survival by a margin of 90 per cent.

galapagos tortiose Day One: From Baltra to Santa Cruz

You’ll get closer to the wildlife here than you would anywhere else in the world.

Following our visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, we return on foot through the town of Puerto Ayora. Puerto Ayora is the largest town of the Galapagos Islands and the main tourist centre, with a wide range of hotels, restaurants, shops and internet cafes. It’s small but well-appointed for tourists and peppered with boutiques, galleries, hotels and restaurants. Young people congregate in the square, enjoying a warm Sunday evening and tourists browse the area’s shops hunting for souvenirs. Sea lions line the pier, bathing in the day’s last light as the sun descends over Academy Bay as we prepare to return by panga to the Millenium in order to prepare for the next day, our first full day in the islands. And our first time snorkeling.

Disclosure: At Two Go Round-The-World, we value the conversation that exists between us and our readers—and the trust on which that relationship is based. Here we’re committed to creating an environment informed by that trust. In the interests of full disclosure, we travelled with Gap Adventures, with whom Daniel works. That being said, his opinions should not be construed as representing those of his employer. For more information on disclosures and relationships, please check our ‘About Us‘ page.

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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

Comments (2)

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  1. Thanks for the informative and fascinating post. Your pictures are great. I find it so amazing that Charles made such comments (and similar other ones) about the islands…Little did he know at the time how much his time here would change the world!

  2. Rebecca says:

    Poor George!

    Look forward to reading the next installments.

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