Santa Cruz… Punctuated by a Multitude of Giant Tortoises Everywhere

Santa Cruz, the most touristy of the isles we stepped foot on in the Galapagos, is called home by approximately 12,000 people (double the last island). The capital of Puerto Ayora is teeming with shops and restaurants. And white trucks and small white SUVs… never did quite get a handle on why that was the only color on vehicles we saw driving the roads. Anyway, we stayed at Grand Hotel Leon Marino, a quirky little place with a restaurant and two staggeringly different classes of guest rooms. Since we visited Santa Cruz both before and after Isabela Island, we were housed in two separate “suites” – one a large, completely revamped room with a clean and bright bathroom. The other was very clearly part of the old portion of the inn, featuring slanted floors, a single lamp, mesh “windows,” and an 80s green tiled washroom. Oh, and a view that was half police station and half power line-obstructed bay. “New is always better,” thank you Barney in How I Met Your Mother. You were spot on. Moving on…

Our days on Santa Cruz sandwiched our time on Isabela Island, so this post is a tad disjointed. Our second landing here was marked by yet another water taxi (we’re pros at navigating those things now), followed by a freebie day. Hubs and I elected to wander the town, meandering in and out of various shops, purchasing a few much needed gifts for those caring for our poor, broken pittie at home (she is currently recovering from bladder surgery in which an EGG SIZED stone was removed, poor thing). While we lazily meandered around town, several members of our crew departed on the Bay Tour, which turned out to be a missed opportunity for us. They saw far more wildlife than we did, and did a fair amount of snorkeling. Guide fail. Nevertheless… This post is already riddled with tangents, and I’m only two paragraphs in.

After dumping our belongings in our hotel rooms, we strut off towards the Charles Darwin Research Station, a mostly outdoor conservation center, displaying the impressive efforts made by the Ecuadorian government to preserve the unique flora, fauna and wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Where else are you going to find tropical penguins?! Anywho, the center has been in operation since 1959, and is a collaboration of government agencies with a goal of protection of natural resources and sharing the scientific discoveries. Housed on the grounds are Giant Tortoises (aka. Galapagos… what better way to name the archipelago), which they successfully breed. Well, in most cases. Lonesome George, a giant tortoise from Pinto Island, was the last remaining Pinto tortoise in the world. Pinto Island had been devastated when two moronic fisherman dumped three goats on the isle, and the three little miscreants devoured any and all habitats for the giant shelled creatures. Discovered on the island in 1971, George was brought to the conservancy with the goal of breeding him. Alas, Lonesome George failed at producing any offspring with his two mates, the stubborn shit. Then in June 2012, Lonesome George was sadly found dead in his corral, effectively rendering the species extinct. He was likely well over 100 years old. You are still able to view George, as they have preserved him in a dark, frigidly cold building at the center. Not creepy at all.

Giant Tortoises are not the only varmints featured at the research station. There’s insightful information about all the iguanas living on the islands, from pink to yellow to brown. Hubs had a few lady bugs land on him, and as it turns out, those little devils were an introduced species that were deliberately insinuated to the Galapagos to eradicate the invasive insects. Marine birds, including the albatross, are being actively monitored since they are on the endangered species list. While shark populations in and around the archipelago are happy and healthy, it provides an opportunity for researchers to study their habits. One thing that shocked me was shark sightings play a huge role in the local economy, amounting to $360,105 per year per shark.

Since I’m less apt to retain information on plant life as I generally kill any plants I attempt to grow, I remembered very little about the vegetation. I do recall the station developed “fly catchers” that attract and trap the diseased invasive critters, so they stop plaguing the local flora. The center geniuses also created biodegradable irrigation systems that are used everywhere we looked. For additional material on the centers saplings, feel free to read HERE (the station website).

We hopped aboard a small bus, and motored off towards the highlands as well. The scenery changes drastically as you climb in elevation. Instead of dry and brown, your eyes are very suddenly assailed with green and lush surroundings. And rain, don’t forget the precipitation. We arrived at Rancho El Manzanillo… A small family farm that’s operating as a restaurant and event facility. While enroute to the actual farm, we made a pit stop to explore some lava tunnels. No, there is no burning hot lava running through these tunnels anymore. The most dangerous thing about them is the height of the ceiling – use a flashlight, otherwise, your head is at risk of slamming into rock. Believe me, those things are sharp too. On our little jaunt, we chased some giant tortoises for shits and giggles. All in good fun. So on to the farm… Giant. Tortoises. Everywhere. They even have a smelly, muddy pond they chill in. Reminded me of hippos in Africa.

Please enjoy a short film of the Hubs and I engaged in a push-up contest demanded by our fellow tourists whilst inside two vacated tortoise shells.

The ranch makes its own teas with accompanying liqueurs, all of which we were able to sample. Genesis urged us to mix the two, creating a warming brew in the chilly rain storm. Lemongrass tea with a few splashes of lemongrass liquor would make a wonderful pre-bedtime infusion.

On the drive back to Puerto Ayora, I happened to take note of a particularly oddly dressed fellow riding a particularly deplorable little bicycle in the rain. I wish I’d managed to snap a picture of his attire (a yellow raincoat), which I giggled to Hubs looked like, “a yellow, and very sunny, version of the KKK get up!” Complete with pointy hood and all. It was weird.

Ranch discovery thanks to Genesis… Rangpur. They are a hybrid between a mandarin orange and a lemon, but they look largely like oranges. This weird fraternization of fruits results in a bitter tanginess on the front end, followed by a sweetness on the backside. Hubs would cheat on me with this fruit if he could. They also make some kickass mojitos, which is apparently the most common usage of the crop.

I’ve suffered from debilitating migraines since I was about four years old. I also have had some trouble getting the medication that stops the suckers thanks to COVID, and crappy neurologists. Well, as luck would have it, the pesky aura that signals an oncoming migraine started just as we were departing for dinner at the Santa Cruz Brewery. At the suggestion of a doctor in our tour group, I walked into the nearest pharmacy and asked the shop keep (in broken Spanish mixed with pointing) for something to help my ailing head. After attempting to read the Spanish medical directions on the packaging, I decided one was simply the Ecuadorian equivalent of Advil (I’d already popped six of those suckers), and the other was likely in the same category of drug of my normal prescription. I can’t really read the label, but surely nothing could go wrong here, right? On the bright side, I took the seventy cent pill, and I’m still living to tell the tale. Much like I experienced in Africa, and unlike the United States, prescription medication does not require a stupid piece of paper signed by a doctor giving you permission to swallow medicine to help any health issues you have. Quite convenient.

On to the brewery… not a bad place to dine, but don’t expect to savor all of their types of cervezas. Only a few on the menu are regularly available – a Galapagos theme – but here they can’t just sprint out of the establishment to the nearest market since they’re the only ones that produce the ales. A month later, I don’t recall what I ate there, but I’m certain it was fish-based and delicious. Dinner this evening was our last before departing back to the mainland of Ecuador, and included some very ludicrous comments and conversations. Insert: Felicia.

We made the mistake of telling a solo individual our profession, and it somehow spread like wildfire through the entire group. This new knowledge prompted Felicia to continually inquire about our job with asinine questions, repeatedly making unrealistic assumptions about us because of her TV-infused law enforcement “knowledge,” and lastly, she regularly utilized her ‘finger gun’ as a phenomenal way to “stick us up.” While enjoying our cervezas, Felicia took a moment to turn to me and demand, “Have you ever killed anyone?!?!” completely unprovoked. I almost spit my beer on Colette. By the way, the answer is no – contrary to the media’s belief, that is not actually a common occurrence. Felicia’s social ineptitude struck again when the beer tastings arrived, and she demanded Kim enjoy the tasting with her husband, whom she was sitting directly next to. Multiple times. For a solid few minutes. So she could share one with Genesis, the 26 year old female guide. Kim and I shared a look over Felicia’s controlling nature, and wondered how long until her newly retired husband suffocated her with a pillow.

So Hubs and I purchased a GoPro Hero9 just for this trip and the snorkeling we would be partaking in. I already hate GoPro. I managed three fantastic videos of the ancient old turtles in a slow motion fight, and then it died. SD error that demands the card be reformatted. I even purchased a second SD on the island, but the mini camera still gives and error message, and you can’t take video on it. Plus, we lost the scant few recordings we did have. GoPro fail. I’ll stuck with my Olympus Tough camera for my holiday photo-taking needs. No, the below video was not taken with the useless GoPro,I just liked the recording.

Almost forgot the Galapagos handstands here! Stark difference in the background here, even though they were taken at the same pier.

Hasta luego, Santa Cruz! Hola, Isabela.

4 thoughts on “Santa Cruz… Punctuated by a Multitude of Giant Tortoises Everywhere

Leave a Reply