Ecuador & Galapagos Day 2: Santa Cruz Highlands or Check out Those Giant Tortoises!

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img_5727(Previous Ecuador posts) We squeezed into the back of the white pickup truck, me in the middle, my enormous camera backpack between my knees, my huge purse lodged under, our suitcases in the bed of the truck. Everything we saw was new: The trees that looked like dead sticks; the others that resembled very tall birches, only they weren’t.

The higher we went, the greener it got.

We passed a small town with small stores open to the street, wooden railings, low, single-story buildings. Santiago told us that on the weekends, there’s a market there, and people come up from Puerto Ayora, the big city on Santa Cruz.

The driver pulled over, seemingly to nowhere, but we saw some other tourists emerge from the greenery. An application of sunscreen and a donning of my hat later, and we were taking in our first Galapagos sight (and site): Los Gemelos, The Twin Craters, formed when the tops of the mountains collapsed inward due to erosion.

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And then it was back into the truck to see the giant tortoises. Suddenly they were everywhere, dotting the hillside, stalwart, like living rocks in the road. The very-slow-moving rabbits of the Highland, the giant tortoises were everywhere. They’re also allowed go anywhere they want and eat anything they want, undisturbed, chewing away at crops.

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This is what it’s like to get side-eye from a tortoise. The meanie. Obviously.

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We went to a farm where you can get close to them, though you are supposed to stay a bit of a distance away, as they, like all the species of the Galapagos, are protected. Most didn’t seem to mind us at all, aside from one real meanie.

Watching them move was interesting, they put their huge, stubbly legs, each ending in a set of impressive claws, forward and heave themselves, fighting for every inch.

Then we looked at the lava tunnels, hollow tubes running under the island. We had to descend some steep stairs, but luckily, the ones we saw didn’t involve any crawling.img_5870 img_5868

Unfortunately, though, my future storage problem has become my current storage problem, and one I must solve before I can post the rest of the pictures. We had a lovely meal on the farm, though, in a gorgeous outdoor dining room I’ll have to show you another day, made from a local wood which is actually invasive. Because it’s invasive, it’s used as a building material, unlike the native or endemic species (we’ll get to that), which cannot be cut.

And then it was off to our eco-hotel, Isla Azul, a lovely, quiet spot where they welcomed us with fresh juice and slight concern: Apparently Pacific Holidays hadn’t informed them either of our plans for an afternoon tour. Isla Azul is known for the gracious hospitality of its owner, Raquel, who, sadly was on vacation during our stay, though her sons pitched in and did a great job. The younger son even hoisted our heavy bags high a trooped them up the stairs to second floor.

I’d show a picture of the view from there but…as you know. No more space. Oh well.

The path to the rooms was completely open, the view below of a street, and neighborhood, eventually giving way to the Highlands in the distance. The clouds took on a pearly sheen as the day wound down, and I breathed in the crisp air, finches appearing every now and then to peer at me curiously.

Soon there would be blue-footed boobies and frigate birds, but you, like me, will just have to wait for that.

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6 thoughts on “Ecuador & Galapagos Day 2: Santa Cruz Highlands or Check out Those Giant Tortoises!

  1. ALL THE TORTOISES!!! I do love tortoises, especially giant ones. I’d have a (normal sized) one as a pet, but, gosh, they are expensive. They have giant (and indeed all sizes of) tortoises at Paignton Zoo, and they feed them by strewing salad about, so we can watch them eat. The local rabbits, however, have realised they can outrun a giant tortoise fairly easily, so just as Shelly is about to tuck in, a cheeky bunny will nip in and make off with her radishes.

    • Luckily, no intrepid idiot has introduced rabbits to the Galapagos, though if they did, they’d kill them pretty quickly. They take the balance very seriously.

      But these tortoise have ZERO competition for their food and move around with importunity. They know they have the run of things, and seem to be fond of the middle of roads.

      Luckily for the zoo tortoises, they have keepers to make sure they’re eating well!

      I had no idea they were so expensive as pets…yes, these guys are large enough they’d take up half the garden!

      • Normal chelonians are cheap to feed and keep, but cost a lot to buy, as they are no longer allowed to be imported , due to depletions of the wild stock. A baby tortoise would set me back £100!

      • WOW!! That is really pricey. I checked here, and just looking at one breeder, they’re expensive too! I thought you could pick them up at the pet store. You could probably get a bird for less, but given your half-adopted cat, maybe not a great idea.

      • I can remember when they were given away as prizes at funfairs … although they did sometimes get mistaken for crunchy meat pies …

      • Turtles seem to be much cheaper, but I found an online site here selling them as high as $800! One pair was over $1200, and it’s sold!

        I had no idea. And they live for a really long time if you take proper care, so then there’s THAT issue.

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