|April 3 -- Most
of the islands we visited in the Galápagos were uninhabited, but
yesterday evening we sailed into the harbour at Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa
Cruz and it was culture shock.
The harbour was full, fishing boats, a few freighters,
and a number of other Galápagos tour boats somewhat familiar to
us through our research with the travel agencies. It was colourful,
noisy and hot. It was another world, one that we all realized we
had left behind for the past four days.
We all went ashore after dinner, of course, cruised the
main drag, visited a few shops and ended up having beer and popcorn together
at a Cuban bar. Good music, cold beer, a fine ol' time together.
This morning we headed off to the Charles Darwin Research Station to
visit the tortoises. There is only one species of the giant Galápagos
tortoise, for which the islands are named. Before the whalers and
sealers came along in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were 14 sub-species
and large numbers of them. Alas, tortoises have had probably the
most difficult time on the Galápagos. Several sub-species
have been hunted to extinction on some of the islands and the overall population
has dwindled to about 15,000. Many of the threatened groups have
been brought to the Research Station to save them from a similar fate.
The Station operates an extensive hatchery and repatriation program
which has seen over 2000 of the little guys sent back to their home islands
once they reach the age of four. A tortoise's life is long, but difficult.
We also said goodbye this morning to six of our shipmates. Markus,
Uta, Verena, Marijke, Samuel and Helena all had to fly out to return to
(dare I say it) their jobs waiting back in Switzerland and Sweden.
It was sad to see them go, but six new folks showed up at various points
later throughout the day.