International Writers Magazine: Travel
on Santa Cruz
February 28, 2008
was good. I was recently reunited with my girlfriend, Amanda, who
I hadnt seen in over 5 months, and we were in a place that
many people only get to visit in their dreams. Additionally, the
two of us were staying in a town that was the benefactor of fresh
bay breezes, providing this Pacific port with enjoyable weather
almost year round. The forecast couldnt have looked better.
Or, so we thought.
Much to our disappointment,
it was actually cat-and-dog weather on Santa Cruz. The mid-afternoon
clouds were pitch-dark, angrily dumping rain over Puerto Ayora; the
largest city (over 10,000 residents) in the Galápagos Islands.
Thankfully, Amanda, and I found shelter just as the downpour started.
As streams fell within arms reach, the two of us huddled under
the short-reaching roof of a white, cement hut in the heart of the Charles
Darwin Research Center. At first, we tried to wait out the downpour.
After about 10 minutes, however, my fair-skinned girlfriend and I nixed
that idea because the skies didnt look very promising. Therefore,
the two of us decided to brave the storm.
Focusing on the lush, yet muddy path directly in front of us, Amanda
and I lunged forward, trying to keep our sandals out of the large brown
puddles that riddled the pathway. We raced uphill, rushing in unison
under a black umbrella made for one. Our charge was strong until my
light-haired companion and I were slowed down by a pack of
turtles. Amanda and I had discovered the tortoise breeding and rearing
Inside their caged home, dozens of softball-sized reptiles lollygagged
between cement sidewalks and grainy ground while donning yellow digits
on their shells. We learned that the numbers on their coverings were
a way of tracking the endangered youngsters until they were old enough
to move out and fend for themselves. The two of us watched the tiny
turtles poke around till a noisy group of retired gringos abruptly budged
in front of us. Annoyed, Amanda and I continued down the torrential
My blue-eyed girlfriend and I soon came upon a planked walkway, which
led to a small observation deck. Checking out the platforms view,
we stepped up to the wooden railing and saw a large, rocky area full
of bright green bushes and trees. A cement watering hole, not much bigger
than a plastic kiddy pool, was also dug into the center of the stony
refuge. Suddenly, a tank of a tortoise emerged from the foliage and
slowly entered the tiny concrete basin.
Intrigued by the turtles build, I glanced at the other two large
shells that occupied the living space and they looked nothing like their
wading roommate. The reptile in the pool was taller and thicker than
his longer-necked company. Then, without warning, a stocky Ecuadorian
man wearing a red raincoat over his khaki shorts appeared at my side.
He was the tour guide for the 15 fast-approaching gringos who obstructed
our view earlier.
"Were in luck today-theres George. A lot of times,
he doesnt come out," the man said.
I put it together at last. The tortoise soaking his feet was Lonesome
George, the research centers most famous resident, who was transported
to Santa Cruz at the beginning of the 1970s. In fact, George was the
last tortoise found on Pinta Island, making "Lonesome" the
only one of his species still alive. Furthermore, Amanda and I read
a nearby plaque that said his two shelled companions were females, brought
from Isabela Island because they were considered Georges closest
genetic match. Nevertheless, Lonesome George refused to breed with his
Scared of Giant Tortoise
that he was the last Pinta standing, Amanda and I traded duties
between holding the umbrella and snapping several pictures of the
lonely fellow. When we were finally fulfilled with our celebrity
sighting, the two of us plugged along to the next part of the visitors
Ironically, just past Georges domain was a much bigger living
quarters full of humongous females. As we descended onto the designated
walking trail, my girlfriend and I immediately stumbled upon a gargantuan
tortoise chewing leaves from one of the various trees that dominated
the grounds. The mammoth reptile looked enormous next to my 5-foot,
2-inch companion. Standing tongue-tied, we took turns posing beside
the tremendous turtle. A little spooked by her close proximity to
the oversized creature, Amanda subsequently climbed out of the wooded
tortoise pit while I stayed on the drizzling path. After I quickly
weaved my way around boulders, leafy branches and a handful of snacking,
mud-covered tortoises similar to the first, I left the verdant hole
the showers transformed into sprinkles by the time Amanda and I headed
for the Darwin Centers exit. As we paced towards Puerto Ayora,
the two of us noticed a sign for a beach. Darting off the beaten path,
Amanda and I followed a narrow dirt trail through some thick brush and
wandered onto a tiny beach surrounded by rough black rocks. Although
it was littered with trash and jagged, the sandy area did offer an excellent
view of Academy Bay (the normally active arm of the sea that cuts into
Puerto Ayora). And right away, I realized how dead the port seemed.
The storm had put it to bed for awhile.
Sopping and spent, I gazed at the towns cloudy, silent cove to
see a wide selection of white boats, resting up for the next tour. I
then glanced over to the city and was captured by the brightly painted
homes and businesses that lined the harbor. Despite the drab skies above,
the Puerto Ayoras vibrant colors still jumped out. The overcast,
yet striking scene was quite fascinating.
"Hey Ty," Amanda called from behind me. "It stopped raining.
You can put the umbrella away."
Snapped out of my daze, I extended my hand to feel no drops whatsoever.
Although it got off to a stormy start, the afternoon turned out to be
© Tyrel Nelson August 2008
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