|I called these birds "water dancers," for the way they barely skipped across the surface. They are called Elliot's storm petrels (Oceanites gracilis galapagoensis)|
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (on San Cristóbal Island), and much more populated, even in the heat of the day. Strolling up the walkway from the dock, I was struck by the large cement plaza immediately in front of us, painted to make up a sport court, with a large cement skateboard/bike ramp at one end and stage at the other. Dance music was pumping from the stage as two young men did something with a bunch of wooden pallets.
Galápagos National Park and Darwin Research Station were a short walk in the opposite direction. Joined by three others from our party, I set off through the hot and sleepy streets of Puerto Ayora.
Walking through the town, you can feel the influence of tourism here. The shops are larger and have broad glass windows. Jewelry shops and art galleries are interspersed with the more traditional souvenir shops, and many more bars and restaurants are sprinkled throughout.
|Lava lizard (Microlophus indefatigabilis)|
|Galapagos painted grasshopper (Schistocerca melanocera)|
Small marine iguanas dozed on a launch ramp at the entrance to the park; the occasional park employee or registered naturalist guide buzzed by us on scooter or motorcycle, but other than that, the sound was that of the waves breaking, unseen through the tangle of green growth to our right, or the calls of the myriad of birds fluttering in the trees all around us.
tortoise. It turns out we had taken the loop backwards, and the first ones we saw were massive, clumsily lunging at a pile of leaves on the floor of their pen. Their enclosures were constructed of the native volcanic rock and plants, and except for the shallow cement water ponds and piles of cut vegetation for them to feed on, looked pretty natural.
yellow-orange Land iguanas. Galapagos finches called to us from the trees, and hopped around on the path and in the enclosures. Beautiful huge grasshoppers clung to branches or dozed in the sunlight, gleaming like jewels against the black lava.
As we wound our way down the path, the tortoises got progressively smaller. We came across the old pen for Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises, discovered as the last remaining tortoise there, and who inspired a frantic effort to sustain his species before he passed in 2012. I told my companions about a Radiolab segment a friend had sent me about the Galápagos Islands, and the story of Lonesome George: how he had finally attempted to mate with two females (of different species) held with him, but that the clutches of eggs were infertile.
|I particularly love this photo because you can see the Nautilus just above the iguana's head.|
The prevailing hypothesis is that whalers from long ago captured some tortoises from Pinta, and stored them in their hold for eating later. Kept on their backs in a ship’s hold, the tortoises would languish for months while the men stalked their ocean-going mammalian prey. When the valuable cargo of slain whales started to strain the capacity of the ship’s hold, the whalers would then jettison the (fortunate) tortoises to the nearest island, not necessarily the one of their origin. And thus some genetic variation was unintentionally introduced.
(I also told them about the “Judas goats” I’d heard about in the same segment, but you will have to listen to the Radiolab segment to hear that story for yourself!)
Heading back to town, we took a brief detour to a small beach – I’d been wearing my bathing suit for two days, and had not had a chance to get in the water yet! Changing my large SLR for my waterproof point-and-shoot camera, I dashed out into the water, which was salty and warm, but still refreshing. I allowed myself to get tossed around in the waves for a bit, snapping some photos underwater and longing for a mask. I took some selfies in the water, towering cactus and volcanic jumble in the background.
Sally Lightfoot crabs skittering away as I approached. I gasped as I realized that the rock just in front of me was not all rock: a small marine iguana basked just in front of me, well-camouflaged against the black pockmarked surface. He opened one sleepy eye and posed obligingly as I attempted to grab photos of him, with the Nautilus lying at anchor far in the distance.
Finding the rest of the group in town, we gathered on a street corner to determine next plans. The cement plaza and stage across the street was crowded with hundreds of people on bicycles, and music blasted. The young men had built a tower of pallets on the stage, and were demonstrating their prowess on mountain bikes, bunnyhopping to the top of the tower, and then breathtakingly plunging from the top of the tower, off the stage to the cement twelve feet below. The crowd roared its approval; to my left two old men chortled and shook their heads.
langostino (a large creature more like a prawn than a lobster), and smiling girls holding out menus and extolling the virtues of their respective restaurants, encouraging us to stop there. Finally, we settled on one, and I had a delicious dinner of shrimp in garlic and butter, with rice and fried plantains. By now, our group had shrunk to eight, and we talked and laughed and ate under the lights.
Skip to the next blog post by Melissa: Into the wild
This is part of a multi-part series . Melissa Baffa, Vice President of Program and Volunteer Services for GSCCC, is part of the Corps of Exploration aboard the E/V Nautilus this year on the adventure of a lifetime. This blog series will chronicle her dive into the Unknown.
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