10 April 2006
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, Ecuador N 08.56.147 W 079.33.306
Shiraz does Darwin
The Galapagos Islands are today all about ecotourism. As we all know notoriety of the archipelago was brought about by Charles Darwin and his thesis of natural selection. Before Darwin the islands were used by whalers and pirates who threatened many the unique species indigenous to the islands. They slaughtered the tortoise for meat and introduced predator species such as feral cats, wild boar, goats, dogs, black rats, fire ants and a few others that lay claim to the environment and its indigenous populations. World War II brought about the greatest hardship to the local species with the stationing of the numerous military personnel and the attraction of more settlers. Soon the world began to realize the damage being done and today hordes of organizations populate the island conducting research and restorative efforts that will help the archipelago to gain some semblance of its past and hopefully establish a community where man can live with nature without destroying it.
The Darwin Research Station, just a short walk from the village dock at Puerto Ayora, is one of the focal points of this effort with an emphasis on the giant tortoise. Today the tortoise are hatched at the center and are raised until they are capable of surviving on there own. These breading efforts are accompanied by re-establishment of the natural habitat and the eradication of predator species. Ninety-eight percent of the islands landmass is now a natural park and the surrounding 40 miles of ocean has become the second largest marine reserve in the world.
One of the best ways to enjoy the marine reserve is to scuba dive. Our first outing was to Gordon Rock to check out the marine life and to hopefully spot the local species of hammerhead sharks. These large pelagic fish swim near the surface in the currents around the rock, travel in small schools and are seldom known to attack human beings. The visibility on the first dive was fair and we did see a great school of barracuda, thousands and thousands of varieties of yellow snapper, chub, angelfish, grouper, cero, tuna, school masters, trunk fish, parrot fish and others too numerous to list since I don't even know the names. A couple of sea lions or seals skimmed the bottom and large turtles were abundant. On the second dive the visibility was limited and it looked like it was going to be a bust until just before ascending Rene spotted two large hammerhead sharks within ten feet of where she was. The dive master gave the signal for hammerheads but it was too late for me. Rene was the only one in our group that spotted them besides the divemaster but I can tell everyone that I went diving with hammerhead sharks ( since I am certain they could see me).
Our land travel consisted of a trip to a volcanic tunnel, locally called the tunnel of love. This 1.3 kilometer cave is nothing like you would find in a tourist location in the US. The first indication was the flash lights rented to us by the old man who owned the land. We were then pointed down a path toward the entrance and at the last minute his ten year old granddaughter decided to join us. The path through thecave was littered with boulders from previous roof collapses. But hey, our children are on their own and we have led a good life so we forged ahead. After the tunnel we drove through the part of the countryside which is not in the natural reserve and saw the small cattle ranches and fruit tree farms and stopped to view Los Gemelos, several large sink holes which were much larger then those that occasionally develop in the LA area. At one cattle ranch that bordered the natural reserve we stopped to see the tortoise "in the wild" if that is an apt description for such a slow moving reptile. Walking around a tortoise "pasture" we could see the large creatures seeking shade on this hot Sunday afternoon. They weren't excited about posing for pictures but then neither am I.
Sea iguanas, seals, turtles, sea lions, small black tip sharks and a few coral fish lazily swim by Shiraz. Blue footed booby's sit on the rocks along the wall near the dock, Darwin finches share a park bench and all manner of birds use our boat as a fishing platform. The wild life on and around the island is not intimidated by our presence. Now don't get me wrong they are not seeking our attention like a slobbering Chesapeake Bay Retriever but then we're not feeding them either. By the end our visit we felt like we had earned our scout badge as naturalists
Puerto Ayora is one of the best little tourists towns we have had the pleasure to visit. It is clean and inviting and the residents know what the major industry is. There is of course an abundance of restaurants, taxis, small hotels, bars and internet cafes. Several well stocked hardware stores carry marine items and if needed FedEx is available. The prices are reasonable especially given the location. Puerto Ayora is one of the four inhabited centers and your cruising permit will allow you to visit these locations but unless you are willing to fork over $100.00 per person for entrance and $200.00 per days per person and pay to have a naturalist guide you must not wander off on your own. This no doubt helps stimulate the local economy since it fills up the local tour boats. These boats are typically live aboard affairs with 15 to twenty people. Some appear to be quite nice and others have seen better days.
Now for the good stuff. We have not seen one poster about Master and Commander and no one claims to have met Russell Crowe.
In a few days we will depart for Isabela and spend a few days before we head out to the Marquesas and that leg will take from 20 to 30 days. This will no doubt delay the next log.
Tortuga Bay - a beautiful 30 minute walk through tortuga country to the beautiful beach where the turtles lay their eggs.
To view more pictures of our stay in Puerto Ayora just click on the arrows to start the slide show. Then click on the square to end it. Enjoy!
Gordon Rock for a dive to see Hammerhead Sharks
If you're headed that way:
- Puerto Ayora has limited, actually no dockage and everyone uses a water taxi for transportation to the village. Call on channel 14, the local hailing channel. Cost is $.50 per person.
- Diesel fuel delivered to the boat was just under $2.00 per gallon at the service station it is a little over a dollar.
- One full morning with a taxi driver taking us to all the best island sights cost $40.00
- In the Galapagos Islands and in fact all of Equador uses the US dollar as the coin of the realm. A great many Susan B. Anthony dollar coins are also in circulation and it's a good thing since the paper dollars are very old and ragged.
- Every Saturday morning there is a fresh produce market in town at Fetra Libera. Be sure and go early .