An early start this day; up at 5 to say goodbye to the gang leaving today. Once they were gone, we climbed aboard the panga and, with Sausimo at the helm and the Monserrat following behind, we set off for Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cove).
Black Turtle Cove is a mangrove cove with very calm, crystal clear water. It was still very early and the light wasn’t the best, but we were still able to see the white-tipped sharks swimming around us.
And sea turtles, lots of sea turtles swimming around…
Swimming with the sharks…
This is a spotted eagle ray
This sea turtle poked it’s head up for a breath and looked us as if to say “why are you bothering us so early?”
There were a lot of sea turtles, the most I’ve ever seen in one place.
After our brief visit, we headed back to the boat for breakfast, said goodbye to the last 2 that were leaving, and waited for the new group to arrive. In all, 14 passengers left, along with Adrian (one of our guides) and Juanito our bartender. 11 new passengers, a new guide (Leo) and a new bartender (of course!) took their place. Now we were 16.
Later that afternoon we pulled anchor and sailed the short distance south to the Itabaca Channel, the channel that separates Baltra and Santa Cruz. Our destination was the highlands of Santa Cruz; more specifically the El Chato Tortoise Reserve. A former ranch, now a refuge for Galapagos Giant Tortoises, the tortoises are “in the wild” and roam free throughout the property. Roam free while several hundred tourists look on that is…
The Galapagos Islands are one of the few places in the world where you can see these giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Their populations were decimated by whalers & pirates who “hunted” them for food – they have the amazing ability to live for up to a year without food or water, making them a wonderful source of fresh food. They were also harvested for oil and the introduction of non-native species such as goats was very harmful to their habitat and thus their populations. Now protected, and with a lot of help from breeding programs, their numbers have rebounded but they still have a long way to go to reach historical levels.
The largest of the reptiles(an adult male can weigh up to 500 lbs), they look so prehistoric…
Looking for 4 leaf clovers…
In an environment such as the highlands of Santa Cruz, the tortoises are large and have domed shells and shorter necks; food is plentiful and easy to get to. On the drier, lower islands, the tortoises have longer legs and necks and “Saddleback” shells which allows them to reach higher for their food. This is one of the adaptations of species that led to Darwin’s theory of evolution.
From a distance, they look like rocks.
On the property is a lava tube that you can walk through; the railings aren’t original.
On this one you can see the chest plate
The tortoises like to wallow in the mud; it helps to keep them cool and we were told it also helps to keep the parasites off of them when the finches aren’t doing their job.
It’s been a while – a yellow warbler poses for the camera
As you can see they have no teeth, but the bony outer edges of their mouth have similar effect helping to mash their food.