A 6:30am breakfast of fruit and pancakes awaited us before departing at 7am for the Darwin research station. Located at the edge of town, its main job is the preservation of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. Early settlers and passing boats from the 15th to 19th century almost wiped out the Giant Tortoise from existence. An estimated half a million were slaughtered for their meat and shells.
We walked up the long path to the research centre and learnt about Galapagos preservation along the way, from our guide and the strategically placed information boards. This included how foreign animals like goats had been introduced by sailors but competed with the tortoises for food: and how they wiped them out to save the tortoises. We also learnt about new threats: like the fly lave eating baby finches and how they are fighting this.
Reaching the centre, we saw our first Galapagos Giant Tortoise. Although these were babies at 2-5 years so not very big. The centre breeds the animals and then after 5 years they are released into the wild. In the 1970s there were as few as 12 Giant Tortoises left in the wild. Now thanks to the programme their are tens of thousands.
Around the corner came our first ‘Giant’ Tortoise. Sat there looking at us inquisitively, it was huge. Around 60-70kg, the size of one of those inflatable gym balls you work out on. In several pens (low walled areas) were different types: from saddle backs to dome. Some were from the original 12 while others had been bred or saved. We walked around taking pictures of the fascinating animals, including the baby ones only hatched this year.
In all 11 types were being bred and could be seen. Each (once 5 years old) released back onto its specific island where its breed lives. 4 breeds are now extinct: including lonely George. The famous lone male Pinta Tortoise found in the 70s. After decades of searching zoos for a matching female and trying to get him to cross breed he died it 2012: the last of his species.
After visiting the tortoises, we went and saw Lonely George who had been preserved by an American university. In a cold room, behind glass he stood magnificent. Not the biggest, or heaviest but the last of his kind.
Research station done, we drove onwards to the other side of the island and our boat and home for the next few days. First we had to cross the channel again, waiting for the ferry I snapped a video of a pelican fishing.
Once across the other side we continued, via the airport to pick up other guests and then to the dock. We transferred onto the boat an old diving boat (but with sadly no diving facilities) and after 10 minutes were taken to the beach. We spent the next hour relaxing on the beach, taking pictures of sea lions, hanging in hammocks and swimming in the sea.
Back on board, our final two guests had arrived we had our welcome briefing. 15 guests in total were on board plus 8 crew. Lunch was served and after we headed off to our next island Bartolomé.
It took two hours to motor there, and while Mike slept I sunbathed (or bunt). Once arriving we went snorkelling; the rib dropped us off the coast of the island and we back-rolled in. The fish life was amazing. Lots of parrot fish, triggers, trumpets to name a few. We also saw a white tip reef shark, a stingray and a sea turtle, but the real stars were the Galápagos penguins. They darted through the water fishing at incredible speeds and were so cute while doing it! The worlds second smallest penguin, they bobbed on the surface looking at you before darting back under the waves and shooting around again. Visibility was 15m so we could see them quite clearly. We swam around the coast for 50 minutes before getting back on board. Excellent snorkelling and better than a lot of dives we’ve done.
Next, we changed and got back in the rib and were taken to the island. Here we hiked up the volcano to the top. A wooden path had been laid to stop erosion of the mainly ash island. Along the way you could see all the fissure volcanoes that formed the island rather than one big crater. At the top we had a beautiful view of the whole island and surrounding islands. Mike flew the drone briefly and captured some spectacular views. The sun was now setting so we descended and got back to our boat: The Estrella Del Mar.
The evening consisted of a much needed shower, briefing for the following day and dinner. We were in bed by 8:30pm tired from the busy day and looking forward to another island but not the rocky journey to get there overnight!