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Destination: Galapagos Islands Cyber Field Trip

Mandy Williams' Expedition Journal
Day Five

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Wow! Today was an amazing day. We woke up early (I was feeling much better) with a big day planned ahead for us. Breakfast was quick because we had to pack up all our stuff for the day. We were going to be leaving for the entire day and not coming back until dinnertime. We were headed for the island of Santa Cruz to visit the Darwin Research Station. So, off we went.

Puerto AyoraWe boarded our rafts, which took us up to the dock at Santa Cruz. From there we loaded up onto a bus that took us down some rather bumpy dirt roads to the Charles Darwin Research Station. We met up with some of the people that run the center and had the chance to speak to them and learn a little about the station. We then headed down to a very warm and very sunny portion of the beach covered in lava rock. I found the remains of somebody's lunch and it actually looked like it was pretty good.

Puerto AyoraThen we headed off to the see the giant tortoises. I was pretty excited. The tortoises are my favorites! I had never seen a giant tortoise up close. Now, when they say giant, they MEAN giant. I couldn't believe how big these guys were. They were enormous! I will have to blow up and frame this picture when I get home. Check it out!

We spent some time with the tortoises taking pictures and learning some of their history. The ones we saw were about 60 or 70 years old! Puerto AyoraThat's pretty old. However, it's speculated that these guys can live anywhere from 150 to 200 years old. That amazes me.

Pretty soon it was feeding time and we got to watch them eat. Their natural diet is basically a leafy vegetation that they will eat all day long if you let them. Dr. Lynn Fowler said that when the project first started, they were actually over-feeding the tortoises and they had to be put on a diet.Puerto Ayora

Next we visited the baby tortoises. Oh my goodness, were they absolutely adorable! There were a lot of them, too. All the tortoises in the station came from approximately 13 or 14 adults. Now there are hundreds, so needless to say, the project seems to be successful. The little guys are hatched in incubation. Then they are corralled in little pens for a year or so. Once their shells are strong enough, they are released to an open area (still inside the facility) where the terrain is rougher and they learn to crawl over big rocks and find the food that the staff puts out for them. Puerto AyoraIt's sort of a trial run for their release. After they've been there for a while, they are released back into the wild and watched carefully. It is a wonderful program.

Once we were finished at the station, we drove up to the highlands, which is up in the hills. There we stopped for lunch at this wonderful house. It's a privately owned house where food is available for tour groups. The house is beautiful, and the home-cooked food was terrific. Being higher up in elevation, it was much cooler as well. A few people even put sweaters on to keep warm. We sat out at tables on a covered patio. There was a breeze coming through and you could smell lunch cooking. It was very nice and very quiet.

Free-range tortoiseAfter lunch we headed up to a different spot in the highlands, to a farm that is privately owned. The land behind the house has a beautiful rolling hill, and at the bottom is a field with a mud pond where several giant tortoises run free. You can get up pretty close to these guys, too, but they will retract into their shells much quicker. They don't see as many people, so they are a bit more shy. It was so great to see them walking around in their natural habitat.

By then it was getting kind of late and the sun was about to set completely behind the hills. So we loaded up into the buses and headed back to the shoreline to return to our rafts. Now it's time for a shower and dinner. All and all, it was a great day. I wish that everyone could walk outside and see these tremendous turtles. They're just too cool!

Read Sherri's Day Five Journal

Day 4 new entry Day 6


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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