Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Back On The Land

(Isla San Cristobol, Galapagos)- For our second day with naturalist Fernando, we would visit highlights on the land across San Cristobol. We hired a taxi for the day to take us across the island, to tourist and non-tourist sites.

We started with a trip to a working farm. Farming on the Galapagos Islands seems like perhaps something that shouldn´t be done. It requires the clearing of the land, which certainly would mean the destruction of some plants that are endemic to (only found on) this Island. There are heavy regulations for farming, to deal with these sensitivities. For instance, all crops are organic, and all new fence posts are now living trees... rather unlike the photo below.

Isabel rides the donkey with some friendly help. Ame and Fernando trail behind.

We were shown the various crops: coffee trees, 5 types of banana trees, tomate and a wide variety of fruits. Isabel chased the chickens. The farmer picked fresh tomate for us to sample, cut watermelon for us, and had us milk their cows. Ame was really happy about the visit. She liked the idea of Isabel seeing where food comes from. Sure, we could visit farms in the US, but you don´t see many where they clear the lava rock, and you certainly don´t get treated to freshly toasted and ground coffee.

Sitting round the coffee table. The farmer offered us fresh coffee. I do mean fresh- it was roasted earlier in the day and ground by hand. It was STRONG stuff. Makes Starbucks espresso seem like a Tootsie Roll.
It was tough to leave the farm, as Isabel was having a great time running and playing with the girls on the farm. It would be worthwhile, though. We were going to see the giant tortoises.

I´m going to get you!
The tortoises are in a protected area of the island where there are no human settlements or activities, apart from the nature center. Here, new hatchlings are gathered and incubated before returning to the land, as they are most vulnerable to predators when small.
We walked up a narrow path for about two minutes before we encountered about six giant tortoises. Most were quietly eating, although two were having a fight for food and territory. They can move fast when they want to, despite appearances. They weren´t crazy about us getting too close. When Isabel would move quickly within sight, the tortoise would pull its´head back into the shell and let out a loud hiss.
We checked out the incubation center to see the litle babies and then had lunch. You would never guess by looking at the babies that they would become the giants later in life. They look little different than American snapping turtles, except that the lines on the shells are very rigid and distinct, even though the shell is soft.
Hot humid weather on the Island, along with the many hikes left us all tired by lunchtime.
Although we had hired Fernando for the day, we had to let him take the rest of the day off since Isabel took a four-hour nap. All the excitement and activity from the past few days took its´toll on her.

Note: We skipped El Junco Lagoon. This was the most highly touted site in the Lonely Planet guidebook. We skipped it because it is closed. This is an extinct volcano, the crater of which forms the only fresh water lake on the island, or on any of the Galapagos Islands. It is closed because tilapia were illegally introduced to the Lagoon, and they have begun to take over, killing smaller fish that eat algae, changing the balance of the water... which happens to supply the town below with drinking water. The talapia are being removed. It would have been cool to check it out, as a unique site. Alas.

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