A lie in – much appreciated after being awake from 4am to 5am dealing with the new flora of bacteria that are now living in my intestines. Best just to say that we have had a dodgy introduction!
Unfortunately the local primary school were having their English exam today so couldn’t take us to the tortoise breeding centre. We did call into their school on our way though to say hello. The 6 year old students and their teacher were very welcoming, singing us songs and making us feel at home. The girls had brought some Welsh cuddly toys and the Amys had brought books and colouring pens, which were appreciated.
We then walked along the road and came across the most amazing road sign I have ever seen:
Sure enough there were marine iguanas waiting to cross the road! Amazingly they have had time to evolve some road sense. I’m not saying that they looked left and right before crossing or that there was an older one with a lollipop to help the young ones cross! But when a vehicle did come along they ran away from the road or sped up if already crossing. I had just switched off the video camera when a dog ran past on the road. Luckily I managed to get it back on again as they raced back towards the bushes for cover. Its got to be one of my favourite bits of video footage of the whole trip. Unfortunately introduced animals are the main predators of marine iguanas, but at least this shows that the native fauna are evolving to be scared of them.
We then walked along a raised platform through the undergrowth and inland lagoons, seeing more marine iguanas, a nest of yellow paper wasps (Charlotte’s favourite), beautiful passion flowers and fruits as well as some Galapagos mocking birds – the species that first gave Charles Darwin the idea that species could change when he noticed that they were different from the mainland mocking birds that he had seen. Karen has worked on extracting the DNA from some of Darwin’s original mocking bird specimens at the Natural History Museum with a view to helping their reintroduction onto Floreana where they are no longer found – possibly due to a major fire on the island.
We reached the tortoise breeding station and it was Amy S, Sue and my turn to don the tortoise shell and give our best impressions. Trying to get the beak right I found it best to imagine Mr Burns from the Simpsons. One of the station staff gave me a leaf to munch on to complete the picture.
We saw lots of cute tortoises just about ready for release into the wild, their shells at 5 years old being tough enough to resist predators, both native (Galapagos hawks) and introduced (dogs, cats, rats, pigs, ants). We saw adults of 3 of the main types – domed, intermediate and flat. The flat ones were new to us and they looked very strange – one large male almost looked like he had been stretched like a limousine.
In the nursery we saw preserved specimens showing the stages of development within the eggs alongside an egg and a hatchling. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny in action.
We then found more flamingoes and worked out that we had seen in one day about 5% of the entire population of the Galapagos flamingoes in 20+ birds. Walked back to the hotel for lunch, stopping at the marine iguana point to drop down onto the beach to watch them feeding on the seaweed on the rocks – amazing.
After lunch the new bacterial flora claimed 3 more victims, who had to miss out on the visit to the wall of tears. This was built as a punishment to the prisoners on the penal colony that existed on the island in the 1940s. Our guide Julio told us of the hardships that the prisoners had suffered. Apparently there is one ex prisoner and 2 ex policemen from the colony still living on the island. We also learnt about how the American forces that occupied Baltra during World War II (it is a strategic point in the South Pacific) had taken out their boredom on iguanas and even whales during target practice – war really is hell. We also discussed the price of entry for foreigners ($100) into the National Park and discussed whether this helped the islands’ tourism achieve sustainability.
We then trekked back into town, discussing our pets, sweets and biscuits! We stopped on a bridge to photograph some Sally Light Foot Crabs and nearly didn’t notice the large male marine iguana swimming underwater to feed on the seaweed beneath us. Julio then took us down onto the beach to see more basking (and sneezing marine iguanas) as well as the remains of the carcass of a pilot whale – one of a pod that had beached themselves over a decade ago. Why do they do this? Julio said that they had managed to get some back into the water, but they just kept beaching themselves.
We saw some more lava tubes, like we had seen on Santa Cruz and then walked along to the love beach – a favourite spot for marine iguanas to find some romance. Lonesome Finch then picked us up and drove us back along the beach to the hotel. Stopping along the way to watch some surfers catch some beautifully clean waves of a size that I could cope with – will have a go tomorrow afternoon if there is time. We also saw some Oystercatchers – very similar to the UK species, but slightly larger with a fatter beak – they were the American species.
Then it was time for a quick sunbathe on the beach – 20 metres from my room before a dinner of pizza and then an early night to write this and get ready for our final outing a trip to a small local island – the Galapagos in miniature apparently.