Wednesday – We visited Tomas de Berlanga School , a private school nestling amongst vegetation with pupils ranging from 3 to 16 years old. Not quite what we might imagine a private school to be like in Britain. This school consisted of a few simple single storey buildings with open sides, roughly painted walls, simple wooden furniture, connected by larva ash paths weaving through the dense plant growth. There was a playground with brightly painted wooden swings and slides and a dusty football area. The younger children rushed around in their t-shirts and jeans with beaming smiles. The purpose of this school is to educate the children to be effective communicators in Spanish and English, to be critical thinkers and to have a passion about their environment.
Our 4 girls had the opportunity to interact with many of the teenage pupils. I was able to have a long conservation with the science teacher. She had little in the way of practical equipment and no laboratory but was so keen to encourage a problem solving approach with her pupils. A small group were preparing a project about the brain for a science fair and we attempted some of their brain teasers. I was very pleased to be able to take apart the two intertwined nails before the girls!
The Galapagos mocking bird and finches cracking nuts provided some of the background noise. We ate our packed lunch in the open air school snack bar watching the chickens chase away a cat, presumably waiting for food scraps.
The school is involved in a scientific research project tracking their movements by GPS. We were taken by bus to a farm where several tortoises came to graze. The farm keeps cattle and sells the wood of the large Galapagos cedars (a deciduous tree unlike our cedars – besides furniture the wood is used for cigar boxes as it contains a chemical which keeps the cigar beetle at bay) growing there.
After a cup of coffee (the coffee here is so good!) on the verandah of the farm, the project was explained to us by two scientists, Anne and Freddie, as we wandered through the rough grass. We met Steve (named after the farmer) and saw his ‘tag’ attached to his back. Little is known about the migratory patterns of the tortoises, why and when they move between the dry zone and the more lush areas, and whether the populations on the north and south of the island ever meet up. Anne is a botanist and she identified some indigenous and invasive species for us and discussed the impact of the latter on the ecology of the islands. An Asian species of blackberry was one of the guilty ones for which they are investigating a method of biological control.
I spent the free time we had on our return to wander around Puerto Ayora, taking photos of the harbour area, sea lions and pelicans and looking for souvenirs in the shops. Thousands of t-shirts and models of animals fill most of them but there are some shops with beautiful items of jewellery and art work. Displayed around the harbour area are large and most attractive posters to encourage the conservation of biodiversity.
The day ended with dinner in The Rock café – linguine with lobster in a coconut sauce was delicious!