This morning I shed a tear as I stepped off the ‘plane onto Santa Cruz. I had actually arrived on an island of the Galapagos archipelago. On cue, there were a couple of finches on a small cactus plant showing off at the entrance of  the ‘disembarkation control’, a large low shed. Here we waited (I momentarily felt I was queuing for a ride in a theme park) to show our Galapagos National Park visa, pay a fee for the privilege of visiting this hallowed ground and have our bags checked for ‘illicit goods’ i.e. any foreign organic material, alive or dead, which could affect the ecological balance of the islands. (Another example of the conservation strategies in the airport cloakroom – ‘Please put toilet paper in the bin not down the toilet’.) A frigate bird flew overhead as we left the airport.

It wasn’t long before we were travelling in a small minibus through distinct vegetation zones on our way to the highlands of Santa Cruz. There were many apparently dead grey trees in the arid zone – Palo Santo or Incense trees – stretching their branches proud of the rather scrubby green vegetation. (These trees are .playing dead – they are leafless for much of the year.) As we rose higher the plants became more varied, a spectrum of greens interrupted by the occasional red and yellow flowers. Lichens hung in long strands from branches. In some areas we could see large numbers of cattle egret (– they arrived naturally in the Galapagos in the 1960’s and have increased rapidly).

We stopped in the highlands to see Los Gemelos (the twins) – a pair of craters formed by collapsed caves. Their steep rocky grey walls were draped in greenery. The dominant plant in this zone was the Tree Scalesia with many flowering plants (mostly yellow and purple flowers), ferns and mosses forming the ground cover.

 

One of a pair

One of a pair

 

This morning I shed a tear as I stepped off the ‘plane onto Santa Cruz. I had actually arrived on an island of the Galapagos archipelago. On cue, there were a couple of finches on a small cactus plant showing off at the entrance of  the ‘disembarkation control’, a large low shed. Here we waited (I momentarily felt I was queuing for a ride in a theme park) to show our Galapagos National Park visa, pay a fee for the privilege of visiting this hallowed ground and have our bags checked for ‘illicit goods’ i.e. any foreign organic material, alive or dead, which could affect the ecological balance of the islands. (Another example of the conservation strategies in the airport cloakroom – ‘Please put toilet paper in the bin not down the toilet’.) A frigate bird flew overhead as we left the airport.

It wasn’t long before we were travelling in a small minibus through distinct vegetation zones on our way to the highlands of Santa Cruz. There were many apparently dead grey trees in the arid zone – Palo Santo or Incense trees – stretching their branches proud of the rather scrubby green vegetation. (These trees are .playing dead – they are leafless for much of the year.) As we rose higher the plants became more varied, a spectrum of greens interrupted by the occasional red and yellow flowers. Lichens hung in long strands from branches. In some areas we could see large numbers of cattle egret (– they arrived naturally in the Galapagos in the 1960’s and have increased rapidly).

We stopped in the highlands to see Los Gemelos (the twins) – a pair of craters formed by collapsed caves. Their steep rocky grey walls were draped in greenery. The dominant plant in this zone was the Tree Scalesia with many flowering plants (mostly yellow and purple flowers), ferns and mosses forming the ground cover.

 

smooth-billed ani bird

smooth-billed ani bird

 

 

eye-to-eye with a Santa Cruz tortoise

eye-to-eye with a Santa Cruz tortoise

 

A 400m underground walk (and stumble) through a larva tube came next. It was hard to believe that this cavernous, almost circular grey-walled tunnel was not man-made but produced as a result of a flow of hot larva cooling at its edges forming a crust.

An action packed afternoon – all this was before we reached our hotel (small and new in local style) in Puerto Ayora, a town on the south west coast.  A memorable sight as we walked along cobbled streets to have dinner were small flocks of white egrets flying across a  darkening blue sky, their feathers turning various hues of yellow and orange by the bright setting Sun.

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