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Saturday, March 18, 2017: We could see sunrise from our room this morning.
At 8:20, we were headed into Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island with Orlando as our naturalist.
This is Academy Bay, with Puerto Ayora in the distance.
The bay is filled with fancy tour boats ...
... but there is still wildlife everywhere, including these turtles in the water.
Of course, there were sea lions on the dinghies at the pier.
Welcome to Santa Cruz!
By 8:30, we had boarded shuttle buses, which were parked right across the street from ...
... this giant iguana statue.
We drove down the main street of Puerto Ayora past Hostal Lonesome George, named after a famous Galápagos resident who we'd be seeing later on.
We were dropped off in front of Galápagos Jewelry, looking down, you guessed it, Avenue Charles Darwin.
From here, it was a 10-minute walk to our destination.
Here's what this beautiful informational sign had to say: "Mangrove forests provide important ecological functions. Mangrove forests are home to a large variety of fish, crab, and mollusk species. These forests purify water, serve as nurseries for fish and trap sediments and pollutants. Mangroves protect the coastline from the effects of tsunamis and their roots stabilize the ground preventing erosion."
This statue was in honor of the Galápagos park rangers.
The walk was right next to the ocean, but we only got the occasional glimpse of it.
Twelve minutes later, we were at the Charles Darwin Research Station.
¿Dónde está la biblioteca? A la derecha.
There's actually building called the Insect Containment Facility.
Oooh, pretty tree. No idea what it is.
Another pretty tree. This one's a button mangrove.
Here's the Recovery Project for the Mangrove Finch. Mangrove finches are critically endangered, down to 100+ birds, due to avian parasites killing the babies, so they are hand-reared here to adulthood in a parasite-free environment.
Read all about Threats to Galápagos Giant Tortoises: "Before humans arrived on Galápagos, giant tortoises thrived across most of the archipelago. Pirates, buccaneers and whalers between the late 1700s and 1860's used giant tortoises as a food source. Possibly 200,000 may have been removed from the archipelago. Sailors brought rats, pigs and goats to the Galápagos, all of which threaten tortoises. With agriculture also came invasive plant species, such as blackberry and elephant grass which degrade the tortoise's natural habitats. Today perhaps 10% of the original Galápagos giant tortoise population remains."
It's hot in the Galápagos, so by now, we were regularly using our popup washcloth trick - putting it in the lid of the water bottle and soaking it in water, then putting it on our necks.
We were here to visit the Fausto Llerena Center for Breeding Tortoises.
Yes! There's a giant tortoise! OK, we can pack it up and go home now, having seen all the major wildlife.
Here's another one!
These big guys were in a large habitat with a fancy pool and lots to chew on.
Across the way were enclosures for baby tortoises, each marked with an island and a year of birth.
These babies were collected from Santiago in 2016.
Here are some Espanola 2015 babies.
This little guy is from Santa Cruz in 2017.
And these are Pinzon 2016 youngsters.
Slightly older tortoises got to play together in a larger habitat. Each has a color-coded number on its shell to identify it.
This display explains the whole process: "1. Protect the nests. 2. Bring the eggs to the rearing center. 3. Label, weigh and register the eggs. 4. Incubator system used at the Rearing Center. 28C Male, 29.5C Female. Heat is provided by a hair dryer and temperature is kept constant by a thermostat. Too hot or too cool and the eggs won't hatch. 5. Hatching lasts 2 to 6 days. 6. They feed on their yolk sac for 30 days in a dark box that simulates the nest. 7. They spend the first 2 years in protected pens. 8. Their progress is constantly monitored. 9. They learn to find food and climb rocks. 10. Quarantine before returning home."
Here's another group of tortoises.
Most of them are just minding their own business, but that guy at the bottom of this picture had it out for the tortoise in front of him.
Here he is biting the other tortoise on the tail. Meanie.
Our final stop was the Lonesome George building. Here's George's story: "1906: The three last known Pinta tortoises were collected for museum exhibits. 1971: Lonesome George is found on Pinta. 1972: George was brought to the rearing center to protect him. Hoping he would reproduce, an unsuccessful global search began for a Pinta female. 2012: Lonesome George died without reproducing. The last of the Pinta Island tortoises."
We had to wait our turn for our group to enter the Lonesome George “Symbol of Hope” exhibit room which had just opened three weeks earlier on February 24. The room is air-conditiioned and specially built to preserve Lonesome George's body.
It was the first time that Orlando had seen Lonesome George since his death and he was visibly moved. Another naturalist told us she didn't want to go in at all, because it would be too hard. They had grown up with Lonesome George and loved him.
We headed back to the Charles Darwin Foundation building in the main part of the Station.
Dominating the entrance is this display of Bryde's whale bones. Impressive!
Here was another map of the Galápagos. We were in the center of this map on the roundest island, on the south side.
There was also a large mural, and we were amazing at how many things in the painting we had seen.
Yup, got most of these.
Next, we dropped some money at the gift shop.
We bought a t-shirt and a long-sleeved shirt for Tom, plus made a donation to the Foundation, and got a lightweight tote bag for our loot.
It was 10:00 AM by now and we were ready to cool off in the shade, so we headed to this adjacent building, ...
... a snack bar.
We snagged a couple of Diet Cokes, and blackberry and mango ice cream bars. Check out that Ecuadorian 50-cent piece we got as change.
Of course, there was a bust of Charles Darwin on the deck.
This display nearby discussed the history of the H.M.S. Beagle in the Galápagos Islands, 1835.
By 10:30, we decided to head back into town.
We passed a beautiful passionflower vine.
We stopped in at the Evolution Galápagos gift shop, ...
... but didn't buy anything. At our age, we have too many souvenirs.
Here's a royal poinciana tree.
When we got to the cemetery, we were at the point where we had been dropped off. From here, it was a short walk into town.
There was another bust of Charles Darwin down the road a bit.
All the cafes and stores were very colorful.
This mosaic arch was really impressive.
Here's the bright exterior of the Galápagos Gallery, ...
... and the colorful sign of the Green Reef Gallery.
At this point, it was starting to look a little bit more like civilization.
We had to get a photo of Orchy on this statue of Lonesome George.
This little harbor was home to the local fish market.
This sculpture next to the market was titled, "Tu Fruto, Tu Mar," which translates into "Your fruit, your sea."
There's the market, complete with pelicans standing guard, and a sea lion on the ground.
Frank and Other Debbie got this photo of a huge haul of langostinos. Were those destined for our cruise ship? Maybe, because Debbie dined on one of these for dinner.
Here's a view of the market from a wooden walkway through the mangroves that overlooks the water.
This whole time, we were on Avenue Charles Darwin, ...
... and there it is. At this point, it was getting just a little bit busier and more commercial.
This jewelry store had interesting architecture and a fascinating gate.
At the main pier, three flags flew. From left to right: the flag of Santa Cruz, the flag of Ecuador, and the flag of the Galápagos.
This is a statue of a blue-footed booby.
The G in this Galápagos sign is in the shape of a hammerhead shark. Pity poor Tom, who got to see animals of all shapes and sizes, but not this one. Boo hoo.
Here's a ruddy turnstone.
At 11:20, we headed to the dock to catch a zodiac back to the ship.
Here's an Inspection and Quarantine hut for either arriving or departing visitors, but it didn't apply to us for some reason.
There's our ship blocking the front of Metropolitan Touring's Santa Cruz II, a ship that offers a similar experience but has been doing it longer.
At noon, we decided to have lunch in the nearly deserted dining room instead of eating at the Beagle Grill. Here's the soup station, ...
... the entrees and side dishes, ...
... the fruits and desserts, ...
... and salads, veggies, and delicious ceviche.
Plaintains and ceviche in the same meal. Debbie was in heaven.
It gave us a chance to photograph the majority of the dining room while it was nearly empty.
After lunch, we took a photographic survey of the ship for you, gentle reader. Here's the cruise director's desk with the main office behind it.
A large contour map of the islands graced a wall across from it.
Here's the tiny gift shop.
With most passengers still in town or on the tree-planting tour, the public areas were deserted. This is the Discovery Lounge.
This corner of the lounge doubles as a tiny library, with a collection of board games nearby.
It was strange to see the bar without the half-dozen regulars crowded around it.
We were surprised to find the Beagle Grill was open.
Deck Five was the smoking deck, which normally featured the same five people. It was surprising that there were any smokers at all, because most passengers were fairly physically fit and unlikely to be interested in smoking.
Deck Six featured a hot tub. We were only on this deck to pick up our snorkeling gear and to star gaze, so we don't know if the hot tub ever got used. With so little down time, we doubt it.
Here's the rest of Deck Six.
Now, let's check out the interiors. Deck Six housed three very large cabins, including one that spanned most of the left side of this hallway. That is a level of wealth we will never, ever achieve.
This stairwell to the crew area was carpeted only as far as the guests could see unless they looked all the way down.
Here's Deck Five, where most of the cabins had balconies.
Deck Four featured cabins just slightly larger than Deck Three, and the windows were also slighly larger.
Here's our beloved Deck Three, ...
... where the cabins were still expensive but a little more affordable.
Corridors featured brightly colored photographs of wildlife and scenery.
As everyone knows, chicks dig seahorses, so Debbie loved this photo.
Oddly enough, the very last piece of art on our floor was this completely random watercolor of a vaguely European scene. What?!
Here's cabin 315, the smallest cabin on the ship. It worked for us though.
It featured a refrigerator stocked with free sodas, none of which we drank because those weren't our flavor of soda. Fortunately, the welcome back juice-and-pastry table always had a chilled tub of beverages including beer and Diet Coke, so we sometimes stashed an extra in our fridge for later.
There's a view of Puerto Ayora from our cabin.
Meanwhile, back on shore, Frank and Other Debbie had planted their tree in the morning after visiting the Darwin Station ...
... and had enjoyed lunch and a folkloric show at the ranch we'd be visiting later.
At 3:00 PM, after some much-deserved down time, we went back on deck. Sandwiches, fruit juice, and the afore-mentioned tub of beverages were out for anyone to enjoy.
We headed back to Puerto Ayora, where we'd be visiting the highlands in the distance in this photo.
This boat had the excellent name of "Origin." Oh, how very Darwin of you, clever boat owner.
This one was simply named "Eric." You have to respect the simplicity of that.
This beauty was named "Reina Silvia" after our close personal friend (not really) Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden.
Here's an arrogant name: Galápagos Privilegio. Noted.
On shore was a boat pier where we had originally planned to go, in order to see Las Grietas, a beautiful swimming spot nearby. But the tortoises won out and we decided to stay with the ship's excursions instead of striking out on our own.
We were at the dock at 3:15 ...
... and on the road with Cristina a few minutes later. Tom scored us excellent seats right behind the driver so we got to take our photos looking out the front window. Here's the more urban section of Puerto Ayora.
A few minutes later, we were in the country. Check out that separate paved bike path next to the road. What a great way to encourage safe biking.
Most of the fence posts were wooden tree trunks. Like ones we had seen in Costa Rica, many of them were starting to come back to life and sprout new branches.
We got a photo of this tortoise crossing sign ...
... and then saw a giant tortoise on the road one minute later. A few minutes later, the same thing happened: sign first, tortoise second.
After 25 minutes, we turned onto a dirt road. There were tortoises along the side of the road, ...
... along with the occasional cow.
Oh my. There's a pair of tortoises getting busy.
Our destination was Rancho El Manzanillo.
First, we changed out of our shoes into boots, which turned out to be very necessary.
We got a photo of an elusive small ground finch as we waited for our tour to start.
There was a papaya tree by one of the buildings, and a whole orchard of fruit trees behind it, including papaya and banana trees.
Here's a map of where we were headed; first to the area on the right and back, then down the center trail to the larger pond.
Shortly before 4:00, we were off.
Sure enough, there were tortoises all over the place.
Here was the first guy we got a close look at.
He was a domed giant tortoise.
He got a little freaked out at first by us, ...
... but then he relaxed, ...
... and went back to his lunch.
Cristina told us to listen for a sound like a cow mooing. We heard it coming from a watering hole in the distance. It turns out that it's the sound that a male tortoise makes when he's mating. We discreetly used our zoom lens on this spectacle, then went back to looking at the tortoises near us.
This is the Orchy photo we had been waiting for -- a picture of Orchy in front of a Galápagos tortoise. Cristina helped us position Orchy so as not to disturb the tortoise.
When we made it to the watering hole, ...
... mating was over, ...
... this tortoise ambled into the bushes to hide, ...
... and this one had decided to take a nap.
Here's a large tortoise and a smaller one in the same photo.
Here is Margaret taking Dave's photo with a tortoise.
This guy pulled his head in when we arrived and kept it there until we moved on. Sorry, dude.
The trees had stuff in them. Nests? Other plants? Not sure.
There were also hammock around the property, just right for having a nap around very large, slow-moving beasts.
Back at the road again, we turned left to take the trail to the larger pond.
Tom looks goooood in those boots, doesn't he? Yeah, he does.
This tortoise was slowly making his way up the same trail we were walking down.
This pond is grandly named Galápagos Lake, but let's not kid ourselves - it's a pond.
This white-cheeked pintail posed nicely on the edge of the pond for us, just as the rain started to fall.
Fortunately, every single garment we brought was quick dry, so rain didn't bother us. Also, hooray for good hats.
We got back to the main ranch area after a 45 minute tour, ...
.. and headed to the open-air pavilion for refreshments.
One beverage options was lemon grass tea made with lemon grass, ginger, mint, and lemon, if the sign was to be believed.
There was also a bright red fruit juice and fresh fruit for us.
It continued to sprinkle on and off, but the sun was shining most of the time.
Here's one of the interesting chandeliers in the pavilion, ...
... and here's a pelican sculpture next to our table.
We departed at 5:00, ...
... returned to town, ...
... and were on the zodiac back to the ship by 5:30.
We could see Santa Fé Island in the distance.
Our ship was really rocking when we returned. Note its angle in the water.
We had some cookies ...
... and beer on deck when we returned.
The zodiacs got put to bed ...
... and we headed back in shortly before 7:00.
In the lounge, an email exchange form was put out for passengers who wanted to get in touch with each other after the trip. By the next morning, the list had reached a second page.
From our seats in the lounge, we could see how much the boat was rocking by looking out the window. Here's the boat rocking to face the water, ...
... and then rocking back to face the sky.
It was our last night with Monica. She had put together a presentation of our week together.
Of course, it included the full map of our travels.
It also included many photos taken by the naturalists during the week, who joined us for the viewing.
Here are the naturalists, ...
... the culinary crew, ...
... the boat crew, ...
... the dining crew, ...
... the housekeeping crew (our housekeeper, Virginia, is in the lower right), ...
... the bridge crew, ...
... and the captain.
The presentation ended with this sentiment: "We hope you have enjoyed this very special week with us on the Celebrity Xpedition, may you have a safe journey home, and please know that you are welcome to return and visit with your new Galápagos friends anytime. Thank You, Celebrity Family, M/V Xpedition." No, thank you, Celebrity. This was an amazing trip.
The naturalists came up to take a bow, ...
... followed by the kitchen crew, ...
... the dining crew, ...
... the bridge crew, and then the captain. At this point, there were too many people in front of us to see what was happening, so we got a photo of the captain's farewell in the mirrored ceiling, then flipped it here.
We applauded Monica and her positive, firm, upbeat guidance all week, ...
... then we went to dinner with Candy & Buddy from San Antonio and Frank & Other Debbie.
Tom started with the smoked tomato bisque and Debbie loved this Waldorf chicken salad.
Here's the langostino that Debbie ordered, while Tom was eating his Cajun spiced snapper.
There wasn't a traditional March of the Baked Alaska, because everything about this cruise was different from any others we've ever taken, but Baked Alaska was on the dessert menu, so we both had it.
One table over, the couple we had eaten dinner with the night before was celebrating their anniversary.
We went up on deck to get one last look at the Southern Cross and False Cross while we were still in the Southern Hemisphere. Here's exactly one star from the Southern Cross.

We returned to our nightly turn-down service chocolates and a CD of the week's photos.

Day 10 >

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