Ecuador Day 11: Charles Darwin Research Center and Tortuga Bay

Palabra del día: tortuga

We wake up at 7:15am, hoping that breakfast will be as delicious as that on the Samba. Instead, it is set out like a continental breakfast, with bread, eggs, ham and sausage, yoghurt, and guava juice. The beautifully decorated tables don’t complement the unflavored food. After a relatively sleepless night in a twin bed (cue the bad SNL skit…), we are ready to find some adventure.

We speak with the friends we made on the cruise while we wait for our guide, who will take us to the Charles Darwin Research Station. We decide to walk, as the morning is pleasant and the park is only a short way away.

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Unfortunately, despite my excitement to be visiting the station, I do not get much out of the jaunt. A good trip to the area relies on a good guide who can teach everyone in a group something new. Instead, we just amble along looking at the tortoises playing out their own melodramas.

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Our guide does not give us much background on the station or the different subspecies of tortoises. Instead, the Other Half and a few other people talk to her, while I scout out Darwin’s finches. There are several large and medium ground finches hopping around the tortoises, as well as a few iguanas scattered around the station.

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My biggest moment of excitement is seeing Diego, an Españolan tortoise who has been the savior of his species and who is becoming the new face of tortoise conservation. He was brought to the Galapagos in the 1970s after an almost 20-year career at the San Diego Zoo.

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After our three-hour tour, we walk along the storefronts that line the crystal blue waters of the shore. Our mission is to find souvenirs to take home to family as well as to stretch our legs before we hike to Tortuga Bay. It begins to rain on us as we look for somewhere to have lunch, and we giggle, diving from storefront to bus stop in search of cover. We find a cafe that serves pizza and empanadas after skipping through Puerto Ayora’s now-slick streets.

After lunch, we begin walking to the pier. From here, we duck behind the grocery store and follow the steady stream of people toward the trail that leads to Tortuga Bay. Once we are up the hill and past some new construction, we register at the booth and begin the walk down the beautiful, paved path.

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Galapagos flycatchers and lava lizards abound. Opuntias are interspersed between low brush and green-leaved trees. When we near the beach, sand begins to coat the smooth paving stones of the walkway. I take off my shoes, and we race down to the beach itself. A haphazard pile of lava rock rises near the edge of the beach, while the rest of the smooth crescent opens before us. A low-strung rope marks the beginning of dunes where turtles have nested, and small blue-bottle jellyfish have washed ashore like small pieces of confetti.

An ugly purple smear marks a plankton bloom; it is here that most of the shore life is congregating. We see diving pelicans, jumping fish, several dozen sanderlings, and even a small black-tip reef shark trolling the shallows. A striated heron is hunting in a sizable tidal pool which lays protected under the shade of a mangrove; we enjoy watching him eat small fish until a camera crew rolls in, disrupting the peaceful silence of our spot.

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We continue on past sprawled marine iguanas to the protected inlet at the edge of the beach. Here, families with small children play, and lava gulls stride among ghost and fiddler crabs strutting along the beach. Small turf wars erupt between the crustaceans, even as female onlookers continue to eat from the moss-covered roots of the mangrove trees.

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On our return to the hotel, we get ready for dinner at a restaurant chosen by our guide. I have a virgin margarita and coconut juice while we talk. Sesame-encrusted tuna with avocado and fried plantain arrive at the table. It is absolutely delicious, and I only mildly regret the food poisoning I develop from it a few days later. I know, that’s just how good it is.

After a good evening with new friends, we retire for the night, ready for our return trip to the mainland the next morning. Our trip to the Galapagos is at its end, but our adventure on the continent is about to begin.

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