Today we entered into the world of giant tortoises. And they were giant! Our entire day was spent either on or around Isabela Island, which is the largest island in the Galapagos. We went ashore this morning at Urbina Bay and after only a few hundred meters of walking, we ran across this:
They’re enormous! And they can live up to at least 180 years old, probably even older. The early pirates and mariners that came to the Galapagos in the 1800’s used to take the tortoises on board for food because they can go a year without eating. Amazing! Once almost extinct (due to over harvesting), now their numbers are well beyond several thousand. We saw at least a dozen on our walk this morning, some ranging from normal tortoise size (the babies) to others weighing 200 pounds. The walk took us into the scrubby, green interior of Isabela and then out along the shoreline where we had to pick our way over and around large, sharp lava rocks. It kind of reminded me of Hawaii. We also passed by huge dead pieces of brain coral from when the islands were still underwater.
After lunch we had yet another opportunity for snorkeling. After yesterdays cold water I wasn’t too keen on getting in the ocean, but one degree warmer actually made a difference! The visibility was pretty murky, but we did see several sea turtles, a sea lion, flightless cormorants (who were courting each other. How cute!), and my absolutely favorite – the Galapagos penguins. I couldn’t help but giggle when then zipped by us in the water. They’re like tuxedoed torpedos. I could watch them all day!
We only had a few minutes to rinse off and change before we headed back to land for a hike at Tagus Cove. Even before we stepped on shore we saw some names written on the sides of the steep cliff walls. Most people were disgusted with the graffiti, but when our guide explained that the writing was from pirates and even the crew on Darwin’s ship, The Beagle, dating back to 1846 they all whipped out their cameras and took pictures. Sometimes the pretentiousness of people really gets to me…
Anyway, the walk was nice. We climbed up to a viewpoint where we had a nice look at the Endeavour in the bay below. Farther up the trail we came to a lookout point that surveyed the sloping sides of several volcanos extending down to a flat basin. This view reminded me of Africa. Then it was back down the trail, onto the Zodiacs, and back to the ship for another evening of recap and delicious dinner. Not sure what’s happening tomorrow yet, but I’m sure it’ll be great!