Our home for the next week and the first outing — n. Santa Cruz

Route map (click on map for a larger version)


Friday, 9/11, afternoon

Before we go any further, let’s consider the name “Galápagos.”  The word comes from an old Spanish word meaning “saddle.”  The Galápagos Islands have Giant Tortoises whose shells are in 2 basic shapes—dome-shaped and saddle-shaped.  Thus, the islands are named for the Giant Tortoises with shells that have the latter shape.  You’ll have a lot more information and photos of these tortoises in later pages.

More generally, the archipelago contains 13 main islands, 17 smaller islands, and approximately 40 rocks.  Nearly all of the islands were created by volcanic action.   (A few islands—e.g., the Plaza Islets, Baltra, and North Seymour—were created by uplifts from the movement of magma below rather than directly by the eruption of volcanoes.)  It is thought that perhaps a stationery hot spot of extreme heat exists deep in the ocean floor, where the magma occasionally erupts into a volcano as the Nazca plate moves over it. Due to the movement of the Nazca plate, the islands are slowly (SLOOOWWWLLLYYY—perhaps 1.5 inches per year) drifting to the southeast, eroding, and eventually submerging.  Thus, the eastern islands are the oldest (between 2.3 and 6.3 million years old) and most weathered, while the western islands are the youngest (perhaps a youthful 700,000 years old).

Since the islands have never been part of a continent, all of the fauna had to arrive on the islands under some external power.  For instance, the iguanas may have floated over on rafts of vegetation; birds may have flown under their own power or arrived on boats.  Given the fact that the islands have only recently (geologically speaking) been discovered and few predators exist (especially now that introduced species such as feral cats and goats have been exterminated on many of the islands), the birds and animals have not learned to fear humans.  The lack of predatory mammals has resulted in the dominance of reptiles (tortoises, turtles, iguanas, lizards) on the ground in the islands.  In fact, the Giant Tortoises have taken the role typically filled by mammals—the dominant grazer on land.  As a result, the available browse played a major role in the evolution of the 2 different shapes of the tortoises’ shell mentioned above.

Well, that’s enough background for now—back to the trip.  (Note:  If you’d like to skip the text and just look at the photos of the wildlife, you can find the photos, and brief descriptions, for this page here.  Click on any photo to see a larger version.)  We piled into the transport vehicle at the airport and headed to the Baltra dock.  Galápagos sea lions were lounging on the Galapagos_2_041cbenches at the pier—clearly not meant for human use, at least not any more.  Brown Noddies were swooping the waters below the pier.  First new bird species identified at the Galápagos!  (Some black finches that were probably new were z20090917_pangaooming around the airport, but I couldn’t tell which species they were.)  Here came our next new experience—the pangas.  (The photo on the right is from a later adventure, but you can get an idea of what a panga is like.)  The origins of the name “panga” are unclear; one meaning for the term in Spanish means “corn husk.”  One author theorized that a small dinghy heading toward the black cliff of a Galápagos island might look as fragile as a corn husk.  These modern-day motorized, rubberized dinghies provided our passage back and forth between land and the boat.  With 16 in our group, we typically split into 2 groups of 8.

When the pangas drew up at the Tip Top II (home, sweet home for 8 days and 7 nights), we clambered on board with the gracious assistance of on-board crew members and found our way to the “lounge.”  Cabin assignments were called out; Z & I were in Cabin 4, on the lower deck.  Our baggage was already there.  Unbelievable.  Clearly, they had this transport stuff down to a science.

The cabin looked small, especially as I contemplated getting all of our stuff—and the collapsed duffels—stowed away.  20090915_cabin4However, we dove in and quite quickly realized that we indeed had plenty of storage space.  Whew!  The beds were approximately twin-sized, with a small bureau between.  Z (all 6′ 3″ of him) took the bed by the door, so he could hang his feet out over the end there.  (Since the foot of the other bed was flush with the small closet, there was no extra room to be had there.) While we were settling in, the boat motored a short distance to the northern shore of Santa Cruz. (See dotted line on the map above.)
Continued on p. 2; click below.

6 Responses to Our home for the next week and the first outing — n. Santa Cruz

  1. Steve O says:

    The pic of the 2 turtles mating on the beach is very “From Here to Eternity”! 😉


  2. bill and tracy hughes says:

    Hi! My husband and I would like to go to the Galapagos but we were wondering if tourism causes too much environmental impact on the island? We are big animal and nature lovers and would hate to go there if it would have too much of a negative impact on the island. What do you think?


    • Tina says:

      Hi, folks–

      Sorry for my delay in writing you back–we just got back from our 2nd trip to the Galápagos!

      I don’t think anyone can state definitively that either tourism is causing damage or that it isn’t. In my opinion, though, the National Park–very powerfully spurred on by the tourism that the archipelago brings in–is very actively working to reverse the damage done by humans through the introduction of invasive species throughout the past 150 years. They have also recently acted to reduce the impact of naturalist cruises on the islands by instituting a new requirement that no cruise boat’s passengers can set foot on an uninhabited island more often than once every 2 weeks. (Most previous itineraries made the same landings once a week.) Humans never have no impact, but I have considerable respect for the work that researchers and Park personnel are doing to minimize and even reverse the worst instances. For example, an $8 million goat eradication program on Santiago (eliminating 80,000 goats) and Isabela (eliminating 60,000 goats) that was completed 6 years ago is showing good results as the islands are recovering and native species of flora and fauna are coming back.

      Just my opinion, of course. But I think you’ll be impressed with the on-going efforts of all involved to try to keep the Galápagos the most amazing wonder that they can be.



  3. Laura Hare says:

    WOW! This is a great way to relive all of the magic! Thanks for sharing your great writing skill and photos.


  4. Ruth Barrett says:

    I love your commentaries! You present facts in an entertaining fashion in an unfolding narrative that keeps me wanting to read and learn more! Ruth


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