Port Ayona is the major city of Santa Cruz and our first outing took us in search of the Charles Darwin Research Station. Situated at the end of the town the walk over the cobbled surface passes many interesting shops and galleries and progress was slow as half of Brizos crew are easily distracted by retail therapy.
I had looked forward to this particular visit and expectations were high as we passed an impressive statue of the great man at the entrance. The centre houses a tortoise breeding programme and was home to “Lonesome George” in his final years. You can see the tortoises which are kept there until they are of a certain age and size and can be returned to the wild in an effort to repopulate the islands. I was in truth a bit disappointed, after all I had read I expected more but the trail around the tortoise and iguana pens was similar to a poor British zoo with no signs and very little information, it would seem that budget cuts have an effect even out here.
A day trip to Plaza Sur an island off the east coast of Santa Cruz restored my faith in the National Parks Service. We were collected by coach and driven 40km to the eastern end of the island while Jaime our local guide provided and in depth insight into the culture and geography of santa Cruz and its association with mainland Ecuador. At the ferry landing stage in Baltra we boarded a motor boat for the 40 minute ride out to the island and then we were ferried ashore by dinghy for our appointed time. The guided tours are given a ninety minute slot so there are limited numbers on the island at any one time to disturb the wildlife and it is adhered to with military precision. The island is small measuring 1km long and 130m wide and unlike the volcanic islands nearby this was one was born as a result of an uplift in the earths crust .
Sealions with young were playing in the rock pools by the jetty as we landed while land and marine iguanas were lounging in shade of cactus as we walked within inches. The pear cactus provide food for the iguanas and finches. The guided track around the island follows a path defined by posts in an effort to restrict the damage inflicted by humans. The 20m walk to the top of the islands brings you to cliff edge with a sheer drop down to the sea which provides good nest sites and the up draught rewards you with an aerial display as Frigate birds, tropic birds and swallow tail gulls soar the cliff edge but the man of the match award from team Brizo was awarded the Blue Footed Booby which was happy to pose for the strange foreigners and didn’t expect a tip. To complete our tour we walked back to the landing stage over what appeared to be marble, it was volcanic rock that was covered in sea-lion excrement and is then polished by the mammals as they bed down each night. We were also privileged to see a shark cruising the channel looking for a tasty sea-lion pup for lunch. We left the island at 12.00 precisely for our own lunch on board before we anchored for an hour for some snorkelling along the rocks and yet more stunning species of colourful fish, It felt like you were part of a David Attenborough TV documentary.
The taxi ride back to Port Ayona also highlighted another aspect of life on the islands that would come hard for us. You are not allowed to own a car unless you have specific needs so everybody walks, cycles or uses a taxi.
Cannot see that model winning many supporters in the UK.