Sleeping in the tent was nice and cool, dry, and comfortable. The exhaustion from the night before set in; I slept through the entire night. It was a little fun to be woken by roosters – the reserve is near a lot of farmland.
More tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station
After an early breakfast, we took a 45-minute bus ride to Puerto Ayora, the biggest city on Santa Cruz Island. We made our way by foot to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where environmentalists are helping ensure the once nearly-extinct giant land tortoises can again thrive. We saw tortoises ranging from 1 to 120 years old. The young tortoises were adorable, moving much more quickly than their older family counterparts. It was truly fantastic.
There we even saw two old guys fighting. Granted, it only lasted about 15 seconds, and it just involved them hissing and extending their necks as high as possible – and one snap to show who was more dominant, it was pretty cool to watch!
Iguanas. And crabs. And pelicans. And sea lions!
We had a couple hours to walk around and explore Puerto Ayora on our own. We saw a pretty alleyway leading to the bay and went to check it out.
First off, it was an absolutely gorgeous view of the main bay in Puerto Ayora.
There in this lovely little nook were marine iguanas and red crabs everywhere. Two large marine iguanas swam toward us; they seem to be just as curious and excited to see us as we are them.
Alex recommended we stop by the waterfront fish market. “It’s absolutely wonderful! There will be lots of animals there.” Boy, was he right! One hilarious sea lion literally had his head on the hips of the women working. How they ignored him, I don’t know.
There were also several pelicans and iguanas hanging out, waiting to be thrown some fish parts. We even saw a stingray making several rounds.
We kept walking and found a place to grab some lunch. I opted for shrimp ceviche and the local beer Endemica, which was a tasty blonde ale. Vicki, one half of the Irish couple, came by and nudged me to walk across the street to see the sea lions. I was expecting them to be swimming in the water or resting on a pier. Nope! Four adult sea lions were on the sidewalk sleeping. I was able to lay and sit next to ones; they didn’t move a muscle. The experience had us all giggling like little kids.
Onward to Floreana Island
After getting our giggle on over the sea lions, our group headed to the main pier to pass through baggage check. We then hopped on a quick water taxi to our speedboat that was waiting to take us on our two-hour trip to Floreana Island. Only about 150 people live on Floreana, and you can only get there with a guided tour. Once we arrived, sea lion fever kicked in again – they were everywhere, along with more pink iguanas. Before we got too excited about the animals, we quickly checked in with the port guard before spastically getting back to snapping photos of the remarkably indifferent animals.
We took a quick pitstop at the small shop to pick up our snorkeling gear before getting dropped off at our guesthouses. Tourism is minimal on Floreana, so they don’t have any single accommodation spot that can accommodate our full group. As we arrived at our place with Mick and Vicki, Alex, our CEO said, “Don’t tell anyone, but you guys have the nicest place.” He wasn’t kidding. We stayed at Artesanias Proano, which was basically a luxury treehouse. Talk about an upgrade from my youth – It. Was. Awesome!
Our tree house included unobstructed ocean views, comfortable beds, and our own private bathroom.
The soft, quiet Black Beach
After getting settled, we headed to Black Beach, which was just a two-minute walk from our treehouse. The name is apropos – the island was formed millions of years ago from lava eruptions, so the terrain is black, making the sand black – and remarkably soft.
We dipped our feet in the cool ocean water and watched others from our tour go snorkeling. Once we heard them start screaming about the sea turtles, we quickly headed back to our guesthouse and changed. (Talk about major FOMO!) To our delight, there were still many sea turtles swimming around. I squealed with delight when I first saw one. We snorkeled for about a hour before heading back to shore to enjoy the sunset.
A relaxing end to the night
For dinner, our group headed to the Devil’s Nest. There, the restaurant owner served us a three-course meal, which was really tasty. First course was a vegetable pureed soup; we were given popcorn and plantain chips to top it. (This led to a funny discussion about beer cheese soup – which no one else in the group had heard of and couldn’t quite imagine a soup that was based on beer and cheese.) The next course was served family style: mashed potatoes, rice, lentils, grilled tuna, and ají, a terrific red onion based sauce that resembles pico de gallo. The last course was dessert, which consisted of sliced pineapple. After dinner we enjoyed happy hour around the campfire. Happy hour only offered Cuba Libres – 1 for $5 or 2 for $10. Rum and cokes aren’t usually my thing, but hey, when in Rome.
Sleepiness definitely settled in, so we headed back to the treehouse with very happy souls before crashing for the night.