31 March, 2018: Only about 20% of San Cristóbal is accessible to visitors, or locals, in order to protect the ecology. Even then, exploring generally requires the services of a guide. There are a couple of main tours. One of the standard ones is the day trip to the volcano El Junco, followed by a trip to the tortoise sanctuary, La Tortuguera, and then dip into the beautiful beach at Puerto Chino, all part of the National Park.
El Junco took our breath away and for me was the highlight of the day. At the top of the volcano there is a freshwater lake where the frigate birds congregate to wash the salt of their wings. It is wild and thick with heather, brambles and the odd thistle, so on some level there was an element of feeling home from home. The view was spectacular and we walked right round the rim.
Who can visit the Galápagos (a name that meant "tortoise" at the time the islands were discovered by the Spanish) without seeing a giant tortoise. Giant they are, but even so, it beggars belief that adults used to ride on them. I'm sure the kids would have liked to have a go, had it been allowed, but they weren't that fussed - Isabelle told me she had a dream about riding one, so she already knew what it felt like! The males, we found out, were distinguishable from the females by the side of their tail. "That one over there" said Carlos our taxi driver "is about 70". We then saw the ageing Don Juan attempt to mount a female, dragging himself on top of her for a few seconds and crossing our path, until she legged it from underneath him and scuttled away. There was something of an operatic comedy to the interlude. In the undergrowth the rangers had rigged makeshift shelters of discarded branches to protect tortoise eggs from birds and unguarded footsteps. We saw the artificial nesting area where baby tortoises are reared, released into the wild when they are old enough to fend for themselves, aged around 30. The kids loved that, but I hope it doesn't give them any ideas!
After that we had about an hour at Puerto Chino. It was a good quarter of an hour's walk from the car park along a path lined with cacti, many of which bore an uncanny resemblance to Easter Bunny. The beach had a great surf to play in, stronger than Las Perlas (see post - click here), but by now the kids were used to catching the waves or diving under should the need arise. Catherine and I were sitting on the beach making a Flamingo Island (her idea), when I spotted a sea lion threading its way through the swimmers in the surf, onto the slippery, jet black rocks where it sat blending in, like a chameleon. Then it slipped off and moved further unlong the shore where several seal ions were sheltering in the shadow of a large stone. They clearly didn't appreciate the new company and he sidled off towards a party of locals having a picnic just up from the beach. Despite looking longingly at the food table, he clearly knew not to approach, but instead just sat at the bottom of the incline gazing longingly with puppy dog eyes, and then stretched out in the sun and took a nap. In the Galápagos I don't know if the animals are becoming more human, or if they are simply working their Animal Magic on us, but in pretty much all our interactions it is though I can hear a Johnny Morris voiceover interpreting all their communications!