Adult boobies are elegant birds with long, shapely beaks; regal stripes; and of course their distinctive bright-blue feet. When chicks are a few days old they look like white clay models made by someone with only a vague idea of what a bird is supposed to look like. After a couple of weeks, they look like some sort of weird pile of bird parts--some assembly still required--with dark eyes, long black beaks, and scraggly white feathers sticking out in various directions. After a full day of birding, snorkeling and relaxing on the boat, we returned to Puerto Ayora, had a relaxing dinner and bought a few over-priced souvenirs, and rested up before joining our cruise the next day.

Primicias Ranch

Most of the Metropolitan Touring guests were collected directly from the airport, an inconvenient meeting point for those already on the island of Santa Cruz, so we were instructed to meet at 1:00 at Primicias Ranch, a giant tortoise preserve. It soon became clear what a good call this was, as it gave us an extra three hours plus. We tossed our luggage in the back of a white-pickup taxi cruising the waterfront, and a took 25-minute, $20 drive up to the highlands. We spoke with the driver in Spanish, learning quite a bit about the tortoises that we spotted at the side of the road as we drove through the lush green countryside. Primicias is beautiful, set in a high open meadow surrounded by hills and trees where light breezes kept us cool. A restaurant takes the form of a large covered wooden deck, very pleasingly designed, and we ordered drinks and empanadas for snacks as we waited for the rest of the group. And watched the monsters. The largest male Galapagos tortoises take years to make their ways from the lower elevations to the highest points on the island to rip two kilos of grass from the ground per day, drink water, and sleep. Occasionally a female will show up and they will mate. The females then to descend about 5 miles toward to the coast in order to find more favorable conditions to deposit their eggs. The scale of these animals, a prime example of island gigantism, is hard to fit into the imagination. The largest animal recorded was 6 feet long and weighed 919 pounds. Plenty of 5-foot-plus specimens lumbered slowly through the meadow, individuals over 150 years old going slowly and steadily about their business. Galapagos tortoises continue to grow and mate throughout their lifespans, and no one really knows how long they can live because people haven’t been paying long enough. The oldest known tortoise, named Harriet, died at age 175 at Steve Irwin’s zoo in Australia in 2006. But we only know how old she is because she was collected by Charles Darwin himself and her history has been documented. Older specimens are almost certainly extant.

©Stephanie Scheffler

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