There is nothing quite like starting off your morning with a swim. Particularly if what you are swimming in are the warm equatorial waters of the Pacific ocean. You really do have to pinch yourself every now and then on this trip.
After a hearty breakfast we put on our wetsuits and headed out in the pangas to a spot of calm water just off Santa Cruz Island. This was our second snorkeling adventure and it was obvious that everyone was more comfortable in the water at least until we spotted the sharks. OK, so they told us we would see sharks and they told us that they would not hurt us. However, it was still a bizarre experience to look down and see these ancient underwater predators cruising beneath you. Lots of them actually. But you know, I would give anything in the world for the experience.
The sharks were beautiful creatures. They moved gracefully through the water close to the bottom. After I got over the initial shock and slight fear I started to swim down towards them so that I could get better pictures . They paid me no mind one way or the other. And interestingly enough, most of the fishes did not seem to be bothered at all by their presence. I say most because there were about five of a blue and yellow variety that suspiciously became my new best friends. I was thrilled at first but when it became apparent to me that I was now Operation Human Shield I quickly shooed them away. I was not about to get in between anybody’s breakfast.
After our morning snorkel we dried off and rested our salty limbs on the back deck of the Evolution as we headed closer to Santa Cruz. Giant outcrops of long expired volcanoes dotted the sea behind us as we watched an impromptu display of stingrays arching out of the blue waters, soaring briefly in the air and then crashing back into the ocean. Another amazing site and it was not even lunch yet.
Once everyone was on board we headed onto the island. We were greeted by the usual entourage of marine iguanas. Their black bodies blended into the dark lava rocks of the shoreline as they watched us disembark from our boats. Once we were on land we headed up the dock to a bus that was waiting for us. We drove to the Charles Darwin Research Station  for a tour of its world famous tortoise breeding program . At the center we got to see Lonesome George, the last surviving member of the Pinta Island subspecies and we learned about the vital work being done to study and preserve Galapagos wildlife.
After leaving the center we headed up into the forested highlands of the island to look for wild giant tortoises. We stopped for lunch at a great local spot and had BBQ and fresh fruit then headed into the open grass areas behind the restaurant in search of the gentle giants that graze these parts. We saw so many tortoises that I stopped counting. These creatures were amazingly massive with some estimated to weigh 500 pounds or more. Despite a few grunts they were not at all bothered by our presence and were very obliging when it came to pictures.
While in the highlands we also explored the forest and walked around a pair of craters named Los Gemelos . We saw vermillion flycatchers and we even got to explore an underground lava tube. The misty forest was quite a departure from the usual scenery. The diversity of the island’s terrain and wildlife was amazing and exposed us to a side of the Galapagos that I never imagine existed.
We left the highlands and headed back to the village of Puerto Ayora for some free time to walk around and get a sense of what life for the human inhabitants of the Galapagos is like. After some shopping and an ice cream bar or three we got back on the pangas and headed to our floating home away from home. It was a wonderful day filled with sharks, scientists, dragons and giants. Yep, you really do have to pinch yourself every now and then on this trip.