IE Art Director Charlie Boyd has just returned from our unforgettable 10-day Galapagos Islands tour. Be sure to check in often over the next week as Charlie shares his thoughts and stories from this Galapagos vacation aboard the Evolution.

Lonesome George and the highlands of Santa Cruz

We awoke Monday morning back in "civilization" for the day. The Evolution was anchored in the Puerto Ayora harbor, on the island of Santa Cruz. After a great breakfast, we disembarked for our day on the island. The first stop was the Charles Darwin Research Center — just a short walk from the dock. Along the way we noticed the giant cacti that are unique to the island. They have evolved to be taller here than on other islands, as a way to protect themselves from being eaten by the  giant tortoises and land iguanas of the island. Soon we were inside the Research Center and learning all about the programs for breeding and raising giant tortoises, with the ultimate goal of re-introducing them to their native islands. A highlight of the morning was getting to see the famous Lonesome George — the last of his species from Pinta Island. George was out-and-about with his "girlfriend" this morning, making for a great photo opportunity. Alex explained the efforts that are underway to breed George, and we should know soon if this second attempt is successful. (See earlier post.)

TortoiseAfter seeing the other tortoises in the Research Center, we had a nice stroll back through Puerto Ayora to meet the bus taking us to the highlands in search of giant tortoises in the wild. Along the way, we stopped at a souvenir shop for blackberry popsicles, t-shirts and postcards. Our bus took us out of the city and into the highlands. The  30-minute drive was a great opportunity to see the countryside, and even spot a few tortoises along the way.

When we arrived at our destination, we enjoyed a nice walk through a field full of tortoises. It was very exciting to be able to get so close to these giant creatures and watch them in their natural habitat. Many birds were around too — finches and grackles. I kept a sharp eye out for vermillion flycatchers, but didn't see one.

juanAfter our walk we were surprised  by  the chef and a waiter from the Evolution who had prepared a delicious barbecue lunch complete with wine and desserts. After coffee and a few games of ping-pong between the Evolution crew and guests, we were back on the bus for a short ride to the lava tubes — huge tunnels formed by lava flows. Another short bus ride took us even further higher into the cloud forest. This area was a special treat for the birdwatchers in the group. We took a nice walk around Los Gemelos — two huge sinkholes, in search of birds. We saw several finch species including the "woodpecker" finch. The scenery here was absolutely beautiful. The trees were covered with mosses and bromeliads, and the ground covered with lots of unique ferns.

As we made our way back to Puerto Ayora, we made a stop for an afternoon snack of chocolate bread… what a special treat. We had some free time when we arrived back in town before boarding the pangas and heading back to the Evolution.

Tonight Pam and I had a special treat. Boli, one of IE's expedition leaders was leading a group of students from London. He invited us to have dinner with them at the local high school. The school has a culinary program, and they had prepared a special dinner for us, complete with music and dancing. The students (the IE student group and the Galapagos high school students) both had a great time, and the food was excellent. We caught the "Evolution Taxi" back to the ship and made our way straight to bed. It had been another unforgettable day in the Galapagos.

Next: Santiago and Bartolomé Islands