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San Cristobal, Galapagos Day 1

Welcoming Committee
Arriving in downtown San Cristobal, we were welcomed by Galapagos sea lions.  Their large, brown bodies were draped over benches, steps, walkways, the beach and virtually every surface available.  Pups barked for their mothers, and a few males vied for the attention of females.  Coming into this town of 6000 on a Sunday, we found the streets fairly deserted.  Many businesses throughout Ecuador close on Sundays, and particularly between 1-4 in the afternoon for siesta, which happened to be our arrival time.

Having been dropped by a taxi at the main dock, we awaited transport to our home for the coming week.  The M/Y Letty, operated by Ecoventura, is a 20-passenger boat, which ran in

Our home for the week
conjunction with her sister ship, the M/Y Eric during our visit.  This trip had been booked months ahead of time.  Initially, we prioritized the islands we wanted to visit and then found this company traveled to the majority of them on their "Itinerary B-the Northern/Western route.  We opted for the slightly more reasonable Iguana deck and found the accommodations quite comfortable.

 Once aboard the Letty, we were given a
brief overview of the week to come, a late lunch and a safety talk.  With our luggage stashed in our stateroom, it was time to disembark for the first activity of the cruise.  Donning life jackets, we climbed into pangas and were taken to shore, and then ventured by bus for about 45 minutes to Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado.  The facility is a Galapagos Giant Tortoise breeding center, and we saw turtles, ages 0-5 years in the nursery area, but also a number of adults lumbering around the highland grounds.  Throughout the week, we were accompanied on all outings by our knowledgeable tour guides, Adrian and Melana, providing us with a wealth of information. 

One of the babies
The 10 existing subspecies of tortoises are believed to have evolved, based on the individual island ecosystems, from an original ancestor.  Growth is very slow, and the 5-year olds we saw in the nursery were only 5-6 inches in length.  Full size is attained somewhere between 40-50 years, and depending on the subspecies, some have been recorded with weights over 800 pounds.  Sexual maturity is reached at around 25 years, and interestingly, the sex of the hatchling is determined by the temperature of the nest.  If the nest temperature is low more males will be produced, if the temperature is high more females will hatch.  In this manner, breeders are able to manipulate the process to maximize the results.

Adult wandering the grounds
 Even though the reptiles are herbivores, they can go without food and water for up to one year.
 Historically, this was part of the reason for the decline of the population.  Whaling ships, merchant ships, pirates, in fact, all travelers through the area, would take the tortoises on board as a long-lasting food source.  They are known to live for up to 150 years, though actual ages are hard to determine because of the lack of identifying data until the later part of the 20th century.  The breeding process is challenging but is bringing the tortoise back from the brink of extinction, with 15,000 of the reptiles now living in the islands.

San Cristobal waterfront
Returning to the Letty, we were briefed on the following day's activities and then enjoyed a first-rate dinner.  On to Genovesa! 

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