The biggest disappointment so far in the Galápagos Islands is the Darwin Center. We were hoping to learn about Darwin and the details of evolution. Instead, we were made to feel guilty for being human. It is nothing more than a bad zoo with captive iguanas and giant tortoises. It is touted as a research center but nothing indicates the type of research taking place. It is a tourist trap with an expensive gift shop and café. It is a little sad to think people come all the way to Galápagos on a tour only to see captive animals. They could do this at their local zoo.
Upon entering the grounds for the Darwin Center, one is faced with a pretty long walk to the building. I think the sign said 650 meters (about 0.4 miles). During this walk, there is absolutely no shade and the hot equatorial sun is brutal. At one point on the path, the sidewalk goes under a tree. It looks like a good place to stop and take a breather. However, the tree is a manchineel tree that can be identified by its little green apples of death. If a tourist stops under this tree and sap drips on them they will need to take a trip to the clinic or hospital. The trees are deadly poisonous. Once under the tree, a sign identifies it as toxic. This is one of those “what were they thinking” things. Why on earth would someone route a sidewalk under one of these trees?
If you recall, in my previous post, I talked about how our guide Marcella told us she was taking us to see happy giant tortoises. She was so right. The tortoises in this center were caged in smallish pens. They were inactive and their shells were dull. It was very sad to see.
The hypocrisy is the center touts how humans are destroying the habit of the tortoises and yet they keep animals caged up to please tourists. The giant tortoise sanctuary on San Cristóbal Island had a large park reserve of land for the tortoises to roam about and live life naturally. This, as far as the tortoises are concerned, is far superior to the Darwin Center. If you recall, I even made a comment on the blog entry about how I was surprised by the movement of the animals.
As we approach the Darwin center we see an exhibit about ocean trash. The seal is made of flip-flops, the turtle shell is bottle caps, and the wall about the exhibit is made of plastic bottles. The gist of the display is about how ocean trash is killing animals. And while this is true and awareness needs to be amplified, it is impossible to get water in a Galápagos restaurant without it being served in a plastic bottle. We have tried on several occasions to ask for tap water. On all of these occasions, we were served water in a plastic bottle.
The Darwin Exhibit hall was sparse. It contains a whale skeleton and speaks mostly about how the island plans to be totally green by 2050. I’m not sure what totally green entails. It took all of ten minutes to see everything inside. On the plus side, it was air-conditioned.
At the giant tortoise area, we started to go toward a building. There was a line outside. Once again, no shade was provided and people were forced to stand in the hot sun and sweat. I asked what was inside the building. I was told it was Lonesome George. We had read about Lonesome George prior to arriving here. He was the last of a species of giant tortoises discovered on Pinta Island in the Galápagos in 1971. He was removed from the island “for his protection” while a search took place to find him a mate and potentially save this species from extinction. A $10,000 reward was issued for any person who could find George a female mate. Unfortunately, a mate was never found and he was the last of his kind. He died in captivity on Isabela Island at about age 100 in 2012. He was frozen for a while. I am assuming George was frozen in an effort to preserve DNA but I am not sure. It was later decided to stuff George and he was sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to be preserved by taxidermy. After some squabbling about where George should be displayed, he is now exhibited at the Charles Darwin Research Station, a place where people are expected to line up in the hot sun with no shade to see a stuffed tortoise. No doubt George’s species extinction in being used to make people feel guilty for being alive. This is when we decided to leave.
While the Darwin Center proved to be a big disappointment, it is about the only thing disappointing. Our experience on Santa Cruz Island has been awesome. We have thoroughly enjoyed the town and found many little gems.
Our vegetable and fruit pantry has dwindled. We need to find a market. We asked around and discovered Puerto Ayora has a farmers market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. We decided to give it a go on Saturday. From Cream Puff we take a water-taxi to the town dock. Once there, we flag down a land taxi. The taxis on Galápagos are white pick-up trucks. The fare is set to $2.00 to anywhere in town. I wonder if anyone besides the taxi drivers own white pickup trucks. I can’t imagine the confusion of owning one and getting the looks from tourists if you didn’t pick them up. Or I guess they could pick up the unsuspecting tourists and make a couple of dollars. Who knows, maybe we’ve been picked up by a white pickup truck owner who wasn’t a taxi.
The market is fantastic. It is a true farm to table market. Farmers from outside of town set up makeshift stalls. In addition, many locals grow their own food. They bring to the market any excess and hope to make a sale for extra pocket money. Melons and bananas were abundantly available. This makes a lot of sense since we noticed many banana trees in people’s gardens when touring with Marcella. Cindy bought some absolutely delicious pears.
We enjoyed a very quiet turnover day. Turnover days are when the tour boats leave and others have yet to arrive. The town is especially quiet and the restaurants empty except for the locals. Cindy walked about town and shopped for some souvenirs. I am not a big shopper so I use the time to roam about aimlessly with my camera taking in the sight of the town. One of the things I appreciate is creative marketing. On these islands, all the businesses are fighting each other for more than their fair share of the tourist’s dollars. Puerto Ayora has a couple of stand-outs.
Today we notified our agent we would like to leave and move to our last island here. We are off to Isabela where we hope to see penguins. Neither one of us has ever seen penguins in their natural environment before and are pretty excited. We are waiting for our inter-island zarpe, and the total of our exit fee from here. It’ll take us a day to get there. The winds are forecasted to be light but hopefully there will be enough to move us along. The anchorage will be nice and quiet since all of the ARC boats have come here for a rendezvous.