As mentioned before, Karen and I were invited to visit the National Geographic Endeavour in Santa Cruz. The Endeavour is currently stationed in the Galapagos and is operated by the Lindblad Expeditions.
Yesterday (Wedensday) Karen and I got up early (5 AM) and took a speedboat ferry from Isabela to Santa Cruz. This was a bouncy ride at 20 knots over open sea for 40 miles. It turns out I was sitting next to the port captain from Puerto Villamil in Isabela and I told him about the Tahina Expedition in broken spanish on the way over. He was impressed with my ability to track our progress with my Nexus One and Google Earth.
We arrived and were met by the very nice coordinator on Endeavour named Paula. She told us we were invited to go with their guests to a tour of Santa Cruz in the afternoon. But, first she took us to a hotel they had arranged for the night. The room has A/C, cable TV, hot running water, and WIFI. We were in heaven!
We joined the group just before lunch and they took us into the highlands of Santa Cruz (an area half-way up the mountain where it is cooler and full of fast growing green vegetation). Lunch was at a beautiful veranda house surrounded by trees, fruits, and many other plants. There was a pool with tables and hammocks set around. We had a wonderful lunch there and spoke with a few of Endeavour’s passengers about our trip.
Next they took us to the large sink-hole craters at the top of the mountain. These craters were formed after the volcano cooled off 700,000 years ago when large empty lava chambers collapsed. The guides were very knowledgeable about the local plant life, and great at attracting and spotting birds.
Finally, they took us to a ranch that happened to be in the migration path of land tortoises in the wild. They had to hike around looking for the tortoises, but eventually we found 6 of them. Some were bathing in mud, and others were walking through tall vegetation. There was a huge one in a field (about 5 feet in diameter).
It was near 5 PM by the time we got back to our hotel. We had an hour to take showers and get ready for our trip to Endeavour. We caught a zodiac dinghy out to the ship. They had to anchor pretty far out in the port where the waves were pretty high. Karen and I got off the dinghy no problem, but we delayed going up the steps too long and both got drenched a bit by a wave.
On board, we were met by the captain of Endeavour who gave us a tour of the bridge. Very impressive radar and chart displays. The Endeavour originally was a fishing vessel in the north sea of Europe. Now it has been greatly fixed up as a luxurious expedition passenger vessel. The library was a sight to behold (this is where I should have pulled out a camera, but completely forgot to do so). They also had an exercise area, pool, diving equipment room, zodiac storage rack, and many other interesting areas.
The focus of our evening was their comfortable lounging area where we gave a short presentation on the Tahina Expedition to the roughly 100 passengers and crew. We then had a nice dinner with the guests. Karen and I ate with the coordinator, Paula, and some of her guests for the evening who were mostly local people. There was a highly respected engineer/architect and his daughter (who is going to college in Ecuador in journalism), a college friend of the daughter, and a mother and her daughter (who recently won an Ecuador art contest for a drawing/painting of a beach in Santa Cruz). We had a great time talking to them about our travels and learning about their island and culture. The two college girls were very interested in our travels and were practicing their excellent english language skills with us. Both girls are very intelligent and were nearing graduation from college even though one is only 19, and the other 20!
We met with several other passengers including a couple who were from Chapel Hill in North Carolina (near where we lived before leaving on our expedition). We had a wonderful time on Endeavour, and are very grateful for their hospitality. The passengers we spoke to were all thrilled with their experience in the Galapagos, and very impressed with the Endeavour experience and staff. So were we!
Below are photos from both visits to Santa Cruz. First some photos of our hike and cliff diving at Las Grietas. And, then photos from the tour we took yesterday to the volcano craters and land tortoises.
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