23 March 2011

[Tortoiseland] Day 3/4: Surreal landscape

Our textbooks from elementary school until now have been filled with references about Darwin and the discoveries he made after his careful natural observations, leading to the theory of evolution and a whole new paradigm of popular thought.  The voyage of the Beagle and the Galapagos have forever been ingrained in every child's mind (well, at least in America) - how could such a mythical place be inhabited or even visited?

Well, those were the thoughts running through my head as our plane circled overhead and landed on the small island of Baltra, just to the north of Isla Santa Cruz in the middle of the Galapagos archipelago.  All semester thus far we had been pouring over Google Earth maps and doing predominantly internet research about various topics... but to see it in person?

view of the northern shore of San Cristobal Island

One word: Incredible!

Actually, I could probably use a lot of different words to describe the impact.  Just our first moments out of the airport and on the way to Puerto Ayora, the populated seaport town on Santa Cruz, were telling in themselves.  Just in the ferry ride between islands itself, we were entranced by pelicans, schools of tiny darting fish in clear emerald water, and clusters of rock crabs.  ("Entranced" is appropriate because we were literally ooh-ing and ahh-ing all over the place and sickening the local Galapaguenos.)

to give an idea about the relationship between Baltra - the island to the north - and Santa Cruz
agua!
So far, our principle activities have included eating ... a lot and drinking generous portions of fresh juices and cafe con leche (= lattes), as well as commenting about how hot it is (and loving it - sorry, Bostonians).  We had a travel guide, Kathy, meet us at the airport and bring us around the Charles Darwin Research Station to get us acquainted with the islands and wildlife, as part of the Islands' "welcome" procedures.  Although she was incredibly informative and good to talk with, the general consensus was that the research station needed to be updated.  It was cool to see Lonesome George - the 100+ year old Pinta giant tortoise who is the last of his species - but also incredibly sad to encounter him in a pen reminiscent of a bad zoo.  This set off a whole conversation amongst ourselves about the role of preservation and how to best represent the wealth of biodiversity, knowledge, and research at the heart of the Islands.  Designing an appropriate and maybe even challenging welcome center of sorts would've been an interesting studio project.

Seeing the animals up close is probably one of the most amazing experiences.  Usually we think they're "in the wild," as if that's some far off place, but for them they're brazenly right there in front of you.  The wildlife we see around in the town area the most are sea lions, pelicans, and lava lizards.  The sea lions are particularly endearing, flopping on the patio as we're having a studio meeting over drinks and begging us to pet them, although it's technically illegal to touch any of them.

Today we left the hotel bright and early at 6:30am to take a boat out to San Cristobal island, where we would be meeting with a representative from the energy company ElecGalapagos.  We ended pu having to wait around for quite a long time for this meeting, and what we discovered was somewhat helpful but could have been more so.  In light of that, the most exciting thing of the day - besides discovering a yummy dish called corviches (deep fried mashed plantains with curry fish and shrimp inside) - was a little side adventure some of us took to see El Junco, the only freshwater lake on the islands.  It was a ~15 minute ride away, and within this time the landscape completely transformed into a lush green stretch of fern-covered trees and brush.

The climb up to the lake - a former crater - took about 10 minutes through some primordial vegetation, and just that alone was gorgeous.  We were under a tight schedule so only got to spend a few minutes at the top to admire the views and the petrel birds flying effortlessly overhead, but it was really completely worth the rush to see the place.

Happy to see El Junco!
After a very bumpy ferry ride back (during which several people discovered they get sea sick), we split up into groups to survey different parts of Puerto Ayora for general studio knowledge.  I'm getting a bit too tired to post about that, but Yushiro and I were assigned one section that included climbing onto people's roofs, chatting with the ice cream man, and discovering some amazing looking cliffs at the town's edge.

Also as an aside, we've had another 2 snafus since my luggage getting lost:
  • the travel agent made a mistake and didn't issue tickets for Juliet and me, so we almost didn't make it here
  • Nancy's bag got stolen at a local club, which resulted in a day of jumping from one police precinct to the next to finally get her stuff back
By God's grace, no more mishaps!  More later.