After spending part of our morning enjoying the Ruta de la Tortuga, we continued to stroll around the Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. This is a working research lab so there are several buildings that are just for the scientists, as well as some areas where public lectures are given. Self-guided exhibits are available to learn about what goes on there, the indigenous plant life, the incredibly rich marine life, and more.
We chose to next take a stroll over to a beach area that was marked as a great place to see marine iguanas in their natural environment.
These charming little creatures (really, they grow on you after a while) are completely harmless to man – and really to any other living creature on the land. They do all of their feeding in the ocean. However since they are reptiles and thus cold-blooded, they return to land to sun themselves and to digest.
Actually, cold-blooded is kind of a misnomer. Biologists prefer to call these animals “ectothermic”, meaning their body temperatures are controlled by external sources. You see, animals in their evolution path have an early choice to make; whether to be ectothermic or endothermic. Like most things in evolution, this involves a trade-off.
Endothermic animals, like mammals for instance, regulate their own body temperatures. That means they can move quickly even if the weather is cold, and manage in general to adapt to a wider variety of climates. There’s a price to pay though; being endothermic means you expend more energy, so therefor you have to be able to find and eat more food, or you will quickly starve and die.
Reptiles, fish, and even most insects have opted instead for the ectothermic lifestyle. They can live on less food per body mass because they do not need to use fuel running their heaters (or coolers). Their price of course is that their body processes slow down as they get colder, and thus they are more sensitive to changes in environment.
So the marine iguanas, whose predators are all in the relatively cold sea, warm themselves on the sand and rocks most of the day. They will go to the water and feed as quickly as they can, then return to the safety and warmth of land until the next meal.
One amusing result of their behavior, is that they sit so motionless on land, you can often be almost on top of a group of them before you even see them – particularly as they blend so well with the volcanic rock and have no natural predators ashore.
As we were finding with other animals on the islands, it was not particularly hard to find some iguanas, and it certainly requires no skill. We saw two as soon as we turned onto the dirt path to the shore.
The shoreline here is rugged and beautiful, completely natural and undeveloped. The dark volcanic rock creates a tide pool area, bringing crabs up where they are easier to observe. It was very peaceful and relaxing to stroll along the beach, enjoying the iguanas, sea birds, and scenery.
After the beach, we stopped for a little coffee at a refreshment stand where the finches outnumbered the customers. They also were not shy at all about hopping around right next to us, even landing on our arms and legs if needed. It is really fun being in a place where the wildlife have absolutely no fear of humans.
I should also mention that the small café in the Park follows the same pattern we have seen elsewhere in Ecuador. The prices are not highly inflated like you often see in US parks. Our coffees were $1.50 each, and they had bottles of water for 75 cents, soft drinks for $1.
Refreshed, we were ready to push on to the Charles Darwin Exhibition Hall – after a couple of quick tourist pictures.
Highly recommend the museum. It is a wonderful place to get a good overview of all of the islands, and some more information about what makes them and their inhabitants so unique. The displays are designed to captivate younger audiences, as well as to inform adults. And of course, their is a gift shop if you are so inclined. Plenty of opportunities for souvenirs in the Galápagos.
The Exhibition Hall has extensive information about nearly 60 years of scientific research in the archipelago, a rotating local photography exhibit, a room showcasing part of the natural history collections, a small presentations room, and a ‘Finch Cafeteria’. Restrooms are also available, and we found them to be very clean.
And although there is a Donation Station, like everything else in the Park there is no entry fee for the Hall.
That was it for our first morning, we were ready to drop off our backpacks in our room and head downtown in search of lunch and to do a little more local exploration.
Next up, we’ll take a look at a terrific place to enjoy a nice hike and a day at the beach. Lots of iguanas, and even a place to snorkel. Best of all, in keeping with our goal, all completely self-guided and absolutely free! All coming in the following post; Galápagos Islands: Tortuga Bay.