What do four best friends do on a Sunday in Galapagos, now that the pandemic is well behind us (in these island at least)? Well, we decided to go have some fun by looking for our ‘inner tortoise’, that hardy trait that bound us all together during the long months of lockdown when — just like the old reptiles — we had to look inwards to find our own resilience, our capacity to endure (mentally, physically and financially) and wait for better times to come. And how better to accomplish that than by spending a carefree day with the real thing, the giant tortoises that gave the Galapagos Islands their name.
From left to right: Monica Gallo (entrepreneur and souvenir shop owner, in Puerto Ayora and Baltra Airport, featuring beautiful, whimsical Galapagos-themed mementos), Me (obsessive wildlife photographer with over 40,000 photos of giant tortoises alone, and over 20 books to my name), Andrés Cadena (tour leader, travel agent and naturalist extraordinaire), Monica Reck (cutest, most charismatic naturalist guide in all of Galapagos).
NB: descriptions are obviously biased!
While the rest of the world is suffering new tragedies with the Delta variant of Covid, here in Galapagos there’s only been a few mild cases, thanks to over 90% of the islands’ population being vaccinated already several months ago. Nationwide, Ecuador is now moving to vaccinate everyone down to six years of age. So the four of us set out to celebrate, by simply having a fun tortoise day.
There are three main private ranches where tortoises wander freely, following their ancestral pathways into the highlands at this time of year (the cold season): El Chato, Las Primicias and El Manzanillo. How to decide which one we should visit?
“Oh what the heck, we’ll visit all three!”
As if we were all kids again, we laughed and we joked, goofed around in the mud, sat in the wet grass, and above all, slowed down our paces to the peacefulness of a tortoise’s day.
Here’s our little story in pictures.
“Man, they really ARE big!!”
“Which end do you think is the head?”
“I think I’ve got it!!”
“I’d like to be a tortoise!”
“Don’t you laugh at me!”
“That looks soooo comfortable!”
“I’ll give it a try!”
“Bloody self-timer… again!”
“Peak-a-boo” (that’s not a tortoise!)
“Do you think I could hypnotise him?”
“For Pete’s sake, Andrés, you and your darned selfies…!!!”
“Hmmm, who’s photographing who?”
“Forgot my eff@#%&*# tripod, again!”
“Always a good idea to save some for later!”
“Didn’t quite make it to the highway!”
“Hungry anyone? Fancy a Tortoise Burger?”
“Nah! Better a Tortoise Beer”
Time to get serious!
Since we’re all diehard naturalists, we took the opportunity to share and pool our collective knowledge and long years of experiences with these fascinating animals.
Andrés’ Giant Tortoise Tour is about to begin.
Monica will not only make you fall in love with tortoises, but also ensuring that all the rules are observed.
Andrés-the-tortoise-head enthralled us all with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Giant Tortoise Evolution, Ecology and Conservation, starting with the earliest fossil records of proto-tortoises 200 million years ago (yes, loooong before the first dinosaurs appeared), and ending with the conservation efforts that are aiming to restore all but one (extinct) of the 15 species of Galapagos tortoises known to exist.
You can book his a daylong
Giant Tortoise Tour [here].
And when all was said and done, we tumbled back down from the highlands to converge on our other Monica’s gift shop back in town to remember our lovely tortoise day out.
“My two Monicas” smile happily while trialing a set of delicately crafted silver tortoises designed by none other than my late mom, Jacqueline.
Galapagos travellers can visit Monica Gallo’s shops,
Maki Art in Puerto Ayora,
and Galeria del Mar at the Baltra Airport.
Hint: Stay tuned for a more serious giant tortoise blog coming soon
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