Before we set out to find Galapagos tortoises in the Santa Cruz highlands, the Lindblad Endeavour has an extended lunch break planned that is surprisingly varied. One stop I did not anticipate: a visit to a still–what we Southern boys would call a moonshine still–and the option to sample its product.
Here’s how it happened. From Puerto Ayora, we drive for 30 minutes into the highlands and stop at an old sugar estate called El Trapiche, Spanish for sugar mill. A local Galapaguenos family still works the property, with an older gentleman and a younger man turning the sugar cane press when we arrive. A donkey, on the other hand, is tethered to a fence off to the side taking what is probably a rare opportunity to relax.
We are all invited to take a turn at the press and several fellow passengers step forward for what is fun for a few turns but would be a long harsh day for real. The long green sugar cane leaves roll through the
press with the sugar juice spilling into a pail for processing into large cubes of natural brown sugar sold in the sugar mill gift shop. As we will discover, some of that cane juice will be used for making hootch, English word for cheap whiskey. That was not for sale.
ins all the volatile oils, which give coffee its flavor. Heat–apparently produced through grinding–dissipates the volatile oils. (And that is the end of today’s informative lecture.)
From the coffee grinding demo we enter a small shed and find a still operating. Obviously distilling your own drinking alcohol isn’t illegal here–as it wasn’t in the U.S. for most of its history–and the elderly gentleman is more than willing to waste his alcohol by throwing it on the still and having it blaze briefly for us to take photos.
Then with some slices of cheese we dip into a bowl of sweet molasses, a by-product of processing sugar cane. Fittingly, the word molasses comes from a Portuguese word for “honey.” This stuff is delicious. Then, an Endeavour guide I’ve rarely seen quickly points out several small bottles of moonshine that he invites us tos ample. I’m one of the few interested. I went to graduate school in North Carolina where moonshine and grape juice was a favorite drink. This elixir has to be sampled straight without a mixer. Quite good. And, thankfully, not as potent as I feared.
From the sugar mill, we go to a restaurant named Altair and dine on freshly grilled chicken and, if anyone was interested, take a swim just outside the restaurant. Or relax in one of the too few hammocks behind the pool.
The final stop of our triple-header lunch break is at a place called Los Gemelos, the twins, which are two huge craters formed by the collapse of a magma chamber. The craters, on opposite sides of the Puerto Ayora-Baltra road, are quite impressive. They look more like meteor impact craters than
the results of some random ground collapse. The walk from crater to crater leads us through a cloud forest called a scalesia forest filled with epiphytes, ferns and orchids. This endangered ecosystem also supposedly is rich with birdlife such as Darwin’s finches including the woodpecker finch and the rare vermillion flycatcher.
Unfortunately, with the sun out for the first time all day, the forest and the branches are beautifully lighted. Maybe all that sun is bothering the birds because none of us–including our guides–can sight a single bird anywhere. The guides tell us this is unusual.
I can live with that. I just hope the sun will stay out for our next stop where we hope to find giant tortoises in the wild. No wild creature can be relied on to appear where or when you expect it.