Monday, June 22, 2015

Tortoises and caves on Rodrigues June 2015

Karen and Jason in our hard hats at the tortoise center.  We were going to explore the caves there, too, so had to wear the hats.
Aren't we just the fashion statement of the year?
We had to catch a bus across the island to get to the tortoise sanctuary.  This is one of the murals painted on the bus stop wall.
This huge spider was on the corner of the bus stop.  We later saw lots of these spiders and their huge webs strung across trees.  Their threads look golden in the sunlight, but I still don't like to get too close to spiders this big!
Some of the colorful buses at the bus station where we caught our ride.
The bus dropped us a long way from the tortoise center and we walked for about an hour to reach it.  Along the way, we saw custard apple tres and pomegranates in fruit.  Here is one of the pomegranate trees; a local picked four of them and gave them to us.
Sharp karst limestone formations along the walk into the center.
A mosaic tortoise at the entrance to the place.
Our first view of some small tortoises through a chain link fence.  They looked like little colorful bubbles and were so cute!
Each tortoise gets a number and a colored dot.  Some dots indicate the tortoise has been 'adopted' by someone and that someone will get regular updates on the growth and health of the tortoise.
Comin' at ya to get some stroking.  They like to have their necks and shells stroked.
The big one on the right is nearly 250 kg/ 500 lbs.  It is one of the biggest ones here.
Tortoise #1.  The oldest one here at 90 years of age.  The shell was damaged when he and his mate broke out of the compound one night and were hit by a truck.  Once damaged the shell stops growing.  
They stick their necks out and stand up on their toes when they get their throats stroked.
Two big ones together.
They can be messy eaters and this one had hay dangling out of its mouth.
Reaching out to pet the head.  Sometimes they retracted their heads at first, but when they realized you'd stroke them, they'd stick their necks out all the way to get more.
The tall skinny guy on the left if Jason.  You can see there are dozens of the tortoises wandering all over the place.  Our guide is the tiny lady in the blue hard hat and she indicated there are hundreds of them roaming around the compound.
A couple of the big tortoises drinking from a mud puddle.
Hey, wait for me!  I want some stroking, too!  This one came hurrying to me (relatively quickly for a giant tortoise, anyway) to get some attention.
Hello, can you please pet me?  Their skin looks and feels like leather
Does this remind anyone of ET?
All sizes roamed around the complex.
Some have the rounder shells and others have the lumpy shells with points on them.  There are two different breeds they keep here.
Can't you just feel the wind as this one strides as fast as he can?  In a hurry to get somewhere, I suppose.
Natural water holes from a dripping limestone overhangs above.
Sometimes they just feel lazy and sprawl out to rest.
Looking down the other side of the plateau we had to cross to get to the cave entrance.  More tortoises were over here, too.
The plant life at the top of the plateau.
Looking back down over the tortoise area where we'd just climbed from.  We walked up 54 stairs to get up here and sometimes a tortoise will make it up in a couple of hours.  If it makes it up the stairs, it can stay, but doesn't get food supplements anymore as they are expected to live off the foliage up here.
Jason was lucky he had his hard hat on as he climbed the stairs.  Some rocky limestone outcrops caught him head high.
Entry to the cave, the Grande Cavern.
We weren't allowed to take flash photos inside the cave, so I have to thank Kerstin for these shots.  I couldn't figure out how to turn off the flash on my camera fast enough to keep up, so just didn't take any photos.
Jason as we head into the cave.
Some stalactites inside.
This one reached almost to the ground.  The guide said they looked like the octopus drying on local's fences.
Cave formations
Some pretty formations and the guide had stories for each of them.  The White House, a crocodile, the Pope's hat, a little village, a giant cupcake, etc.
We had lights to show us the figures and formations of interest.
It's so nice that a private organization maintains this cave for tourists.

One of these is Jason; the other is a giant tortoise.  Can you tell the difference?
Smile, you're on Candid Camera!
Who me?  I didn't do it, really.
I'm still amazed at how close we could get to these wonderful creatures.  We wished we could've spent more time with them.
Bandy legs like a cowboy, eh?  The folds of leathery skin can almost be smoothed out when they stretch out their necks.
Our friend in yellow looked like a PlayStation toy in his yellow outfit and matching hard hat.
I'm coming to get more attention.
They really all did want to be petted.  Our guide said they even like their shells stroked.  How they could feel anything through that tough shell is beyond me.
Who needs wrinkle cream?  One frowns and the other one smiles.
We're all admiring the view back down the valley to where we just left the tortoises.  We hiked across this scrubby plateau to reach the caves and more tortoises.
The symmetry of the plants was quite stunning.
These cactus-like pandanus plants grew in a great spiral, one of Mother Nature's design feats.
The valley where the tortoises roam, looking back from the stairway to the plateau.  Lots of limestone nooks and crannies and little caves, as well as lime, pomegranate and acacia trees to provide shade for them.
This tortoise on the plateau has a GOS transponder on his shell so they can track his movements and locate him if necessary.  They do an inventory and keep track of the tortoises regularly.
The tortoise center is out in the middle of nowhere and we were pretty much a captive audience to get anything to eat.  Lunch was quite tasty and reasonably priced and Jason tried the curried octopus while I had a good old fashioned beef burger. The little sparrows and chickens flitted about looking for crumbs.  The sparrows would eat bread crumbs out of my hand.

The center also had a small museum attached, and after lunch we wandered through it before we left. This life-sized cast bronze statue is of the Saddleback Tortoise.  It was endemic to Rodrigues, but is now extinct.  That is why the center has brought in the two species from Mauritius or Madagascar and the Seychelles and are breeding and keeping them safe here.
An old wicker letter basket with leather edges.  They used to throw all incoming letters into the basket when they arrived from the ships and would distribute the letters from here.
A lone cow along the road into the center.
As we left, we took a shortcut through a field that adjoins the tortoise property.  We crossed the property to get to the airport fence so we could follow it back to a road to catch a bus back to port.
Hoofing it across the field, hoping we can find our way.
Heading down into the ravine between us and our destination.
Crossing the low spot in the ravine.  Just a little bit of water and we easily stepped across it.
The pink gate to get out.  It matches the pink gate we came through on the other side, so we know we are on the right path.
Finally, we reached the airport road and caught a bus back to Port Mathurin.
Another day, we hiked up above Port Mathurin to the big cross on the hilltop.  On the way, we saw some scraggly looking chicks like this one.
A view looking back towards town as we climbed the hillside.

The track here was clear, but sometimes we felt as if we were walking up someone's private driveway.  Sometimes we were!  But friendly folks always directed us onward in the right direction.

A view of the Rodrigues countryside from up on the hill.  This is looking westward.

Our group straggling up the track.

An unusual rock formation as we climbed.  The rock and columns looked smooth.

Another view of the country side from up on the hill.

Near the top of the hill we saw these cows and had to pass them to get to the cross on the top of the rocks.

Looking down on Port Mathurin.  You can see the big sports arena on the right.  The yachts are too far to see.  It was a good hike.

Heading down the other side, we figured we'd eventually reach the road that would take us back around to the port.  I think we're skirting someone's farm and fields here.  We had to back track a bit to follow a fence to continue on a path down.

Someone here grew okra and there were a few left to go to seed like this one.  Such a strange plant.

Part way down the road was this little religious shrine with a statue of Madonna and some candles and such inside it.  We had some cookies and a drink at the table and then carried on.

A nice border of bougainvillea along the road.