I could hardly believe my luck stumbling across one of the animal kingdom's great treasures on a morning run. Yet as I continued, I passed several more dome-shaped boulders that hissed as I passed. It did, however, take some time before I saw one with a head and legs outside of its shell. You see, despite the Darth Vader-esque vocals, imposing body armour and leathery scales worthy of a dinosaur, these gentle giants are shy, bashful creatures - they shrink into their shell with a hiss the moment you venture too close. It goes without saying that they are a huge upgrade from the feral dogs that stalked my running route on the mainland!
It turns out that my current home in the highlands on Galapagos's Santa Cruz is just a few roads up from the Giant Tortoise Reserve and, as its residents roam freely in the surrounding fields, I have got used to seeing these endearing beasts going about their business day to day. In fact, they are often pottering around by the stables every morning - frighteningly unaware of the damage that could be inflicted by the back legs of a disgruntled horse.
The giants in the highlands are just the start of the wealth of wildlife living here. Thirteen miles away in Puerto Ayora, the island's main coastal town, you can't walk more than a few paces without seeing something photo-worthy. Marine iguanas (that, to me, seem wildly incongruous with the ocean vista) sit poised and proud on the pier, impervious to the paparazzi of tourists anxiously snapping their photo. Sea lions lounge on the decks by the boats, comfortable and carefree, their whiskers twitching as they snooze. Bright, red-yellow crabs - Sally Lightfoots - scuttle up vertical walls; hoards of Pelicans boldly harass the fishmongers as they gut that day's catch; and elegant, red-breasted Frigates soar across the sky. Put simply, it's hard to know where to look!
On another note, last year's drought has made fruit, veg and water prized commodities on the island - never has being a vegetarian been so expensive! It also means running water at the house is limited and somewhat temperamental. Lowering buckets into the water tank as if it were a well and stockpiling it in basins for a cold shower has become a laborious chore. But, given that when the shower does work, it's a pathetic dribble from a hose that hangs at knee height, it's a job well worth doing.
Even so, all this seems like a fair exchange for living on 'The Enchanted Isles' - cockroaches and gecko poo included. I've been captivated by this carefully conserved haven from the word go. For the first time, the horses have taken a back seat in favour of everything else there is to see!