Galapagos – Isla Isabela
16 April 2018
Photo: Rock Iguanas
Just on daybreak we passed close by Isla Tortuga, a sinking volcano. Most of the crater rim remains above the water however it is slowly sinking and will eventually disappear below the waves. A wonderful site in the early morning sun.
On arrival at Puerto Villamil, Thursday 5th April, we were greeted by our agent’s representative, James Hinkle and 2 port officials. They came aboard and again checked all the safety gear, took photographs and asked multiple health related questions, once finished we were free to explore the island.
The anchorage has a designated snorkel and kayak area but you are not permitted without a park guide, it is for the tourists! The seals are also not as prevalent and we can use our dinghy to get to shore, the new dinghy dock did have a few seals on the steps but nothing like San Christobal. We have not seen one on the back of a boat in this anchorage. There is a one off US$10 fee to use the dinghy dock but walking into town you can see the improvements that are being made to the roads and infrastructure. James, our agent’s representative, told us that this is partly as a result of the dinghy dock fees.
It is about a 15min walk into town where we had drinks at the Booby Trap bar. Across the road on the beach, a rock wall and lava rocks had dozens of rock iguanas, all climbing over one another as they basked in the sun. Isabela is not as populated as San Christobal, but we were surprised at the number of hotels, hostels, cafes and bars. The majority of the main road is filled with Tour Agents offering the tours to the volcanos, snorkeling and bike riding. The remainder of the stores that are not cafes seem to be bike, paddle board and snorkel hires.
Saturday we went for a walk with Tracey and Megan, Raftkin, to the Arnaldo Tupiza Chamadian tortoise breeding centre. The centre is free to visit, we walked around looking at the amazing land tortoises and reading the story boards. We had heard a lot about the poisonous Manchineel tree in the Caribbean, it is a native of the Galapagos Islands and one of the few animals who can eat the apples from it are the land tortoises. The breeding centre releases the tortoises back into the wild when they are old enough to fend for themselves and their shells are hard enough to protect them from predators. The tortoises from each of the Galapagos Islands are unique to the island as they have evolved independently and it was interesting to see the differences in the shapes of their shells. From the breeding centre we walked 250m down the road to the nearby salt pond to look at the flamingos.
Monday was a big day. We were off the boat at 07:30 and along with Dave, Hailey - Raftkin, Peter, Lisa, Zenon, Mark and Ken - Pelizeno and Christian, Josie, Ella May and Taj – Shawnigan we hired bikes and set off to explore the island. We took taxis up to the volcano and then set off to cycle down, first stop Sucre’s cave. The road, or what passed for a road was loose metal with chips, a real challenge, especially on the downhill sections. Needless to say it was not long before Gail experienced gravel rash, no real harm done, back up and peddling to catch the others. Sucre’s Cave was formed from lava and the boys and children had a great time exploring, squeezing themselves through narrow paths to see how far they could get. Back on the bikes the road was a little easier, and it did not take long to reach the lookout, which gave a 360 degree view of the island and became the lunch stop. We then continued back down the hill on proper roads to the town for a welcome cold drink and ice cream. After the stop we then headed along the coast road trail, 7km to the Wall of Tears. Along the way we saw several wild land tortoises crossing the path or sitting along the side. They were more timid than the ones in the breeding centre and would hiss and pull their heads into their shell if you got too close. We wondered if that is where the expression “Pull your head in” comes from. It was great to see these large animals in their natural habitat. At the end of the trail was the Wall of Tears, a large dry stone wall built by prisoners from the Isabela Penitentiary Colony from 1946 – 59. The wall has no purpose and was a means of hard labour for the prisoners working in the searing heat. After the Wall of Tears it was back along the trail to the Iguana Bar for a welcome cold drink and a swim, where we were joined by Lucy, Xavier, Francis, Isabel and Katherine, La Cigale. The Iguana Bar has a slack line, which the kids thoroughly enjoyed walking along with assistance trying to outdo each other. The bikes were then returned and the day was finished off with pizza at a local restaurant before we all headed back to the boats for a well-earned night’s sleep.
Wednesday we had a walk around town, had dinner ashore with Tracey, Dave, Hayley and Megan, Raftkin, and spent time watching the pelicans feeding around the boats. The fish life in the anchorage is great and there are always fish of different sizes including dog fish and ones that look a bit like large mullet. We also watched the local supply boat unloading its cargo onto barges to take the goods ashore, including one new 4x4 car. Puerto Villamil is very shallow and any supply or larger ships have to anchor outside and use barges or small boats to get into the wharf.
It was time to leave Isabela for Santa Cruz, we contacted James, our agent, asking him if our exit Zarpe from Isabela could be ready for us to depart on Thursday morning.