Translated, ‘Isabela’ means ‘beautiful island’ – and how true it is!
Sea horse shaped, it lies 90 nm from San Cristobal, and for us an overnight passage. Having left an anchorage cheek by jowl with over 40 other yachts, we were relieved to find that Pacific Bliss and Pipistrelle were the only two yachts in the bay of Puerto Villamil. The anchorage is fringed by volcanic rock, and getting ashore by dinghy involves navigating through yet more rock only a few feet below the surface. At low water it is a real hazard, as the channel is unmarked! But what an idyllic spot – this is why we came to the Galapagos!
The agent, a friend of Bolivar’s is a delightful man called J.C. an ex airline pilot who worked in America, and has retired to Isabela. He took us to the Port Captain’s office, where the formalities were dealt with fairly quickly and easily, and then over a drink helped us with details of who we needed to contact to see specific sights and to get all important fuel. After San Cristobal it was a pleasant change to be in calm, clear turquoise waters again with the occasional sea lion or fur seal taking interest and swimming around the boat rather than taking up residence! Turtles, rays, penguins are regular visitors and provide superb ‘Kodak moments’.
Our first foray was an easy one to The Wall of Tears, 8 km along the coast. This is a wall that criminals were forced to build out of volcanic rock to keep them busy, when there was a penal colony on the island between 1946 and 1959. It is about 300 ft long, has a base about 25 ft wide, and is about 30 ft high. It served no purpose, and the weak died, the strong cried.
Not a pleasant sight, and yet another example of inhumanity in today’s world. The journey was worthwhile too because of the considerable number of giant tortoises we came across along the track living in the wild, the finches that were numerous, and the fabulous views from the vantage point above the Wall.
Day 2 – Los Tintoreras
Day 2 found us joining a boat operated by Manuel who came to collect us, and took us on a tour of the rocky islets that surround the anchorage – the Tintoreras. Here we found cute Galapagos penguins standing to attention on rocks as we motored slowly by only a few feet away.
We then landed and witnessed large numbers of marine iguanas that reach ages of up to 50. They are true reptiles that can clearly be associated with pre-historic times. In a channel just below the footpath white tipped sharks (or ‘tintoreras’ in Spanish) swam effortlessly. These sharks only hunt for other fish at night, and locate them by electro-magnetic pulses, or so the information boards told us! The marine iguanas lay 5 eggs that are buried in a hole they dig in the coral sand on top of the rocks. The eggs hatch after 100 days. Consequently we had to stick to the footpath, and avoid anything that might be an iguana nest! As we walked around the island, there were iguanas all around us. Having got the impression from the BBC DVD that these reptiles were only to be found on the other side of the island, we were delighted to see them as they are quite extraordinary, and also grow to a fair size. They feed on algae they find at considerable depths on the reefs. An iguana can remain under water for up to 15 minutes, and during this time has to eat enough to satisfy its needs. On returning to land, it has to avoid sea lions, for which it is a plaything, and on land the Galapagos hawk!
Day 3 – The Lava Tunnels
We were collected by Fabricio and his co-driver, and shared the launch with Colin, Liz & family from Pacific Bliss for a long run up the coast to the lava tunnels. We weren’t sure what to expect, and it all came as a big surprise. The 25 ft open launch is powered by 2 x 75 HP Yamaha outboards, and once up on the plane we were doing about 30 knots. After about 20 minutes we slowed almost to a stop, and came alongside manta rays, with a wing span of about 7 – 8 ft. They swim or glide a few inches under the surface, and having identified them once, we got into manta-ray-spotting mode and saw dozens, an amazing sight .
The next stop was Junior Rock towering 40 ft above the surface, home to Masked or Nazca Boobies, and a few sea lions for good measure!
After a total of 30 – 40 minutes, we slowed to enable Fabricio to take stock of his position, and the way through the surf ahead of us. He then picked a wave, which we rode through the reefs in front of us, weaving through treacherous rocks that would have wrecked the engines, if not the launch. It was skillfully done, and eventually we were in the tranquil calm of another world. A congratulatory clap was in order.
And what a world! Cactus growing from lava outcrops, crystal clear water, turtles swimming alone in their own private pool until we arrived and watched them with the engines silent. We maneuvered back through this amazing scenery and moored to enable us to walk and watch. At one point there was a manta ray, a sea lion, a turtle and a white tipped shark all swimming within sight of each other and of us, remarkable! We then went snorkelling, and were shown sea horses hanging on to mangrove branches and white tipped sharks in one of the lava tunnels. After lunch and another snorkel, it was time to make tracks for home, past yet more manta rays.
All in all an amazing day – for kids and grown ups!
Day 4 – Into the Deep
This was a diving excursion at Isla Tortuga, about 7 nm from our anchorage. Because of the Humboldt Current, the water is cold, so it was full wetsuits including boots, and a test dive in our anchorage to ensure we had the correct weight. That done, we were off and then descended very close to the island for a drift dive with the current, with the dive boat floating above us. Many of the fish are totally different from the Caribbean fish, others are related. We saw a vast shoal of jacks, the like of which we have only seen on films in the past. There were so many fish it was impossible to see any light through the shoal.
We also saw Pacific Green Turtles, manta rays, and on the second dive Colin and Liz were lucky enough to see hammerhead sharks.
But it was also a voyage of discovery above the waterline. Male frigate birds sat on rocks with their swollen red throats attempting to attract and court females. We saw our first ever white tropic birds wheeling gracefully and displaying their long thin tails, not to mention hundreds of petrels and Galapagos golandrinas.
Another marvellous and exhilarating experience.
Day 5 – Volcanic activity
A visit to the volcanoes came highly recommended, and after a very early start by taxi with our National Park guide Julio, along with Heidi and Stephen from Narama, we were met at a hill station by a farmer with 6 horses.
Julio in the lead with the farmer bringing up the rear and encouraging our steeds we walked and trotted for 8 km to the rim of Volcan Sierra Negra, the 2nd largest crater in the world. It is 10 km in diameter and after the last eruption in 2005 has left a dark layer of lava like a black lake across its surface.
We dismounted, left the horses to graze and preceded on foot to another area of the most recent eruptions, with several mini volcanoes – Vulcan Chico. Here we were transported to a lunar like landscape saw lava tunnels, and large holes through which the volcano had erupted. The views were magnificent, with a panorama of all the nearby islands including Santa Cruz some 50 miles away. We could see the lava flow reaching as far as Elizabeth Bay, 15 – 20km distant. The only vegetation was the candelabra cactus which grows half a centimetre each year, and a few other small succulents.
Finally we arranging for our exit papers to be prepared enabling us to leave for Santa Cruz on Tuesday 5th April, our third and final island stop in this beautiful archipelago.
Postscript: This blog has been completed in the lovely relaxed surroundings of the Hotel Albemarle with its beachside view and Pipistrelle in sight. Run by a charming Englishman called Max and his wife Diana, we have enjoyed morning coffee and a great lunch while loading the articles. We can thoroughly recommend this idyllic retreat so have a look at the site on www.hotelalbemarle.com or contact Max at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you are interested in this article, see also the following posts about Pipistrelle in The Galapagos: