Isabela was the island most hyped by all the people I have spoken to and gotten tips from about visiting the Galápagos, hence my decision to spend the majority of my time here with 4 nights and 3 full days in total
. Having travelled by speedboat from San Cristobal through Santa Cruz (more to follow on the giant tortoise adventure in the highlands!!) I then went on to Isabela on possibly the roughest sea journey I have ever done - I spent more time in the air than on the seat and arrived with a very bruised bottom!! The boats were met by many people representing the hostels and I found a room (with private bathroom, hot water and wifi no less!!) in a place called Coral Blanco which was just opposite the beach and only a short walk away from a Laguna with flamingos. Arriving at around 5pm, I was just in time to walk to the Laguna and then back to the beach to watch the sun going down - probably the nicest sunset I have seen so far on my trip.
There were 3 destinations I wanted to see on Isabela and decided to spread them out over the 3 days I had. First up was an afternoon trip to Las Tintoreras, a series of small islands a very short boat ride from the marina. I had spent the morning walking around the lagunas and along the beach, and had returned a little burnt despite the cloud cover so opted to squeeze myself into a wetsuit before heading off to the marina. The trip started with a short boat ride where we spotted some Galápagos penguins preening themselves on a rock - very small and super cute, but then I have a bit of soft spot for penguins :-) There were also a number of blue footed and Nazca boobies around as well as some frigates
. Next we landed and walked around one of the islands , where we came first of all to the marine iguana 'kindergarten' where the iguana children were literally all over the paths and rocks. They seem to like lying in large piles which may be a protection device from predators, and then scrambling over each other when moving to different locations. They weren't particularly bothered by us as we stepped over them as we made our way along the path. Alongside the kindergarten was a shallow channel, the favoured basking spot for las tintoreras (white tipped sharks) hence the name of the islands. At first we only saw a couple lazily swimming by, but the main group was at the end of the channel - just a mass of white tips visible underneath the water surface!! I'm not sure the 'no snorkelling' sign was required!! There were many more iguanas as we moved around the island, although the number of babies decreased and no of adults increased. The male iguanas in particular are impressively coloured and quite, quite large, and also always surrounded by their harems. They spend a great amount of time clearing their nostrils of the salt which gathers whilst they are swimming and eating the algae in the sea. You can see diagonal sprays of snot in front of their faces when they are lying sleeping on the rocks or path. The guide offered to take a photo of me standing by a huge male who was lying on a rock. The slight look of fear is less to do with the proximity of his mouth to me (I'm definitely not as tasty as the sea algae!) but instead, the ability to spray snot a much further distance, and fearing I would end up covered in it!
! We also came across a sea lion colony on the north of the islands. More pups (so cute!) but this time lying basking with the iguanas. Obviously good neighbours to each other!!
Snorkelling was the last part of the trip, and although only short I was thankful for the wetsuit. The visibility wasn't great due to the cloudy weather and turbulent sea. Nevertheless, I did manage to spot a ray buried in the sand in the bottom of the ocean and lots of colourful fishes. There were sea lions swimming near the rocks and I got as close as I could before being scared off by the barks. The fear of coming face to face with the sea lion 'beach master' meant I swam back to the boat as fast as my flippers would let me!! On arrival back at the marina, there was a very large mantaray gliding between the boats, on the shore the obligatory colony of sea lions fast asleep on the small beach area, and of course a number of pelicans who were diving into the water for their evening meal.
Next day, an early start to hike the 16km return trip along Volcán Sierra Negra and on to Volcán Chico. It was initially very cloudy and misty, but as soon as we had done the first part of the hike the weather cleared and remained sunny (and hot!) for the majority of the walk
. Volcán Sierra Negra has the second largest crater in the world (the guide couldn't tell us which was the biggest so perhaps this is...?) and it wasn't possible to see the other side as we walked along the trail. The last eruption was in 2005 (I think - there were a lot of dates being given in the Spanish explanation) and still clearly visible as a charred black area to the north of the crater with very obvious hardened streams of lava. Volcán Chico was a very different walk as the path led right over the volcanic rock and lava. Endemic cactuses grow along most of the route, until you come to one part where the volcano last erupted in 1979. Nothing at all was growing here, the landscape instead charred black with amazing 'rivers of lava' carved into it. It was like walking over some sort of moon or planet landscape... I walked back most of the way with Giorgio, an Italian who has lived and worked in South America for the last 25 years. About 1.5 hours solidly talking Spanish... The islands are very small and so the next 3 days were spent talking more Spanish than English as we kept meeting on the trips, boats and in the restaurants!! Very good practice, although at 5.30am it is hard even to form English sentences, never mind Spanish...!!
My final destination to visit on Isabela was Los Tuneles, another snorkelling and swimming trip reached by boat from Puerto Vilamil
. It's only a small water taxi which makes the 30min journey and the entrance to the first area we visited was interesting to say the least!! The captain had to time it perfectly with the incoming waves to ensure that we found a clear passage and didn't end up smashing into the rocks on either side. Only possible if you have grown up navigating and knowing these waters I think! The rocks provide great protection to the inner pools and the beautiful blue, calm water allowed us to see lots of marine life, even from up on the boat. Turtles were gliding around us as we floated through, and loads of fish were darting backwards and forwards. A walk over the volcanic rocks allowed us to see more turtles in the smaller pools and nesting boobies, before we got back in the boat and went to our snorkelling destination.
One of the biggest draws for this trip is the opportunity to snorkel with different type of sharks (white tips and hammerheads) and turtles. Our starting point turned out to be what looked like a very small pool, impossibly shallow for sharks to swim...but sure enough as we stood with flippers and snorkels ready to enter the water first one, and then three more white tipped sharks glided past. With a bit of a gulp - and urged on by our guide - we all got into the pool and started moving slowly through. I managed to catch a glimpse of them swimming through the centre but unfortunately one idiot in the group (there's always one...!!) thought it would be clever to chase them and they retreated into their rock hideaway and that was the last we saw of them
. Again, the visibility wasn't great due to the weather and I didn't see anything other than fishes. Another time and place to swim with hammerhead sharks, although in all honesty I'm not sure how happy I'd have been if one really had materialised in front of me...!!
On the journey back there were lots of manta rays swimming on the surface, easily spotted by the tell tale 'v'and the curling tips of their body which stick up out of the water as they glide along. Some even flipped over and up, crashing back down into the water. There were also numerous turtles swimming lazily on the surface, perhaps too lazily as they didn't seem to be able to move out of the way of the boat fast enough and there were atleast 2 loud clunks as the bottom of the boat hit their shells. I just hope only their shells and no more serious damage...
My last afternoon on Isabela was spent back at the lagunas trying to take a photo of me with the comedy glasses and the flamingos in the background so I could send it back to RPA. This was surprisingly hard as they were much too far away from where I was!! I also took far more photos of them than I really needed, but the colours were just too pretty in the afternoon sun :-). I then saw another spectacular sunset from Iguana Point, along with a couple of iguanas and a pelican for company.
A beautiful island and one well worth the time I spent there...!!
...I kid you not, these are honestly required on the one road on Isabela!! When I first arrived, I saw the signs and then the large thick rope secured to the road where the marine iguana colonies straddle the road which runs adjacent to the beach. At this point in time there was no evidence of any iguanas...but the following morning it was a completely different story!! I must have hit rush hour for basking in the morning sun as there were a large number waiting to go from the shaded Laguna across to the volcanic rocks on the beach. This was no mass movement though. Each just sat patiently waiting their turn and seemed to go when the one in front was pretty much half way over. They don't move that fast so any vehicle coming across this may have had a bit of a wait for the stream of iguanas to make their way across. Hilarious to see, and I guess shows the importance placed on protecting the animals over inconveniencing people.