For the weekend I headed to Isabella – the largest island in the archipelago and as it turned out, a rough two-hour ride in a water taxi to get to (of this was not helped by the unplanned mojitos the night before 🤪).
Getting the water taxi appeared to be organised chaos. Firstly you had to register with your captain as there are numerous boats all leaving around the same time and each has its little area near the wharf where it registers it passengers. Once registered you are given a lanyard with the boat’s name on it so people know what boat you are on.
Next, you wait amongst the masses (ideally with others on the same boat – normally around 20-25 people) until your boat is called for quarantine inspection which either consists of an officer giving your bag a cursory inspection, or lining the bags up on the wharf for sniffer dogs to walk over. The purpose of this is to maintain each individual island’s unique biological integrity.
From here we jumped on a small ‘shuttle’ boat that took us to our launch for the interisland journey.
As mentioned before, the journey was a rough one! I had hoped to take a nap but that was just not possible when you were constantly being slammed against the bench seats as they boat slammed over the swells. By the time we arrived I was very grateful I was not doing the return journey that same day as some people I got chatting too where. As always, upon arrival, sea lions were on hand to entertain us whilst we waited for the shuttle to take us to shore.👍🏻
Unfortuantely, there was a low fog over the island (which remained most of the time I was there) so could not see the active volcano.
I had booked a snorkelling trip to a spot called Los Tuneles, which meant just an hour after arriving, I was back on a boat for another 50 minutes smashing over the swells! For someone who does not really like the high seas I seem to be spending a fair amount of time in them these days 😬
The first of the firsts for the day was manta rays! I have never send them before and they were feeding close to the surface so could just see them – next time I see them I want to be in the water with them!
A little later we donned our wetsuits (short ones) and mask and snorkels and jumped in the water near the mangrove clad shore line. Initially the water was quite cold and the snorkel was a little dull as we weaved our way in and out of the rocky coves, shallow corals and the ‘tunnels’ formed by collapsed lava flows – but 2 hours 15 minutes later I was buzzing and it had turned in to the most EPIC snorkel ever. Firstly we saw massive turtles, many reef sharks and the usual assortment of fish.
We then moved in to more shallow water and here we were joined by a couple of endangered Galapagos penguins. They were more than happy to go about their business of catching their lunch right in front of our faces – literally, too close at some points for the camera! We watched them for about 10 minutes and it was incredible!
Some of the group decided to get out then as they were cold but we were still on the hunt for the illusive sea horses in the mangroves which I have never seen before – so just 4 of us continued the hunt. Along the way a sea lion joined us 😁👍🏻 swimming around and around, a couple of times right up to my camera – again just the most incredible experience.
Then we found the sea horse – much bigger than I had expected and well camouflaged in the tangled root system of the mangroves. It was also the first one I have ever seen in the wild which made it even more exciting.
After lunch on board we surfed the boat in through the reef to cruise quietly through the most amazing landscape of little lava islands, collapsed lava tunnels forming natural bridges and of course cactus – the water so clear we could see turtles gracefully cruising through the water …. it was incredible to think that more amazing places like this are being created as we were there (though we still could not see the volcano which is erupting)!
We then took a quick land excursion to see some of the blue footed boobies nesting in the area and to round of the already amazing day they were in full on mating mode and doing their famous boobie mating dance 😘. This started with the male showing off his blue feet by strutting from one side to the other and finishing off by pointing his head and bill up to the sky while raising his tail and wings (known as ‘sky pointing’ I think).
I cannot stress just how amazing this day – just when I think these wonderful islands have shown me the best they have to offer, they come up with something new to blow my mind.
After a quiet Saturday night, I hired a bike on Sunday morning and rode the 5-6 km trial out to the Wall of Tears which was built between 1946-1959 at the site that was the infamous Isabella Penitentiary Colony, back in the days when rather than tourists, the islands were a popular destination for political prisoners and ‘deliquents’. The wall is now described as a ‘futile construction’ which the prisoners were forced to build by hand out of the heavy volcanic rock for no other reason but to make them suffer!
From here it was a short hike up to a lookout point at what was an old US army radar installation (long since removed). From here you could see most of the south coast of the island but sadly still no erupting volcano!
The 5-6 km trail was dotted with numerous stops along the way, some planned and sign posted such as beautiful mangrove areas with crystal clean water, beaches covered in marine iguanas small and large. They were so well camouflaged against the rocks I almost did not see them until I was about to step on them – suddenly they all started moving and I saw the rocks were covered in them 👍🏻
Other stops were less planned such as giant tortoises on the side of the road and in some cases on the road causing somewhat of a road block 😂 and of course iguanas crossing the road. As I quietly rode around, I could not help thinking just how lucky I was to be here again in these truly special islands.
On the way back to town I took a short detour to a nearby lake to see flamingos – there were only 7-8 of them and they all appeared to be sleeping but they did move ever now and then – some of them were a beautiful deep pink colour – far more colourful than I had seen before.
Back to town to shower off the dust from the ride and before being picked up for the launch back to Santa Cruz. Seating on the launch was first in, first served – either outside where you had fresh air but a chance of getting very wet, or inside where it was stuffy and hot! I had got a prime spot on the way over just on the cusp of inside and out but was one of the last people to get on the return boat and ended up sitting inside which was not ideal.
To be honest I think the trip was a little better than the one over except for the fact that the engines keeping stopping leaving us rolling around in the swells 😬. It happened 5 or 6 times and I must admit I was a little concerned if we were going to make it 🤪 and it was really not clear what the issue was.
2-4 different launches run the same journey at the same time – perhaps for safety but of course the others had gone ahead of us given all our stops! Before too much worry set in we finally made it back to the safe haven of Puerto Ayora and were greeted by frolicking sea lions ❤️ they just can’t help but make you smile.