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  • Day54

    Galapagos - Isla Isabela

    February 26 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 84 °F

    Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabella

    We checked in our hotel in Puerto Villamil and I tried to start booking tours with the woman at the hotel. But she didn’t speak English and my Spanish wasn’t doing it for me. She and her sister wouldn’t slow down for us, so I said we’d think about their offers for tours. Just a few buildings away was a travel agency with a guy, Carlos, who spoke English. Within 20 minutes, we booked a tour to the Tuneles, the Volcano Sierra Negra, and we had 2 mountain bikes rented for that day. All of this was for $350 and the 2 tours included lunches and drinks.

    It's been a week since we've left the Galapagos as I write this. A lot of people wonder what a trip like this costs. We wanted to compare what someone living large on a yacht spends compared to us. When we came into port from a tour one day, I spotted a beautiful new yacht that hosted tours. I looked them up, and on average people are spending at least $1,000/night/person. Granted, that's much better food and you can see more of the islands, but not much more of the wildlife. We spent $3,000 total for 2 people for 11 nights and 12 days. That's about $136/person/night. And we had the flexibility of leaving when we wanted by buying 2 one-way tickets. All in all, we were super happy with what we did, but understand that few people have the time to do something like this. But you could also just show up one any of the Galapagos islands and DIY.

    Los Tuneles, or The Tunnels, are volcanic tunnels and arches and channels formed by molten lava that cooled and created really cool features on land and in the water. This makes for perfect homes for lots of fishes and sharks and the famed Blue Footed Boobies.  It’s like coral, except it’’s lava. The reason you go to the Galapagos is for this kind of tour. You can see lots of wildlife in 4-5 hours.

    The Sierra Negra is a volcano that erupts every 15 years or so lately. You get transportation up to it and hike for a few hours around it.  And the bikes were to just get around town to the beaches, snorkeling spots, and the Muro de Lagrimas, or Wall of Tears. That’s a wall built by prisoners on the island for absolutely no reason, other to torture prisoners and keep them busy. Many died building it when this island was a penal colony until 1959.

    We grabbed a quick set lunch for $10 which included a choice of seafood, a salad, a juice, fries, rice, and a dessert.  What, only 2 starches? Ecuador, you’re slipping. I used to get plantains with this kinda meal. All in all, it’s a great deal even if it’s $5 a few blocks in from the beach.

    The mountain bikes were in decent shape considering most roads here are sand. It has been 2 months since I rode a bike and I was in heaven with the heat, beaches on my left the whole way, and mangroves to my right most of the way.  After 4 miles, we came to the wall and took some photos. Behind and above it was a lookout where the US built and maintained a radar station until the 60’s. We didn’t see pink flamingos at the brackish pools we stopped at, but we’re all but guaranteed to see some here.

    The next morning we got an amazing breakfast at our place. I think we’re the only guests at our hotel. It’s not bad for $65 or so with a king bed, full breakfast, fridge, AC, and a view of the sea and pond from the room. At breakfast, we could see a lone pink flamingo in the brackish pond.  Fresh juice - check. Eggs - check. Coffee - check. Fresh fruit - check. Flamingo - check.

    Then it was off for our tour to Los Tuneles. We were fitted for mask, fins, snorkels, and wetsuits the day before and were set to go. We had fellow tourists from Annapolis, MD, Brasil, Croatia, and France.  Our speedboat went about 45 minutes up the coast to the lava formations and we spent a good hour in the water. 

    Wow!  What a jackpot. This is the place. It’s probably the spot where I’ve seen the most interesting marine species. And within 3 minutes of getting on the boat at the dock we saw a Stingray and a school of 20 or so blacktip sharks. Our guide Gabriel said he’d never seen a school of them there before so close to the dock.

    Here’s a list of what else I can remember we saw:

    - 4 large sea turtles, including one that was about 300 pounds and another couple that was having sex as we sped by. Now I’ve seen the giant land tortoises and sea turtles mating.  Happy turtles here!

    -Another Stingray

    - Three species of seahorses, about 5 in all.

    -8 or so large white tip reef sharks, including one that was about 2 meters. We got within a few feet of them. They hang out on the sand in 1 meter of water or so under shelves.

    -Rainbow fish

    -Sea lion pups - one of which played with us and swam around us for 10 minutes. The day before, I swam with one at a snorkel spot in town and he rubbed his whiskers on my leg and nibbled at my ankles like a puppy.

    -A chocolate chip starfish - I spotted this one and asked Gabriel to come over. It was shaped like a starfish but it looked like a plant. It was 2 shades of brown and had dark spots, so it looks like (and is named for) a chocolate chip cookie!

    -An absolutely adorable Galapagos Penguin.  One of the crew on the boat spotted him and made a call and the penguin responded and swam over. They continued to call to each other for a few minutes while we watched and filmed.

    -Various sea cucumbers and anemones.

    -Other schools of fish that I couldn’t name.

    Later, we went to a different spot with a lot more light and we saw more turtles and fish and another reef shark swimming.  After a quick lunch, we got on land and walked among the candelabra cacti on lava and found a few nesting boobies and we FINALLY got to see some blue feet. We’ve seen these guys flying and diving for fish, but you only see the blue feet when they’re on land and only if they’re older than 2 years. Yay! We saw all we wanted to see while on the Galapagos between this tour and the Kicker Rock tour on Isla Cristobal.

    The next day we took the land tour to the Volvano Sierra Negro. We drove about 20 minutes north in a pickup and joined a tour group waiting. It was a long hike that day, about 16 kilometers and thank god it wasn't hot and sunny the whole way. We would have baked. At about 1000 meters, it was cool and misty before noon. The mist burned off and we could see the caldera by the time we got to a viewpoint. It's not a huge volcano and it's not cone-shaped. It's kind of flat on top like many Hawaiin volcanos. It's been erupting every 15 years or so lately, but by erupting I mean kind of spilling some lava on the north side, away from the village. No evacuations have been necessary.

    It only got interesting after we hiked on to Volcano Chico, a missnamed spot which is actually a vent of Sierra Negra. We hiked on hard lava and could take photos of some interesting tunnel formations that were created when the outer shell of lava cooled and the molten lava inside kept flowing out. The vistas from up here were great too. We got a snack provided but we're glad we brought a lot of water with us, because the sun came out on the long walk back to the truck.

    On our last day, we're skipping any tours. We've seen all the wildlife we came to see, and more, so we're going to relax one of the many beaches nearby and wait for our 3 pm taxi back to Isla Santa Cruz where we'll spend one more night before flying back to Guayquil.

    After a few emails back and forth and a bit of research, we finally booked a Spanish school in Cuenca. We start on March 2nd. Unfortunately, we were a bit late in organizing a stay with a family and will stay in a hotel and try to do a homestay during our lessons. We're shooting for 2 weeks of 20 hours/week.

    All photos and vids are here.

    And since our guide took so many vids and photos, I'm putting most of them in a separate album here.
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