The Land of Fire
All the islands of the Galapagos are volcanoes, over millions of years one by one they have been born, erupting from the “hotspot” deep below the earths surface, exploding above the sea and forming islands. In Isabela’s case several volcanoes have joined together to form this large seahorse shaped island, the largest in the group.
Access to the National Park where the southern two volcanoes, Volcán Sierra Negra and Volcán Chico are located side by side can only be obtained by joining a guided tour so in company with Jeff and Katie off Mezzaluna we kitted ourselves out in our hiking and rain gear and headed off into the clouds with our tour guide. We were of course hoping for a clear day, but everyday the tops of the volcanoes had been shrouded in cloud and today was no exception, the best we could hope for was a break in the cover whilst up there.
We were enveloped by cloud and misty drizzle as we hiked up Volcán Sierra Negra, low lying hardy vegetation was as much as we could see, we reached the view point for the cauldron and were told by the guide that the morning before had afforded a clear view the 12 miles across the crater, but not now, oh well ~ maybe on our way back.
On To The Sunny Side?
We carried on and started our descent of the northern side of the crater towards Volcán Chico, this is an active volcano and has erupted a couple of times in the last 40 years (not today we were hoping) and it surely was a very interesting landscape, layer upon layer of lava just seem to sit on top of one an another, not fusing together ~ you could almost peel the layers off or at least chisel them away in sheets.
In many places the topmost layer had buckled upwards creating hollow tunnels below, there were all sorts of weird formations we have not seen previously and it all seemed so fragile, you could almost crumble the pieces of layer in your hands, large heavy looking rocks were actually light and almost filled with air, quite bizarre.
The clouds did clear in patches on the northern side of the volcano and while stopping for our lunch break we got to enjoy the vista right across the top of Isabela and over to Isla Fernandina to the northwest. This is the “newest” island in the chain, still sitting above the volcanic hotspot and very active with the latest eruption being only 6 weeks ago while we were in Panama.
On our return hike the clouds almost cleared for a peak across Sierra Negras crater but we really did need to use quite some imagination to picture just how amazing it might actually look!
Back to Sunny Sea Level
With our voyage into the interior ticked off the “To Do List”, the skippers were starting to focus on possible weather windows for our departure to the Marquesas.
Katie and I had other plans, wanting to delay the inevitable of going to sea for nearly 3 weeks as long as possible so we planned regular excursions ~ snorkelling, dinghy trips, hiking & bike hire ~ anything to divert the skippers attention from leaving!
The Wall of Tears
We hired bikes a couple of times and cycled the coastal path to the Wall of Tears. This stone wall was quarried and built by political prisoners in the late 1960’s when Isabela was a penal colony, it was built for no purpose here in the middle of nowhere except for the hard labour, heat and physical abuse inflicted on the prisoners.
The area it is located in is now a National Park and for the first time in the Galapagos we got to see tortoises truly in the wild. Many of the juveniles from the breeding centre get introduced here and spend their days lounging about, foraging for food or getting their photos taken, we came across 8 of them and they were all around 20 years old.
Back to the Birds
Also in the National Park are several wetlands where we saw herons, gallinules, stilts and the beautiful flamingos, the trees were alive with finches and mockingbirds, the coastal waters bubbling with feeding pelicans, herons and the ever present blue footed boobies.
We found a great spot through the mangroves and onto the rocks where a small inlet seemed to be a favoured dining location of both pelicans and boobies and we sat enthralled by these birds as they feasted on the unsuspecting fish below the surface. You can spend hours watching this display, we just never tired of watching them and appreciated the skill and precision they possessed, amazing.
While in this cove we also saw a first, sea lions that appeared to be doing handstands and flipping their tails up out of the water, tricky to catch by photo but you can almost see them.
Back by the town dock seemed to be a favourite hangout for the penguins. Maybe they enjoyed chasing all the boats, playing in the bubbles from the motors or just terrorizing snorkelling tourists as they approached head on at record speeds but this was their stomping ground vying for attention with sea lions and boobies. So at last we got to swim with penguins, or was that a flash of a penguin, boy do they go fast, they deserve the title of pocket rockets but thanks to Katie on
Mezzaluna we do have a photo of them swimming.
And so our time on Isabela was nearing an end, we were not permitted access to any of the other anchorages in the Galapagos, we had seen all we could. A farewell dinner was enjoyed ashore before Danish Blue left, Olé followed them several days later ~ it was just us and Mezzaluna left in this wildlife paradise.
The weather forecast was looking very favourable for the first 10 days of our crossing of 2,950 miles to the Marquesas, the most north eastern island group of French Polynesia.
We would finally be leaving behind the Spanish speaking world and any ties with the Americas. We would be stepping out across the vast Pacific Ocean, watching sunrise and sunset for days and days before making landfall in a tiny island in Polynesia.