Galapagos III – Isabela, the Quiet Treasure
We have spent a lovely few days here, we’ve been snorkelling with more turtles and sea lions, which just never gets old! Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see penguins too, but hopefully the Antarctica will resolve that yearning.
The main town in Isabela, Puerto Villamil, is definitely the most laidback we’ve been to in the Galapagos and it has a nice chilled out vibe to it.
The roads aren’t paved yet so are covered in sand, which definitely makes it feel like a holiday resort – albeit a quiet one, couple that with miles and miles of pristine beach that you can walk along together with hundreds of marine iguanas, albatross, pelicans and more. You get the picture.
We visited the Tortoise Breeding Centre, which was much better than the one on Santa Cruz. Very informative and lots of cute baby tortoises to see. It’s hard to believe that the giant tortoises start out that small. The breeding centre is necessary because on Isabela virtually no tortoises born in the wild survive, mainly due to introduced species like rats that came across on ships, goats and pigs that early settlers brought across for food. The breeding centre waits until the tortoise is large enough to survive on its own and then releases them into the wild. The tortoise usually will live to around 150 years old, it’s strange to think that those being born now will outlive their breeders, or that the large ones that we’ve seen may have been here when Darwin was!
Isabela is also home to some pink flamingos, to see them in the wild was simply stunning. We sat watching their graceful beings for quite a while and it was really relaxing, we were even lucky enough to see three flying, a real honour, but we weren’t quick enough on the draw to photograph them (well we did, but all you can see is three specks of pink in the distance…hardly substantive proof!).
The beach here doesn’t have lots of sealions, although you can go to the port to get your fill of these beautiful animals (I’m totally in love with them). I was quite glad for a change on the beach though, as sealions poop quite a lot so it was nice not trying to avoid that when walking (not to mention the smell!). The beach, does have however an enormous amount of iguanas, including baby ones, which are just so cute and frequently lying on top of each other to keep warm. We spent a time watching the babies run into the sea and throw themselves in, it was very funny and they swim so fast. Just another memory in the bank!
We have found the food cheaper on Isabela as all of the restaurants do a full meal for $7 or less. The only problem is that it gets very samey every lunch and dinner time particularly as pretty much every restaurant offers exactly the same. The Galapagos businesses definitely don’t have to abide by price fixing trading laws as the cost of everything is virtually the same everywhere (food, wetsuit/snorkel/bike rental, day trips). I am, unsurprisingly, craving a curry………..holding my hopes out for Lima or Cusco.
Our hostel, Gran Tortuga has been great, the best showers we’ve had so far and Juana is a lovely hostess, helping me with my Spanish as well as going out to find black tea for me!
My Spanish is coming along, although when looking to hire bikes we walked into 5 different cycle hire places to ask how much they charged. I was sure I had this question nailed…..”quanto es un velo para una dia”. Yup, I would have had it nailed if I had wanted to hire a veil. The first 4 giggled at me and only the 5th one told me that a bike is bicicleta. Mmmm, maybe I should check Google translate next time!
We used the bikes (hired from place 5) to cycle up to the Wall of Tears – a pretty tough going bike ride. Isabela was a penal colony until the late 1950s and was renowned for its cruelty to the prisioners. The Wall of Tears is a very high dry stone wall that the prisoners were forced to build as punishment, the wall has no benefit to anyone. As Greg and I arrived then in the scorching sun, you could only imagine how difficult it must have been for the prisoners, many of whom were political prisoners, so had done very little except offend those in power.
Another day, we went to Concha de Perla for snorkelling and got trapped by some sealions blocking the path who were determined that we weren’t allowed to go anywhere, they kept spreading themselves out across the path. After some time, with Greg and I in fits of giggles, we were joined by a group of Americas, one of whom (clearly showing off to the girls in the group) decided to climb the handrail to get past only to be aggressively barked at by another sealion, he obviously hadn’t banked on that and looked frightened and almost fell off into the water. By this time another group joined us, this time Europeans. So there we stood, around 15 of us, looking and laughing at the sealions but ultimately wondering how long we were going to be stuck. Then up walks a Galapageon, he told the sealions to move, which they did and sauntered on through. This made it even funnier, Greg and I had been there a good 15 minutes at this stage. We all ran past in the newly made space, which was quickly closed up behind us. Sealions are just the business.
We were in Isabela during Halloween and it was amazingly widely celebrated. We spent the evening at Le Faro where they had live music, live body painting and all of the staff had face paintings done. They had gone to a lot of effort with their decorations as had a few other beach bars, including BJs. It was really good fun to experience. Halloween has not been something British people historically really celebrate, but it is getting more popular as I guess Britain becomes more Americanised. Here they definitely love it.
BJ’s all ready for Halloween
Isabela is a lovely island and we have created great memories here. I think, given the amount of building work going on, it will soon be like Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz, which is sad. There is an issue with the Galapagos surviving on tourist dollars, but those same tourists are destroying the landscape and natural habitat. The Ecuadorian government has some work to do in order to save this unique and precious land.
We have the boat journey back to Santa Cruz (I can’t wait), then flight to Quito where we will spend the night before flying to Lima for a few days. We are looking forward to a change of scenery and particularly the food scene for which Lima is known.