Think Bali from the 70’s or 80’s. Think north Queensland seaside towns from the 50’s or 60’s and you start to get a feel for Isabela.
The buildings are quite different and there are plenty of eating venues, but there’s something pretty nice about strolling down a sandy road in the shorts and t shirt you’ve been wearing for days greeting fellow passers by with a friendly Hola.
The powerful motors of the launch from Santa Cruz to Isabela push us through the largely calm waters. I get an optical illusion from my side on view sitting toward the back of the small boat that the horizon is greatly diminished in distance. As the swell builds a little we almost appear to be below the water line. There are about 18 of us and no one can speak above the engine throb. In spite of that it is a relatively meditative experience and in less than 2 hours we arrive at Puerto Villamil, Isabela.
To enter the Galapagos there is a tax to pay on the mainland departure point and another on arrival. Don’t lose the bits of paper. With every move into and between islands, luggage is checked to ensure we are not transporting any foreign material. Bags are secured with a plastic zip tie; then there will probably be a customs dog on arrival as well. Allow plenty of time for this procedure.
La Jungla hostal is right at the end of the main road, so handy for the flamingo experience. The first floor room looks straight out onto the beach and we sleep to the sound of surf.
Flamingos had to be first cab off the rank for me. A series of water holes, obviously the perfect environment, delivered the flamingos in spades. We counted 27 and went camera crazy.
Amazing birds and so totally picturesque.
You have no idea how loud the munching can be from scores of baby tortoises feasting on tuberous leafy material at the tortoise breeding centre. Then it is a bit like the Dodgem cars in slow motion as the giant adults cross paths and their carapaces crash resoundingly against each other. Already we realise we should have been here for a couple more days. We opt for the Tintoreras trip.
Just a short cruise out from the port but before we even leave, there are rays, Golden Ray, Spotted Eagle Rays and they are everywhere.
It’s a little early for penguins apparently, but we are lucky and see some. Amazing so close to the equator. They are small, just a bit bigger than the fairy penguins we see in Australia.
Blue footed boobies is definitely a winning sight.
A hike across the lava past yet more marine iguana to the channel where the white tipped reef sharks come to rest. The white tips match the white tipped lava (from bird droppings) and that is how Tintoreras got its name.
We get good views of many sharks cruising up and down in the narrow channel.
The snorkelling highlight is definitely the massive marine turtle feeding on sea grasses right below. Brilliant.
The excursion to the Wall of Tears can take 4 to 5 hours on foot depending on how long you linger at the various beaches or scenic spots along the way. We still decide to do it that way rather than bicycle. Amazingly some people seem to be doing it without water, or hats. It is hot, I have sunburn blisters down one shin when I get back. We get the tip to be at the beach spots at low tide to wander in the rockpools. A totally fearless amazing looking bird suddenly appeared beside us in the mangroves. A Night Heron. Another lucky sighting I think as they hide during the day, out and about at night. Extraordinary.
A little burst of merengue is called for as we cross the Merengue bridge. None of that larking about on the return journey, just a stop to enjoy the sea breeze.
A giant land tortoise appears as if on cue as we reach the Camino de Las Tortugas. Nice to see them in the wild.
The Wall of Tears is sobering when we finally reach it. Appears totally purposeless except as a cruel punishment.
We wake to blustery wind, rain and lots of cloud. Great day for flying! Amazingly though it changes within a couple of hours to one of our most stunning days yet. Hopefully the flight to San Cristobal on our little Emetebe plane will be magical and worth the big bucks it cost.
It truly is a day of rest on Isabela on Sunday. Only the tour companies and a few cafes open. We have had nice breakfasts at La Jungla, egg, juice, coffee and in my case humita in lieu of toast. Yum. Thanks to Sandra for the gluten free option.
We had 3 tips on arrival for restaurants, Cesar, Isabela Grill and Faro. All good and they went up the scale in that order. Last night was local pork with tasty stir fried veggies, chips with the skin still on the spud and the most delicious fresh passionfruit juice. How many passionfruit must that take and where are the seeds? Have had lots of tuna or albacore, chicken, pork, salads and nice light rice along the way. Also enjoying the quinoa meals.
A 10 seater Emetebe plane sits on the tarmac when we arrive to an absolutely deserted airport. Eventually the Customs baggage check man arrives and we move from one deserted giant room to a smaller deserted waiting room.
All luggage is weighed when the Emetebe chica arrives and in spite of our incredibly thrifty packing with backpacks around the allowed 11kgs, our hand luggage spins us up to US$35 excess.
Very cruisy flight though, worth the cost, saving a night and 4 or 5 more hours in a two island launch transfer. The pilots were very laid back, giving us a reassuring thumbs up at the end of the runway before takeoff.
The day is sparkling and we get great views. A second Emetebe plane appears beside us to give their passengers and us great photo opportunities from every possible angle. Even the copilot takes a snap. He then takes a short nap and wakes to take a selfie of himself and the pilot.
Do try to sit behind the pilot or in the back row if you want photos. Get in early and ask the Emetebe person who weighs the bags.
With such a limited time on San Cristobal, we dump our gear at Casa de Laura and head on out to organise our activity for the next day. Two key goals, Kicker Rock and Punta Pitt. We choose the all day 360 trip that does both these and more on a circumnavigation of the island. US$140 and if you smile, they cut it back to US$130. It includes snorkelling gear, wet suits (no thanks), snacks of bananas, pan au chocolat, fruit, drinks and a very substantial lunch of marinara rice plus salad.
Timing is perfect for a sunset experience on Playa Mann. Sea Lions are there in abundance as are people, but it is pleasant and not overcrowded. It reminds me of Mindil Beach in Darwin where the beach sunsets are the thing. Swimmers enjoy the water, scattering as a sea lion comes close. San Cristobal is to sea lions what Isabela is to marine iguana – they are inescapable.
We observe an amazing sea lion interaction. A pup is suckling on the sand. A very large male appears, nuzzles the mum and off she goes with him to frolic in the shallows. Pup is distraught crying up and down the beach checking out everything in sight, including my leg looking for mum. Not too long, she returns and all is well again.
The sunset is fabulous.
Sunset viewing means we have missed the cocktail happy hour experience. Hard to miss really as it goes from 10am to 6pm! We hustle the next day to make it by 5.30 after the 360 tour and enjoy our best trip mojitos yet. Super strong.
A 7.30 start for our day out and 9 of us plus the guide and the captain head out on the launch. As we approach Kicker Rock a big pod of possibly Bottle Nosed Dolphins give us a fabulous acrobatic display.
Kicker Rock is massive when you get up close.
We don the snorkelling gear and jump in. The very first thing I see is two Hammerhead sharks. That’s a big Yow! for an Australian but I manage to keep breathing and not inhale water. We knew this was on the cards, but quite another thing to be floating right above them! We see a couple more Hammerheads but so many more of the Galapagos sharks. Looked like 100 or more to me but the guide says 40. Maybe just my eyes popping out of my head. Hundreds of fish though. We snorkelled for maybe an hour.
Cruise around Punta Pitt to observe the birds. I get my wish and see Red Footed Booby plus a fledgling in the nest. More Blue Footed and Nazca Booby as well.
The beach stops are fabulous. There is no coral here but some of those beaches rival our finest on the Great Barrier Reef and we have them to ourselves.
Two more snorkels and we head back with another dolphin exhibition on the way back to port. This time I think it was the Common Dolphin.
Time on our last day to visit the interpretation centre. Informative with an excellent historical perspective – definitely well worth visiting.
So wraps up a magical 10 days in the Galapagos. If I was starting again knowing what I know now, I would definitely allow more tIme. No regrets…
Three weeks into the thirteen that we have for this trip. Now for some more mainland Ecuador for a couple of weeks.