After acclimating to the Galápagos during the three days we spent on Santa Cruz Island, we booked a speed boat water taxi to the next island on our agenda, Isabela. The three hour boat ride sounded rather relaxing, but we experienced a drastically different adventure as the boat accelerated through choppy waves, forcing Lisa to immediately reach for her motion sickness pills. Before passing out on the boat, she shared her pills with a girl from Mexico City, and while Lisa slept, Ryan made some quality connections. Our travel partner had been living in Peru and volunteering with various organizations throughout the country. She shared with us an abundance of crucial travel recommendations and continues to inform our decisions. Another woman, originally from Poland but currently living in Orlando, shared a wealth of travel experience, including having road tripped across much of Africa, as well as a multitude of experience exploring South America.
Once ashore, we shared taxi into town with our new friends. We decided to check out a hostel overlooking the sea, which we heard about from a Isreali / Polish couple we met in Pasto, Ecuador, however, when we arrived, they had no vacancies. We followed the length of the coast back to through town in search of hotels in our price range. Just as we were losing hope, we stumbled upon a three story hotel undergoing some renovations. Contrary to our assessment, the construction was limited to a tiny part of the hotel, and Hotel Sandrita turned out to be one of the nicest places (as well as cheapest) we had seen in the Galápagos so far! We enjoyed a huge room with a mini fridge, cable tv, private bathroom, wifi, and an extraordinarily large kitchen available for our personal use.
Our first full day on the island started early, as we ate a quick granola and yogurt breakfast, and went to find a place where we could rent bikes to explore the island. We found a place that rented for the full day, and we set off to find the aptly named, Wall of Tears. Built after World War II by prisoners who were sent to island to become part of a penal colony, the groups’ sole task was to amass this giant wall brick by brick. The prisoners suffered terrible conditions and many died during the construction. The depressing and mundane wall was trumped by the abundance of nature we admired on our bike ride, including the huge tortoise that we encountered moseying along the side of the road.
After seeing the wall, we returned to the numerous sights we passed along the way. We explored an estuary that flowed out into the ocean, leading us to the point where fresh water mixed with salt water, and hosted hundreds of the legendary blue-footed boobies. We were in awe as we scrambled over the volcanic rock to try to get pictures of the birds that were on the top of our list of wildlife we wanted see in the Galápagos. We spent hours watching the uniquely decorated (and mannered) birds dive bomb the ocean waters in pursuit of fish, before taking their lead and returning to Puerto Villamil for lunch. We discovered a small house serving lunch in the volcanic pebbled adorned front yard. The beautiful owner served creole (African fusion) almuerzos, and we received huge portions of encabollado (sliced tuna fillets in a rich, complex, salty broth with onions, yuca and fried plantains) and lightly fried fillets of fish, complimented with fish eggs, salad, and juice for $6.
After lunch we hopped back on our bikes and headed to the tortoise reserve and lookout point. We arrived at the reserve just in time for a departing tour in English, which culminated with feeding time. There were various pens of differing species of tortoises, as well as a variety of ages, including 140 year old giant turtles and hatchlings being nurtured until the could be repatriated to one of the islands. When we had our fill of lethargic entertainment, we started our search for the lookout point, however, instead of finding what we were looking for, we discovered a quarry with various lagoons full of flamingos. Ignoring the signs that suggested we not proceed any closer, Ryan ran down into the quarry and snapped a few photos while Lisa stood guard. Reveling in our outstanding luck, we returned our bikes, and walked along the coast just in time to witness the sun languidly make its way below the horizon.
During our final day on Isabela, we decided to spend the say snorkeling in hopes of swimming with giant turtles. In the morning we rented our gear and walked to a small lagoon by the pier. On our way to the dock, we had to maneuver our way around a few lazy sea lions taking one of their many daily snoozes, as well as creep past marine iguanas violently bouncing their heads, poised to spit at us if we came too near. We immediately jumped in the water, eager to see what lagoon had to offer. Aside from it being Lisa’s first time snorkeling, we made are way along the length of the volcanic rock, before he goggles started to fog up. We decided to take a lunch break and exchange her goggles, and returned to the lagoon with renewed vigor, where we were rewarded an abundance of colorful fish, algae, coral, and even had the pleasure of being startled by a few marine iguanas. The freaky, alien-looking animals had faces resembling skeletons and swam with a creep consistent rhythm resembling marching soldiers.
We followed a group of locals who were making their way over a group of rocks towards another bay, even though their were signs (similar to the flamingo lagoons) saying “stop”. Since it became obvious nobody abides by these signs, we followed the group over volcanic rock that was so sharp we had to leave our flippers on to maneuver over them. After about 15 minutes of awkward, flailing, rarely balanced walking, we made it into the ocean, and almost immediately saw giant tortoises swimming below us. As Ryan dove down to try to catch a ride on one of their shells, Lisa saw a massive manta ray skimming across the ocean floor. There were more turtles than we could count, accompanied by huge fish with bright blue, pink, and yellow stripes, making our experience nearly indescribable.