Galapagos Part 2 – Halfway Point

We’re just past the halfway point of our Galapagos Adventure, and so far it has been amazing. We’ve seen hundreds of marine iguanas, we swam with sea lions and sea turtles, and we walked with giant tortoises. Since the wild animals here were the main draw of us coming, I’d say we feel like we’re getting our money’s worth.

Marine iguana close up. This one was lying right in the middle of a stone pathway. It didn’t seem to mind us stepping over it.

The majority of our time so far has been spent on the island of Santa Cruz, which is the most populated of the four islands that are inhabited. We visited the Charles Darwin Research Station (free), which breed giant tortoises and have pens full of one and two-year-olds that are about the size of the palm of your hand. Needless to say, they were adorable. This was also the only place where we have seen land iguanas so far (in captivity)… we’ve heard that we can see them in the wild on San Cristobal island, and that they’re even bigger than the marine iguanas, so that’s something to look forward to. The beach next to the Station (Playa ECD), is also a good place to view young marine iguanas (at least in June), but it might be necessary to walk along the rocky coast a ways to find them.

Babies! These guys were 3 to 6 years old, and were being trained to climb rocks, etc. before they were let out into the wild.

We had been thinking of renting bikes ($15 per person, per day) and paying for a taxi to take them back up the road towards the airport to the town of Santa Rosa. We could then ride them back downhill to see some of the sights along the way, but we were dissuaded by Taero, a lovely man who we met on the plane ride over. We saw him again randomly on the sidewalk, and after chatting about our plans, he told us that for only $35, we could rent a taxi to take us to all those places on the road, and we wouldn’t have to pay for the bike rental and the taxi on top of it. Since that morning dawned rainy and wet, it turned out to be a good plan since we wouldn’t be hurtling down slick dirt roads on questionable rental bikes.

Marine iguanas at Playa ECD. Snuggle closer!

Los Gemelos, large lava sinkholes in the center of the island, were quite awe-inspiring. They’re formed when magma chambers become empty and the ground above collapses, but they were gigantic and in the foggy, misty climate of the highlands, they felt very mythical. El Chato Tortoise Reserve, where giant tortoises roam wild, was so fascinating that we spent about an hour there getting absolutely soaked in the pouring rain, following and stalking giant tortoises around the reserve. When we accidentally got too close to them, they would sink back into their shells with a low, hissing sound, so we were always careful to stay out of their territory. When all you can see is a turtle shell, it’s not very interesting. Our patient taxi driver then finally took us to El Mirador, a tunnel that was formed by molten lava hardening above a still-running stream of it. Once the stream runs out, the tunnel remains.

One of Los Gemelos. It’d be fascinating to go down into one, but probably very wet.

We tried our luck again at Tortuga Bay (free), but alas, the water at Playa Mansa was still very obscure. I don’t know about you, but not being able to see anything when you’re snorkeling is not only a let-down, but it’s also a bit nerve-wracking–what could be down there?? Still, we caught the tide at the right time for hanging out in a protected lagoon of the bay where marine iguanas go in and out of the sea, so I got to try out my new, somewhat doubtful waterproof case for my iPod Touch, and got some fun videos of the black lizards swimming gracefully in the water, and then plodding very ungracefully on land. Las Grietas ($0.60 water taxi ride to trailhead) was a great little half-day trip. It’s a canyon that is fed by the sea and even though we saw only fish, it was incredibly beautiful to snorkel in it.

Las Grietas. You can actually go even deeper into the canyon, but it requires some careful balancing on slippery, algae-covered rocks.

On Thursday, we arrived to Isabela island ($25-30 one-way), the largest island of the Galapagos and strangely enough shaped like a seahorse. The speedboats in between islands are generally pretty bumpy rides, and since I had taken the precaution of half a tablet of Benadryl, I fell asleep in the middle of a podcast on Charles Darwin that Craig and I were listening to (I’ll have to get back to it to see what happened after he published The Origin of Species). We were a bit dazed after we landed, and weren’t quite sure what to do with ourselves. Accommodation and food on Isabela is much more expensive, and I think it kind of put us into shock for a bit, so we ended up not doing very much besides getting the lay of the land, watching marine iguanas, and buying groceries.

A marine iguana contemplating which way to go in Puerto Villamil, the main town on Isla Isabela.

The next day, we decided to hike to Muro de las Lágrimas (free), a really ugly wall built by convicts living on a penal colony on Isabela back in the ’40s and ’50s. The conditions were apparently horrible, but as there’s only a small plaque commemorating those that “suffered and died” during its construction, and if the wall was the only thing to see on that hike, I don’t feel as if it would have been worth the 16km round-trip hike from town. Fortunately, there was a great lookout on a hill very close to the wall, which gave wonderful views of the island, and along the road back, we stopped at El Estero (free), which was a truly wonderful section of coastline. If we hadn’t spotted hundreds of boobies diving into the sea, we probably would have just walked right past, but fortunately the sight of all those birds hitting the water at the same time attracted us out onto the lava-rock beach.

Wikipedia says that thousands died here building that ugly, random wall in the middle of nowhere… very sad.

Boobies diving in a swarm.

A penguin caught a fish right next to us! Then a second penguin came to wrestle it away, and I think they both lost it for good.

Not only were the boobies out in force, but we also found pelicans, marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions, and we even caught a glimpse of a sea turtle as it stuck its head out. We must have stood around for 45 minutes, just watching everything that was happening around us. That’s what’s so marvelous about the Galapagos–no matter where you go, you’re bound to see wildlife so close up that you have to just stop and stare. A French couple we met at our hostel described Isla Isabela as the best island to go to for the economical-minded, because despite having to pay more for room and board, there are so many more animals in the places that you can go for free, such as Concha de Perla. The beaches, which are all within short walking distance of town, also all have lots of birds, sea lions, and marine iguanas. Even on our walk to the Muro, we saw several giant tortoises just along the side of the road. I nearly stepped on one because I thought it was just a lava rock, but I heard its warning hiss just in time.

Hello little guy! Whatcha doin’ there?

We’ll soon be taking the speedboats back to Puerto Ayora, and then onto Isla San Cristobal (you can’t take one straight from Isabela), to explore yet another island!
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