Galapagos: Isabela Island


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Day 6: Today we had one long excursion, instead of the usual morning and afternoon trips. We set out by dinghy to our first port of call on Isabella Island: Puerto Villamil. Upon arrival, I was immediately captivated by penguins swimming and somersaulting in the harbor, and by huge marine iguanas, perhaps four feet long – nothing compared to the little one foot beasties we’d become used to. Also sea lions lounging everywhere – on sidewalks, on benches – allowing people to force the creature into selfie after selfie. Rather rude – did anyone ask the sea lions whether they wanted to be on Facebook? (Full disclosure: I was one of those people.)

Hopped on a “goat bus” and rambled through the town – a mix of homes, hotels, restaurants and dive shops – then through a brush land of candelabra cacti and bare, silvery palo santo trees to the Wall of Tears. There prisoners were worked mercilessly – and some gave their lives – building a wall that served absolutely no purpose.


On to happier things. We went to the tortoise breeding center where I spent a few moments gazing into their aged faces, thinking I would do this for many minutes more. Then someone brought my attention to the “babies,” who were around five years old. What perfect miniatures! And as much as their bodies were scaled down, their movements were scaled up. They nearly frolicked, scrambling over each other like puppies. We then got to see a two-week-old tortoise – cuter still, though with the slow, stately air of his adult relatives, not the excitation of his big siblings.

The big guys:

The little guys:

And an even littler guy!:



We followed this with a quick stop at a flamingo lagoon. Most of them stood around in the usual way you’d expect flamingos to do, but one quite actively worked his bent legs back and forth in an aerobic dance, like a giraffe-necked Jane Fonda. I’m told he was working to bring more shrimp up from the lagoon bottom.

We drove through vegetation that changed with impressive speed – to cacti were added coconut palms, tree ferns, laurel, even some impatiens and hydrangea. Several smallish, kempt brown horses munched grass in front yards. We arrived at the base of Sierra Negra, had a packed lunch and then proceeded up the trail. After about an hour we were rewarded with a grand view: a seven-mile wide caldera, its black floor contrasting with steep green sides and distant mottled yellows. The mist swept across thickly, revealing what it chose, when it chose.

This is the fifth in my Galapagos travel diary series. See the rest here.

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