Isabela of the Galapagos Islands: Individual tours for volcano trekking, bike riding, and snorkeling
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Hiking for the Island PanoramicVolcan Chico yawned a few miles ahead, with the promise of lunch and a spectacular view. A panorama of the neighboring islands, from an altitude of 4920 feet. Almost 5000 feet below lay the roiling ocean that had spawned this archipelago, expelling landmass from its fiery underwater lair in a series of volcanic eruptions. Thirteen major, six minor and innumerable islets comprised the Galapagos--borne from Poseidon's wrath.
Biking to the Wall of TearsWe've been exploring Isabela. On our first day we rented bicycles from our hotel, and headed out on our own, biking along a deserted road skirting the coastline. Headed to el Muro de Las Lagrimas (the Wall of Tears), another trail well off the beaten path. Always within earshot, though concealed behind a wetland forest of black manglares (mangroves), the crashing waves matched the rhythm of my pedaling. Neptune's thunder, the breakers rumbled into shore, according to the whim of the tides. When the swells retreated, and their resonance faded, leaving only whispers of foam along the sand...I was following the same tempo. Six miles later, we reached el Muro, an impenetrable rock 'wall' built by prisoners in the 1950s, when Isabela housed a penal colony. We scaled the steps to the lookout point at the top. Being a clear day, we were able to distinguish other islands within the Galapagos chain. Back down at ground level, I was contemplating the ride back, when my son Nicolas yelled, "Mama, look...next to you." I did look, and much to my surprise, I saw a young tortoise, half camouflaged in the thorny underbrush. He was munching on something green--either an Opuntia cactus leaf or fruit from a poisoned apple tree--and like all the other wildlife on Isabela, was completely oblivious to our presence. He went right on ruminating, chewing the vegetation in his unhurried manner, while the shutters of our cameras clicked. For him, it was a typical afternoon in June, South America's late autumn...a little bit humid, but devoid of mosquitos and the sweltering heat of a November summer. We did more than hike and bike, we planned a snorkeling excursion -- a Tunnels tour.
Snorkling and Exploring The TunnelsThe Los Tuneles (The Tunnels) tour included a good 60 minutes over open seas from Port Villamil by speedboat. It had been a veritable National Geographic aquatic life experience. Pez volador (flying fish) leaping from the wave crests, like shimmery rocks; classy sea turtles skimming the surface; and an enormous raya (manta ray) showing off its blinding white underside as it jumped from the water.
In their own bizarre fashion, these archways of cooled magma truly resembled tunnels...gateways to a bountiful underwater paradise of hammerheads, corals, sea cucumbers, and chocolate-chip starfish. A tortuga (turtle) paddled by me, swimming with such elegance that by time I finished marveling at its gracefulness to focus my camera, I ended up with a picture of its tail. Shame about that...memories fade, photographs don't.
Appreciating the WildlifeIt seemed as if every destination here on Isabela was off the beaten path. After all, who would have expected an enclave of submerged lava tunnels in the middle of the Pacific? After snorkeling, Leonardo successfully maneuvered us back through the serpentining channels. We bid adieu to the colonies of piqueros (blue-footed boobies) nesting on the rocks. At the last outcropping of rock, sitting on a ledge, a defiant Galapagos penguin squawked at our passing.
Though small for his species, there was nothing wrong with his vocal cords. Head tilted back full hilt, his yammering reverberated audibly across the crystalline waters. I wondered what he was saying in his private pinguino tongue. Perhaps, "don't come back. You're bothering me." Or maybe that was just his way of enticing one of us tourists to toss him a sardine snack. The little fellow apparently decided that no-one was going to wing a fish his way, so he plunged into the chilly surf, in search of his own krill. Into the cold Humboldt temperatures, the 'current' that allowed him and all the other Galapagos penguins to live right at the equator. Adaptation and evolution -- that had long been Darwin's interpretation of the islands' endemic wildlife.
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Vickie Lillo is a Florida-based travel writer, multi-lingual, and an avid adventure traveler who appreciates meeting new people and experiencing new cultures from around the world. She is proud to say that she has already given the gift of the love for travel to her son.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author
Updated: August 23, 2016