Yep, that was us – well, actually, it was 1 yacht and it was 1.30 in the afternoon when we arrived at Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabella but at least we got here in time to cook our Christmas Roast and have our first drink for 2 weeks – Bliss.
It was great to be here. The trip had seemed tougher than our Atlantic crossing, whether that was because we were mentally unprepared thinking it was only a short trip compared with the next leg of our adventure or whether we had been going soft in the Caribbean we are not sure, but seeing the Turtles and Sea Lions swimming around us as we motored into the Harbour and dropped our hook was enough to make us glad we had made the effort…
After a full traditional Christmas lunch (including a preserved Tesco’s Christmas Pudding) washed down with a bottle of wine each, we slept very well and were shocked to be unceremoniously awoken on Boxing Day at 8am by some very loud whistles (in fact it was 7am but we hadn’t yet changed our clocks). This was the Port Capitaine calling to see us. Unfortunately, his boat handling skills weren’t up to much as he seemed to be using our hull to stop his Panga (small launch) and managed to bash our fibreglass several times before clambering aboard our stern. We were not happy bunnies…
After helping the 2 Officials aboard, Roger managed to tread in Monty’s poo (which we had been too tired to clean up the night before) as did both of our visitors who managed to spread it all over the cockpit cushions and, indeed, down below when they traipsed through the boat which looked like a bit of a skip after our bouncy passage.
They were rather grumpy - presumably because they had had to come out to see us early on their Bank Holiday possibly suffering with hangovers – had no English whatsoever, didn’t want to understand our efforts at Spanish and generally were getting on our nerves looking in our cupboards and poking around. We don’t think Monty’s growling helped much either as they made a great point of ensuring we understood that he was confined to barracks.
We were both about to have a sense of humour failure when we eventually persuaded them to phone our agent, Johnny Romero. (Before leaving Panama City, we had been in touch with Johnny – Yachtgala Yacht Services, Telephone: (593) 52 527403 in Santa Cruz to arrange our Galapagos Cruising Permit as we had heard that, if not arranged in advance, the local authorities may only grant a 3 day Visa). Thankfully, Johnny sorted everything out with the Capitainerie – we were supposed to have called him when we arrived so he could deal with everything on our behalf and avoid any such hassles but we hadn’t wanted to disturb him on Christmas Day and hadn’t realised that the Capitainerie would be over to see us so early on Boxing Day !! To be fair also to the Capitainerie, Isla Isabella is not really an International Port of Entry, but we hadn’t wanted to spend unnecessary funds on Park Cruising fees visiting Santa Cruz or San Cristobal as we had heard that the anchorages at both islands were really rolly and uncomfortable. Furthermore, far more tourists visit those 2 islands making them much more crowded and commercial when compared with the unspoilt tranquillity seen on Isla Isabella.
Anyway, once we had paid our US$89 fee (all fees are based on Gross Tonnage), the Officials calmed down and even returned to El Vagabond to show us where to re-anchor in the most protected part of the Harbour – maybe the US$20 tip helped !!
That afternoon we launched the Dinghy and tootled around the harbour in awe of the abundance of wildlife – Sea Lions, Green Pacific Turtles, various different species of huge Rays, Marine Iguanas and, much to Vicki’s delight, Penguins… (yes, really – Galapagos Penguins are unique in their ability to live under the blast of the Equatorial sun). These were all just under our noses – wow…
After the Christmas weekend we went into the Park Office to pay our fees (US$100 per person) which we were advised we only had to pay if we wanted to tour outside of Puerto Villamil. This restored our faith in the Galapagoans. Clearly, with 30 days to spend here, we were going to explore but worth knowing if Cruisers are only planning to stop for a few days.
We felt we had already had our money’s worth by the sights seen from our cockpit let alone on the Island so we were happy bunnies again.
We were even getting used to seeing Sea Lions dozing in our dinghy every morning!!!
Isla Isabella is a fantastic place and we would absolutely, without any hesitation, recommend everyone to visit either by yacht or by air. It is the largest of the inhabited Islands but far less populated than either Santa Cruz or San Cristobal. The locals are really friendly, there are not too many tourists although they are now actively developing the Island’s Tourist industry. In the last 12 months they have established various visitor sites and tours and there is so much to see – the giant Tortoises being our favourite on land although the huge, ugly Iguanas come a close second !!
On 3rd January, Visions of Johanna arrived to share our Harbour and it was great to see Bill, Jo, Graham and Zak again and to hear of their adventures in Ecuador and on the other Galapagos Islands. Jo said that their 1st night in Isla Isabella was the best night’s sleep she had had since leaving Panama – all the other anchorages being far too rolly (a big thank you to OCC Member, Chris Jones, for his hot tip recommending Isla Isabella…).
Bill’s brother Matt and his wife and 2 children had 3 days on Isabella before heading off to Ecuador taking Zak with them so we all went on a day trip to “Los Tuneles” which involved a 1 hour Panga trip along the coast where we came to some Lava Tunnels (made from dried out lava flow from the Volcanoes).
These were incredible to look at and provided habitats for the famous Blue-footed Boobies, Galapagos Penguins and various species of Crab. We then found a quiet lagoon (we were the only tourists there) where we went snorkelling.
Our guide took us through various tunnels to swim with Whitetip Reef Sharks, Manta Rays and an assortment of other beautiful fish, some unique to Galapagos, before changing sites and swimming with Turtles, spotting Sea Horses, Sea Snakes and more. Unfortunately, our camera is not waterproof so, sadly, we have no photographs of these fantastic sights but it was a fabulous day’s outing.
There are no ATMs on the island although cash is the preferred form of payment for everything. This caused us a few days of angst as we realised that our cash supplies were getting exhausted (we don’t like carrying too much cash around on the Boat and are typical in relying heavily on cash machines). Luckily, we have our “Moneyman in London” aka Rupert who was absolutely wonderful at the end of an erratic e-mail service managing to get dosh to us via Western Union. It left him and arrived 10 minutes later with us – fantastic and for which we are very, very grateful.
Vicki couldn't resist taking hundreds of photos of the Penguins !!
Now we had cash we were able to organise and pay for our Tour to see the Sierra Negra Volcano which last erupted as recently as 2005. This wasn’t as severe as in September 1998 when the eruption lasted 2 months with lava being spewed as high as 200 metres in the air and lava flows were estimated to have reached 10 kms in length.
It was a great day out starting with a ride literally in the back of a truck followed by a 2 hour horse trek up a really muddy trail. It had been rainy pretty heavily over the past few days which had been good for our water catching but which meant the track was pretty slippery.
We both really enjoyed the ride and even managed to persuade our ponies that they wanted a nice canter towards the end of the trail once the land was a bit higher and drier.
Then it was a 1 hour hike up to the rim of the crater with some fantastic views out over the Island as far as Wolf Volcano which is the highest point on the North of the Island at 5,600 feet above sea level.
We stopped for a quick picnic lunch during which Bill’s hat blew away.
This was followed by an unsuccessful rescue mission whereby Roger and Graham had to hang Bill over the edge of a crater trying not to slip – they felt it was better to let the hat go than let go of Bill…
Another hike and ride down to the truck ensued. By this time, it had rained again and we were wet and filthily muddy. On the way back we made a brief stop to walk through some Lava Tunnels/Caves which were really quite amazing. We got back to the Boat eight hours later feeling totally exhausted and aching all over but having had a terrific day out – just like real tourists !!
A couple of days later when our legs were just about recovering from the horseriding, we borrowed Bill & Jo’s bikes and made the trek across land to the “Wall of Tears”.
The Island was the Ecuadorian Penitentiary for many years and we believe that the wall was built by the Prisoners. The cycle ride was about 15km and our legs were definitely suffering the next day!!
Sadly, our time in Isabella was drawing to a close and it was time to get those last minute jobs done rather than continue to enjoy ourselves on the island. We are leaving here on Saturday 23rd January heading for Chile via Easter Island and one of our lasting memories of the Galapagos Islands will be watching 2 turtles bonking in the water as they swam past our cockpit !!!