Published: June 9th 2012May 14th 2012
The boat engines kicked on at about 2am, waking the entire boat. A lot of people did not sleep well as we were bounced around in bed, but Sarah and I did better than most. When the alarm went off at 6:40, like it has everyday so we have a few minutes to get ready for breakfast, the boat was still moving, a bit of a surprise. It was not until about 7:20 when the boat lowered anchor at the town port on Isabela Island, Villamil. Still, at 8, we were off to Tintoreras Island. After a dry landing we slowly circled the island located on the ocean side of the Isabela port. The island was flat with a number of mangroves and lots of "ah" lava. It almost looked like the sky rained down lava rocks. On their tips the green and white lichens had taken hold, their presence amplified by the humid air.
As we walked the flat gravel path we first saw where the marine iguanas nest, basically some decent sized holes in the ground. Then we was a baby sea lion who had lost an eye, very sad. And then lots and lots and lots of
marine iguanas. They were not as big as the ones we had seen in Santa Cruz, but some were decent sized. It was cool to see the baby marine iguanas all nestled up with the adults. At the end of the trail, as we waited for the dingys, we got a good look at a sea turtle feeding nearby.
At 10:30 we headed further away from town to another barrier type island for our morning snorkel. There were lots of big waves, some heavy current and rather poor visibility. At one point I had the current push me over a very shallow section of rock that I barely cleared without getting cut up. When we first got in the water somebody spotted a sea turtle, but by the time I got there I could just make out the shadow of it swimming away.
The first good bit of the snorkel was uneventful, but then we crossed the cove area to another set of rocks and things got exciting. We first saw two sea turtles feeding on the algae. One let us float above it and watch it eat. Turtles are fantastic to watch, they swim so effortlessly. While
watching the turtle a few young sea lions hopped in the water and were playfully swimming beside us.
After a bit, a few of us broke off. I saw another turtle, but this one was not so keen on being watched. As I followed it, I saw Sarah grab Fabian's arm to point something out. It was a huge ray. It looked different than the others we had seen and it was way bigger, maybe 3.5 feet wide. Looking at the identification book back on the boat, maybe of was a marbled ray, but I am not entirely sure. We couldn't see the marbel coloring, bit the size and circular shape was right. Not only that but there was a 3.5 foot white tip reef shark swimming on top of the ray. Sarah and I followed the ray until the end of the snorkel.
2:00 brought a trip to Villamil, the town on Isabela. There was a $5 entrance fee to the island, lame. We hopped on a cool safari bus that was open, having no sides. It took us 10 minutes out of town to arrive at a lagoon where there were two flamingos. Apparently they are
a different species of flamingos than other flamingos because our guide called them endemic. They were a little far away to get good pictures, but they were closer than the ones we had seen in Patagonia.
Next we walked to the national park breeding area. This breeding area is focused on bringing back the species from Isabela Island, specifically the two volcano species near Villamil that were on the brink of extinction from whalers. One of the volcano species almost went extinct after the destruction from the whalers and then a big volcanic eruption happened. The park service picked up 45ish turtles from the lava area via helicopter and brought them to the breeding grounds to save the species.
We got to see a turtle egg, embryos at 1, 2, 3, and 4 months, and then a turtle freshly hatched. The center also has a cool program where local kids adopt a tortoise and are responsible for taking care of it for a number of years. We donated what we could.
We walked back to the town through the wetlands. At one of the lagoons there were a ton of flamingos that we got to see much
close up. Apparently they get their pinkish color from what they are eating. We also were able to hear them call. Funky.
The rest of the afternoon we hung out around town. Villamil is a little more of the kind of town I would expect in the Galapagos. It is small, quaint, few motorized vehicles, sand covered streets. A real beach town. Ultimately the entire group met up at a bar and got a little rowdy over a few drinks. We returned to the boat, had some dinner, and started our 11 hour motor to the next stop. As I sit here and type this on the far back seat of the deck, feeling totally fine, I can't help but wonder if the seas will be calm enough for me to make it through the night. Fingers crossed...
Just before turning in for the night we could see schools of flying fish jumping near the boat.
Reef fish update:
Panamic Sergeant Major
Cortez Rainbow Wrasse
There are more photos below