Isabela and Fernandina Islands, Galapagos


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February 25th 2008
Published: February 25th 2008
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Sunset at Puerto VillamilSunset at Puerto VillamilSunset at Puerto Villamil

Isabela Island, Galapagos
February 18, Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island

Isabela is the largest Island in the Galapagos, somewhere in the range of 100 kms long. It is the conglomeration of about 6 volcanoes that have arisen from the depths. The equator bisects the most northern volcano on the island. There has been recent volcanic activity, the most recent eruption was on Sierra Negra, the closest volcano to Puerto Villamil, in 2005. Outside of Puerto Villamil, most of the visitor sites are on the western shore, which is a long cruise from the main island of Santa Cruz. This limits the number of tour boats that get there (we did!).

Puerto Villamil is a small town on the south end of Isabela Island. It is mostly a fishing village, with some farming of coffee and fruit. There is not much of a developed tourist industry here; there are a few bars and restaurants. The main item of interest to tourists is the giant tortoise breeding centre, and one of the reasons we stopped there. The tortoises were nearly wiped out by sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries as a source of food. The tortoises would be brought alive onto boats where they
Feeding FrenzyFeeding FrenzyFeeding Frenzy

Land Tortoise breeding centre Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, Galapagos
could live for up to a year without being fed. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of tortoises were removed from the island.

There are five defined species of land tortoises on the island, as they say, one for every major volcano on the island. The survival rate for young tortoises in the wild is very low, with many predators after them, one example being the introduced black rats. The breeding centre raises the tortoises until they are large enough (about 5 years old) to live on their own safely, then they are re-introduced to the area specific to their species. In the breeding centre, the tortoises all have numbers and colours on their back to identify them. Later in the day, we would see some tortoises in the wild, still sporting numbers from their days at the centre.

It was my daughter Megan’s birthday that day, so I went into a telephone centre to call her at work. I forgot that it was a holiday in Alberta (“Family Day”), so I just left a message on her voice mail.

In the afternoon, we visited an old prison camp, which features a large rock wall constructed
Land TortoiseLand TortoiseLand Tortoise

Land tortoise breeding centre Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, Galapagos
by the convicts. For some years in the early to mid 20th century, Ecuador exported some prisoners to camps on the Galapagos Islands. On the way to the camp, we climbed to a viewpoint for a better look at the area. The wall is known as “El muro de las lagrimas”, or “wall of tears”. It was constructed by hand by prisoners who had to walk long distances to find the rocks, then carry them back to build the wall. The wall was never finished before the camp was shut down in the late 1950’s.

We stayed anchored in the bay by Puerto Villamil for supper, then we left for an overnight cruise to Fernandina Island. It was very calm that evening, about as smooth an ocean as I saw on the trip. We picked up a headwind during the night, and we were a bit later than planned arriving at Fernandina, about 9 in the morning.

Fernandina Island - February 19

Geologically, Fernandina is the youngest island of the Galapagos, and one of the most active volcanically. The last eruption was in 2005, and there has been something like 10 eruptions in the past century. This
Cactus FlowersCactus FlowersCactus Flowers

Isabela Island, Galapagos
island has probably had the least amount of impact by humans in terms of introduced plants and species. There is only one visitor site on the island, on the northeast side, and we landed there in the morning to look around. We first walked along a trail on a lava bed that started by the ocean and continued inland. The first thing I noticed was the vast numbers of marine iguanas there, and that they were bigger than any of those we saw on previous islands. We then ventured inland over the lava flow, eventually working our way back to the coast.

One of the highlights of the day, and the whole trip, were the flightless cormorants. They are the only cormorants to be found in the Galapagos, and they only live on Fernandina and the western shores of Isabela Islands. This was the only visitor site where they could be seen. We walked along the shore and saw a number of them along the shore, at nesting sites, and carrying bits of weeds and things to build their nests. It was interesting to see how they lived with the marine iguana that were everywhere around them; neither seemed
Puerto VillamilPuerto VillamilPuerto Villamil

Isabela Island, Galapagos
to pay much attention to the other. I also got a little closer to a penguin, who was sitting on the rocks by the shore.

After we had lunch, we crossed over to Tagus Cove on Isabella Island. This will be the start of my next blog entry for the Galapagos.





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Wall of TearsWall of Tears
Wall of Tears

Old Prison camp Isabela Island, Galapagos
Marine IguanaMarine Iguana
Marine Iguana

Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, Galapagos
Marine IguanaMarine Iguana
Marine Iguana

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Los Dos AmigosLos Dos Amigos
Los Dos Amigos

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
A few Marine IguanasA few Marine Iguanas
A few Marine Iguanas

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Sunken Tidal PondSunken Tidal Pond
Sunken Tidal Pond

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Lava FlowLava Flow
Lava Flow

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Coast of FernandinaCoast of Fernandina
Coast of Fernandina

Looking towards Isabela Island Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Marine Iguana Nesting SiteMarine Iguana Nesting Site
Marine Iguana Nesting Site

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Crowding a NestCrowding a Nest
Crowding a Nest

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Flightless Cormorant on NestFlightless Cormorant on Nest
Flightless Cormorant on Nest

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Flightless Cormorant drying wingsFlightless Cormorant drying wings
Flightless Cormorant drying wings

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Flightless Cormorant with nesting materialFlightless Cormorant with nesting material
Flightless Cormorant with nesting material

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Marine IguanaMarine Iguana
Marine Iguana

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Marine IguanasMarine Iguanas
Marine Iguanas

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Marine IguanaMarine Iguana
Marine Iguana

Fernandina Island, Galapagos
Galapagos PenguinGalapagos Penguin
Galapagos Penguin

Fernandina Island, Galapagos


25th February 2008

A smirk or two
Hey John, I think the Marine Iguana has taken a fancy to you - is it smiling or leering? - inquiring minds want to know :)... Me thinks the wall was just to keep them busy - I would have cried huge tears! - Sandy
25th February 2008

Does this affect your beliefs on creationism?

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