Our first morning on Isabela island we went for a snorkel in the bay. The manager of our hostel, Joseph, took us and another 2 girls with the promise of seeing sea turtles. While he did charge us it was cheaper than going on an organised tour.
He rented us some gear and we walked down to the jetty and jumped in. We were surrounded by sea lions that were both very playful and irritating consistent swimming in our path. Not long after we entered the water we was a sea turtle! It stuck around a little while before it moved on, and so did we.
Joseph lead us through a narrow chute, at the end of which we had to get out of the water and walk over the lava rocks to get back in on the other side. The rocks were ridiculously sharp, but Joseph was very concerned about the fins and wetsuits being damaged so he wouldn't let us leave the fins on. Ouch!
When we got back in the water it was extremely shallow and we barely had enough space to swim but it was better than walking! We spotted an octopus hiding away in some rock, loads of fish, and when the water deepened again we found more sea turtles, most of them just resting on the bottom. They were huge!
Further on we saw some marine iguanas swimming around us, puffer fish, box fish and more. Joseph was a very enthusiastic guide, dragging us around and pointing at things, though he moved so quickly we ended up not having much time to admire the turtles.
We made our way back, again across the super sharp rocks, and back to the jetty. We had hoped to spot some penguins on the way back but unfortunately we had no luck. Despite this we had seen more on the snorkel trip than any of the others, right in the main bay off the jetty.
After a shower we decided to go for a walk to the tortoise breeding sanctuary Centro de Crianza. On the way we passed a small lagoon where some Flamingos were feeding. The path lead through some nice shady bush, the most vegetation we had seen in the Galapagos so far, across black rocky landscape and sandy desert areas.
When we arrived at the sanctuary we could hear a strange noise which we though was a tortoise snoring. The ranger saw us approaching and signalled to us to walk the long way around rather than alongside the fence of the first pen. When we reached him we realised the snoring sounds were actually the satisfied grunts of a huge male mating with a rather reluctant looking and much smaller female.
Once he was done, he spent quite some time trying to awkwardly climb off the female, which wasn't helped by another tortoise that was right beside them. We continued around the sanctuary which had other species and tortoises of various ages. They wandered slowly around their pens. The way they walk seems so rigid and robotic, as if their legs aren't even really designed to walk.
Further along the path was another lagoon with more Flamingos, which we had a look at before walking back towards town, then heading along the shoreline to try and find some of the seemingly elusive blue footed boobies.
This path followed the beach for a while, and took us past a few areas with iguanas and birds, some more lava tubes, mangrove areas and a water hole with beautifully clear and clean water. The only thing we didn't find was any blue footed boobies!
The next day we booked in for a tour to Volcán Sierra Negra. One of five volcanoes on Isabela Island, it isn't the highest but it is meant to be the second largest caldera in the world. We were driven out to the volcano, then set off for the 16km return walk. At first we just walked up a road past moss covered trees, until we reached the rim of the caldera. While it was quite cloudy we could still make out the enormous size of the caldera, 10km across!
The flat bottom was covered in black volcanic rock with patches of yellow colouring from the sulphur. Incredibly, the base of the caldera had been covered in vegetation until only a few years before. In 2010 the volcano erupted on one side, the lava flowing into the base of the caldera, filling it with 3-5 metres of volcanic rock.
The path followed the edge of the caldera further, with a few more viewing points along the way. There was still a lot of cloud but our guide said this would likely clear by the time we returned.
The path lead from there down the other side of the volcano. This side was covered in crumbling pieces of rock, porous inside making it look like the bone yards of hell. The colours in the rock were amazing, reds, yellows and browns. We walked past some vents releasing warm air heated by the volcano and along the dead landscape, ending at a viewing point.
From this viewing point we could see across the island, to the shore on each side and one of the other volcanoes. We sat there and rested a while before returning along the same path. Unfortunately the cloud hadn't cleared when we got back to the edge of the caldera, but we could still see enough to take in its scale.
When we had entered the Galapagos, we had filled out a customs card that asked us to select the main things we wanted to see and do. One of the options was the landscape and at the time we had wondered why anyone would go for the landscape? Now we knew, this wasteland was also incredibly beautiful.
The next day we were catching the "ferry" back to Santa Cruz Island at 3pm. We spent the morning roaming the shores of Isabela, and were lucky enough to finally spot some penguins! We saw a few swimming around the bay, as well as some sitting on the water a little further out. We walked along the rocky shore, just taking a few (million) more photos of sea lions and iguanas until it was time to get on the same dodge speed boat.
We returned to Santa Cruz and found a hostel, then made a dash for Tortuga Bay which we heard was a nice beach and a good place to spot penguins, but we were too late they had closed the entrance for the day.
In town we watched a parade of school children go by. It seemed like each class had a little theme, and decked out in costumes they each followed behind a car blaring out music with decorations in line with their theme. The whole island had turned out to watch.
The next morning we had to make our way back to the airport. We were sad to be leaving as there was still so much more to see, but at the same time we had seen so many amazing animals and scenes. If only the journey to the airport hadn't been such an effort!
We had to take a taxi to the bus station, then a bus for an hour to the canal. We then threw our bags on the roof of a ferry that took us across the canal to Baltra Island, then another shuttle bus took us from there to the airport. By the time we finally reached Colleen's place in Quito we had caught a taxi, bus, ferry, bus, plane, plane, bus and taxi, a bit of a marathon travel day!