Blue footed booby
Summary: Our third and last week in a Lead Adventures 3-Week Galapagos program, I was slightly tired of traveling, but thoroughly enjoyed Isabela.  It offers some unique sights that the other islands don't.  This was the first time we saw white-tipped sharks and sting rays, and I got my best underwater photos of sea turtles here.  We saw flamingos in the wild, which Isabela is known for.  While we'd seen blue-footed boobies on all the islands, we got the closest to them on Isabela.  

Destination(s): Mainly the Galapagos Islands, 2.5 days in Quito, Ecuador
Total Length of Stay: 3 weeks
Getting There: International flight to Quito, domestic flights from Quito to the Galapagos Islands

This Blog Post: Week 3 in the Lead Adventures 3-Week Galapagos program, on Isabela Island
Accommodation: Coral Blanco near Puerto Villamil.  There was a laundry place nearby, but I never did laundry here.    
Food: All meals were included except lunch on one day.  For all days, we received meal tickets for breakfast and dinner at El Faro Restaurant.  Our first evening, we showed up for dinner at 6pm, and were told dinner only started serving at 7pm...weird.  All tours lasting more than half a day provided sack lunches, which happened everyday except when we went to Los Tintoreras and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center.  I also somehow got a craving for empanadas, and went through quite a journey to obtain them (more details in Tuesday's story).  
Other Notes:  For all snorkeling tours, mask and flippers were included, but we rented a wetsuit from our hostel for $5/day.  The water is FREEZING during cold season, so it's worth the $5!  Also, there are no ATM machines on Isabela Island, so come with sufficient cash. 

I spent most of this day seasick, because it involved not one but two speedboat rides.  First we sailed from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz, and then from Santa Cruz to Isabela, although there was a 4.5 hour break in between.  We went to the dock at 6:20am to catch a 7am speedboat, and had our bags inspected for biological and organic materials...I guess vomit from seasickness doesn't count though.  The waters were so rough that I was thrown out of my seat and onto my knees, while holding a bag I had vomited into.  Definitely not the most pleasant ride.  
San Cristobal Island
Bag inspection when leaving San Cristobal Island
Around 9:30am I arrived in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, seasick and exhausted from waking up early.  Reading the itinerary provided by Lead Adventures (posted above), we were meant to go to Galatravel and pick up ferry tickets.  Unfortunately, the itinerary provided no instructions whatsoever on how to get there, beyond this:
Not very helpful, is it?  I asked someone where Galatravel was and she pointed me in the right direction, but the office isn't very easy to find.  The sign was small and the office is upstairs, above some tour agency with a much flashier sign.  Anyways, we gave up and went to La Casa de Judy, where we had stayed the first week.  Judy was surprised to see us and I cried: We can't find Galatravel!  I'm so seasick!   She gave us directions and assured me that the ride to Isabela would be slightly calmer, which was *somewhat* true.  Luckily the speedboat to Isabela didn't leave until 2pm, so I had plenty of time to recover.  We eventually found Galatravel and got our tickets, and then ate brunch and shopped for souvenirs. 
Santa Cruz Island street
The non-touristy part of Puerto Ayora, literally just one street over from the oceanfront, touristy street.
Santa Cruz Island restaurant
The food is much cheaper in this area though. This place might not look like much, but the food was delicious...and the soup helped my seasickness.
Blue-footed booby earring
Then we went shopping and I got these cheesy tourist earrings, blue-footed boobies!
Messy hair from sailing
Relaxing at La Casa de Judy before the speedboat ride to Isabela. Hair's super messy from the wind on the ride from San Cristobal. There is probably a little vomit in my hair...okay, sorry, TMI.
Around 2pm, Judy and her husband kindly drove us to the dock.  We made it to Isabela without incident (i.e. I was happy to not throw up), the waters were *slightly*calmer, and someone picked us up from the dock.  I forgot that Isabela Island had a $5 entry tax, but managed to find my crumbled dollar bills. 

The Sierra Negra Volcano tour met at 7:30am at El Faro Restaurant, where we ate breakfast.  It ran from about 8am-3pm, and required hiking 16 km roundtrip but wasn't too strenuous.  The uphill slopes were gentle and not that prevalent.  First, we hiked through an area with vegetation, and got panoramic views of Sierra Negra volcano.  Our tour guide showed us his personal photos of it erupting in 2005!
After eating our sack lunches around 10:30am, we hiked into lava rocks without much surrounding vegetation.  The rocks were very beautiful, and very colorful!
After our tour, I suddenly had a craving for empanadas, a Latin American stuffed pastry.  I asked our hostel's front desk staff where I could find some, and she recommended a place called "Restaurante Coroncha."  My friend and I headed towards it, asking SEVERAL people along the way, all of whom seemed to know exactly where it was.  However, we could not find it, because the sign totally does not say "Restaurant Coroncha" anywhere on it:
Empanadas Restaurant
Um, so where does it say Restaurante Coroncha?
My friend was impressed that despite not saying "Restaurante Coroncha" anywhere on the sign, EVERYONE recognized the name when I asked for it, and knew exactly where it was.  Small towns can be charming.  Unfortunately, after all the trouble to find it, empanadas would not be served until 5:30pm.  Therefore, we walked down the street and found a snack shop, and ordered these deep-fried things.  The thing on top is a piece of cheese, and I believe it was plantain fruit on the inside.  The owner here didn't speak English, so I couldn't ask for its contents.  
After that, we went down to the beach, about a 5 minute walk from our hostel.  After 3 busy weeks filled with activities, it was nice to relax on the sand.
After the beach, we ate dinner and then returned to El Restaurante Coroncha, where I finally got my empanadas!  One was chicken, one was cheese, and both were delicious :).  
The itinerary provided by Lead Adventures for Wednesday and Thursday were just...wrong.  Los Tuneles was on Wednesday, not Thursday, but we did go to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center on Thursday.  Anyways, the tour to Los Tuneles left from our hostel, and lasted from about 9-2pm.  

On the way there, this rock caught my eye, because of the rough currents hitting it from every side.
The structure of Los Tuneles, lava tunnels on the ocean, were impressive.
While walking around the lava tunnels, we got super, super close to blue-footed boobies!  The pictures I got were amazing!
Blue footed booby
Baby blue-footed boobies look like this. Their feet aren't yet blue, and they're a fluffy ball of fur.
Blue footed booby
Family! I think that's the mother and father with their baby.
This cactus also caught my eye; those budding structures are cactus fruit.  Our tour guide said that some people eat the fruit, but he hadn't himself.
After hiking around Los Tuneles for a while, we went to the snorkeling site.  We saw plenty of white tip sharks here, as well as a few turtles.  We snorkeled as a group but a few people and I somehow got separated, and I feel like the tour guide should have noticed!  Not that this was a safety hazard - the waters are shallow and calm - but I missed seeing a sting ray when I got lost.  I saw one the next day in Los Tintoreras though, so it's all good.  
White-tipped shark
We saw this not long after jumping into the water.
Los Tuneles
We hung out near this tunnel and watched shark after shark swim out...and then turn back in. I freaked out a few times, but the sharks didn't approach us.
White-tipped shark in Los Tuneles
Shark coming out of the tunnel, only good shot I could get due to all that dust.
Los Tuneles snorkeling
Leaving this specific tunnel, tour guide swimming away.
Fish in Los Tuneles
Fish...I like them because they have pink tails.
Mangroves in Los Tuneles
I really liked swimming next to mangroves for some reason.
We got back into town around 2pm, where I thought about relaxing, but by 2:30pm we were walking along the beach.  About an hour later, we arrived at the Muro de Lågrimas trailhead, the beginning of a 5 km one-way trail leading to the Muro de Lágrimas (Wall of Tears).  We didn't make it there, just went as far as we could, saying we'd turn back by 5pm.

First, walking along coast was beautiful:
The first stop along the Muro de Lågrimas trail was La Playita, but this blocked our path!
We didn't want to step on iguanas and break National Park law, so we turned away and went to Pozas Verdes:
The next stop along the trail was Mirador "Los Tunos," which is a panoramic view of Pozas Verdes:
We sat at Mirador "Los Tunos" for a while, enjoying the views and the sound of the ocean.  I liked that we could hear the ocean but not see it - a special kind of "quiet" and "calm."  When we got tired of that, we continued to La Playa del Amor:
Right next to La Playa del Amor was Tunel del Estero, our last stop before heading back around 5pm.  The return trip took about an hour, much shorter than the time it took to get here.  We didn't walk through the sand on the beach this time, opting instead for the trail near the coast.
Around 8:30am we left for the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center (the itinerary's wrong, it was listed for Thursday but the other activities were switched with Wednesday), passing flamingos on the way!
At the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, there were so many baby tortoises in one place!  Most adorable sight EVER:
Our tour guide pointed out these tortoises that were mating.  It wasn't really exciting though, one of the tourists noted that "not much seemed to be going on."  
We were done with the Giant Breeding Tortoise Center by 9:10am, and our next activity, Los Tintoreras, wasn't until 2:30pm.  Our tour guide offered to drive us back to our hostel, but also suggested a walking trail since we had so much extra time.  We opted to walk, and encountered beautiful trees, plants, and flamingos!  
Walking trail, Isabela Island
This plant stuck out to me, because it was bright, yellowish-green leaves on top of dead, dried branches.
Flamingo Isabela Island
Flamingo and reflection!
Flamingo Isabela Island
Okay this isn't a flamingo, it's just a bird that caught my attention.
By 9:45am we were back at our hostel, so we once again headed to the Muro de Lågrimas trail.  We skipped the points we'd hit on Wednesday, thus getting further down the trail, but still didn't make it to be end.  We turned back by 12:15pm so there'd be plenty of time to eat lunch and rest before snorkeling.  On the way to the trailhead, I enjoyed walking under these trees, which we'd missed on Wednesday while walking along the beach:
We briefly stopped by Poza de Los Diablos, which we'd also missed on Wednesday.
Once on the trail, we walked down the path to La Playita, where a bunch of iguanas had blocked the way on Wednesday.  We made it this time!
La Playita iguanas
Got through this time! Walked along the edge like a balance beam, and those two people made it soon after.
La Playita
At the end of the trail, a tangle of branches hid one of the most beautiful beaches ever.
La Playita
Beautiful beach and beautiful tree.
We hung out at La Playita for quite a while; my friend wrote postcards while I wandered around.  When we tired of it, we went on to Poza Redonda:
Next up was Poza Escondida.  Escondida means "hidden" in Spanish, and it certainly was hidden, behind thick vegetation.  
Our last stop on the trail was El Estero, a point along the coast with gorgeous views of ocean and mangroves.
We left El Estero at 12:15pm, and took about 45 minutes to get back into town.  After lunch, we went on a snorkeling and hiking tour of Los Tintoreras, which lasted from about 2:30-6pm.  First there was snorkeling, which provided the best photo opportunity for sea turtles out of all the snorkeling trips I did.  The sting ray pictures I got weren't bad either.  I made the mistake of not wearing sandals for this tour, as there was a short walk across rocks to get to the snorkeling site.  Definitely doable with sneakers, just inconvenient after snorkeling.  
After snorkeling, we hiked for about an hour to explore the lava formations:
Along the hike, we saw a narrow pool where white-tipped sharks, las tintoreras in Spanish, go to rest:
Towards the end of our hike, we saw some penguins swimming in the ocean, but I wasn't quick enough to get a photo.  When this tour ended, all the Galapagos activities Lead Adventures had planned concluded.  We still had two more days in the Galapagos Islands, but one would be spent on a speedboat back to Santa Cruz, from where we'd fly back to the mainland the following day.  My friend and I were both amazed that our three-week adventure was coming to a close, and went down to the beach that night.  It felt nice to hear the waves crashing, yet not really see them because it was pitch dark.  
9/1/2014 07:53:54 am

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