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Monday 30 Dec 2013
Isla Isabela, Ecuador

Las Tintoreras

In what would become a pattern for the week, we had a 5.30am alarm call.  We dressed and boarded the pangas for a trip over to Las Tintoreras.  Ailsa and I had the air-conditioning on in our room last night, but this proved a problem this morning as our cameras were cold and kept steaming up in the humid morning air.  Consequently we missed out on the first photographs of the infamous blue-footed boobies perched on the rocks by the water’s edge.  Boobies have waterproof feathers, so they are able to dive below the water to catch fish, as we saw many times.  Out of nowhere, a white blur would suddenly plunge into the water like a falling meteorite and all would be still for a moment before the bird popped up again.  Blue-footed boobies are one of the Galápagos’ most famous residents, especially because of their clown-like dance displays to attract a mate, but as we were there at the end of their mating season, we missed out on that element of their personality.  We spotted one or two of the tiny Galápagos Penguins on the rocks, too.  Only the Little Penguins in Melbourne are smaller than these.

The small jetty at Las Tintoreras was covered in bright red and orange Sally Lightfoot crabs which scuttled out of the way as we climbed the steps.  Of all the wildlife in Galápagos, these were probably the brightest, but least sociable.  It became a challege to try and get a good photo instead of a few legs scuttling out of the side of the picture.  

Fabian led us along a trail through the scattered lava field.  There are many different types of lava, this one called aa-aa by the Hawaiians (because it is jagged and hurts to walk on!)  One side was covered in white lichen, while the other side remained black and bare, as a result of the warmer winds blowing from one direction.  We were amazed at how many marine iguanas we saw and how completely unfazed by us they were.  The dominant males were bigger with hard crests and scales around their heads and a ridge of short spines down their backs.  They had a harem of females lying nearby as they all basked in the sun and waited for the rocks to warm up.  Iguanas are herbivores, feeding off the algae in the water around the edge of the island.  They can survive in the cold water for up to an hour, but as they are cold-blooded creatures, they then have to warm their bodies back up by lying on the hot lava rocks.  If another male gets too close, they nod deliberately and have a head-butting contest for dominance.  Mixed in with the iguanas, emulating their big cousins, were lots of tiny lava lizards.  The biggest was only about 20cm long, compared with iguanas around a metre long.  They were fun to watch scurrying about.

After breakfast, we went snorkelling again along the coast of Las Tintoreras.  The lava here had formed underwater channels, like swimming through a maze full of fish and sea stars.  Shane met a couple of young sea lions, who played with him and came close to investigate his camera.  I saw my first Galápagos sea turtle, a Pacific Green turtle, which was even bigger than the ones I saw in Sipadan.  He was oblivious to us and tried to surface directly underneath Ailsa, who had to swim aside pretty quickly.

Our next island landing took us into the small town of Puerto Villamil.  Isabela is the largest island in Galápagos, formed from a chain of five still-active volcanoes.  It was used as a penal colony in the 1950s.  Conditions were harsh and prisoners were forced to spend the day shifting lava rocks to build a huge wall with no purpose other than to keep them occupied and exhausted.  In 1959, an American millionaire arrived in his yacht, whch was promptly taken over by the convicts.  This highlighted conditions on the island to the world’s media and forced Ecuador to back down and close the colony.  The ‘Wall of Tears’ remains today.  Unfortunately, transport on the island was scarce today, so Fabian decided rather than get us stuck at the wall 5km out of town, we should stick with the things we could walk to.  This included a boardwalk through the mangroves – with a resident sea lion taking a snooze right in the middle of the boardwalk – and a lagoon with 10 of the Galápagos’ 500 flamingoes.  I was excited to see them, but sadly they were too far below us to be able to see them clearly and I’d have loved to get closer.

Next, Fabian took us to the Centro de Crianza de Tortugas, a breeding centre for the Giant Tortoises that gave the islands their name (taken from the Spanish word for saddle, inspired by the shape of the tortoise’s shell).  This was one of my favourite places on the islands, as it gave us the first opportunity to see these magnificent creatures up close.  Early explorers of the islands killed thousands of these tortoises and took them for fresh meat on long sea voyages as the tortoises could survive for up to a year.  The result decimated the tortoise populations and some were driven to extinction.  Lonesome George, who died last year aged over 100, was the last of the Isla Pinta subspecies.  We were shown examples of tortoise embryos.  It was amazing to see such details – even the pattern on the shell is beginning to emerge by 4 months.  We were then introduced to some 15-day-old tortoises, who were already the size of an adult’s palm.  Tortoises live at the breeding centre in rat-proof cages until their shells have hardened sufficiently, then in open enclosures until they are 4 years old, when they are released into the wild on their own islands. 

After meeting the giant tortoises, we walked down to the beach and along the shore to a bar run by one of Fabian’s friends, when things went wrong.  Ailsa was walking along the water’s edge, when she trod on the edge of a rock hidden by the swirling sand in the waves.  Two toes landed on the rock and the rest of her foot rolled hard off the side to the sand several inches below.  Ouch.  At first she thought the pain came from her ankle, but by the time we got back to the boat she had some lovely purple bruising across the fourth toe and the side of her foot.  Oh dear…  We had a couple of drinks at the bar and discovered even the Galápagos, remote as they are, are not immune to wi-fi.  The bar had an excellent Christmas Tree on the beach – a bare tree decorated with brightly coloured glass beer and spirit bottles on strings!

Later, we started walking back to the dock in small groups.  Fabian commandeered a small truck converted with wooden seats and we waved cheerfully at the others as we overtook them, then enjoyed a gorgeous sunset from the jetty while the truck went back to collect them.  We were so exhausted that we all went to bed fairly soon after dinner.  Iguanas, boobies, penguins, sea turtles, sea lions and giant tortoises… what a day!  Welcome to Galápagos indeed. 

 

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #3 Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

Travel blog by zobeedoo

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This is the big highlight of the year. Joined by my parents and reunited with Ailsa, we'll spend Christmas in Quito, then travel to Galápagos for New Year, celebrating in style with a week on the Queen Beatriz catamaran visiting the southern islands.

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