Day 8, July 30, 2021: Isabella Island, Bay of Puerto Villamil

During the night, which was quite a rocking and rolling cruise through rough seas that kept some of us awake, the Bonita cruised to the southeastern end of Isabella Island, anchoring in Puerto Villamil, a small quaint port village where most of the inhabitants of Isabella Island live. The morning was a bit grey and drizzly. We climbed into the pangas and headed off to Las Tintoreras, small islets or rock outcroppings inhabited by sea lions, marine iguanas, and a variety of birds. Disembarking from the pangas we encountered a sleeping sea lion on a bench at the dock. A trail took us through yet another different and fascinating landscape of dark, volcanic rock covered with white lichens.

Resting on the rocks, swimming, and climbing out of the water were large colonies of marine iguanas ranging from small juveniles to very large adults. The marine iguanas nest here and breed successfully due to the lack of introduced animals that destroy their nesting sites. If you look closely at a marine iguana’s lips- it looks as though they are smiling at you!

Along the trail we saw several sea lions, including a protective male with females that we cautiously had to walk around in case he charged us. A young mournful-looking pup, waiting for its mother, blocked our trail.

The animals here appear to make good use of the chin rests!

A variety of white, green, silver, and orange frutiose, crustos, and foliose lichens grew on the rocks and trees. Velvet mesquites; white, red, black, and button mangroves grew along the sandier parts of the islet. A juvenile yellow crested heron crossed our path and yellow warblers pecked for insects on the rocks. The lava lizards blended right into the rocks.

Toward the end of the trail there was a narrow channel, 2-3 meters wide between two lava walls filled with sea water. Here you can see the resting white tipped reef sharks on the bottom for which Las Tintoreras are named. On our way back to the landing dock to meet our pangas, the same sea lion was still snoozing on the bench!

We pulled into the town dock at Puerto Villamil. It seemed strange to see boats in the harbor after being pretty much the lone boat at sea all week. The center of town is made up of small businesses, small boutique hotels, restaurants, beachside bars, and roads with cars on them! We passed the St. Anthony Church, with a statue of St Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of animals) in front. The church had stained glass windows of Galapagos animals. Being in a small town was quite a change from the remote areas we visited the past week. A small open air bus met us and transported us to the Isabella Breeding Center for Galapagos giant tortoises.

At the breeding center we learned how they are breeding and raising young Galapagos giant tortoises to release back into the wild (at least 5 years of age). Threatened by habitat destruction from feral goats, rats, ants and other introduced species; poaching by humans to sell to zoos and collectors; scarcity of food; fires; and volcanic eruptions- serious restoration efforts are working to increase the population. We saw the incubation areas and rearing pens for young tortoises as well as the older breeding tortoises. While we were there we observed two tortoises mating (see video) which was quite a feat given how cumbersome their shelled bodies are- and quite a lot of grunting too!

These gentle giants, who can live to well over a century, also had an impact on Darwin’s evolutionary theory, much like the finches, as he noticed the variations between islands and how the tortoises fit within their ecological niche. From large, old breeding tortoises to tiny hatchlings, it was heartwarming to see how they are using vital tools, breeding, incubation, and rearing methods to restore the populations of tortoises unique to each island.

After our visit to the tortoise breeding center, we hiked through Los Humedales (translated as wetlands)- another different ecosystem. We walked through the shady mesquites to the wetlands of Isabella to the sandy beaches and rocky shores. White, red, black, and button mangroves here and lots of ground finches, shore and wading birds – stilts, moor hens, flamingos.

At the end of the trail we came to the road which led us to a beautiful beach.

We walked on the rocks and sand, before getting back into our open air bus, but not before stopping to buy some delicious homemade coconut cookies from a man and his son with their push cart.

After lunch, we had an opportunity to go into the town on our own to do a little shopping and explore the town. We went inside St Anthony’s Church where it was the first time I have ever seen Christ set against the backdrop of the ocean with Galapagos penguins and marine iguanas! The stained glass windows of the Galapagos animals were so beautiful looking through from the inside. In the center of town there was a small soccer stadium. After exploring the town, we headed back to the beach for a swim. The water was surprisingly not too cold without my wet suit. A little boy, about 10 years old, and I were the only ones in the water and without speaking a word of English, he showed me how to body surf. He was like a sea lion diving under the waves and catching the big ones. I had so much fun with him!

After drying off, Joyce and I headed over to a tiny beach bar to meet up with LuLu and others. Here we were introduced to the signature drink of Puerto Villamil- the Coco Loco! With the help of a machete which she wielded with great agility and aim, the owner whacked open a chilled coconut for each of us on a tree stump, brought it over and had us sip out part of the coconut water (so refreshing!) so she could then pour in the rum (or I think it was that Ecuadorian firewater made with sugarcane!). Wow- those coconuts were big and you definitely would go loco if you drank more than one of these!

Others soon joined us at the beach bar and Lulu showed how to “bottoms up” a Coco Loco! Lulu seems to know everyone on the islands- including the proprietor of this beach bar. It was also a chance to get another coconut popsicle!

Before heading back to the village dock to meet our pangas, we walked over to the soccer stadium which was filled with families watching their children play soccer. Back on the Bonita we looked down into the water and saw black tip reef sharks swimming by the boat.

Tonight was our last evening aboard the Bonita. Stephen served us all a special cocktail and the entire crew and captain came out to the lounge and gave us a special toast. What a fantastic crew we had for this trip! After dinner, the chef presented Susan and Sean with a specially made cake for their anniversary- topped with a sea turtle carved from a kiwi! After dinner it was time to start packing 😦 Sadly, this was our last night.

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