At the main dock in Puerto Ayora, we took a water taxi to board our ferry to Isabela Island. We were surprised to find the boat, Gaby, was barely larger than the small boat that took us scuba diving the day prior. The boat was completely full with every inch of space occupied by bodies. They handed out life jackets to each passenger and we headed out to sea. About thirty minutes into the two hour journey, the captain slowed down the engines with a concerned look on his face. After turning off the engines, he motioned for the passengers sitting along the back to move and he began to inspect one of the three engines. After a ten minute inspection, we noticed that the caption appeared to be changing filters. He put the engine back together and we again headed towards Isabela. About twenty minutes later, a different engine began smoking. This time, the captain kept the boat progressing forward with his deckhand at the wheel while he disassembled the troubled engine. After a few minutes, he handed what looked like an air intake forward. Then, he reassembled the engine and went back to the wheel like nothing happened. I’ve heard of a break and fix method to maintenance but not while the machine is in operation! Luckily, his fixes on the fly worked and we arrived to Isabela only two hours late.
We walked the kilometer into town and found our prebooked guesthouse, Hospedaje Janet, but no one was home to check us in. We decided to get dinner and try back. After an okay meal (pretty much all the food on Isabela was just okay), we headed back but still no one was able to help us. The neighbors tried to help and eventually were able to reach someone on the phone. An older woman showed up and even without being able to speak English, was able to get us into the correct room. About fifteen minutes later, one of the owners arrived and gave us all the necessary information including wifi which was surprisingly fast for being on an island in the middle of the Pacific.
Our guesthouse included a nice breakfast with bread and scrambled eggs. As we were enjoying the morning, we learned that fellow guests had been exploring on Isabela for several days and they said our best chance at seeing penguins was at the port we had arrived to the previous night. Based on their tip, we decided to spend the afternoon in search of penguins and the morning watching more flamingos.
We took a path near our guesthouse that led inland past several lakes where flamingos were searching the waters for their midmorning snack. Excited to watch more, we continued down the path but then found the Tortoise Breeding Center. We saw enclosures full of tortoises at different phases of their life including a new born and some unhatched eggs. Inside the center, we learned that majority of the young turtles are recovered from nests throughout the islands. Exotic animals such as rats, dogs, and livestock introduced by humans have created the worst threat to tortoise eggs or young tortoises. Therefore, the center obtains nests and nurtures the babies until they can be safety reintroduced into the wild. It seems like an intense process but it is necessary to keep the population alive.
Midday, we searched for a market in town to grab a cheap lunch but we were only able to find basic stores. After stopping in two or three tiny stores, we finally found a few oranges and a package of crackers that would hold us over until dinner. We stopped in a tourist office to rent some snorkel gear and headed outside of town to the port.
At the port, we immediately saw several small penguins swimming around the dock chasing small bait fish. Two were even trying to steal fish from a pelican that was also fishing in the area! It was so fun to watch the small birds glide through the water and it made us want to swim along side of them. We walked down a path adjacent to the port which led to a swimming area we hoped had more penguins. Along the path, we passed marine iguanas and a sea lion relaxing amongst the mangroves. Once in the water with our snorkel gear, we were disappointed to find only a few grasses with a few fish swimming about. We decided to try the other side of the port where there’s a small beach.
Immediately from the beach, we could see sea lions and occasionally a few penguins darting around in the surf. Because the visibility was reduced in the surf, we found it easer for one person to stay on land and direct the other to the location of animals. Our plan worked great with each of us having the chance to swim with more playful sea lions and even get a glimpse of the shy penguins in the water.
The next day, our exploring continued with a walk down a path to the west of town that followed the shoreline. We walked the magnificent beach that lines Puerto Villamil while watching birds dive in the surf, marine iguanas walk up the beach, and brightly colored crabs scurry into the sand. The path led us to an underground tunnel formed by lava flow from one of the volcanos on the island. The path continued, but we decided to stay at La Playita beach for a few relaxing hours in the sun. When we headed back to town right before sunset, the tide had come up almost completely covering the beach. We enjoyed a beer watching the sunset and had a pretty good dinner at Red Lobster for our last night on the island.
We woke the following morning for a long day of travel. After a thankfully uneventful ferry back to Puerto Ayora on a different boat, we headed to the north end of Santa Cruz to catch a noon flight back to Quito. We spent just one night there in a wonderful hotel called Las Mercedes. The following morning, we’ll head to Lima for a month of traveling in Peru.