------------------------------- ------------------------------------ On and Off The Needles

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Middle Three

The trip continues with days three, four and five!

Day three was pretty much the longest and most exhausting day. We remained on Isabella island at our super cute hotel. This day started early - we were hiking Sierra Negra, one of the five volcanoes on the island. It was an 8 mile round trip hike, but we climbed about 4800 vertical feet.

The climb started out very foggy and chilly. We walked up the volcano, then circled around the crater. It was so foggy you couldn't even see into the crater. Lucky for us, the fog lifted for just a bit - enough to see the vastness of the crater.

(if you look to the right in the picture you can see the walls of the crater). As we hiked, it was really dusty. A lot of the tour groups use horses to get up to the top. They make a mess of the landscape. Being a more environmentally friendly and active tour, we hiked up. It didn't prevent us from getting absolutely covered in dust though. The mist gave the dust a nice place to land and stick. (Hubby has a pair of socks from this hike that just will not come clean!) Pablo told us that as we circled the crater, as we approached the northern side, it would get sunnier. He was so right.

We stopped for lunch before venturing onto the lava fields. We were actually going to walk on lava that was from the 1979 eruption! The most recent eruption was in 2005. Pablo showed us some video of that. Incredible. We sat and ate under a huge, beautiful tree - the perfect lunch stop. As we continued on in our hike, the landscape got more and more barren the closer we got to the lava field.

The land started looking more and more like a scene out of Star Trek.

The formations were beautiful. There were many different colors depending on what element (iron, sulfur, etc) was concentrated in the area we were in at the time. I never knew there were so many colors on a volcano! The hike was long and hot. We saw fissures, giant caverns and amazing formations. But when we got to the top. Wow.

The view was just incredible. The wind was whipping so fast that it was hard to stand up. Pablo had us sit perfectly still and not talk for a minute. Hearing the wind, the birds - it was such a serene and other-worldly experience. Truly amazing.

As we hiked down, all dust covered and exhausted, I thought a lot about just being on top of an active volcano. Scary and exciting all at the same time! The hike ended about 5pm. A very, very full 9 hour hike! We all collapsed in our rooms after a long, hot shower. Sleep came very early for me!

Day four - New Year's Eve arrives! The day started out early (again!) with a boat ride to Las Tintoreas island. It is named for the White Tipped Reef Shark that resides there. On the way, we saw lots of Sea Lions lounging about in the sun. I just couldn't get enough of them. They are so much like dogs in their behavior! We also saw some fisherman exhibiting very Sea Lion like behavior....

When we got onto the island, the landscape was very stark and harsh looking.

This island is so unique and contains such biodiversity, it has been adopted by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. It turns out this island is home to many, many baby marine iguanas.

They were pretty darn cute - and they were everywhere! You had to look where you stepped. We walked among the sharp, jagged lava rock to a really neat channel. There, we saw the islands namesake.

It was amazing to watch them just swim up and down the channel so close. We also saw a rare octopus that was cruising for some crabs. Watching him hunt was very neat - sneaking up on crabs and just barely missing catching them. They are quick! There was so much life on this island! Baby sea lions in the shade, more marine iguanas and frigate birds flying above. Amazing. So much to look at and take in!

After we left the island, we went snorkeling on the other side of the bay. My first time.

I was a little freaked out at first, and the water was a little chilly (about 70 degrees) but there was so much to see! Schools of fish, pretty fish, even a puffer fish! Hubby tried to get him to puff up, but no luck. It was fun. My hands and lips were a bit purple when I got out, but I was glad I got to see what lurks under the surface!

Our next stop was the Tortoise Research and Breeding center. (as if you couldn't tell by the sign)

Here, they have a group of tortoises that were airlifted during the 1999 eruption of Sierra Azul.

Next up was the very somber Wall of Tears. It was built in 1950 by prison inmates living on the island in a Penal colony. In order to keep them tired and quiet, the guards had them build a wall out of the lava rock. The wall is huge.

This wall is often not included on tours because it is part of the islands more dark history. Originally, it was used as military installation which operated during World War II. The situation grew worse and the colony ended up turning into something like a concentration camp. In 1950 a guard forced the people of the penal colony to build the wall. There was an uprising in 1958, and a prisoner used a yacht to escape to the mainland. After the world heard about the wall and the treatment at the colony, the government shut it down and stopped sending prisoners to the islands.

The day and year ended with a night of flames and fun. New Years eve was definitely eye opening! There is a tradition that families build effigies called AƱos Viejos(Old Years) then burn them at midnight. It represents people, places and events of the past year being burnt away and starting anew. They pile them in the center of town as well as burn them on the street.

(note the guy pouring the big can of gasoline all over them!) The stuff went up in flames so fast and so hot - it was insane! The flames were really high and kind of scary! As we walked around, the streets looked a bit like a war zone.

We managed to stay up until midnight thanks to a little nap before hand. It was a great night!

Day six was all about the water. We hopped on a boat and left Isabella and headed to Punta Cormorant off the island of Floriana Island. It was more open water, so it was a bit colder, and a lot choppier. We did get to see Sea Lions up close though!

I managed to make it the entire time, though I was really cold. We then got back on the boat and headed to Espanola Island - another island we never set foot on, but snorkeled off of!

By late afternoon we arrived on San Cristobal. There was a large greeting committee.

The port was really pretty and packed full of boats. This is the capital of the Galapagos, and one of the oldest islands. Not quitting early, we headed over to the Interpretive Center. It has a great history of the islands, as well as a really neat releif map showing both underwater and land topography. We concluded our visit with a sunset hike up Frigatebird Hill.

Once there, we were met with a beautiful white sand beach, and plenty of sleeping Sea Lions.

Another full day drew to a close. The first day of the new year! Every day I was learning tons and seeing things that I had only seen on TV. I didn't want it to end!

Next up: Scuba, sea lions and the equator!