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We were persuaded by Akko and Ada's descriptions of Easter island that we should make a detour there on our way to Valdivia. The only realistic route is via the Galapagos, especially as we had a little time to kill before it was at all sensible to head south. In 1999 we had stayed at Puerto Ayora at Isla Santa Cruz, though Vicky took a five-day tour of other islands. We had heard good things about Villamil on Isla Isabela and headed there. The anchorage is well sheltered behind a reef, unlike Puerto Ayora, where you roll until you scream. The village is a half-mile walk away from the dinghy landing. There are a few fishing boats based at Villamil, but pickings are increasingly slim and they are very dependent on the vanishing sea-cucumber fishery. The anchorage is alive with wildlife. The sea lions are especially friendly and frolic around the boat, playing hide and seek, or perching on your stern scoop, if you have one.


Island Walk

There is a path on one of the islands that protects the anchorage. Going along this you can see much of the wildlife for which the Archipelago is so well known. Sea lions let us get within a hand's-reach. There were hundreds of black marine iguanas and red sally light-foot crabs. Among the birds were not only pelicans and blue-footed boobies, but also oyster-catchers, looking and sounding no different from those on the mud flats near West Mersea on the East Coast of England. We also saw scores of white-tipped reef sharks snoozing in the shallows of one of the tide-pools. All of this has, as a back-drop, acres of saw toothed black lava, eroded into fantastic shapes by the sea.

Breeding Centre

Isla Isabela has been home to the majority of the different species of giant tortoise that inhabited the Galapagos. Most were hunted, nearly to extinction, by whalers and other passing ships in the 19th Century. On Isabela and Santa Cruz there are now breeding centres to keep the surviving species going. On the walk to the centre we saw flamingoes and stilts, while back on the boat the boobies put on a diving spectacle during a feeding frenzy rather more animated than that of the tortoises.



Isla Isabela has basically been built up by volcanic eruption. The largest of these is just north of Villamil and erupted as recently as 1973. We went in a pickup to the end of the road and then hiked the remainder of the way to the crater rim. The caldera of this volcano is over five miles in diameter, the second largest in the world, though the most recent eruptions were from side vents. The landscape around the volcano varies from quite lush tropical growth, through arid, but vegetated, to desert landscape with cactuses and finally to a moonscape of ash and lava, with a few still-steaming vents and the occasional strong smell of sulphur. Along the path to the lava fields there were guava bushes growing like weeds, as well as flocks of lava-coloured Galapagos finches of the kind that so excited Darwin. They contrast sharply to the bright yellow warblers.