Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Isabela´s Desolate Highlands

The Galapagos islands are expensive to visit. That is nothing new. Not only does it cost a lot of money to “just be here” on a cruising boat, but the sightseeing can also set you back hundreds of dollars. While in San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, we could get a good feeling of what there is to see by exploring the area ourselves, in Isabela those options are limited.  There are only a few places where you are allowed to go without a guide and those we visited the first days of our stay here. We enjoyed every bit of it, but Isabela has more to offer than the Wall of Tears walk, the Concha y Perla snorkel lagoon and the turtle hatchery.

A trip to the volcano Sierra Negra costs $35-$45 if arranged with a tour agency. A small group of us managed to cut out the middle man and booked it for $25 a person, box lunch included. Even though this sounds like a good deal, you need to know that everything that is really needed for this excursion, is transportation (a 45 minute bumpy ride) to the well-marked trail. By taxi, that would cost $40 return for up to 7 people. But, as with many places in the Galapagos, a guide is required to babysit you along the way. If you´re lucky, the guide speaks English, you can follow his or her pace, and you can learn a lot. Our group counted 18 people and walked at a comfortable speed. The trail was 8 km each way, so quite a distance had to be covered.

From the trailhead, the climb towards the massive crater, at an altitude of 1124m took about a half an hour. Volcan Sierra Negra reputedly has the second largest caldera in the world, and last erupted in 2005.  When staring into the giant collapsed crater, you can see where the most recent lava destroyed the vegetation and which area remained lush and untouched. The walk followed the crater wall for many kilometers and offered free pickings of ripe fruits from the introduced guava tree. After a while, we descended towards another volcano: Volcan Chico, where we hiked up and down for 2 km and scrambled over black volcanic rock. 

The landscape was very desolate and beautiful in its own way. We were surrounded by residue lava in many different shapes and colors; the area representing a moonscape full of bizarrely formed rock formations.
At the highest point, with a view to behold, we all had lunch: a plastic bag full of surprises. We found a ham & cheese sandwich, a juice box in the form of a race car, a small bag of chips, a chocolate cookie, a banana, and a bottle of water. The hike back was a reverse repetition of the first part, but with a full belly and tired muscles. The semi-permanent cloud surrounding Sierra Negra let go of some of its contents, making the trip back refreshing. After moving for 16 km in shoes, our feet – only used to flip-flops – were happy to get rid of their burden. Blisters were found and soles had come loose. The tropics are harsh for glued things and white bodies, but we were all happy to see the sun again, after the metal benched “vehicle” dropped us off in town. Shaken but not stirred.

Volcano expedition with Birgit and Christian from SV Pitufa and Kate from SV Iolea

Lava tunnel near Volcan Chico

View from the top of Chico volcano - our lunch break

Once in a while something green pops up: slow-growing cacti

The ride back to town was as bouncy and as painful as the first one

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