Someone who calls herself a writer keeps hijacking my blog to blab about rights reversion, Author’s Cuts, and Sindie publishing. I tell you, I will not have it! I will not have it at all. This is a travel blog. Okay, so it’s not a travel blog, it’s an author’s blog, but it’s time to return to The Tales of The Galapagos, starring…me, myself, my husband and two relatives. Yes, that’s five of us in total. One was invisible. It’s not her fault.
If you want to see where we left off, check out this link for Day 6, Settling In and Giant Tortoises in the Wild. Or click “Galapagos 2012” in the Categories list in the sidebar to your right and start at the beginning.
First, before we get to Day 7 and how the Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela Island tried to kill me (or at least ruin my socks), I should confess that Day 7 of the Galapagos is really Day 2 of the Galapagos. Days 1-5 were taken up by traveling and exploring Quito, Otalavo and Cotocachi.
So on Day 6 we settled in and got right down to exploring. During the night, our catamaran, The Cormorant, traveled to the largest of the Galapagos Islands, Isabela. Isabela is kind of shaped like a seahorse and has five volcanoes, one of which is Sierra Negra. Now, consider that the Group of Four was only starting to figure out that our 14-day cruise was beginning with Itinerary B. The people on the 7-day cruise already had this figured out, because, ‘natch, that was the cruise they’d paid for (I know, I’m ending a sentence with a preposition. Live with it). However, the Group of Four had to rely on our own finely honed methods of deduction. Flipping through the itinerary and listening to our guide describe Sierra Negra the night before helped.
Travel Tip! Print out the itinerary for your Galapagos cruise and take it along. Have your sister-in-law give your husband a map of the Galapagos and take that along, too! Then, when you’re all confused about why you’re visiting Isabela (Tour B) instead of Bachus Beach on Santa Cruz Island (Tour A), you can compare the map to the itinerary and figure it out.
Travel Tip! There’s usually a map of the Islands on the boat somewhere, so you don’t necessarily have to take one along. But a clever traveler brings her own (and then draws all over it to show where she’s traveled) (actually, her husband does that) (this person talking in the third person is the invisible member of our party to whom I referred at the beginning of this post).
Our boat anchored near the town of Puerto Villamil. We ate a hearty breakfast and headed off:
Low tide as we ventured onto the island. Look in the bottom right. It's a sea lion!
Can’t see him? Here’s a close-up:
Awwwwwwwwww. He’s scratching his ear. Very beagle-like behavior, I must say.
Travel Tip! While in the Galapagos, never call a sea lion a seal. They are different animals, and calling a sea lion a seal might earn you a scowl from Someone Who Knows Better or a fwack on the head by someone who doesn’t. Best not to risk it. For one thing, sea lions have ear flaps and four nipples. Want to know more? Check out this link for the San Diego Zoo (my teaching capacity is limited).
To get to the starting point for our hike up to the volcano, we boarded this cute little bus:
Travel Tip! Don’t fall out of the bus. It’s easy to fall off while climbing on, climbing out, or if someone pushes you while the bus is moving. Try to resist pushing the other passengers off the bus. If you don’t like someone on your cruise (and, really, you should be so easy to get along with that everyone just loves you, and vice versa), there are easier ways to avoid them, such as ensuring you never ride in the same panga as them (now everyone from Tour B of my cruise who happens to be reading this is madly trying to remember if they never, ever rode in a panga with me). (I would not avoid anyone. I am Canadian. We are polite).
The thing to remember about itineraries is that they are subject to change. I am pretty certain that’s a rule. Plus, tour itineraries are not updated every three minutes. And when you’re traveling somewhere like the Galapagos, where there’s a wet season and a dry season, and where specific activities occur and specific animals are seen during certain months of the year…well, let’s just put it this way…if your itinerary states that “hiking, horseback riding, riding, walking” will occur during your visit to Sierra Negra, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will do all four activities. Those are the activities of possibility, so to speak. So, say, if you happen to pass one horse on your way to the base of the hiking trail for Sierra Negra, don’t take it personally. The other horses were sleepy (maybe), and wouldn’t you really rather hike? The chances of you hiking instead of horseback riding are…well, I don’t know what the chances are, but I would say, prepare to hike.
Travel Tip! (see previous paragraph).
I would like you to note the blue sky in the picture of the bus. It’s entirely possible I took it in the afternoon (or another member of my party did) and got my photos mixed up. Or it’s possible that weather changes very quickly on Isabela Island. Take your pick.
Hiking the trail to the Sierra Negra Volcano.
Now, note the lack of blue sky in the above picture of the group hiking up the trail.
The hike was long. Very long. And the path was damp. Very damp. And muddy. Very muddy.
Travel Tip! If you buy new white running socks for your Galapagos cruise, do not wear them for the very first time ever on the hike up Sierra Negra. You will carry the soil of the hiking trail on those socks for freaking Ever.
When I say the hike was long, I remember it being at least two hours. However, considering I was close to passing out from the effort of contributing to three different conversations while trying not to slip on the mud and still attempting to breathe, I can’t be certain. Rest assured, it is long. Very long. And not to be attempted without trusty walking/hiking shoes, a walking stick if you’re clumsy or just want the extra help, lots of water, your WATERPROOF jacket (I can not stress the waterproof aspect enough), and a zest for adventure. If you lack the latter, chose an itinerary that doesn’t include a hike up a volcano (Travel Tip!).
Remember that cloudy sky? Well, if you finally reach the volcano caldera and you get to see the view for all of two minutes before the clouds completely cover it and it begins to rain, don’t say I didn’t warn you. So here I go: it might rain. Relax. Enjoy it. You’re on vacation. It’s paradise! If it never rained, everything would be dry and brown and…dead.
View of the caldera in the moments before it began to rain:
Isn’t that gorgeous? It’s not all mist. Some of it is smoky wisps from the caldera.
Note: When your guide tells you not to step too close to the edge or you might fall in, this is not a wise time to test his or her limits. A little jig is enough, several safe feet away from the rim. Your guide doesn’t know you well at this point, and you don’t want him thinking he might have to risk his hide diving into the caldera after you. Plus, if you die, you’ll ruin the hike for the rest of your group.
Note: The volcano did not try to suck me into its depths. I was clever. I played it safe. I danced my jig several feet away from the edge. But, what goes up must come down, and so, after viewing the caldera for two minutes before the rain began falling in earnest, we thenceforth and heretowhat began our hike back down.
Once it starts to rain, it’s super important to watch your step. And it might be wise to take note of who’s hiking down right in front of you. Because if, say, it’s your brother-in-law and his feet are twice as big as yours, his advice to, “Step where I’m stepping” isn’t as easy to follow as he might assume. And when the guide, several people in front of you, warns, “Stay on the path!”, he means Stay. On. The. Freaking. Path. Do. Not. Step. Two. Inches. Off. It. Or one inch.
Remember that scene in Romancing the Stone, when Joan Wilder takes a false step and goes sliding down a muddy waterslide-type thingie? That scene flashed in my mind as I tried to follow my BIL’s monster-sized footsteps, my left foot veered half a centimeter off the path and—down I went! Foot slipping away, body falling out from under me, my injured right shoulder (rotator cuff) getting a jolt as I swung out my elbow to prevent my fall.
“Cindy!” says BIL. “You’re supposed to step where I’m stepping.”
“Get smaller feet, then,” I muttered, or imagined, or made up.
Guide, from several people ahead: “Watch your step!”
Woman behind you: “I’m so glad I’m following you. I know just where not to place my foot.”
“Pleased to be of service.” (or something along those lines).
Eventually, if you survive this Attack of the Killer Path, as I did, you will return to your cute little bus and note the lava ALL over the island. It’s incredibly interesting.
No, that's not leftover asphalt beside the road. It's lava!
Back in Puerto Villamil, after a hearty lunch, we visited the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center.
Bunch of little Giant Tortoises
A big one.
After visting the Center, you might get so lucky as to have a chance to grab a beer (or your beverage of choice) with other members of your group in Puerto Villamil. I suggest you take advantage of it.
Remember when I said that your panga driver might try to steer you under the catamaran, which is especially freaky the first time (but fun every time), don’t be surprised if he does this your very first night (technically the second night). Relax. Enjoy it. It’s paradise!