Monday, March 12, 2007

Galapagos, Day 2 – Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island

This morning we woke up to a golden break in the clouds and the marvelous sight of ten sea lions frolicking on the dock outside our balcony. One scratched his neck with a flipper, another rubbed his back against the dock, and two others flirted with each other in the water. Bright red crabs crawled along the black lava rock below our deck.

In the morning, we ran around investigating the last minute tour options. We found the best information at Moonrise Travel, where we were able to book a week-long trip on a nice boat for 42% off the normal price. On Friday we depart for a tour around the Western Islands, one of the less frequently visited destinations in the Galapagos. We had the option of going on the Sagitta, a first-class boat with sails, also at a discounted price. And while the boat was beautiful, I worried that the sails would result in a rocky ride. So we went with the slightly more stable vessel.

We have several days before our cruise departs, so we decided to travel by boat to another island and spend a few days here. We boarded a small boat, the Nelson, together with 13 other passengers. Using three 200 horsepower motors, the driver sped across the ocean, reducing the usually 2-2.5 hour trip to 1.5 hours. On the way, in addition to the usual bumps and falls from the waves, we felt a bump unlike any other. Mark saw a red spurt. I saw a large, long and narrow creature lying in our wake. The driver looked back, paused, then continued on his way, soon returning to full throttle. We had run over something and the passengers looked questioning, confused and helpless. I thought it was a dolphin or a shark, but the driver said it was a manta ray, a large version of a stingray. It made me sad to think that we'd killed something enroute to the National Park.

When we arrived, park police met us, making sure we wiped our feet on the map (so as not to carry sands from one island to another) and checking our passports. But despite these efforts at preservation, they didn't know we killed an animal on the way.

Mark and I walked the 15 minute distance to town, along a road of white sand. We checked out several hotels and decided upon the Cormorant. Despite a rude and slovenly owner, we loved the third floor room with a private balcony and glass doors directly overlooking the beach. For $50 a night, we can hear the crash of the waves nonstop and feel the cool ocean air that circulates through the screen.

Puerto Villamil is a town of 2,200. It was first founded in the early 1800s and named for General Jose Villamil, the general who annexed the islands for Ecuador in 1832. Today it is a small town of sandy white roads. Like in Puerto Ayora, most vehicles are white 4x4 trucks. Tourism has increased substantially in the past few years, but the locals remain kind and friendly.

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