Seahorses, giant sea tortoises, reef sharks and more boobies than you can shake a stick at. Our 1st taste of the national park was delicious, in spite of being in an organised group there was only one time I really felt like a floating carrot in a gringo soup.
7.30am we were picked up from our hostel and taken to the Pahoehoe tour office. There we got our wet suits sorted and met our guide Juan Carlos, who upon 1st impressions we could tell was going to be the best man for the job. By 9am we were loaded onto the boat, met our captain Roberto and the 1st mate who’s name was apparently the same as a popular Ecuadorian dish, and felt like we were in safe hands.
The excursion we’d paid to go on was to a place called Las Tuneles, 14 nautical miles from Puerto Villa Mil on Isla Isabela. To get there it takes 40 minutes and although the swell out to sea was quite large we still managed to spot a humpback whale and her baby. The whales bring their young back to the islands between July and November then stick around the coast for another 2-3 months. We also spotted many birds native to the galapagos which Juan Carlos pointed out along with an interesting fact or two. Did you know that the juvenile frigate bird can be distinguished by his white head? The males are the ones you see in pictures with the red sack under their neck inflated during mating time.
Juan Carlos proved himself as a very knowledgeable and capable guide within the first 5 minutes. He’d worked as a guide on and off ships in the galapagos for the last 25 years and also had at least 1000 dives under his belt so he knew his juvenile frigate birds (amongst other things). He explained the tunnels we were about to visit form a peninsula type shape so first we would visit the more scenic looking side and walk along the top visiting the famous blue footed boobies, then we would take the boat around the other side to get under the water and find even more unusual critters.
The black lava that forms the crusty edges of a lot of the galapagos islands really is something else. Walking along above the tunnels you get a really unique perspective and can see how the lava had cooled and solidified on top while the molten lava continued flow underneath creating pockets that over time have eroded and collapsed making for a very labyrinthine type landscape. Adding to the surrealism are the bright green and yellow mangroves which are able to drink up the sea water and disperse the salt into the yellow leaves. The other plant that seems to grow well are the cacti, however they have a different way to hydration. The cacti absorb the sweet fresh water as it evaporates off the rocks.
The star of this part of the tour were the blue footed boobies. These hilarious looking fellas are famous on the Galapagos and watching them waddle comically honking and whistling at each other it’s easy to see why. The reason for their feet is apparently because they needed to evolve with a point of difference to say the masked or red footed boobies to save interbreeding. But it’s now thought by scientists that their feet have high concentrations of oxygen just under the skin causing the light pigments to reflect a brilliant blue.
From the boobies we took the boat around the other side to begin our under water adventure which was the part I had been waiting for. Even though it was a bit drizzly and the water was chilly we had a blast! At one point Juan Carlos said to come over one at a time and he would help us to stay under the water to see a big surprise, that’s when we came face to face with a cave full of reef sharks. We also saw a black and a yellow sea horse clinging to the roots of the mangroves, I was surprised to see they were around 15cm long as I thought they would be much smaller. We also swam with giant sea tortoises, perhaps 2 meters in length, and saw hundreds of really interesting fish. We even saw the skeleton of a giant ray decomposed from a fleshy corpse in only 9 days. The guys knew exactly where to find all the best nature and were excited to share it with us.
We booked with a small travel agent in town through luck but I would highly recommend going direct to Pahoehoe and requesting Juan Carlos by name, he made our experience really fun and authentic. Ask him how to prevent sea sickness.
We paid $90usd each for the day tour including wetsuit (but we had our own snorkels)
Ave. Antonio Gil, Isabela