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 Isla Isabella - Friday, 23 July 2004

After few days of hard work by Susan and myself, on Thursday, 22 July, Fiu website was finally updated with the new log and photos from Venezuela, San Blas, Panama Canal and our trip from Panama to Galapagos. This was indeed a big job and we are glad it is over. Now, finally free again, we decided to set sails and move to the Isla Isabela, the biggest island of the Galapagos archipelago located some 50 miles west of Santa Cruz. Isabela is one of the 'youngest' island of the Galapagos archipelago, it is very high (over 1000 m) and has 4 big volcanoes and hundreds of small volcanoes some of which are still active.

After a nice sailing day we arrived to Port Villamil, the 'capital' of Isla Isabela. This is a small village with still unpaved roads, very low key architecture and hardly a thousand inhabitants. However, the port of Villamil has a well protected anchorage, surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches, turquoise waters, lagoons full of flamingos and wetland reserves full of iguanas, seals, white tip sharks, manta rays...

Dramatic skies over Isabela Villamil post office & general store

Entering Puerto Villamil was quite a frightening experience - on our port and starboard there were beaches and reefs creating huge breakers. Our chart was not really detailed and updated. Although as approaching harbor we put sails down, the big waves were pushing us into the harbor and whenever water became shallower than 5 meters I had this scary, hair raising sensation - shall we touch some coral head or not?? Luckily, it was early afternoon and we could still navigate by eye and by following few markers in front of the bay managed to get into this safe and quiet anchorage – after spending almost 10 days on anchor in Puerto Ayora which is completely open to the south and one of the most rolly anchorage we have ever been, the quietness and smoothness of Puerto Villamil was very much appreciated.

And guess what, out of 4 yachts already anchored in the bay, we knew all 4! Our Kiwi friends from Colon and Panama, Music, Holly B and Alexander III, and Raekved were all here – arrived just few days before us. Instead of making a stop at Santa Cruz like us, they stopped at San Cristobal and from there sailed directly to Isla Isabela. Music, a steel 40 footer and the Norwegian 45 foot catamaran Raekved (Drift Wood in Norwegian) needed 11 days from Panama to Galapagos and the other two Kiwi boats, Holly B and Alexander III, needed 8 days, as compared to us who needed only 6.5 days!!

After saying hello and getting the first hand information on where to go and what to see in Villamil from our neighbors, we had a quick lunch (Susan cooked brussels sprouts, mashed potato and pork chops) then went for a tour with our dinghy to the nearby Wetland Reserve, Sendero Les Tintoreras.

And these are the pretty ones... Spot the iguanas!

The experience was fantastic, condensed experience of the ‘Galapagos in 5 minutes’, with the moon-like landscape, black, sharp volcanic rock, hundreds of well camouflaged iguanas sun bathing on the rocks, families of seals and penguins lazing on the sandy beaches, white tip sharks resting in the lagoon, manta ray and birds, birds …. As they say on the big board at the entrance to this Wetland Reserve ‘This Wetland is unique. For its characteristics and its biodiversity, the water which surrounds this small island the same as lagoons, mangroves and beaches of Villamil Bay were designated by the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of the International Importance’.

Ivo making new friends Baby seals sleeping under a bush Come play with me!

After a few hours walking through this small Reserve we hopped into dinghy and decided to visit the ‘capital’, Villamil which was just across the bay.

At the dock, Joseph, a well presented local tourist guide introduced himself and presented his main offering.. trip to the highlands. Just what we were looking for! We were of course interested as we intended to visit volcanoes anyway. The price sounded fine as well - US$ 25 per head, for the whole day trip, including a truck, mules and the guide (much cheaper than equivalent offering on the Santa Cruz). Soon we realised that he had already spoken to the crew of New Zealander and Norwegian yachts. As decision was not made yet when to go, we called crews of other yachts by his hand held VHF and soon found out that the crews of Music and Raekved are interested to join us for tomorrow's trip to highlands – all together 9 of us, 6 adults and 3 kids. Deal done and Josef will make sure that the pick-up truck is waiting for us tomorrow morning at 8 am as well as 9 mules in mountains.

Continued our trip to the Villamil, small sleepy village with unpaved streets, small shops and mostly wooden houses/huts. Place is quite basic, no main street, no proper infrastructure, but very friendly people. Susan posted a few postcards from the little post office/store, wonder whether the cards will ever arrive?

Saturday, 24 July 2004

Got up early, dug out our winter garments, sweaters, long trousers, jackets, hats, socks .. I had not worn socks for at least 4 months!

We were all at the dock on time, Joseph and the truck already waiting for us. Boarded the back of the truck and off we went – another adventure! Road was leading through the desert like lowland with a number of lava rivers, all very dry and arid with occasional big cacti sticking out of grey rocks. After ten minutes on the truck we were all dusty and looking forward to the end of this bumpy ride .. but soon there was more trees around us although all dry and without leafs, like it is still winter time. As we were climbing up, the greenery become obvious and soon we were surrounded by thick vegetation, all green and lush! Spring and all trees in full bloom! Ten minutes later, entered the late summer season .. banana palms and orange trees full of fruits – have never seen so big and full orange trees! As we were making our way up the hill it become drizzly and cold – we were obviously heading for late autumn! Hats and jackets were taken out of our rucksacks. After some 45 minutes ride, the truck finally stopped – we were all looking forward to stretching our legs and dust off our trousers and faces.

The Kiwis from 'Music' At least it is not raining! Too cold even for a Croatian

Horses were already waiting for us at the road side – each of us was given a horse & a basic 3 second horse ride introductory course and off we went to the drizzly, foggy, Friday morning mist …  For most of us this was a first or nearly first horse ride so you can imagine our apprehension and anxiety?! Advanced course will include how to stop the horse – where is the handbrake?!!!Help!

On the way up the scenery changed even more – the fog became thicker, air cooler, windy, drizzly .. it all looked like we were heading for a skiing trip up the mountains! We had to put on all our sweaters, long pants, hats... and then, after some 45 minutes the fog became thinner, air warmer and all of a sudden we came above the cloud level. Weather was again picture perfect summer - crisp clear air, blue sky! We arrived at the rim of the Volcano Sierra Negro, the second largest volcano on earth with the diameter of 10 km! It was an impressive view - huge mountain ring surrounding a flat desert like crater in the middle - could have been a lake some time ago. On one side, clouds were still flowing out of the crater looking like huge still waterfalls!

Lonely riders in the mist Don Quixote Sancho Pansa

Twenty minutes later we arrived near a small oasis - few huge trees with the shade big enough to provide a perfect resting point for our sore legs and backs. After a quick lunch and deserved break went for a walk to see Volcano Chicco, a number of small volcanoes that were created in 1979, only 25 years ago. The scenery was really out of this world – dark sharp porous volcanic rocks were forming ‘lava rivers’ from a number of nearby small volcanoes – not bigger than few hundred meters in diameter… huge lonely cacti sticking out of black lava rocks .. the sky was clear and sun was draining out the last atoms of energy from our already exhausted bodies.. after an hour’s walk to the volcanoes we had to walk back as well, and then again 2 hrs ride on the horses, and the truck!! .. it was tough on all of us – yachties are not used to ride horses and to walk so much and conclusion was that sailing is much nicer/easier sport than horse riding!

Yachties resting after a day on horse and land! Ivo is wondering how we can transport this cacti back to the boat Weird and wonderful volcanic landscape

___________

Now I've (Susan) never ridden a horse before - I tell you this was not in my sailing contract. Boy was I sore the next day...but so was everyone else. Strange creatures these horses, they obviously have their own ranking system in their little community, no way could the lower ranks get past the leader horse - and also they sure did their own thing. Mind you, most of us had no clue as to how to manage or direct this thing - no handbrake or reverse on it and if it decided to trot you just went along shaken (not stirred) like a sack of potatoes, in my case laughing hysterically and trying not to fall off. And if it wanted to take a route through bushes, well you just went along with this, being scratched and torn by branches and hoping that you came out on the other side not too shredded and in tatters. The boys were desperately hoping to arrive back still in condition to reproduce, for the younger ones at least!

Ken, our Kiwi friend laughed so hard he nearly fell off when his wife Mary whose horse was the leader horse, shrieked for help because her horse suddenly took a 90 degree turn into the bushes and she didn't know what to do.  He was laughing so hard because he couldn't even stop or direct his own horse, never mind helping her!

But we all came back in one piece so all is well.

We'll be leaving for Marquesa tomorrow - that'll be about 2 to 3 solid weeks of non stop sailing but with good conditions we hope - the wind on the beam or stern, so should be comfortable. And, here today, the sun is out so the sweaters have come off.

Monday July 26, 2004

Last day in the bay of Puerto Villamil.

We've invited all the other yachties across for Happy hour tonight at 6pm - it is Ivo's birthday in two days, 29th July, so thought we'd at least celebrate it with a few others - there are 4 other yachts here in the bay and we know 3 of them from earlier stops in Panama.

Celebrating Ivo's birthday in true Kiwi style Ivo & Caroline counting the candles! How many?!! Fiu's stern transformed into a dinghy dock

12 of us squeeze into Fiu’s main cabin for drinks and snacks and Fiu’s stern looks like a dinghy dock! Many rum punches later it is past 11pm when the last person leaves:

Mary & Ken with their two kids, Meg and Dylan from ‘Music’, Tony, Ivan & Jane from ‘Holly B’, Julian, Caroline and Chris from Alexandra III and of course Ivo and I.

Everyone signed the birthday card which I’ll give to Ivo on Thursday and Julian brought a new fishing lure he had made as a gift (which turned out to be the best lure of all as few days latter we caught a magnificent Dorado - check the next page).

We spent the day cleaning Fiu’s hull, clearing the deck of sails & other things lying around, repairing the radar reflector and going for a quick snorkel further down in the bay.  The weather was better – mostly blue skies today.

Fiu, our boat will try to beat Holly B's last crossing record - they did this trip 2 years ago and took 17 days to reach Marquesa. We hope to make it in two weeks, who knows? Of course if little or no wind, then it could take 3 weeks or more....

 Tuesday, 27 July 2004

 We leave for Marquesa Islands. To read the log for this crossing please follow the link:

Next:  Galapagos to Marquesa crossing..

 

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