Our next adventure was hiking Humedales, which is a wetlands area not far from Puerto Villamil where four different types of mangrove trees grow and lots of birds and fish live. We walked through a section of mangroves along the trail and our guide taught us how to differentiate between the varieties of trees. I was surprisingly cool in the limited shade cast by these trees, compared to the 90 degree temperature in full sunlight that day.
As the mangrove forest gave way to the beach, we saw more hardened lava flows, tunnels and large rocks left from the previous eruptions. And, as always, there were lots of iguanas, just hanging out. Only this time, we seemed to notice more young iguanas here than in the more densely populated areas. At Tintoreras, we never got really close to the nesting area, so the iguanas we saw on the trails were mostly adults.
I was astonished to discover that what resembled a light sand beach from a distance was actually nothing but tiny shells and bits of volcanic rock! This was the only time I was really sad that we couldn’t take anything away from the islands, because I wanted to keep this handful of beach forever.
The lava flows cover everything, exposed above ground here, and our guide told us that it is not uncommon for people to be walking on them and they suddenly collapse, since they are completely hollow and may have very thin walls.
Continuing on the trail towards “The Wall of Tears”, we got close to some of the tall cacti so abundant on Galapagos. Because they don’t get hurricanes or tornadoes, just occasional heavy rainstorms, some of the taller ones can be hundreds of years old without being damaged by weather. This one, our guide Ricardo estimated was at least 600 years old.
The Wall of Tears is a monument to Isabela Island’s time as a penal colony. Our guide told us that the history of the prison and the wall are really terrible: mass starvation, abuse, deprivation, revolt and the eventual end of prisoners sent here by the government of Ecuador in the late 1950’s. Thousands of prisoners died here for all the reasons listed above, and the wall stands monument to their fate.
We left Humedales and headed over to the Isabela Island tortoise breeding center. Here, multiple populations from multiple Galapagos islands are housed, bred and nurtured before being released to the wild on their individual islands of origin. The center claims that tortoises from South Isabela (Sierra Negra Volcano, Cerro Azul): Cazuela, Cinco Cerros, Roca Union, San Pedro, Tables and Cerro Paloma have been reproduced in captivity. In total there are 330 juvenile and adult tortoises.
Each of the many “corrals” are surrounded by low walls (giant tortoises don’t climb, so that makes containing them much easier) and separated based on their species identification. It’s fascinating to walk around with a national park guide who knows some of the identifying characteristics between them so you can really see evolution in action!
We saw the nursery section, where eggs are incubated and hatched. The guide told us that they keep the young tortoises here for years instead of just until they are autonomously viable, because they are still in danger of being killed by getting their shells crushed or cracked before they completely harden and thicken (mainly by cows or vehicles brought to the islands by humans).
Another great day full of discoveries and unexpected learning experiences!