FROM THE LOG
One evening we set sail at sundown and sailed over night the 90 nautical miles to Isabela. We were first very tempted to just make a day sail (40 miles) over to Floreana, which has a colorful history (almost as from an Agatha Christie novel), but we were unsure of the harbor which seemed rather exposed to the then prevailing wind and swell. Afterwards we regretted the decision, when we learned from an other cruising boat that the anchorage was reasonably protected. So we may still sail over there before we leave the islands.
Isabela is the largest island, more than a hundred kilometers north to south, but there is only one small village by the name of Puerto Villamil, on the south coast. Most of the rest of the island is rugged and inaccessible and is uninhabited except for some farms on the mountain slopes not far from Villamil.
You can read Darwins short description of his arrival in Isabela (or Chatham as the English called it) in this excerpt from "The Voyage of the Beagle". There has been little change since his times, with the exception of more volcanic eruptions.
We enjoyed our stay at Isabela so much that we remained in the anchorage for 32 days. There was much to see and do on your own without having to use a guide as on most sites in the Galapagos. The number of sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, rays, white tip sharks and other fish as well as Blue Footed Boobies was great and we particularly enjoyed the small penguins chasing small Sergeant Major fishes around Scorpio. One day we hired a guide who drove us up to the highlands where we continued by foot on a six hour hike around the still smoking crater of Sierra Negra, which had a major eruption just 3 months earlier, on October 22, 2005.
We are far from zoologists and we don't have very good reference literature about the fauna of the islands, so we do not know the names of all the creatures that we got on film, but we hope we got most of them right.
After a month in the lagoons of Villamil we sailed back towards the east to Puerto Ayora in Academy Bay on the south coast of Isla Santa Cruz (the English called it Indefatigable). This port is the main tourist spot of the islands and most of the tour boats keep their base here. Therefore it is the most developed village in terms of amenities for the visitor. Of particular interest here are the headquarters of the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park.
We liked Puerto Ayora very much. It is an attractive, thriving little town. Of course much of the action is oriented to tourists, but the place seems to have a sense of local life as well. Most blue water cruisers avoid this place, but we think the bad reputation is un deserved. It is true that harbour is crowded with charter boats some days of the week, picking up guests that have arrived at the main airport of the islands and that there is some swell, but it's well worth the effort.
One of the reasons for our temporary trip back in an easterly direction was to pick up our younger son Tomas, who arrived here by air on February 27. He joins us on the passage to Polynesia. During the 8 days we waited for him to arrive, we made two trips to the highlands, one to a place where there are many tortoises roaming around and the other to Cerro Crocker: a hike through the Miconia zone to the highest point of Santa Cruz.
From Santa Cruz we sail to Floreana where we first anchored in one of the most famous anchorages, Post Office Bay. The barrel, where whalers left mail has been there in some form for maybe 200 years. Any captain of a boat that was heading back to port or to the country where the mail was addressed would take it along to be delivered. The site continues to be used.
From Post Office Bay we sailed to the west coast of Floreana, where we anchored in front of the Wittmer hotel. It is run by the daughter Ingeborg and grand daughter Erika, of Margareth Wittmer. Margareth arrived in the island together with her husband in the early 1930's, following the naturalist Dr. Ritter, who had made landfall a year earlier. Strange things soon started to happen, with the arrival of a baroness and her three lovers. The baroness and one of the lovers then disappeared without trace and the vegetarian Dr Ritter died from food poisoning, having eaten pork! Margareth Wittmer has written a book about the events: Floreana - A Woman's Pilgrimage to the Galapagos. The Wittmers have a nice Web page.
From Floreana we returned to Isabela for the last preparations prior to our passage from the Galapagos to French Polynesia. On March 7, 2006, we will set sail for the Marquesas Islands, 3.000 nautical miles to the west southwest.