He picked us up at 9am on our boat. It turned out that our group had swelled to 3 lanchas of about 6 people each. Each boat had its own lancha driver, and Fabricio drove one boat and was the official park-authorized tour guide. Fabricio was born in the Galapagos and has lived almost all of his 28 years on Isabela. He's a handsome enterprising young guy, and knows enough English to get by.
Los Tunneles are collapsed lava tunnels on the shoreline, about 20 miles south of Puerto Villamil. The lancha ride was about an hour over the open ocean, along the coast. There was big swell with a light chop on top. With twin 100-HP Yamaha outboards, our boat could fly when the waves weren't too bad. At one point we got to a place where there was obviously some current (the waves were steep and choppy), so we slowed down to negotiate the waves.
The entry into the tunnels area is very tricky. There is a small channel between breaking waves, and the driver has to time his entry between sets of waves. Once inside, all was calm. But it looked like a moonscape.
The first stop was a small islet, where there was a small colony of Galapagos Penguins. These little guys are only about 12-16 inches high. They are the only penguins found in the northern hemisphere (the north end of Isabela extends slightly over the equator, and there are some penguins there). They were cute and we could get pretty close in the boat.
Next, we progressed in the boats through a series of small lagoons. On either side of us were lava islands and arches. The boats stopped at a spot and we were able to get out and walk around a big pool of water. In this natural pool we could see sea turtles, sharks, Eagle Rays, parrot fish, and of course the odd sea lion, just swimming lazily by. There were actually multiple pools, all connected by natural archways. So the animals could swim, we could observe, and nobody bothered anyone. While scrambling around the rocks, we also saw marine iguanas and the famous blue-footed boobies (a bird with azure feet).
When everyone had their fill of the pools, we loaded back up in the boats, and moved to a spot where we could snorkel. This was similar in terrain... multiple connected pools. When all 18 of us got in the water, it was hard to see much. But Fabricio did his best to show us the things there were to see. He showed us a cave with a bunch of Galapagos sharks, resting. He showed us some large sea horses (there were 2 pair, each about 6-7 inches high). Then he pointed us toward a lagoon a little further on, and said "go swim with the turtles". For me, this was the coolest part.
I am not quite sure why, but there were 10 or more sea turtles in this little lagoon. And they weren't afraid of us at all. As long as you held still and weren't thrashing around, they'd swim right by you. I got well away from the other snorklers (who WERE thrashing around), and just hung out. In the Caribbean, you barely glimpse a sea turtle before they swim rapidly away. I even saw a couple of guy turtles nosing around a cute girl turtle.
Later, in the boats, we went around a small point to a larger lagoon, and in this lagoon there were literally a hundred or more sea turtles. Everywhere you looked, there was a giant sea turtle head popping up. This area may well be a mating area for the sea turtles. There were some really nice beaches nearby for laying eggs. (In San Cristobal, we saw sea turtle tracks all over the Puerto China beach, so we know it's the season).
On the way back, in the ocean, we saw a squadron of at least 4 big Manta Rays. These guys are huge--about 6' long and 8' wide.
At 1/27/2010 2:24 PM (utc) our position was 00°57.95'S 090°57.73'W
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