What I Was Hoping For

A Galapagos penguin

A Galapagos penguin

Solidified lava

Solidified lava

On another day, after returning to Santa Cruz, we took another 2 hour boat ride to the west side of the Galapagos Islands to Isabela Island. Isabela is the largest Galapagos Island (shaped like a seahorse), and is the most geologically active, with 6 volcanoes. Wolf Volcano on the island just erupted on May 25, 2015, about two weeks after we had left the island. The last time it had erupted before that was 33 years ago. We could still see rock striations were lava once flowed from previous eruptions. Here, we saw Galapagos penguins, mangroves and flamingos. The penguins are a separate species only found on the Galapagos Islands, and are among the smallest penguins in the world. The flamingos are much pinker than the ones found elsewhere– they get their colour from their diet of shrimp. Similarly, blue-footed boobies get their foot coloration from eating mackerel and herring, while red-footed boobies get their foot coloration from eating squid.

A tortoise trying to eat a water bottle

A tortoise trying to eat a water bottle

A flat-shelled giant tortoise

A flat-shelled giant tortoise

We visited a tortoise-breeding center. There are about 25,000 – 30,000 giant tortoises in the Galapagos, which is decent a number (about 1 for each inhabitant living on the islands), but staff members are still trying to maintain the population. Some of the tortoises at this center lived close to the volcanoes and were air lifted out during volcanic eruptions – you can still see some burn marks on their shells. One of the members on the trip with us dropped a water bottle in the pen, and one of the tortoises tried to eat it! There were at least 30 tortoises in one enclosure. In the smaller pens, there were tortoises that were only 1 year old. Also at the center, we got to see another variety of tortoise – the flat-shelled tortoise. No one knows yet why they evolved that type of shell.

Me swimming with marine iguanas

Me swimming with marine iguanas

Underwater view of marine iguanas swimming

Underwater view of marine iguanas swimming

Also on Isabela, we got to go snorkelling, but this time the water was much more clearer, and we saw different fish, including small puffer fish. One of the highlights of the entire trip for most people was that on this snorkelling trip, we got to swim with marine iguanas. This was the one thing I was hoping to do the most while here on the islands. There was a very strong current coming into the lagoon where we were swimming, and they were swimming against it, which was effortless for them but not for us. They are the only aquatic iguana species in the world; the only one adapted for life in the sea. They are only found in the Galapagos Islands. I got so excited that Daniel had to tell me “not to swim too close to the iguanas!” That was the one and only time on the trip where I was told that I was too close to an animal. Of course the iguanas just kept swimming. I got out of the water, but about 5 minutes later, a curious sea lion came into the lagoon and started swimming with the people that were still in the water! I almost went back in, but I had already packed up all my stuff and had dried off. It was still really cool to watch the sea lion interact with the snorkelers!

– Vincent Evans-Lucy