We asked for an early breakfast yesterday so we could have something to eat before being picked up by Emily who was going to be our guide for the day. we left the hotel around 7am and headed inland towards the largest volcano on Isabela.
As we drove to the volcano, which was around a 45 minute drive, we chatted about Isabela. The population on the island is really small with around 3,000 people living in the urban areas and only around 250 people living in the highlands. There is a large indigenous population from Ecuador and many of the surnames are the same. They also look similar and often use each other’s passports to move around. Electricity was only introduced to the island 15 years ago.
The Galapagos islands only became part of Ecuador in 1832, with the republic of Ecuador only forming in 1830. Floreana was the first island to be named and was named after the president of Ecuador at the time. They used to eat the giant tortoises and and use the fat from their bodies for oil.
We arrived at the trail for the volcano and Faye and Emily payed a quick visit to the ladies whilst I played with a dog that was there.
Sierra Negra is estimated to be around 535,000 years old and has the largest caldera / crater of all the Galapagos volcanoes and the second largest in the world. It is 7.2 by 9.3 km.
As we started on the trail we noticed that the trees growing on the land on the sides of the path were Guava trees. These have been introduced and have become invasive. The wood is very strong and is often used as support material for other platforms. The Guava is cut and replanted and regrows easily. The fruit from the trees has many seeds so is widely distributed meaning they grow over a wide area.
The guava tree has a really pretty white flower.
Some walnut trees lined the path. These used to be used as fencing so they are planted in a straight line and are equi-distance apart. They outline the perimeters of the land.
Some of the land towards the bottom of the volcano is used for cattle to graze on. They like a plant called elephant grass. However, if the grass becomes too long the roots grow larger and the cows don’t like walking on it.
On the way up we saw a Galapagos fly-catcher. They become more yellow as they age.
This was the first view we had of the caldera.
The caldera was formed from the 2005 eruption of the volcano. It has more vegetation growing on it as it is older. The lava rock is initially black and the darker zone is where the lava originally comes from and it goes brown as it cools down.
You can see how the lava flowed.
The volcano last erupted in June 2018 and covered around 2km squared. The eruptions are fairly gentle and are like boiling milk spilling over. There are more dangerous eruptions on the mainland. The yellow alert for sierra negra came in January 2018 and the volcano erupted around 6 months later.
The bottom of the crater is formed mainly of aa lava but there is also some pahoehoe lava too.
After around 1 and a half hours of walking we reached a resting place where we stopped for a snack and a nature toilet stop. There was a Galapagos mockingbird at the resting spot, looking for any titbits that were dropped on the floor. There was also a small ground finch.
From the resting place we had a view over Elizabeth bay. You could also see Volcano Alcedo in the distance as well as the four brothers, which are mountains attached to Isabela.
Isabela is made up of 6 volcanoes and forms a seahorse shape with Sierra Azul forming the belly fo the seahorse (this can be seen behind the crater of Sierra Negra). 5 of the 6 volcanoes are still active with only Volcano Ecuador being inactive. The island is moving at around 6cm per year eastwards. The hotspot for the formation of the volcanoes and therefore the islands, is under Fernandina.
We continued walking up the volcano and on the way we came across a plant called Darwinian tammus. The pirates used to use this plant to brush their teeth and freshen their breath – we had a go and it had a really strong flavour to it.
We decided to walk on to the site of the latest eruption. You can see in the photo below where this is as it is the black part with no vegetation.
There were a number of cacti growing on the side of the volcano, and we also came across an orange tree where someone had obviously thrown away the seeds from their orange.
When we reached the place of the most recent eruption it was like walking on crunchy honeycomb and was definitely aa lava.
The lava was really colourful. There were hair-like strands on the lava which almost looked like spun sugar and a new theory is developing that these are strands of glass.
We took some photos at the eruption site, it felt strange walking over lava that was so recently formed.
Sierra Negra means black jungle and you can see why the volcano was given this name. The walk to the top was not particularly strenuous but it was warm – I wouldn’t like to do the hike in hotter temperatures!
On the walk back down we spotted a smooth billed ani, which is a bird from the cuckoo family and has been introduced into the Galapagos islands. It is one of the birds that spreads the seeds of the guava trees.
The Galapagos islands were first discovered in 1535 by the then bishop of Panama, Fray Tomas de Berlanga. The islands were often covered in cloud and so were known for a while as the enchanted islands. However, the islands seemed uninhabitable so nobody really wanted to claim them.
We stopped off at the resting place again for a snack and toilet break and came across some hunters who were out looking for wild pigs on their horses.
The mockingbird was also still around.
The walk up, across and down the volcano took around 6 hours, after which we drove to a gorgeous highlands farm called Camp Duro.
We had a delicious traditional lunch of grilled fish, rice and beans, plantain and some salad. We had fresh fruit for desert.
After lunch we took a walk around the grounds. They grow a variety of fruit trees here, papaya, orange and passion fruit. We tried a passion fruit that had fallen to the ground and it was really tasty but quite sour. The photo below is of a papaya tree.
They also have a large banana tree plantation. The banana tree only produces one lot of fruit before it dies. But as the trees die they decompose and provide fertiliser for new trees to grow. So new banana trees just grow automatically and don’t need to be replanted.
The camping place also keeps a number of giant tortoises that they have received from the breeding centre. These tortoises eat a lot of the fruit which wouldn’t be there normal diet in the wild so they are going to study them to see if their diet makes any difference to them. Sometimes a tortoise will dig a hole and sit in it to cool down.
After our walk around the grounds, Emily drove us back and dropped us off at a lagoon just outside of town. This is a lagoon where the flamingos congregate and we saw some there. The pink colour, and how deep it is, depends on the food the flamingos eat. So the deeper pink means they are healthier as they are eating more shrimps.
Just by the lagoon is the tortoise breeding centre of Isabela so we had a quick walk round that too. These tortoises, like the ones in Santa Cruz, feed off the ground and you can see that by the shape of their shell around the neck area.
At the breeding centre there were also another type of tortoise – the tortoises of five hills. Only a few individuals of this species were found on the slopes of Cerro Azul volcano, in a place called five hills. The shell of these tortoises are squashed down and it is unlike any other tortoise on the Galapagos islands. 18 adults have been living in the breeding centre since 1998 when they were first recused after an eruption at Cerro Azul. Two years after bringing them to the centre there were over 200 babies. They look very different, and almost like their necks are broken at times.
From the breeding centre we walked down a beautiful wooden pathway which took us over swamps and small lakes. Here we saw more flamingos and were able to get really close to them.
We also some kind of wading bird. could be a stilt, and also a woodpecker finch.
And as always, there were iguanas sunbathing on the paths.
As we came into town I found a friendly cat to play with.
We went back to the hotel for a freshen up before heading out to The Endemic Turtle for dinner, where I had some delicious garlic prawns.
And then it was off to bed.