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Isabela Paradise

Joanne 2007-01-07
What we did in paradise... Where to begin? While there was plenty of activity to keep us busy, we were also content to do nothing and enjoy the sounds and sights of our surroundings.

Getting There

First off, the boat ride from Santa Cruz to Puerto Villamil, the only town on Isabela Island was nothing like the bucking bull ride that Paul described when we left Isabela. The boat ride over was a little bumpy, yet was filled with dozing passengers - they seemed to have anticipated a rough ride and so most popped a motion sickness pills, making them very sleepy. Very funny to watch people try to sleep sitting up right while being jostled side to side from the waves. Every now and then, they would slowly fall onto the shoulder of the person beside them, only to awaken startled as they realized they did not know the person sitting beside them. This was how my neighbor introduced himself to me. :)

Birthday Celebration

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For my birthday, we took an hour-long boat ride over to Los Tuneles, a series of lava flows which produced a number of beautiful formations of arches and tunnels both under and above the water. Two weeks ago, I would have described that boat ride as a bucking bull ride, but after experiencing the real wild west, it can't be gauged on the same caliber. Now, I would describe the trip to Los Tuneles as a roller coaster ride on the ocean. It's all relative!

The waters there were shallow and calm making it a wonderful place to observe sea turtles and beautifully colored fish swimming through the lava tunnels. We hopped off the boat and explored the lava tunnels on foot, then jumped into the water to snorkel and explore them underwater. We were back just in time to enjoy our first sunset on the beach as we sipped on some wine sitting on the deserted beach. For dinner, we diverged from the usual rice and fish and treated ourselves to a feast at the only beachfront hotel with a real chef. Happy birthday to me!

Volcanic Exploration

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In another adventure, we found ourselves on horseback making our way up to the crater of one of the five volcanoes that formed the island: Volcan Sierra Negra. It is the world's second largest volcanic crater: 10 kilometers across and 92 meters deep. We traveled from the beach, through lagoons and mangroves, dry forest, lava fields and finally through wet forest zones. It's striking to see the rapidly changing climactic zones in such a short period of time.

The horses were tame and had a mind of their own. When trying to give them instructions, it was well understood we were NOT the bosses, they were letting us ride on their backs and the rest was up to them. I named our horses "Slow" and "Slower". Mine was Slow, and Paul's was Slower. No matter how hard he tried to get his horse to go faster, it was met with the same stubborn unchanging snail's pace. The funny part was Paul's relentless efforts in trying to get his horse, Slower, to gallop. All futile, but he persisted nonetheless. I was happy to let Slow do its thing, I was in no hurry.

At the top, we hiked around the crater's edge and along several of the parasite craters (little outlets of lava on the slopes of the main crater) and enjoyed the varied vistas. We learned that the candelabra cacti grow a mere centimeter each year, and can thus tell how long it had been since the last lava flows occurred in this area.

Back on the horses on the way down, I felt quite apprehensive because the trails were incredibly muddy and the horses were having a lot of difficulty with their footing. A girl from our group was an experienced rider, so I stayed close to her. I'm not sure what difference this made for Slow, but it gave me a (false) sense of security. Ultimately, false it was: her horse slipped and lost its footing, fell to the ground, sending her flying off into the mud. Thankfully, and likely due to her experience, she was as smooth and as graceful as could be - if that's even possible while being thrown from a horse into a mud bath. Slow got a little startled, but overall kept his calm. I on the other hand, did not - my heart was pounding.

It was just too dangerous to continue on horseback in these conditions. We all got off our horses and hoofed our own way back down through the mud to the bottom. This was fine by me, if I slip and fall there is much less distance between my 5'4" body and the ground than when atop the horse. Paul was slip sliding away; literally, he was wearing sandals which made it challenging for him in all the mud. As for myself, I had the best seat in the house to watch Paul's repeated near wipe-outs and so I giggled the rest of the way down. Especially when he finally did fall and take a mud bath. I know what you are thinking, but I know you would have laughed too!

Seafood Feasts

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One evening, while enjoying our ritual cup of wine on the beach as the sun set, we met a couple who had spent the last two months on the island. They shared a secret about an amazing dining experience. We were in! They told us about a restaurant at the end of the pier where, if you gave them 24 hours notice they could fix you up a seafood feast. The notice gave the fisherman time to go out the next day and catch your dinner. They prepared us a feast of lobster, yellow fin tuna, calamari, shrimp and octopus, which we enjoyed after a long arduous day on the beach. All of this was cooked on a small charcoal grill but a few feet away from us as we looked on. With our feet in the sand, we enjoyed impromptu conversation with others as the anticipation mounted. We agreed with that couple, and could definitely say that this was our best dining experience to date.

The following day we looked on at the pier as the fisherman caught a school of Lisa (white fish) near the shore with a net. We helped them descale, gut and clean dozens of them. While fresh fish guts don't do it for me, throwing the just yanked innards of the fish straight up into the air caused quite the frenzy overhead among the frigates, the pelicans and the boobie birds as they amazingly swooped in and caught their treats mid-air. They didn't miss even once. Watching as some with the quickest moves would catch more was a true demonstration of survival of the fittest at its best!

Most of these fish were taken to locals or merchants to sell; a few were fried up and handed out as thanks to those who had just helped with the catch. Not only did we try our hand at our first descaling/degutting experience, but also ate our first Lisa fish. It was delicious! The Lisa fish was so scrumptious that we wanted more. Paul managed to get us invited back to cook up another feast on New Year's Eve, and that we did. A little oil, some garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, white wine on the "oh so fresh" Lisa fried up by us. And we didn't have to clean up! Now that's my idea of a new year's dinner.

Latin American Hospitality

Most mornings, I would walk along the beach and find a spot that called to me to enjoy a peaceful yoga session, losing myself in the sound of the crashing waves. One morning, on my way back, I ran into a local young boy that had befriended us a day or so after we arrived. This time, he was with his mother and they were heading home after having caught a rather large Lisa which they were planning on eating for dinner. As we have witnessed on more than one occasion, Latin Americans are welcoming, curious, and incredibly hospitable. After exchanging a few words, we found ourselves invited over to share in fresh ceviche at their home. You don't have to ask me more than once.

What an incredible experience to be so welcomed into a stranger's home. This open, welcoming attitude towards strangers baffles Paul and I, yet we would like to learn to do the same when the situation is reversed. As a side note, their homemade ceviche was incredible.

And then some...

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Many of our days were spent simply making our way in and out of the ocean, interspersed with reading, yoga, writing, strolling along the fine white sandy beaches and streets, walking along coastal lagoons, snorkeling, visiting the giant tortoise breeding center, meeting locals, getting to know what their lives are like here, finding and returning to our favorite spots, eating leisurely meals (rice, rice and more rice), all without a care in the world. Actually, this is not true, I had a care, and it was pretty serious. The one place that served ice cream ran out and I definitely cared when they would get more. Oh the stresses that came with being on Isabela!

When traveling, there's a constant stream of new stimuli each day. Our relaxed time in Isabella offered us the much needed time to simply pause, reflect and integrate all that we've seen up to this point. We've come to realize that these breaks are an essential aspect to making the most of our journey.

Want more photos? See the whole Isabela photo set on flickr or see it as a slideshow


Permalink by Gug   |  January 8, 2007 01:04 PM

After taking in all that was so beautifully said, I am overwhelmed with the happiness you exude, in words and pictures. Good on you.

Permalink by Karen Lazarovitz   |  January 9, 2007 05:06 PM

I love the blog. I check it daily to see what you guys have been up to. You really are having the experience of a lifetime, it's hard to believe that this is just the beginning of your trip. Happy belated birthday. Sounds like a beautiful way to celebrate. I miss you guys.
Luv me.

Permalink by Sange   |  January 12, 2007 12:38 PM

Dom and I have found reading this to be an uplifting experience. Live it up! :)

Permalink by Eva   |  January 16, 2007 04:27 AM

Happy birthday, Joanne! It must have been one of those birthdays you´ll never forget!

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