As she settles into her new home on the Galapagos island of Isabela, our gapper discovers an oasis of calm where even the wildlife takes it easy.
By Ruth Holliday, 28 Oct 2008, (Go To Source) Telegraph.co.uk
Ruth believes that there is some magic at work on Galápagos; she is already more relaxed than she has ever felt
The pace of life on Isabela island is slow. Giant tortoises are among the more dynamic members of society. There are tourists, mainly wealthy Americans hopping off cruises or taking trips from the Galápagos’s principal port on Santa Cruz. Most of the time, it is just us and the locals.
In the main town – a sprawl of sandy streets – there are a few ramshackle restaurants. On the beach, two bars with driftwood seats sell dangerously stiff mojitos.
Otherwise we entertain ourselves. We snorkel, swim and walk along the endless white sands. At night we read, play cards. Sometimes we sit huddled on the beach drinking wine, listening to Radio Isabela and the sounds of the sea.
The residents here live an equally laid-back life. With few cars on the island, most run their errands on bikes, being careful not to pedal up a sweat. Otherwise they can be found sitting on sofas on their porches, eating ice cream on the pier, snorkeling or simply dangling their feet into the Concha de Perla lagoon.
This is paradise. Everyone smiles and says good morning. Work is kept to a minimum – a few slow hours a day at most. And there is absolutely no crime.
You can leave your camera and wallet on the beach while you swim and unless a marine iguana runs off with it, it will be completely safe.
The family hosting our volunteer accommodation is permanently upbeat. They punctuate their idyllic leisure time by cooking and cleaning for 12 guests and co-ordinating the island’s car and boat owners to take us on little trips.
On my first day, it is to Villamil Bay. We pay the boat owner, Eduardo, US$10 each for a tour of the volcanic outcrops close to the port. In these waters, boats must creep along at a mollusc’s pace. Thousands of sharks, turtles, sea lions and penguins live in this tiny space. We can see their dark shapes moving around in the water beneath us.
Eduardo breaks his relaxed silence to point out what looks like a group of sea lions playing on the surface 165 feet (50 metres) away.
“Manta ray,” he says calmly, as though it were the most common sight on earth.
The gigantic animal is catching some sun. Around 10 feet (3 metres) across, it is difficult to believe that the various parts we see glistening in the sea are attached to a single creature.
The boat circles the harbour, picking its way through a maze of black islands and jutting volcanic rock. Every now and then, we stop the engine and scrape our way over high ledges of underwater lava.
We see a family of penguins lazing on one outcrop, another is home to blue-footed boobies and pelicans. All are crawling with huge crabs, black and fire red. The sea lions are everywhere.
We stop at Villamil Bay and hike around the island – a favourite spot for marine iguanas. Some are enormous. And the bigger they get, the more spines, ruffs and spikes they acquire. The larger ones look like mini-triceratops sprawled on the baking sand.
Then there are the sharks. White-tipped reef sharks have a resting area at Villamil – a huge natural rock pool that is cut off by the tide each day and holds around 30 small or vulnerable individuals. The big guys, we are told, wait in the open water nearby.
We look down into a narrow, shallow pool densely stocked with six-foot sharks. A sign at the edge says “No Swimming”.
Further round the island is a beach where the sand is washed into perfect concentric curves of black and gold. At the top, in the shade of a mangrove, sea lions like to snooze. There is even a tiny baby with his coat of fur. Those that are awake, or perhaps enjoying a vivid dream, make loud groaning noises. They let us get just feet away, too sleepy to bother warning us off.
The trip ends with a snorkel stop at a natural lagoon ringed with lava and coral reefs. Alongside the usual tropical pretties we see a puffer fish the size of a football and three enormous turtles resting on the bottom. They watch us disinterestedly as we swim around them, taking pictures. None of them so much as flaps a fin.
It seems there is some magic at work on Galápagos – a tranquillity spell – and it affects humans and animals alike.
I have another three weeks on Isabela, teaching English at a local school. I am already more relaxed than I have ever felt.