Our last tour in the Galapagos was pretty special. On Friday (23-April) we were picked up by a guide/entrepreneur named Fabrizio who specialized in tours to what is called “Tuneles” or “Tunnels”. It was described as tunnels in lava rock with marine and land life. We had heard it can be hard to get to as you have to boat through waves. In fact, we heard early last week that another guide had mis-judged the approach and a group of tourists (and sailors) were slammed by a wave and the boat capsized. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but snorkel and camera gear were lost.
Fabrizio picked us up at 9AM-ish in a long parogue boat with a 175hp motor. It was a long ride half way around the southern part of Isabela (which is a big island). Along the way, Fabrizio started slowing down and pointed out a large manta ray! We all jumped up and tried to take pictures before it dove deeper. But, it turned out we had plenty of opportunity. They were everywhere along the coast here – we must have seend 30 or more of them (we lost count).
We also spotted a huge flock of birds floating and diving. This is usually sign that there are fish about. Fabrizio took us over there and we started taking pictures. Then we looked back and he was putting a fishing line in the water! Sure enough, within a few minutes he had caught a nice near-meter long mackerel! He didn’t say anything much except it would be a nice dinner and stored it in the back of the boat.
Next we drove to a particularly treacherous looking part of the beach with big waves and lots of rock coming out from shore. Fabrizio started heaing in and looking backwards. He stopped for a moment to judge the wave pattern, and then started carefully adjusting his speed and direction according to the waves. He timed it perfectly and we had a pretty flat approach with no breaking waves near us. It was amazing watching him go right in, with noticeable rocks on either side of us, without hesitation.
First he took us to a small group of rocks jutting out of the sea with penguins and blue-footed boobies on top. He got us within two or three feet of a couple of the birds, so we were able to take REAL close-ups without even needing a zoom lens! Eventually (when we get Internet) I’ll post the photo gallery here.
Then we drove into the Tunnels. It turns out its an area of lava rock that has been carved over the centuries by the sea with lots of short tunnels under the rock. Lots of wildlife and plant life are everywhere. We saw sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, blue-footed boobies, and a huge variety of other wildlife in just the short while we were there. After about 30 minutes of walking around, Fabrizio told us he wanted to take us to another location.
We motored to another area back along the coast and went through a more treacherous area from a navigational perspective. Even more rocks and wave conditions to worry about (although not big break waves). Once inside there was a large mangrove lined lagoon with rocks further out. We dropped anchor and started snorkeling. Fabrizio quickly found a sea horse (about 5 inches tall) attached to a mangrove tree. We also saw a variety of fish and sea turtles here.
The big attraction for me though was a school of white-tipped shark in the rocks. I first spotted one about 10 feet away from me. Later Fabrizio showed us an underwater tunnel (with a cave area underneath). He took my underwater camera and swam through and took some shots showing 5 or 6 sharks inside the tunnel. Very cool!
We were looking around and suddenly Fabrizio pointed out something hiding in the rocks. It was a nice lobster. He spent a few minutes diving under and managed to pull it out. Fabrizio showed us he is a licensed fisherman, and he didn’t hesitate keeping the lobster.
One annoying thing about this place were aggressive horseflies. I had to keep myt head submerged to avoid having the blood sucked out of my forehead. We got out of the water and left quickly (while swatting at the flies with our towels). He took us into a bigger lagoon and anchored us away from the mangroves. There we had lunch while watching sea turtles swimming nearby.
We then went back out to sea and motored back towards Puerto Villamil and our anchorage. The skies had cleared up and we had a beautiful sunny day ride on the way back, and spotted another dozen or so manta ray along the way. Fabrizio gave us the mackerel he caught earlier in the day (after all, he was taking a lobster home, and we are not allowed to fish in the Galapagos).