Visiting Isla Isabela in the Galápagos Archipelago

Volcano Trip On Horseback

Richar, our guide for the volcano trip, in the back of Antonio's truck.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2004 (Day 17 in the Galápagos Archipelago)

We have a major adventure scheduled for today: a horseback trip up the Sierra Negra volcano. At 1,490 meters (4,888 feet), Sierra Negra is one of the tallest volcanoes in the Galápagos Archipelago; the volcano's huge caldera is the second largest in the world (Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater is the largest). Although now dormant, the volcano is definitely not extinct since it erupted as recently as 1979.

Before leaving the boat, we outfitted ourselves for a more rugged day-trip than usual with extra water, ponchos (it can rain in the higher elevations), sturdy shoes (to hike on sharp lava rocks), and long pants (which are more comfortable than shorts when horseback riding). At 8:00 a.m. we dinghied ashore to the beach bar/restaurant to meet up with Richar and Antonio. While waiting, we saw another guide, Joseph (whose Spanish name is José), forming up his own volcano tour group. One reason Marcie arranged our tour with Richar and Antonio is that Antonio's horses have genuine "Western" saddles made of leather. Joseph's horses have home-made saddles of padding, rope, and steel rebar rods—they are supposedly not very comfortable (for the horse or the rider). We met the seven other members of our tour group, all American cruisers from a big catamaran in the anchorage (a husband and wife with three young children, plus a woman crewing for them and a friend of the crewperson).

Antonio arrived in his stake-bed pickup truck, which had two long bench seats in the back and was covered by a green tarp for sun and rain protection. We all climbed in, the tailgate was slammed shut, and Antonio drove off. We cruised through town on the relatively smooth and level sandy streets, then had a bouncy ride up the side of Sierra Negra on rough sandy and rocky roads. As we climbed higher, we passed from the very arid cactus forests of the lowlands to greener areas with lush vegetation and full-sized leafy-green trees. The higher elevations get more rain, so the vegetation is adapted to the wetter environment.

Two views of the same massive tree at the restaurant where we stopped to order lunch. The left-hand picture is from the roadway. Hanging over the driveway you can see a small sign that says La Quinta De Jeniffer (which means "Jeniffer's Country House"). The right-hand picture is the other side of the tree—surprise!—there's a funky little tree house.

Part-way up the volcano, we stopped at a really interesting and unusual restaurant to order lunch, which we'll eat later during our return trip. The restaurant was really just a rude shack with an open front and back, but the area around the restaurant was beautifully landscaped with numerous flowering plants, most of which were in bloom. You get used to the typical rural homesteads as being strictly functional and starkly utilitarian (if not squalid and downright ugly). Perhaps the residents don't have the same appreciation of natural beauty that tourists have, or the desire to create, maintain, and enjoy such beauty. Then, some people may be too poor or too busy to support such a conspicuous but otherwise useless frill. But this homestead was different—here a nature-lover had created a large, showy, and meticulously maintained garden, just so people could revel in natural beauty. Rare, rather rare.

The restaurant was situated in a grove of massive cedro (cedar) trees, with huge buttressed boles and vast canopies (they reminded me of the big old live oaks in Charleston). One of the trees had a funky little tree house abutting the trunk about ten feet off the ground; the tree house appeared to be well-built and had a stairway to ground level. Perhaps it was used as a guest room or even a small cottage. It was really neat, and quite unusual in a fairy-tale sort of way, something completely unexpected that is surprising and delightful to encounter. The restaurant site also had the obligatory several mongrel dogs, scruffy and dirty but not unfriendly, lying in the dirt or ambling about.

Another view of the tree house. Marcie (with her back to the camera) is talking with two other members of our tour group, Denise (left) and Pam (in front of Marcie).   Believe it or not, this is the restaurant. It was actually quite comfortable.

The site had the typical rural homestead animals including horses, dogs, chickens, and this flock of ducklings. When we came back later for lunch, I'm not sure but I think there was one less chicken walking around.  

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