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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

10/12: Hiking to the Wall of Tears on Isla Isabela, Galapagos

After spending way too may hours on an early boat getting over to Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela, then traipsing through a lagoon filled with flamingos and iguanas and a couple of hours at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, we decided another hike was in order.

Around 2, we headed out to the El Muro de las Lágrimas or the Wall of Tears, located more than seven kms away.
The first part of the hike took us along the beach so the views were nothing short of remarkable. We thought the hike would be a cakewalk - stupid us!

What intrigued us about the hike was the opportunity to stop at many viewpoints along the way. But we soon realized we had dallied too long at the Breeding Center to veer off the main road and search many of them out on the way at least as I had to be back for a HOA Board meeting via Skype at 6. The first stop had the interesting name of Hole of the Devil’s Lake!
We didn't know the origin of the lake's name as it looked pretty benign that day at least!

Starting a hike of that length in the heat of the mid-afternoon, especially with limited amount of water and our time constraints and after already hiking out to the Breeding Center and back, was not one of our all-time smart decisions.
A very picturesque rest stop but it came way too early!
When the driver of this tourist bus asked if we wanted a lift to the actual beginning of the five km hike to the Wall of Tears, we said yes right away as slogging through the heavy sand was slow going.

St. Pantanero Cemetery appeared out of the blue en route to the hike's check in.

The map listed all the stops we could make in a perfect world on the way to our goal of seeing the Wall. But it was 3 by then so we didn’t feel we had time to stop and look at the various viewpoints since we had a long hike in and out and then back to town.
Naturally, the viewpoints were each some ways off the trail, too, which would add to the overall length of our hike.
When the sand gave way to crushed lava, it made for easier and quicker going which we were thankful for.

Oops – almost stepped on another iguana!
The exquisite view from the Merengua Bridge: 

I felt like we were wood nymphs as the trail cut through a forest!

A sign warned passersby to stay clear of this poisonous tree. It was easy to understand the Spanish words 'arbol venemoso'!

From the cute sign department!

This was the first tortoise we’d seen in the wild and not in a conservation area or breeding center and was therefore very special.

Other views along the hike:

We'd only seen about ten people en route to and at the Breeding Center and so far on our hike so it was like Grand Central Station coming across three more at once!

It was cute seeing the tortoise’s tracks across the road:
When we heard the boom box on the bike, it gave us all the incentive we needed to proceed at a faster pace to pass him although it was uphill. 

We decided to push on to the end and not climb to the lookout atop Orchilla Hill.

We reached the Wall of Tears finally at 4 after walking for an hour just from the entrance. That sign was an especially welcoming sight, let me tell you even though we still had a ways before reaching the Wall and a long hike back, not only to the entrance but also back through town to our hotel.

Some background about the Wall of Tears thanks to Atlas Obscura: In the mid-20th century, remote Isla Isabela was home to a bleak penal colony that stood in stark contrast to the natural beauty of the Galapagos. As punishment for their crimes, the prisoners who were sent to Isabela were forced to begin building a wall, ostensibly the first in what would eventually become their own permanent prison building. 
The forced laborers had to chisel heavy, irregular pieces of volcanic rock from a quarry site a long walk away and lug the sharp stones back to the build site by hand. The wall reached up to 65 feet high and over 300 feet long and its construction was dangerous work in the ill-equipped conditions. That resulted in the deaths of a number of prisoners from both sickness and accidents.

Walking the length of the massive wall on one side, then climbing up to the top and down the other side gave me an appreciation of a time in history I had never heard of before. Sadly, it also presented another reminder of man's inhumanity to man.
It was important for me to know that the Galapagos Islands wasn't always the site we and countless others had come to deeply appreciate for its natural beauty and gorgeous and often threatened animals. It had a darker side as a distant retreat for scary outcasts and political prisoners and common delinquents. The Wall of Tears was the only remaining physical evidence of the prison camp where the abuse of power ended with the lives of many prisoners.
The plaque translates 'In memory of those who suffered and died from 1946-1959.'
On a far happier note, as we began the long trek back to town we soon saw another wild tortoise making its way into the forest. We could tell the path the tortoise had taken by its tracks in the road.
What beady little eyes it had.
Steven said ‘I love this!’ on seeing yet another one.

From tortoise tracks to iguana tracks a while later. Steven said he’d seen enough iguanas and giant tortoises to last a lifetime! He had to eat his words a few days later, however!
We made a short detour to Pozo Azul or Blue Pond as the name sounded alluring. The pond was less so, unfortunately, possibly due to the late afternoon sun?

There was no way we weren't going to stop, however briefly, at Playa del Amor! 
Our selfie at the Love Beach!

More of the very colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs we'd seen over on Santa Cruz.

You can see we couldn’t get to La Playita aka the tiny beach because there were too many iguanas on the path and we couldn’t jump six feet over them!

This one looked particularly fearsome.
We definitely didn't have time to stop at the cemetery we'd passed on the way to the entrance in the tourist bus; instead, we just paid our respects as we walked by.

Considering we'd been up since well before 6 to catch the 2.5 hour 'challenging boat ride' from Isla Santa Cruz over to Isla Isabela, we sure packed a lot in before having to scurry back to the hotel for my HOA meeting at 6 that night: hiking through the lagoon to gaze in wonder at the flamingos, seeing some tortoises duke it out at the island's Giant Tortoise Breeding Center and then trekking all the way out and back to the disturbing Wall of Tears.

Next post: Snorkeling with sea turtles on Los Tunneles Tour, one of our all-time favorites!

Posted on November 21st, 2017, from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Hard to believe for us at least that we 'only' have one month before we'll be home back in Denver, ready to celebrate the holidays with at least some members of our family and friends!