Home > Galápagos Islands > Unique Expedition To A Galapagos Volcano (Part 2)

Unique Expedition To A Galapagos Volcano (Part 2)

To catch a breath before undertaking the final ascent to Alcedo Volcano’s rim, we distract ourselves with a plant identification quiz, easily won by Irene, the group member with a greater botanical knowledge….  Now it’s time for the final climb to the summit of the volcano. The trail gets narrower and is made of loose volcanic ash and sand. The trail also becomes steeper, almost 60 degrees of inclination, so it is designed in a zig-zag way, to make it a little gentler for the adventurers who occasionally undertake such an unusual trip. We are closer to the rim, but it takes us longer to negotiate the climb, while we continue admiring the vegetation and the incessant activity of Darwin’s finches, mockingbirds and some Galapagos flycatchers.  Half-way up, we meet our first giant tortoise of the trip… This one, rapidly baptized as “Lucho” by the group, is a relatively young, dome-shaped carapace individual, belonging to the particular sub-species which is endemic only to Alcedo Volcano.  The reptile sees us and hisses while tucking its long neck and “ET”-looking head inside the rounded carapace, while slowly moving out of our way…. We manage to take plenty of pictures of the pre-historic looking animal and continue our journey, now enthusiastically expecting to see many more giant tortoises in their natural habitat…..

Most of us seem to have been in good physical condition and make it to the rim in good shape. After a short walk along low-growing grassland and small bushes and scrubs, we meet more giant tortoises, of all ages and sizes…. We have reached their realms… It is precisely here, inside the caldera of Alcedo Volcano and its rim that the largest surviving population of these fantastic and long-living creatures survives in the Archipelago, an estimated five thousand individuals.  Beyond the gently curved and rather wide esplanade which marks the actual rim, there unfolds before our eyes the magnificent scene of the giant caldera, the second largest in Galapagos, an impacting and awesome view…. It is some two to three hundred feet deep, formed by steep and black rocky cliffs, covered by abundant vegetation, broken only by stretches of barren lava fields, denouncing the intense volcanic activity occurred there centuries ago…. The caldera floor is flat and mostly made of black lava fields, dotted with a few “islands of vegetation”….. To the southeast, near the caldera’s floor, a small aggregation of mini cones produce several fumaroles, clearly telling us there is still activity in the magmatic chambers beneath…. The whole view is astounding and we quietly sit on the bare ground just to enjoy the privilege of being able to watch such a formidable natural scene…..

It is midday, there are hardly any but a few big trees to provide shelter, the sun is merciless, but we must keep on with our program so, after a quick luncheon of canned fruits (not to leave alien seeds in the area), a sandwich and bottled water, plus our chocolate and granola bars; we rapidly select the best place to pitch our tents for the night we will spend there.  The selected location, (a few of us had been there before), is a small and flat plain, some meters below the actual rim, sheltered from the evening’s summit wind and secure enough to allow us to sleep reasonably well on such wild environs. Without siesta break, we now march again, single-file, following donkey trails (yes, there are many of these as the area has been badly impacted by introduced donkeys and goats), along the crater’s rim, heading to the south east, precisely in the direction of the fumaroles…. We negotiate, with a bit of difficulty the well known “Devil’s Ditch”, an irregular-shaped small hill of sharp black lava, where I manage to fall and tear some skin tissue from my knee, rapidly cleansed by my travel companions and the handy first aid kit we carry with us at all times.  All along the way, we meet groups of tortoises, some of them remarkably big, but also many young and small specimens…. Not used to a frequent human presence, the tortoises act shyly and defensively… Since we reached the summit, we haven’t stopped photographing and filming, so this slows down our pace a bit…. We finally reach a privileged location at the southern part of the rim, just above the fumaroles, from where we can see and record them in photos and video, while clearly sensing the intense smell of sulfur…..

A giant volcanic caldera in the center of Galapagos’ largest island; the fumaroles and the numerous giant tortoises roaming the area make up for an unparalleled experience, enhanced by perfect weather, which sends our spirits real high, feeling  privileged and fortunate…. As the sunset hour was coming close we speed up our pace to return to our campsite still under daylight….  But the day still had a major surprise for us…….. This one we will have to narrate for you on the next issue, on part three of this story…..


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