Galapagos – Day 5 – Isabela Island – Wall of Tears

Today we get up early again to move over to Isabela Island.  We say good bye to our hosts at Verde Azul and Rita.  Once again our rep from Galapagos Alternative is with us the whole way making sure we get to our boat.  As it turns out there are very few of us on the water taxi.  We have been hearing stories about how bumpy and how nauseating the ride can be.  We have been warned to stay near the engine and a window.  As it turns out we are first on the boat and are able to get a seat by a window.

The ride over is not that bumpy at all but Magpie has a little problem with the fumes of gas.  It normally does me in, but with the window it is not a problem.  It is a long ride – 2 hours and we are happy to arrive when we do.  We are met by our new rep and taken to our hostel.  Puerto Villamil is a sleepy beach town covered in white sand.  Getting something to eat is hard as the restaurants only open for very specific times for approx 1.5 – 2 hrs at a time.  We end up finding a place with a set menu for half the price than it was in Santa Cruz.

After lunch we rest for a little before we start the tours again.  This time we visit another Tortoise breeding centre, a wetlands and the Wall of Tears.  As it turns out it is just us on this tour.  We like private tours.

The tortoise centre is similar to the Charles Darwin Centre but we get to look at smaller tortoises.  We are told the tortoises are identified with marks on their shells to identify where they came from to ensure they go back to the same place.  The conservation people separate the tortoises by age and development and ensure the pens have the right environment to ensure the development as if they were in the wild.  It is quite interesting and fun to watch the little ones in the different stages.  At an older stage, as soon as we came to the pen – it is a stone wall where you can lean over and look in – the youngsters raced up to the gate thinking they were getting fed.  Magpie wants a new pet.

young tortoises getting their training to be released

young tortoises getting their training to be released



Afterwards we visit the wetlands area and a view of the island.  Lots of steps,  great view of the volcano and the town and beach area.  This island has 4 km of white sand beach with volcanic rock throughout.

From here we head to the Wall of Tears.  It seems the Galapagos was a penal colony at one time not too long ago.  Ecuador decided to sent all its maximum security prisoners to the island (approx. 300 in total).  The old military houses were used by the guards, warden and support staff. The warden – who was not too nice – decided the prisoners needed a project to keep their hands and minds busy.  The were instructed to build with volcanic rock their own prison.  The rocks were hand carried to the site and stacked without help from each other or any mortar to help the stability of the walls.  Eventually as the wall got higher the prisoners would also throw rocks down on their guards. It is referred to as the Wall of Tears because it was never finished but many perished.   The prisoners had a saying – “The strong cry and the weak die.”

The wall of tears - The strong cry and the weak die.

The wall of tears – The strong cry and the weak die.



After the warden stopped the work on the wall due to the guards being injured or killed, most of the prisoners escaped.  Some perished in the sea, some stole a yacht anchored in the by and murdered the occupants and some actually made it back to Ecuador.  These prisoners were caught but their story was finally revealed and the penal colony was closed.  Officials did not know the truth of what was happening and how the warden was treating the prisoners due to the isolation and the fact the warden was spinning a different tale. The prisoners who had not tried to escape were given a choice to stay where they were or be moved back to Ecuador.  Only one stayed.

The support staff for the prisoners had stayed on the beach in a pink house. That house still stands today and is in use.  All this happened in the 1960’s.  It is very moving to see this wall and realize the work it took, given the heat.  You can also still see the concrete platforms for the houses from the military in and around the wall area.

We end the day with a walk along the beach waiting to have dinner.  A long day and tomorrow is not that early of a morning.

Leave a Reply