Arriving on Isabela Island, I felt a pull equivalent to buying and reading a new book: familiar somehow – anticipated, appointed, discovered. In some ways my visit to Isabela was like going home. In others, like finding one. Do you ever travel to a place you’ve never been and yet belong? For me, that was Isabela.

It’s 105 minutes by boat from Santa Cruz on a boat just large enough for our group of 25, two guides and two crew members. I think I’ll skip the details of the discomfort of traveling between the islands and just sum up what the guide books say. In essence, that is: bring motion sickness meds. Take them. Bring rain gear. Wear it. Settle in for some rough travel. Try to keep a positive attitude. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Yeah. That izth small.

After reaching our hotel, changing into dry clothes and shoes, and replenishing our fluids, we were off into full sun and hot temperatures. Our open-sided bus was awesome while at sea level, with the hot summer breeze flowing through.

I wouldn’t call it comfortable, but the uniqueness won us over.

Our itinerary for the day was to travel up into the rainforest and hike around a dormant volcano. The further up into the highlands we traveled, the colder, windier and rainier it got. At one point, my teeth started chattering and I couldn’t stop them. Things didn’t go wrong, they just went. Plans were thwarted. On to Plan B.

Back at sea level where it was sunny, and did I mention hot, we were taken to a giant tortoise breeding center, at which we saw — wait for it: Baby. Giant. Tortoises. BABIES! Would it be over the top to yell in all caps: OMG!? LOOK AT THEM! We sauntered around the property, greeting tortoises at every stage of development, and loved every second of it.

And then it was over. I had the thought that life would never be that sweet again. And then, all because were not able to go to the rainforest, came my absolute favorite part of this entire trip, a walk into the mangroves, with no explanation, and no promise of anything. We had no idea where we were headed, how long it would take to get there, whether we’d be coming back the same way we went in – nothing. We trusted our guides. Off we went.

We stopped many times along the way to learn about this plant or that tiny animal, this tree or that view. And then, the denseness around us opened up into a peaceful pond, and in it were dozens of pink flamingoes, wading, fishing, hanging out with their buds. Well worth the hour long walk. Most of the flamingoes you see in this picture are fishing, their heads in the water. The ones far away on the left are standing full height. They are truly astounding creatures. I had no idea they were so magnificent.

I could have stayed here all day long just watching these docile birds live their lives. But there was more to see and do. Soon, the mangroves opened again, this time to the vast ocean. This was the view I had personally been waiting for – the one in my dreams about the Galapagos Islands, with black volcanic rock lining the shore, and vibrant blue waters beyond. I couldn’t wait to step into it. Breathtakable.

Natalie, me, Luke, Zoe, Garrett and Guy #Family

We explored the sand and surf, played a little soccer with a coconut shell, and made our way down the beach to the little town in the distance, where we drank four gallons of water each and had a lunch of the freshest octopus on earth. Or chicken, whichever you’d ordered. I was proud of several kids who tried the octopus and loved it!

That takes us to lunch. There’s more to Isabela. Stay tuned for Part 2. And thanks for sticking around.