Galapagos Wonderland

For two glorious weeks in November, I went to the Galapagos Islands with Scuba Diver Life aboard two different live boards to see as much as we could both above and below the water. The following series of articles details our misadventures, from spontaneous bird feeding frenzies, to Nadia’s Internet withdrawal, playful sea lions, getting rocked out of hot tubs, wonderful food, lava flows, chasing penguins with digestive issues, newborn sea lions, running out of air, schooling hammerheads, and much more.

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As I write this now, I’m sitting on Tip Top III, anchored in the middle of a flooded volcanic caldera. The rim above water forms a near-perfect circle, with an opening to the west where it collapsed many years ago and allowed the ocean to enter. The wind is pushing gorgeous emerald waves into the sides of the rocky rim nearly 360 degrees around me.  I am nearly speechless.  Nearly.

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I awoke to find the boat moored inside a volcanic caldera whose western rim collapsed years ago, making way for the ocean to flood the center. It was very windy and choppy which made for some great waves crashing all around the rim. After a typical breakfast, we hopped in a panga to ride to the southern rim for a hike on Prince Philips Steps.  The area is a nesting place for Nazca and red-footed boobies, as well as other birds such as finches, frigates, doves, and mockingbirds.  

Red-footed boobie

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Today’s snorkel in Punta Vicente granted us encounters with fast-moving penguins, marine iguanas both above and below the water, more turtles than I’ve ever seen anywhere, and ever-playful sea lions.  The black walls had corals and barnacles on them and some typical reef fish called the area home, but the stars of the show were really the penguins.  Good footage of the buggers was hard to get due to their speed, small size, and the mediocre visibility of the colder water, but there were several darting around giving us ample opportunity to try.  Two penguins poo’d in Nadia’s face. I feel kind of bad for her, all she has talked about for nearly a week is penguins, penguins, penguins. Then, when she finally gets in the water with them, they poo on her.  In her face. On video.

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So we put away our tiaras and forced ourselves out of bed at zero dark thirty to board a panga to the docks, have our luggage inspected, and then get back on the panga to scoot to our ride to Santa Cruz. Two hours later, when the speedboat dropped us off in the Santa Cruz harbor, we took a quick water taxi to the docks, called Jorge from Tip Top and then hopped in a taxi to their shop. Nadia did a happy dance when Jorge let us use their Wi-Fi to get in contact with the outside world before we climbed into another taxi and drove an hour across the island to a ferry that floated us to a bus that took us back to the airport. Whew!

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The first dive was a bit of a shock to me since I’m not that experienced with currents and drift dives. If you didn’t hold onto rocks, you traveled pretty quickly with the current. Holding on not only went against everything I know and teach as an instructor, but it was also difficult sometimes. Often the current wasn’t too strong, but there were surges. At times I felt like a flag on a pole, and still other times divers bumped into me when they lost their grip or bearings. But I saw my first hammerheads! Several turtles coasted by; tons of reef fish and a couple of Galapagos sharks and rays also passed. 

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 Nelson began signaling wildly with his noisemaker, and it could only indicate one thing: whale shark! I turned toward him and made sure my camera was on. I looked and looked but didn’t see what he was making such a fuss about. Not being prepared for how large that fish was, I was focused on too small an area and didn’t immediately see the massive beast coming towards me. Widening my focus revealed a 40-foot female whale shark (all of them are female in the Galapagos, we were told) swimming towards the group at a slightly upward angle. She turned and moved past us deceptively fast. They look like they’re moving very slowly, but as soon as you start trying to keep up with these animals you realize they’re moving much quicker than you could hope to.

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Running low on air, I hovered over the group and did a safety stop around 20 feet. I was reluctant to finish the dive though, knowing that I only had one more left in this magical place. Just as everyone else was surfacing, I looked down and saw Nelson pointing out another whale shark below. I did a headfirst dive downward to take in the beauty of the creature one last time. The two of us got some more video footage before she moved away from us at a speed we couldn’t match. She was the last whale shark I saw in the Galapagos, and I surfaced feeling quite happy that I managed to see her again.

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Our final dive in the Galapagos was at Cousins Rock. The small island houses a sea lion colony and is famed for those playful creatures as well as sharks, eagle rays and mantas. On our way out to the dive site we could see giant mantas in the distance, near the surface. We dropped into the 72F waters and were immediately greeted by many sea lions, white-tipped sharks and eagle rays. Sea stars of many different shapes, sizes and colors littered the sandy plateau and while they didn’t get too close, several manta rays glided by during the dive.

Santiago