Under the Galapagos

Monday, April 12, 2010

We landed back on Santa Cruz at about 8:30 AM, after a two-hour trip on some very rough waters from Isla Isabella. There, on the dock, was a smiling Freddy, wanting to know how our trip was. I have to admit, reputation or not, I like the guy. But my first question after the greetings was, “Do you have my camera?” “Yes, yes, it’s at the hotel,” and he waddled us over to the Castro where, sure enough, my camera awaited as I’d left it. I was happier than ever to be on Santa Cruz and in the Galapagos when this memory lapse had hit. I’m pretty sure anywhere else in Ecuador and it would have been gone, but the hotel staff were friendly, honest, and helpful and I could’ve hugged them. I need a new camera, it’s true, but there wasn’t a chance of getting a decent one here on the Galapagos and even if there were, it’s not likely I’d have got a decent price. Bjorn and I set out to look around the town – my foot was still sore and I was limping worse and worse as the exploration continued. I found a couple stores still open during the afternoon (most are open early in the mornings and then in the evening when the boats return) and one for $120 that didn’t look all that professional and another for $130 that also included photos of the dive. Naturally, I got the price of the professional dive company down to $120 and I was relieved to know that I would, in fact, get to dive the Galapagos.

We didn’t do a lot else that Saturday besides relax and enjoy hanging around in Puerto Ayora. We found a good burger shop, we had a few cold Coca Colas, and recuperated from Isabella, the trip from Montanita, and in advance for the 8 day boat trip we were set to take on Monday. The next morning, I was up early and went over to the dive shop to take my SCUBA trip. I realized as I saw everyone eating that I hadn’t had breakfast and an English guy named Nick spotted me the $4 to have some cow’s stomach with rice. Obviously we didn’t know what it was when we’d ordered it and I tried my best to chew it into something digestible but failed. Also on the boat was a guy from Medicine Hat that talked pretty much non-stop (but was friendly) and two Israelis that I discovered were also going to be on our boat the next day: Shiri and Erez. They seemed friendly and were not geriatric which was a promising sign for the boat trip. There are no bad dive sites here in the Galapagos, but I’d heard many people raving about Gordon’s Rocks. In fact, a whale shark had even been spotted there just the day prior. I managed to talk the company and other divers into making the first dive at Gordon’s Rocks and the second, as scheduled, on North Seymour Island, so I really did get a complete experience here.

The Gordon’s Rocks dive started a bit rough. The visibility was not too great and aside from some white-tipped reef sharks and a scorpion fish, we didn’t see much. The current was incredible, and we were pulled along the rocks at a fantastic speed, not to mention that there was some pretty impressive surge bobbing us up and down. There were a few beginners on the trip, specifically Nick and Erez, and they were out of air while the Canadian and I hadn’t even used half our tank so we all ascended and boarded the boat. I was pretty disappointed as usually those with air left continue, but the boat took off and dropped us off at a second dive site on the Rocks, which was even better than just letting them ascend without us. We were not down three minutes when the dive master, Alejandro, rapped anxiously on his water tank with a diving knife. There, larger than life (and quite capable of putting an end to any of ours, incidentally) were two Hammerheads emerging from the murky water literally 6 metres behind us. I’m not great at judging sizes but they were large enough to swallow us whole. We watched as they slowed and one continued while the other turned a corner, bringing it within two-three metres of me as it swam past, eyeing us. I wouldn’t have recognized it right away as their distinctive head doesn’t have that hammer shape from the side (it just tapers strangely) but as it started to swim away from us the head became crystal clear.

Hammerheads are sometimes called the garbage cans of the sea because they’ll supposedly eat anything. License plates, humans, and SCUBA divers. However, it is considered mostly safe to dive with them here in the Galapagos because they have an abundance of food that they actually like hence I don’t believe there have been any hammerhead attacks. The other notable thing on this dive was a sea lion hunting a school of fish and around the rocks, which was really something to see. Back on the surface, we were beaming to the others’ dismay and headed out to North Seymour Island determined to see, well, more. On that dive, we saw spotted eagle rays mating, some turtles, huge schools of barracuda, jackfish, and tuna, and another sea lion much closer than last time. It was a lot more tranquil here and the visibility much better than our first site and everybody came up smiling. The diving here was amazing. The final stop was a snorkel which may have been even more exciting than the second dive as I came across a family of sea lions that were very playful – and I had them all to myself as I couldn’t get anybody out to come join in the fun. They would swim up to me as though checking out their reflection in my snorkel mask and then dart away, sometimes spinning around. I would hold my breath and try to swim under the water like them by waving my body which they seemed entertained at, and I used some of the tricks I’d learned in New Zealand like swimming in circles which they loved as much as the dolphins did. I saw the Canadian swim by with his underwater camera and made the tough choice to try to swim over to him and leave my friends and sure enough when we came back they were nowhere to be seen. It was just for me, I guess.

From there we got dropped off on northern Santa Cruz and taxied back to Puerto Ayora. That ended what wound up being one of the best SCUBA trips I have done – ever. I was back in town by three and went to see Bjorn at the hotel; the Canadian guy and Nick came shortly after so I could pay Nick back for breakfast and grab photos from the canuck. Then it was a trip to the bank to extract the last payment for Freddy and our sail trip, a stop at the dive shop to load the dive photos onto my memory stick, and out for dinner. There is a strip of cheap restaurants here that mostly grill meat to serve with... you guessed it, rice and beans (menestra). We met up with the two guys there later – after taking the all-important step of procuring a bottle of rum and 4 L of Coke for our trip – at a Chinese restaurant on that street for some reason. The food was mediocre at best but as a result of a miscommunication, I got to eat extra food Nick had ordered for $4 instead of $6. We went to Nick’s hotel later and sat on their patio with a few more beer and a couple Aussies then went out looking for the canuck and his Ecuadorian friends but came up empty in the latter search. It was getting pretty late and Bjorn and I had to be up early to catch our boat in the morning so we went back and packed, had breakfast the next morning, and for a stark change Freddy was right on time. We loaded in the taxi and took off for the airport where we met our guide and were taken – after running into the kiwis one last time – onboard the Angelique. Our trip to the Galapagos had really begun.

Galapagos SCUBA Photos

No comments: