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Galapagos Islands

Onboard the Galapagos Agressor - May 2004

The Galapagos Islands have been on our A-list for several years now; we finally dove there for two weeks, and it was awesome!

An overnight in either Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador is required; we stayed at the Hilton in Guayaquil, arriving about 9:30pm.The next morning our 9:15am flight to San Cristobol, one of the Galapagos Islands, left on time. There’s a 44-pound weight limit for check-in baggage, but the cost for being overweight was reasonable, and carry-on was not a problem. It’s a large plane that was pretty empty, so we were able to spread out. Aggressor personnel and an air-conditioned bus met us; since they were still prepping the boat, we made a tour of the local nature center and then boarded the Galapagos Aggressor I at 1:00pm. After a brief tour and some procedural explanations, we were fed a buffet lunch, unpacked, geared up, and hit the water for our buoyancy check out dive at 3:00pm. The dive site is shallow and mostly barren, except for the sea lions that came to play with us. We also had a short land tour to view the sea lions on shore. Everyone pretty much crashed early, and while we slept the boat traveled to North Seymour.

The next morning we did a pre-breakfast dive, then ate breakfast while the boat moved to Baltra for fueling, where we disembarked for safety reasons. We did another dive at North Channel and then did a land tour where we encountered up close and personal: mating blue-footed boobies, booby babies, land and marine iguanas, sea lions, and frigates with their red chest pouches puffed up to attract mates. Then began the sixteen-hour trip to Wolf Island, where we arrived shortly before breakfast.

We spent one day, four dives, at Wolf Island. The visibility was not the best and the current could have been stronger to attract larger animals, but we saw hammerheads, turtles, stingrays, schooling barracudas, Galapagos sharks, dozens if not hundreds of eels, eagle rays, and dolphins—not bad! Water temperature was 72 degrees

Then it was on to the high point of diving in the Galapagos—Darwin Island, which is only 2-3 hours from Wolf. Darwin looks very prehistoric, with steep terrain, and birds flying and nesting everywhere. Dolphins are a common sight. There is no land touring, because it would be impossible to land or hike around. We were able to do six dives at Darwin by doing fewer dives at Wolf the next day—not a problem. Huge schools of fish blocked the light. Out in the blue were schooling hammerheads and numerous Galapagos sharks. While drifting with the current away from the wall, hoping Ms. Big (most whale sharks here are female) would swim by, there were so many fish busily swimming it felt like we were standing in the median strip of a super highway! We tried snorkeling with dolphins between dives, but they didn’t want to play, and moved off. All dives except the first and possibly the last are done from zodiacs, with a simple back roll-in. Getting back in requires handing up tanks and weights, and then either kicking into the zodiac or using a ladder at the back. Most of us got quite proficient, looking less like flopping fish as the week progressed.

We did one more dive at Wolf the next day, then the sixteen hour trek back toward civilization dives at Cousin’s Rock and Gordon’s Rock, where we saw seahorse, frogfish, long-nose hawkfish, eagle rays,  and some exuberant sea lions. Another land tour ensued, then a snorkel with the small (very small) resident penguin population.

The last afternoon was spent at the Darwin Science center on Santa Cruz, communing with the land tortoises and learning about the havoc introduced species are causing throughout the islands. We walked into town, a bustling tourist area, and did our t-shirt shopping. Dinner was off the boat, then overnight on the boat back to San Cristobol for transfer back to the airport, overnight in Guayaquil, and home.

Except Bill and me—we transferred to the Galapagos Aggressor II. When the other passengers arrived later in the day, the routine began again.

Some of the dives were better the second week. At North Seymour we found pipefish and the general fish and sea lion action was better. At Wolf topside conditions were not as favorable and underwater action was down a bit. At Darwin the water was murkier than the first week, with cold upwellings and more current. At the end of the second dive at Darwin, we spotted what looked like another huge school blocking out the sun. As we approached to take photos, it seemed to be in the shape of a—WHALE SHARK!!—with a Galapagos shark swimming below it. We couldn’t get very close, but it certainly was a thrill. The next dive we saw at least one whale shark three times. The third time it came out of the murk headed straight for us. Eventually you have to decide whether to go over or under it.

We did seven dives at Darwin’s Arch, skipping the return trip to Wolf completely. Whale sharks were seen on five dives, most up close and personal. The last pass Bill and I traveled next to it using our now-powerful “whale shark” leg muscles for at least ten minutes before tiring and running low on air. What an incredible experience!

The second week at Cousin’s Rock had better visibility and no current. A school of at least thirty eagle rays, including several golden cow rays flew past us. At Gordon’s Rock the current was ripping and the water was crystal clear—even the fish and turtles were have second thoughts about swimming upstream; it was a fun dive.

Galapagos I & II are almost identical boats, with similar itineraries and menus; each week had it’s plus and minuses. Without whale shark sighting the diving is great and the land tours are unique. With whale sharks the diving is exceptional; we’ll be going back!