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Darwin’s Wonderland – Part IV

For two glorious weeks in November, Scuba Diver Life went to the Galapagos Islands aboard two different live boards to see as much as we could both above and below the water.

The following series of articles will detail 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.

Click Here to Read Part l of This Series

Click Here to Read Part ll of This Series

Click Here to Read Part lll of This Series

Our Transition to Aggressor
On our seventh day we left our wonderful group on Tip Top III and transferred to the Aggressor II for some much anticipated epic diving. Though it sounds simple to hop between two boats, nothing was simple when we were in a volcanic archipelago over 500 miles off the coast of South America. The boats were about 80 miles apart and despite Nadia and I thinking of ourselves as royalty, neither boat was going to alter their itinerary just to suit the two of us.

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!


As an aside and well-deserved plug: I must express again how awesome Tip Top was. It’s an eco-friendly boat, and the spectacular and attentive crew was ready to help us with anything we wanted or needed.  They helped arrange the hectic transfer I just described, even though it certainly wasn’t in their job description. The food was fantastic and plentiful; the boat was clean and comfortable; I never once felt cramped or crowded. As a guide, Carlos exceeded all expectations. He and Santiago knew the answer to any question. If you’re thinking about visiting the Galapagos, give Santiago a call. He’ll probably get your group (including himself) on Tip Top, and he often requests Carlos.

Tip Top Yachts

But it was time to say goodbye and join the Galapagos Aggressor for some of the best diving in the world.  Nelson, who seemed to have a sixth sense for picking out his passengers in a crowd, met us at the airport. Maybe it was my “DIVE” hat and T-shirt that tipped him off, but either way we eventually made it to our home for the next week: the luxurious Galapagos Aggressor II . Which had a hot tub. This was important.

This time our room was below the water line, which we thought might prove interesting in rough water. Since were also technically sleeping underwater, we had that to joke about — or worry about, depending on your perspective. The beds were soft and comfy and I think the comforter was filled with down. There was a large shelf for storage over Nadia’s bed and next to mine were some cubby holes, which come in handy since boats tend to rock and roll a bit. Given our rough-water experience on the last boat, we were leery about putting anything on the shelf over Nadia’s bed lest it kill us in our sleep, though in retrospect, I could have secured it with the duct tape I’d been threatening Nadia with. The bathroom featured a decent-sized shower and we had a TV. Sadly though, we were two decks down from the hot tub.

The dive deck was set up for 18 divers — 16 guests and two guides — each with his or her own numbered seat that lifted to store gear. Air and nitrox were both available depending on personal preference, and divers had the opportunity to become nitrox certified on the boat. There was a large central area to hang wetsuits, a wetsuit rinse tank and two large camera tanks. Also on deck were two showers with soap bottles hanging nearby. Above the dive deck was a place to put cameras for drying, pressured air hoses, a warm towel closet, a refreshment bar, a bathroom and boxes of tools should anyone need them.

Inside, on the main deck, the dining and entertainment area featured a large-screen TV, a collection of DVDs, lots of books, baskets of various snacks and an open bar. Yes, you read that right. An open bar. But the best part of the boat (believe it or not) was the hot tub on the bow of the boat, one deck up. Nadia and I knew we would be very happy for the next week while we basked in luxury and enjoyed some of the best diving in the world.


Nelson and Richard, our guides and divemasters, gave us the lowdown on how the dive boat operated. They told us what was expected from us as well as what we could expect from the crew. We were each equipped with a satellite GPS and a large dive flag due to the possibility of strong currents.

Next up was our checkout dive. Since some Galapagos diving qualifies as advanced, the crew wanted to make sure that we were all comfortable in the water, that all of our gear worked and that we were weighted correctly. One by one we jumped off the back deck for the first and only time, since every other dive would be done from pangas. Big boats like the Aggressor can’t get close to the dive sites in the Galapagos because of currents, waves and surges. We were warned ahead of time that this wasn’t intended to be a fun or sightseeing dive, necessarily — it was just to check out our gear. But we were diving in the Galapagos! With my first breaths on compressed air in Darwin’s wonderland, how could I not be excited?

Afterward, an impeccably dressed crew served us dinner on the top deck, on equally well-dressed tables. We had sliced beef, grilled chicken, fish, salad, various veggies and flan for dessert. Wine was available if you wanted it, as it was with all dinners to come. Afterwards, Nadia and I retired to our room. Since she’d just gotten an Internet fix that afternoon, I didn’t have to listen to her cry into her pillow from withdrawal. We promptly passed out from exhaustion and dreamt of hammerheads.


Day 8: Punta Carrion, Santa Cruz
We awoke after our first night on the Aggressor well rested, and after a made-to-order hot breakfast and a dive briefing, we were ready to dive at Punta Carrion, near Santa Cruz. This was my first experience getting into a dinghy to go diving. In case you’re also unfamiliar with the process, it involves gearing up completely and then stepping off the dive deck onto a boat that’s bouncing around in the waves. The crew helps you, of course — otherwise there would be a lot divers just falling off the boats instead of getting into them. Still, the process requires timing your step off the boat with the waves, and tests your balance.

Each panga carried eight guests and either Richard or Nelson to the dive spot, where we back-rolled out and dropped below. The water was a little chilly, at about 63 Fahrenheit, and we dipped down to about 90 feet. Nelson and Richard said there was a good chance of seeing mola molas here, so we were all very excited. But despite a long dive with turtles and tons of various fish, our group was unlucky and didn’t see any sunfish. Nelson’s group saw a few of them, though — obviously he was wearing sunfish pheromones or something.

There was even more fun with the pangas after the dive; now we had to get back into them without a ladder. I couldn’t quite manage to get myself back in and must have looked like a fish out of water (pun intended) when the panga driver flopped me onto the floor — I know I felt like one. And this feeling continued for the next week after every single dive. There’s absolutely nothing graceful about it and all I could do was just laugh at myself.


Back on the Aggressor, we briefly sighted an orca nearby as we began our three-hour journey to Bartolomé for our next dive, at Punta Martinez. It was another chilly one at 65 Fahrenheit and had mediocre visibility, but we did see several turtles, lots of reef fish, and something I’d never seen before, sea snakes.  I was trying out a full-face mask for the first time  and had some difficulty getting it to seal correctly. When a full-face mask doesn’t seal right, air escapes. Eventually those bursts of air added up and I ran low. Nadia and I had to abort the dive, but we made up for it by sitting in the hot tub with wine instead. Hot tub, wine, Galapagos. What more could we ask for?

Later, the rest of the group hiked to the top of Bartolomé to see Pinnacle Rock, which Nadia and I had done a few days prior. We decided instead to drink more wine and watch a movie. I selected the best movie to watch while sitting on a boat in the middle of the ocean: The Perfect Storm. Nadia was blissfully ignorant about the plot and I received a cussing afterwards that made me laugh for some time. Then it was off to sleep while we made the rough crossing out to Wolf and Darwin.

You can check out my YouTube channel, if you are so inclined, to see pictures and video from the trip as I get them uploaded.

Next up: We hit Wolf and Darwin hard for some epic diving with tons of sharks, rays, turtles, tuna, barracuda, morays and so much more. So don’t stop now, it’s just getting good! Whale Sharks! Hammerheads! Rays! Oh my!