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.
I think we all wished we could just dive at Wolf and Darwin for the entire week on the Aggressor, but the local authorities won’t allow that. Regulations state that could only spend three days in total between the two dive sites and sadly, these were our last two dives at Darwin. Our first dive found us in view of another whale shark near the beginning of the dive. It was very shallow and due to the current, we couldn’t get close enough for a good viewing. We were surrounded by hammerheads, blacktips, tons of grunts, surgeonfish, damselfish, and more, as we’d come to expect from this epic diving location. A few free-swimming morays darted among us as well, causing a ruckus with watchful divers.
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.
When the panga met back up with the big boat, I decided to try to play Superman. Note to self: Do not try to step off the panga and onto the dive deck just as a wave knocks the panga upward. You’ll get launched across the dive deck.
Our last dive at Darwin’s Arch didn’t yield any whale sharks, but we saw lots and lots of hammerheads. Nadia and I separated from the group when they swam out away from the rocks. We continued our dive alone, doing our best to get good footage of various sharks. Eventually, over a field of garden eels, we had to recognize that we were far off course and decided to deploy my SMB. I bought my SMB on a budget and while serviceable, it’s difficult to inflate. Add to that fact that I was wearing gloves — which I cussed and eventually ripped off my hands — had a camera and external flash strapped around my wrist, and we were in a strong current and you had a recipe for fun. Nadia burned through much of her air laughing at me as I fumbled and cussed and yelled at the SMB before finally getting it deployed after what seemed like hours.
As the boat started out for Wolf, Nadia and I thought it would be fun to hit the hot tub. We were wrong. The seas were rough and we picked up a lot of speed so we could get there in time to do two more dives. The boat lurched over large waves and most of the water was flung out of it. Just so you understand, we were in that hot tub as this was happening. It didn’t take long before we realized our error, but let me tell you… getting out of the hot tub took some mad skills and crazy balance. I could have sworn I heard the captain, who was seated right behind the hot tub, giggling as he watched.
We ventured back to Wolf Island for two more fantastic dives. On our first one, we saw large schools of eagle rays, and calmly watched as school after school of these graceful creatures flew by us. Repeatedly they swooped in closer and closer, allowing for great video and photo close-ups. They must have known our diving with them was coming to an end so they gave us the best they had. Back on the panga, dolphins danced and played next to us and followed our wake back to the Aggressor, giving us their own send-off.
At the beginning of our final dive at Wolf, we encountered a group of fur seals. They’re less playful than their sea lion cousins, but we watched them bounding in the waves for several minutes before continuing on our drift dive. We saw massive schools of hammers on this very long drift, but the eagle rays must have moved on. Near the end of the dive, I saw a Galapagos shark checking Nelson out, and that was the only time during the trip that I noticed a shark taking an interest in any of us. Fortunately for Nelson, it was just a passing interest.
Immediately following our dives, the Aggressor set off for Fernandina and once more, the seas were rough for the distant crossing. While I was showering on the bucking boat, I had to keep a wide stance to stabilize myself, but still managed to get ping-ponged around. I couldn’t eat dinner due to the rocking boat and opted to take a sleeping pill and go to bed early for the night’s journey.
Cabo Douglas, Fernandina Island
Our first dive outside of Wolf and Darwin came as quite a shock to us. Instead of the balmy 75+ Fahrenheit temps we’d gotten used to, we dropped into chilly 60-degree waters. After the frigid shock wore off, we swam around with some sea lions, admired gorgeous shallow-water vegetation, found teeny tiny shrimp, and discovered some sea horses.
Our next dive was set to coincide with the marine iguana feedings. They spend only one hour a day feeding off the coast of Fernandina since their cold-blooded bodies can’t handle the chilly water any longer than that. A single hour is all they have to eat their fill for the day, and we wanted to be in the water when that happened. Taking great care not to bother the hungry reptiles, we stayed in fairly shallow water and watched, photographed, and videoed the only marine iguanas in the world feeding underwater. Watching them eat and swim was truly a treat and took our minds off the sharp temperature change.
Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela Island
Next up was Punta Vicente Roca. Nadia and I had snorkeled here with Tip Top, so we had some idea what to expect: chilly water, penguins, sea lions, and mola molas. Just as we rolled off the panga, we saw two sea lions sharing an octopus meal. After staring in shock for a moment, we continued downward into the chilly 57-degree waters. If you looked hard enough, there were seahorses everywhere. And then it happened. While we were hanging near the wall at around 75-80 feet, Nelson and Richard rattled their noisemakers and pointed off in more than one direction. Mola molas! A couple of them were swimming nearby and we had been told that if we just stayed calm and remained near the wall, the mola molas would venture in fairly close. Otherwise, they would swim off. We all froze and waited. Sure enough, a couple came in reasonably close so we could all get a good look. I counted a total of five sunfish passing through this cleaning station before we decided to move on with our dive. Five!
Further down around 90 feet, we found more sea horses, red-lipped batfish, octopus hiding in crevices, and turtles. When we got closer to the surface at the end of the dive, there were penguins there to greet us like swift-moving torpedoes.
Despite the chilly water, I was excited for our next dive in the same place. Mola molas ventured close once more, giving us our final opportunity to capture them on film. We found one spot in the vegetation that had four seahorses huddled together. Prior to this trip, I had only seen a seahorse once and on these two dives alone, I saw several. They are very hard to find, but Nelson definitely had a knack for it. Near the end of the dive, we ventured close to the shore where sea lions, penguins, and turtles hung out. I had an incredible encounter with one sea lion as she swam right up to my camera lens and stared into it for what seemed like an eternity. Sea lion pups played with each other and with the penguins, while darting around us as if we belonged there. It may sound cliché and I know I’ve said it before, but it was truly magical. I could already feel myself missing the enchanted place.
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: Our final dive, giant mantas, farewell rainbows, giant tortoises and lava tubes!