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.
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.
As we left the dive site on the panga, mantas continued to feed near the surface. A rainbow appeared in the sky behind us to give us a bittersweet send off and a beautiful reminder of how wonderful the Galapagos is. I didn’t want the best diving of my life to end, but we had some interesting land-based activities planned for the day.
The Aggressor motored us back to Santa Cruz, for our third and final visit on the most populous Galapagos Island. Our plan for the day included heading into an intact lava tube, visiting a giant tortoise habitat and touring the Darwin breeding center. Richard handed us off to a capable land-tour guide and off we went. Nadia opted out of the land activities and instead headed off to satisfy two weeks’ worth of an Internet fix.
On our tour through the archipelago, we’d seen remnants of many lava tubes, but this time we were actually able to step inside one that was still intact. Artificial light offered a reasonable amount of light and we descended just a few stairs to step inside the tube, which appeared to be a tubular cave with fairly smooth walls. It was just a little daunting to think that this tube was connected to a volcano and it was impossible not to think about the molten lava that had previously cruised through where we stood.
After the guide told us all about lava tubes and answered our questions, we hopped back onto the bus to our next stop. The highlands of Santa Cruz are home to many hundreds of giant tortoises and we were given the opportunity to walk through a protected habitat filled with them. We were told not to get within 3 feet or so of the tortoises and to make sure we didn’t hinder their movements. The lumbering giants were everywhere, but as expected they didn’t move around too much. When they did, it was as slowly as you would imagine. After the guide shared all information he knew about them, we got drinks and headed to the Darwin Breeding Center.
The baby tortoises at the breeding center are about the same size as most familiar turtles. They’re kept closely protected and healthy until they are old enough to be released into the wild. The breeding center is working to encourage population growth amongst a species that suffered greatly due to the activities of humans. We also got to see the habitat that was Lonesome George’s home for so long too.
Once we finished there, we had the rest of the evening to ourselves to eat dinner or shop. I couldn’t find a single store that accepted credit cards, but after an hour of searching I managed to find an ATM, get some cash, and buy a few souvenirs for family. My rudimentary Spanish finally proved useful.
Nelson and Richard had told us that to get back to the Aggressor we just had to head to the docks and get a water taxi. But they didn’t tell us how to hail a water taxi. I stood at the docks with my treasures, unsure of what to do, and unable to communicate effectively with anyone. Eventually a taxi came over to drop someone off so I seized that opportunity by hopping onto the boat, handing him my fare ($1), and telling him “Aggressor” like I was told to do. The water taxi driver replied back to me with a question that I didn’t understand. I gave him my very best blank look and repeated, “Aggressor”. Then I made hand motions that were supposed to indicate a boat but probably more closely indicated insanity and repeated the name of the boat. He drove me around the very dark bay, asking questions that I could not comprende. I repeated the name of the boat as if saying it multiple times was somehow going to help bridge the communication gap. Finally it dawned on me that there was a second name painted onto the boat: The Albatross. When I finally said that, the driver understood and took me directly to the Aggressor II. But my adventure wasn’t over, as the bay was a little choppy and the crew of the Aggressor wasn’t on deck to help me transfer between boats. I stood on the very tip of the water taxi, bouncing up and down in the waves and trying to find the right moment to make the leap through the narrow gate onto the back deck. The water taxi driver apparently got annoyed waiting so he pretty much shoved me off his boat. I ventured inside and had my final glass of wine in the Galapagos, waiting for Nadia to return so we could trade adventure stories.
The crew of the Aggressor was phenomenal all week. The diving was beyond compare; our guides were both skilled and knowledgeable; the boat was luxurious. I will thoroughly miss the hot cinnamon tea after dives, the fresh fruit and the warmed towels. I think I’m going to tell the operators at the local, cold-water quarry that they need a towel warmer, since I am quite spoiled now. For a week I had someone making my bed for me, bringing me wonderful fruit to eat, warm and delicious drinks, handling my dive gear for me, and catering my meals, all while I dove in one of the top places in the world. Yes, we were definitely treated well. It was an epic adventure that I would be happy to repeat as many times as I possibly can, and I don’t think I could have done better than the Aggressor Fleet.
A couple of tips for would-be Galapagos diving visitors:
- Bring cash. I couldn’t find anyone that took credit cards.
- Learn some Spanish. Surprisingly few people on the islands spoke fluent English.
- Don’t expect an Internet connection or cell reception.
- Bring duct tape if your roommate is an Internet addict.
- Bring sea-sickness meds.
- Be ready to get up early.
- Be ready to go to bed early because you’re going to be exhausted.
- Don’t expect a lot of downtime on a diving live-aboard; it’s pretty fast-paced.
- Bring wetsuits of different thicknesses, as water temperatures vary quite a bit.
- Bring your smile, because it will be a permanent fixture the entire time.