We have all been counting down to this holiday of a lifetime for over 18 months and I don’t think I even read the full itinerary before handing over my deposit to secure my place.
The Galapagos….. Ocean Views biggest dive trip yet…. 12 days experiencing all the wonderful things mother nature has created both above and below the water.
A lot has changed since paying over my deposit – Brexit, Trump and most importantly the exchange rate between the dollar and the pound meaning the price going up a bit but hey, this is a trip of a lifetime, not to be repeated so it is a sound investment. There was no way this holiday was going to be dull or mundane!
The BBC seemed to know that we had this trip planned and screened an amazing three part documentary on this unique location with the last episode showing the day before we flew……. there was the chance of schooling hammerheads, sea lions, mola mola, whale sharks, manta rays, silky sharks, mobula rays, the kitchen sink……. it promised to be THE most amazing trip.
After a long flight, we finally touched down in Guayaquil (Ecuador) on Good Friday. Tired and excited we made our way to the hotel for a good night’s sleep ready for some sightseeing on Saturday before transferring to the Galapagos Sky live aboard on Easter Sunday.
Sightseeing around Guayaquil was interesting and we visited Iguana Square and then climbed the 444 steps to the highest point to take in the 360 degree views of the city. It was a hot day wandering around what is surprisingly a very clean, modern and pretty city. The definite highlight of the day being the ‘crocodiles’ at the Isla Santa Ecological Park.
Sunday, we completed the final leg of our travel to arrive on San Christobal Island where we were greeted with the sight and smell of sea lions and pelicans!
Finally on board we set about unpacking and assembling dive kit ready for our check out dive. Our dive guides for the week would be Solan and Max. Max used the tannoy system on the boat to provide information i.e. get up, eat, dive, and signed off by giving quite a convincing impression of a sea lion just to be sure we heard him.
We backward rolled in for the check dive around 5.00pm. Not the most thrilling dive, murky, cold and not much to see but it served its purpose and we successfully adjusted our weights and checked everything worked ready for the start of the real adventure tomorrow.
Monday 17th April
Today there would be three dives with the opportunity to see the sea lions in the water and Red Lipped Bat fish. Pinson Island was our first stop and we would be diving Dumb Rock. This would be the opportunity to see the Red Lipped Bat fish. The sea bed was quite baron apart from being covered in sea stars of all shapes and sizes. There were some Red Lipped Bat fish scuttling along the sea bed but as the dive groups seemed to be travelling in packs they were scared off before I had an opportunity to get a picture.
We then moved on to Santiago Island for two dives at Cousins Rock. The water temperature was cooler here, around 24 degrees, but as dive times are limited to 45 mins the cold wouldn’t present too much of an issue but I put my heated vest on just in case. You could clearly see and feel the thermoclines. It was another gentle drift dive where we were buzzed by a sea lion.
Later that day the crew took us through the procedure for boat evacuation and we all had to put on our life vests which caused much amusement. We were then issued with Nautilus LifeLine Marine Rescue GPS radios and Diver Alert signalling device so if we got washed away in the currents we could alert the boat easily and be picked up. This could really only mean one thing….. we were off to Wolf and Darwin!
I now had the feeling that the diving up to this point had been to check us out in the water and to gently ease us in to the diving conditions of the Galapagos.
Tuesday 18th April
Today was Wolf Island day, oh, and our dive team leader’s birthday!! Would we get the legendary schooling hammerhead show as a well-earned Birthday present?!
The guides gave a very comprehensive briefing explaining that the dives here would require a negative entry and a swim down to the rocks below. The guide would choose a spot and everyone would then select a rock, nook or cranny to wedge themselves into, get comfy and wait for the show. There was no coral life so touching, grabbing on to rocks was not going to be a problem. The ground was covered in huge boulders that were covered in razor sharp barnacles and moray eels. The Kevlar gloves would come in very handy as when the current is running, and the surge hits, you have to cling on so as not to be blown away!!
Our first dive was Shark Bay and we had a huge pod of Dolphins following the panga (rib). Exciting! Would they follow us in the water too?! When the BBC filmed here they had loads of sharks so expectations were high but the site only yielded sharks towards the end of the dive once some of us had started our ascent.
We then moved to Landslide and it was decided to do two dives here and the second one was AWESOME!! It has gone down in OV history just as ‘Dive 3!’
As we descended a hammerhead swam underneath us. We found a spot to settle behind some rocks and just waited. Rattle, rattle, rattle…. the dive guide furiously pointing in to the blue (murky grey)…. eventually you could see a Galapagos shark. Wow, they are huge! then another, then several hammerheads. Backwards and forwards they cruised along in front of us. I thought I could hear another divers strobes recycling behind me as they snapped away at the action. Nope. Dolphins. A whole pod of dolphins swimming right in front of us! Double Wow! This was awesome. This is what we had travelled all this way for.
In between the boulders were numerous moray eels, sleeping groupers and Hawk fish but taking photos was really tricky. My camera was now striped down to a shadow of its former self to try and make it easier but with one hand clinging to a rock, trying to hold and operate a camera single handed, with great big thick gloves on was a nightmare!! I am really glad I had my GoPro with a wide angled INON lens to capture the action as I wasn’t going to be getting many stills on this trip.
Air running low it was time to ascend. The dolphins gave us their final pass by playing at the surface so we could see them whilst on our safety stop.
As there was a sheltered bay where we were moored this was to be the location for the only night dive of the trip. Hopefully this would be my opportunity to get some pictures. Strobes charged and remounted I was ready to go.
Brrrrr the water was cold. As soon as I was in the water the heated vest was switched to maximum heat. The site was made up of lots of huge boulders. There was the usual collection of crabs, sea urchins, shrimps and lobsters to see. Some buddy pairs saw a sleeping turtle and a shark. My view and auto focus was mainly distracted by all the plankton in the water which is why these islands are so full of life and I am so lacking in pictures!
We all had a fantastic day which was capped off with a large cake for the birthday boy too.
Wednesday 19th April
The engines started at about 5.30 am and we made the cruise from Wolf to Darwin. The famous arch came into view
just after breakfast. It really is a magnificent sight, let’s just hope the diving lives up to what we have seen on the BBC!
We would have four dives here today, all in and around the base of Darwins Arch. This is the location for the famous schooling hammerhead pictures. Would we be lucky?
It was the same dive drill as we had followed at Wolf. There was lots of surge and you were rocked back and forth as you picked your way over the rocks down to the relative shelter of the reef wall. Dive one was a bit disappointing, not a huge amount to see but dive two we saw a few hammerheads and a couple of very large turtles. At one point it got eerily dark and as you looked up there was a massive ball of fish. It was an amazing sight seeing the ball of fish expand and contract in the sunlight.
The other dives yielded Galapagos sharks, hammer heads and mobula rays but all on the edge of visibility. A few close
encounters but nothing spectacular…. which was just as well as I was still struggling with my camera. Thank goodness for video!
All safely back on board the crew had lit the BBQ and were cooking huge slabs of meat and prawns for our sunset chill out party. The sunset was fabulous, reminiscent of the Japanese flag the way the sun rays radiated out across the sky. A beautiful ‘wish you were here’ style picture postcard sunset.
Thursday 20th April
Today was the last day at Darwin Arch. Due to the viz the crew were considering return to Wolf Island a little earlier with the hope of better conditions. It was frustrating. The sharks were definitely there but right on the edge of visibility and depending where you settled you could either see them or not.
We did the first dive at Darwin and then moved back to Wolf Island for the last two. The water temperature had dropped and that combined with being stationary for a lot of the dive, it was cold. The heated vest was turned up to full power again!! The current had also picked up just to add to the excitement. Even being wedged in behind a rock I still found myself clinging on for dear life as the surge tried to lift me and send me backwards somersaulting over the rocks. I was definitely getting my money’s worth from the Kevlar gloves!!
Due to the cold and the current on the last dive I blew my air fairly quickly so my buddy and I headed off to the blue for our safety stop. As we hung in the water you could see the sharks all around which was nice although a little unnerving! We surfaced and couldn’t see our usual friendly panga driver, Christian, waiting to help us back aboard.
Normally he would follow our bubbles to be ready as we surfaced. Very odd. I launched the SMB and we waited. And we waited. And we waited a bit more. The pangas were a long way away so we decided to use the audible signalling device (Diver Alert) we had been issued with during our first briefing. Wow….. it is loud!! and immediately got our taxi drivers attention! phew! safely retrieved from the water we were amazed how far we had drifted from the rest of the group as was Christian!!. Deep respect for mother nature!
Friday 21st April
Our last full day of diving! It has all gone so quickly. Today was Mola Mola and Iguana day………. so exciting!!!
Our first dive at Cape Douglas would be the last chance to see the Red Lipped Bat Fish as well as other species like Galapagos sea lions, bull head sharks and the illusive sea horse.
We backward rolled out of the panga…… gee whizz…… the water was cold…. a good 7 degrees cooler than Wolf and Darwin. The clue should have been when our dive guides had ditched their semi dry’s for full dry suits. I borrowed an additional hooded top which was surprisingly close fitting and by rights should have prevented any water ingress. It was a chilly 21 degrees at the surface dropping to 19 at depth and after 30 mins I reluctantly signalled to my buddy that I was cold and in a short while I would need to ascend. The dive was largely uneventful which was actually quite nice after the last few days of challenging diving and all the colours of the soft corals a complete contrast.
Dive two was for Marine Iguanas…… we needed to be ready so didn’t really de-kit. All eyes were on the Iguanas basking on the rocks, warming themselves ready to dive in the water and feed. I must admit after the last dive I felt just like an Iguana, lying on the sun bed in my wetsuit trying to warm up ready for the next dive!
AWESOME!! is the only word to describe this dive. Max depth of about 3 metres, swaying back and forth in the surge looking for these prehistoric looking creatures. These chaps had attitude written all over their faces. They seemed to tolerate your presence for a while but eventually they seemed to flick you a look to say ‘Really. Are you still here. Seriously, just f*** off.’ My buddy and I snapped away while admiring these most amazingly out of place creatures. They were so cool. You could hear them munching on the algae and then after a while they would ascend for a breath. Everyone was buzzing and agreed that this had to be one of the best dives ever – apart from ‘dive 3’ of course!
The next dive would be the hunt for Mola Mola at Punta Vicente Roca. Our guides wanted us to wait at a cleaning station for about 15 mins to see if any Mola Mola would come along. It was cold and being still really didn’t help.
Perched on a corner the surge buffeted us up and down and periodically blew me around the corner of the reef much to my buddy’s shock! Eventually the signal to move came and we started to retrace out fin kicks back along the wall. My buddy and I started to ascend a little seeking an extra degree of warmth and then in the distance we saw a Mola Mola!!!! We screamed through our regs to try and get our dive leaders attention as he was engrossed in his camera. Eventually he spun around and saw the unmistakable outline of this enormous fish. AMAZING!
On surfacing most of the divers were cold and because they had seen the Mola Mola decided to skip the last dive of the day in favour of warmth and a panga ride around the bay looking at the wildlife. It was brilliant and our dive guide explained all about the different animals. There were literally piles of sleeping Marine Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs, Noddy Terns, Blue Footed Boobies, sea lions and turtles. Lots of snapping and I even managed to get some Go Pro footage of a seal playing with a puffer fish!
What a great last full day.
Saturday 22nd April
Today was the day to leave the boat which was sad but it did signal the second part of our adventure and the land tours.
We started the day with a land tour of St Bartolome Island. There was a long walk up many steps to reach a view point that opened up the most spectacular views across the islands. As we wandered Max gave lots of information about the animals, birds and the island formation. It was hot but worth the walk.
Our final dive was at La Punta. It was a lovely dive, warmer than yesterday, and a very gentle drift over the reef formed by the volcano and lava flows. We saw turtles, sharks and a few mobula rays. A very pleasant, easy dive to finish our week.
Once back on board it was the usual drill of breaking down kit, washing and drying. The crew was very helpful with washing out BCDs and wet suits but there would only be a couple of hours to try and dry stuff before departing from the boat to journey to the hotel.
We said our farewells and disembarked for the Red Mangrove Hotel on Santa Cruz Island via the Giant Tortoises farm and “Los Gemelos” (The Twin Craters) which are two enormous collapsed lava chambers.
The Tortoise Farm was really interesting and a great opportunity for pictures. It is a 600-acre private reserve where differing size Tortoises roam around freely munching on plants and poisoned apples giving the occasional grunt if you got too close!
We arrived at the Red Mangrove late afternoon. The decked area outside the bar was covered in basking marine iguanas and sea lions hogging the sun beds. I got the impression that the sun beds hadn’t been used by hotel guests for some time! Pelicans bathed in the shallows and crabs scurried around the rocks… this was a great location to be staying with so many photo opportunities without straying outside the hotel bar!!
Sunday 23rd April
In the morning we would go kayaking and snorkelling on Santa Cruz Island. The kayaking would give the opportunity to get close to the rocky cliff face where numerous birds were nesting. Unfortunately it was quite a wet experience which was cooling but meant not suitable for cameras. We were quite uncoordinated paddlers in our two person kayak but we enjoyed ourselves and mostly saw lots of different bird life unless fellow paddlers scared them off first!!
Once dried off we wandered along the path past the salt lakes to an inlet which the locals seem to be enjoying. I was convinced to take a dip by my buddies already in the water. I jumped off the end of the jetty…… Whooooo……Cold/’refreshing’!! I immediately swam to the side and climbed out. That was too cold for me without my heated vest!
Our guide collected us again from the hotel after lunch for a trip to Tortuga Bay. It was a longish walk along a path that cut through the Candelabra Cactus forest but gave opportunities to look for more wildlife. We eventually reached the white sand of the beach and there was a surfing competition in progress. This meant the red flags were up so no swimming allowed. We wandered along a little further to a more sheltered cove and we all dived in the water to cool off. We tried to snorkel but the viz was unfortunately worse than our favourite local inland dive lake so that idea was abandoned in favour of just splashing and lounging about.
Monday 24th April
There was a muddle up with the excursions in the morning so we took the opportunity to wander around Santa Cruz
which is a very clean, pretty town. The fish market was especially funny with Pelicans sat on the work tops and sealions sat in between the fishmongers preparing the fish. Every now and then the scraps would be thrown to the animals and pandemonium ensued. We collected a few souvenirs from the many shops that lined the coast road and headed back to the hotel for lunch.
The afternoon tour was the Charles Darwin Research Center which was only a short walk from our hotel. Our guide explained all about Lonesome George and the breading program for the giant tortoises. It was very interesting and a nice stroll around the mangrove setting seeing many different birds and lizards along the way.
Tuesday 25th April
Our last day of touring and we had saved the best until last! Plaza Island….. our last opportunity to get pictures of the sea lions, iguanas and varied bird life.
We left the hotel at 8.20 to take the coach to the other side of the island to meet our boat the Sea Finch.
The trip included a short snorkel around a beautiful turquoise bay and then a sixty minute sail to the Island. As we arrived on the island we were immediately greeted by baby sea lions playing on the jetty and in the shallows. We all took lots of pictures of sea lions and crabs while our guide tried to explain about the island and usher us along. It was hot and there was no real shelter. It was mostly low growing plants with the odd prickly pear. There were loads of lizards and iguanas crawling around and the guide explained that they were struggling for food so either starving to death or eating birds. He then showed us dried up remains of both!
There was loads of bird life too – Frigates, Blue-footed Booby, Swallow Tailed gulls one with a chick, Brown Noddy Terns, Red-Tailed Tropic birds. It was amazing to see all this life and it made us realise that we had only just scratched the surface of what was here in the Galapagos.
90 minutes and 668 photos later we left the island for lunch and the journey back to the hotel.
Wednesday 26th April
A sad day. The holiday was over and we would start the epic journey back to the UK at 10am Santa Cruz time.
We were all sad to be leaving as we all had the most fantastic time seeing some amazing things. There was already talk of return visits, another live aboard, more land tours. I have to say I am very tempted as there is so much to see, experience and photograph!
Maybe this IS a trip I will be repeating!! We will have to wait and see!
A HUGE thanks to Ocean View for arranging yet another stunning adventure.