My name is Timothy Harris. I work during the week as an actuary and, in my spare time, one of my favorite hobbies is scuba diving paired with underwater photography.I went on my way to the Galapagos, Islands located west of the coast of Ecuador, South America for a short vacation.I planned this trip for my daughter, Michelle and I to travel together, live aboard the Deep Blue for a week in July, 2004 and to enjoy a new adventure in diving.
Our flight left on time from St Louis, Missouri. Due to the limited number of flights to and from Miami since American Airlines took over the St. Louis hub, we have a long layover in Miami before we can board our non-stop flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador.Our stay at the Admiral Club made the wait bearable.
Our flight boarded about half an hour late and left even later.The flight was uneventful and the service on board was marginal. The flight attendants were courteous and helpful. We were then over an hour late arriving in Guayaquil at .(Local time)
Customs in Ecuador was interesting.First, we went through the usual scenario at a booth with customs officials who were dressed in military uniforms.Once we retrieved the luggage that arrived last as Michelle predicted, we went to the next line to have it run through an x-ray machine. This procedure did not make sense as we were coming in to this country, not going out.In addition they sped the luggage through the machine and the checker sitting at the scanner was talking to one of the guards and was not even watching the screen.When this was done we had yet another line where security was matching luggage receipts with luggage before we could leave.Through the lining up process the crowds were not orderly, people were always forming new fingers to the lines and, in addition, there was a group of missionary or church people who were very pushy.I guess they felt they were the anointed ones.
The hotel shuttle was waiting for us as requested.A staff member was holding a sign for us just like a limo driver and the shuttle driver was very friendly and helpful.We waited a few minutes for another couple going to the same hotel and rode through the streets of Guayaquil.The city was deserted and everything was locked up tight.Security was similar to what I have seen in other South American countries, secure “garage” doors, bars on windows and then armed security at the hotel including a uniformed guard with a bullet proof vest and a small revolver side-arm, probably a Smith & Wesson 38.Along with him was an older guard carrying a single shot shot-gun on a sling over his shoulder as in The Godfather when Michael Corleone had to hide in Sicily and his constant companion carried a shotgun in this manner.
Just as we approached the hotel, another bus was unloading a tour group that was on the same plane as we were. People were lined up in front of reception at the hotel.Our driver got involved in the process and after I slipped a large tip in his hand, he helped us get our room keys without having to wait for the rest of the group.The hotel had computers on the reception desk but they seemed to be doing everything manually.
We finally crashed after Central Time (We were back on our own time zone for the overnight stay until we reached the Galapagos) in our room while watching TV.The hotel had cable/satellite and lots of channels some in English, some in Spanish and some in English with Spanish subtitles.Before we turned out the lights we ordered two rancher’s breakfasts from room service with the card that you hang on the door.Just like the Hyatt.
The room service staff called at regarding our breakfast.They could not understand what Michelle had marked on the form.She did not want the steak with her rancher’s breakfast.They almost go it right.Her steak was served without the spicy sauce that was not spicy anyway.Prices were very reasonable for a hotel.Two very large breakfasts cost less than $20.
I ventured to the coffee shop a little before to locate some people and I found Paul (Doc) Anes, the leader of our expedition.He was excited to report that several whale sharks had been spotted in the region we were sailing to. Our group gathered at and was welcomed by William, a Belgian porter who loaded our luggage and coordinated our drive to the regional section of the airport. The area was pleasant and hosted a pretty good food court.William took care of our boarding passes and made sure that our luggage was loaded on the plane.He let us know that any excess luggage charges were waived.Apparently it is an issue that seems to be resolved quickly as long as a porter is in charge of handling the situation.He warned us that we might have to pay on our return flight.One has to realize that dive gear and all sort of camera equipment is necessary for a trip like the one we were embarking to. The flight to San Christobal, Galapagos lasted about 2 hours. We were now on Central Time. Food was offered on the flight that looked more like a European breakfast consisting of cold cuts and quiche.Michelle would inquire what the different foods were and at times ask me to taste some of the items.Virtually all of the hotel and airline staff spoke English although we tried to speak as much Spanish as possible.
Upon arrival at the airport we immediately went through a routine similar to customs where we were asked about what we were bringing on the island. A mandatory $100 per person for a park pass was collected.
Once the luggage was unloaded, we identified our pieces to be placed in the bus. Antonio, our guide for Deep Blue, suggested waiting for the rest of the group. We strolled by few shops nearby and found the prices very reasonable even though the merchandise was limited.
Antonio encouraged the group to board the bus.Once we departed, he announced pleasantly that it would take 2 hours to reach our destination that in fact took only 10 minutes.I guess he was trying to be funny.
Ship Statistics, crew, staff and Passengers.
The boat has four cabins below, one on the main deck and four more on the upper deck. The view from the upper deck cabins was better unfortunately we occupied one of the lower cabins.Our cabin was fairly roomy for a live aboard dive vessel with adequate storage and a private bath. We stored our belongings in the cabin closet and the dive gear was stored in the storage room located at the stern of the boat where the dive operation was set up. Camera equipment was set up on camera tables.
A few notes on the group.It’s similar to one of Paul (Doc) Anes’ shark dive groups, i.e. mostly male, middle aged experienced diver/photographers.There was a lot of camera talk in the bus on the way to the airport this morning.It sounds like we may have a few professional photographers in the group and it also sounds like underwater photographers are still shooting a lot of film and haven’t all gone digital yet.In addition to Paul, I know one of the other divers, Steve Beneveides, a Tax Attorney, from one of the Great White Sharks dives that I have done.
The group actually got alone very well.It was a somewhat older group with the exception of a younger couple, a high school teacher and her husband. My daughter was also the notable exception.All of the divers were also underwater photographers and, therefore, we all had a lot in common and a lot to discuss in our spare time.Since much of the current photography equipment is digital, we were able to share pictures and video.We also shared e-mail addresses with each other and communicated following our return.
The meals were good but not exciting.The menu was limited by the fact that we were at sea for a week.We often had chicken, beef and fish.We often had broccoli and potatoes.We did have the one break that is mentioned in my notes when we mooched a freshly caught fish from a fishing boat.
Dive Trip Scheduled Itinerary
– Checkout Dive
– Land Tour of Isla San Cristobal
– Visit Downtown Isla San Cristobal
– Cruise to northern Isla Seymour
- Arrive at northern Isla Seymour
– northern Seymour Dive
10 AM – Land tour of northern Seymour
– Second northern Seymour Dive
– Cruise to Isla Darwin (a 20 hour trip – Michelle can finally get some sleep and I can update my log and edit pictures and video) interrupted by a stop to meet with the panga that’s bringing the Venezuelan luggage from Baltra.
- arrive at Isla Darwin a little late, bay about the amount of time that it took to recover the Venezuelan luggage.
- in the water.
10:00 AM – in the water again
– in the water again
– in the water again
Day 4 – Same as Day 3 except that we were already at Isla Darwin
- arrive at Isla Wolf
- in the water.
10:00 AM – in the water again
– in the water again
– leave the area
– Breakfast while we’re still traveling to Isla San Salvador.
– In the water at Cousin’s Rock.
– Dive again at Cousin’s Rock
2:00 PM Snorkel with penguins
3:00 PM Hike up Pinnacle Rock
8:00 AM – Hike on SouthPlazaIsland.
– Dive at Gordon Rocks – volcanic crater
– Return to boat
– Farewell diner
– Panga ride into Puerto Moreno
– Board the bus for the airport
– Fly to Guayaquil
Back at the Grand Hotel in Guayaquil
leave for the airport
10:00 AM Flight to Miami.
Schedule and daily activities
Day One – Briefing and check-out Dive
We were given a briefing on what the day would be like and then transported to the boat by zodiacs that are called “pangas”. This would be the first of many rides on these craft.
On board the boat we gathered in the leader’s stateroom for a longer briefing and room assignment.
Once we were settled in we had lunch on the boat.All meals were served buffet style and the food was decent, the menu could easily be improved, however.After lunch we boated around the island to a sheltered cove for what was called our check out dive.The dive took place at Isla Lobos off the coast of San Cristobal.It was in about 20 feet of water and was intended to get us used to the gear, the water temperature of about 70 degrees F, and the methods of entry and exit from the water.On this dive we used a giant stride off the back of the boat to get in the water which would be the only time that we used this but then our exit was to get into the panga and then into the boat.To get into the panga, you grab onto a rope on the side of the panga, hand the driver your camera, your weight belt followed by your BC. It is necessary to keep the fins as they are needed to kick and pull oneself up and over the gunwale of the panga, kind of like a sea lion would. A lot of sea lions were with us during this dive.They played with the divers, played in the water, seemed to be having sex in the water and buzzed around a lot.We were told that they did have sex in the water, the dominant male with his harem.I had taken my video camera and got some decent video.Michelle took some shots with her Sea and Sea point and shoot camera that later flooded.It should be replaced by a newer digital model.We were in the water for almost an hour and were comfortable with the cold water gear that we brought.We both use a combination of a hooded vest and flexible cold water wetsuits with gloves.
After our check out dive we boarded the pangas once again to access a different part of the island for a waling tour. We saw a lot of sea lions and a few aquatic iguanas.The walking tour was good and the guide, Juan Carlos, was very knowledgeable about the wildlife.However, it reminded me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding when it came to the origin of the species.The guide thought that all of the animals were endemic, originating in Galapagos.
Later in the day we motored back to the harbor and went into town for about an hour.We walked around the small town, took pictures of the sunset and tried to use the internet with no success at one of the shops.Neither of us was able to access our e-mail and the shop didn’t charge us anything.
Back on the boat we had drinks, some type of grasshopper, for free but normally there is a cash bar, and were introduced to the crew. Dinner tonight was baked fish, green beans, cucumber salad and potatoes.Dessert was strawberries with cream.
We tried watching a DVD on the TV in the stateroom but were too tired to finish it and went to bed.One of the other species endemic to this area is a small fly that is everywhere when we are close to the islands.Even though we had the door closed several of them had gotten into our room and I used part of a local newspaper that Michelle had picked up in Guayaquil to swat them.I had gotten all of them, I thought, but as I was starting to fall asleep, one landed on my nose.I was too tired to chase it and I think it went to bed as well.However, the next day they took our newspaper when they cleaned the room so we are now at the mercy of the flies.They’re not as bad as the crazed mosquitoes that kept me awake all night in Bonaire after a brief rain brought them back to life.There were terry cloth robes on the bed and every night a new face towel and bath towel.One night Michelle had picked up a couple of mints from the candy dish in the galley and laid them on her pillow.She really likes first class accommodations.
Day 2 – Advanced Diving
We had an early morning the next day.After traveling through the night to northern Isla Seymour, we were up at in the morning and getting ready to dive at .This was in order to meet our schedule and also, as we found out on a dive later in the day, to avoid current.The dive was good.There was a little current but not too much.We saw sea lions, eagle rays and white tip sharks.Breakfast was waiting for us when we returned from the dive.
After breakfast, we had a nice land tour of northern Isla Seymour where we saw lots of juvenile boobies some with their parents feeding them, colonies of frigate birds, more sea lions and both aquatic and land iguana.This was a very good tour and the guide, Carlos again, was very knowledgeable.There is a lot of death on these islands which is nature’s way.We saw a dead sea lion the night before on Isla San Cristobal during our tour.Today we saw numerous dead boobies since the nests often start out with three hatchlings and then narrow down to one as the dominant chick either kills or pushes away the other chicks.The parents don’t interfere.Michelle quit taking pictures of the chicks after she heard this since the chick that we saw was the one who had killed its two siblings.
There were two other boats in the cove where we had anchored.When asked about the other ships, I was told that they are allowed to have four ships at a time in this area.There are 100 groups in total that are allowed to do tours in the Galapagos and they take turns at the various locations.The other groups were not dive boats, however, just land tours.When we were at San Cristobal for our check out dive and land tour there was also another boat there but they were too large to be allowed to tour in the area that we toured.
The after breakfast dive started out as a drift dive in some pretty fast water but when it came time to start crawling on the rocks in order to avoid being carried away, the current was too strong for Michelle and I and we surfaced as we were swept away from the rocks.Some of the others just clung to the rocks until it was time to ascend.The visibility was low.We had seen a number of white tip sharks but except for the one that Michelle started chasing when we first entered the water, none were close enough for a good picture.It’s difficult to use a camera on dives like this.You generally need two hands to take a picture or to shoot video and that’s not possible when one of your hands is holding on to a rock. The Nikonos that I didn’t bring with me was one camera that I could operate with one hand but the quality of the pictures was reduced from the movement and the difficulty focusing the camera.Since we popped up earlier than the other divers, we had a chance to watch them locate, follow and retrieve divers as they surfaced.This is always a concern.I hate coming up to the surface and not being able to see the boat.The panga drivers did an excellent job of locating and retrieving the divers.However, these two boats were not always close together and they had no communication.Some type of hand held radio communication with each other and with the mother ship would be appropriate due to the dangerous nature of these waters.
Lunch was again decent as we started on our long trip, 20 hours, to Darwin.Michelle thought it was very good.We had brown rice, shrimp in a sauce, a warm squash salad an onion salad and a cold radish salad.Dessert was flan with nuts in it.
One interesting story is about a Venezuelan woman who had her luggage lost in Caracas.The people of Deep Blue managed to have her luggage flown to Baltra and then as we went past Baltra on our way to Darwin, one of the crew went to the island on a panga and retrieved the woman’s luggage.
We spent the travel time sleeping, reading and trying to watch a DVD that wouldn’t work on the TV.They need a new DVD player.Dinner was beef with a sauce, salads and fried potatoes.
Day 3 – Isla Darwin
I woke up a little early and heard the boats engines running and noticed that it was still dark outside even though it seemed that it should be about time to get up.I went on deck and found that we were just passing Darwin’s Arch, a beautiful natural site, and it was overcast.It was a little after and we were almost to our anchoring site.
Everyone was awakening and we had a snack of cheese and crackers, for those that eat crackers, then we suited up and headed out.Michelle and I were fast enough to get on the first panga out which seems to always be the group that has the best sightings.However, I was to learn later that in her sleepy state Michelle had left behind some of her integrated weight.We were taken by panga to Darwin’s Arch and rolled back into the water.I noticed that Michelle was having difficulty getting down and when we got to the bottom I gave her some of my weight and she was fine.We immediately saw schools of hammer head sharks.They were cruising by in front of us.We held on to the rock to avoid the current which is mild in the morning and gets stronger later in the day.However, you have to watch where you grab the rocks since there are moray eels everywhere.One was poking its head out just beyond where I was holding on so I took some video of it in between shark video.Then we saw our first whale shark.Antonio shook his little rattle hard which was the sign that he had spotted a whale shark that, when I looked up, I couldn’t even see the massive animal at first.Then it appeared, slowly cruising by, like the Goodyear Blimp.We swam out and took pictures and video until it changed directions.Then we went back to the rocks where we saw more sharks and eels.Then we went out into the blue and went a bit deeper which caused my air to get used up more rapidly and, I guess everyone else’s, so we went to a lesser depth.I was running low on air and so was Michelle so we started heading up for our safety stop.While hovering at 15 feet we saw another large whale shark cruise under our feet and chased it for a while, violating the strict rules of the safety stop but probably still accomplishing the purpose.
We were quickly picked up by the panga driver and all told our shark and whale shark stories.One of the women believes that she saw a whale shark giving birth when we at the greater depth.Several others saw the juvenile but didn’t see it coming out.
Another group of divers saw a silky shark.I’m not sure I would have known one at this stage of the trip if I saw one.
I was shooting video due to the expected distance of the wild life, the size, the visibility and the movement.I didn’t use my blue filter on the first dive but will use it on the second dive.We have four dives today.
Michelle got sick on the panga ride back; the water is a bit rough.I gave her part of a Dramamine and convinced her to eat a little.
When we arrived in the area there was a local fishing boat there as well.These are Galapagos residents who are allowed to fish but not to use long lines.These areas are patrolled by, supposedly, some very serious game wardens to prevent poaching.In talking to Antonio, I learned that the area had been over fished a bit, first the lobster was depleted, then the sea cucumber and now they are concerned abut the tuna and the sharks.We heard from another diver that in Thailand where divers used to go to see whale sharks, they have captured and eaten almost all of the sharks and they are rarely seen.
We came back to a breakfast of omelets and French toast and a short break before suiting up again.The second dive was as good as the first.We followed the same strategy and encountered the came currents, more hammerhead sharks and two more whale sharks, one really large one.Michelle did very well on this dive after I gave her part of a Dramamine and encouraged her to jump back in the water.
Part of the excitement of the dive is the panga ride though the rough waters with frequent sightings of bottle nose dolphins, sharks and turtles.At times the dolphins ride the bow of the panga which is very close if you’re sitting in the bow which I often did.
We came back to a lunch of chicken and various vegetables.Michelle was ravenous and fully recovered.
The third dive started about an hour after lunch.The waters were a little rougher on the way out and the visibility was reduced in the water.I had some equipment problems.The staff was late refilling our tanks and was just finishing mine when I took it and got in the panga.When I rolled in the water I found that the air was shut off.Not only that but my mask popped off me when I rolled in.This was quickly remedied and I was off and under.
We returned to learn that we had less than an hour break and then we were to suit up again.The water was calmer for the fourth dive and there was a little sunshine.The visibility was low and the number of hammerhead sharks was also low but we had two great whale shark encounters.One was spotted by Michelle as the guides and everyone else was looking the other way.She pointed it out to me and I didn’t see it.Then she grabbed Antonio by the flipper and pointed it out to him.The two guides shook her hand and congratulated her later.On the way out in the panga I had commented to our guide, Antonio, that we might ask the fishermen that had been in the area if we could buy some fresh fish.We actually did that on the way back.They jokingly offered to trade the lady from Venezuela for some fish and she was ready to go.They did give us a large Wahoo which the cook prepared for dinner and we also had some sashimi complete with soy sauce and wasabi.I had another equipment problem on this dive.This time the staff hadn’t had time to refill the tanks so they switched my tank and hadn’t put it on tight.I got Michelle’s attention and she was able to refasten the tank.The support crew is helpful but not real knowledgeable.
Which brings up an interesting topic, they were supposed to have nitrox on this dive and didn’t but they had a thick binder in the stateroom that explained why they didn’t have nitrox.According to the correspondence between Galapagos Adventures and a firm called UBS, GA had paid cash for the delivery of a nitrox system for the boat and UBS wasn’t delivering and was making excuses for not delivering.UBS came across in the correspondence as being dishonest.GA engaged an attorney and after 6 months finally has the system in their warehouse in Miami.UBS sounds crooked but I also question the ability of the Deep Blue staff to maintain a nitrox system.
Day 4 – Isla Darwin
We left in the pangas at about 6:30.Michelle had gotten faster in suiting up and we are often on the first boat out which is good as we learned this morning when we dove in to immediately encounter a large whale shark close up and with great visibility.I had taken the still camera to allow Michelle to take some pictures but I still had the camera as we were descending and got some great shots of this first whale shark of the day.One of the pictures was of John, one of the other divers, right in from of the whale shark taking his own pictures.He has wanted a picture of himself in with a whale shark and this one is really good.I’m going to have it enlarged for my collection when I return to the States.It came out a little dark but its digital and was easily lightened up.We took a different underwater route today since the currents had returned to normal.After our initial sighting we literally crawled along the rocks and watched hammerheads while waiting for another sighting.The guides will do this for a while and then as the group is getting down to about half a tank of air they will take us out in the blue to see if we can sight a whale shark out there.We did this and we sighted one shortly after we got out into the blue.I was ahead of everyone on this sighting and the shark was at a depth of about 40 feet and above me so I got some really good whole whale shark pictures without divers or bubbles in the shot.At this point I’m happy with my video and stills and will let Michelle deal with my camera since hers is beyond repair.
We have another dive boat in the neighborhood, the Sky Dancer.The boat was arriving this morning as we were approaching our entry point at Darwin’s Arch.The ship was spewing large amounts of black exhaust which was curling into the after deck where passengers were standing.The engines must be out of tune.I commented on the fact that I can deal with motion on a boat but that much diesel exhaust would make be sick.We had been told that we would have company today and that we should be careful not to get mixed up with that group.We were also told that that group did not go out into the blue but only clung to the rocks so if they got too close our guide would lead us out into the blue.
We returned to breakfast and were suiting up again at for the second dive.We took the still camera again and checked our gear out since they seemed to have changed tanks.The visibility was low due to a large amount of plankton in the water, mostly jelly fish larvae.We didn’t see any whale sharks probably due to the low visibility and just hung out and took pictures of the little fish and eels.
We returned to a lunch of roast pork, hominy, potato pancakes and salad.Then we were back in the boats at .The second dive went better.The visibility returned and we saw a couple of whale sharks as well as lots of hammerheads.We had also seen a whale shark at the surface on the way to the dive site and stopped to possibly snorkel with it but it went deeper.They look like a very nasty shark with that big dorsal fin sticking up out of the water.When we returned to the boat, we went out looking for groups of dolphins to snorkel with.Michelle, being the fish that she is, was able to catch up with a few dolphins and then actually encountered a whale shark at the surface.I got a picture of the tail end, literally of this.We learned that the whale sharks in this area are all female.The male is smaller and they don’t know where they go.Actually not much is known about them and a group of researchers with the Shark Institute was just in the area on the Deep Blue tagging some of the sharks to learn more of their lifestyle.
We still had our gear on from snorkeling with the dolphins and whale shark when it was time to go out for the fourth dive of the day.We were ready mentally as well as physically.We decided not to take any cameras and to just enjoy the fish.We followed the same routine as in the past where we would drop to the rocks and crawl along them to find a good vantage point to watch the hammerheads while we waited for whale sharks.After doing this for a while we went out into the blue and shortly thereafter had our first whale shark encounter of the dive.This was a good one and some of the group got very close.On of the divers was slightly slapped with the whales tail as it turned away.We floated for a bit after this encounter to calm down and catch our breath since we often have to kick quite a bit to get near these animals.Then we encountered yet another.Michelle got very close to this one and was also slapped a bit by the tail.This last encounter brought us all closer to the surface and we were all at about 600 lbs. of air so we just did our safety stops and then went up and back to the boat.
After a dinner of cammarones, rice and vegetables we had our nightly briefing.It seems that our guides had gone over to the Sky Dancer and learned that they had only seen 4 whale sharks during the day’s diving while our group had a total of 16.Antonio has an eye for whale sharks.Antonio is our underwater dive while Carlos handles the land tours.He also goes along on the dives and plays clean up, staying back and watching for straggles or divers with equipment problems.
Tomorrow we are off to Isla Wolf for three dives where we can expect to see lots of hammerheads and Galapagos sharks.
Day 5 – Isla Wolf
We traveled to Isla Wolf during the night.A number of us were up late last night watching The Lord of the Rings Part III with Spanish subtitles. We brought all three parts and the crew really seems to like this movie.
We arrived at Wolf a little after in the morning and had a dive briefing at for another pre-breakfast dive.This morning’s dive was at Shark Cove but someone forgot to tell the sharks that they were supposed to come.It was an enjoyable dive and was a drift dive on the rocks which means that you stay close to the rocks and hold on occasionally to avoid being swept along in the current.This is not a problem once you get used to it and you can find a lot of small fish, eels and even turtles hiding from the current in the rocks as well.We returned to another breakfast of omelets, various meats, fruit and cereal.I managed to slip on the stairs on the way down to me cabin after the dive.I had dried off but the steps are varnished wood and once I slipped on one I was going all the way.They really need to put some safety strips on these steps.I also had a discussion this morning with one of the other passengers relegated to the lower cabins about the fact that the air conditioning doesn’t work.Even though it’s cool outside, due to the heat from the engine room and the bodies below, the cabins heat up.I get up once or more during the night to open the door and turn on the fan hoping to cool things off since it’s quite cool outside at night and there’s no cross ventilation down below.There are windows but they don’t open.
At we suited up again and were off to Galapagos Shark Point.This time there were in fact lots of sharks, Galapagos sharks, Silky sharks and Hammerheads.We also saw yellow puffer fish which I had never seen, turtles and bat rays.Michelle was shooting pictures and, as usual, off like a fish chasing the fish.The camera was being difficult however and I changed the setting after this dive with the hopes of improving our shots.
Lunch was a delicious grouper with cauliflower and vegetables.We had an hour after lunch before we suited up for our last dive of the day and the decision was made to go back to Galapagos Shark Point since the sightings were so good.
On the third dive we jumped into the current and just went with it.It was actually a great, fairly fast drift dive.We occasionally grabbed on to rocks to stop and take shots.Michelle got some great shots of sharks, turtles, rays and fish on this dive.The new settings on the camera helped.We zipped along a little faster than the rest of the group and the guides were nowhere to be seen.A couple of times when we held on to rocks to watch the hammerheads swimming into the current and just standing stationary in the water the rest of the group would catch up to us but when they did, it was too much for the hammerheads and they would move off.I think we were doing a better job of hiding in the rocks and watching or taking pictures.Michelle ran out of air before I did on this dive which is the reverse of what we have normally done.This was because she was working harder to get better pictures and that uses up more air.The lady from Venezuela, Lenore who dives with a prosthesis (The lower part of he leg was lost in an accident.), was circled by a Galapagos shark when she was doing her three minute safety stop, so she filmed it and when it got too close, she shoved her camera at it.The Galapagos shark likes to come up close and check you out and Deanora was like the rest of the divers in this group, they’re not afraid of the sharks and that helps avoid any accidents since the sharks learn to keep their distance or they get bopped in the nose with a camera.
At about we left Isla Wolf and headed out.I spent the first part of the trip taking pictures from the upper sundeck.They really need to get different deck chairs.The ones that they have are made of wood with slats that will scratch your skin if you bump against them or are thrown into them by the motion of the boat.Michelle was on the bow of the boat watching the dolphins ride the wake.I later shot up a roll of film taking pictures of a beautiful sunset.
Day 6 – Isla San Salvador
We were expected to arrive at Isla San Salvador at about 10 AM.The plan was to have breakfast at 7:30 AM, dive at 10 AM, snorkel with the penguins after the dive, have lunch, hike up the volcano, dive again and then leave for Isla Santa Cruz.We actually arrived a bit early and were in the water at Cousin’s Point by a little after nine.I accidentally broke the bracket on the side of my mask while rinsing it in the seawater as the ponga was moving and had to run back to the boat to borrow a mask.I lost maybe 5 minutes at most and managed to drop right in on top of Michelle which was good since she was getting close to some strong current.The current was coming in differently than expected and our dive plans had to be changed.Michelle was busy chasing a turtle and I had to retrieve her and point her in the right direction.The dive was not too exciting otherwise.
We came back for a short break and then headed out to the same dive site for our second dive.This was a much better dive.The current had died down and we saw turtles, sea lions, bat rays, and a sea horse.Both Michelle and I used the camera and got some really good pictures.Michelle got especially good pictures of the sea horse and a scorpion fish.We came up about the same time as a lot of the other divers but one, a woman who normally comes up early, was not up after everyone else had gotten in the pangas.There was some confusion over whether or not we actually had another diver down since by this stage of the trip some divers were skipping some of the dives.However, her husband was on the other boat and let every one know that she had been on the dive.One boat circled the rock and the other went out farther.Then she just popped up.She had been taking her time, alone, which is not safe.
We returned for lunch and then went snorkeling with the 30 penguins near Pinnacle Rock.That was fun and those little things are fast and playful.After this we went for a hike up Pinnacle Rock, a volcanic formation.Tomorrow we see some active volcanoes.
We had a dinner of beef filets, broccoli and salad with a strawberry crepe for dessert.
We traveled a while after dinner to a sheltered site for our overnight anchoring and then motored at about to SouthPlazaIsland, the site of our hike and dive for the day.
Day 7 – SouthPlazaIsland / Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz and DarwinCenter
We had a breakfast of omelets fried something, meats and fruit.Shortly after breakfast we went for the hike on the Island which was very interesting.We saw lots of marine iguana, land iguana birds and sea lions along with some fantastic yet dangerous views from the cliffs.Antonio said that a couple of people had fallen from the cliffs when they got too close to the edge.We also talked later about diving safety and he was telling me that people have been lost by some of the other diver operations but Deep Blue has never lost anyone.They are also planning to start up a video operation and burn DVD for sale to passengers.
The dive in the crater was great, a nice low current dive, although the current was coming from a different direction than had been expected.We saw sharks in the mist and a very large Manta Ray during our safety stop which Michelle decided to chase.I told her later that I’m not going after her when she does that.
After lunch we went ashore at the Darwin Research center to see the giant tortoise and to shop at the gift shops and the city.The city was full of restaurants and dive shops as well as souvenir shops.We talked a little more about the over fishing of the area.The fishing is restricted but the system of controls is weak with possible corruption.Sea Shepherd was run out of the country when they tried to drive off pirate fishing boats and accused the Ecuadorian Navy of corruption.The blue spiny lobster was virtually eliminated then the sea cucumber and now the fishing fleet is going after tuna and probably sharks although they deny this, serial depletion.The Galapagos fishermen struck when the Park tried to limit their sea cucumber harvest and the fishermen prevailed.Now the local fishermen are preparing to strike for the right to use long lines.We had a number of conservation minded divers in the group.Several had worked with organizations to protect the oceans and their inhabitants.
We had a nice last dinner with a pre-dinner cocktail on the boat and went below to pack.We had already packed our dive gear and left it on the upper deck but it rained overnight and it’s no drier than when it was put in the bag even though it was under the awning.We were given envelopes for tips for the crew and the guides.I also made comments on a comment sheet in line with some of the issues that I have noted here.Michelle had some ear problems through the night and was up at about .I had given her some swimmer’s ear, some anti-inflammatory and even dropped a little warm olive oil in her ear but she still isn’t over the problem.We talked about it with some of the other divers who say that they’re almost always partly deaf from all of the diving.The lady from Venezuela gave her some ear drops in the morning as well.
Day 8 – Departure Day
Today we finish packing and then hang out in town, Puerto Moreno, Isla San Cristobal, before leaving for the airport.The crew will take care of our luggage and will store our carry on in the bus until it is time to catch our 1 PM flight to the mainland.Then we go back to the Grand Hotel on Guayaquil for an overnighter and an early flight to Miami.
We had asked our shuttle driver on the way to the Grand Hotel from the airport for some suggestions on walking around the city which we got and also for suggestions on a restaurant, which we got.Most of the group was on the shuttle to the hotel and we all decided to go to Lo Nuestra, to take the same shuttle and to buy dinner for our driver, Alicia.Alicia knew a lot about Deep Blue which it turned out is owned by Carlos and has only been in operation for a year.Both Antonio and Carlos are in there early thirties and Antonio has been doing guide work for 12 years, has a family with two children in Port Ayora and used to work for another operation.The walk around the Hotel area was interestingThere is a large Cathedral right behind the hotel with a park another block away that has iguana everywhere and the river walk area a few blocks farther which is a nice park area.Dinner was great at the restaurant and also inexpensive.
Rating of the Trip
I’ve accounted for 8 days of the trip, although the last day was a departure day, we still had interactions with the staff of Deep Blue.In addition there were two days of pure travel going to and from Guayaquil.On the return trip we are to leave for on the hotel shuttle with other people who have Miami connection for a flight on American Airlines.Michelle and I have a long layover which will allow us to get another Cuban sandwich and to also complete our dive logs.
The trip was fantastic.This was a once in a lifetime experience.We saw and captured on film and video many whale sharks, dove with them, snorkeled with them, snorkeled with dolphins, snorkeled with penguins, played with sea lions, saw many rare and unusual plants, birds and iguana.The staff was great especially the guides and particularly Antonio, the food was good and the boat was fun.
A few words about the condition of the boat, the boat is in good shape but is showing some signs of wear.The reading light over my bed is broken loose from its fitting and held in place by the electrical wires in the light.After breakfast today, the doors to the stern had been closed and I went to open them and the doorknob came off in my hand.I put it back on and then had to play with the doors to get them open and then to close them again.The doors are wood and have swelled from moisture.On the second deck, the awning over the area where they have the deck chairs is starting to crack and develop holes from the suns heat.The stopper in the drain on our bathroom initially had to be pulled out by hand.However, Michelle had pulled this out to drain the sink one morning and left it out and someone later repaired it.
A few words on dive support.As described earlier, you start shedding your gear when you get back into the panga after a dive.This mixes everyone’s gear up and the staff attempts to sort things out when you return to the boat but you have to watch them or look for your things after they bring them on board.I had to hunt for my mask this morning and Michelle had to hunt for her gloves this afternoon.It’s a good idea to mark everything.Our tanks are filled for us in between dives.I haven’t been removing my BC or regulator and my tank is magically refilled.Michelle had been taking hers off but then it is reattached.However, one concern that I have for on boat refilling is the purity of the air.I’ve noticed a bit of a headache after diving and am sure that the air is being filtered as it goes in to the compressor but I’m not sure it’s filtered enough and this is a complaint that I’ve had on other live aboards.I later watched the staff filling the tanks and noticed that the air was not even being filtered.Instead they ran a long hose up the awning over the sundeck on the second level.The problem with this is that the location of the intake on the hose is just one story above and directly over the exhaust from the generator and the engines if they’re running.This is the source of the small amount of fumes that I am noticing.The air need to be filtered and this intake hose relocated.Not only is the quality of the air that we breathe tainted but the unfiltered intake of the ocean air with the sea spray mixed in will corrode the tanks and the equipment.
There seems to be something wrong with the outboard motor on one of the pangas.The maintenance guy is always playing with it and they have to use a pair of pliers to shift the gears.The last time I looked there were five people assisting in the repair of the motor.The biggest risk on this trip in my mind is not the sharks or the current but the risk that the motor will go out on one of the pangas and we will drift out to sea or be thrown up against the rocks.I had something similar to this happen on a shuttle boat from Virgin Gorda to Tortola when one of the boat’s twin engines went out.I didn’t think we were going to make it through the rough seas to Tortola and certainly thought that I’d at least be late for my flight since with one engine we were barely making it though the seas and if that one went we were screwed.When I’ve done the shark dives in a cage, the risk that has concerned me is, again, not the sharks but the cage.Here you are over water that is one to two miles deep and if the cage should break loose from the floats keeping it near the surface you would have trouble getting out fast enough to avoid being trapped in the depts. I actually have video of a shark attacking and shredding one of the large orange balls supporting the cage that was next to mine and then the cage listing to one side.
We were told that Deep Blue is going to dry dock for 20 days for overall repairs and maintenance. The installation of the nitrox system will take place as well as fixing the air conditioning unit.We also learned from the drive that picked us up at the airport that Juan Carlos, the land guide is the owner of Deep Blue.They kept this secret on the boat.He assumed a secondary role to Antonio in guide work but seemed to be the overall supervisor of the boat and knew the details on the Nitrox equipment.
In summary, this was a great trip, probably a “once in a lifetime” experience.The guides were excellent.The weather was cooperative and we saw a lot of wildlife both on land and in the water.I’d highly recommend this trip and this operation to other divers.
Underwater Photos and Video of Great White Sharks, Whale Sharks, and other Fish