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Diving with Darwin: Day Five

Blue Footed Boobie

Snorkeling Sensations at Los Tuneles & El Finado

This morning just the two of us headed out early again with our usual captain Julio and his assistant. The sea was clear aquamarine in bright sun. Almost instantly we started to see the tips of manta rays. At least five reef mantas skimmed the surface of the sea alongside our small boat and every time we saw one we entered the water. I slipped in wearing only a bikini – too excited to feel the cold. Each manta however proved too swift and elusive to photograph.

Back in the boat we lost count of turtles as we must have seen 20 before arriving at the mouth of Los Tuneles. It took great skill to speed through a break in the large and complex breakers for Julio to deliver us safely to this amazing locale. Old lava flows have been eroded to create a site unlike any other on earth. Small red and white mangrove trees and some candelabra cacti top lava there. Blue-footed boobies (birds!) swooped down whilst in the shallows countless sea turtles gently cruised. Once in the water it was clear that these guys could move. We happily snorkeled through the narrow channels, spotting a juvenile spotted eagle ray, juvenile pufferfish (possibly an endemic variety), some angelfish, parrotfish, small Galápagos barracuda and more.

After an exciting dash out to sea we cruised around the coast to El Finado where, despite the chilly water temperatures, we were back in hunting for giant Pacific seahorses, whitetip reef sharks and turtles. Here our captain turned snorkel guide where in the murky mangroves we were shown two large Pacific seahorses so clad in mossy materials that they resembled the mangrove roots. Only our guides’ knowledge led us to their secret habitat. Then, he led us through small swim-throughs in the shallows to where, incredibly, hidden under the lava-rocks, whitetip reef sharks snoozed. Each time we stuck our heads down, clinging on to the ancient lava with one hand, we could peek into the secret realm of these night-feeders. I was awestruck. Totally abandoning any previous fear I now felt the sheer splendor of these lean creatures. Lithe, at a maximum of about 2.2 metres, the sharks slept in the shade or circled clearly a little disturbed by our close scrutiny. Once out of the shallows a shark mesmerized me until I realized I had lost my snorkeling companions. So I retreated and left the whitetip reef shark to its kingdom. Rejoining the guys we saw a cornet fish and witnessed a few rapid ‘swim-bys’ of several large turtles.

Finally we snorkeled in a narrow channel in the harbor. This channel was about a meter or so wide and beneath us we saw many a resting white tip reef shark. The tide and our movements had stirred up the sand and the sharks perhaps felt some agitation at our inquisitiveness. So I swam curiously above them. One or two seemed a little spooked and we did not wish to disturb them further.

White tip Reef sharks

After thanking our expert crew we sat down dripping with salt water to a solo very late lunch.

Tonight, after a stroll on the beautiful white sand beach, we were given a romantic meal alone of perfectly prepared wahoo, octopus, prawns, squid kebabs, a delicious salad and some plantain, before packing our wet kit under a new moon in preparation for our transfer to San Cristobal tomorrow (I hope all this seafood is local and sustainably caught!).

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