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Diving with Darwin: Day Nine

Golden Cow Rays

Galápagos Sub Aqua – sharks and manta!

Today we dived with Galápagos Sub Aqua at two dive sites at North Seymour. This took over an hour to get to by boat, as it is close to Baltra Island. Luckily on our trips to and from the dive site, a whale and Risso’s dolphin graced the view. I was feeling nervy, after my last problem equalizing, so was taken care of fantastically by our Divemasters, Simon and Arisa. Our first dive had pretty strong current, but with our expert guides we were briefed on exactly how to handle the site. A multi level dive, we stayed close to the bottom beneath the pull of the current for most of the time (NB really heed your dive briefings at these dive sites). On the dive we saw a baby sting-ray, several sting rays in the sand, the haunts of garden eels, the by now ubiquitous turtle and sealions, and some great puffer fish. The dive ended in a section of very strong current. This was excellent fun, done properly, as we did our safety stop in the speedy flow whilst looking at an array of bright starfish below. On exiting the water we were pleased to see two large reef mantas too flanking the boat.

The second dive, around the corner, went in the opposite direction, and was a lovely drift-dive again in low-vis (it was sad to think that a girl has died diving here and I thought of her throughout). Magically we were joined by a large reef manta overhead, as we looked at a miniscule blue nudibranch and a host of fish: blue and gold snappers, wide-banded blenny, hawkfish and a lone turtle. Snuggled up in a series of small caves we discovered resting whitetip reef shark where two pairs dozed in semi-secrecy. How exciting! I now had actually dived with reef mantas and sharks (having snorkeled with both) this made my day.

Whilst diving today all the while, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw a shadow of a man…diving in a straw hat! If you find the chance, and can afford to go to the Galápagos, look out for a shadow down there in the deep. It might be the shadow of a hammerhead or perhaps you will encounter the faint impression of a lone explorer questing in the brine.

Photographs courtesy of Christopher Bartlett where credited the others are the author’s.

We were superbly hosted by Red Mangrove for our first week - see: http://www.redmangrove.com who have a range of off the shelf itineraries, and who also do tailor-made trips and can cater for a mixed group of divers and non-divers.

Red Mangrove can organize your diving requirements, even if you don’t stay with them drop them an email

We also dived with the very professional, and with several female Divemasters,
Galapagos Sub Aqua:
Phone 593-5-2 526350/593-5-2 526633/cell phone: 593-9-9 198798

Other classic Galapagos dive sites:

Gordon Rocks, off Santa Cruz for experienced to advanced divers, Wolf, Darwin.

Other places to stay:

Top End:
La Casa Marita on Isabela
Hotel Sol y Mar on Santa Cruz doubles $200

Mid range:
La Casa Del Lago doubles at $84 who also make the best breakfasts in town for $5.50, fruit salad, fresh juices, wholemeal bread, veggie omelets and Ecuadorian coffee.

Hotel Espana on Santa Cruz
Doubles at $30, wi-fi, breakfast $3.00, hammocks in nice communal area. The lovely hostess, Ester, is a diver and tour organizer and she can book highland tours, diving, snorkeling and island trips for you at great prices.
Casa Rosada on Isabela on the beachfront – doubles $20 to $40
Volcano Hotel on Isabela – doubles $40

Places to eat: (try local seafood and patacones -fried green plantains)

Puerto Ayora:
La Garrapata: fish $7.80, starters $4.00, desserts from $3.40, real coffee, plus taxes
K.T. Williams: fish in coconut sauce with rice $5, calle Charles…
Café del Mar: grilled fish and plantain $8.00
El Jardin/The Garden: try the fish of the day and they sell great ice cream too.

Notes for less experienced lady-divers:
Diving in the Galapagos poses some challenges such as:

1. Temperature: The Pacific in the Galapagos in June was cool. Expect to dive in waters between 17 and 22 degrees. A 7mm suit was not sufficient for me so I added more layers. The cold affects people differently and if you feel too cold your thoughts and actions can be unfamiliar. If you dive and feel too cold, then alert your buddy and if you rise a little you may find warmer waters to continue your dive, if not and you decide you have to finish the dive earlier than expected, do so safely and layer up for subsequent dives.

2. Sea surface conditions: you will be taken to dive sites in a range of small boats and you will need to be able to enter backwards using the standard roll. Once in the water, you may enter quite rough surface conditions and you must be aware of the tides and the strong currents around the islands and dive sites. Once surfaced you exit wearing all your kit, bar your fins of course, by utilizing the small boat ladders then this makes entry easier for the boat crew who may be close to rocky shores, it is efficient and helps to ensure that all divers return quickly to de-kit and get warm.

3. Below the surface conditions: the dives that I did were mostly drift dives and or included some areas of medium current. Other sites have strong currents and you will be given details in your dive briefings.

4.Buoyancy: if you end up wearing more neoprene layers, you will most likely need more weights on your belt or in your BCD pockets. Your Divemaster or Instructor will make you do a test dive with full kit, to test your weights and buoyancy. Don’t forget that once at depth you may need to add a little more air to your BCD to achieve neutral buoyancy.

5. Sharks: if you have never dived with sharks before then a trip to the Galapagos could be a great opportunity to see these magnificent creatures. There are 27 species of around the Galapagos Islands. The most commonly spotted sharks whilst diving, and frequently snorkeling too, are whitetip reef sharks, blacktip sharks and hammerhead sharks. A less common species is the endemic Galapagos shark, and occasionally whale sharks. All can be dived with safely. However this does not mean that you should be complacent. We are their guests and we cannot predict exactly how they will react to our presence in all situations. So although there is no need to be frightened you might feel nervous and you should always be alert to their behavior and the conditions. Awe usually replaces fear with time and familiarity. Follow the dive briefing advice on what to do, as this will help you to make the most of your experience safely.

6. Pride, experience, and limits: divers of all genders can let pride come before a fall. Don’t ever feel too proud to admit if something is outside your experience. If you are not comfortable or need more time to refine skills, then don’t feel disappointed. I am the first to admit that I found the conditions a challenge as a relatively inexperienced diver. There is a range of dive sites suitable for all levels - so do your research and book the right sites for you, heed the dive briefings, follow good practice and don’t forget there are some awesome snorkeling sites too!

A Big Thank You from DiveBunnie:
I would just like to thank Imi for the fantastic diary of her trip to this amazing and unique part of the world. It is a place I have yet to visit, let alone dive, however this diary has opened my eyes a little to what I have to look forward to, should I get the opportunity at some point in the future. Great write up Imi, and thank you for the tips at the end... most informative.

For anyone planning a visit, I hope you have an equally wonderful time over there, and do let us know should you have any extra information to add.

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