Monday, May 11, 2009

Sharks and Rays...our last days: Diving the Galapagos


Destination: Santa Cruz - Black Turtle Cove and Puerto Ayora.

Where we stayed: La Peregrina B&B( $40US per night including breakfast. Quiet place right on the main street. They have simple rooms with friendly owners and are very clean.

Best restaurant: While the Galapagos are more expensive for just about everything, there is a street with local stalls about three blocks behind the main street that served up reasonably priced meals for anything from soup and a simple meal for $4 to $12 for the lobster tail (we recommend the sopa y pescada a la plancha (soup & grilled fish - $4).

Best of: The massive school of Galapagos and Reef sharks that we stumbled upon diving

Worst of: Sub-Aqua had to be about the worst dive company we have ever dove with...if they are the best in the Galapagos, I can't imagine what the worst is like!

*With the islands being so diverse, we decided to post each one separately. The Galapagos Islands will be an 8 part series. Here is Part 8.

All good things must come to an end and our time on the Beluga was almost over. Our last tour was through Black Turtle Cove bright and early at 6am. The cove was named after what was once thought to be black turtles, but has since been proven to be a darker shelled variety of green sea turtle (most common). It was a boat ride through more mangroves where the highlight was a school of eagle rays feeding on top of the water. These graceful creatures stay in schools and feed near the top in layers 3-4 deep. Above the surface, you see the edge of their fins poking out of the water as they swim by.

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After our early morning boat ride, it was time to depart the Beluga, say goodbye to some new friends, and get ready for some diving!

When you start taking the PADI (Diving certification) courses, they love to show you videos. One of these videos featured the Aggressor Live Aboard ships in the Galapagos and it was enough to make us both get excited about diving here! The video had shots of schools of hammerheads which made us realize that a trip to the Galapagos would not be complete without taking a look under the water a little deeper.

The dive company picked us up from the boat and we dove twice at North Seymour island for the first day followed by Gordon Rocks and back at North Seymour for the fourth dive the second day. Highlights included seeing a massive school of Galapagos and white-tipped reef sharks, seeing the hammerheads swim by (a little too far away for a great picture) and the manta rays (both in a school as well as one big one swimming alone). What you see is well worth the expense, but we would suggest going with someone else. We made the decision based on convenience (they were willing to pick us up from the boat so we could dive two days instead on one) and reputation (Sub-aqua was supposed to be one of the best here).

If you don't dive, you could skip this paragraph, but we feel like venting for a moment on how horrible Sub-aqua was. First off, they promised a dive master for every 4 divers/max 6. What we got the first day was 12 people diving with two dive masters at the same place and time so it was in reality a group of 12. Second day, we got one dive master for 8 people with an "assistant dive master" (It was the DM's girlfriend and I don't remember "assistant DM" being a certification level.) Secondly, they do everything for you, which is somewhat of a false blanket. On three different occasions, someone had to have their air turned on after the boat crew had given the ok, Tracy's depth gauge didn't work so she had no idea where to stop at for the safety stop not to mention her regulator was not working the best either. Third, they do this ridiculous weight check where you jump in a non dive location with the weight belt and wet suit on, but not the BCD, basically making you think what is the point. Then, once you get out of the water from the weight check, you finish suiting up and sit on the side of the boat, with air tanks hanging off the side getting hit with waves, while it flies to the actual dive site. Once there, there is this rush to get in the water, no mention of buddy checks (apparently the crew has taken care of that for you right!?!) and in the water, they tell you to dive, with or without your buddy can just meet up at the bottom. Instead of ascending as a group, you go up paired with the next closest person on air, not necessarily your buddy which really makes no sense. Once on the surface the boat swings around to pick you up...but before you can get on, they fire up the engines and are off to pick up the others (because their air consumption allowed them a whole two minutes longer of bottom time!), you meanwhile hanging on to a rope on the side of the boat like Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea getting drug all over the place. We don't want to discourage diving in the Galapagos as it was a wonderful place to see, just Sub-aqua was the worst we have ever dove with, even beating out the cocaine peddlers in Amed!

Any ways, enough bad stuff, enjoy the great views through our pictures!

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Couple of cool pics of the White-tips


Here are the hammerheads. I saw one on the third dive swim within two meters (6 feet) just as we were descending...bummer I didn't have the camera for that moment.

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We are fairly confident these are smaller Mantas, because of the mandibles but cannot confirm. If anyone knows for sure, let us know!


One last sea lion made an appearance!

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Lazy sharks and a turtle!

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The heart of a sea star, they were plentiful in most sites. Coral in the Galapagos are few and far between due to the effects of a particularly strong El' Nino in the 80's. These schools of fish are everywhere in the Galapagos.

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Part of the massive school we saw on the last (and best) dive.


Yep, they got pretty close!

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One last shark photo, and a spotted Eagle Ray (second largest ray behind the mantas).

This concludes our 8 part series on the Galapagos. While expensive, we thought it was definitely worth it. We saw things we have never seen before, got closer than we ever thought possible to the wildlife and retraced the steps of Darwin. Where else on the globe can you say you swam with the penguins, beat a bunch of dolphins in a race, watched boobies dance (outside of Vegas :-)) and witnessed a family of sea lions frolicking in the ocean?

To see more diving photos please click here!

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