The enchanted Islands
Without doubt the diving cruise at the Galapagos islands was one of the absolute highlights of my Ecuador trip. The whole trip was incredible, both underwater and above. Everything was extremely well arranged and the sites we visited…. Gosh. I am still dreaming, dreaming about a long long time ago…
The story actually started about 4 million years before our time. In the Pacific Ocean about one thousand kilometers west of Ecuador magma was driven upward through hot spots in the Pacific plate and formed the islands now known as the Galapagos islands. Even now the whole region is extremely active and it’s almost impossible not to spot traces of recent eruptions. Located on the equator and totally isolated from any large landmasses an unique ecosystem developed around the island, both above and under water. The Humboldt stream, a cold gulf stream coming from as far as Antarctica had a big influence on the evolution of the Galapagos. Finally the lack of natural predators caused that wildlife doesn’t show any fear to visiting humans. So apparently all factors are present for a unique experience. And unique it certainly was….
I grouped up with 5 other divers on board of the Mistral. Besides us there were 6 crew members so it was not such a big group but we had a wonderful time. Life onboard was very relaxed and we were well taken care of so there was nothing to complain. There was a friendly atmosphere and everybody including the crew seemed to enjoy themselves. Food was excellent so what else could we wish… Well, excellent dives and stunning land excursions for example. And we certainly got those!
During our land excursions we were explained a lot about the evolution on the Galapagos islands and why they were so unique in the world. We enjoyed fantastic volcanic landscapes with strange strange inhabitants. The sea lions were most common and they were really great. I had to laugh every time about their behavior and the way they moved. Blue footed boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, penguins. All were not used to predators had a good chance to see them very close. Often they landed on our boat just 1 or 2 meters from us away, it was fantastic, even after a couple of days we were still surprised by these close encounters. Also the marine and land iguanas were special to see. The land species were bright yellow and easy to spot in the landscape. Also the Sally lightfoot crabs were beautifully colored, red, orange white. Really impressive. Oh yes so were the tortoises we saw, fantastic that you can see these creatures in the wild, we were very lucky with this.
Then the diving. You can definitely say that every dive was one into the extraordinary. Visibility was not as good as [5 to 25 meters] you might expect on a tropical dive site and the water was pretty cold but what we saw was absolutely fantastic. It was great fun playing with the sea lions who were tumbling around and blowing bubbles continuously. There was really an interaction between the sea lions and the divers. Super! Can you imagine surfacing after a dive and around you blue footed boobies [birds] dive into the water next to you while they are fishing.. I’ve never seen birds during my dive until now… During all the dives there were big schools of fish. Sometimes there was more fish then water. The dives at Wolf and Darwin were most spectacular. Eagle rays, diamond rays, black stingrays, barracudas, numerous eels, creolfish, tunafish, jacks and all the usual other fish you can expect over here, all in great numbers and very very close..
The most impressive though were the hammerhead sharks. During a single dive we saw hundreds of them passing by at 5 to 10 meter distance. Yes I felt a bit uneasy sometimes with this ceiling of sharks but it was certainly a splendid view. It happened on 2 dives that the passing of the schools of hammerheads lasted more then 20 minutes with 7 mesmerized divers watching this from a rock. Wow wow wow. The most scary moment however was when I was swimming in a school of creol fish. There were thousands. Suddenly they parted in front of me and 3 big Galapagos sharks appeared in the gap. They moved very slowly and only at a meter distance moved away. I think I skipped a heartbeat or two at that time of the dive. Also I saw a lot of turtles during almost every dive and twice we saw manta rays. They passed above me so close I could have touched them if I wanted. It was a beautiful event. Manta rays are so gracious in their moving, it is like they are flying instead of swimming.
I am sure there were a lot of moments not mentioned in this story which were absolutely stunning, every dive was a new adventure. a dive into the extraordinary.
As said, the cruise was a brilliant mix of land and underwater excursions. It was difficult to leave after 10 days. The Galapagos are indeed enchanted islands!