Galapagos Trip Report October 2005 by Andrew & Sibylle Moss
Before Sibylle and I married in April 2005 we spent ages planning the wedding and the honeymoon, or as it turned out to be our honeymoon. We decided to go to the Seychelles immediately after the wedding and that trip is the subject of another report. We also decided instead of ‘another toaster’ we would save like mad and pool our wedding presents and go to the Galapagos Islands, one of the premier diving destinations in the world and where Charles Darwin’s experiences led him to write ‘The Origin of Species’. A further reason for deciding on the Galapagos Islands was that they offer the opportunity to do land tours in addition to diving, an aspect of the trip which sets the destination apart from many other diving Meccas.
That presented the first problem, when is the best time to go to the Galapagos? That is not as straight forward as it may sound because the Galapagos is affected by three different currents during the year. These currents have different temperatures ranging from hot to cold. This affects the climate and the marine life to be seen amongst other things.
After much research and conflicting advice we decided for diving, but not necessarily general tourism purposes (it being quite windy and when at sea not particularly warm), it would be best to go towards the end of October. That was it, we would go to the Seychelles immediately after our wedding and then to Galapagos later in the year. We decided going that far and the flights being a significant element of the overall cost that after the Galapagos we would spend a further 10 days in Ecuador on the grounds that we must have a look around whilst we were already there. What a year!
We booked the trip, a 10 day liveaboard on MV Deep Blue some 18 months before departure. It was booked through Maldivian Scuba Tours who had been recommended to us. Later they told us that the trip had been sold out without advertising. Also booking early meant we got the pick of the cabins which in our case meant a cabin with windows on the upper deck, far preferable to one below decks. We would therefore strongly recommend booking early.
Then it was months of waiting. Anyway time crept past and eventually we started planning what we should take. Sibylle always intended to take her 2 piece 7 millimetre Icelandic semi dry suit on the grounds it would definitely keep her warm. I only had a 1 piece 5 millimetre suit which I was not sure whether it would be sufficient. Anyway I trotted along to Newcastle Dive Centre and Karl suggested it likely would not be sufficient and agreed that I could trade my suit in against a new 2 piece 5.5 millimetre semi dry. That was the best piece of advice we were given – we would end up doing up to 4 dives a day with each lasting up to an hour. This left little time between dives to warm up especially with the cold wind. Indeed after every dive there was a rush towards the hot showers at the back of the boat. The warm towels, cakes and hot drinks were further luxuries helping one to warm up. That was the case even in the warmer waters around Wolf and Darwin which were some 5 degrees warmer at 24 degrees than the cooler waters around the central islands. Hoods and gloves were also essential pieces of equipment.
The 26th October eventually arrived and it was time to fly down to Heathrow and then on to Miami which had only just re-opened following one of many hurricanes in 2005. Our hearts were in our mouths but anyway all was fine and we flew onto Guayquil before flying on to the Galapagos. All in the entire journey seemed to take an eternity! Flying into the Galapagos we were treated to the sight in the distance of a volcano erupting on Isobella, one of the western islands. It was then time to transfer to the boat greeting various sea lions at the ‘boat’ stop on the way.
We arrived on the boat and we immediately saw the diving cylinders were set up for A clamps. We had taken our DIN regulators which Maldivian Scuba Tours had confirmed would be fine before we left. There were however no adapters to be seen on the boat and Juan Carlos, the guide / ecologist, had never even heard of DIN fitting regulators let alone seen one. Eventually after much despair the second guide, an Ecuadorian called Louis turned up and remembered that a funny package had been delivered the day before. That funny package turned out to be the adapters. The moral of the story is always to take your own adapter wherever you are going – we were kicking ourselves for having left ours at home. That is especially the case in a third world country where diving equipment is not readily available to rent especially in the amount required and that equipment which exists is generally old and not in the greatest state of repair. The only exception to this was that we were each given personal locator beacons which would help the boat find any unlucky sole who was swept off to sea. It was a sobering thought to think that the next land to the west was on some sites the far side of the Pacific! For this reason the diving always took place in two groups, each group lead and kept together by Juan Carlos or Louis with each group being followed by one of the two Zodiacs carried by MV Deep Blue.
It was then time to set sail on our tour which would take in a number of the principal inner islands and the islands of Wolf and Darwin which lie 50 – 80 miles to the north. We started off with a check dive in a bay having seen numerous dolphins and baby hammerheads from the boat.
It was then on to Cousins Rock where we saw a sea horse and a large Manta Ray amongst many other beasties. Then to Wolf where we saw our first hammerhead and Galapagos sharks. One dive at Wolf was called Banana Rock which was a hair raising experience part of the dive being within tunnels full of sting rays and moray eels. They, combined with the swell in the cave which made exiting difficult and the raging current outside, certainly put the dive at the limits of safety and certainly no one surfaced with more than a few bars left in their cylinders.
It was then on to moor up at Anchor Bay and to do a night dive to see a species of bat fish which we were told looked like frozen chickens with lip stick and indeed they do!
We then moved further north up to Darwin where we spent three complete days. It was here that we saw the greatest amount of marine life including numerous hammerheads, dolphins and manta rays. We also were extremely lucky over these three days on 9 of the dives to encounter up to three whale sharks at a time measuring up to 18 metres in the length, far bigger than the baby whale shark we had seen in the Seychelles!
Whilst Darwin is one of the places where whale sharks can be seen sightings are far from guaranteed, indeed Juan Carlos had not seen one on his previous visit to Darwin the week before. Spotting the whale sharks was actually remarkably difficult because the visibility was not great there being much plankton in the water – that was the reason for the whale sharks being there. A typical dive involved being dropped in from a Zodiac near Darwin’s Arch, sinking to the bottom at about 20 metres, and spending the next 10 – 20 minutes wedged between rocks on the seabed trying to brace oneself against the current and watching more hammerhead sharks swim past than one could really comprehend. It was then time to swim out horizontally into the blue following the guide, in our case usually an Ecuadorian called Louis, who would try to spot any whale sharks around. This was easier said than done the whale sharks’ blue and white colouration being perfect camouflage in the murky waters. Finding them usually involved an extremely strenuous swim into the current in the blue trying to remain level until a whale shark was spotted. It was then time to swim even harder than before as fast as one could towards them. The whale sharks looked like they were only swimming gently but actually were motoring along far faster than we could swim. During one particularly special dive we encountered a whale shark and then immediately encountered two more, also some 18 metres in length. Wow!!!! The pod of dolphins that swam past at the same time went by virtually unnoticed. With the amount of ascending and descending we did over these days and dives we were extremely glad to be breathing nitrox and even then we were quite exhausted!
Finally it was time to wave Darwin and its famous Arch goodbye and sail south back towards the inner islands. The next dive was at Isabella Island. The water temperature here had dropped from an almost balmy 24 degrees to a rather cool 19 degrees. Subsequent dives were at Enderby Island, Gordon’s Rock, Enderby Rock – another night dive during which we saw a sea lion and some crayfish walking around. Devil’s Crown was the next dive and the amount of marine life was absolutely astonishing – you could swim into the one of the many large shoals of fish and it would part and reform around you. Our final dive was at Florianna where the other group were lucky enough to see a shoal of some 50 eagle rays but we only saw a couple.
Interspersed between the dives except at Darwin and Wolf where no landing is permitted there were land tours which were lead by Juan Carlos, a qualified ecologist who explained what you were seeing and added real value to the experience. During these land tours one saw the wildlife at close quarters which has made the Galapagos so famous. This including flamingos, pelicans, boobies (red footed, blue footed and masked), albatross, frigate birds, Galapagos hawks, sea lions, land iguanas, marine iguanas and of course giant tortoises. Additional other activities included snorkelling with penguins and sea lions, all experiences never to be forgotten.
Finally it was over and it was time to leave Galapagos and start our adventures in Ecuador. We had booked into the Rio Amazonas International Hotel in Quito with some of the group. There were armed guards outside! Anyway it was safe and comfortable and they were quite happy for us to leave our diving equipment in their store for the remainder of our stay in Ecuador.
The next day with some of the group we went white river rafting – grade 3 rapids following a grade 5 car journey! The next few days after a day in Quito planning the rest of the trip and doing some sight seeing we spent travelling along the Avenue of Volcanoes, partly in a privately hired taxi we had organised in Quito and the rest using public transport. Activities included riding the Devil’s Noise railway, a spectacular train journey where you sit on the roof travelling through the Andes in the foothills of Mount Chimbarazo. It was then on to visit Banos, a small town nestling at the foot of an active volcano before returning to Quito. After another night in the Rio Amazonas International it was time to fly out in two hops in a Twin Otter to an eco lodge called Kapawi in the heart of the Amazon. That flight was fantastic including views of Mount Cotapaxi and other volcanoes in the area. Once in Kapawi it was more busy days with a packed schedule of activities including nature walks and wildlife viewing trips in motorised canoes and meeting the local community, the Anchur tribe.
All in all it was a trip of a life time as hoped and planned, certainly far better that ‘another toaster’! If anything was a surprise it was Ecuador, we had gone there because we were over there anyway. Actually, Ecuador was just as special in its own right as Galapagos. We were very pleased however that we had not done the trip immediately after our wedding, to say the least it was extremely tiring with little time for relaxation.
It was time to return home. It was towards the end of November and neither of us felt motivated to jump back in the North Sea or other local fresh water haunts. It was not therefore a difficult decision to hang up our fins for the winter.
It turned out Florianna would be Sibylle’s last dive for some time as early in 2006 the theory of evolution was put into practice in the Moss household. Indeed the next time she would use breathing apparatus was late on the 30th September whilst preparing to deliver Janick Jacob early on the 1st October in a birthing pool at the RVI!
Andrew and Sibylle Moss