co-written by dive buddy banggigay
The Galapagos Dives with Aggressor II
The dream dive trip is live aboard diving Galapagos for 8 days, though we only have 5 days of 3 dives per day. It’s rather few considering the price tag of the trip. We were told that it was determined by the park authorities and not by Aggressor. We tried to negotiate for more dives but to no avail. Anyway, we will later prove again the time tested adage “that it’s the quality and quantity”.
Officially there’s no dive on the first day but we geared up to do a check dive to test the gear and figure the weights to be used. Except for my mask, we rented everything from the boat. With 7mm wetsuit and 3mm vest, I needed a hefty 10 kg (22 lbs) of weights! Vangie had 12 kg (26.5 lbs). The number sounded crazy because we’re used to warm water diving, ergo diving only with rash guard and board shorts, and so usually carry only 3 kg (6.6 lbs). The rentals on Aggressor were very good. They’re quite new and no leaky hoses. Except for the booties they gave me that should have been thrown out 5 years ago.
The next day marks our official first day of diving. We did Punta Carreon, twice, and Cousins Rock. The first 2 dives were very disappointing where the most exciting things we saw were an eagle ray and a solitary colorless soft coral. Are you serious? I saw 2 eagle rays and 5 turtles snorkeling at Isabela. We were so pissed that Vangie and I surfaced after 30 minutes on the 2nd dive. There’s no point in taking in more Nitrogen. The 3 girls from Thailand surfaced almost the same time. We looked at each other incredulously. Wtf? This is the Galapagos?
Incidentally, the diving setup is new to us (me and Vangie). There will be briefing before the dives. We will have a dive master leading the dives. We all go down at the same time, but we don’t surface all together. Depending on your air consumption and/or desire, you surface with your buddy. You don’t even need to inform the guide.
In the Philippines, everyone surface altogether. And dive guides usually act as sort of a dive nanny. Each diver were provided with a horn, a dive flag and a GPS locator. It was impressive yet scary to think that we may need to be searched with a GPS device.
The 3rd dive at Cousins Rock was better. A school of eagle rays greeted us at the beginning of the dive. There were farm loads of green sea turtles, a big marble ray and a white tip shark. Better, but still not the Galapagos we knocked out our life savings for. Where the hell are the schools of hammer heads? The good thing that came out of this silly first day dives is that it quickly bonded us with the 3 Thai girls (Apple, Bee, & Kru Eh). As a joke, we were being snotty that being used to diving the Coral Triangle, we’re a little harder to please. I call it one dive, Apple declared superiorly. We laughed.
The next day we woke up to the view of Wolf. Nelson did the briefing and gave us an exciting Chinese seafood restaurant menu worth of things we will encounter under. Schools of Hammerheads? Of course. Whale sharks? Well… he wasn’t as confident. 0.01% he said.
We back rolled into choppy water and then down. True enough the hammerheads were everywhere! to your left, to your right, up, and down. Vangie and I couldn’t stop pointing things to each other and screaming through our regulators. Then about 5 minutes into the water, Nelson banged his tank excitedly. The water was quite murky so you don’t see anything but I had a good hunch on what it must be. And so I finned. Hard! And so did everyone else. The current and surge there made finning so difficult. Having no point of reference with the murky water, it felt like I’m going nowhere. And then a huge dark shadow appeared, like dark clouds before a storm.
Unbelievable, the 0.01% chance just happened. A whale shark! When we surfaced, we called it a definite dive! We did all 3 dives in Wolf. We didn’t see the whale shark again but the rest of the underwater characters where present: rays, hammerheads and other sharks, turtles, and the much disliked creole fish. The dolphins were all over us on the boat and so we jumped into the water after the third dive to go snorkeling with them. Just as we were coming out of the water, somebody shouted, rays! rays! So we dunked in again. I dropped my snorkel in the process so I went in without one. It doesn’t matter as I think I’m better off without it. And there the graceful school of eagle rays waltzing at 3 meters. That concluded our amazing day at Wolf.
I was almost ready to say ‘great!’ after the DM briefing, when he mentioned Darwin has warmer water. But he did not forget to mention that expect about 3-4 knots of current. I was converting in my head, knots to km/h, when I decided that these numbers won’t make sense to me so I might as well ask how it is relative to our previous dives in Wolf. He was quick to reply ‘just about that’.
So, ok! It’s rock n’ roll time again! Not that we are intimidated with the very strong current, in fact we get more excited about the dives cause it’s like saying 99% chance of diving with schooling hammerheads. But of course, I need to psyche in my head how we’d go about with our dive plan. Giddy to jump to what was dubbed as world’s capital of scalloped hammerheads, for the first time, I already prepared and cleaned my UW cam casing the night before the dive.
But irony of all ironies, only 5minutes into the dive, my case got flooded with sea water. And since we did a negative entry, we went straight to 20m and going back to surface to attempt salvaging the cam would be futile. Afterall, come on?! It’s my first dive to this hard-to-reach island, Darwin! So, I went on to the dive with my group without worry of how my cam was faring.
True enough, Darwin’s current is not a joke. We had to fight our way to hide behind a huge coral stone so as not to be swept away. There were even times where we have to crawl to a spot where our DM thinks huge sharks school. On most times, I had to either adjust my mask cuz its sucking my face already or I had to snag it cuz it would be blown away. I even had to put on more weights too (read: i was 2kg overweight), so I can somehow control more my buoyancy and won’t find myself back to the surface because of the crazy current direction.
BUT, all these were nothing, as we were rewarded each time with huge hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, white tip, black tip, and even silk sharks! There was one sweet spot I have to say the best we had! It’s like sitting at the front row of a no-less than awesome Pelagic show. We were too close to hammies we can see the 3 lobes on its head!!!
They’re either used to divers or not aware of us being of another specie, for they would approach you and come almost face-to-face with you. I don’t know how many times I got startled when huge ones came too close then hastily turned away as it noticed the bubbles. Smaller ones come in huge schools and bigger ones come in small groups. They were so many we lost count already!
At one point, I had to turn my back from the spectacle of what indeed rich marine life, because I was soooo excited, screaming here and there with my regulator on my mouth, calling the attention to my buddy or I realized I was already palpitating. I was breathing too hard, enthused of the teeming marine life around me, that I had to close my eyes and relax myself a bit. Otherwise, I’d run out of air quicker especially we’re either staying at the bottom most of time or fining against the strong current which made us exert more effort and thus breathe more.
On the lee side of the current we found rest at the sandy bottom part where the red-lipped batfish and garden eels can be found. It’s entertaining to see the synchronized motion of these garden eel as it pokes out from the sand and buries itself again into the sand. Red-lipped batfish was also interesting how odd it looks for a fish and how peculiar it moves too. Each dive was like a dream! It’s more than what I imagined Galapagos to be. All those superlatives I read about how fantastic Galapagos is were not enough to describe the experience!
Roca Redonda & Punta Vicente Roca
You see, after diving Wolf and Darwin, our boat think it would be difficult to please us even more. Those two islands were so amazing we actually thought of requesting the Boat Manager, N, to stay longer and skip the other dive sites. But of course, it’s not possible given the restrictions set by the National Park of Galapagos and the flexibility of the program set by Aggressor.
Dreading the colder water of Isabela, ranging from 16-19C, put on another 3mm vest underneath my 7mm wetsuit. Even those who were used to cold water diving, like our other dive buddies, they added thickness to keep them a little warmer especially with the Humboldt (or Cromwell?) current prevailing at west coast of the island.
Funny how our dive plan went, when someone asked for probability of seeing a Sunfish (as this site was known for some Ocean Sunfish sighting), DM was quick to reply that there was a very slim chance but he will do his best to bring us to the right spot. He also added, for the past 2 expeditions of the Aggressors, there was no recorded sighting of the atypical fish. He can though promise 100% sighting of schools of hammerheads again, barracudas and some beautiful macro surprises.
For the past 5 days, we can only complain of one thing – gearing up! The 1st dive early in the morning is particularly bad having to go through the ordeal of donning the thick wetsuits first thing in the morning. And it didn’t help that I have to move quicker (than usual) because everyone else was always ready way before me. Even during synchronized back roll, you have to go straight to the bottom or you’d be left behind by your group as the strong current can sweep you away in matter of seconds. I’m pleased though that I had no problem in this department, as we are used to negative entry already. I have underestimated though the current around this island as I found ourselves caught several times into eddies, down current and huge surge.
My buddy and I had to grab each other’s hand at one point to flight against the down current that was sucking us to greater depths. We were diving on EAN and going beyond your depth limit is a BIG no-no! But water can play tricks with your senses, especially when there are beautiful, colorful and bountiful things around you. Sometimes, you won’t realize you were already -40m (sometimes more!). So presence of mind was imperative! If it’s any consolation though, my buddy and I have been diving for ages that we know our diving profile already. We can almost estimate how much air still left in our tank, how long it can still last, etc. And even to other dive buddies in the group, with dive logs doubling or even tripling our total, our confidence with each other’s level of diving was somehow understood.
Roca Redonda & Punta Vicente Roca were our last dives of the trip. It offered us a different beautiful landscape underneath. The walls are covered with Galapagos black coral, Gorgonians, Orange Cup Coral and varying colors of tube anemone. It has astounding rock formation seemingly creating cascades going to the depths. Sea horses, schooling Creole fish (no, university of it!), Harlequin Wrasse, King Angelfish rendering its cleaning service to Hammerhead, and huge Zebra Moray eels are just the few attraction of these sites
As we inch our last minutes of our final dives we enjoyed playing with the warm bubbles from volcanic vents underwater on one part of the dive. I moved my face closer to the source and let the warm bubbles tickle my already cold face. We have started our slow ascent when we were graced with wall of Pelican Barracuda. It’s so many I attempted to swim along side with it! Then as if what we saw are not enough, our DM gave us the signal to follow him to a direction not far from us! Lo and behold!!! It’s a huge Ocean Sunfish!!!
It’s crazy how close we were and how it even got closer to us. Unmindful of the divers around it, it stayed for a bit, showing off its huge flat body whilst its mouth remained open like it was so ready to have its photo/ vid taken by the ogling divers! I was so ecstatic as I actually didn’t expect to see it in this trip, and so much so to be that close! I was still reeling the feeling while doing our safety stop at 4m when a cute penguin came playing by! This is what we love about Galapagos too, even on shallow waters, sea lions, dolphins (that come in group), and penguin accompany us as we conclude our dives. How bout that for a safety stop, yeah? :D