Ecuador - Galapagos Islands

 

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Journals

Antarctica!
Dec 7-20, 2000

Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nov 28 - Dec 6, 2000

Nepal - Around Manaslu
Oct 30 - Nov 27, 2000

India
Oct 18-29, 2000

Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Oct 6-17, 2000

Australia - Olympics
Sep 25 - Oct 5, 2000

Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Sep 17-24, 2000

Bali
Sep 10-16, 2000

Thailand - Bangkok
Sep 4-9, 2000

Cambodia
Aug 30 - Sep 3, 2000

Vietnam - Central and South
Aug 20-29, 2000

Vietnam - North
Aug 10-19, 2000

Laos
Aug 5-9, 2000

China
Jul 26 - Aug 4, 2000

Egypt - Along the Nile
Jul 16-25, 2000

Egypt - Touring and diving
Jul 11-15, 2000

Israel and Jordan
Jul 5-10, 2000

Norway
Jun 22 - Jul 4, 2000

Brief return to the USA
Jun 6-21, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Jun 1-6, 2000

Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
May 25-31, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
May 21-24, 2000

Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
May 17-20, 2000

Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
May 11-16, 2000

Bolivia
May 3-10, 2000

Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
Apr 27 - May 2, 2000

South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Apr 12-26, 2000

Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Mar 30 - Apr 11, 2000

Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Mar 25-29, 2000

Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Mar 17-24, 2000

Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Mar 9-16, 2000

Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Mar 1-8, 2000

Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Feb 18-29, 2000

Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Feb 13-17, 2000

Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Feb 8-12, 2000

Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Feb 4-7, 2000

Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2000

Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Jan 22-27, 2000

Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Jan 16-21, 2000

Belize
Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Thu May 25, 2000 - Arrive and checkout

We woke at 7:30 in our great room at Cafe Cultura. Tom "showered" in the tub, and we packed up. We enjoyed another delicious breakfast, and chatted with Bryan and Lori again before they headed out to hike around Cotapaxi. Luis took us to the airport. During the trip we had to detour from the main route due to the amazingly long gas lines.

Upon entering the airport, we found the Aggressor representative, got our tickets and name tags and checked our luggage. We spent the next hour making many phone calls to confirm that our plane tickets for the second half will be purchased. AT&T was not accessible from the phones, and we had to buy several phone cards since they only sell them in small denominations. Tom worked everything out, however, and we left quite relieved.

The Guayaquil flight as uneventful. We met Shawn and Laetitia at the gate in Guayaquil. What fun to see familiar faces! We chatted with them during the entire otherwise uneventful flight to the Galapagos island of Baltra.

Jaime and Paula, our dive masters and guides, met us at the airport in Baltra. They collected our luggage while we took a short bus trip to the harbor where we shuttled on "pangas" to the Aggressor II, a gorgeous 97 foot luxury dive yacht.

Jaime led us through the introduction and briefing before they fed us a much-needed snack of great sandwiches. We had a short time to settle in before suiting up for our checkout dive. Shawn and Laetitia proved their sainthood by bringing extensive dive gear to cover for us, so we were fairly well outfitted. The Aggressor went through some confusion finding the BC's and reg's for us to rent, but finally we were ready and jumped in, the last in the group.

On every dive, Tom wore a 5mil shorty, gloves, hiking socks as booties, and 20lbs weight. Louisa wore a 7mil farmer john and shorty, right glove and booties, with 22lbs of weight.

[pt dvbalt Baltra Island] checkout dive
Dive log: 31min, 28ft, temp 68f

The purpose was to determine and practice buoyancy, get used to the equipment and temperature, and generally get a feel for the boat and equipment. Louisa added weight, and went up and down a few times. While fiddling around, we saw lots of parrot fish and other tropical colors. Shawn saw a shark and came to get us, but we could not find it. Instead, a sea lion swam under us, pirouetted a few times, and disappeared. It scared Louisa by swimming straight at her when she thought it was the shark we were looking for, and she almost broke Tom's hand. With this excitement, the three of us were the last ones out of the water.

After the dive we discovered the great shower in our stateroom. What a treat to be onboard for a week of constantly swimming in salt water and to have a hot, high pressure shower! We unpacked and relaxed for a while on deck. Later on, the crew presented themselves in dress whites, offered complimentary pina coladas, and everyone introduced themselves.

Dinner was pretty good. We sat with a loud, talkative woman, Diane, and her husband, Monfred. After dinner, Jaime held a quick briefing to give us an overview of tomorrow's activities. Louisa was very tired and not feeling great so we went to bed right after the briefing, at 8:30

 

Fri May 26, 2000 - Reef Sharks

The wake up bell rang 6am, but we were already awake. Louisa did not sleep well. She was up nearly all night with stomach problems and a light fever. Tom experienced mild problems, but he was not feeling sick, nor had a fever, like Louisa. She was exhausted, and wary of food, so skipped breakfast and the morning dive. Tom brought her some bread and tea after he had breakfast with the others.

Tom went on the morning dive off of North Seymour Island, while Louisa slept.

[pt dvseym North Seymour Island] (Tom only)
Dive log: 37min, 58ft

There was almost no current, and the visibility was not great, maybe 30ft. We did see lots of colorful fish - mostly creole fish, angels, moorish idols, etc. The highlight was 6-8 white tip reef sharks 6-8ft long resting on the bottom of one sandy area amid the rocks. We also saw a few lazily swimming around us - very cool! We also spotted 2 huge sea turtles with 3-4ft dia shells, but we couldn't get very close.

A brief break and snack followed the dive before the group ventured on land. After a cipro Louisa began to feel better and decided to join the group on the land visit to North Seymour Island. Lots of sally lightfoot crabs crawled over the lava rocks. The adults are bright red/orange and were visible from a distance, but the young are black and blend in with the rocks. Many sea lions were asleep on the rocks, and in the trail once we disembarked. The greeting committee included sleeping sea lions, marine iguanas, the crabs, and an endemic bird, the swallow-tailed gull.

The main attraction of North Seymour Island was the mating birds. First was the colony of blue-footed boobies. Some were nesting in the trail, with either the dad or mom sitting on the eggs or newborn babies. Their mating dance was quite distinct and wonderful to watch. The male begins by hopping back and forth, he whistles, then stretches his wings side to demonstrate his masculinity and strength. The females answers with her honk and by stretching her wings. Next the male hands the female a twig, even though they no longer build nests.

Later on we got to the colony of frigate birds. These were a little shyer, nesting in trees off the trail. In this case, the males sport a red sack under their necks, which they inflate to attract females. We were able to spot some fluffy young chicks waiting for their parents to bring them food.

We walked about a mile on volcanic rocks and sand, through light bush, and were also rewarded with sightings of finches, and Galapagos doves. As we approached the shore again, we saw more marine iguanas on the rocks, and were treated to sea lions sunning and frolicking in the surf. The experience was only marred by one member of our group who cooed and baby-talked to all the animals, touching them despite strict orders not to get too close, and generally annoyed everyone. There's one in every group!

Louisa was very tired, but like the trooper she is, powered through the 2hr walk. After returning to the boat, she had soup in the cabin, while Tom ate lunch with the others. We then had a short nap in early afternoon, almost oversleeping the afternoon dive.

North Seymour Island near [pt dvmosq Mosqueta Island] (Tom only)
Dive log: 42min, 46ft

We dropped in over sandy bottom that was literally covered with garden eels, waving in the current. They looked like 8-10 inch long slender fingers poking up through the sand, spaced about a foot apart. As we approached, they got shorter and shorter, until we could just about touch them, when then disappeared entirely into their holes in the sand.

We then swam along the rocks, where we saw a few more white tip reef sharks. Here we were treated to incredibly huge schools of creole fish, yellowtail surgeonfish, and bigeyed jack, surrounding us in all directions. At times visibility was actually limited by the fish - they were all you could see! Another highlight was a brief appearance by a sea lion.

Louisa began to feel better while everyone was out on the dive. She hung out with the crew and discovered that they watch movies while we are off of the boat. She got a picture of Tom in a dinghy (panga) as it approached the boat.

We relaxed downstairs and watched Sato's amazing video underwater footage from the dives. Louisa saw everything that she missed.

The captain got us underway for the long trip (16+ hours) to Wolf Island, one of the furthest north in the Galapagos archipelago. The boat started rocking, which lulled us into a late afternoon nap. Louisa ate an abbreviated dinner with everyone and listened to Jaime's briefing for the dives off of Wolf Island. Both Sato and Manny played their underwater videos, both were great. We barely stayed awake, and went to bed well before 9pm.

The air conditioner in our room went out, and we were in a sauna by 10pm. We had Nelson (the ship's engineer) look at it but he could not fix it, so we tried to cool down the cabin by sleeping with the one window open.

 

Sat May 27, 2000 - Wolf Island

With the AC out, no breeze coming in the window (even though we were under way) and a long slow roll that made you feel like you were falling out of bed all the time, we didn't get much sleep. Tom was a bit wired from Dramamine, so he read a couple of books and wandered the boat until 4am. Louisa was bothered by the heat, but rocked to sleep by the swells, so she got almost a full night's worth.

Cipro is definitely a wonder drug. After 2 and less than 24hrs, Louisa was feeling almost 100% this morning, well enough for a full breakfast and all the dives. Tom also took one because of a persistent stomach problem, and immediately felt better, with all symptoms disappearing.

In the morning, we were delighted to see dolphins riding our bow wave and jumping around us. We kept seeing them all day, playing around the pangas and surfing the swells. We were also able to see occasional sea lions and turtles in the water. Wolf Island looks forbidding, fairly small and totally surrounded by hundred-foot high cliffs. There seems to be little vegetation, and the only animals seem to be thousands of birds, mostly frigate birds and masked boobies. Next to the island was a large rock (the size of a small hotel) that had a natural arch in it. All of our Wolf Island dives were basically between this rock and the island.

Wolf Island
Dive log: 70ft, 30min, temp 72f

We dropped in a little short of the planned site, because the panga was swamped - there were big swells and a lot of surge. This turned out to be good, because once we got down, we found out that the current went the other way from Jaime's briefing, so we drifted until we saw the other group (who were fighting the current), then we reversed and swam against the current too.

Immediately after going down, we saw several huge Galapagos sharks, closely followed by a good size school of hammerheads. We were excited! We didn't get too close, but they were curious, and would swim within a few yards of us before turning away. Louisa had thought that she would be afraid of the sharks, but once she actually saw how sleek and magnificent they looked, she forgot to be scared.

The other major highlight of this dive was zillions of green moray eels, including some bigger than Tom's leg. They look pretty scary, with their mouths open and teeth showing, so we kept a safe distance. Of course, we also saw lots of colorful fish - see the list we made later.

We just had time for a quick nap before suiting up for the second dive.

Wolf Island (same location)
Dive log: 70ft, 38min

On this dive we saw even more sharks, and now that we're used to them, we're getting closer and closer to them. They really are impressive, lazily circling in small groups, and occasionally showing their true power by darting suddenly out of sight.

We were approached by some curious hogfish whose territory we had invaded, and swam near some huge parrot fish. We spotted a couple of sea turtles, too, slowly "flying" along the bottom. Along with the usual tropical fish listed below we saw some white angels feasting on the rocks. And, Shawn found us a huge lobster under a rock.

The highlight was just as we were heading up. We saw school of at least 10 spotted eagle rays, some absolutely huge at 5-6ft across, alongside some babies that were about 1.5ft across. We were fascinated as we watched them flap slowly through the water, showing us alternately their polka-dotted tops and smooth, gray undersides.

Shawn was picked up by the smaller launch, which stayed out to look for Manny & Diane. The latter two had lagged behind the group, and came up behind the point. After 15 mins they were found, but then the launch went all the way around the island to find calm water - it was an hour before the group was back on the boat, so lunch was a bit late. Diane loudly made sure everyone knew what had happened. Everyone declared Shawn a patient man since he managed not to kill her during his hour of being stranded in the panga with her complaining loudly.

Laetitia had missed this 2nd dive due to seasickness, but was a trooper for lunch and the 3rd dive of the day. Louisa and Tom power napped before the third dive.

Wolf Island
Dive log: 68ft, 33min

The current continued to be strong, so we drifted along over the rocks. One big eagle ray floated along majestically. We saw a few bright yellow puffer fish, one spotted guineafowl fish (which we later learned are the same fish at different stages of maturity), several trumpet fish, cornet fish, and some small barracudas. Occasional Galapagos sharks and a small hammerhead swam along as well.

We saw lots of sea turtles, including a curious one that swam right up to us, and another that drifted underneath a few feet away, and another sleeping on the bottom that looked like a rock. As usual, there were lots of moray eels, that looked like ribbons in between the rocks, while we saw others swim through the water. Louisa became a little skittish about the current, so we headed up. Just as we started up, we saw a huge school of hammerheads, that the group decided must have been at least 100!

After a bit of socializing, we took another power nap. Tom borrowed a light from Richard then he and Shawn and two of the other men went on a night dive with Paula in the harbor.

Wolf Island sheltered area, night dive (Tom only)
Dive log: 51ft, 39min

We dropped in just behind the boat and explored the bottom by the dim lights. Paula led the way for a while, but bailed out early. Shawn and Tom would range ahead with small flashlights, while Manny and the other guy followed with bright lights and cameras.

First we saw a cool marble ray about 3ft in diameter resting on the bottom. Then we glimpsed a couple of red spiny lobsters. After a while we noticed that there were hundreds of small pink shrimp, with eyes that glowed red in our torches. As we went on, we saw an enormous sleeping turtle under rock, and a humongous sleeping parrot fish, 3-4ft long. Of course, there were miscellaneous other fish swimming around, including one with a toothy back that Tom couldn't identify.

One other neat thing was when we turned our lights off luminescent dots surrounded us - you could see your buddy by the streams of eerie lights. Very cool!

After another average dinner, Sato played his video from the day's dives, again with magnificent footage. Then, we went to bed.

 

Sun May 28, 2000 - Darwin Island

We woke at 6:30 after sleeping well, despite the AC going out again in the middle of the night (the night was much cooler). Tom's sleep became a bit fitful after 4am when we started driving to Darwin Island, but Louisa snoozed as if she was in a rocking cradle.

The location at Darwin was amazing! We were between a truly astonishing natural arch and a cliff island. From the bow of the boat we saw a huge school of tuna. The red-footed boobies divebombing the antenna on the sun deck provided great entertainment.

Darwin's Arch
Dive log: 74ft, 36min

Dolphins and a sea lion swam around us on our jump in, which was a sign of what was to come. On the way down, there was an unbelievable quantity of fish in a variety of deep colors, especially small ones (4-5 inches). The water appeared clouded because of the fish. It seemed as if we were swimming in an overstocked aquarium with an incredible variety.

On the bottom, we saw a well camouflaged stone scorpionfish, a flounder, and a lobster. The eels were plentiful and were active, wiggling their way through the water. Like at Wolf, the hammerheads were plentiful, and some were quite curious. A huge school of bigeye jacks swam above us blocking the sun.

Upon reaching the surface, Mark and Matt immediately told their tale of seeing and riding a 30 foot whale shark. Their enthusiasm was incredible, but nobody else saw it putting great doubt over their claimed sighting. The doubt increased when Matt's film turned out to be ruined, but they maintained their sighting to the end.

The variety of fish here was truly amazing - see below for a list. This was the most incredible dive of the trip, with more fascinating things to see everywhere you looked. We couldn't wait to go back down!

After a snack we relaxed, working on the journal, reading and Tom playing guitar before heading out on the next dive.

Darwin's Arch
Dive log: 65ft, 41min

Most of this dive we spent looking for the whale shark, but had no success. We saw a huge pacific boxfish in a hole, which was fantastic. Other than that, we saw sleeping flag cabrilla and zillions of creole fish. Laetitia overcame her seasickness to do this dive, at our encouragement and glowing descriptions.

After lunch and some more relaxing, we headed out for the afternoon dive.

Darwin's Arch
Dive log: 64ft, 39min

We dropped in to millions upon millions of creole fish, darting here and there as if they had one brain. The was not much current, so we swam along the rocks. Hammerheads circled around below and beside us, but this had become old hat. We had a couple of wonderful close encounters with sea turtles. They are such ancient and curious looking creatures with big eyes.

Lots of huge jacks swam around, with most traveling in pairs of one silver female and one black male. It is their mating season when the males change color to black rather than silver. Also, we noticed lots of black long spine urchins on and between the rocks. Louisa also followed a purple and teal fish for awhile, which we later identified as the rainbow wrasse.

After another mediocre dinner served to those of us that were eating, we watched Murder at 1600. It was hardly worth our time, but we got roped in and watched until the end before heading off to bed.

These are the fish we identified during our dives at Darwin's Arch:

  • rainbow and sunset wrasse
  • yellow-tailed goatfish in schools
  • cornetfish and trumpet fish
  • lots of fine spotted moray eels, a few blackspot morays
  • king angelfish
  • barberfish
  • threadfin butterfly
  • yellowtailed and goldrimmed surgeonfish
  • many solo moorish idols
  • lots of bigeye jacks, a few almaco jacks
  • rainbow and striped chubs
  • blue striped snapper
  • flag cabrilla
  • bluechin and bicolor parrotfish
  • red-spotted barnacle blenny
  • leopard flounder
  • hieroglyphic hawkfish
  • stone scorpionfish
  • spotted porcupine fish
  • guineafowl puffer (black and white polkadots and bright yellow)
  • pacific boxfish (including one giant one)
  • black triggerfish
  • marbled & spotted eagle rays
  • yellowtail scad
  • panamic graysby
  • Galapagos & hammerhead sharks
  • green sea turtles

 

Mon May 29, 2000 - Darwin and Wolf

We slept like babies, rocking lightly at anchor, and awoke feeling much better. By popular demand, we had decided to do a couple more dives at the Arch, so we had stayed put all night.

Darwin's Arch
Dive log: 68ft, 25min

This time there was lots of current. We gave up fighting it early and got swept away from the group a ways. Finally we hung on some rocks for a while, so we could stay put, but we didn't have very much fun. We did see a few sharks, lots of colorful fish, and a turtle, but nothing new.

The current finally made us uncomfortable enough that we went up early, but we still did a safety stop at 15ft. We were glad we did! We had an incredible underwater dolphin show the entire time. They were swimming all around us, jumping in and out of the water, and coming within touching distance. We loved it! Three of them dropped in on us, literally, landing their jumps almost on top of us. Amazing!

In the panga, everyone agreed that fighting the current was not fun, but the unscheduled dolphin show made up for it.

We napped briefly between dives - it's amazing how diving can tire you out, even though it's not hard cardio exercise.

Darwin's Arch
Dive log: 72ft, 30min

This dive was a little better, since we dropped in on top of the plateau. We fought the current for a few hundred feet, then took advantage of the plateau by hanging out inside of it, where the current hardly existed. We just hung out watching the fish. It was more of the usual, but we enjoyed seeing them over a period of time. During our safety stop, a few hammerheads swam around below us. We surfaced and immediately saw the dolphin show again. Hundreds of them jumped, swam, surfed and belly flopped all around us. We had a good, long show since Manny and Diane were miles away. The forty-five minutes were amazing with the dolphins playing in front of the beautiful Darwin arch - truly a once in a lifetime sight.

During lunch we drove the 2 hours to Wolf Island for another dive there before the long trek back to the main archipelago.

Wolf Island
Dive log: 60ft, 38min

Tom lost his tank on the drop in, but Jaime fixed it. We dropped in to the lavender, rust and orange rocks with the fish that had became quite familiar. However, we were diving off of Wolf island this time with beautifully calm waters. We swam along with the occasional small school of hammerheads or sea turtle swimming through beside us. Wee also saw a few guineafowl fish in the process of changing from neon yellow to black and white spots - they looked very strange. One magnificent moment occurred when Jaime spotted a giant eagle ray a few yards ahead of us. We swam along behind it for awhile. It was a fantastic ending to our northern island dives.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and enjoying the sun while driving towards the main archipelago. After yet another mediocre dinner (but good service from Venecio), we went to bed and were rocked to sleep. Tom used earplugs to drown the cabin rattles and engine noise, and slept well.

 

Tue May 30, 2000 - Cousin's Rock and Bartolome Island

After steaming for a while in the morning along Isabella and Santiago Islands, we stopped at Cousin's Rock for our morning dive.

[pt cousrk Cousin's Rock]
Dive log: 74 feet 38 minutes

This dive was highlighted by long terraces of black coral, which actually looks like green ferns when underwater. We were supposed to look for sea horses and frogfish, both of which are very difficult to find and see. Jaime did find us a cool frogfish relatively early on, which we were excited about.

Along the wall and over the point we saw the usual king angel fish, moorish idols, parrot fish, and schools and schools of creoles. One hammerhead put on an appearance, too. Shawn motioned us over to see a small octopus tangled in the coral. We were somewhat surprised to see a sea lion swimming down at 100ft - that's deep.

Once we got over the point, we saw lots of frolicking sea lions along the wall, playing with us and swimming all around us. This continued through the safety stop, and we watched fascinated as they mock-fought and chased sticks much like puppies.

We had a short break on the boat, and then dropped in for the second dive.

Cousin's Rock
Dive log: 58 feet 50 minutes

We spent the first half of the dive with Paula, looking for sea horses, but did not find any. We found out later that Paula had found one and filmed it, but we missed it. We did see a sleeping marbled ray, and a school of yellow snapper.

We then swam around to the sea lion spot, and had even more fun with them. There was lots of frolicking - they seem to love underwater acrobatics, and are constantly turning flips and curving through the water until you can't believe they have solid backbones. Again, this continued through our safety stop, and we stayed just under the surface until we ran out of air, enjoying the show.

During lunch we navigated to Bartolome Island, not very far away, to see the penguins and climb to the top of the hill to see the view. Galapagos penguins are the only ones in tropic water. They are small, but look like stereotypical penguins, with white belly and black coat. The population has been severely damaged by El Nino years when their food supply dies. The snorkeling trip spotted five on the shore, while the later land expedition saw 3 individual ones.

The idea was to snorkel around and maybe see the penguins swimming, but there were so few that we didn't see much of anything. Louisa elected to stay on board in the sun, so Tom did the snorkel, which was basically a bust. He did get a few pictures with the waterproof disposable camera, of cornetfish and surgeonfish, but he didn't see anything really worth while.

We all went on the land visit that afternoon. When we disembarked onto Bartolome Island, we saw some marine iguanas swimming. Jamie talked to us about the lava patterns and activity that formed the Galapagos and pointed out many plants that are endemic, and can survive on the lava rock. Then we climbed the 360 stairs to the highest point on the island which has a great view for miles around with about 10 other islands in sight.

We then enjoyed our last dinner on board, with complimentary wine. Paula showed us her video of our dives and land visits from the week, then we went off to bed.

 

Wed May 31, 2000 - Gordon Rocks, Plaza Islets, Sea Lion dive and Santa Cruz Island

We both awoke tired and fighting mild colds, but we powered through, because we had a busy and exciting day, and we didn't want to miss any of it. After our usual breakfast of zucaritas (frosted flakes), fruit, eggs, bacon, and toast, we started our first dive.

Gordon Rocks
Dive log: 71 feet, 35 minutes

This was an interesting spot with three building-sized rocks around and through which we can swim. We saw a nice sized white tip reef shark and Galapagos sharks. At one break in the rocks two sea turtles were swimming towards us, so we cut through and they swam directly under us. On the back side of the rock we saw more sea turtles, otherwise we looked in the thousands of cubby holes in the rock wall looking for interesting sea life.

After rock walking against the current through the next break in the rocks we saw an octopus crawling and slithering along the bottom. Louisa had never seen one completely in the open and was fascinated with how it looked and moved. After a while it noticed us and slipped into a tiny, narrow crevice.

We came upon others in the group admiring a large school of king angels at the entrance of another break in the rocks. We started up for our safety stop and spotted a school of 20 or so golden cowrays swimming along below us! We chased after them for a while until we were basically out of air. What a great ending for our last "real" dive of the trip!

Immediately after the dive, we headed for land on South Plaza Island. A colony of large land iguanas lives on the island where they eat cactus. As we got off of the panga, we came upon two iguanas, one eating a cactus leaf, the other trying, and eventually succeeding, in stealing the leaf away. The iguanas were everywhere. Jaime pointed out the males, females and juveniles, as well as a great example of one molting.

The shore was alive with many playful sea lions that still proved very amusing and delightful. South Plaza marked our return to the southern archipelago and the blue footed boobies. Other animals on the island included the endemic swallowtail gulls and lava lizards, which look like large salamanders.

Laetitia ran around the island taking pictures of the various animals and their habitats for her slide show on return. It was fun to have a purpose to the land visit, it even made us more observant and attentive to Jaime's comments.

Upon returning to the boat we suited up for our last dive of the trip.

Plaza Islets Harbor
Dive log: 26ft, 25min

Since our flight was within 24 hours, this was a shallow dive off of the boat between the Plaza Islets, along shore of North Plaza islet. Some garden eels extended from the sandy bottom, retracting into their holes when they sensed our presence. It was Louisa's first siting since she missed the earlier dive with garden eels.

Other aquatic life included the usual schools of creole fish, king angels, hogfish, and cornet fish. We did come upon a few new varieties, such as the yellowtail damselfish, yellowtail mullet and the striped panamic sergeant major.

The sea lions played in the surf, near the shore. We hung out near the surface and watched them frolick. One particularly big sea lion became quite curious about us, making several curly-cue passes. After a while we headed back to the boat, which proved quite difficult without a lead line or compass, but we succeeded.

Once back on board, we washed out the gear and put it on the sun deck to dry in the sun. The boat powered up and started driving towards Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. We showered and relaxed until lunch. During lunch we all exclaimed at how activity filled, and fun, our morning had been.

We arrived at Puerto Arroyo at 2:30pm, panga'ed to land and disembarked at the Darwin Research station. There we walked to the visitor center and spent a few minutes reading the informative wall poster displays. We learned a bit about the formation of the islands, the evolution of the life, and the conservation efforts that are ongoing. We found the rhetoric a bit extreme, blaming the arrival of man for a wide variety of perceived ills on the islands, but we do believe that it is better to have too much conservation than too little.

After that, we saw the turtle rearing areas. Turtles are hatched and cultivated here for 5 years, before being released into the wild. They spend their first 2 years in a simple pen, eating and crawling around, and growing to a couple of inches across. Then they move to a semi-wild area, with rocks, trees, and terrain that replicates the wild. After 3 more years here, they are ready for re-introduction to the wild.

Our next stop was to see Lonesome George, the last known member of his species. We could barely see him under the bushes on the other side of his pen, but he looked pretty big. In the next pen were 6 huge old turtles, and we could walk right up to them. No wonder they live so long - they hardly moved the entire time we were there. We got some pretty good pictures, and no action photos were needed.

Tom bought a shirt at the kiosk, where the profits go back to the station, and then we all walked into Puerto Ayora. On the way we shopped a bit on the one main street, not really finding much of interest. After exploring a while, we found the recommended restaurant, and then stopped for a drink and a quick email check - Tom won the bet, there were 4 internet cafes in Puerto Ayora.

We headed back to the boat, collected up the mostly dry dive gear, and packed the cabin. The crew assembled in dress whites for a farewell drink, and we snacked on pizza. About 30 seconds later, the crew was back at work in t-shirts and shorts. Incredibly, they re-provision the boat and turn it around for a new set of 14 passengers during this one afternoon stop.

We rode back into town again, and headed to La Garapata (the tick) for dinner. Just the 4 of us ate together - we tried to avoid all eating at the same place, but we did anyway, just at separate tables. We had to wait a few minutes for a table, so they gave us some free cai pirinhas. The good was cheap and pretty good, and the cai pirinhas excellent.

There were pangas at 9:30 and 10:30, but everyone was on the 9:30 one - we had had a big day. We went right to sleep, because we had to get up early tomorrow.

Aggressor review:

The boat was very nice, comfortable and well-outfitted. We were not blown away by the furnishings and decorations, but it was very comfortable and practical. The lounge area and dining room were comfortable and reasonably spacious, and there was plenty of deck space and chairs to relax on.

The rooms were snug but surprisingly not overly crowded. There was enough storage space, and the beds were reasonably comfortable. Since it is our honeymoon, we were disappointed at the lack of double beds, but we survived. The best part was the shower, which was hot and had great volume, and the bathroom, while small, was the best we've ever seen on a boat. We did have a problem with our air conditioner, which our engineer Nelson mostly fixed.

The food was not very good, in general. They had soups with most meals, which helped us stay hydrated, but usually weren't anything special. The vegetables were frozen and mostly overcooked (we don't need any more green beans for a year), and the meats usually dry. We didn't starve, but it was just average food. They did supply good snacks between dives - we really appreciated coming aboard wet and tired, and grabbing a quick glass of water and bite of cake or biscuit. Our steward, Venecio, was always helpful and friendly, and the rest of the crew was also service oriented, with any of them willing to help us with anything.

On the stern was a nicely outfitted dive deck, which kept our dive gear very convenient and easy to get on and off. They had an outside shower and supplied clean towels after every dive. They had a great deck for diving directly off the boat, so we were a bit disappointed when nearly all our dives involved loading us into pangas and driving us a few hundred yards.

The divemasters were pretty good, very good divers, of course, and reasonably service oriented. They didn't hold our hands at all, and didn't balk at some people diving alone or going off on their own. They were reasonably good at pointing out things underwater, and we felt like they knew what they were talking about. Some criticisms: Jaime's English was excellent, but his accent often made him very difficult to understand, distracting us during briefings and land visits. He also got the direction of current wrong on nearly every dive that had current, making it sometimes hard to follow the plan laid out in the briefing. Paula came up early from many of the dives, and didn't seem very enthusiastic about her job. These are minor criticisms, however - we still enjoyed the trip immensely.

One of the panga drivers was clueless - not Chino, the other one. He often didn't see divers on the surface, and didn't seem to take his job seriously, like Chino did. Another complaint is that the Aggressor has no good rental equipment. The BC's were OK, but Tom had a terrible reg, and their wetsuit selection was nonexistent. If Shawn wasn't a saint and brought down tons of extra gear, we might not have been able to dive.

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
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