Galapagos Trip and My 30th Birthday!!

The Galapagos have been on me and Kev’s travel list for a while. I bumped it to the top of my list after seeing beautiful pictures and reading more about the island in National Geographic. They did an article about the declining populations of iguanas unique to the Galapagos due to the rising sea temperature which is starting to kill the algae, their food source. I also heard about Lonely George the tortoise, so I wanted to see a giant tortoise in person.  The fact that Kevin’s birthday is the end of March, our anniversary is the beginning of April, and my birthday is the end of April, were just extra reasons to go to Galapagos. We were not disappointed. Even though diving visibility wasn’t great, I got to see all the main critters I’d hoped to see including hammerheads, marine iguanas, tortoises and two critters I didn’t even know about but were happy to have seen including mola molas/sunfish and a red-lipped batfish, which can only be found around the Galapagos Islands and off Peru. It was a trip of a lifetime. Below are my daily diary entries from the trip.

Red-lipped batfish

We headed to the airport on Friday night on April 13, 2018 to begin our journey to the Galapagos. We flew all night and arrived in Guayaquil on Saturday morning. We stayed at the Oro Verde hotel which was in the heart of the city and within walking distance of the main strip in town. We had one day to kill in Guayaquil before boarding our live aboard dive boat for a week, so we took it easy, walked around for about two hours through the city to the boardwalk and Ferris wheel, and went to bed early.

Octopus

April 15

On Sunday morning we headed to the airport for our flight to San Cristobal (Galapagos Islands). It was a short flight and then we got picked up at the airport by our dive company. When we got to the marina I could already tell it was going to be a good trip because there were a lot of sea lions swimming and laying out sunbathing and napping by/on the pier. We were tendered to our boat, the Galapagos Sky. After resting for a bit we had one late afternoon easy dive. We didn’t see much because it was a safety check dive but we did have some curious seals come to check us out.

Green sea turtle

April 16

Monday morning after breakfast we had a land excursion. It was scenic and pretty cool walking on volcanic rock. We learned about the vegetation and saw lots of lizards. We also saw a lava heron scouting for food. We also saw some blue-footed boobies but unfortunately no penguins.

After the land excursion, we suited up for an afternoon dive. We dove three times. My highlights of the day were the seals. They were very playful and curious and came to check us out. They are very fast and they glide through the water elegantly while also playfully doing somersaults.

April 17

Tuesday was our first day doing four dives and we dove at Wolf Island. We saw a ton of hammerhead sharks and sea turtles. We even saw dolphins swim above us and we had one seal friend that was swimming around us up close and personal. One of the coolest parts of the dives is diving “into the blue.” We start close to the island and towards the second half go “into the blue” –we swim out further from the island and float in a depth of 40-60 feet which provides another opportunity to see sharks and sea turtles. It’s also a little trippy and disorienting because the only thing you can see all around you is blue water and you forget which way is up.

I’ve also never dove in such strong currents other than on two dives in Fiji last year which were incredible. At first the current made me nervous but now I think it’s fun because I’m more confident in my abilities and we went over safety procedures in more depth beforehand. It was my first time receiving a dive alert to activate if we lost the group and couldn’t find the boat too. They later told us it’s called a surge and it’s not ideal to dive in. Because the current is coming from more than one direction, it tosses you around (that explains why we had to cling onto the rocks for dear life in the beginning to avoid being swept away).

Spotted Burrfish

Tuesday was also our one and only night dive. The majority of the dive sites have strong currents and are chosen due to being cleaning stations for the animals. The night dive was in a cove so the current was not strong. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much though. I saw a lot of shrimp and the coolest things were decorated crabs that looked exactly like the rocks covered in barnacles. It was also pretty cold (even though we dove in 7mm wet suits and hoods). I was shivering by the end of the dive.

Marine iguana

April 18

We had another day of 4 dives in one day, but this time at Darwin Island which has Darwin’s Arch — One of the most iconic arches in the world and a key destination of any trip to the Galapagos. Some of the highlights included seeing more hammerhead sharks and an eagle ray up close. The black and white-spotted eagle ray was large and beautiful and did not care that we were there. It swam right next to us munching on huge chunks of barnacles on the rocks in order to get to whatever goodies were inside.

April 19

It was a 3-day dive. We did one morning dive at Darwin but because we enjoyed Wolf so much the day before, we went back for our other dives. I saw a school of hammerheads with a juvenile which was awesome (and rare). We also swam with more sea lions.

April 20

Today’s dives were amazing! We dove the seahorse-shaped island, Isabela. First, we dove in Ferndaninda and then we had two more dives near the mouth of the sea horse. They were our coldest dives (62 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 68 degrees the previous days’ dives) but some of the best. Fernandina was our iguana dive. The iguanas were awesome and bigger than I thought they’d be. They only go diving once a day for food so the area is protected and apparently only one dive boat is allowed there each day so that the iguanas aren’t too disturbed and can eat. They lay out in the sun all day building up body heat in order to dive for algae in the cold water. It’s something they’ve adapted to in order to survive in that environment.

Diving with sea turtles and eagle rays-nothing better!

At Isabel we saw HUGE sun fish/mola mola! I had never seen a mola mola until this trip and they are SO cool. They have a large top and bottom fin and small side ones. They can surprisingly move pretty fast too when they need to. According to our dive master, we were really lucky because we saw about 10 mola mola which is rare. On our ascent, we had fun playing with more sea lions. It was my favorite dive site because we saw cool things, the current wasn’t too strong, and it was absolutely beautiful. We went on a little boat ride on the penga (inflatable speedboat) after our last night and we went into a cave thing and a cove where we saw a ton more sea turtles, sea lions, iguanas, and blue-footed boobies. It was pretty magical.

Later that day we watched a TED Talk on Mola Mola/sun fish and we learned that they can grow up to 5,000 lbs and only eat jellyfish — keeping the ocean safe for other critters. They fan out on the top of the water to absorb the sun (hence the name sun fish) but throughout the day they go from the surface all the way to the ocean’s bottom to eat.

mola mola/sunfish

April 21

It’s my birthday! The big 3-0! It’s also our last dive of the trip.  We dove at Pinto and had a very pleasant dive. We saw a red-lipped batfish (which I didn’t even know existed until this trip), little fish that live in the barnacles and poke their heads out to eat passing particles, one giant manta, and a flock of spotted eagle rays. There was also a school of selimas fish that a sea lions was playing with/eating. We got some good video of that (starting 11:27 in the video above).

The Galapagos Islands were named after the giant tortoises found there

After our last dive we went to San Cristobal. We went to a ranchero de tortises to see the famous Galapagos tortoises. Fun Fact: Galapagos actually means “tortoise” in Spanish. We saw a ton of tortoises–we even saw two ‘running’ as a male chased a female to mate. The males are about 3x the size of the females and the males also make very loud grunting noises while mating, so you can imagine our astonishment watching a huge male chase and mount a female and seeing everything play out in front of us while paying a casual visit to the ranch. LOL.

After observing the tortoises for a while we went into town to shop around. When we got back to the boat we had dinner and Kevin surprised me with a cake. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated my 30th.

We did 19 dives total and I got to see everything I had hoped to see. The Galapagos Islands are so wonderful and I hope it remains protected and that people start taking better care of the world so that future generations can see what we did. I definitely plan on going back to the Galapagos sometime. They were the best dives of my life.

Darwin’s Arch