Published: January 14th 2007December 4th 2006
The day leading up to the eventual boarding onto Mistral II was slowed down by the anticipation of being on a liveaboard for the next 10 days, heading to locations that others only dream of diving in. Based on last minute instructions by a guide that turned up at the hostel to inform us that he would be taking us back to Baltra airport, we were bundled into a bus together with a bunch of forthright, rude 1950's era Austrian tourists and could not be glader to be rid of their company.
Stepping onto Mistral II (run by Quasar Expeditions
) it was clear that we were going to have a good time, at least above the waterline. Mistral II
is a nice 12 passenger yacht well laid out for diving activities. Our diving and travel companions for the next 10 days arrived in 2 batches. The biggest group were the dice-playing, chain smoking Russians led by Ilias and the next group was a hodge podge consisting of Jerome - the soft-spoken French aeroplane crash investigator, Alex - a Sheriff from Rio, Brazil, Andrew - the entreprenuer from UK and Jack aka John, also a Brit, - another RTW tripper and
Dolphins..... 200 of them passed by!
By far the most exhilarating experience I have had in the 800+ dives I've made so far.... family groups studying you as they passed. The intelligence of these creatures was so apparent as they calmly watched.
movie buff when he was not either diving or sleeping. Add to this a fun, professional crew and an experienced old hand guide in the form of Jorge (aka George) and we were all set.
The experience of our check dive in 7mm two-peice suits was hmmm.... interesting. San ended up with 6 kg weights and Richy with 8kg - 6kg more than those leisurely dives in Miri. Additionally, Richy, at the onset had trouble with a faulty regulator and self inflating BC. Lousy equipment rented from Scuba Galapagos
for a ridiculous price (read footnote on disgustingly unprofessional dive/ tour company) was to blame. Thankfully, Jorge, the Dive master had brought an extra reg but Rich had to live with the self-inflating BC.
Once the check dive was done, this hodgepodge bunch set sail against strong current on choppy seas towards the diving gems of Wolf and Darwin Islands, sometimes called Wenman and Culpepper. These two eroded volcanos located on a volcanic ridge (the Wolf-Darwin Lineament) lie 200km NW of the main collection of Galapagos islands and occupy 98 sqkm. Wolf reaches a maximum elevation of only 250 m and Darwin only 165 m above sea level. This
Whale shark ahead!
Whale sharks were a real highlight for all at Darwin. San's first whale shark encounters and despite prefering macro over big stuff she was still suitably impressed.
shies in comparison with what is underneath the sea level to the sea floor...a staggering 1000 m. Both, now extinct, their ages range from 400,000 to 1, 600,000 years old.
This is the location for the best diving in the Galapagos and some would argue the world - that is if you are a fan of big stuff. The big stuff underwater pictures speak best about the next 4 days, 2 on Wolf and 2 on Darwin. Once the advertisements and movie previews provided by the grey tips, turtles and various parrot fish end, its sit back, grab the popcorn and "get ready for the real show" kind of diving. Viz of 20m plus, water temperature of about 24 -25 degC (we ditched the farmer john jackets by the 2nd div e in the area), you are not talking about the 3 or 4 hammerheads (which would be the subject of much chat in any other dive location,) and it was literally an army
of flathead soldiers plying the waters and some curious individuals coming right up close to give a show of the rows of handsome, powerful jaggged teeth. We soon found out the best way to get
1st day diving was at Wolf, one of two smaller islands 200km to the North-West of the main Galapagos group. We saw plenty of Eagle Rays swimming in formation...
that close-up shot was to stay still and expend as little bubbles as possible. Additionally, as if it was not showing off enough, whale sharks every dive at Darwin
, and this supposedly out of season! (Season normally ends November.) In one encounter, Richy had one swim right towards him and he had to swim over it to avoid a headlong collision whilst the whale shark virgin aka Chicca Cina, was along side, eye-ball to eye-ball as it gracefully glided away with one flick of its ginormous tail. At each encounter, the whole world slows down.
Thats not the end of it....diving with 200+ strong school of dolphins on Wolf during two dives, miriads of Galapagos sharks, Spotted Eagle rays, silky sharks, etc. etc. etc. A truly amazing experience EVERY DIVE and all feature at the top of Richy´s list of now 800+ dives!!
Filled with pain and having to hide the tears in our cabin, Richy finally had to leave the area on the 28th of Nov to steam to generally colder, murkier (10m or less viz) and less exciting diving on the main group of islands starting off with Cape Marshall on Isabella. That said, it was
Baby Fur Seal....
This baby was one of a group of maybe 10 youngsters waiting for Mums to come back from feeding on the beach in San Cristobal Island.
good to experience the full range that such a small part of the Pacific had to offer from the Galapagos blennie and garden eels to the manta ray (after all that, a manta ray is like, yeah... ok.. what next). On one dive, Andrew and Alex went into a cave full of white tip sharks with more behind them wanting to enter the cave. It made their dive! Cousin Rock at Bathorlomew island yielded a placid school of stripped salemas so big and dense that when swimming beneath them it was like being on a night dive without a torch! Dives at North Seymour, Gardiner island and Espanol finished off the diving.
On the 3rd last day, we went onto North Seymour for a land trip. From the drop off point, the sealions greeted us at the steps and one youngster couldn´t give a flippers to our presence as it suckled on its mother. We also celebrated with another new mom as she welcomed her newborn, after birth and all. The male frigate birds who hadn´t found a mate were busy puffing out their red chests scattered with a sparse population of black feathers that gave them the "I'm
The male frigate blows up his bright red throat pouch in order to attract a mate.
the jock you should hang out with" look.
One should not for a moment be mistaking this for picture perfect animals at the Singapore Zoo. This is nature at its rawest forms where baby sealion and bird carcesses do litter the islands and lost babies do starve to death. Skinny as they are, with heart wrenching cries, the lost motherless ones go from adult to adult, both male and female, but are rejected. Neither are humans allowed to intefere, with good reason. In areas where human influence has featured strongly huge, expensive efforts are needing to be made to eliminate introduced species like donkeys and dogs that threaten and destroy the endemic species habitats and young. Other activities involve the breeding of giant tortoises
that used to the roam the various islands by the 10's of thousands in the 19th century and a focus on marine conversation through the prevention of over-exploitation to feed our desires. Its not just the sharksfins eaters, all
consumers of marine life add to the problem.
We really enjoyed the company of Jorge the guide (a man driven by passion for his islands), crew and passengers. We miss you guys!!
Schooling hammerheads were a regular occurance on Darwin & Wolf sites...
place to visit is the Interpretation center on the capital island of San Cristobal
which is often given the miss as more visitors flock to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. The centre gives a really interesting and well presented history of the islands, its inhabitants and how it has avoided takeover (friendly or otherwise) by other interested countries to be what it is today. We have also found the accommodation (Hostal San Francisco - off season - USD10 per night), food and shopping (there are better designed T-shirts even) for bits and bobs cheaper here.
Footnote: A word of warning to other would-be divers in Galapagos - Do not use Scuba Galapagos
. With the faulty equipment, including the regulator that was never used, they hemmed and hawed about compensation despite being provided in person 2 independent professional viewpoints of the divemaster and the cusotmer services manager from Quasar who used to be a dive master. We wasted an afternoon on one of the shore days in their office and the owner continually asking Richy to talk to his staff in Quito... classic example of passing the buck... to the surbordinate! Only when Jorge personally turned up at the agency
were we given some of our money back. AVOID THIS AGENCY LIKE THE PLAGUE THEY ARE THE MOST UNPROFESSIONAL DIVE OUTFIT WITH THE LOWEST QUALITY OF EQUIPMENT WE HAVE HAD THE DISPLEASURE OF DEALING WITH!!!
To Poh Heong: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You will always be my 25 year old brother! Love, San
There are more photos below