Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pure Magic: The Galapagos

I recently traveled to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador with Ocean Geographic. I knew ahead of time this trip would be a monumental one and so I decided to journal my thoughts as I made my way through the Galapagos, a trip report of sorts.

Galapagos Photo Expedition 2012: It’s August and I find myself in the Galapagos. After diving off Santa Cruz Island this morning we’re currently heading to Wolf and Darwin and I couldn’t be happier. Already the Galapagos has begun to share it’s treasures with us. During our check out dive at San Cristobal Island we were joined with some wonderfully playful sea lions who decided later that evening to my delight to join us on the beach after dinner. It’s quite interesting on San Cristobal, as the sea lions have learned to take over park benches, beach slides and roadways along the marina; it’s a beautiful and unusual blending of nature and mankind. My expectations are high as we make our way to two magical islands for the next three days. Wolf and Darwin are the crème de la crème, I have been told for almost a decade from divers I encounter all over the world. “You haven’t dived Galapagos yet? Darwin and Wolf are amazing!” These are words I’ve heard over and over again from every corner of the planet. It seems a bit unreal to be here now honestly, the anticipation and hopes are high, two things I seldom allow to overtake me now-a-days, but I’m truly looking forward to these next few days like a child looks forward to Christmas.

Days Two and Three: Darwin Island prove to be everything I had ever imagined. It is a wealth of life; whale sharks, huge schools of hammerheads, galapagos sharks, turtles, giant schools of jacks, more fish than I thought possible for a dive site to hold. So much action that a diver almost begins to tire of the constant clinking of the sound stick from our dive guides as he showed us something new. We had enormous whale sharks on every dive, the largest I have ever seen, each with a belly so swollen it looked like she was about to give birth right then and there. The schooling hammerheads were incredible, moving in the hundreds, each turning sideways to get a better look at us divers above them, colonies of turtles nesting together in the protection of the shallow reefs, all of this on each and every dive! I was completely blown away and in awe of Darwin, as most people are that dive this site. Words cannot express the absolute majesty of this underwater paradise

Day Four: Wolf Island has proven to be the most exciting dives to date for this trip. After exhaustive skiff rides out, beaten by endless waves before reaching our dive location The Landslide, we were rewarded with yet again more amazing dives. Lovely schooling eagle rays seemed indifferent to our presence and happily allowed us to shoot as they hovered just a few feet away. Large schools of hammerheads coast in the extreme currents as we divers struggled to hold onto the barnacle-covered reef. At times the currents surged so strongly that regulators and masks barely held tight to our faces. After leaving stations along the reef we were greeted with large schools of Galapagos sharks swimming slowly in the current, again unfazed by our presence. By far Wolf has been my favorite site, with it’s adrenaline packed entries and currents, and its incredible beauty and wealth of welcoming marine life.

Day Five and Six: Isabella Island was cold, but what do you expect from a place that offers diving with penguins. At the fear of sounding like a broken record, this island is my favorite! Okay, I think at this point it is safer to say each island provided beautiful diversity and wonders that any diver would be thrilled to experience. Isabella is a beautiful mix of the odd side from Mother Nature. Here we found the endemic Batfish, a walking fish with bright red lips and an attitude to match, mola molas, port Jackson sharks, darting streaks of black and white that turned out to be very agile and fast penguins, endless numbers of turtles, and my absolute favorite from the trip, the marine iguana. It was here, and only here that I was able to shoot these incredible marine reptiles underwater. Mind you, it takes quite a bit to shoot these guys and I certainly took a beating to do so. These not-so-little lizards feed on algae which grows on the rocks in the high surge areas just under the waterline. Rocks, surge and pounding surf makes for an interesting combination when one is trying to shoot an elusive and shy reptile up close, but I’m thrilled to say I captured many exciting images and happily the bruises will eventually heal. ☺

The Galapagos is a place of magic, a place of wonder and survival, of uniqueness and beauty in adaptation; a place where the unthinkable is proven, where mystery and oddity is the norm, a place that holds a piece of my heart and now forever, my lucky charm line arrow.

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