We’ve just returned from a trip to another planet called Ecuador. We thought we might offer a few lines about how it was. Well maybe not just a few, perhaps a little more...
Our liveaboard was the famous Aggressor. We reasoned that a trip such as this one shouldn’t be blighted by any minor inconveniences simply for the sake of saving a couple of bucks and decided to splash out and put ourselves into the hands of this company because of its famous high-level service and excellent onboard catering. And we certainly got our money’s worth; everything was top level.
For the first two days, the Aggressor conducted dives on the nearest islands, which weren’t all that distinguished by any kind of underwater delights. Later it became clear that all to make sure that, if any passenger was running late or was waiting for uncollected luggage, it would still be possible for them to catch the vessel before it departed on its long voyage. So it turns out that these were just three “check” dives! The first of which, in the strait between the two neighboring islands closest to the airport, was the most interesting of the three and turned out to be very emotional. We jumped into the water and dived down to 8 meters, the temperature was 22 degrees Celsius, with visibility at five meters. Not the best, but certainly tolerable (I was in a 2 mm T-shirt and a 5mm thick suit, my buddy was in a similar suit and a 2mm shorty suit). Once underwater, we moved along, taking pictures of a stingray, and then a sea lion swims briskly past us at a distance of just half a meter. Wow, what was that? After 20 minutes, we turned around and headed back. At some point we were overtaken by another sea lion and it just starts fooling around as if it were in a circus. All this wasn’t just for show, though, as he bit my buddy’s fins before posing for a photo shoot and then buzzed off on his own business. We came out of the water asking ourselves “Well, if they have such check-dives, then what will happen next?”
Second day. Two dives. The first was off the island of Santa Cruz and the dive guide said that there was a small chance of seeing Mola Mola. The temperature of the water after a couple of thermoclines was only 16 degrees. At a depth of 30 meters, the first creatures we encountered were reef sharks and turtles. No Mola Mola were in sight but the thought of the prospect kept us warm while we swam for nearly two hours. Hot chocolate and snacks were waiting for us once we headed back for the dive deck and a hot shower helped restore our thermal energy. In the meantime, our boat headed for the Wolf and Darwin islands. We were waiting for a tumultuous crossing, a journey spent pitching and rolling to these distant islands which, by my reckoning, every diver should visit at least once, just as a Muslim should visit Mecca. Still, I certainly wouldn’t envy those making the trip who happen to suffer from seasickness...
Third day. Four dives took place, including a night dive, all off Wolf Island. The water temperature was 25-26 degrees. Visibility was 10+ meters. To put things bluntly; this was a paradise for shark lovers. Hammerheads, silk sharks and Galapagos sharks all flocked around, slowly swimming in the immediate vicinity of the divers at just an arm's length. An appreciation for the beauty of what we were seeing was accompanied at the same time by pure adrenaline. In addition to sharks, there were fur seals, octopuses, turtles and all sorts of coral fish that weren’t shy at all and sometimes even strove to knock divers’ masks.
The night dive was a photo hunting opportunity for turtles, shrimps, hermit crabs and lobsters. By the end of the dive, I had counted exactly a dozen. The fact that we were forbidden from catching them wasn’t a problem because plenty of seafood was included in our onboard diet. The events of the day made such an impression on me that I managed to forget my weights on one of the dives and only realized this once I was already in the water. Fortunately there was plenty of stuff the panga (rubber motorboat, from which dives are made) that I managed to repurpose as ballast to stuff into my pockets. I’d thus like to remind you that a proper body check solves 95% of problems under water!
Day four. We moved to Darwin Island. Temperature and visibility here was still pleasing at a good 26 degrees and 15+ meters. There were two types of dives we embarked on: First we descended to the reef and found ourselves confronted by what seemed like a theatrical performance in which flocks of large and medium fish scurried about, sometimes in hurricanes or whirlwinds. At times it was difficult to understand which way was up and which was down. Whale sharks made their appearance and ticked off on our list. All these events proved exciting enough that, on the fourth dive for the day, my buddy managed to run out of air within just 20 minutes… He had been breathing well, much more so than I and had only been rarely checking his pressure gauge. After the previous dive, there were still at least 70 bars in his tank, but the tank hadn’t been replaced. The rush to get back up was furious but once again I have to mention the importance of a body check. You should at least be checking yourself each time! Before this dive I’d told him that we shouldn’t get too far away from one another. Training in surfacing with the aid of his partner’s air helped him here. You ought’ve seen the eyes of my friend when he ran out of air, and I only slowly handed him my octopus.
Fifth day. We made two dives off Darwin. Like a cherry on the cake, on one of the dives while we were taking a safety stop, a huge whale shark at least 12 meters long passed by with its baby below us. The baby shark was playful and restless, as all children are regardless of whether they’re a baby elephant or a puppy. We returned to Wolf and made two dives there. There were many, many, many sharks. On one of the dives, I was resting myself on a boat, and I got into a school of Hammerheads. I was alone. Here it was a challenge to make sure it was only the sea water keeping my suit wet! I struggled but I managed. The seals once again showed a real circus and gave a performance that even real circus animals wouldn’t because they’re neither free nor wild.
There was also a land tour to a lighthouse on one of the volcanic islands. From the summit there was a stunning view of the ridge and at its foot, among the pebbles, Galapagos penguins and marine iguanas warmed themselves.
Fifth day. We moved to Fernandia island. The temperature again drops to 16. I wore a five-millimeter shirt over the top. Two dives were made here and it was on the first of which we met a red lip batfish. She really did look like a bat who’d gotten her hands on some bright red lipstick and I suppose she’d just been making herself ready for a date. On the second dive, we dived with marine iguanas. I saw several dozen floating on the surface and a dozen under water, biting off stones from the growing algae. Prehistoric creatures weren’t at all phased by such young interlopers and proved perfectly willing to pose for our photographers.
For the next two dives, we went to Isabela Island and here they finally were! Huge, perhaps two or three meters in diameter, Mola Mola (I saw four)! After the dive, while throwing the equipment and ourselves on the panga, we were then met by an ORCA! This black and white killer whale hunts sea lions and penguins around these parts. On the fourth dive of the day, we observed large sea horses, rode with turtles, and at the exit from the water, took pictures with a penguin.
The sixth day. On the twentieth and final morning dive at Cousins Rock I unfortunately didn’t get too far due to ear problems. My buddy saw a school of mantas, though. Then we went to the island of Puerto Ayra. Our goal in being here was to see a turtle farm but sea lions and iguanas were waiting for us at the pier. Baby sharks and baby mantas darted about in the shallows at the pier’s edge b. Apparently, they have a kindergarten here. According to our observations, giant tortoises lived not only on the farm, but also on other parts of the island. We saw these domicile creatures crossing roads and simply basking in the hills. Personally, of all this alien nature, I was most struck by the birds. They are completely different. Starting from blue-footed solans and ending with sparrows with large parrot beaks.
Seventh day. We collect our equipment and head back. Adiós amigos!