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Journals from Galapagos, Ecuador

2010-12-04 Add a title for your entry

In my post certification scuba craze, I organized a scuba trip for the group. Kicker Rock, a world renowned scuba site, is most known for its amazing coral formations and large shark populations, including the occasional hammerhead.

Eight of us ended up going out to Kicker Rock, meeting down on the pier early one morning and loading up into the dive boat. The dive boat is especially designed so that there is enough space for eight people to struggle into wetsuits without falling overboard. Everything folds up or folds down to make space or hold gear. It is a surprisingly efficient little boat.

We started at Isla de los Lobos for a gear check. We piled into the water, falling over backwards, tank hitting the water first. Our gear check went fine. We spent ten minutes underwater going through protocol and playing with the sea lions that swam among us, playing in our bubbles. One sea lion was practically kissing me as she rushed up to butt my mask, then zip away. I also saw sand dollars as large as dinner plates and a giant sea snail. All this in just the few minutes we sat on the bay´s sandy bottom.

The gear check was quick and soon we were loaded back up and motoring off to Kicker Rock. It is an impressive site, sitting out in the middle of the ocean. The cliffs stretch for hundreds of feet up out of the water and it is a completely sheer drop. I soon learned that those sheer walls continue all the way down to the ocean floor.

We were back in the water in no time, though the water here was no longer the beautiful turquoise blue, but, because it is so much deeper, a dark, obscured blue that was so much scarier. Underwater it was better, less scary because you could see further than you could from the surface. The diving was incredible, so clear! I deflated my BCD and allowed my weights to drag me down parallel to the wall´s surface. This was one of my favorite parts of the whole dive. The wall was incredible, covered in incandescent corals, branching corals, waving frond-like corals, a whole reef really! The little fish would poke their heads out and watch me. There was also a purple sponge that coated the whole wall. It was so bizarre to dive underwater and expect to see expanses of gray rock, then suddenly find that everything is purple peppered with orange coral. Amazing! The glowing, pearly incandescent corals were my favorites, though.

I was so entranced that I let myself drift below our planned dive depth of 65 feet. Shay came and grabbed me as I dipped below 80ft. This could have been really dangerous, but Shay took good care of me, making sure that my safety stop (a stop at 15ft at the end of each dive) was longer than everyone else’s so that the excess nitrogen in my system was eliminated safely. Safety stop lengths are dictated by how deep you go and how long you´re down there.

Still, I didn´t have to surface right away and was able to continue with the dive with everyone else. We kept swimming around Kicker Rock and into the channel that runs between two towering cliff faces. Here the bottom was sandy at 60ft and we stopped and looked around us. I kneeled on the ocean floor and watched the sharks swimming above us, perfectly outlined by the sun´s rays as they pierced the surface and filtered down to us. There were so many sharks, at least forty! Black tips, white tips, and endemic Galapagos sharks all swam above us. They are so graceful! You could tell which people got nervous around the sharks as the timing of their breathing became more rapid, with bubbles spilling out of their regulators twice as quickly.

Along the bottom were more of my favorites- the spiny sea stars. There were also numerous fish and four sea turtles swimming around us. The sea turtles can be surprisingly agile as they swim. Beautiful.

Like I said, I had to surface for my safety stop earlier than everyone else, so I went up with the group that was low on air because they had breathed too quickly upon seeing the shark. We surfaced in stages and loaded onto the boat for bananas and cookies. Every time we hopped out of the water and into the boat, there seemed to be more and more food waiting for us.

While we ate, we were forced to wait for a certain period of time between dives. Again, with the excess nitrogen. Soon enough, though, we suited back up, retanked, and descended into the deep once again. This time we were on the far side of Kicker Rock, away from the gentle canal and into some really strong currents.

We dove to our max depth and hunkered down, clinging to the reef and hoping to see some hammerheads. We weren´t disappointed as a huge 12ft hammerhead swam not twenty feet in front of us. He seemed unconcerned about our presence, but his size alone was enough to shock me into breathing too quickly. I tried to inhale as slowly as I could though because I didn´t want bubbles blocking my view of him as I exhaled. It was such a neat, neat moment.

He eventually drifted off and we were left clinging for dear life against the current and gripping coral and rocks and slicing up our hands. My hands were completely cut up, as we neither had reef hooks (which would have kept us from touching too much) or gloves. As I was gripping the coral in front of me, I pressed my nose to the rocks and had a staring contest with the most bizarre little fish. He had fluorescent purple eyes! Not just the ring around the iris, but his whole eye. His head was the same purple and flashes across his body as well. So beautiful! The coral was also covered in the spongy purple organism and it stained my hands blue as I ran my hands across it. We were just a mess, holding onto this protected coral, but the current was SO strong! I am surprised they took us out. We were all fine, of course, just a little uncoordinated as we clung to the rocks and one another.

After twenty minutes of watching hammerheads, we headed around the cliff face and away from the direct current. It became a wall dive then, similar to the amazing wall at first as we swam along. I was completely enthralled.

At one point I saw Austin, another member of our group, inspecting his hand with a confused look on his face. He had sliced himself on the coral far worse than the rest of us and was bleeding green under the water. Red light is the first to be filtered out and, at 65ft, there isn´t much of it reaching our eyes, making his blood appear green. It was so strange, but also a little harrowing as I thought about those giant hammerheads swimming just around the corner.

During our safety stop, the current picked up again and kept pushing us up or pulling us down, out of our safety stop range. It was difficult. I was towards the back of the group at this time and watched as a giant upwelling took a group suddenly up a full ten feet in a snap! The ocean is so powerful!

We got out of the water shortly after that where they fed us once again and took us to the beach to relax for a while before taking us back to port.

On our way back to town we saw the most amazing thing! A GIANT dolphin pod as they traveled together. There were at least fifty dolphins as they jumped out of the water, playing in the wake of our boat. I can´t describe how it looked as they all just barely crested the water showing their dorsal fin, then dipping back down. It was like a ripple of fins. Beautiful! So magical and rare. We were all ecstatic at having seen them!

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