Finally finding the sharks... and lots of them

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostal San Francisco

Flag of Ecuador  , Galapagos Islands,
Thursday, January 27, 2011

I woke up to the sun beating through the window at 5:45am and couldn't get back to sleep, as we only had to be at Surf and Dive at 08:30 I had a bit of time to burn and read until I finally managed to fall back to sleep. The alarm went off at 08:00 and we split to make sure we didn’t miss our trip to Kicker Rock where hopefully we would finally get to see the Sharks, one of Erica’s big fears and something I couldn’t wait to see again after snorkelling with them in the Perhention Islands (which now seems like so long ago). Armed with our waterproof camera we were also adamant that if we did find them we would get some pictures which we regretted so much last time.

After a Pinguino ice cream (we are a little hooked on these having one a day generally they are about 75 cents but I love the fact it is warm enough at this time to have an Ice Lolly for breako) the really nice woman was just opening up the shop (by the way anyone coming here this place gave us great advice on how best to do a budget trip for no money what so ever so we felt compelled to book our Kicker Rock trip through them just do a google search for Cristobal surf and dive). At $50 each it was our most expensive trip in the Galapagos. After watching a bit of the National Geographic channel for about 5 or 10 minutes (all set in Puerto Madryn in Argentina wow that was a good nature trip for us!) she walked us down to the harbour and got us on a boat. We had a snorkelling guide who really got my attention, no it wasn’t his ultra tight speedos he actually had a waterproof digital camera, if we saw anything good I may be able to get a copy for the blog and not have to wait until we have developed our disposable’s to find the pictures are rubbish.

The boat loaded up with two 50 / 60 year olds from the USA and 3 Ecuadorian ladies probably in their 70’s who had all had several face lifts and a bit more work to boot. They had presumably their son with them. After a short boost we arrived at a place called Isla Lobos our first stop for the day. This is one of the biggest sea lion colonies in the Galapagos (what bigger than the town of Cristobal they are everywhere!) also its possible to see turtles, sea horses, marine iguanas underwater and the usual lots of tropical fish.

As we donned our masks, snorkels and flippers, it became evident no one else apart from us and the North Americans could swim, so we jumped in with the guide and everyone else appeared to have stayed on the boat. We instantly saw a huge shoal of Yellow Tail Surgeon fish whish appeared to lead the way and we swam and drifted in amongst them. Sorry we forgot to mention the currents, tides and rips in the Galapagos are huge and generally it is only for very experienced divers to scuba (drift dives) and good swimmers to snorkel. This led to me swimming and giving Erica constant power boosts to keep up with the group, although to be fair I think she found it easier to float and let me do all the work. While the fish were nice it wasn’t until we got to the sea lions this part of the trip really started. The guide had warned us of a particularly large and very alpha male sea lion that may not want us in his territory so be ready to make a quick exit, thankfully we didn’t see him but we saw lots and lots and lots of sea lions. Whilst this wasn’t the first time in the Galapagos swimming with them it was definitely the best, at one point we were in a small pool in a semi circle with maybe 20 or 30 sea lions swimming in between us, right up to us within 0.5m maybe, blowing bubbles and contorting into positions that didn’t seem physically possible. Quite simply worth the whole cost of the trip alone, at about 30 each it was steep (excluding New Zealand dolphin swimming comparisons) but already great value. As it was time for heads up the guide told us to swim over to the boat, but the current made it difficult, all of a sudden, the younger Ecuadorian guy appeared with a life ring on looking like he had seen a shark. Apparently he had been pushed in by the older women then given the boats life ring, only to find he couldn’t keep up with us and that the sea lions had a huge urge to bite the rope around the ring, for a someone who didn’t spend much time in the water you can only imagine the fact he assumed he was going to get eaten as the sea lions attacked the life ring, it was hilarious.

The Americans and ourselves were fully pumped up now after the great excitement of the sea lions, whilst we didn’t see any marine iguana’s under water or sea horses, we did see some adolescent frigate birds and blue footed boobies in the trees behind the rocks. The frigate birds we had only seen in the air and after asking the guide if they would have their chests expanded on 'Frigate Bird Hill’ he told us it was about the only time of year they aren’t doing that, oh well!

We crossed one of the reef breaks in the boat which while still scary was nothing like doing it in the tiny fishing boat in Isabela. The engine was opened up and we were on our way to Kicker Rock out at sea to try and see some Sharks. Erica and the guy from the States, both started to open up to a huge phobia of sharks, something the guy put down to Jaws and a couple of other films. Both the fact that half the group were terrified and the fact we had a guide made everyone feel a little bit better. In my own mind I can’t see how a guide could do anything about a shark attack but none the less it made the Lady feel better which cheered me up no end.

The lady from the states and I were first in the water surprisingly while the phobia crew were still managing to find problems with snorkels and masks to prevent themselves getting in. I knew Erica wasn’t going to like it, we were jumping into the entrance around a channel between two parts of the rock where we couldn’t see anything below us, no ocean floor etc with the knowledge that in all likelihood there would be lots of sharks. Fair play though she jumped in and instantly climbed straight on my back pushing me underwater so I was inhaling the sea water. We had a few moments of panic with some rude shouting down the snorkels from Lady E and USA man (sorry we didn’t exchange names), the weak swimming Ecuadorian bloke was also in with us again, fair play to that man.

Within maybe the first 10m before we even entered the channel proper we saw a shark, a black tip reef shark, then as I looked around there was another and another and another and then I accepted they were quite simply all around us swimming almost in waves, some more curious than others coming towards us and other staying deep just circling below us. I think Erica at this stage wanted to get out because I was being pushed so far underwater it wouldn’t have surprised me if she was stood on my back. Still at the beginning of the channel I think Erica came to terms with the fact the boat had gone we were the only people for miles around and the guide wasn’t at all concerned, what the hell. Being part of the group her initial "leave me and I’ll castrate you" had changed so when I said “can I go and have a dive and try and take some photo’s” she responded “ok”. I was gobsmacked. Well I can’t really say too much else, I don’t really know what to say we saw well over 100 hundred sharks, we saw Black tips, White tips, Galapagos Sharks, and the guide also got a picture of a Hammerhead but neither E or I saw that one. Still it was completely amazing you can get so close just free diving down. To try and sum it all up at one point I had a about 3 turtles, about 20 Black tips, 3 White tips and 2 Galapagos sharks, with maybe 10 Yellow fin tuna all in my line of vision at one moment in time, It really was that good. As we got towards the end the current really picked us up dragged us meaning the boat had to come and get us. I think my favourite moment was the USA guy shouting down his snorkel “oh my f*cking god” as you could tell he wasn’t a big swearer. Also the non swimmer in the life ring, had another nasty surprise as I dived down and came up with my head in his stomach he thought he had been eaten.

We got back on the boat and we were all absolutely astounded the atmosphere was brilliant and I asked the guide what pictures he had and if I could get a copy, he agreed and told me to see him afterwards.  We then went to a beech and had some lunch of some type of Creole fried rice with some fish and veg and meat in it which was lovely then had a lounge around with the sea lions on the beach. The only problem with the Galapagos is the horse flies which have a really painful bite. Much to everyone else’s amusement this led to frantically crazed Lady E sprinting around the beach screaming and shouting as the horse flies chased her.  We ended up in the sea ducking under the water when any came near.

Much to Erica’s relief we were called back to the boat, with Erica being the first one on and the Horseflies also on the boat, a row nearly broke out as Erica went on one of her executioner sprees killing horse flies with her flip flop on the benches and walls of the boat, much to the skippers annoyance. As soon as we were on our way the breeze got rid of the flies and the boat was slowed down so one the ladies with the face lift could have a bucket of water poured over her by the elder member of the crew, it was all a bit Elizabeth Tayloresque but then the second bucket she grabbed and started a water fight between all the old women, it was quite hilarious really, who said that maturity comes with age.

As the boat pulled into the harbour at San Cristobal we collared the guide again to try and get his photos, but he explained he had to shoot off and to meet him at a certain place at about 5:30.  To me it sounded like a bit of a fob off and we wouldn’t get the pictures we so desperately craved of this amazing trip.

There was also a very large crew at the dock for the second day in a row which we found out was to see the rather splendid looking boat moored out at sea, apparently it was the world’s first boat to run purely on solar power and never needed any additional power source or fuel to make it run. It was doing a circumnavigation of the world and was here for two days only, where it was possible to see the boat and have a tour. The figure we were given of how much this boat had cost was astronomical and we are not sure if it was correct i.e. over 25 Million Dollars. (Did we say that the currency in Ecuador is the American Dollar, I hate that! They even lost a government over dollarization but it went ahead anyway).

We queued up for over one and a half hours  and were right at the front when the army and police started to disband the queue confirming that was all it had closed to the public. We were really disappointed as this is a real revolution to the way the seas are navigated, and I’m a sucker for green technology.

Disappointingly we walked back down the pier only to see our guide outside the meeting point, unfortunately he didn’t have his camera, (another blag we thought no pictures), half an hour later after a couple of beers we returned and there he was with his camera. We bought him a few beers and sat and had a good chat about tourism in the Galapagos Islands, the good and the bad and the interaction with the political wings. He takes videos and photos on every trip he does just for records so he can help advise the tourism boards the effect that tourism or other factors is having on the local wildlife, he had been guiding for 27 years (legally was the term he used!) and had records for about the last 20 years). He was really interesting and told us about the rather high stats of sea lion bites on live-a-board boats but the fact there has never been a single bite in the sea (yet!!). I was also asking about the Galapagos Shark and apparently it is also found in Hawaii where quite often (in relative terms) the Galapagos shark can attack or bite humans, however in the Galapagos not a single incident has ever occurred, and these are exactly the same sharks that migrate between the places. There just seems to be some kind of magic about this place, clearly the lack of predators on the land means nothing is scared of you but it seems the same at sea it is so odd.

We had a couple more beers then opted to save our beer money and invested in the best value drink in the Galapagos the sugar cane spirit, at 40% it is about a dollar or two per bottle and isn’t too bad mixed with coke. We found an ultra cheap eatery for tea and had the usual bargain basement burger and chips, the one thing I am looking forward to when we leave the Galapagos is not having to have burger and chips everyday, which at $3 or $4 is at least half the price of just about everything else on the menu. We fell asleep rather quickly surprisingly.
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