Our guidebook said that the beaches and waters off Santa Fe island provided an excellent spot for snorkeling, but Maria assured us that that was no longer the case after a research scientist was lucky not to lose her arm after a recent attack by a Bull Shark. None of us fancied ending up the same way, so when she told us our itinerary would be slightly different to what we'd been expecting, we didn't argue.
The waters were beautifully clear and I think we all scanned the bottom for any nasties as we took the dingy to the shore. The sand was pure white. We were greeted by some frisky Sea Lions, lots of bright crabs and a special breed of Land Iguanas. We took a stroll and noted lots of finches and mockingbirds, although I was extremely pleased not to have seen any of the island's rare Rice Rats. The landscape was very dry and famous for its cactus forests - some of them were about 10 metres high with thick spineless trunks.
In the dingy on the way back to the boat we saw some Manta Rays and beautifully marked Eagle Rays. We had a two hour navigation north-east to the island of South Plazas so we ate on deck on the move. We kept scanning the horizon for Orcas or Killer Whales, unfortunately we didn't see any, but the captain did take us around Gordon Rocks. A pair of amazingly steep cliffs rising out of the water with birds nesting, sea lions basking and some scuba divers exploring the depths.
South Plazas is a very small island (about 1.5 kms long and under 250 metres across at its widest point) and home to some very energetic Sea Lions. The young ones were racing around the coast and surfing in the waves. There were also some brightly coloured Land Iguanas - they were quite yellow, but they get even brighter in the mating season when they eat more cactus flowers in an effort to keep their strength up. They posed beautifully for us.
We walked up to the highest point on the island and looked at the birds on the cliffs. As we were watching a couple of Frigatebirds soaring above Pat told us of a sequence she'd once seen on an Attenbrough documentary. The footage had showed a big Frigatebird catching a graceful Tropicbird and shaking it violently until the food fell out of its beak so it could steal it. No sooner had she told us than we witnesses it for ourselves - what an incredible acrobatic combative aerial dance they performed! Again so amazing.
We watched other birds up there too including some Swallow-tailed Night Gulls, we could also see lots of fish (I think Maria said there were some Grouper there) swimming very close to the surface. Jim and a couple of the others saw what they think was a medium sized shark leap out of the water too. We got back to our boat and as we were so hot the captain said he stop on the way to Black Turtle Cove so we could have a final snorkel.
Most of us were sat on deck enjoying the sunshine when one of the crew shouted that they'd seen some dolphins Jim, Isolde and I ran straight to the front and strained our eye, then we realised they weren't dolphins but Short-finned Pilot Whales. There were about 30 of them, but they were some way off and moving quite quickly. Omar turned the boat around and set off in their direction.
He sped up and the movement of our bow wave must have attracted them because they came right up to the boat. It was incredible they surrounded us for a couple of minutes and then were gone, but again it's an experience we'll never forget. Jim was busy snapping away as we all excitedly pointed to the dark shapes in the water as they came closer to the surface. Unlike the Humpback and the Blue Whale we got to study this lot - they were bigger than the dolphins we saw and darker too - they looked black. They had large blowholes and short stunted-looking heads with tiny eyes set very low down on the heads. We were all on such a high after they left us - what an amazing sight.
After that excitement I didn't want to go below to change into my bikini in case I missed anything, but in the end I did as we needed to be quite quick about the snorkeling. We pulled into a sheltered cove and swam off the dingy - boy it was chilly without a wetsuit. The captain and Maria came with us and we saw a Golden Ray, Sting Ray and some other small fish. We didn't hang about though. When we got back on board we realised there wasn't any hot water again (they later got some engineers onboard to fix the problem) so we had speedy showers.
At dinner that night we had some cocktails and a whole series of toasts, we gave the crew their tips and thanked them profusely - it'd been an amazing week. Marco had made us another cake - (I'm not sure how he coped in that galley it always seemed so hot and he was in there for about 12 hours a day) and iced it with the message "Buen Viaje Amigos" - Safe Journey Friends. It was really touching.
After dinner we made the short navigation to Black Turtle Cove and Jim and I sat on deck looking at the full moon and stars. David and the captain got torches and shone them in the water on some on the little sharks swimming around our boat and I went to bed feeling very happy.