This was the first time Ocean First Divers ventured to South America to lead a dive trip and it will forever be one of the most memorable. The enchanted islands of the Galapagos were made famous by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and they have been a draw for divers since the sport gained popularity in the mid 20th century.
The first day was spent in the high mountains outside of Quito, which itself lies nearly two miles above sea level. The adventure began with a thousand foot climb up Mount Cotopaxi to an observation platform at 16,000 feet above sea level. Though the group was coming from Boulder, we still struggled to acclimate to the altitude and it took the better part of an hour to make the ascent. The views were well worth the struggle, offering a panoramic vista for miles in all directions.
The following day we flew to the Galapagos and promptly boarded the Estrella del Mar. Following a cold checkout dive with low visibility, the adrenaline started pumping as we visited the fabled Darwin Island and saw dolphins, three turtles, black-tip reef sharks, king angelfish and over one hundred hammerhead. We stayed at Darwin for seven dives, seeing diverse benthic marine life and schools of pelagics on every dive.
The Estrella del Mar then moved to Wolf Island, where the group encountered their first whale shark, much to the delight of a number of seasoned divers who had never witnessed one in the flesh. At Coca Point, the water had warmed to the high seventies and we saw two mantas and a number of eagle rays. The trip was quickly becoming one of the best the shop had ever run.
The last dive was perhaps the most memorable. It was a shallow, seventy-three minute dive that had everything from seahorses and scorpionfish to cow rays and millions of silias. But the main draw was in ten feet of water during the last twenty minutes of the dive when a raft of sea lions, including a number of young pups, were playing jovially with the divers. It was one of those incredible experiences that will remain with the group forever.
Having seen innumerable documentaries on the diversity of endemic species in the Galapagos, there were a lot of expectations, but the islands certainly held up to the hype and everyone left with a greater understanding of and appreciation for its marine life.