Ildi’s cousin, Eva, has been staying with us for the last few days. It has given me a chance to do all the touristy things that when you live in a city, you rarely do, and it’s been great to do it.
Last night we did by far my favourite Sydney experience, although I have only done it once before and that was nearly twenty years ago; the Bridgeclimb. We did it at twilight, walking up as the sun set and staying up there for nearly two hours whilst the lights went on in the city. There was a storm off to the west with lightning that gave us something to worry about for a while, but it passed by without coming anywhere near us. Overall still a great experience and one I highly recommend.
I decided to try some more slow shutter speed shots for the last day’s diving with the pups. It ended up more of the same as they all love the game of trying to bite the light from the strobe and it is such a fun game.
Today was one of those very rare days that make all the travel and effort worth while. All three dives had interactions with sea lion pups that got better and better. We spent a fair amount of time in a cave that the pups like to play in, and Rick and I found ourselves together for most of the dive with the pups. We let them gnaw on our hands and fingers; their teeth are surprisingly not sharp and they are very gentle, just mouthing really. If you get a little boisterous with them, they respond in kind, just as a dog would do, but they start off quite submissively. One or two are braver than the others and once they make the connection with you, they keep coming back for more, nudging your hands for attention if you are not watching them.
I spent some time on the last dive in a cave on the sunny side of the island with Alex and discovered a new game with one very boisterous pup. He would come up to the camera and I would suddenly thrust it towards him and trigger the flash at the same time. This really set him off and he went nuts, swimming away and then coming back to me again and again pretending to bite at the camera. Each time the flash would go off he would bite at it and then barrel roll in front of me and zoom off at top speed only to return a few seconds later for more. He did this for what seemed like ages and the whole time I was shooting at a low shutter speed to create some really different action shots. It looks very aggressive but it is in fact just great fun.
I’ve taken quite a few photos of sea lion pups now, although I haven’t really had too much time to process them. We get back at around four thirty in the afternoon and then it’s a quick shower and out for dinner so by the time we get back I’m too knackered to do much except sleep. Too much fresh air is not good for you.
I had a great experience with one little pup yesterday; as it hung above me looking down I blew out a small stream of bubbles from my regulator. The pup let the bubbles flow across it’s skin and seemed to shudder with pleasure at the feeling, then started to bite at them as I kept a steady flow going. I took out my spare regulator and slowly released a constant trickle so the game continued for a couple of minutes; the pup swimming down and biting at the bubbles, until it got attracted by a piece of seaweed and off it went. They have a very short attention span.
It was a long journey from Santiago to La Paz in Baja, but we made with no hiccoughs and all baggage intact. The first day’s dive at Los Islotes was not as I remember it seven years ago. There are a lot of tourists now, so the national park has brought in rules about swimming with the sea lion pups to make sure they are not too badly affected by the increasing number of visitors. It took a bit of getting used to but it’s not too much of a hinderance to getting images if the babies want to play. Yesterday they didn’t seem to interested in us, but today was totally different. We got dive bombed by pups coming from all directions. They gnawed on our strobes, bit and pulled at my flippers, one grabbed hold of me from behind and tried to get my hat off. They don’t hurt although their teeth are sharp, like a puppies would be; little needles, but they are careful with how they use them. So far.
We are off to Mexico to swim with the baby sea lions, and it’s a difficult trip from Sydney. We chose to fly into Chile and stay overnight in Santiago, then tomorrow we fly to Mexico City and then onto La Paz. So two full days of traveling but I like South America and any chance to see it is a good opportunity.
The view flying into Santiago is beautiful. We flew along the Andes for a while as we approached the airport. It’s winter so the mountains are capped with snow and look amazing in the clear air. Santiago always has a layer of low lying cloud near it, could be pollution, but it isn’t brown so it looks quite dreamy from the air.
Two more dives this morning with Bella, but this time she was my buddy, and for once I actually looked to see what my buddy was doing every now and then. The first dive at Banana Reef had quite a strong current and she handled it just fine, so during the safety stop Saalim the dive master had a chat to me about going to HP Reef for the second dive. He said it would be good to push her out of her comfort zone a little as the current was really running there. She handled it just perfectly. Ten dives in total and she dove HP better than many Advanced divers would have done.
The reef was covered in soft corals all in full bloom. It made my heart sing to see a reef in such pristine condition. A squadron of eagle rays patrolled the corner as we got close to the reef out of the current a little in order to watch them. I spotted a giant barracuda sitting out in the blue. Everywhere the reef was festooned in colour, anthias billowing as if blown by the wind, just like Instant Replay in Fiji.
During the safety stop we came across a fishing line with a sailfish on the hook. We jumped in to have a look as I have never seen one in the water before. Sadly it wouldn’t be in the water for long, but the fishermen were close by so we couldn’t free it, even though I wanted to.
This afternoon the boys from the water sports area came down to build sandcastles with Isaac outside the room. We decided on a whale shark, and Isaac built a castle next to it. The drone came in very handy to record it for posterity.
Another beautiful day on a tropical island paradise, marked by Bella passing her open water and diving with me to 18m and Isaac doing his first scuba dive. Bella and I thought he would drop out at the last minute as Amy, his instructor made him do mask clearing drills underwater, but he came through like a champion and happily proved us both wrong.
We arrived in The Maldives yesterday morning just as a big storm closed in. We had enough time to check into the hotel before it started to rain and then it rained all day. Today, however it started nice and stayed beautiful all day. Bella and I went for two dives this morning and she saw her first manta. She is a natural underwater, her buoyancy is perfect and this was only her sixth or seventh dive, but she has now added three more as she is finishing off her open water course that she started when she was ten. Tomorrow she will be able to go to 18m and we can look for more mantas. We still saw everything you would hope to see on a Maldivian dive; marble rays, mantas, honeycomb morays, black and white tip reef sharks, giant travally, titan triggerfish. The list goes on.
This afternoon I took Isaac snorkelling on the house reef and he found a tiny moray eel, only about a foot long, and I showed him pipe horses. I just need to get the drone up to make it a perfect day but there’s a lot of sea planes flying about so I might save that for another day.