Marine iguanas are one of the marque endemic animals of the Galapagos, and today we spent the whole morning in Cape Douglas photographing them as they came into the sea to feed on the algal sea grass that is their staple diet. They lie in the sun in the morning trying to warm their bodies up to create enough energy to dive into the water and feed. Once they have swum to the sea bed they are almost in a trance like state and just concentrate on feeding, not worrying about anything else around them. They can hold their breath for up to fifteen minutes, then go back to lie in the sun and warm themselves up again.
We overweighted ourselves to help us stay down in the gentle surge and then hovered around five metres and went looking for them. As the morning progressed there were more and more in the water, in fact it was hard to avoid them as they clung to the rocks and munched away on the algae. They look like small dinosaurs and it was wonderful to be able to swim with them and capture this behaviour that I have seen on nature documentaries for years.
Today’s dives were all in search of the Ocean Sunfish or mola mola, the largest bony fish in the sea. Down to thirty metres off the point it was dark and cold, maybe 15℃, but there were three molas waiting to get cleaned by the fish that eat the parasites off their skin. Unfortunately seven photographers all wanting to get a shot of an animal that spooks quite easily means a few get skunked. I was one of the few. The only consolation is that there were very few good photos from that morning as the conditions down there were so poor for photography. It was good to see these elusive fish though, as they are high on many divers top ten things to see.
The rest of the dives we would pop down to the icy depths to see if they were there, then come back up to about eight metres where the light and the temperature were more conducive to photography.
The last day of diving at Wolf Island today and the current was the strongest I have ever experienced. The rocks on the sea bed are covered in razor sharp barnacles and it is very difficult to control bouncy when wearing a new 7mm wetsuit and the current is washing across the dive site, trying to carry you away towards Antarctica. It feels like you are in a hurricane with the water roaring as it rushes past your ears. On the second dive I lost the dive guide and got swept through a wall of hammerhead sharks, hundreds of them swimming under a giant ball of bonito. It was quite uncomfortable doing a safety stop out in the blue, on my own, with the silky sharks gathering and circling at a distance, not knowing where I was going to come up and how long I would have to wait for the tender to pick me up.
Overnight we moved a couple of hours south to Wolf Island. The diving here is under the sheer cliffs of the island on rocky ledges covered with boulders. The current is strong to ripping and the eagle rays, hammerheads and galapagos sharks hang just off the wall very close to the divers. It makes Blue Corner at Palau look tame. The first dive was at Shark bay and was a bit lame, so we were all a little downcast going in for the second one. However at Landslide, the dive site for the second dive, it was non stop action. Everywhere you went there were hammerheads and the galapagos sharks came right onto the dome port. They are big sharks and at up to three metres can be a little intimidating until you realise they are pretty timid and don’t like the bubbles.
The eagle rays also swam right next to us as we hung on to the rocks with one hand and tried to shoot with the other. I have been shooting without strobes for the whole trip so far as they get blown around in the current and make things very difficult. It’s hard enough trying to stay in one place let alone sticking a camera with strobes into the raging current with one hand. Luckily the Nikon D4 takes very good photos.
The second day at Darwin has been full on diving; three dives before a late lunch at two pm, followed by an afternoon dive that I skipped. The best was the early morning dive at six thirty am. The sun was in a perfect position and the sharks were still not too spooked by the divers. We have another boat with us at Darwin today and by the second dive the sharks were much more wary of coming close to us. However on the first dive many of us got some really close passes, as long as you can hold your breath while the sharks make their approach, and stay low to the sea bed, they don’t really notice you. At the end of the dive the sky clouded over as a massive whale shark swam past, slowly making her way down the reef.
As a small boy I used to watch Jaques Cousteau on National Geographic documentaries and dreamed of being able to have adventures like him. Today I did it. It was a day of adventure diving in wild currents with hundreds of hammerhead sharks, the biggest whale shark I have seen, at least a twelve metre giant, swimming with a family of pilot whales and having the big bull come over to warn us away from the females and babies, seeing dolphins underwater, having sea lions flying around the dive site and snorkelling with silky sharks as they came up close to check us out.
The diving at Darwin is not for beginners. A negative entry into a strong current to get down to the dive site that is a rock ledge around fifteen to twenty metres deep that is washed with current. The surge carries you backwards and forwards, there are down currents and up currents all in a ten metre area. All this coupled with a thick seven millimetre wetsuit and gloves to allow you to hold onto the barnacle encrusted rock. It is definitely the most uncomfortable I have been underwater, always thinking about my buoyancy and struggling to stay in place: and my bouyancy control is normally very good.
The dive guides gave us a big lecture last night about what to do if you get blown off the site, how they have lost eight divers here and that if you get carried by the current you can be two kilometres off the dive site by the time you get to the surface. Plus there are some areas here that have three metre waves crashing onto the rocks at the surface, and the current can carry you there if you don’t watch out. So on the tender going out to the site this morning there were a lot of very serious looking faces. After the dive however, there were a lot of very happy faces. The fish are the biggest I have seen and is a testament to what happens when the sea is protected from fishing. Snappers grow easily a metre long, and the blue spotted jacks are twice the size of any others I have seen in the Pacific. I saw a yellow tail tuna swim slowly past the wall that was much bigger than me, looking like a small submarine. There’s a massive school of jacks that literally look like a huge cloud that obscures the sun. They swam right past us on the wall within touching distance, totally oblivious to our presence.
We have another four dives here tomorrow and then onto Wolf Island which is supposed to be just as good.
Anyone who has a love of natural history has The Galapagos Islands high on the wish list of places to visit. Although this is a dive trip and the focus is under the water, we got a chance to do a land tour today and it didn’t disappoint. Land and marine iguanas wandered around, sea lions basked in the sun, blue footed boobies and frigate birds, both with eggs and chicks in all stages of development, were nesting arms reach from the well defined path. It was a photographers delight.
We did a couple of dives this morning in a calm bay off Mosquera Island. The visibility wasn’t bad at around 10-15m and there were masses of fish, including a lot of very large snappers. A sea lion dived in front of me when I first got in, but I didn’t see it. I also didn’t see the turtles or the hammerhead shark that the others saw. Hopefully I will see all the big stuff when we get to our destination for the next three days at the north of the archipelago where all the best diving is.
Nearly at the end of the trip. We drove from Tamadot to Casablanca today and had a tour of the city. Casablanca is not what I expected and is totally different to all the other Moroccan cities we have visited; very modern and quite western in appearance. Wide boulevards and a beautiful Corniche along the sea with restaurants and bars.
I did manage a star trail image from Tamadot last night. I feel it could have been better and has some strange colours in the sky due to lights from a neighbouring terrace, but overall I’m happy with it.
This beautiful old fortress built at the base of two river valleys high up in the Atlas Mountains is now a hotel run by Richard Branson’s Virgin group. It is a wonderfully peaceful place with cool breezes and clear, clean mountain air. I woke up early to take an aerial shot and found a morning mist on the mountains. This cleared to a clear blue sky in an hour or so. This evening will be an opportunity for shooting star trails as this is a dark sky area, relatively free from light pollution.
We have travelled down the coast, stopping in Rabat for a night, then on inland to Marrakech, staying in the magnificent Amanjena Hotel a little way outside the medina. There has been a bit of a minor heatwave; as we arrived the temperature shot up from around mid 20’s C to 35 yesterday. Today was 40…but at least it is not humid, just a hot dry heat. Inside the medina in the shade it is lovely but outside it is like an oven.
We walked around the Jewish area, visiting the old synagogue dating back to 1492 when the Jews were thrown out of Spain and arrived in Morocco. Then we wandered around the souks looking for stuff to bargain over. There’s quite a lot of that.