Friday, February 22, 2013

Scuba Diving in the Galapagos: Changing My Perspective

I wrote a blog post back in November about how when I dive, I feel like I'm in a secret world. After a week diving in the Galapagos Islands, 600 km off the coast of Ecuador, I have to say I've gained a new perspective. Diving at Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos is a type of diving I've never experienced, and 13 other extremely experienced divers all agreed. We were on a boat with people who've logged over 300 dives, been diving in Africa, Sudan, Philippines, Maldives and Papua New Guinea. But not one other diver had experienced the power off the ocean that made me feel like just another fish in the sea.

Another fish in the sea!
 Let me paint you a picture of our third dive of our first day at the diving Mecca of Wolf Island. 

After our briefing where we learn about our “dive plan,” we gear up, get on the dingy, and head out to where we’re going to drop in. On the count of three we all roll backwards off the boat and proceed with a “negative buoyancy entry” where you quickly descend from the surface as soon as you hit the water. This type of entry is employed when currents are strong. So, we descend and immediately feel that the currents are a little stronger here than our earlier dives. We follow our divemaster’s lead as he begins a sort of horizontal rock climb on the rocks on our right side in order to move in the opposite direction of the current. He quickly realizes this is a fruitless effort because the currents are pushing our bodies around like we’re feathers. I watch small fish fly by me – pushed away quickly by the current like I will be if I let go. I see our divemaster settle into a spot behind a rock that protects him a bit from the surge so I try to find a similar spot quickly, but must also pay attention to where I put my hands and knees – I don’t want to accidentally settle in on top of a scorpion fish which are abundant in the area and are specially camouflaged to match the very rocks I need to hold onto. That would be a painful mistake.

I grab onto a rock as I’m whipped past it and my legs are flung around so that I’m facing into the current. I decide that this is as good of a spot as any; I don’t want to get any further from our divemaster than I already am. I can shield most of my body with the rock in front of me, but occasionally a surge flings my feet up and out and I risk losing my grip. I look for Drew to make sure he is ok, but I am afraid to turn around completely in case the surge comes as it will surely blow me away. Screw it, I love him, but right now, it’s every man for themselves! I feel like I’m literally hanging on for my life. My regulator (for you non-divers that is the thing you put in your mouth that allows you to breathe) is pushing against my mouth because of the strength of the current and I am biting down on it very hard to make sure it doesn't go anywhere. I mistakenly try to look behind me again to see if I can see my husband and my regulator is almost thrown out of my mouth by the ferocious current. “Alright”, I think to myself, “not doing that again.” I face forward and the surge picks up speed. My mask is pulsing against my face – the pressure is intense. I watch as more small fish are thrown past like they are leaves in the wind; they don’t have the luxury of hands to grab onto anything and must succumb to the strength and wrath of the ocean.

Notice how the bubbles are horizontal?
Usually they go straight up!
This sitting and holding on for dear life goes on for about 20 more minutes until finally our divemaster decides to give us a break from this mental and physical workout. We all let go of the rocks that are keeping us in place and let the current move us where it wants to (it would be futile to try anything else). We are quickly pushed along as a group, a little ball of humanity being taken for a ride by Mother Nature. Once I let go, both literally and figuratively, the “ride” on the current becomes almost fun. (And in some of our other dives the current was still swift, but not nearly as powerful, and so you could basically do nothing and “fly” through the underwater world as it whizzed by, like a ride at Disney World with incredible scenery of thousands of fish, sharks, turtles, moray eels, and even sea lions. What a blast!)

When we surfaced we could see the distance we traveled while below the water and it was incredible. One of the divemasters coined this dive site “The Washing Machine,” which is exactly how it felt a few times when my legs were pushed over my head, the surges trying to flip me and cause me to lose my grip.

In conclusion, don't worry (Mom). Not all of the dives were like this. In fact, this was the only one that scared me. Every other one was manageable and quite amazing. (Except the dive immediately following this one, which I skipped because my ear hurt as I was pushed from four meters to eight meters in a matter of seconds and wasn't able to equalize for a minute or so. Ask Drew about his experience at “The Pinnacle,” it’s his story to tell, not mine!)

In conclusion: If you're a diver, GO. Sea lions. Hammerheads. Galapagos reef sharks. Silky sharks. Dolphins. Millions of fish. Turtles. More eels than I've seen anywhere. Rays. And between June and November: whale sharks (for which we will return!). Need I say more?

If you're not a diver, but love learning about animals and plants, love beautiful scenery, and will put your face in the water to snorkel: GO.

Just GO. 


  1. Awesome! Thanks for taking us there!

  2. Great post, Andrea! Your writing was great and made me feel the intensity you felt. Glad you got to experience it and got out safely!

  3. That does sound scary! I bet you won't ever forget the experience though.

    Sft x

    1. Absolutely not! Just another story for the books, right? ;-)