san cristobal - sea lions, night dives and a bit of surf

  • raining fish
  • shark in the distance
  • the dive spot
  • dive spot from the distance
  • bay where i did the night dive
  • sea lion beach
  • very lazy
  • hahaha - i love this sign. thumbs up for...
  • ray
  • me underwater with a bit of an ace ventura hair do
  • more sharls
  • puffer fish
  • turtle above us

On Thursday the 13th of August at 2pm I boarded a boat for San Cristobal on the Galapagos archeapalego. The main aim of San Cristobal was to have another crack at fiving with the hammerheads and getting in a good few surf sessions, as this island is meant to have the best surf. As usual, leaving Sanata Cruz ( the busiest of the islands) was a real pain in the arse. So many people trying to board the boats with so many things, inevitably means the boats get delayed. Also, in the risk of sounding prejudiced, it seems the Ecuadorians have yet to learn what a queue is. The irony is that about 20 people just squeezed in past me, and eventually my name got called out to board a boat before theirs and these people had the nerve to tell me, as I squeezed past them asking for them to let me through, to get to the back of the "line". Sweating my ass off in the hot humid day and slightly annoyed with the lack of consideration being shown, I sort of lost it with one women who told me the queue started way back there and who had but 10 minutes before squeezed past me knocking my board. It's great that I've gotten to the point where I can use sarcasm in Spanish, cause she definitely saw i wasn't happy in my reply, and when she still wouldn't move, well, a big old rucksack hanging to the side gives a whole lot of leverage and I nearly dominoed a few people into the water.

On the boat, I got chatting to a little old guy who was going to the island on business - he's a souvenier "dealer" from Peru. I raved about his country to him and told him that so far it's been my favourite. He looked pretty proud. We should have arrived in San Cristobal at 4pm which would have given me enough time to drop my bags off and go for a surf. But, because of the delayed departure and rough seas we only got there at 5 and it took me a while to find accommodation. I eventually checked into the Leon Dormido hotel. At $15 dollars per night it's quite expensive, but it was comfortable and clean and after the day I had, at this point I just wanted to lie down for a while.

The next morning, I woke up earlyish to go surf at La Loberia, which translated pretty much means "The wolf den". The reason for this is that round here sea lions are called "lobos marinos" or "marine wolfs" and this beach is full of them. Supposedly they'll even come up to you while you're surfing, and sometimes the big dominant males, annoyed by your presence will chase you right back to the beach. Unfortunately though, the rough seas we experienced the day before didn't necessarily mean good swell. The sea was pretty flat and what little swell there was was ruined by the wind. Also, it was low tide and there were loads of rocks randomly sticking out all over the place so I didn't bother going in. I just sat on the beach admiring the sea lion pups for about an hour. They're really cute. They're like dog puppies, but even clumsier and probably the laziest little bastards I have ever seen. After that I walked 45 minutes in the blazing sun, back to town. I dropped off my board, got some snorkel gear and headed out to a small cove. Nothing really exciting happened. On the way back I popped into the "Centro de Intrepecion" where there is loads of hostoric and scientific information about the archepelego. Later I went in search of a dive company that could take me out the next day, as it appears I would be doing little surfing here - according to one local surfer I spoke to, there is no expected swell any time soon, so I may as well pack the board in the bag. I walked into one place and the guys said they weren't sure about the next day, but in about half an hour they were going out for a night dive. I was a bit worried about it but after thinking about it for about 5 minutes I decided I'd go.

We drove out to the old part of the port where we would start our dive - with night dives you generally don't go out into the open sea because it's feeding time for the bigger sharks. When we got there the adrenalin immediately started pumping. Looking out at the big black sea was already making my heart pump much faster and the thought of getting in there, even more. We got all our gear on and jumped in. Not sure if it's cause I was snorkelling earlier that day or just cause I was a bit worried, but I jumped in without putting the regulator (thing you breathe from) in my mouth. I then proceeded to deflate my BC and sink and held my breath and then I was like "Hang on dude, you're supposed to be breathing at this point, not holding your breath". What a loser. Once we got to the bottom, I calmed down....until a sea lion swam past me about a meter away. Seeing, something black swim past you in the sea at night, is enough to make you shit yourself. But before long I got used to them and it was really quite good fun having them swim right up to you, sometimes hitting your fins. Also, as long as the seals are in the water, you know there is nothing around that wants to eat them. We so loads of lobsters, fossil fish, crabs, marine cucumbers and other fish. The best part (for me anyway) was towards the end of the dive, when the 3 of us sat on the bottom and turned off our lights - complete darkness. Within a couple of minutes our eyes adjusted to the darkness and all around us were sea lions doing summersaults and just going crazy. There silhouttes above us looked amazing. Then we started swinging our arms about to get the plankton going. This in itself was incredible sight. It looked like stars in the water - plankton is flourescent when adgetated.

When we got back to the dive shop the guys told me they had enough people to go out to Leon Dormido the next day. I didn't sleep much that night, probably cause of all the adrenalin from the night dive and the excitement over the nex day's dive. The next morning we headed out at about 8am and after doing a bit of snorkelling headed to Leon Dormido, which is a giant rock in the middle of the sea which kind of resembles a sleeping sea lion. There's a big crack down the middle of the rock which forms a channel where part of the dive takes place. It's one of the more dramatic sites I've dived in. We headed down and within about 5 minutes of going down I spotted a couple of hammerheads - the dive was already a success in my eyes, but there was more to come...

A few minutes after reaching about 20 metres, we spotted a couple of galapagos sharks, pretty close to us, and then an amazing sight followed. To our right, about 8 meters away was a massive school of galapagos sharks - about 15 of them I reckon. Unfortunately the crappy disposable underwater camera I bought was acting up because of the depth and I wasn't able to get a shot in. In fact, while writing this I'm not sure if any of the shots came out. We also spotted black tip reef sharks. A very succesful dive considering we saw 3 of the 4 main sharks in the waters of this beautiful archepelego - wasn't too worried about not seeing the white tip as I had seen a few already. At one point 2 of the galapagos sharks came within about 2 metres of me - again the camera was acting up. I thought I'd be scared if something like that happened, but really when I was face to face with them I wasn't worried at all. I think what scares people about sharks (well, certainly scares me) is the unknown. It's when you're on top of the water surfing or swimming and you don't know what's below you. Saying that though, I think if I was to come face to face with a bigger shark (bull or tigre) while diving I would have a slightly different reaction - that of soiling my wetsuit! We dived for 45 minutes, and our divemaster started running low on air so we ended the dive. We chilled out on the boat for about an hour, talking about the dive and having a few snacks. Everybody was well excited about everything we had seen. Our second dive, which lasted another 45 minutes, wasn't as successful in my eyes, because the visibility had dropped and we didn't see as many things, although we spotted about 5 turtles and a couple of sea lions. In total we were underwater for an hour and a half that day and while having lunch you could tell everybody was excited and exhausted.

I arranged to meet up with the lads from the dive shop and the surf shop for a few beers in the evening. Richelle, a dutch girl on the same dive, and John, a dude from Chicago were also going to meet up with us. I headed out to the internet cafe and got speaking to a group of 4 Kiwi guys who are sailing from the Carribean to Fiji. Ian and Steal (nickname I presume) bought the Yacht in the Caribbean, and Tod and Jimmy boarded the boat to sail with them with the aim of getting back to New Zealand. They're all in their late 30s or early 40s and absolutely nuts about surfing. The main point of their trip apart from getting the boat back to Fiji where Ian and Steal live, is to stop off at as many surf breaks as possible. Ian owns a surf charter company in Fiji, so who knows, I may stop off there some day in the future. Their trip sounds awesome and a big part of me wanted to ask them if I could jump on board with them, perhaps some day I'll do something like they're doing - when I become a millionaire and buy my own yacht. Anyway, the guys invited me to go surfing with them first thing in the morning the next day, but I had a few too many beers, which I feel I deserved seeing as I hadn't partied since leaving Mancora, so I told them there was no way I'd be up for 6:30 - in fact, I only finished partying about 2 hours before they went surfing. It was quite a weird night where I met loads of locals, the local surfers pretty much pawned me off onto their sisters, cousins, aunts, girl friends etc, who were trying, in vain, to teach me to Salsa at the karaoke bar we eventually ended up at.  Spoke to the Kiwi lads later that day and they had a great morning session, whilst all I had was a raging hangover!

We arranged to meet up later to go for a surf at the same spot - Tongo reef. The surf spot is on a military base, and you need special permission to surf it, which means having to pay 8 dollars to join the San Cristobal surf club. Not a bad thing though to be part of a surf club in such an amazing place. We headed out there but the spot they surfed in the morning was flat, so we head up the beach a bit to another spot known as El Canon because it is in front of a big canon on the base. The sets weren't big, but the water was pretty shallow and had a very rocky bottom, but I felt comfortable that I'd be able to surf it. I thought getting into the water was a bit sketchy because on my dives I had seen loads of sea urchins. But we got in relatively unscathed, although a few minutes after paddling out Ian scraped his board on a random rock that was barely below the surface a few meters out. Murphy's law....once we paddled in the sets seemed to stop coming. Jimmy and Ian caught a wave each and Tod caught a couple. I unfortunately, being last in the lineup caught nothing. It's always great fun being in the lineup with guys who know how to surf, have good lienup ettiquete (one time Jimmy was paddling into a wave and saw I looked hungry for it and offered it to me, but it flattened out) and there is good banter. After hanging around for a good hour, and having a sea lion swim right up to us, and a few "shit you pants" moments where one of us would touch a rock and think it was something else we head back to shore. Like I said, I thought the entry was sketchy, but that was nothing compared to the exit. We paddled to the rocks, and again Murphy reared his ugly head, and a set came in. It's bad enough trying to get through the rocks without a set of waves coming in. Funny thing is, your board means so much to you, that your main concern is not to ding the board and even though a wave pounds you onto the rocks, you tend to not let go of the board and rather take a pounding to the ass on the rocks. I got panneled by one wave, and got pushed a bit forward onto the rocks, cutting both my feet on the rocks/reef, and dinging my board pretty badly and also banging my shin so hard I swear a little tear may have come out my eyes. All in all, a very disappointing surf session, but that happens, and the feeling you get when you have a good session, cancels out all the frustration (and injuries) of a crap session.

While writing this it was­­­­ my last night in the Galapagos archipelego and I was extremely sad to be leaving. I have promised myself that I will come back here soon and this time I'll stay for longer!

I was supposed to go out with the them for an early morning session on my last morning, before my flight, but when I checked online if my flight was confirmed etc. I was told it wasn't so I had to miss the early session to try sort out my flight, because missing this flight could cause problems with my connecting flight to Bogota, Colombia!