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Dive trip reports from rec.scuba.locations

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Here I have collected good messages from various news groups and mailing lists that I read. I have tried to remove all names ( except for names of operators ). I have tried to email all authours to ask them if I can show their email on a web page, but I remove only thoose that ask me to remove their message. Also I only put their email address with their message if I have gotten a reply from them saying that that is OK.

The reports on this page are all written from summer 1997 to 31:st of May 1998.


Sri Lanka

By Axel Hosek.

Hi!

I've been there, just two weeks ago. There are only a few Web-pages on it out there but you should have a try with a search engine.

Best time ist now ending, as the monsoon starts. Diving ist only possible AND interesting at the south-west coast. The east-coast is closed due to war struggle.

the center of diving in s-l is Hikkaduwa, lokated about 80km south of colombo. Go there and nowhere else, as there this is the ONLY place. It's a small town but there are about 6 dive-bases. You should check all and if you need to rent equipment have a look at it before you do. Mostly it's quite good, but sometimes not well serviced. It's mostly Spiro regs and scubapro stabilizing jackets. The Prices dont't vary too much as the base-managers have agreed to take the all same. It's 700 Rupees+Tax (10%) if you have your own equipment and 900 Rupees+Tax (10%) if you don't.You should have a price-talk anyway. There are reductions for several dives (take 10, get one free). I had no regulator with me, only ABC+BCD, but discussed to get the dives for 770Rp. 100 Rupees are about 33 DM, might be about 20 $ or so.

One of the best bases is "Poseidon", biggest boat and good eqipment. They have been the first on place, 20 years ago. They specialized on wrecks and they know them better than the others. I mentioned the bigger boat because the dive-sites are all about 1/2-1 hour to go and often there are some bigger waves. You just feel saver in the bigger one. In addition, some places are quite far to go (eg wreck of the "rangoon", near Gala, about 2h by boat one way. They don't do this with the smaller boats.

The water is pretty warm and even in the deep it remains convenient (at 30m my gauge showed 30C). You can do with a shorty or even just a shirt, but there is a lot of plancton near the surface that itches a lot during the safety-stop. A would have taken a longjohn if I had one.

If you care for your health, care for your own computer, too. Dives are deep & long, and normally you will do two per day. I wasted my SSI & PADI- Table afterwards as I can't calculate the dives with them anymore. Average depth is about 22m, but the best place (kirala gala) starts at 33m down to 45m. Tanks are 12L alu.

Diving is nice but not thrilling. There are almost no corals (although they pretend to have some), a lot of indina-ocean-fishes (but not like in Eygypt, Kenya or the Maledives) and more than 10 wrecks. The wrecks are down there for a long time, not much left but great places for viewing fishes. We experienced a strong current quite often, but this is no problem as you just flow along the site. When air is up, you just ascend and the boat picks you up. You'll find a lot of turtles, morays and sweetlips there.

Normally you don't need a visa, payment is easiest with traveller cheques (paying by credit card only works in hotels and the bank, normally not in the divebase).

Hope that helped & enjoy your stay.


Philippines

If you are in Cebu, you have to decide if you want to stay on the East or West coast. The diving is "so so" on the East coast around Mactan Island. If you go to the West Coast, Moalboal, the diving is better. In Bohol, the diving is much better around Panglao island. They have the Bohol Beach Club located there. You can also stay at Balicasag Island. I have stayed there 2x in the last 5 years. It is rustic but the diving is great. I don't know if you can stay on Cabilao island, but the diving there isalso great. I hope this helps.


Belize Aggresor III

Just returned from the the B/A III last week. Here are my general impressions.

1. The boat - The boat (Belize Aggressor III) is very new... about a year old.It is very nice. All the rooms have private heads/showers and TV/VCR. I was in the upper cabin and it was very roomy... the below deck cabins are slightly bigger than the average liveaboard. They were cleaned everyday.. and have no complaints on the accommodations. The salons were very roomy and all 18 of us could eat with room to spare. Boat Grade - A.

2. The dive deck - the dive deck was nice. Usual seat/lockers with plenty of space. It could handle 20 divers without a problem. Large camera table. If you dive air, you never remove the tank from the bc, because they fill your tanks via whips. But, if you dive nitrox (EAN32), you have to change tanks after every dive. They will have nitrox whip added the next time they take the boat in to maintenance -- scheduled for 1/1999. They give you the usual dive briefing and then turn you loose. We usually did two dives per site and the night was on a repeat site. Hit 13-15 dive sites in the week. DMs were always in the water and would give "guided" tours if you wanted. I did 5 dives a day, but did as many as 7. The boat wasn't happy with 7 a day -- concerned about people pushing there computers to the limit... but, they didn't stop anyone. Deck/Dive Staff Grade: B+/A. (Hedging on A because changing the tank for nitrox was a pain.)

3. Food - This probably was the only area that could use a little improvement. The food was ok, but not outstanding. There were some meals that were great, but in general good -- not to complex. The in between dive snacks were very good. Always plenty to eat, and I didn't loose any weight.
Food Grade: B.

4. Diving - The diving was good. The first stop (day one) was on Tournfee and the sites were nice, but not as good as Lighthouse. Tournfee was also the last day of diving. The last day was on the Elbow that was a fairly deep site, 100-120 easily, with top of the reef in 50-70'. Most of the diving was done on Lighthouse and were walls that started in 30-60' and dropped off to 200'-?. A typical profile was 80'-110' on the wall for 10-20 mins and then the remaining 30-40 mins on top of the reef in 30-40'. Dive nitrox32 on most dives and never really pushed the limits (NDL or CNS). Never had a current. The boat had a depth limit of 110' -- except for the Blue hole which was 130'. The Blue hole was a 130' for 10min group dive. Ok for one dive. Most of the sites were nice, but don't expect to see anything big (e.g., sharks). Lots of the usual reef fish (e.g., grunts, snappers, parrots, eels, crabs, etc.) and occasionally a turtle or eagle ray. Nice easy diving and the water was always 81-82F. Weather was very nice.. sunny in upper 80's.
Diving Grade: B/B+.

5. Staff - Very nice. The Capt (Frank) and his wife (Kiki) the photopro were always pleasant and did a very good job. The DMs were always helpful and very professional. The other support staff were very good as well. A few in the group were a little pissed off about the grumbling on the more than 5 dives a day.
Staff Grade: B+/A-.

6. The land trips - Don't get sucked into any land trips. For example, cave tubing or the zoo. Not worth the $s. A few went to the ruins and thought they were good. But overall a waste.
Land Trip Grade: D+/C-.

7. Belize City - Don't even think about going out and around the city. The boat staff hedged on whether it was advisable to even move around during the day. Only by taxi and to specific sites.
Belize City Grade: F.

Overall Trip Value: B+.

I enjoyed the trip and the diving was very easy and relaxing.
I would go-back in the future... after Truk and Bikini...


Galapagos Islands, The Last Best Place On Earth

July 1997 by Paul Arthur

Are we there yet?

  Our journey begins June 11, 1997 at San Francisco International Airport where our dive group of 12 fly to Miami and change airlines to fly to Guyaquil, Ecuador.
While boarding the plane (American Airlines) I note there is a direct flight to Guyaquil leaving from the next gate with a departure time ten minutes after us. Our itinerary must be part of this money saving plan I've heard so much about.

When did surf boards qualify as carry-on luggage anyway?

I never cease to be amazed at what people try to pass off as carry-on luggage
- giant ceramic vases, spider monkeys, backpacks loaded up for an assault on Mt. Everest, crates of oranges, handbags that would easily fit ten large pizza boxes.  The variety is endless. How picky the crew is about such things seems to be a function of how full and how long the flight is.

  Our in-flight feature is "The Beautician And The Beast". American Airlines charges a whopping five dollars for ear phones to hear this celluloid nightmare. I choose to pass, as do the vast majority of passengers. Five hours and one bad meal after take-off we land in the sunshine state.

Everybody Has A Cousin In Miami

  At least according to Jimmy Buffet. Our layover was brief and allowed our group of divers to have a last bit of Americana for ten days. Relatively safe tap water and hot dogs seemed to be the preferred fare. Our flight is on the Ecuadoran national
Airline - Secta (probably spelling that wrong). A four hour flight to Quyaquil included a passable three-course meal. The in-flight feature was "Dante's Peak".
It was free and worth every penny. I was rooting for the volcano.

This wasn't mentioned in the brochure

  Arriving at Guyaquil around 9 p.m EST we found our baggage and managed to stumble through customs. The area is decorated in industrial warehouse mode. Everyone in any position of authority holstered a side arm (.45 from the looks of it) so the low key approach with passports and visas at hand seemed prudent. A stamp on my passport and a cursory look-over from the customs person and I was left to fend for myself.

  My traveling companions went through a more extensive search so I choose to wait near the airport lobby. The lobby was filled with wild-eyed locals surrounded by members of the Ecuadoran military. Perfered weapon for the troops was the Uzi. I chose to stand arms length from the crowds and wait for everyone else despite the sprited pleas of local cabbies to assist me. Eventually we regrouped and were met by hotel personnel who whisked us and our baggage off the hotel for the evening.

  A brief ride through the city revealed little and we ultimately ended up at the Grand Hotel Guyaquil. You can see the hotel at  http://www.cjhotels.com/ Upon our arrival we were warned not to wander the streets at night. The hotel had a bar that we made use of, managing to break two beer bottles during a 30 minute stay. For me it was time for bed after an exhausting day of travel.

I have a bad feeling about this.

  Our flight to the Galapagos Islands was not until 1 p.m so we had the morning to explore Guyaquil. Population approximately 2 million, it is the financial center of Ecuador. The street in front of the hotel was quite busy at 9 a.m. so I decided to take a walk. Every street corner has a heavily armed member of a private police patrol clad in a paramilitary uniform. Apparently they are hired by local shopkeepers to discourage anti-social behavoir and run errands as necessary. Prefered weapon was a shotgun with a pistol grip and a side arm, although the aforementioned Uzi did appear once or twice. I chose to go into tourista north americano mode with my camera, being careful not to photograph the nice men with the guns. Most everyone was dressed in business attire and cellular phones were everywhere.

Somewhere there is a bolt of lightning with my name on it

  I try to find out what is playing at the local movie theatres on my overseas visits and post it to Sun's film alias. Two blocks from the hotel was a multi-screen theatre with the following selections:

     First off, we have a triple bill:

  La Guerra De Las Galaxies
  El Imperio Contratada
  El Regresso Del Jedi

  El Negotiator con Eduardo Murphy

  Un Impulsvo Loco Amor (Till There Was You)

  Marcianos Al Ataque!

  Medidos Extremas con Hugh Grant y Gene Hackman

  Anaconda (duh)

  Hercules (ditto)

  El Mendo Perdido (The Lost World)

  While I was writing these titles down, 8 or 10 bus loads of girls from some local Catholic schools arrived at the theatre. Average age I figure to be around 12. Everyone was dressed alike - white blouse & plaid skirt. Tourista North Americano here drew many giggles and pointing from the girls. I asked if anyone spoke English. A couple did and I asked what movie they were going to see. At this point, the head nun or senior sister or whatever her title is swooped down on me like Batman (tm Warner Bros.) with her arms flapping. Apparently she perceived me as a threat of some sort. The girls snapped to attention and I figured it best to move on before a member of the private police force came over to investigate.

  A source of national pride Behind the hotel is a church and tree-filled park. The trees are home to a species of iguana that I believe is indiginous to the area. The Ecuadoran government pays for their care and feeding. Our friends from the military patrol the park to keep the riff raff out, of which there is plenty on the streets. The requisite statue of Simon Bolivar on horseback also looms large.

Air Ecuador - where security is somewhere on our list of priorities.

  Eventually the time came to travel from Guyaquil to San Christobol island. We were taken back to the airport where we checked in with Air Ecuador and paid ten dollars tax for something. Don't ask, just pay it and things move smoother. There is supposedly a weight limit of 44 kg on all domestic Ecuadoran flights but apparently arrangements were made with our boat (Galapagos Agressor) to overlook this. My bags were way over the alleged maximum, as were everyone elses. Your typical Galapagos visitor (i.e. Yuppie Ecotourist) probably won't be lugging that much gear along.

  We ran our carry-on baggage through an x-ray machine that was monitored by a woman who was asleep and a man working on a cross-word puzzle. Ok, when was the last time anyone hijacked a plane going to the Galapgos Islands? I thought so. Besides, there's only one flight per day to the island and this is it.

  The flight, on a somewhat ratty looking (both internal & external) jet took 90 minutes to San Christobal. All instructions were written in Spanish, English and what looked like Arabic or Farsi. The flight crew didn't know a word of English but I did learn that "aqua sin gas" means tap water. Free alcohol for those who so desired. No movies to note during this flight but the meat-like substance that resembled lasagna went uneaten by most of us.

  If you are a little nervous about flying, don't look out the window as your plane lands. The runway is *real* short and the plane has to slow down and make a 180 degree turn before it runs out of tarmac. We had about ten feet to spare from what I could see.

A note for you carry-on luggage types:

  If you like to drag one of those half-size, multi-tiered Samsonite (tm) suitcases on a plane, it won't fit in the overhead on this flight. My regulator bag barely fit there. Fortunately the flight was only about half full and the crew didn't seemed concerned about people putting luggage on the seats.

Show me the money

  Arriving at San Christobal airport (more like a tin roofed open air structure) we paid $70.00 U.S. for park useage and another $40.00 for use of the city on San Christobol (the name escapes me at the moment). The fact that we weren't spending any time there except to drive to the dock was irrelevant. U.S. currency is readily accepted everywhere in Ecuador. The exchange rate is 3900 Sucres to the dollar.

  We were met by the two dive masters from the Galapagos Agressor - Cris, who was educated in the United States and Richard who was a navy SEAL with the Ecuadoran navy.

  Our luggage was whisked away and we had a ten minute drive through San Christobol to the dock, where we were transported via zodiac boats to the Agressor II. The Agressor fleet and the Galapagos Agressor both have web sites but I have yet to be able to access them. Perhaps your luck will be better than mine:

http://www.aggressor.com
http://www.galamazonas.com

  This was my third trip on an Agressor fleet both. Previous trips were to the Cayman Islands and Cocos Island. The Galapagos Agressor is certainly the nicest and most modern of the three, although it had the smallest dive deck.

The Dive Bag from hell

  Diving conditions in the Galapgos Islands are unpredicatable, so I brought basically everything with me. Everything is defined as follows:

That alone weighed in at close to seventy pounds and took up most of my dive luggage.

  For the uninitiated, we were on a live-aboard boat where we were spending most of our time on the northern-most islands, which are the least visited. It was 18 hours across open water by boat to anything that would pass for civilization, so preparation is a must.

Miller's Axiom: There is no job so simple that it cannot be done wrong

  Rooms were assigned, baggage unloaded and we were on our way. A briefing on general dive policies (110 foot maximum depth, zodiac useage, night dives, don't touch the animals, etc) followed and we were on our way. We stopped at Isla Lobos, a tiny sliver of land off San Christobol for a checkout dive. I fully expecting to have to demonstrate mask clearance, regulator save and buoyance control to the dive masters. No such luck. They suggested we check to make sure our gear was functional on the dive, which took place in approximately 25 feet of water. Water temperature was 78 degrees F and visibility about 40 feet. The 1/4" suits stayed on the hangers for the rest of the trip. In fact I was roasting while wearing a hooded vest, so that too was left off in favor of an 1/8" suit and warm water gloves.

  Don't let the water temperature mislead you. Someone in our group had been to the same area in June of 1996 and the water was 65 degrees F. Plan for all conditions is my advice. Ambient temperature, despite being on the equator, was usually in the low to mid 80's, but the sun bouncing off the water was still intense enough to make sun block necessary.

  My dive included the second stage regulator going into free-flow, a broken tie wrap on said regulator, a leaky mask and one of the computers going into an infinite loop in diagnostic mode, all of which were quickly repaired. Regrettably, all the weights were in four pound increments, resulting in more than a little use of BC's to adjust for buoyancy. I plan on bringing this to the attention of the Agressor fleet after the trip is over.

Technology - your friend in the water

  My two computers (U.S. Divers Monitor II) had a habit of beeping out of sync and at different pitches if I were ascending too quickly. At times they managed to show a difference in depth of five feet despite the fact that they were located next to each other on the same hose.

The locals drop by to say howdy

  While at Isla Lobos we were accompanyed by some curious and friendly Galapgos sea lions. They are cousins of the California sea lion and liked to nibble on fins and dive computers. As you will see, they will be featured prominently throughout the rest of the trip.

  Completing our checkout dive we made the crossing to North Seymour island. A trip of approximately eight hours. Dinner was served during the crossing, after which I spent the evening enjoying the sea air and once again being impressed by the enormity of the ocean. The sea itself was relatively calm so the crossing was uneventful, although a large engine mounted above my room on the top deck made sound sleep impossible. The crew has graciously provided us with Chumms (tm) brand holders for our sun glasses that are marked "Galapagos Agressor". A most useful piece of equipment and a nifty way to advertise if I do say so.

One of life's great mystery solved

  For those who are dying to know, toilet water swirls counter-clockwise on the equator. You're welcome. :^)

The real fun begins

  After breakfast we had two dives and a land visit scheduled for North Seymour island before moving on to the two Northern-most islands of Wolf & Darwin. Our first dive brought us in contact with various schools of fish, the ubiquitous sea lions and a group of white tip sharks. White tips are pretty low key and pose little or no threat to humans, although in packs they are lethal hunters.

  Sea lions, on the other hand are extremely jealous and make little attempt to hide this. We were hanging on top of a rock ledge at about 40 feet observing a group of six or eight white tips that were resting on the bottom, when two sea lions dive bombed the sharks from above, scattering them out of view. Apprently the sea lions wanted us to pay exclusive attention to them. One sea lion had what I can only describe as a smirk on his or her face after the attack.

  After the second dive we took a zodiac to North Seymour to observe the local wildlife. Species of note were Sally Lightfoot crabs and sea going iguanas who like to hang out in groups and work on their tans when they are not in the ocean. The iguanas swim with their tails and eat algae under water with the side of their mouths. They also possess a salt gland to snort out salt that is ingested with the sea water. I've seen video of this but never got a chance to witness it first hand.

  As we were to discover over and over, the animals in the Galapagos islands show no sense of fear of people. All the accessible islands have trails with clearly marked boundries to make sure this continues, but I could repeatedly walk right up to any number of species of animals who made no effort to move away.

  North Seymour is also the home of a variety of species of birds, most notably the blue footed Boobie and the Friggit. Boobies, as you may have guessed have bright blue feet, which occur when they mature. As for their intelligence, let's say they are not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Male Friggits are noted for a bright red chest that they puff out in order to attract a female. Both species were found in abundance on North Seymour and I ran through the better part of two rolls of film during a ninety minute visit.

Speaking of footware....

  Athletic footware is probably acceptable for brief land visits, but I brought heavy duty hiking shoes with solid tread and felt a lot safer. North Seymor, while flat has a volcanic base and can be tricky getting up off the rocks from a boat.

Surf's Up!

  While admiring the waves crashing on the rocks, we noticed a sea lion who was, for lack of a better description, surfing. In surf lingo, I believe it's known as shooting the pipeline. The sea lion was riding perpendicular across the crest of the wave and doing a fine job of it. I'd still like to find a corporate sponsor and enter this animal in the winter nationals in Hawaii. If you know of anyone who might be interested in this, let me know. Don't laugh, goofier things have happend at Sun. Hiring me, for example. :^)

Off to Darwin Island

  Our visit complete, we make the ten hour crossing to Darwin Island, the nothern most island in the Galapgos chain. We arrived at approximately 6 a.m. and were to spend the next 3 1/2 days there.

  Darwin island itself is virtually inaccessable without a helicopter or some serious climbing gear. The walls are sheer and approximately 900 feet high. The primary residents of the island are a variety of species of birds. Immature Boobies whose feet hadn't turned blue yet like to hang on the rail and would climb onto the top of my hand if I held it out. I've got photos of me holding one which has been titled "Dumb and dumber." It is left as an exercise to the reader to decide which is which. :^) If one pointed their finger up and down or in a circle in front of five or six Boobies, they would follow it around. We found this to be endlessly hilarious to watch.

Beginners need not apply

  All of our dives were to take place at Darwin's Arch, a structure separate from the island itself. There were multi-tiered shelves starting at around 40 feet leading out to open water. Typically, sharks, rays, dolphins, turtles, whale sharks and various species of fish inhabit the waters. They did not disappoint as you will see.  

  Water temperature at Darwin was 82 degrees F with visibility running 40 to 50 feet with a high particulate count. Those looking for Caribbean type of clarity would be disappointed. The zodiacs would take us to Darwin's arch (five to ten minute ride) and assess which way the current was running. It was known to change direction between dives and in one case changed during the dive. Said current could run from moderate to ripping and surface conditions usually included sizable swells (4 - 6 feet) and white caps. This is not beginners diving, make no mistake about that. Fortunately our group was more than prepared for such conditions. To give you an idea of the makeup of our group, I have been on approximately 400 dives and was probably the least experienced member.

  We also had thermal inclines and a couple of sizeable down currents, along with the danger of being thrown onto the rocks. This last condition could make in next to impossible for the zodiacs to pick you up, so a tow line was always available. Fortunately we never had to use it.

  We never saw the same things twice on any dive and luck had more than a little to do with it. One could hang on the shelves where there were huge schools of fish and many eels swimming in the open. An alternative was to head out to open water to search for bigger animals. Schools of fish were usually big enough to literally cover a diver. Had it not been for a trail of bubbles, I wouldn't have found my dive buddy when he was surrounded by a school of what looked like silver pompano with v-shaped tails.

  I saw schooling hammerhead and single Galapagos sharks from a distance on at least half the dives, turtles who would come up and poke on my mask, beautifully graceful manta and mobula rays, sometimes schooling in groups of a dozen at a time. Conditions and sea life were so good we decided to spend an extra day at Darwin and only make one dive at Wolf island on the return voyage, a decision that paid off handsomely for ten of us.

  A "typical" dive (if there was such a thing) would last 40 to 45 minutes with a five minute safety stop. Tanks were filled to 3000 PSI. I never dove below a hundred feet, but that's just me. There wasn't any specific depth or range at which one would see things. Animals appeared where they appeared and you had to react accordingly.

Things like this make life worth living

  The next to last dive at Darwin found ten of us in open water when we were surrounded by twenty or so bottlenose dolphin. They clearly stopped to investigate us because we were such a large group, as opposed to just a few divers, which they probably would have ignored. They stayed with us for approximately three minutes.

  I made eye contact with one dolphin from less than five feet who kept turning its head from side to side while making clicking and whirling noises. Everyone else had similar experiences and we talked of little else for the next 24 hours. I will say this was not only the single best dive I've had in five years of diving, but one of the very best days of my life. I hope that the experience will stay with me for the rest of my days.

  One whale shark was spotted on the last morning by a small group of divers. They reported it to be approximately 20 to 25 feet in length. Regrettably, I was not one of those to see it, but that is a small disappointment when compared with every- thing else we encountered. The dive masters reported that December is the best month to spot whale sharks.

The Welcome Wagon

  Arriving at Wolf island after a four hour trip we were greeted by no less than 200 bottlenose dolphin, who seemed overjoyed at our presence. They raced to meet the boat and then turned around to race the bow. Quite a sight to see.

  Current and visibility at Wolf were not up to Darwin's standards, but I did encounter two ten foot hammerhead sharks that cruised within arms length. Our policy was that if someone saw something interesting during a dive, they should point at whatever it is as long as it was visible. Not wanting to be known as "lefty" I declined to do this with these two sharks. That encounter was a more than a little unnerving. I was at Cocos Island off Costa Rica last year for a week with hammerheads on every dive and they never got that close. After checking us out, the sharks headed out to open water. We also found a pair of Manta's swimming together (they mate for life) who had exquisite black markings on their backs. Quite a sight.

  While returning on the zodiacs we were treated to the sight of dolphins leaping straight up out of the water. They would sometime leap in groups of six or seven. With the sun setting in the background this made for one of many memorable sights.

  Our trip was starting to come to an end, although there were numerous land visits and a spectacular end to the diving, as you will see in part 4.

This is a vacation, be sure to get your money's worth

  The last two days were crammed with land-based visits and dives on the more southern islands, which is where most tourists spend their time. Stops included Cousins Rock, Bartholomew Island, Gordon Rocks and South Plaza Islands.

  At Bartholomew we snorkeled with some Galapagos penguins who were agile swimmers despite their small size (12 inches). Lunchtime for them is around 2 p.m. so that is the best time to find them in the water. We also hiked to the top of Bartholomew, which has terrain similar to Mars. The island was created from volcanic activity and the lava craters are still visible. From the top we saw hammerhead rock, which is shaped like a shark's tooth and Isabella island, home of the giant tortoise.

  Isabela, it should be noted is almost jungle-like at the top as it's shrouded in mist and gets a fair amount of rain. What is notable about the islands is the variety of topology, leading to the large number of species of plants and animals.

  South Plaza island is the home of the land based iguana. A sizable beast (two plus feet) with bright yellow markings, most of them were molting and chose to ignore us while they chowed down on cactus. We were accompanyed by some noisy sea lions who insisted that we join them in the water. Cries of "SHUT UP BEAVIS" from us only served to make them bark louder.

Last Dive

  At some point we faced the inevitable last dive. For us it was at Gordon Rocks. Visibility wasn't very good, the current was ripping and we had to cross some pinnacles using the two handed crawl. Exhausted and a little discouraged, three of us made a safety stop at 15 feet. After two minutes I noticed the water below us was covered with a school of a hundred or more golden cow rays. We blew off the safety stop and dropped down to around 50 feet to watch them pass underneath us. Quite a sight for both their golden color and graceful moves. This more than compensated for any negative aspects of the dive.

Pt. Aroya Station

  We made the eight hour journey to Darwin Research Center at Pt. Aroya station. Scientific researchers from all over the world pass through here and it's the home of some giant tortoises, including world-famous Lonesome George. George may or may not be the last of his species. Attempts to get him to mate with similar species have thus far proven unsuccessful. Dung from another of his species was found several years ago on another island, so there may be hope yet. We got great photos of some other giant tortoises while we were there and stocked up on t-shirts maps and postcards, the profits from which go to support the research center.

Blatant request for donations straight ahead

  At this point you may be saying to yourself "Gee, this sounds like a swell place but I'll never have the money to visit. Is there something I can do to help preserve the park?" What, you haven't thought that? ;^) Anyway, The Charles Darwin Foundation has an organization called "Friends Of The Galapagos" where donations go to the upkeep of the park. Write them for information:

Charles Darwin Foundation, Inc. 
Dept. 0553
Washington, D.C. 20073-0533 
Attn: Friends Of The Galapagos 

This was inevitable

  As with all vacations, the end has to come at some point and we returned to San Chrisobol Island to begin our journey home. We stopped long enough to visit an abandoned church on the top of the island, where we had a stellar view of the area including Isla Lobos. Lobster lunch at a local restaurant was a mere $11.00 U.S. After that it was back to the airport.

Air Ecuador - where your safety is somewhere on our list of priorities.

  Our return itinerary took us from San Christobol to Guyaquil to Quito, where we would spend the night. The following morning was Quito to Miami to Dallas to San Francisco. That is, in a perfect world. Our flight was a mere 50 minutes late in arriving at San Christobol but since it is the only flight to and from Galapagos it wasn't like we were in any big rush. We boarded quickly and made the 90 minute flight to Guyaquil, expecting a brief stop on our way to Quito.

  No such luck, I'm afraid. Air Ecuador requested we disembark, then get back on, only to be told to disembark again and bring all our belongings. Seems that a some fractures had been found in the fuselage and the plane was going in for repairs. We waited around for four hours until another plane could be found. During our wait we watched an episode of "The Simpsons" in Spanish. It seemed to lose something in the translation. Four hours later another plane was found and the completely full flight made our way to Quito in a mere 45 minutes.

Quito

  According to people who know about such things, Quito is the most difficult airport in the world at which to land. It is not only the capitol of Ecuador but it is situated between two mountain ranges at an altitude of 9200 feet. I The ride to the hotel (never did get the name) showed a strikingly modern city with wide, clean streets, huge shopping centers, Arby's, Burger King and lots of donut shops. As you may have guessed we had not eaten in awhile. Arriving at the hotel we tromped into the lobby looking like extras from an Indiana Jones movie. The folks at the fancy cocktail party in the Armani (tm) suits and long gowns gawked a bit before turning their backs on us. Same to you, pal.

  Dinner at the hotel averaged ten dollars each for three courses with desert and drinks. I rarely eat red meat but their filet was first rate. After ten days on a boat I was hoping the room would stop listing a bit but took seasick medicine as a precaution before retiring for the evening.

The war on drugs reconsidered

  Arriving at Quito airport the next morning we checked our bags, paid the $25.00 U.S. departure tax (cash only please) and went through a myriad of security stations (I had my carry-on bags searched three times and x-ray'd twice). If that wasn't enough, we were lined up on the tarmac and placed our carry-on's in front of us to be sniff-searched by a large blonde labrador retriever. Everyone seemed to pass the test and we were off to Miami.

Didn't they cover this in drivers ed?

  No in-flight movie but there was an extensive instructional video on how to drive in the Miami metropolitan area. Honking one's horn as a sign of displeasure at other drivers was discouraged, as was running out out of gas on a highway. Miami International Airport, to it's credit has modernized the immigrations and customs area so that it runs much faster and efficiently. Truth be told, I could've walked through customs with a llama and not have been noticed considering how alert the guy was who checked our visas.

How 'bout them Bulls?

  Our layover gave us enough time to stoke up on hot dogs, pizza, bagels and news- papers. It's surprising how little of consequence happened during our ten days out of the country The Chicago Bulls won their umpteenth title and Tim McVeigh's career plans took a not altogether unexpected turn.

Be it ever so humble ....

  As I mentioned, we flew Miami to Dallas (in-flight movie: The Mirror Has Two Faces) on an absolutely packed plane. The carry-on baggage problem surfaced once again. Some people never learn. We switched planes in Dallas and arrived back in San Francisco at 8:43 p.m. PST. A ride on one of the many door-to-door van services put me back in Sunnyvale with enough time to catch the last half of David Letterman before realizing I'd been up for almost 24 hours. Unpacking and washing could wait until morning. I was exhausted but glad to return to my own bed.

  Having been back for approximately ten days, I can say that I already miss the Galapagos Islands. My donation to the Friends Of The Galapagos fund went in the mail last week, which makes me feel a little better about the state of the world. The animal encounters and diving are second to none and are well worth the trip. My description probably doesn't do justice to what we encountered, but I plan on a return visit some day. It really is, as the title suggest, the last best place on earth.  

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Last modified: 1:St of June 1998
 visitors since June 1:St, 1998.

Stefan Sarin 1998