Author: Delaney Nolin
Early (too early) this morning I finally got to pull on my new wetsuit and go on my first dive here in Galápagos. After the struggle that is cramming oneself into a neoprene onesie, we all made our way down to the pier and on to the boat which would take us to Leon Dormido (“Sleeping Lion”), or Kicker Rock as it is known in English. It is basically this huge almost Pride Rock-like structure that juts out of the sea, and its sharp edges seem to physically pierce the sky. But what one does not see from above is the the incredible ecosystem below.
We were even treated to a sighting of humpback whales on our way to Leon Dormido. Reminiscent of Esmereldas, we pulled up beside these humpbacks and saw a beautiful mother and calf pair. After the excitement of the whales, we headed to do our mini-dive to ensure everyone had their basic skills down. The water was unbelievably clear in the shallows where we practiced, and just getting back underwater reminded me how amazing diving is and got me even more excited about the upcoming dives at San Cristóbal’s most famous site, especially for shark lovers. I really hoped to see at least a few sharks.
We finally arrived at Leon Dormido and strapped on all our gear — every time I still think about how funny we all look just to be able to do what fish do naturally. Then, we all entered the water by falling backwards off the boat (something I had never done, and so I was a little nervous) and were in the water.
As we descended, I began to notice that there were so many fish. And their numbers only increased as we made it down to the bottom of the relatively shallow channel, and I was so excited desperately hoping I would see a shark. My wishes were soon granted as one of the first things we came upon was a group of about 30 sharks, a mix of Galápagos and Black Tip Reef species. They were absolutely beautiful; I could have stayed and watched them all day. We all knelt on the ocean floor and stayed there, entranced by the magnificent creatures. They had very little interest in us, however — despite our intent fascination with them — and mostly avoided us.
Though infatuated with the sharks, there were so many other amazing things to see that we eventually tore ourselves away from them. We also saw a half dozen or so sea turtles — one I thought was a rock and could not understand why everyone was pointing at it — which are always magnificent creatures. The sheer amount of fish there was unreal, especially on/near the wall of rock. The rock also held many beautiful starfish, including my new favorite, the chocolate chip starfish (Yummm). All the organisms were every color, shape and size imaginable. Many of them would peek their heads out of holes in the rock or dash about the little crevices. The sea floor was also full of life with many colorful bottom feeders, coral, and plants. Sadly, we (too soon) had to end the dive. Luckily, we still had our second dive after our resting period on the surface.
After a quick snack, we squeezed back into our gear and dropped into the water, this time on the outside of the rock structure rather than in the channel. Outside the channel was much deeper, at least 30 meters to the bottom (or approximately 100 ft). One of the first things we did was swim to what they called the “fish bowl” school of black striped salemas. I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t what I saw.
The school must have been 10-20 meters tall and 6-10 meters wide. It was just a giant ball of silvery fish. Then they encouraged us to swim through it, which caused the fish to reform their school around us so that all you could see was the silver shimmer of their bodies.
It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. We all played in there like children for 10-15 minutes or so and were very sad to leave. But the sadness did not last for long because the sea life on this dive was smaller (I did not see any sharks, though some people later saw hammerheads off in the distance, which made me so jealous), it was just as beautiful. There were so many fish everywhere, many in the same holes in the rock or hiding in anemones.
While swimming around, I just got this feeling that I was home. Forget legs, Ariel, I want the tail! I wanted to stay down there and explore and watch the fish forever. Unfortunately, I absolutely tore through my air on that dive, I think my tank must have had a leak or something, or maybe because my weights were far too heavy. Either way, I had to be one of the first out of the water and got very nervous as the needle on my air meter began to touch the zero (you are supposed to leave with 500 psi left). Luckily, I never had to take that inhalation where you suddenly have no air and made it safely to the boat. The rest of the group was not far behind, and then we all had to say a very reluctant goodbye to Leon Dormido.
Our final destination that day was a small beach that was completely empty but had the bluest water and softest sand. Our professor, Judith, told us that it was actually a breeding site for many black tip reef sharks, so everyone was excited about snorkelling. Exhausted from the dive, I actually ended up unknowingly falling asleep on the beach for the 45 minutes that we were there (what can I say, I guess I got something from my mother), which was wonderful. There was a nice breeze keeping it from getting too hot and it was perfect for siesta. After my nice little ocean-side nap, we all headed back to the mainland, accompanied by a bright and beautiful rainbow — a lovely end to an incredible day.
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