Every three years my scuba buddy Curt Harpold and I do a really big (usually once in a lifetime) trip, along with as many friends as we can find. In 2005, that place was the pristine and exotic Galápagos Islands, an isolated archipelago of about 125 volcanic islands 600 miles west of Ecuador. All in all, sixteen people signed up for this amazing trip on board the MV Deep Blue, a 106-foot diving yacht cruising the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The islands support more than 5,000 species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. On-going state-of-the-art conservation procedures have enabled the islands to maintain an estimated 95 percent of their original biodiversity. Altogether, the islands comprise a landmass of approximately 8,000 square miles with four main ecosystems. Two separate ocean currents meet at the archipelago, which accounts for the tremendous amount of sea life feeding in the cool, nutrient-rich waters.
The trip to the Galápagos began with a flight to Guayaquil, a port city of Ecuador. From there it's a short jet flight to Isla San Cristóbal, where we met the Deep Blue for our eleven-day trip. Access to the islands is strictly controlled, and we had to make our arrangements well in advance. So if you're anticipating a trip to the Galápagos, be sure to plan early!
Here's the group that went on the Galápagos Islands Trip of a Lifetime, after a long hike up to the summit of Bartolomé Island (the one featured in the hit movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). From left: Jen Judge, Tim Wagner, Chris Del Rosario, George Rubottom, Jim Lightbourne, Ray Voight, me, Curt Harpold, Mike Geldner, John Gilley, Mick Rocks, Karl Majer, and Clement Berard. Not pictured: Norm Wagner, Sherry Stanton, and Nicole Del Rosario.
The Deep Blue has some of the nicest live-aboard accomodations in the area, including a nice large lounge for reading, inspecting pictures and watching our videos from the day's filming. The boat has a large staging area for storing tanks and dive equipment, and has nitrox available for an additional fee. Access to the dive sites was made by getting the boat near the area and then taking rubber inflatable boats (called pangas by the locals) to the usually rougher waters of the dive, closer to land. Most trips only go to the Southern or Wolf and Darwin Islands, but since we had the entire boat to ourselves, we made special arrangements to do both. That means we were able to see both the land and sea wildlife in the South and the hammerheads and enormous whale sharks in the North.
During our tour of the Southern Islands, we had a fairly regular routine: two dives in the morning followed by a few hours' hike in the afternoon. This allowed us to get some great footage of the underwater wildlife as well as the animals and plants on land. During our stay at Wolf and Darwin Islands in the north, we did dives all day since there are no places to land on those islands. Wolf and Darwin are where most of the great shark shots were done.
The wildlife was incredible, so I hope you'll check out the wildlife photographs and watch the video of the marine and land animals we saw.