Ecuador - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 405 (215)

On board NEMO I

Sunday 17th April (2005)

Once again everyone was up bright and early this morning. This phenomenon of a slowly adjusting internal body clock is something we’ve seen before during our participation safari tour through Africa. Here, too, I find myself getting up earlier and earlier each day. In the rat race world, my ideal day would be ordinarily twenty-five hours long (or perhaps even longer) so that I wouldn’t have to contend with the daily gruel of waking up on the way to work but I’ve noticed on numerous occasions throughout our travels that I’ve been quite happy to get up very early in the morning. I have no doubt it won’t last by the time we return the grudge of the non-travelling lifestyle.

It was quite a shock for me when I climbed the ladder and peered through the hatch of our cabin this morning. The captain had moored us within a couple of hundred metres or so of a huge sheer cliff face made from what looked like reddish brown coloured layers of sediment. Apparently, the entire island of Rabida is this brilliant reddish tan colour. Juan Carlos explained that this is due to ferrous oxide in the soil and rock. It’s a very bizarre sight to see and yet again we are surprised at just how amazingly different this island looks to the previous. It’s been just one surprise after the other. The Galapagos Islands are a true geologist’s dream come true. Almost straight away, we noticed turtles in the water around us. They tend to sit at the surface for a while and pop their heads out to either take a look around or to just breathe every now and then. After a few minutes of this, they usually submerge again. There seem to be plenty of turtles around the islands since we keep seeing them everywhere we go.

The cook prepared some sort of omelette for breakfast but he threw in several bits of who knows what and I didn’t much fancy the look of it so I sufficed with a couple of pieces of the obligatory sliced fruit that was also laid out. Without me realising it, Juan Carlos had noticed my expression when I took a look at the omelette surprise and apparently told the cook that he should take note of the fact that there are various things that Sandy and I don’t eat and to bare this in mind when preparing meals. Before I knew what was going on, the cook handed me a separate plate with a couple of fried eggs. I thought that was a nice touch and it was very gratifying to realise that someone was paying attention to this sort of thing. Even though I got off to a bad start with this cruise because of the problem with incorrect expectations, I’m really starting to enjoy all the personal attention and care that we’re all getting. We have a butler, for want of a better word, on board and he tends to the cabins as well as serves our meals. The food is often laid out buffet style inside the main cabin and the outside tables are nicely laid out with a tablecloth and cloth napkins. The butler set out cutlery, glasses and water jugs and collects all the plates and things when we’re done with them. We really don’t have to do very much other than eat the food that is presented to us.

Our first landing of the day was a wet one onto the tan coloured sandy beach. With the wet landings, the panga is reversed in towards the beach and everyone jumps out into knee-deep water. We’ve now seen pristine beaches that have been white, golden-yellow, jet-black and now red in colour - truly amazing. Everyone immediately followed in single file for the most part (another example of conditioning) as we made our way around the staked circuit of this visitor site. As has become the case lately, it was the scenery and geology that was the draw here and we saw little wildlife, save for the odd lava lizard and a few birds here and there. It was a fairly short walk this morning but we’d all brought our snorkelling gear with us on the panga and most of the group remained to snorkel right from the beach whilst the divers among us took the panga back to NEMO I to kit up for this morning’s dive.

Sandy told me to service the underwater camera equipment last night and I cheekily let her believe that I did so but the truth was that I was simply too tired. I figured I’d have time to do so this morning and so rushed through the process of removing and re-greasing the O-rings and so on. The NEMO I is a cruise vessel with optional diving as opposed to a diving cruise vessel. That may sound like a very weak distinction but there are some key differences. For example, there isn’t a dedicated dunk tank on board. There are, however, a couple of bins that are used to store shoes (shoes are not allowed to be worn on-board except on the diving platform) and Juan Carlos had emptied one of these to fill with water. I had asked him to do this specifically since I needed a dunk tank to check for leaks in the underwater camera and strobe housings before each dive. This morning, the makeshift dunk tank was once again filled with shoes instead of water – the crew is not used to the bin being filled with water would be my guess as to why this was the case. The only way I could check for leaks, then, was to step down onto one of the ends of the catamaran hulls to dip the camera into the salt water. I did this and couldn’t see any leaks so I took it for granted that the camera was safely and correctly enclosed but it was hard to see through the swells. After kitting up and setting off in the panga, however, I noticed some fogging on the inside of the camera housing lens and upon further inspection, noticed a few drops of water inside. It appears that the housing was not water tight for some reason and I had to leave the whole rig on the panga throughout the dive. I had already delayed the dive once by taking time to service the camera equipment to begin with and I didn’t want to set everyone back even further by returning back to see what the problem was with the camera housing.

I was not particularly impressed with the dive from the other day but since I didn’t have a camera with me this time, naturally the dive was very much better and I would have had a photographic field day had I had it. I couldn’t believe my luck. Not only did we immediately practically descend onto an adult white-tipped reef shark but we were also encircled by a group of huge amber jack right from the get go. To make matters worse, we followed a huge turtle for a while and even stumbled onto a very rare and colourful Galapagos tiger eel snake. I was pleased to have seen so many wonderful things during the dive but absolutely gutted that I was not able to bring any photographic proof back to the surface with me. Some people can travel the entire globe without a camera and still enjoy themselves but I’m completely the opposite. I often think it a waste of time to go somewhere or see something if I can’t take decent photos to record the event. I told Sandy about the mishap with the camera partially flooding and she was none too pleased about it either.

The missed photographic opportunity during the dive played on my mind for the rest of the afternoon but my attention was diverted when we reached our next destination some hour or so later. The Galapagos archipelago is a national park but the local fishing industry is allowed to practice its trade for the sole benefit of feeding the local population. There are, however, stringent rules and regulations but even some local fishermen are known to flout these. Shark fins, for example, fetch top Dollar for the Asian markets and fishing for sharks is still something that occurs here, albeit underground, so to speak. Juan Carlos is usually pretty emphatic about everybody here sticking to the rules for the benefit of the protection of the environment here and he became quite agitated when he spotted a small fishing vessel that he thought was up to no good. He was not pleased at all and even went over to talk to the fishermen about the infraction of setting foot on one of the small nearby islands. I didn’t understand the Spanish but the fishermen looked quite nervous and even a bit humbled for having listened to what our guide had to say to them.

I made doubly sure that the camera housing was absolutely watertight for the second dive of the day but even though it had its moments, it was not the spectacular dive that we experienced this morning and I managed to collect just a small handful of really great shots. With our photography both above and below the surface of the water being as prolific as it is, as well as the fact that we continue to get better at it, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy our appetite for truly great photos. As our library of impressive photos grows, so does the difficulty in finding those shots that trump those that we already have. We did see another white-tipped shark (they are absolutely everywhere here) and we swam through a couple of very impressive canyons as well as seeing some very nice macro subjects but the visibility was not terribly impressive and the debris in the water made for a lot of backscatter from the strobe at times.

Following the completion of the dive, we were all allowed to snorkel in the immediate vicinity but I had a problem with my snorkel just as I stepped off of the panga. The valve in my snorkel tends to get stuck from time to time and I end up sucking up nothing but water so I had to motion for the panga to come and collect me again whilst I tried to remedy the problem. I did so and carried on with my snorkelling. Under the water, there was the usual array of spectacular marine life but the real treat for us all was a Galapagos penguin that was sitting on the jagged lava rocks right next to the water’s edge. It was sitting there drying off and pruning itself and I managed to snorkel to within a metre of the bird to get some nice close ups. We’ve been on the lookout for penguins for the past couple of days now and this sighting was a real treat for everyone – especially me since most of the others had seen one whilst snorkelling yesterday.

The penguin was great but the murkiness of the water pretty much put a damper on any decent photography beneath the surface. As we climbed back into the panga, the realisation suddenly set in that this was the very last water excursion of the trip. We did make another wet landing here later in the day and enjoyed walking around the lava flows, enjoying the geology of this wonderful place. This was concluded with a brief panga ride around to a spot where Juan Carlos found a grouping of four Galapagos penguins and we managed to get very close to these birds too. As we were all pointing our cameras, one of them decided to gingerly dive into the water and started to immediately fly around in search of small fish. Apparently, the Galapagos penguin is the second smallest penguin that there is, next to the blue penguin of New Zealand. With the top quarter of the archipelago above the equator line, it’s also the only penguin that can be found in the northern hemisphere.

Back aboard the NEMO I, Juan Carlos was pouting over the fact that he had lent out a couple of decent Galapagos wildlife books to another boat. These had apparently been autographed to him personally by the respective authors but the guide on the other boat was claiming that the books were taken by a couple of passengers on an earlier cruise. He was clearly very upset by this and we all felt for him. Juan Carlos is quite a character and has slowly become more than just our naturalist throughout this cruise. Everyone will miss him at the end of it all.

On the first day that we arrived on the NEMO I, the owner was aboard for the afternoon and she was very impressed with one particular photo that I had taken of the vessel from the top of the mast when I was winched up there. I had promised to let her have that photo on CD and so I thought it might be nice to take some shots of the crew all standing next to the main sail with the name NEMO I writing on the sail in the background. I had all the crew assemble in their uniforms for an impromptu photo shoot and got some very nice shots in the process. I spent much of the afternoon on a photographic hunt for the best shots and took some time to sort them all out on the laptop. I’ve decided to sort out some of the very best pictures from the overall cruise to give to the owner along with the shots of the catamaran. This may just curry some favour with regards to a possible return trip to the Galapagos Islands at some point in the future. I would definitely like to come back for a purely diving cruise around some of the north islands. Darwin and Wolf are the islands in particular that stand out as the best diving locations throughout the archipelago and I would dearly love to dive there.

With this evening being the last of the cruise, Juan Carlos and the entire crew were on hand for a farewell ceremony and cocktail. Everyone was in a joyous mood and Juan Carlos made a very rousing speech about how well the trip has gone and just how well everybody has got on with each other given that we were all strangers to each other on day one. Apparently, even the crew has commented on this too. Everybody shared his sentiments and it has indeed been a truly successful cruise that everybody seems to have enjoyed immensely. Some survey forms were handed out and I did my best to reflect my true feelings – both the good and the bad. The dinner this evening was just about the best I’ve had so far and I even managed to eat every last morsel that was put in front of me – the first time this has happened since we first set sail.

Although he didn’t want to advertise the fact, Juan Carlos had arranged with the owner that Sandy and I would not have to pay the bar bill for all the soft drinks we’ve drunk over the past week. This was apparently a measure of goodwill in return for receiving a copy of that one photo that the owner took such a liking to at the beginning of it all. I hope she’s happy with the whole CD full of photos I left for her.

We still have tomorrow morning to go but looking back over the past week, all the passengers have bonded very well together and everybody will leave the vessel with new friends. After dinner, we all exchanged contact details and I made some CDs full of photos for everybody that asked – which was just about everybody.

We all started the laborious process of packing away our things and we each left our tips in the envelopes provided in our cabins. I told Juan Carlos to keep the US$110 (€84,61) we lent him by way of his tip and I put another £60 (€90) in the crew’s envelope too. We spent the remainder of the evening playing cards and getting progressively drunk. It was a fitting final evening.