Partial Reinforcement…..

Dear F&F,
May 22, 2009

Only 2 dives scheduled this morning, both at the same site off Isabella Island. We did the first dive & it just wasn\’t interesting enough to do again. We know that there is always a chance to see something you didn\’t see the first time, but overall the diving has been hit or miss. Yesterday one of the 4 dives we did was outstanding. The others, not great. For me, the not great parts are: very rough sea conditions which make the dinghy ride to the site uncomfortable. However, mostly the rides have been fairly short, so that is tolerable.

It turned out that the flooding of my dry suit was user error. I\’ve had no problem keeping dry on the inside if I completely close the waterproof zipper. I did wear my wetsuit a few times in the warmer northern islands. In my wetsuit I typically back roll off the dinghy then kick down head first. I tried that stunt exactly once in my dry suit! I must do a feet first descent because of where the exhaust valve of my suit is located on my upper arm. Any air in my suit is up at my feet & there is no way for me to get it out & descend. Meanwhile the swell is bobbing me about feet up at the surface & it takes me a minute to realize I must right myself to vertical – head up – in order to drop down on the reef.

All the divers from the dinghy back rolling in at once & try to descend with their gear, not always conscious of who is around them. So, I\’ve gotten conked on the head with a tank, kicked with fins & pawed at with flailing arms. Just with that description, I am afraid those of you who were all signed up for the next dive class just bailed out. But let me tell you what else you are missing…

Surge & Current: We had been warned at every site, except for today, that there is strong current. What is strong? Even 1-2 knots is hard or impossible to swim against. We must pull ourselves hand over hand on the rocks. This of course, hoping to not accidentally grab a moray eel or sea urchin. Mostly where the shark action was up at Wolf & Darwin Islands we were instructed to drop down & hang on to the rocks. Just wait & watch. Scott is always out in front with his video or camera eager to get the best shots as often the animal life is best right at the beginning of the dive before a large group of divers scare the sharks away. YES, we scare the sharks away. I, his buddy, do my best to stay with him. I often stay a bit shallower & behind him, but try to be where we can make eye contact when he looks around for me.

Mostly I am watching Scott but also trying to keep an eye on the rest of the group (4 other divers plus Edwin, the dive master). There 2 pangas for our 2 groups of divers, so we are requested to stay together as much as possible so they don\’t have to search too far for us as we surface. Scott has a good eye & figured out quickly that the sharks are patrolling the rocky reef at about 80 feet deep. They are filling our tanks with Nitrox, as they did at Coco, so we can stay that deep for about 20 minutes.

The second dive yesterday was non-stop shark action for the full 20 minutes. Many Galapagos & hammerheads swimming slowly against the strong current. Meanwhile I am trying my darndest to wedge into a spot where I can stay put & not fly about in the current. It is not just left or right current flowing, but also an up & down surge that really makes it tough to keep your position. I am so glad I have my \”low volume\” mask because I feel the pressure of the streaming water rushing against my head & imagine it could tear the mask right off my face if it was a bigger mask with more air space inside.

Frankly I do not love this kind of diving. I always imagine I am in Navy Seal training. And then I remember that this is an elective activity & start imagining all the other things I could have done with the money we spent on this trip…. Sigh. I try not to dwell on the negatives too much. The sharks are intriguing, but for me no comparison to the thrill of swimming with the manta rays or whales. But there are no manta rays or whales here. At least not at this season. We were very lucky to get the glimpse we did of the whale shark on this trip. It is usually seen only in August, September & October.

Blue Water Time: Our dive master Edwin usually gets bored of hanging out on the reef after 30 minutes or so & motions for us to swim out into the open blue water. Sometimes he has us kicking against the current 15-20 minutes. Sometimes he lets us drift. I think he is amused by his control over us. I don\’t mind getting the exercise with kicking & always have plenty of air, so it is still safe even if I am huffing & puffing aerobically. It is harder for me in my dry suit to maintain a stable depth as we swim shallower & do our 15 feet deep safety stop. This is because it is not made of neoprene, & has no inherent buoyancy. I either add or exhaust out air from my suit or my Buoyancy Compensator jacket (BC). As the waves are crashing overhead, it can be a bit like a washing machine & I don\’t love that part. But when groups of 2, 4, 5 or more dolphins started circling us I forget all the effort & am happy to be there, happy to have that experience. We have only swum with dolphins in the wild a few times. They are not usually that interested in divers. They are often intrigued with moving boats, but divers are too slow & awkward in the water to hold their interest. There a lot of either dull or uncomfortable times & some amazing experiences. That\’s what keeps me going.

Comfort & Boat Life: Several of the other tourists continue to be seasick. I have shared Sandy\’s Stugeron medication from Mexico with several & keep taking it prophylactically myself. Knock wood, I have not been seasick. My ears however are completely waterlogged, so my hearing is poor. I diligently put in my vinegar/hydrogen peroxide brew to kill any sea critters, then use my special ear dryer. Today is my 4th day on the antibiotics so I have not missed any diving due to my ears. Last night was the first time I had actual pain & had to take something for it. Otherwise I can mostly ignore the itchy canals. It is just as well the diving today was not that great because I will have until tomorrow morning to keep my head dry.

We motored 3 hours to Santiago island, then hiked there this afternoon. I love to walk, hike, stretch my legs, but unfortunately it was hot at 3:00 p.m. with the sun beating down on us & no breeze. We affectionately refer to these mis-timed outings as \”death marches\”. The islands are not green, lush & beautiful. They are stark & rugged. Black lava rocky outcroppings. Scraggly brush, some cactus. A few indigenous birds. We had another opportunity to see the marine iguanas. Which we already saw during our land tour of San Cristobal so rather BTDT (been there done that). My apologies for sounding so blase about the Galapagos – it is all really fine, but not spectacular, fabulous, you-should-have-been-there. Rent a DVD & enjoy the Galapagos from the comfort of your own home. Or if you are a scuba diver, only come in August through October.

Books: I finally finished Mark Twain\’s interminable \”Following the Equator\” – thank God! It went on & on forever with so few wonderful paragraphs that made me smile or I think clever; I dog-eared only about 10 pages out of the hefty 712. I plan to write down the choicest bits & then leave this tome, with it\’s deceivingly romantic title, on the book trade table for some unsuspecting passenger to pick up for their flight home. I plunged into \”Sister of My Heart\” that Karen (who is a Sister of My Heart) loaned me & am happy to report that despite it\’s setting primarily in India, it IS a page turner & I am enjoying it during these long passages between islands. Mark Twain may have journeyed around the world, but that un-recommendable book spent 75% of the time in India. Not a place I\’ve ever yearned to go & that book did nothing to dissuade me. \”Sister of My Heart\” is a novel, so I can enjoy the imagined scents & sights of this fascinating country without the reality of Slumdog Millionaire (last years Academy Award winning film which Skye warned me is \”not a Cindy movie\”).

Two more dives tomorrow, land time at Santa Cruz Island where we first pulled in but soon left its miserable anchorage & then Sunday morning Home Sweet Boat. We came, we saw, we dove. Time for this one to return to my own floating home & prepare for the big journey ahead.

Scott & Cindy