This post is part of our Trip to Galapagos, with land visits and diving.
After a couple of days waiting in St Cristobal after being dropped off from land excursions with the Galaven (Thank you again Ecuador for prohibiting anyone from a diving boat from setting foot on land in any interesting place, or even for making sure that it's now impossible to see the highlights on land in less than 2 weeks, and then need a 3 week at least to do diving separately), we finally boarded the Aggressor II for a one week diving trip.
There again, we can thank Ecuador for preventing Aggressor with 2 identical boats, to offset the boats by 3 or 4 days. Instead both boats do the exact same itinerary at the exact same time. How lame... (mostly because it was hard to match land and diving boats, and if aggressor had been able to have one cruise leave every 3 to 4 days, matching would have been easier).
Back to the aggressor, it was a good boat with great staff, good comfort, and great food. The dive sites on the first 2 days were questionable at best, but once more the aggressor was prevented from giving us better dive sites since they were actively prevented by the government from using better sites that would somehow compete with day land boats. Thank you for looking out for us, Ecuador, I do really appreciate it. It's a good way to make sure I don't want to give any more money to other companies there since you're trying to force us to after we've already shelled out a lot of money for 2.5 weeks there and permits.
Also, for the 'greater good' we were also prohibited from doing more than 3 dives per day or actually even more than 16 dives per week (!) compared to a typical 22-25 dives in other locations for the same amount of time.
But I digresss, back to diving. The checkout dive was in a totally uninteresting place that outside of a couple of sea lions that made the dive in a mere 10 meter deep channel with pretty much nothing else to see in it. A few pictures below:
Day 1: Checkout dive at Isla Lobos
sea lion showing off and swimming upside down
The second day, we started cruising pretty far to Wolf and since the boat wasn't too fast (barely 10kts), and we stopped in Puta Carion (north of Santa Cruz) for 2 dives that weren't stellar, and then Cousin's Rock, just past Bartolome/San Salvador, which was somewhat better.
Day 2: Punta Carion in North Santa Cruz
Day 2: Cousin's Rock
many fish, really
did I mention many fish?
still had normal sharks there
After being done at Cousin's Rock, we finally motored towards the distant island of Wolf, known for many fish and hammerheads due to its water currents and did our 3 dives there the next day:
Day 3: Wolf
Wolf is a rather rock that doesn't quite fit in my camera. It had a good amount of current, lots of fish, and hammerheads:
this jellyfish had cool pulsating colors
After the 3rd dive, they gave us a Dingy ride to swim with wild dolphins. They were lots of pods and they were easy to find (I counted around 30-40 within view once):
We kind of barely saw a Whale Shark at Wolf, but it was a bit too far for anyone to have gotten a descent picture unfortunately. We were hopeful to see more, but we didn't, we blew our one chance.
Water was around 25C with very strong currents. There were so many baby creole fish that they were actually annoying for litterally blocking visibility, like having a swarm of bees around your head and not being able to see ahead as a result. Because there was so much current, we had to hold on to rocks on 2 out of the 3 dives, and therefore we were inside the pocket of those stupid fish (millions of them, I'm not kidding), and it was hard to see much or get good shots.
After our 3rd dive, we went to the even more distant and smaller island of Darwin:
Day 4: Darwin
Darwin is just a round rock with an arch in front of it, but it has mighty current and lots of sea life (including way too many creole fish).
Darwin also had lots of Hammerhead sharks, but we didn't have the chance to see any whale sharks there. Current was also pretty bad to the point that you just had to find a rock and hold on to it, while you were swatting the small fish away from in front of you and hoping cool stuff would pass by.
too many creole fish, visibility was bad as a result
too many fish still
lots of jacks
a jack and its shadow
many hammerhead sharks
a huge eagle ray hunting for garden eels
The next morning, we did one more dive at Darwin and since current was still quite strong and visibility poor, we elected to go back to Wolf for our last 2 dives of the day:
Day 5: Darwin and Wolf
The first 2 dives were unremarkable due to bad vis and high currents, but the snorkeling with wild dolphins was fun. I even had a boobie that came to see me in the water and looked in the water to see what I was doing down there. Those bird are definitely fun and curious:
boobie looking under water to see why I was there :)
Since the current and the vis at Wolf wasn't much better, we did our last dive in the more sheltered area by the boat. No big stuff there, but manageable water and other cool critters instead. It wasn't bad actually. Red lipped batfish was too weird:
Once our 3rd dive was done, we started motoring down to Isabella for 2 more dive sites that actually were quite good and didn't have so many of those damned small fish.
Day 6: Roca Redondo and Punta Vicente Roca by Isabella
Punta Vincente Roca
Roca Redondo was freaking cold for my 5mm suit (21C) and with lots of current, but we got lots of sharks, plenty of other fish and other cool stuff like gas bubbles coming from the earth:
Volcanic bubbles of gas, seeping through the rocks, creepy:
Our last 2 dives were at Punta Vicente Roca by Isabella. It was a bit colder there even (but warm for the season they said), but thanks to a 7mm loaner wetsuit, I did marginally better with temperature.
The last dive was even better since we had a clear shot of a sunfish:
This 'fish' was incredible. It had legs and wings
Can you see me?
Dingy ride at Punta Vincente Roca
Since Aggressor can't have us set foot on land, they tried their best to show us a few animals (boobies, iguanas, penguin) from a dingy. Better than nothing for the people not getting a land boat at all:
interesting rock formations made from a mixture of lava and compacted volcanic ash
that crab climbed up and was hanging on a negative slope (half upside down)
Actually, I got to see the flighless cormorant (it had so much food available that it became fat and unable to fly) dive and swim, and it was pretty impressive (almost as good as a penguin), which is not bad considering how bad its wings are.
flightless cormorant has the most sorry ass excuse for wings
but it sure can swim
Other Misc pictures
So, I need to re-iterate that the Aggressor crew was fantastic. The boat was good, outside of being a bit slow (barely 10kts), but it wasn't the end of the world. The amenities were good, and the food was great.
The itinerary was as good as they could make it with the hard to accept list of restrictions that are put onto them (and other boats), and generally we were very happy with them.
The diving was good for a few dives, difficult for some others (at least half), and not as good as it would have been with better sites and fewer restrictions for others. Also, it was sad to have so few dives (only 16, including 3 that were very forgettable) considering the time and money expense. I suppose we got lucky to at least see the outline of a whale shark, but it would have been nice to see it better :) Some of the other critters were quite interesting though.
But eh, hopefully I'm wrong, we'll see...
In the end, I don't regret it, but as I made it clear, I'm not super happy with the Ecuador government for all the restrictions that are not linked to preserving the sites (those are understandable) but meant to force visitors to see less and hope that they'll book more tours with more companies as a result. I think they are pissing off the customer and once the word goes around enough, they'll pay the price and regret it dearly in my opinion (Well, they'll be left with the 'bad' cruiseship and land tour tourists, and lose the educated ones looking at seeing more and actually interested in visiting and seeing a lot).
Hopefully it'll turn out better than my current outlook.