The night before our first day trip to Isla Santa Fe, I could hardly sleep. Would my somewhat sketchy waterproof case work, or would my iPod Touch be ruined forever? Would we have good weather? Would we see sea turtles?! All these questions floated through my mind and I was so stressed out that I itched all over and couldn’t stop scratching myself.
The problem with not having any money, is that when you spend it, you tend to stress out about whether or not you’re just wasting it on an unworthy venture. “Are we spending $150 for nothing?!” I continually asked myself. Craig, on the other hand, had been stressing out before we booked the tour, but once everything was settled, he had the good sense to recognize that we would just have to make the most of what came.
Wednesday dawned cloudy and grey, just as all days here in the Galapagos have, due to the garúa mists. Our guide was a young Galapagueño who immediately scolded Craig and I for not getting our diving certificates. “It’s just going to get more and more expensive in the future!” he insisted. Well… maybe someday… when we’re not hyperventilating over spending just $75 each, as opposed to $250 or more for dives. Give us a break, dude!
Our speedboat ride out to Santa Fe, which is a smallish, uninhabited island off the southeast coast of Santa Cruz, reminded me of why I hate speedboats. The smell of gasoline, the sickening feeling in your gut when the boat slams back down into the water, and the noise are all major deterrents. One German teenager on our tour turned green and hung over the side of the boat for most of the ride.
But Santa Fe was quite beautiful, and the waters clear. Craig and I hadn’t even thought of renting a wetsuit, so when we dropped in the water, it was a shock to the system. I think it was just at the temperature where we wouldn’t get hypothermia, but not much warmer than that. Such trivialities as body core temperature don’t weigh heavily on your mind when you’ve got playful sea lions swimming just inches from your face, though. We also saw some manta rays and sharks, but there’s not much that can top a sea lion… unless it’s a sea turtle!
“Are we going to see sea turtles?” I asked the guide, who was not very forthcoming with information otherwise.
“Yesterday, we saw ten,” he replied. Well, okay then! Let’s go find them!
Our second snorkeling site that day was in a beautiful bay, but we didn’t see much of note underwater besides some more rays. Snorkeling in clear water with lots of fish around is still a wonderful experience. I like feeling like a mermaid.
As Craig and I were doggy-paddling off the coast, wondering if we should head back to the boat, a blue-footed booby suddenly dive-bombed about three feet from us with a noise like a torpedo. We hadn’t seen it coming, and it didn’t give off much of a splash, but it certainly spooked us. It took off again and slowly circled, and Craig and I readied ourselves for his next dive. It entered the water at such a speed that it went down to nearly 12 feet before snagging a fish, and left a trail very much like those you see in movies where bullets are being shot into the sea. We’d seen a booby quite up close once before as it stood on some rocks and it had looked extremely stupid, but Craig was so impressed by the dive that he said he’d changed his whole outlook on boobies at that moment. It was truly one of the highlights of the day.
When I heard that we were getting ceviche for lunch, my jaw nearly dropped off my face. Craig’s lips were blue, and my teeth were chattering, but we soon warmed up with our excellent lunch, and were ready to go for our third snorkeling site, where the guide was hopeful that we’d see sea turtles. Alas, we saw nothing of note, and soon turned homeward. Since the weather had never really improved, I felt a bit disappointed. For $75, I wanted perfection, but I suppose you can’t have everything, and really, it was a lot of fun despite nearly freezing (and we had that amazing lunch!).
It’s a terribly mercenary habit, this trying to wring enjoyment out of every last cent, but I’m not sure I can stop myself… After all, we’re only here once (probably), and how can you not feel cheated if the tour the day before saw ten sea turtles and you saw none?
Our next day trip was from Isabela island out to Los Tuneles, arch formations in lava rock off the southwest coast of the island. Having learned our lesson, we rented wetsuits, as did everyone else onboard. I think a good indication of whether or not to rent one is if your guide is wearing one.
This time, we were in a much smaller speedboat, and whether for that reason or for the sea being calmer, the ride out was a lot more enjoyable. We were cutting across the waves when suddenly, the driver cut the engine and shouted for us to look. Off the port side, an enormous manta ray could be seen just under the surface of the sea. It was at least 10 feet across and would lift the tips of its fins just out of the water, as if in a wave hello. Craig and I had no idea that manta rays could get so big (the captain said up to 8 meters!), so we were just completely floored.
“Que suerte!” the crew said. I felt like the day trip was already looking better than our last one.
We arrived at our first snorkel site, where lots of lava rocks protruded from the water and mangrove trees grew off the coast. The water was clear, and we saw a swarm of sun rays almost immediately. But the most magical moment was, of course, when they spotted a huge sea turtle and waved us over. I actually gasped into my snorkel tube when I first saw it… it must have been 4.5 feet in length, and absolutely enormous. Everybody crowded around and took photos with it, and we followed it for maybe about 10 minutes. I can still hardly believe how impressive it was, and how close it allowed us to get.
Luckily, we saw either two more sea turtles, or the same turtle twice again, and got back on the boat feeling fairly uplifted. Even the snorkel mask failures that Craig and I kept having couldn’t diminish the wonder of the sea turtle. I had built my expectations up incredibly high for our sea turtle experience, and it totally blew them all out of the water. It was that dream-like and magical.
Our next snorkel site had a fun little penguin swimming around, and I somehow got in the right position to be very close to it, and the site was even more beautiful than the last. Lots of lava rock formations and the sky was blue and sunny… perfect!
We didn’t have ceviche, but the crew was a lot friendlier, making jokes and really urging us to follow them to where we could see sea horses, rays, sharks, and whatever else they could find. They even asked if we wanted to drive the speed boat for a while. We came back to the dock and that time, I really did feel like we got our money’s worth. It’s a satisfactory way to end a tour, and they even gave us the pictures from their underwater camera for free (despite holding up quite admirably, my waterproof pouch doesn’t allow for amazing pictures)! All in all, Isabela has felt like one of the better islands to visit… even though room and board is more expensive, there’s lots more wildlife out and about, and the people just seem friendlier and as if they want you to have a really good time. You can’t ask for more than that, really, so I can probably stop stressing out now about having that perfect tour!