Wauw! We're back from the boat trip, and I must say that Malpelo blew us away. So strap yourself in and get ready for a long, detailed description, cause it's impossible to describe this in short order
June 24th 2007
Today, Arvid was supposed to pick us up from the hotel in David in the morning, but he called to say that some of the other divers were delayed due to some lost luggage. The car eventually arrived around 11.30, with a Pep (one of our fellow divers) onboard already. The driver brought the three of us to Boca Chica, where Arvid was waiting. He sailed us out to the Inula - our home for the next 11 days. Its a catamaran, and is layed out quite comfortably. Our cabin was in one pontoon, but even though it was small and with low ceilings, it was perfectly sufficient and comfortable.
The rest of the group were still delayed, and had not arrived by the time we went to bed. The other divers arrived in the night, and a Panamanian immigration officer came by to stamp our passports, and then we were off. We sailed through the night.
June 25th 2007
In the morning we woke up, and found ourselves at a site near the island of Coiba, called Isla Montuosa. We did two dives here today. The first was simply a check out dive, to make sure everyone and everything was in order. The second we did on the west side, and we saw some white tips, big schools of jacks, octopuses and morays. Nice dive.
After the dives, we took off again, to get started on the 36 hour or so crossing to Malpelo. I instantly got very seasick, and was sick and throwing up the whole way there - horrible. But then, I was expecting it, as I always get sea sick, car sick, air sick - you name it.
June 26th 2007
Today we sailed all day. I was still extremely sick, and couldn't eat anything as it came right back up. So I just tried to sleep through it, and managed to sleep most of the day and night.
June 27th 2007
Today we arrived at Malpelo early in the morning. A Colombian researcher named Pilar came onboard to stay and dive with us - she works for the Malpelo Marine Reserve, and gave us lots of interesting information. The day was structured the same way as all our days in Malpelo: dive 1, then breakfast, dive 2, lunch, dive 3, and then dinner and early to bed.
Dived at Pared del Naufrago, close to where we were moored with Inula. Nearly straightaway we saw a school of hammerheads, although they are very shy and soon disappeared. Also saw huge eagle ray, school of tuna and lots and lots of speckled morays. They are everywhere here it seems.
Went to David, an islet at the south end. Strong current was dragging us east. Instantly surrounded by large school of silky sharks - maybe 80-100 sharks.
Below, we also saw some huge Galapagos sharks and a couple of hammerheads. Amazing! We got dragged into the blue, where we saw more silkies, and some large yellow fin tuna.
Dived at The Three Musketeers at the North end, where we are moored. The current here was extreme, it knocked me upside down at one point, and it was near impossible to swim against it. We did see some large schools of snappers and jacks - very big fish! Four of the guys saw a whale shark in the end, but we missed it!
June 28th 2007
Three dives again today.
First dive of the day, we did at Altar of the Virgin. On the way there, we saw a whale surfacing next to the inflatable boat! During the dive, Al and I sat still in one spot for about 30 minutes, and had several amazing encounters with hammerheads, both in schools and alone.
Also saw eagle rays, a mobula ray, huge blue fin tuna, morays, school of snappers, and a beautiful school of juvenile barracudas.
Dived at David again. Even more current here than yesterday - enough to rip your mask right off your face. But still an amazing dive though. On descent, we saw several silkies again, and at the bottom, the huge Galapagos sharks were once again patrolling. Hung out with them again, holding on to the rocks. When we let go, the current whisked us into the blue, where we once again found the silkies and some hammerheads. Also saw a huge school of tuna. When we got closer to the surface, boobies (birds from the island) where sticking their heads in the water to look at us.
On return from the dive, Arvid spotted some birds in the distance, ad we took off on Inula to look for bait balls. Arvid jumped in in several spots, but nothing came of it in the end. When we returned to our mooring spot, the whale from this morning was back, and it surfaced right next to the boat, flipping its tail at us - a humpback.
We once again went to Pared del Naufrago. It was later in the day, so the light was low, but a few hammerheads did emerge from the blue. Also saw a white tip, Galapagos sharks, octopus and a small turtle.
When we surfaced and got on the boat, the whale paid us yet another visit. Incredible.
June 29th 2007
Once again we did three dives.
First dive we did at La Nevara (the fridge). It is in a small bay, and sheltered from the wind a little bit. We went down to about 20 meters, and just waited, and the hammerheads came - wave after wave, in schools, alone. Some came really close to us. For half an hour we just sat there and watched them - so so cool!
Also saw a couple of Galapagos and silky sharks. Circled by silkies at the safety stop. At the surface interval, we saw a pod of dolphins from the boat.
Second dive of the day, we did at a submerged rock well south of Malpelo, called Bajo Suani. It is a small site, but it was packed with fish - bass, jacks, tuna. This site also has a feature which seems to be unique to Malpelo - the morays here clump together in holes and crevices - 15 to 20 at a time in one place. Very weird.
The site tops out at 18 m, so it was a relatively short dive. When we let the current take us off the site and into the blue, we where suddenly enveloped in a huge, huge school of yellow fin tuna - the zoomed past all around us for almost a minute. Fantastic! The amount of fish in Malpelo is uncanny. On the safety stop we once again had the company of silkies.
Third dive of the day we once again did at Altar of the Virgin, because it is close to Inula, and the currents are not too strong. We stayed shallow to off gas a bit - no deeper than 20 m. Nonetheless, we saw lots of hammers. Then schooling barracudas again, and whippersnappers and lots of morays. Also found a bright yellow frog fish, who stood out against the rock like a sore thumb.
June 30th 2007
First dive of the day we planned to do at Scuba, where we were hoping to see Malpelo's freakiest resident - the red lipped batfish. Alan had the macro lens on and everything. However, on the way there we saw some birds on the horizon and headed out to investigate. Straight away, a pod of dolphins showed up next to the boat and started leading us ahead. The group stayed with us for several minutes, swimming just next to the inflatable boat. We eventually found the site of a bait ball and jumped in. Instantly, we were surrounded by a group of silkies. I saw one dolphin as well, but it swam off when we came down. The sharks kept coming though - our local researcher Pilar estimated 400-500 of them - absolutely amazing!!! The sharks were circling us, and they were above and below - everywhere. The were feeding on a small school of fish near the surface, and birds were joining in from above. The bait fish were panicked, and some came down to hind behind us, which made me a little nervous. A few absolutely enormous tuna joined in the action - they were monsters, larger than most of the sharks!!! At one point, a huge school of snappers passed below us, forming a carpet beneath, will walls of sharks all around. The sharks kept circling and feeding for about an hour - absolutely unbelievable dive!!! Of course, Al had the macro lens on, so the pictures don't really do it justice, but still...
Second dive of the day, we went to Sahara. Great diving again, we saw groups of hammerheads, tuna, some huge eagle rays.
Third dive of the day, we went to a site called La Gringa. Unfortunately we hid some very strong current at the corner of the islet, and we were virtually unable to go the way we wanted to. We held on to the rock, and still could not push forward against the current. It was quite horrible, although not actually dangerous. I really didn't like it, and was just thinking that this was the worst dive so far, when we let go of the rock to be washed away, and bang! A whale shark!!! Now that changed my mind - great dive!
July 1st 2007
In the morning, it was raining and the day seemed bleak. But that was all about to change!
First dive today, we did at Scuba, making a second attempt at finding the red lipped batfish. We found them at 40 meters, lots of them were lounging around on a sandy area there. Man what a freak of nature!!! It sits at the bottom, with four “legs”, its hind legs looking somewhat like chicken wings. And its face! A long Pinocchio style nose with scruffy white hairs sticking out, and red lips that look like its wearing lipstick. What an absolutely stupid animal - when its gets scared or annoyed it moves away - but it can barely swim, and so looks completely ungainly and it wriggles along the bottom. I was laughing out loud into my regulator J
Due to the depth, we soon had to come up from there. Up at 10 meters or so, there was not that much to see, although there were some nice star fish. We hung out, getting pulled up and down by the surge of the waves. And then, at six meters - a whale shark! She came round twice to check us out. Beautiful! Probably the same one as the day before, about 5 meters in length give or take, so not huge for a whaleshark, but big enough to make you feel very small in the water. Right on its tail, a hammerhead cruised past. We surfaced, and were met by bright sunshine and a full, beautiful rainbow - way to turn day around!
On the second dive, we went to La Nevara again. Nice calm dive, with eagle rays and hammerheads al over the place. At our safety stop at 5 meters, the whaleshark once again cruised by, passing right beneath us. A silky shark was stalking it, bumping into it as though trying to chase it off. Also saw a group of eagle rays.
At the third dive, we went to The Three Musketeers. On descent, we saw lots of bigeye jacks, and a large school of mullet snappers, some silky sharks and hammers - very nice. We went through the small cavern that cuts straight through the middle “musketeer”, and found a large eagle ray on the other side.
July 2nd 2007
Last day at Malpelo today.
We decided to dive at David again as the first dive. It was a good choice, as it turned out. We jumped in straight into a school of silkies, and descended below them. Above us the silkies circled, below the large Galapagos sharks loomed, and in front of us a literal wall of hammerhead sharks appeared! I didn’t even know where to look - it was incredible. It was the largest grouping of hammers we had seen so far, and the other sharks just kept coming as well. Totally amazing. At the ascent, we were circled by sharks, as well as a large wahoo. Very nice dive.
On the second dive, we elected to do David again, as the dive had been so nice. It was great again - pretty much a repeat of the previous dive. This time there were fewer hammerheads, but more silkies, and they got very close. For 10 minutes they circled our group at a few meters distance - we felt a bit like the bait in a bait ball!
Even the wahoo from the previous dive showed up again. Amazing.
Last dive at Malpelo, we did at The Fridge again, where we had had some of the best hammerhead encounters of the trip. And what a goodbye dive! We saw lots and lots of hammerheads, schooling. And several very large Galapagos sharks came extremely close to us. Also saw several large eagle rays. Also saw a strange brown ray I’d never seen before - apparently called a golden cow nose ray. When we came up shallower, to about 7-8 meters, a large school of silkies with hammers mixed in surrounded us. And as a final parting gift - the whale shark stopped by to say goodbye - how lucky can you get!?!
So that was it for diving Malpelo - and it was truly amazing. I felt totally overwhelmed and happy. Right after the last dive, we got started on the long sail back.
July 3rd 2007
Today we sent all day sailing back towards Panama. I was not as seasick as on the way out - probably because the water was flat as a pancake. My left ear was very sore and swollen from all the diving - swimmer’s ear. It will heal on its own, but it was highly uncomfortable.
July 4th 2007
Still sailing today. We stopped to do a dive on the way, but both Al and I sat it out due to sore ears. Later, we took a break on a beach on a deserted island - very nice. We reached David in the afternoon, and we all went out to dinner together, and then spent the night on the boat.
July 5th 2007
We got off the boat today - relief! We were really tired, and did not feel like getting straight on the seven hour bus ride to Panama City. Instead, we checked into a hotel in David to rest. We ordered a pizza, watched TV, and slept.