Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cousins Rock and Land Turtles

Oct 26th

The ship sailed throughout the night. I thought I will have trouble sleeping, but in the end woke up at 6am, after most of the other people (I am usually the first one up).

We are moored close to Santiago island next to a small rock, called Cousin Rock. 

Dive #1: Cousin Rock

The plan was to swim in a clockwise manner along the edge of the rock. We entered the water in an area with rocky bottom and bad visibility. The water was cold, much colder than our dives during the last few days. 

The ledge of the rock is dense of a type of soft coral. We find a turtle sleeping on a small ledge. Everyone is hogging around it to photograph it. I open some distance from the group, and then start seeing things. Small fish hiding among the corals. Quite a few of small turtles partially hidden. 

I reach a “corner” of the island. Here there is a little current, and I hold on to the rock. There is a large school of fish feeding in the current. Above them there is a school of barracudas. Suddenly all the fish are swimming frantically down, and I see a sea lion zooming from above. It swims like a torpedo down among the fish. 

So many fish!

While I am watching all of this, Jimmy, my group’s dive master for today, takes the group above the corner and continues on. I decide to keep ignoring him and stay few minutes longer. As I continue, I find Shay photographing a sea star. I show him that behind him there is a sea lion. Next I show him the large school of barracudas.

Barracudas blocking the sun

We continue on and catch on with the group. There is a small passage in the rock, and a sea lion is searching the floor. It seems me and does few flips and then returns to it activity.

The group find a pair of white tip sharks and try to convince them to pose for the camera. I decide to skip the party and enjoy the dive.

I ascend a bit and find myself in a huge cloud of fish. A school of barracudas swims slowly through the cloud and I enjoy photographing them.

Dive #2: Cousins Rock

The second dive repeats the plan of the first. Going down, I land on the rocky shelf. Apparently I dislodged a barnacle, and a fast acting fish caught it, and swam away with its prize.

I run into a small sea lion that was moving along the rock shelf.

The shelves here are populated by soft corals that harbor various fish and sea stars.

Note that some polyps (close to the camera) are open while the others are closed
Reaching the corner of the rock shelf I encounter many fish again. There is a school of barracudas and large turtle.

Turning the corner I run into a nice sea star.

I see movement in shadows ahead of me, and come closer to discover some of the group. There are five or six large eagle rays between us, and seeing me they turn to their right and move away from us. I barely manage to catch few shots.

Closer to the rocks I encounter  a strange  fish behavior, a whole school of fish all “sitting” on the bottom without movement. The whole sandy floor was landing for hundreds of fish. The problem was that once I got close to photograph they would take off…

I then decide to play a bit with a school of yellow fish.

We return to the boat. This was our last dive. The deck is full of activity as we take apart the equipment, rinse it thoroughly, and bring it all to the upper deck to dry.

As we go through this, the boat starts traveling back toward Santa Cruz. 

We eat lunch, and then settle the monetary business - paying for fuel fare (which for some reason is not included in the bulk cost of the package) and for nitrox.

We reach the channel between Santa Cruz and Baltra. We new start on a land trip. The Pangas take us to the ferry station (on the Santa Cruz side), where a minibus is waiting for us. Jimmy takes on the minibus, while William and the captain go on another bus to the town (they apparently have other business to deal with).

The road toward Puerto Ayora

The plan is to go meet the large turtles. Ilan and I are wondering whether this will be the same location as the one we were on last week, or whether there will be a new place.

As we go into the hills it starts to rain. We go off the road into the dirt track toward the turtle. I realize that this place is familiar. Indeed we return to the exact same farm we visited last time.

Unlike last time, it was wet and raining and there were no other visitors. We got equipped with plastic rain gear, and off we go. Jimmy leads on the tour. It seems that he is much better guide on land than in the sea.

A small waterfowl wading through the pond

drawing lines behind it

Poison "apple" tree

We finish the tour, and return to the bus. It takes us to Puerto Ayora. We have free time until dinner, which is in a restaurant reserved for us by William.

While others visit the various stores, Ilan and I go to see if there is still action at the fishermen’s pier. It is deserted. We return toward the main pier, and look for photographic opportunities.

On the vertical wall of the pier, just of the edge, there are iguanas and a light-footed sally

After chasing some finches, we notice a school of golden rays swimming parallel to the pier. These magnificent animals are almost at the water surface and we manage to follow them for several moments.

By now the late afternoon light is low. I barely manage to photograph a very forthcoming finch that was busy trying to eat a fly.

We go to the restaurant, and meet others from the group. The restaurant is fancy (price wise at least). The food is ok, but nothing to write home about.

Toward 8pm, William comes to collect us. We meet the captain and Jimmy and go on the bus. The drive back is quite and I doze off. 

We reach the ferry terminal. By now it is closed and dark. We can see the full span of the night sky above us. There is some confusion until the pangas reach us, and I enjoy the view of the sky.

We hear the pangas approaching. The crew members light up the flashlight on their phones. It is amazing how bright these seem after you acclimate to the dark. The captain points to a large ray swimming just below us in the shallow water.

Once the pangas arrive, we all board them and start the journey back to the boat. It was longer than I expected. We travel without lights. Looking back I can see how the turbulent water behind the engines light up with fluorescence plankton.  

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