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Snorkeling in the Galapagos

From September 2014 to January 2015, Performing Arts Abroad is hosting a family of four in the Galapagos Islands for a music volunteer program. This family is no newcomer to the idea…they have played together for years as “Kentucky T. Dutchersmith and the Rubber Band” and lived abroad in Mexico for a six-week service learning project several years ago. The father, Kent, is a music teacher in the school system of Goshen, Indiana. On PAA’s program, the Dutchersmith family plans to work with land tortoises and conservation work some mornings, and volunteer with music activities in the afternoons. Enjoy this special series as we follow this family’s musical adventure in the Galapagos!  Check out their blog here:

Snorkeling is now my favorite sport.  Luisa is really into it too.  Most of the time I/we walk the mile walk to La Loberia (Sea Lion Beach) and go snorkeling there.  When the tide is low, it’s great snorkeling, with lots of sea turtles and many different tropical fish.  However, it’s nice to have a change of snorkeling scenery from time to time, so I decided to pay some money to take a snorkeling day tour to Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion), also known as Kicker Rock.

On this particular trip, our snorkeling boat had just 5 passengers, the captain, the first mate, and our Galapagos National Park certified tour guide.  Leon Dormido trips usually include another location as well, and ours was a beach called “Playa Manglecito” (Little Mangrove Beach).  At the beach we could hike, tan, hang out, or go snorkeling.  After a brief hike to explore the beach, I headed to the water with my snorkeling gear.  The snorkeling was similar to La Loberia.  It was shallow with lots of rocks covered with marine algae and plants, which both the fish and turtles like.  What made this “snorkel” special was that I saw a beautiful hawksbill turtle.  The most common sea turtle to see in the waters around San Cristobal is the green sea turtle.  This was only the second time that I saw a hawksbill turtle close up.  It has a orangish-brownish shell, and  is smaller than the green turtles.  I also saw some large, (1 1/2-2 feet long) colorful tropical fish.  Some were orange and others were multi-colored with a shimmery florescent sort of sparkle.  For both large fish and sea turtles, my strategy is to follow them at a safe distance until I either lose them, I see something else interesting, or I simply am ready to move onto something else.

Lunch often seems to taste better on snorkeling trips.  I probably snorkeled 45 minutes or so, which takes more energy than I realize.  On the boat we ate a delicious lunch of fried fish (wahoo), sweet plantain, rice and salad.  After lunch we headed to Leon Dormido, which we could see already from our beach.  From a distance and at the right angle, the rock does indeed look like a sleeping lion.  Leon Dormido is actually small when you consider it to be an island, but is humungous when you think of it terms of a rock that is jutting out of the middle of the ocean.  When the sun shines on Kicker Rock, it almost sparkles.  Made of lava rock, it has many large white spots–due to the vast number of sea birds that nest there and poop on it–which is typical of all the coastal Galapagos rock formations.

Close up, Leon Dormido is quite impressive.  It actually has two sections, which are separated by about 50-75 feet.  It looks as if God took a steak knife and cut the rock into two sections.  It was near this space that we were dropped off.  Unlike my other snorkeling adventures, this one was in deep water.  After jumping off the boat and into the ocean, I looked around to see nothing but water.  However, after getting adjusted to my surroundings and as we approached the space between the two rocks, we started seeing good-sized fish and then Galapagos sharks!  All the sharks in the Galapagos waters are said to be not dangerous to humans.  The Galapagos sharks can get up to 12 feet long, but most of the ones we saw were probably no longer than 8 ft.  Looking below me, I could see at least 10 sharks at once, gracefully swimming at least 6-10 feet below me.  They didn’t seem to be phased by our group at all.  At one point, directly below us were two large eagle rays!

Besides the sharks and rays, we were also greeted by fish of all sizes, shapes and colors.  Under water, the surface of Leon Dormido is teaming with life.  Sea urchins in crevices, sea stars, corals, water plants, fish . . .  Leon Dormido’s under water surfaces are a living mural.  As we swam besides the walls, the “mural” changed.  It was the most diverse snorkeling I’ve experienced yet.  At one point we hovered above a school of thousands of silver-black fish.  One guy in our group was very good at diving deep.  He’d dive right down through the middle of them and they would part for him.  The hole would then close up, and soon after he’d pop right through the fish, who would again part for him.  At another time something dove down out of nowhere.  It was a diving blue-footed booby.  I’ve often seen them flying over head and then dive straight into the water, but this was the first time I got to see what it looked like below water.  The booby went down some 20-30 feet below the surface.

Towards the end of our time in the water, my hands were numb and I was getting tired.  But at the same time, I didn’t want to get out of the water.  It’s such a magical place below the water’s surface and I could swim around the under water walls of Leon Dormido again and again and still see new things.  Writing about it helps preserve the memory of such an incredible experience.

Kent Dutchersmith

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