When I went on a safari in Tanzania a few years ago, I was singing ‘The Circle of Life’, ‘Hakuna Matata’ and, of course, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, every step of the way. Likewise, while snorkelling around the Galapagos Islands, Finding Nemo quotes immediately floated to the surface. So when I found myself swimming with sharks, I couldn’t help but repeat: “Fish are friends, not food.” (Or better: HUMANS are friends, not food.) And swimming alongside the giant sea turtles, I swear I heard them say, “Duuuude”. I’m sorry Mother Nature, but Walt Disney & Co have contributed significantly to my education on the world around me.
I’m definitely tempted to learn to dive now after this experience. I tend to be claustrophobic so I’ve been worried that all the scuba gear and the whole being-deep-under-water-and-not-being-able-to-breathe thing would be a very bad idea. But once I was in the water and exploring the world below, I actually felt quite free and at ease.
The meeting of three major oceanic currents at the changing of the season from the hot, wet months to the cool, dry months meant that we would find ourselves in warm water one minute and cold the next, with the Cromwell and Humboldt coastal currents mixing together. We wore wet suits but I still found myself shivering after an hour in the water.
Swimming in these waters was like swimming in a massive aquarium. On our first outing, I saw a school of small fish swimming by, shining in a blueish silver; countless other species in blues and yellows and greens and oranges feeding on the coral; a group of eagle rays soaring majestically past; and beneath us, the sharks passing back and forth, seemingly unconcerned by the strangers above. On subsequent excursions, the captain of the Nemo II, who turned out to be a snorkel-meister, had a mad tendency of swimming into dark caves and then signalling to us if there were sharks. On one swim, I finally saw the hammerhead. On another, we frolicked with the sea lion pups (but beware the adults, who can be aggressive). Even the landscape itself was captivating: the coral (although much of the coral reefs around the Galapagos Islands have been wiped out by El Niño-Southern Oscillation, the anomalous warming of the ocean water temperatures), the volcanic rocks… and, living among them, the various starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
My favourite echinoderm: the chocolate chip star fish, a perfect cookie with milk chocolate chips arranged in a geometrical pattern. The real highlight, though, was swimming alongside those huge Galapagos turtles: they are so incredibly cool, chillaxing in the ocean for hundreds of years, not a care in the world. And, on the final day: a Galapagos penguin, one of the smallest of its species but very quick in the water.