It's hard to believe that I am scuba diving in the Galapagos. Up until this point, I have only seen these magical islands in documentaries.

Now here I am, 27-metres below the sea, drifting along while the sun's rays glisten through the water. A sea lion nearly touches my face as he swims up, over and around me like a playful dog. I excitedly stretch out my arm and feel the tip of his fin as he speeds by me.

To this day, the shine of his remarkably large eyes still lingers in my mind. I imagine what he must have been thinking; this strange-looking creature with a shiny cylinder-shaped tank strapped to its back. We must look pretty silly trying to fit into the water world.

Diving with SealsMatthew G. Bailey

Drifting by prehistoric lava plates, I can't help but wonder about the powerful eruptions that created these amazing islands we humans refer to as the Galapagos Islands. Just as these thoughts go through my head, a turtle almost swims into me. Or did I almost swim into her? Wait, did I just say I almost swam into a sea turtle?

How amazing life under the sea can be. I look into her eyes before she ascends to the top for a gulp of air. Maybe I should have loaned her my air piece for a moment. Imagine that. Okay, back to the real world.

Diving with TurtlesMatthew G. Bailey

I’m diving 25 metres below the surface of the famous Galapagos Islands.

No big deal really. They just happen to be the same islands where Charles Darwin, the English natural historian and geologist, formed his theory of evolution. Maybe we can talk about that later though because I’m noticing a school of hammerhead sharks swim by.

I grab hold of a rock to stop the current from taking me away and look out into the deep blue. A hammerhead appears in the distance. Suddenly I see three; then four. Then I see more than half a dozen. They keep coming towards us. I secretly, and surprisingly, hope they come even closer. My wife - who is next to me - is probably thinking the opposite. I look towards her and tap her shoulder to get her attention, but also to let her know a hammerhead shark is literally a few metres behind her. My eyes drift from hers and then to the enormous and beautiful creature that just so happens to have its eyes locked on us. It’s just as curious as the seal was, wondering what we are and what we are doing. It checks us out once more and then swims on, doing a couple of laps to investigate the other divers before rejoining its group on their little “road trip” across the sea.

Joining a School of FishMatthew G. Bailey

We just saw hammerhead sharks.

My mind is racing. I’m ecstatic. I’ve been fascinated by sharks since I was a little boy and now my love for them is growing stronger.

As I watch the silver silhouettes dance through the deep blue, I notice two large tunas playing what looks to be a game of tag, chasing one another to the surface. They are having the time of their lives. Our air, however, is beginning to run low. We let go of the rocks and make our way to a depth of five metres below the surface to perform a safety stop. We hover here for three minutes to allow the nitrogen to safely escape our bodies.

As I sit buoyed, examining my depth gauge and waiting for the moment I can finally head to the surface, I hear some loud squeaking noises pulsate through the water. My heart skips a beat with anticipation. I can only suspect this new sound is probably coming from dolphins. As I excitedly looked around through the cloudy water, I noticed a pod of five or six dolphins race by. They're flapping their tails and singing out an ocean song. What an incredible way to end a dive.

The Galapagos AggressorMatthew G. Bailey

My time in the water is almost up.

I drift closer to the surface and the sun's rays shine through, creating a prism effect. It reminds me of a previous dive, when we once spent a full hour watching marine iguanas dive underwater to feast on algae.

The Galapagos Islands are the only place on Earth where iguanas have evolved to become effective divers. As we approached one of the many islands they have inhabited for millions of years, all we could see were iguana heads holding position above the surface of the sea. It was almost lunchtime and the iguanas that had been sunbathing on land began moving towards the cold water. As they dove into the water we quickly strapped on our gear and jumped in with them. As they sat there floating on the surface, it reminded me of the Whack-A-Mole carnival game where you hit the gopher heads with the mallet as they pop their heads up from the holes. At a maximum depth of just eight metres the dive was calm and relaxing, allowing us to swim calmly while watching the iguanas do their thing. I was blown away by the fact that I was hovering in the water just a metre away from these prehistoric-looking creatures eating algae off the rocks below. The fish didn’t seem to mind either; they were too busy feeding on the skin of the distracted iguanas. When the iguanas needed air or had had their fill of food, they would tuck their little legs close to their bodies and paddle their tail like a snake, swimming effortlessly through the water. I tried to mimic one just for fun but I wasn’t as efficient at it. When the iguanas weren’t around to amuse us, we looked closely at giant seahorses holding seaweed with their tails to avoid being swept out with the current.

Darwin's ArchMatthew G. Bailey

My memory retracts and I realize I am still in the water.

My safety stop is over and I begin to inflate my scuba vest, ascending to the water’s surface. As we break through the waterline and spot land, it is like crossing a division in the world. Above me is dry land with people, houses and cars, while below me is a completely different world, filled with fish, coral and all sorts of colourful marine life. The Zodiac pulls up beside me and the boatman waits for me to pull myself out of the water and into it. As I jump in, removing the mask and wiping my face, the dramatic experience is now just a memory. I sit there, amazed with what I have seen and somewhat melancholic that it is over. We grab eight more divers from the wavy waters and head back to Aggressor’s Live Aboard dive yacht. I desperately try to think about my recent experience, to ingrain it so deep into my memory that it will never fade. As I step onto the yacht, I glance out at the ocean, staring at the orange globe now making its descent. I realize just how fascinating this world really is, both above water and below it.

 

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