Central AmericaScubaSouth America

May 3, 2007: Malpelo

“Breakfast is ready!” said Javier’s voice as he knocked on our cabin door at 7:05AM. I’ve no idea how I slept through the gong of the food bell, or if the bell even rang, but Eric’s voice from the top bunk was teasingly accusatory, “Heidiiiiiiiii!!”. LOL – I’d promised him that he didn’t need to set his alarm because I’d definitely be awake at 7AM. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I’d sleep for 9 hours straight. But I guess the body does what it needs to in order to recover, and I felt like a new woman after yesterday’s rough illness.

It stopped pouring last night though the weather was still overcast and breezy. Not to so good for visibility or photos but I’m not going to complain since a full day of diving lay ahead.

Dive #1: Sahara

Sahara was a dive out into the sandy area specifically for the hammerheads (“hammers”) – which we found. My camera, however, wasn’t quite cooperating by taking quality pictures. Granted this was probably user error since I’m still trying to figure out how to use the darn thing, and I plan to make an interesting study between my pictures and Eric’s pictures, just to see how fabulous underwater photos can look when done correctly. Because most of mine look like this:

A “use your imagination” shot

The hammers were amazing, though. They’d appear out of the blue by the dozens. One moment you’d think nothing was out there, and the next you’d be looking at a massive wall of shark swimming by. Then they’d disappear, and the group of us would be left staring into the blue to spot them again. I would freeze with my camera and desperately try to capture as much through my lens as possible. Once I was still staring through my camera in the same direction as the rest of the group when I happened to look right and – hello! – big hammer hanging out right next to me.

There were a few that passed directly beneath us, keeping to the sand. This is where my camera truly cooperated and took some decent (read: recognizable) shots.

Dive #2: The Fridge – In

This dive was amazing. Great marine life, great visibility, and an all-around wonderful dive. Within the first few minutes of descent Renee made a new friend with a grouper who came close to explore. They stayed like that for a few minutes and, even when Renee turned to continue diving, the grouper followed like a love-sick fishy. Very cute.

Renee and his grouper

The entire dive was like this – full of amazing sights and beautiful fish. The current was light, and we all seemed to be happy just floating along and taking in the masses of fish.

At one point we perched on a ledge near a well-known “cleaning station” where the hammers appear to have their mouths and flanks cleaned by barberfish. We saw a few drift by but none of the close-up experience were were hoping for.

Diving “The Blue”
It’s an interesting comparison – diving Malpelo versus other parts of the world. Everywhere else we focus on the reef and the fish that live there. However at Malpelo we constantly look out into “the blue” for dark figures that may come up to investigate. If we’re too focused on the coral then we’ll miss these bigger fish and will likely hear about it later on the surface: “Did you see? The three manta rays and five white-tipped in those last 5 minutes? No? They were right above your head! How could you have missed it?” So I’m getting used to splitting my observations between the reef and the blue, which is how I spotted the family of large spotted eagle rays that floated gracefully by:

Those dark splotches are the eagle rays. You’d never know this if I didn’t tell you, but they really are.

We ended our dive away from the rocks of Malpelo and truly in The Blue, where we hoped to attract some curious hammers. I always enjoy diving in the blue because it’s a challenge of buoyancy – you have no visual reference to know if you’re staying at one level depth, so you have to rely on your computer and your body’s reaction to changing depth. And – when you are neutrally buoyant in the blue – there’s a wonderful sensation of stillness and peace; as if there’s nothing around you for miles and miles. Except your fellow divers, of course.

Lucien and Eric, waiting for the hammers

Dive #3: Bajo del Ancla

Following our lunch and a little surface interval, we suited up for our last dive of the day. We ran into beautiful marine life within our first five minutes – a gorgeous school of bluelined snapper right on the rocks:

And in the blue was a MASSIVE group of creole fish:

Moments later, the two schools met and mingled, and I was surrounded by a melting pot of fish life:

And like the other reef systems here, this was a plethora of moray eels, including one crevasse where at least seven where living together:

And – as bonus – twice I spotted scorpion fish (more commonly known as a rock fish) on my own. I was very proud of myself for this feat, since scorpion fish camouflage themselves into their surroundings.

Post-Dive: Malpelo Island

I should take a moment to describe what Malpelo looks like: it’s huge, and rocky, and virtually uninhabitable. I say “virtually” because clearly yesterday proved that an entire ecosystem relies on the island, but it’s not your lush, tropical resort area. Though it’s lovely in its own way. No matter how you picture it, there’s a beautiful vista against the sky and birds flying all around. The complexity above the sea merely hints at the complexity underwater – and it’s for that complexity that we dive.

The harsh terrain of Malpelo

After each dive, we put away our gear and munch on whatever tasty snacks that Javier, our steward, brings on deck for us hungry divers. After that, Eric and I scurry down to our cabin where we fire up our laptops, download pictures, and capture dive stats in our logs. There’s not enough room on our bunks to sit and type, so we’ve set up shop on the narrow floor between the wall and the bunk structure which seems to suit us fine.

Eric in our “office”

There’s a lovely German couple named Thomas and Claudia on the boat who have been to Cocos (and on this particular boat) a few times before, and I very much enjoy their friendliness and “joie de vivre”. Tonight we sat on the bow of the boat and watched the sunset. Well, they did. I was a few minutes late and unfortunately only caught the tail end.

Sunset next to Malpelo

There are two types of birds on the island: masked boobies and frigates. Tonight Thomas and Claudia taught me how to differentiate between the two — frigates have an angled wingspan and a split tail. This will come in very handy when I have to identify which type of bird has shat on me.