The moment Andy’s alarm clock went off, we knew it was the day we had been anticipating, the reason we were in the Islas Galapagos: We were going scuba diving!
Dressing quickly, we shot down to our resort’s restaurant where various yogurts, granola, fruits, breads, and more were splayed out for breakfast.Once again we saw the deck scattered with lazy iguanas.
Below, the crabs continued to scramble on the rocks . . .
Meanwhile, pelicans landed on tiny posts above the dock . . .
while a family of large puffer fish swam in the sea.
We also found more sea lions sleeping on the dock . . .
Shortly after eating, we headed a block down to Scuba Iguana to take on our first two of six dives. Earlier, we were fitted for our wet suits and equipment so that we could immediately head out with our group of eight divers.
The Galápagos is a marine reserve, meaning it is a protected marine area. This is important because the world’s marine reserves are tiny: In 2007, reportedly less than one percent of the world’s oceans were protected; in 2015, only four percent. The Galápagos alone has the second largest marine reserve in the world, with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef taking first place.
Because the sea is protected, there are rules and regulations to minimize impact to the environment, such as only small groups of scuba divers and snorkelers can visit one area in two to four hour shifts. With this in mind, most diving companies travel to two dive spots a day. In our case, our first dive was outside Isla Floreana, the farthest we would travel from Santa Cruz (where we stayed).
This two-hour boat ride would bring us to an area where sea lions roamed. “You don’t have to search for animals in the Galápagos,” everyone said to us. “They find you.” Our dive instructors spoke of how the animals were curious and friendly, lightly nibbling on divers’ fins and swimming so close they could be felt slipping past. To say Andy and I were excited and overwhelmed was an understatement — It felt more like an out-of-body experience, an opportunity I couldn’t imagine having.
Unfortunately what was also overwhelming was my seasickness. The waters were rough as soon as we got into our boat and sped across the sea.
Up and down we splashed and jerked, making my increased dosage of Dramamine unable to compete. This means those pleasant diver introductions — as in “Hi, my name is Andy, and I’m from England but recently immigrated to America” — I was not able to partake. I didn’t have a chance to even pretend to be super cool and hip because five minutes in, I was throwing up off the side of the boat.
“Move here,” the instructors encouraged, gathering my helpless body and taking me to the end of the boat, which — for all curious, let me save you now — is supposedly the best place to sit if you’re seasick. True, it was better than anywhere else but due to the choppy conditions and boat’s speed, I was doomed. I threw up again . . . and again . . . and again . . . and — here, let me shorten this: I threw up the entire two hours there. Honestly and truly. And (I’m going to spoil this climactic ending for you) the entire two hours back. Well, I guess I didn’t technically ‘throw up’ the entire two hours back because at one point, I had finally emptied my stomach so I non-stop dry heaved the last hour back. Listen, I’ve been sick before — carsick, airsick, seasick, you name it — but this was beyond any realm of reality. As Andy — baffled — tells people, “I honestly have no idea how to describe it. I’ve never seen anyone quite so sick.”
This also means I made zero friends on the trip. Those trendy tattooed Danish best friends I wanted to talk to — nope, not a chance. The Spanish family and friends of four — never. Oh but there was that couple from Colorado — forget it. Meanwhile, I heard my socialite fiance flourish without me. As I retched beside the motor, he was the center of attention. Bits of his conversation would make its way to my ears, such as “Does she need help?” the concerned and sweet Colorado female asked Andy. “No. Trust me,” he answered. “She would much rather me stay over here.” He was right too. As I tried to listen — to be somewhat involved — I was grateful that there was not someone next to me, rubbing my back as I continued to vomit. Let’s be honest, I had embarrassed myself enough already from afar; I didn’t need a close-up audience too. “Well, at least she’s feeding the birds. Circle of life and everything,” the Colorado female’s husband piped in as I spewed more ‘food’ into the ocean. Actually, I believe that bout was when I threw up on the sleeve of someone’s wetsuit before flinging myself closer to the ocean to chunder again. It was a disaster. I was a disaster.
The good news: After growing up with this type of sickness, I’ve learned to be an ultra-quiet vomitter so beyond knowing I was sick, no one could actually hear me. What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t entirely ruin the ambiance of the boat ride. Plus every time I chucked it over the edge, I passed out in a coma-like state so it’s not as if my actions were desiring attention. Don’t believe me? Here’s a glimpse of me in all of my glory.
This is around when — in a stage of unconsciousness — Andy later said people on the boat became highly concerned over me. True, I was shaking so severely it appeared I was having convulsions and then I went from my normal color to an absolute white to a deep blue. People tried to help but sadly I was past a point of politeness — They asked if I wanted something to eat, which I uttered a definite no. The captain gave me a cup of water, which I immediately handed to a nearby man (who, bless his heart, had my water slosh all over him in his attempted to keep it steady). Even Andy came briefly to sit next to me, but in my gratitude all I could manage was leaning into him before puking again. I did try to utter the most sincere appreciation though when a Spanish woman offered me her jacket and buff (to wear on my head) to keep me warm; however, my “thank you” came out sounding like the dying noise of “Uhhhhhh-uhhhhhh.” This is essentially how the two hour trip to Isla Floreana went.
Emotionally (and let’s face it — physically), all felt ruined as I was struggling to survive. Here’s how much this dive was overthrown by my sickness: I didn’t even care when someone saw a dolphin leap out of the water in the distance. And I was still beyond caring when — right as we arrived to our dive and our boat’s engine was cut off — the captain continued my agony by turning the boat’s engine back on to zoom-zoom out to catch the dolphin.
As we raced, we found an incredible pod of about twenty dolphins, and they surged out of the water, many jumping trick-style mere feet from the boat.
I tried to look, I did, but every time I peered into their sweet little eyes, I threw up again — this time in the small space between boat and dolphin — and to be honest, that’s not how I envisioned meeting a wild dolphin for the first time. But everyone else was elated, as they should have been of course, so we zoom-zoom-zoomed in circles for at least half an hour, chasing this pod while I tried to remain conscious.
Slowly the dolphins began to disappear so slowly we turned back to Floreana, where the boat’s motor was cut off once more.
“Normally it feels better to go into the water,” people chimed, though their voices had doubt because, let’s face it, I was in fact the sickest person anyone had ever witnessed. But I’ve been in this situation before when people — who have never even remotely been in the same situation — feel their advice will help. Regardless, I agreed because it was clear being on the boat was fatal so I tried to stand . . . and failed . . . and tried again . . . and failed, causing me to take my final action: begged Andy to help me. “Canuhhhhh youuuuhhhhh pleashhhhhhhh ggghhhelpppp mmme?” I tried and he looked at me as if I appeared the way I felt. Somehow he came around and perfectly translated my sentence to be “Please find a way to get my body into the wet suit and please get me in my diving equipment after please checking over it because I’m trusting you with my life right now.” Listen, I know in our scuba diving certification courses one aspect most important is checking over your own gear, but I had given in to the idea that if I died underwater in a scuba diving mishap that was entirely better than what I had been through . . . or would go through on the way home. Let fate have its way.
And bless my fiance’s heart — He did just that. He helped find my fins, boots, and mask. He miraculously got me into my wet suit. He helped me put on my fins, boots, and mask. He checked my equipment and assisted in getting me into it too. I’m saying the only way to put this is in an understatement: The man is a saint.
Finally I was ready. “We are going to flip backward off the boat,” one of our instructors said. “On a count to three — One . . . two . . . ” Wait! I thought. I’m not ready! My mask is slipping down my face. I’m not positive I’m even in the right stance — “and THREE!” the instructor shouted. Screw it, I thought. I’m already a world of problems. What more can happen? and over I flung myself over because I simply wanted off that Godforsaken boat.
I wish I could say my diving mishaps end there, but it is only beginning . . .
In the water, all of us floated until we received the command to go under from our instructor. I was beginning to find a bit of positivity — Maybe I would be alright — when I felt my flipper come off my foot. Sinking, sinking, sinking quickly with the weight of a super heavy air tank and weights, I scanned to find my flipper when out of the blue our instructor appeared and shoved the flipper back onto my foot. Together, we continued down but because I had dropped so quickly and so fast my left ear felt swollen and the pain was incredible. I motioned to the instructor that I had to go back up so up we went, pausing every so often to see if I was okay. “Nope,” I’d motion in scuba-language. “Up more” so we continued up still when — yep, this has to happen to me — I lost my flipper a second time. Let me interject and say I did try damned flippers on beforehand and they fit really snugly; the instructor even checked and noticed, as I did, that they fit snugly. So I’m sinking again and the instructor is finding my flipper again and jamming it back onto my foot again and we are swimming up again because my ear hurts again. Meanwhile, the rest of my dive group is apparently sitting on the ocean floor waiting and staring at me . . .
To make this long story short, I lost my flipper a total of four times so it took me a crazy-long amount of time to even get below the water comfortably. But — the positive — I did have my own diving instructor, who by now thought I was a liability so he held my hand the entire dive. Literally held my hand.
At first I was embarrassed by this. Here I was with people that have logged over fifty dives, beyond 100, and I am clearly the newbie having my hand held because I was struggling to even go under the water’s surface. Again, at first that embarrassed me. But by now I was so worn out having thrown up for two hours straight and having sank due to flipper-loss multiple times that I really didn’t care if my hand was held or even if a “This woman is going to kill herself diving and I’m not responsible” sign was attached to me. Little mattered at this point . . . which is sad because while I was floundering, my dive group had moved on — aware that they could not wait for me forever — to performing safety skills, such as how to clear their masks and how to recover their respirators. Skills critical with new dive companies. However, did I have to prove these life-essential diving skills? Nope! Because remember, I was having my hand held. There wasn’t much I could fuck up at this point with my personal instructor making sure I survived.
Meanwhile, all was apparently wonderful below! Here’s what they saw, courtesy Andy and his underwater camera. Schools of fish — many different types — apparently swimming together and sea lions slowly approaching.
In these pictures, the sea lions appear to almost be flirting with Andy, showing off underwater.
Of course I use the word “apparently” because I didn’t witness any of this. Don’t believe me? These pictures are in chronological order and yep, there’s me . . . trying to get deeper but still at the top of the damn water with — take note — my hand held.
Below, Andy got so tired of waiting for me that he continued taking pictures — pictures not only of the amazing animals but also of himself because, as he says, “You weren’t around to do that for me.”
Meanwhile, sea lions still whirled by doing as we were told: They lightly nibbled on fins and even brushed against divers to be touched.
It looks incredible, miraculous even, doesn’t it? Yep, I’m so thankful I saw these pictures because by the time I finally made it to the bottom, I saw this lone sea lion streak past before disappearing into blue.
My instructor then dropped me off — literally — by letting go of my hand and making a movement with his arms that said, “STOP! Do not DARE move from this point!” as he went off to, well, instruct. (I suppose he couldn’t be my personal guide the entire time.)
My instructor did return to hold my hand again because of course he would — I was a lawsuit waiting to happen. It was here I realized I not only had my own personal instructor but I had my own guide. While the others were swimming who knows where behind us, I was now the leader with him! I should have been concerned where Andy was, but honestly one, I clearly had enough problems of my own and two, he had survived this far without me so I continued on as commander! I pointed out every animal that passed — Massive school of fish, there!Great big fish following me, there!It was wonderful, I felt large and in charge . . . until there went Andy, going up to the surface with our other instructor and I see him with the instructor’s back-up regulator in his mouth. In essence, we are opposites when it comes to diving: I can barely get myself down but when I am finally near the bottom, I am calm, barely moving, under control. Andy, on the other hand, is a rock star at dropping but once he is at the bottom, his arms flail at his sides. He tells me it is because he feels he isn’t in control but this energy uses a large amount of oxygen.
In the end, as Andy went up one of two things happened:
1. My photographer disappeared so there are zero pictures of me — for the first time this day — looking in control and like an actual scuba diver.
2. The moment I became confident, comfortable and dare I say happy, our group had to return to the top because when one person is up without air, the rest follow.
I know, I shouldn’t harbor ill feelings towards Andrew. After all, he was my caretaker and rescued me more times than I can count. (This, dear friends, is one of many examples to come . . . )
And here, I’ll say again I wish the story of our first Galápagos dive ended there but that’s apparently not our style. The moment I stepped on the boat was the moment I ran back to my little corner and began to vomit once more. And more. And more. And . . . you get the picture. Meanwhile, the other divers were surfacing and sitting down to prepare for the boat to take off for our second dive location. Instead of gathering my supplies, I began to drunkenly shed them, moaning at each attempt to get off my wetsuit.
“Aren’t you going on the second dive?” the instructors asked me. Andy asked me. The other divers asked me. But I was through — I was exhausted, shaking violently, struggling to stay awake, and still vomiting. Even if the ocean provided a type of reprieve from seasickness, trust me — at this state, it was not going to be enough.
“Hey, I won’t go either,” Andy told me, trying to hold my hand as I continued dry heaving. But that was absurd — We were here, he was able to dive, he needed to go. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Take pictures while you’re under!” I tried to call to him as I moved to the other end of the boat to curl up on a cushioned seat to sleep. Before he had leapt into the water, I was already gone.
In truth, I have no idea how long they dove. With the captain and first mate talking quietly in Spanish and the boat in an area of still water, I was lulled into a deep sleep, waking only for a matter of seconds when I felt blankets placed on top of me and tucked into my sides.
At some point the divers resurfaced and I was ushered back to my vomit-station-of-quarantine while lunch was served.
“Does she want food?” they asked.
“Definitely no,” Andy told them, which I was thankful for as the start of the engine and movement refueled my body’s desire to vomit.
“Do you want lunch?” they asked him.
“No, thank you,” I heard him say from the other side of the boat at the same time food was brought out. Then I heard pounding footsteps. Then I felt someone next to me. And then I heard Andy, explosive-vomitting over the side of the boat, retching and throwing up with such force and noise, I looked into the water to see if he had spewed his insides. Two times he heaved so fiercely and loudly that he, too, collapsed next to me, exhausted.
Leaving Floreana, leaving bits of ourselves to feed the sea creatures, and leaving our dignity behind, that — my readers — is how our fellow divers ate their lunch and how we will be remembered. The sound of Andy snoring loudly after losing his internals to the sea and the sound of me, still throwing up for another hour until my body dry heaved the last sixty minutes back to Santa Cruz, where — only until we were within sight of the island — did we both sit up to maybe, kind of, sort of, somewhat smile.
Returning to our resort, I fought back the urge to throw up again as our room spun violently. Surrounded in a blur of colors, I collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep once more.
In the conclusion, I had such high hopes for this day — Diving was, after all, the reason we went to Galapagos: To dive with sea lions. To see sharks. To see a schools of hammerheads. That was our goal so when I woke, I was filled with sadness.
“I cannot do the dive tomorrow,” I told Andy, unable to stand straight and falling as the room spun. “Even if I feel better in the morning, I honestly worry how it will affect my health. I don’t want to risk other things we have planned. I think I need to cancel tomorrow’s dive and aim to dive again Thursday.” Tomorrow’s dive was at Isla North Seymour and Mosquera, spots known to have sharks, schools of large fish, eagle rays, eels, turtles, and more.
Agreeing it was best, Andy ended up cancelling his dive too due to the fact that it was with a different dive company so he would have to repeat trying on equipment and doing safety procedures in the water. “I’d rather explore Santa Cruz with you,” he rationalized.
Walking to the restaurant, we ordered dinner until I swayed so much that I fell onto the table, until the smell of our food had me nauseous again and here I ran to our room to fall asleep again in bed. It was 7:00 p.m. and I had left Andrew to eat dinner alone at an ocean-edge candlelight table for two.