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From Island to Island

January 1, 2018

During a much needed Fall Break, IES Abroad organized five days of island hopping extravaganza. It’s very stress free to go island hopping without needing to handle any of the logistics. Fall Break is after the third module and it couldn’t have come sooner. I was stressed out from classes, constantly sick from diarrhea and dreadfully homesick. Honestly, I was feeling depressed and lonely. I felt like I was the only one who was homesick, the only person not adjusting to island life, the only one with problems. Regardless, I was ecstatic to visit the other islands. So ecstatic that I spent $100 renting a GoPro.

The itinerary included having us up and exploring at the crack of dawn to dinner. Meals, lodging, transportation and activities were included in tuition. All I had to do was show up. The adventure began in Santa Cruz, then to Isabella, back to Santa Cruz, off to Isla Seymour, and finished in Santa Cruz. We traveled to many places on the islands but I’m going to describe my favorite: Los Tuneles near Isabella.

One gray and moist Sunday morning, Abby (she is one of five Abby’s in the program) and I headed solo to the pier to embark on our journey. The dive shop couldn’t accommodate all 22 of us, so Abby and I went off on our own in a boat full of potential acquaintances. The boat was open and couldn’t seat everyone on it. The crew elected to sit on the sides or the floor. The rough waves and rain convinced everyone to travel in their wetsuits, shorties no less. It’ll become common to see people bundled in wetsuits and raincoats.

Boat rides can be great opportunities to meet travelers from different parts of the world. The woman sitting next to us was from Sweden and traveling solo throughout Latin America. She decided one day that she wanted to travel and quit her job just to do so. Wild. After the conversation drifted off, I put in my earbuds and tried to nap, albeit the bitter, cold water seeping into my hood.

Entering the bay for the tunnels required patience, diligence and a little bit of crazy. The crew basically warned us to brace for impact because we had to ride the five meters high and aggressive waves inside. It was the closest I’ve gotten to surfing.

Los Tuneles, or the Tunnels are exactly how they sound and more. Los Tuneles is near Volcan Sierra Negra and was created by the water eroding channels through lava rock. As the boat was docking, we spotted numerous sea turtles surfacing for air. Walking across the lava tunnels is like looking down at a bustling highway from a bridge.

How many places do you get to see a green sea turtle passing a white-tipped shark? And they behave cordially?

Sea turtles were swimming through the pathways, disappearing under the tunnel and reappearing on the other side. Fish were darting in and out. Sharks were passing through to get wherever sharks go. Blue-footed Boobies were nesting. Word of advice, pay attention to where you step.

After taking pictures on the walking portion of the tour, we boarded the boat and drove to the other side to begin the snorkel. The water was shallow and kicked up a lot of sediment. The snorkel, however, was still amazing.

It was like swimming through an aquarium, but the animals were free. I swam over colorful plants and schools of fish. Turtles were feasting on algae; they’d look at us as they continued to chew then go about their day.

The guide found an underwater cave that housed the biggest Marbled Ray I’d ever seen. It looping around the cave in all of its majestic glory and we all crowded around the opening to see the big guy swim around. He, unfortunately, decided to leave the cave once it was blocked off and 10+ people had to scurry out of the way to avoid colliding into the ray.

Swimming along, we went searching for sharks, sleeping sharks. Los Tuneles is a sleeping area for tiburones con punta blanca, or white-tipped sharks. This is hands-down my favorite part of the entire island hopping trip.

I was swimming behind the snorkel guide looking for the sharks. We weren’t the only group snorkeling and the sharks had moved from the usual area to another. The sand has been kicked up and the water was murky. Not the best condition to look for sharks that blend into this environment. My guide found the sleeping area and he pointed out a shark. I was the closest to the guide so I take the opportunity to get footage.  I decide this would be a perfect time to get a 360 video.

Unbeknownst to me, I was surrounded by about 30 White-tipped Sharks. I was in fact, floating above a sleeping one. I swam into their sleeping area, thinking there was only one, and actually passed by 10, floated above another and had 20 more off in the distance. Remember, this was shallow water. It was maybe three meters deep.

It was surreal. Some of the sharks woke up and began swimming around. Other sharks were snuggling in the sand or each other. Even though they were much bigger than I, they were very peaceful and entertaining to follow. It was a moment of personal growth for me. I started my journey unable to swim and afraid of sharks and now I was snorkeling sans life jacket and completely surrounded by them. 

The last stop on the agenda was to an area I could stand in and the water come to my waist. I certainly stood up because the air was warmer than the very cold water we had spent an hour in. It was time to see the seahorse. If you were imagining the colorful Mystery from Spongebob then you would be disappointed. The seahorse was a dull brown, camouflage and immobile. It was like playing a game of “Where’s Waldo” except the surroundings are brown and Waldo is brown and you’re trying to find brown within brown.

As I swam off and gave my regards to a passing ray, I paid very little attention to a large rock near me. Until that rock began to move. I spun around and the rock was indeed the largest sea turtle I had ever seen. You wouldn’t believe how often you’ll underestimate the size of an animal until it’s right in front of you.

I made the same mistake with a manta ray swimming near our boat. It was on the surface and you could see the shadow but not the complete width. For awhile, it was only showing one of its wings. It wasn’t until I saw both wings surface that I understood its magnitude. Los Tunules was the most aquatic adventure of the trip and one of my favorite places to snorkel. You will definitely enjoy the experience if you go.

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