Green sea turtles are one of many animal species that live in the waters around the Galapagos Islands. // © 2015 Thinkstock
My Galapagos Islands checklist was long, land-oriented and mostly based on images from high-school science textbooks. I wanted to see squadrons of blue-footed boobies — preferably perched on a beachfront rock, hunting for breakfast. Sally Lightfoot crabs were also a priority, as were marine iguanas, Galapagos tortoises and Darwin’s sprightly finches.
Little did I know, spotting the above fauna comes easily — I saw nearly all of them during my first day in Puerto Ayora. It’s the sea animals that play harder to get.
The travel gods were smiling upon me when my concierge recommended Macaron’s Scuba Diving Academy, a local business operated by Galapagos native Juan Carlos Moncayo, or “Macaron.”
Genial and energetic even when loaded down with pounds of scuba gear, Macaron behaved as if the waters around Santa Cruz Island were his backyard. He’d point his boat captain to seemingly random swaths of ocean, and then our group would dive into the water. We would head in one direction for an hour and then surface to find our vessel waiting for us.
An entirely different Galapagos came into view beneath the waves. In a silent and dreamy ballet, we circled massive volcanic rocks and slid under overhangs, pausing to observe canary-yellow sea stars with black spikes, rays napping on the sea floor and green sea turtles winging their way to wherever it is sea turtles go. A playful yet solitary seal led us through the blue, twirling in circles then jetting away like a bullet train.
Later, in a remarkable crystal-ball moment, Macaron’s boat dropped us right into the center of a swirling wall of fins and eyes. And there we were — four divers, thousands of fish and millions of miles of water still left to explore.