My friend Jean and her family planned to go scuba diving from a dive boat in the Galapagos. I went along for the ride, since I had a "free" morning and didn't want to spend it alone. They said I could go snorkeling if I wanted to, so I brought my gear.
The water was rough, so I figured I'd stay close to the boat so I could get right back on it if I had any trouble. There was one other snorkeler who jumped in with me, a tall young Norwegian guy, but he was “free-diving” and was under the water most of the time.
When I got in that water, I knew immediately that I was in trouble.
It was so rough that my snorkel tube kept filling up with water. I didn't have enough strength to keep blowing it out, so I had to take it out of my mouth to empty it. Every time I did this I got smacked in the face with a big wave.
I swallowed a lot of sea water. I decided to get back on the boat. When
I turned my head to look for it I saw to my horror that it had driven
about 50 yards away from me. I screamed and screamed to get attention,
but no one on the boat was watching or listening. The captain was
listening to his i-Pod!
I tried to swim toward the boat, but the current and the waves kept pushing me farther and farther back. I'm a good swimmer, but I could feel my strength leaving my body.
I thought about rolling over on my back and just floating but this was impossible because the waves kept breaking over me. A drowning scene from an old movie literally flashed before my eyes.
Then the other snorkeler bobbed back up to the surface. I screamed again. He swam to me and I held on to his shoulder. I remember making a conscious effort not to choke-hold my rescuer.
I placed my hand on his shoulder lightly, as if we were preparing to dance a waltz. I thought, I might scare him if I grab him too hard and then he’ll try to get away from me and leave me to die.
My rescuer was able to whistle loud enough to get the attention of the boat captain.
The boat quickly drove back to us. I grabbed onto the ladder. I
was shaking so badly I could barely get my flippers off and hand them up
to the horrified man.
Waves buffeted the boat so hard that the hull would alternately rise up out of the water one second and come crashing down the next.
The current sucked my legs underneath the hull, but I kept a death-grip on the ladder. It was several minutes before I regained enough strength to let them help me climb back onto the boat.
I lay on the deck with my eyes closed. I shook violently from fear, cold and nausea. This would never have happened if the guys on the boat had been paying attention. I wouldn’t have panicked if the boat hadn’t driven away. They put my life at risk.
Twenty minutes later when Jean and her son got back on the boat, they
talked me into lying down on the bench seat. I didn’t want to take up so
much space, considering that there were 14 people on that small boat,
but Jean said “(expletive)” them!” She covered me with dry towels and
gave me one of Tom’s chewable Dramamines. Thank God it worked quickly―I
hate throwing up.
The boat took us to another dive site where the water was a little
calmer. But everybody decided to just snorkel instead of dive. I was
able to get back in the water with them and snorkeled.
This time Jean, her husband Alan, and her son Tom stayed right alongside me. Jean held my hand most of the time. She had traded snorkels with me; she had a good quality one that was easy to empty when it filled with water.
This time I enjoyed myself. Jean and I saw three baby Stingrays slowly swimming together right below us. They were the only major sea animals that I was able to get close to the whole trip.
I can imagine you’re thinking, “Why the hell did she go on a trip like this?”
Well, seeing the Galapagos has always been a dream. I see now that my desire was fueled by watching too many Discovery Channel shows - the camera work is always very seductive, and they always shoot during good weather. The background music adds to the mystique, as did the travel brochure that was sent to me by the tour agency.
I think I expected too much. Am I glad I went? Absolutely! I’ve traveled for years and I know from personal experience that there is no perfect trip. The weather and the animals march to their own beat.
Not only did I survive the challenge of the elements and a brush with death, but I saw some awesome scenery and I loved being close-up with the 100-year-old land-tortoises.
Story & photos by Loretta St. John
To learn more about Loretta’s Galapagos adventures, be sure to read Loretta’s Galapagos Hike.