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Dive Review of Andean Travel Co. Boat: Aqua (aka Pinguino Explore in
Galapagos Islands/Darwin Wolf other islands

Andean Travel Co. Boat: Aqua (aka Pinguino Explore: "Megamart of marine life lives up to the hype and challenging diving", Dec, 2021,

by Dani, CA, USA ( 1 report with 1 Helpful vote). Report 11859 has 1 Helpful vote.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 4 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 4 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 1 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments Boat: [andeantc.com link]

Boat is also known as Pinguino Explorer and that is its name on the Galapagos traffic control website, and likely it's Marine call sign too.

Good value for money. Adequate, no frills.


The good: Once on the boat:
---------------------------------------
Efficient and effective service by staff. They do their job, work hard.
Don't expect ooh-ahh s and fawning over customers.
The vessel and dive infrastructure shows age, but we did not notice anything that was not functioning.
And we did not look too closely; scared to find something after reading this report [undercurrent.org link]

Very detailed safety briefing by very experienced guide Jimmy.
Diver alert air horn, SMB, Nautilus Marine GPS rescue included for every diver.
Food was reasonable, dominantly Western/European, limited choice for vegetarians or pescaterians.
14 divers (out of 16 capacity) with 2 guides Jimmy and Liandro.
The guides switched between groups day to day.
Liandro had a GoPro and shared the clips at the end of the trip.
Jimmy was more attentive in keeping an eye on the group.

Both are highly experienced and capable considering one dive they led with 10ft breakers and churning waters.
Several of us skipped that dive.
It is also arguable whether they should have done that dive or not, but well everyone lived to tell the tale so...

Jimmy is also an excellent overland guide. The Santa Cruz highland tour (for Giant Tortoises) that was included was guided by him. He answered every question about birds, vegetation, geological formations, identified trees and vegetation and he is a great storyteller and cares for the place.

The bad:
-----------
Getting to the boat:
PADI seems to have no ways to communicate with the operator or customers except by email in this age and time of cell phones, satellite phones.
None of the 3 phones provided as contact and emergency contact for the operator worked because they were wrong or no one picked up!
By the time someone from the operator contacted us, we already had lost connectivity and only saw messages on return from the trip.Connectivity for phones was bad or non-existent except in the town urban areas.
The place we stayed in Santa Cruz the night before is owned by someone who used to be a dive guide and is a friend of Jimmy.
He managed to find the meet time and point, but we were still late due to waiting for the ferry and the boat.

"Get to the boat on your own if you did not do air bookings through us/operator" unfortunately is not as simple as just hiring a taxi to get to wherever the boat is.

The lurking danger:
--------------------------
The shampoo and conditioner bottles in the bathroom leaked constantly and their positions over the grab bars for support created a deadly slip hazard not just on the flooring but also if one grabbed the bars for support.

The impressive:
---------------------
Life!!Absolute megamart of life! Lives up to the hype.
For large pelagic life, this is a sure place to dive at least once!

Despite poor visibility, challenging dive conditions or perhaps because of it, the variety and density of marine life is indeed impressive. Layers and layers of hammerheads, whale sharks, Galapagos shark, even one or two tiger sharks someone spotted, playful sea wolves (lions), turtles, mantas, cow-nose rays, spotted eagle rays, squadrons of mobula rays,  large schools of jacks, barracuda, other smaller fish, eels, on an on.In 16 dives we did + the San Isabella island lava tunnels snorkel (must do), we check boxed almost all large critters (except nurse sharks and goliath grouper) we had seen in all our prior 180+ dives each (granted this is puny number relative to the bigwigs here, but we can only manage diving trips so often with our current lives and commitments).

I wish we had more time spent on small critters, as they sure were there. But, there was no time and the majority of the group and guides were hyper focused on large critters.

Also there were no night dives.

Guides told me that the marine park allocates slots and duration for the boats to anchor and dive. I do not know whether it was the pandemic or just good luck or just the clock work regimental way the guides and crew operated the dive routine, but we were the only boat or the first boat at all the sites. First panga leaves 6.30-6.45 am.So, we tried to and likely got the calmer morning times for morning dives.

The guides requested group stay together and close, but for experienced folks like the German dive master with skill and experience in the group, they let them be.

Scary:
--------
Close calls and lessons (sorry if the next two sections seem like an ignoramus / inexperienced diver story. Go roll those eyes to exercise those tiny eye muscles :-))

My weight belt came off 60 ft underwater on one of the calmer initial dives with just minimal current and flat bottom.Still it took 3 people to pin me down and get that thing back on me! Thankfully the group was close by, my partner noticed and rushed to me and she held onto me while others noticed and came to help. One was a dive instructor in his home (Germany) and everyone was highly experienced from that group of 5 Germans.

Mistakes on my part: Belt too short, no weight keeper buckles on it. I switched to my own pocketed belt after that dive.
And now I have bought weight keepers just in case. Though, I am going to stick to a pocketed weight belt.

Pat on the back for self: no panic, quickly grabbing the belt and managing to somehow hang onto it without weights sliding off entirely (lost 1), purging the air from bc, keeping steady breathing.

Annoying and regretful:
------------------------------
Dive guides insisted on more weight and half the trip we were overweight by as much as 6 lb - wish that was not the case especially for Darwin and Wolf as it did make controlling dive harder and more gas consumption. Got rid of the extra weights ignoring the dive guides and things got better for the rest half  of the trip (or maybe the conditions became better or maybe we just started to get used to diving ... or all of it...)

Bothersome like grain of sand in the socks:
---------------------------------------------------------
We feel that rotating the guides on a given dive site where there are more than 1 dives is better than rotating the guides on per day basis due to their differing styles.Something we will suggest in the future if a similar arrangement is seen.

Why we chose this boat:
-----------------------
Value for money, no more than 16 divers and 2 guides, good detailed description of their itinerary on their website relative to most other boats.

And Extras we paid:
--------------------------
NITROX 150 USD per person, AL 15L (100 cu ft) tank 75 USD per person, rented BC and regulator 155 USD per person. All total 380 USD per person.

How we prepared for the trip:
----------------------------
Did PADI advanced diver course. Acquired Solafx 7mm semi dry suites - like blankets keeping warm in 54-56 F waters of Monterey bay.

Wish we had more practice and confidence with:
----------------------------------------------
Negative entry (also would have been a good confidence building measure to use by guides on initial calm dives where we did positive entries), use of SMB, navigating currents.

How to get to the darned boat if you are not all booked through the PADI or boat operator:
-----------------------------------------------
1 - Meet time at arrivals at the Baltra airport (GPS) is 11 am. Look for someone holding the sign for the Aqua boat.
2 - Take taxi to the Baltra ferry. Budget 45 minutes.
3 - Get on the first possible boat willing to take you across. You do not have to wait for the big ferry boat. Budget 30 minutes for this in case you do end up waiting.
4 - Budget 20 minutes for the Bus to the airport as the bus tends to wait to fill it up as much as possible before starting.
5 - The only way to the jetty is by bus from the airport. There is no other transport. The bus does not leave unless there are at least 10 passengers. You need to buy the ticket for the bus at the window on the left side of the terminal close to the restrooms.

Other tips and tidbits:
-----------------------
Not related to the dive, but generally for Ecuador and Galapagos, things are bureaucratic all over the place with multiple forms, queues, fees, tickets and stamps. It is as if the British, Indian and Soviet birthed a love child of bureaucracy and it migrated to these parts. Budget ample time, patience, 1 dollar coins or bills.

The San Isabella lava tunnel land and snorkel tour is worth doing even after a diving trip.

We did our own AirBnB and booking.com bookings for stay, did local ferry to go to San Isabella and back to Santa Cruz.Book the tunnel tours ahead. Pandemic has reduced crowds, but has also reduced staffing and shuttered operators.

Something I did not know before this trip:
Experienced dive guides work freelance for most of the dive boats. So, it can mean hit and miss with guide services.

We explored having a personal dive guide (after all, once in lifetime trip for us "vacational" relatively low experience divers) and the cost quoted was of having another person on the trip + guide pay. We have only done two prior liveaboard and each had some crew members also able to act as dive guides for some charges. I later on realized, the math is not the same in Galapagos. An experienced dive guide will not need or want to work as crew except as perhaps captain (our captain was dive master, but got better compensation with his captain qualification said he.). They are in high demand with the advanced diving skills and experience needed and can command good compensation. One less crew hand also likely is not helpful on an expensive trip and not good for morale maybe?. Komodo diving is advanced too, but somehow it seemed there were enough crew members willing and the crew willing to offer one of them as personal guide. Maybe it is that many in Komodo have more need and likely as fishermen families are skilled with the ways of ocean and currents like the local fish - they sure seemed to read the moods of the ocean and waters like a child's book.

Videos:
-------
[youtube.com link]

Watch full HD 1920x1440 resolution and maybe extra brightness.
Read description on list and clips for some details..
Rough and ready color correction - I dont have the patience or time for more.
I will add some more non dive clips and photos when I get time.

Websites Andean Travel Co. Boat: Aqua (aka Pinguino Ex...   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 101-250 dives
Where else diving Bali Komodo Florida-Keys Philippines Belize Mexico-Cozumel-PlayaDelCarmen Mexico-CaboPulmo-LaPaz California-Monterey
Closest Airport GPS Getting There Seems no direct routes from San Francisco. American Airlines SFO-MIA-UIO then Avianca UIO-GPS. Need buffer in Quito for COVID tests + any other delays.

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, rainy Seas choppy, surge, currents, no currents
Water Temp 59-78°F / 15-26°C Wetsuit Thickness 7
Water Visibility 5-100 Ft/ 2-30 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile ?
Enforced diving restrictions SMB, Dive alert horn, Nautilus Marine Rescue GPS.
Regimental dive start times.
Encouraged but not enforced - stay together in the group.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas Squadrons
Dolphins Schools Whale Sharks > 2
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals N/A Tropical Fish 3 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish 5 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 3 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 3 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments The table usually meant for cameras and similar gear was packed with other stuff with not a whole lot of room. I would not leave anything on that table that should remain dry and clean. No room for charging batteries at the table. There was fresh water tank for rinse. You just had to take your photography gear to your cabin after rinse for any dry work.
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Subscriber's Comments

By report author: Dani in CA, USA at Feb 05, 2022 04:14 EST  
Forgot to add - no common restroom near dive area. You have to use one in your cabin. Dive area rather congested even with 14 divers (2 less than capacity 16)
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