By Kim Elsner
Magical. If I had to describe our trip to the Socorro Islands in one word it would be magical. Hollywood couldn't have scripted a better trip for us. The amount of emotions that were brought out of all of us on this trip is absolutely incredible. There is nothing I would change except having to say goodbye to this incredibly wild, friendly, energetic and welcoming place.
After a 30 hour boat ride out into the wilds of the Pacific we were all eager to jump into the water and see what awaits us. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined the encounters we'd have with some of the oceans most graceful and beautiful creatures. Each dive brought its own uniqueness, challenges and teary eyed moments. We’d be swimming along in a zen moment, and look back to check on our buddy only to find a giant manta ray swimming towards us to play. They sought us out to investigate us, swim with us and have our bubbles tickle their belly. It felt like they rounded up their friends to come join the party when they heard us splash into the water.
There was no fear shown from them towards us. They'd swim at eye level with us, peek into our soul and offer a moment of peace. After the eye contact they'd gently swim above us and let us join in their graceful flight. It's difficult to explain to someone what it feels like to swim inches from a 16 foot gentle giant. It amazes me to think about these animals and how they are so wild yet enjoy the company of humans. Their acrobatics and graceful moves will mesmerize you. It's easy to forget you're underwater. You have to really make sure you're watching your depth, air pressure and time. It felt like we were watching a National Geographic video except we were actually living it!
Then came the dolphins. I don't think there are words that would describe an encounter with wild dolphins. The first time we saw them I heard them first. Frantically looking around to see where the noise was coming from. Hoping beyond hope I could just get a glimpse of them. Never expecting them to come close to us, but they were just as curious and friendly as the mantas. Chattering to us as they swam through the group investigating each diver. Then posing perfectly still while we photographed them. They too would swim eye level and get a good look into our eyes. These moments felt like they lasted forever. Time slowed. Nothing else in the world mattered except being there in the moment with one of the world's most cherished animals.
It brought tears to my eyes, and still does, to watch these incredibly beautiful animals choose to interact with us. They aren't trained. They aren't in captivity. They are choosing these interactions themselves. Deciding when to come, how close to get and when to leave. We are incredibly lucky to have experienced a moment, or several, that the majority of the world will never get to experience.
To make these moments even greater, which sounds impossible, we were also joined by many different types and sizes of sharks. Most people have a built in fear of these animals due to negative publicity. But once you actually swim with a shark and watch them interact with their environment you get a different appreciation of them. They are magical. All muscle and beauty filled with raw power and energy.
They are not blood thirsty animals always looking to kill. They have the same curiosity as the mantas and dolphins just with a little more hesitation. At one point we were surrounded by 10 Galapagos sharks, circling our group. Not out of aggression or hunger, but out of curiosity of what these weird creatures that blew bubbles were. We tried to be still and not make sudden movements. Not because we were afraid they would attack but because we didn't want to scare them away. Sharks scare easily. And being surrounded by 10 absolutely beautiful and magnificent creatures is a rare treat. Sharks deserve a healthy respect and caution. But they aren't the evil man eaters people tend to think about.
Dive after dive we had incredible encounters with all of these animals. So many mantas, dolphins and sharks it was hard keeping track of them all. My words don't do this place justice. I wish I could put the emotions of what I’ve felt this past week into words that could make people feel what this experience really is about. I just hope that what I have said will peak someone's curiosity enough that they make the journey to see the magic and help preserve this special place.
We were blessed with great conditions for almost all of the dives. They weren't easy dives but incredibly rewarding dives. The weather was stellar and the company was great. The boat was full of a great group of people and friendships that will continue to deepen. The boat ride home was full of emotions. Sadness that we have to leave this magical water, grateful to have been able to experience such a life changing trip and love for everyone on board. Whether we keep in touch with all of the divers on the trip or not, we all will be forever connected through the magic of the Socorro islands.
Here's a video of the trip! https://youtu.be/4zlUHovZhvA
Photo courtesy of Franziska Meier from our trip in June, 2016.