Having a bad hair day in Malpelo
When a 5-knot current flattens your hair and drags your bubbles behind you, forget about taking photos. Just hang on for dear life.
I make a special trip down to Panama in January to guide a group of very experienced divers with whom I have been diving in other dive destinations for close to 10 years now. Of course I am nervous to see how they will react when they dive Malpelo as I feel responsible that they are here…
This is my first time in Malpelo in the wintertime. (Although Panamanians call this summer because it is the so-called dry season now.) Normally at this time of the year the winds are coming from the north, while April through October weather comes from the south. However, when we arrive we have the wind coming unusually from the south then gradually changing and starting to blow from the north during our 6 days at the island of Malpelo.
Our first days start a bit slow. Visibility is limited, from 35 feet to 60 feet (11 to 18 meters), with very warm water of up to 81 F (27 C)! A few hammerheads are schooling far out in the open water and are hard to see. We see shadowy groups of up to around 200 hammerheads.
Then there’s a very strong current of up to 5 knots going from north to south, which is about the strongest that we have ever seen here! We even have to move to another mooring on one occasion. Fortunately, only a few times do we have to hang on for dear life in the ripping current. We just have to forget about taking photos in these conditions.
While it makes some of the dive sites inaccessible, other sites still offer very calm and comfortable diving. We try some new dive sites that surprise us with great encounters with the beautiful scalloped hammerheads; we watch as the mixed groups of small males and bigger females parade before us, forming different constellations of sharks as they pass by.
As the week progresses the diving just get better, with more hammerheads on each dive.
We sometimes forget the richness of other sea life here in Malpelo. We have the barracudas, the schools of whipper snappers, the blue-fin trevallys, leatherbasses curiously following us and swallowing our bubbles, schooling milkfish, and shitting mullet snappers. Being underwater and watching the different hunting behaviors for me is as exciting as when we get a big school of hammerheads passing by.
I choose to be a guide in Malpelo because this is one of the last remote destinations that exist on this planet. It is not like Cocos, which for me got too civilized. Socorro was a remote destination and I loved the time when we were by ourselves; now there are 7 boats out at the islands. In Malpelo I am by myself with my divers. We decide what we will do; we take the skiff out to look at the conditions and decide our dive.
It is difficult diving and it’s not for everyone. But as long as you respect mother nature, Malpelo is the one destination I hope you will live to experience. And I’m glad I finally got these friends of mine to come down for a visit.