After that first dive, we concluded that we needn’t have worried that our expectations were set too high. This site had exceeded them.
For two weeks we dived around the reserve, and every dive was as spectacular as the first. The grouper were always there in large numbers and the dive-centre staff said that they could pretty much guarantee seeing them. We saw barracuda and common dentex on every dive.
Mackerel frequently swirled by, and at one site we were surrounded by greater amberjack hunting bogue near the surface throughout our safety stop.
One day we dived the wreck of the Isla Gomera, which sank in a storm in 1946.
Top: El Naranjito wreck. Above: Greater amberjack at Islas Hormigas.
It is commonly known as El Naranjito – “little orange” – because of the citrus cargo it was carrying at the time. The fruit continued to wash ashore for weeks.
The wreck is quite intact and upright.
It starts at 28m, so we would recommend diving it with nitrox. With air the bottom time was very limited and we didn’t manage to see that much of the wreck – though, as photographers/videographers, we do tend to move slowly.
Because we were staying for a while in Cabo de Palos we took the opportunity to have some things sent from home, but the package had yet to arrive when it was time to leave. We waited a couple of days, but eventually had to move on because we had only two days to get to L’Estartit.
The dive-centre kindly offered to send the package on. Of course, it arrived at the centre the day after our departure.
L’Estartit means the Medes Islands marine reserve – the place where, seven years earlier, we had taken a camera under water for the first time.
We had been in Barcelona and took a day out to do two dives around the islands. With only 20 dives or so under our belts, Mattias had invested in
a GoPro with a head-mount.
About 10 minutes into the first dive, I had discovered that there was no longer a camera on his head, and we had traced our way back to the descent-line to find it lying on the bottom.
Tip to aspiring videographers: don’t mount a camera on your head until you have learnt to manage your buoyancy and can focus on additional equipment!
The resulting footage had not been the best, but processing it had sparked an interest that led us to keep learning and evolving. We still learn something new to help us improve with every dive.
This time our first dive was at La Vaca, a tunnel covered in purple gorgonians. You can swim through it to the other side of the island. Around it swim big grouper accustomed to but still inquisitive about divers. One swam up to me to inspect my camera and, after a while, decided to taste my diffuser, a white plastic disc hanging from the strobe. Eventually classifying it as inedible, it let go and swam away.
Mattias and Linn.
The second day we dived in a channel between two of the islands. In the shallow part, where the seabed slopes down on each side of the islands, we found hundreds of big barracuda, stretching from the bottom to the surface.
Visibility near the seabed was not the best but closer to the surface the water cleared and we could enjoy these big predators’ company.
Floating around inside a school of barracuda is, in our opinion, one of the best experiences in diving.
For the afternoon dive we swam past a wall covered in purple gorgonians, saw a school of cow bream, got close to more grouper and were once again surrounded by a school of greater amberjack.
The way they appear out of nowhere and surround you before disappearing into the blue again is impressive.
On the last day we dived on the other side of the channel and decided to see if we could find the barracuda again.
On our way we saw more grouper, greater amberjack and common dentex – and we did find the barracuda again.
Friendly as usual, they allowed us once again to swim in their midst, giving us a glimpse of what it’s like to be a barracuda.
Talking to people working in the tourism industry in Spain, it was clear that the pandemic had affected many of them indirectly. We were told at one dive-shop that it had lost around 60% of its income for the season. What seemed to have saved dive-centres was the number of local people who had done their open-water course and discovered scuba.
The restaurants had also been forced to close again as we arrived in Catalonia, so we knew what a hard time owners and their employees were having.
The van in the Pyrenees.
We had finished diving the Islas Medes but still had to wait for our package to catch up with us. It took four days before we could continue our journey into the Pyrenees to enjoy the beautiful autumn colours in the mountains.
At higher altitudes the leaves started shifting their colours and the scenery was amazing. We hiked in the mountains on the Spanish side for a week, our plan being to continue to explore the French Pyrenees before heading back down to the coast towards Italy.
But once again Covid-19 forced us to change our plans. France was beginning to close down, and eventually decided to return to nationwide lockdown.
So as we write we are still in Spain to await developments in France and Italy, while trying to isolate ourselves as much as possible. Follow the journey on Instagram (@ocean.exposure), Facebook and YouTube (@Ocean Exposure).