Map of the Galapagos Islands
Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact—the mystery of mysteries—the first appearance of new beings on this earth – Charles Darwin
We weighed anchor and departed Santa Cruz Island at 0200 hours in the morning. Our destination was Santa Maria Island (aka Floreana Island), a cruise of some 5-hours (refer to the map above). Cruise might be a misnomer, as the passage was anything but smooth. Heavy swells hit our little 50-foot vessel abeam, and the resulting rolling action rocked our boat precariously from starboard to port and back again. Luckily I don’t get seasick, but many of my fellow passengers weren’t so lucky. This was our introduction to a typical transit from island to island, rough seas punished us for venturing into exotica.
Zodiac (file photo)
Large vessels cannot approach the islands too closely, although our boat was anything but large. Island landings were accomplished by Zodiac, small inflatable craft with an outboard motor. Landings came in two varieties, wet landings and dry landings. Wet landings involved beaching the Zodiac on a beach, and climbing out of the craft (usually into water about knee-deep); dry landings were more treacherous, as the Zodiac nudged itself up against the lava rocks you stepped out of the Zodiac and onto the slippery, crab-infested rocks. All the while the little Zodiac was bouncing up and down like a bucking bronco. One misstep and your dry landing turned into a very dangerous wet landing. Note: Keen sandals for wet landings, and my leather hiking boots for dry landings (dry landings usually indicated a hike over rough, sharp lava).
Photographer’s note: While crossing the open sea in the little Zodiac, and again when you make your island landings, your photographic gear is in peril. Although I never had a mishap, my nightmare was slipping into the water with $4,000 to $5,000 USD of photographic gear strapped around my neck.
Sally Lightfoot Crab
During almost every island landing (wet or dry) we were greeted by colorful Sally Lightfoot Crabs, and the ubiquitous Sea Lions (both adults and pups). I’ve been asked if these large beautiful crabs are good to eat; when I asked my guide that question he said that the locals don’t eat them, much preferring other species.
Snoozing Sea Lion
I have included some images from Santa Cruz Island (the Giant Galapagos Tortoise) and Santa Maria Island. These images pretty much cover what I saw on Day 1 and Day 2 of my adventure. I think I have them labeled correctly, and when in doubt I checked with my guide Alfonso (he has been guiding in Galapagos for 26-years). I took well over 2,000 images during my eight days, but am sharing just a small representative sample. Click on the images in the gallery to enlarge them for better viewing.
Photographer’s note: A little information about photography gear might be appropriate for my fellow photogs. If you are fortunate enough (and rich enough) to own one of the big guns like a 500mm f/4 leave it at home. Likewise your tripod, again leave it at home. You’re only on an island for 1 to 2-1/2 hours tops, so you are moving fast and light. A 500mm f/4 is too long and too heavy. A better choice for a crop-sensor camera would be a 70-300mm zoom, or a 100-400mm zoom. You could probably get by with a 70-200mm zoom, but a 1.4x teleconverter would be useful (if you can handle the slight image degradation, personally I can’t). On a full-frame camera you are going to appreciate the reach of a 400mm lens. Mine is the venerable Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 USM prime super-telephoto lens, and although I didn’t have the flexibility of a zoom lens the image quality on my lens is unmatched (I just used my legs to move closer or farther). It’s important to note that no flash photography is allowed anywhere in Galapagos. The park rules say that an exception can be made for professional photographers, but I was told no when I presented my Press Credentials for The Yucatan Times newspaper. Therefore, you have to really pay attention to lighting, especially in backlit situations where fill-flash would have been helpful. I will offer more thoughts on photography in my subsequent posts from Galapagos. SFD
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler