Map of Galapagos
(click to enlarge)
A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life
– Charles Darwin
We set sail from Santa Maria Island around 11:00 p.m. for the seven hour transit to Espanola Island. The night passage was turbulent with heavy seas, and again seasickness stalked my fellow passengers. The vomit rocket was in its full glory. No seasickness for me, but I did have to lay flat on my back or risk getting tossed out of my bunk onto the unyielding deck. But that’s what sun decks are for, they are perfect for mid-afternoon siestas.
Bunks aboard the New Flamingo
Boarding the Zodiac we landed on Espanola Island after breakfast (for those of us who still had an appetite) at about 7:45 a.m. and we ate well for our entire 8-day exploration. Three meals a day (7:00 in the morning, 12-noon and again around 7:00 in the evening) with snacks served at 10:00 a.m. and again at 3:00 p.m. for those of us who were hungry—I was always hungry.
Dining Room aboard the New Flamingo
All the islands of Galapagos are volcanic in origin, and nowhere is this more evident than on Espanola Island. Rugged lava-rock cliffs with pounding surf are home to myriad seabirds, Marine Iguanas and crabs. The abundant Sea Lions much prefer the sandy beaches and low-lying rocks to sunbathe on. We saw a lot of young Sea Lion pups, and they are curious little critters. They will walk (waddle) right up to you and nuzzle you, or touch you with their flippers. The temptation is to reach out and touch them, but the consequences are disastrous—once touched by humans, mama Sea Lion will reject the pup, and it will eventually starve to death. Unfortunately, we saw evidence of this. Alfonso, our guide, said 99% of visitors will respect the rules, but the 1% who don’t are responsible for numerous deaths among the very young. We saw more than one dead pup decaying on the beach or in the rocks.
Photographer’s hint: Make sure you bring a wide-angle lens, you will find many opportunities to use it. On a crop-sensor camera a 17-40mm zoom would be about right, and on a full-frame camera something like a 24-105mm would be good. Because I had my 400mm mounted full-time on my primary shooter, I used my little Canon PowerShot G15 backup shooter to get my wide-angle shots. The G15 will shoot at 28mm (modest wide-angle) on the short end. I would have preferred shooting with my full-frame camera and my 24-105mm zoom, but changing lenses constantly was a hassle, and my primary subjects were the critters. SFD
You can see in the above photo the island’s rugged, blustery, windswept and surf-pounded coastline. Hiking can be challenging with the sharp lava-rocks threatening to trip you up at any moment, and sturdy hiking boots are recommended. Mine are rugged leather (Alden boots, made famous by Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movies), and provided great protection. Some chose to wear athletic shoes, but they are not to my liking. Sandals are a mistake (in my mind), and flip-flops could get you killed or seriously injured.
I have attached the following gallery of photos from Espanola Island. Click on the images to enlarge for better viewing. I’ve made every effort to properly identify each photo, and when I couldn’t find what I was looking for in a field guide I consulted my guide Alfonso (whose knowledge was invaluable).
Photographer’s note: I’ve said it many times before, photography is about compromise. This is true everywhere, but particularly true in Galapagos. There are a lot of birds to photograph, and birds have beaks (sometimes long beaks). Also you are shooting handheld with long lenses, which necessitates fast shutter speeds to stop motion blur and camera shake. My 400mm super-telephoto shoots great wide-open at f/5.6, but the depth of field (DOF) at that aperture is very shallow. What’s my point? My point is that it is difficult, sometimes, to keep both the eyes and beak in sharp focus—especially if the bird is facing you. The solution is to stop the lens down to f/8 or f/11 but when you’re handholding at 1/1000s to 1/2000s your ISO can jump up quickly. On bright sunny days this isn’t so much of a problem, but sometimes in the islands you’re shooting on cloudy, overcast days or early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You just have to be aware of the compromises between aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and try to strike a balance somewhere. SFD
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler
Espanola Island – Galapagos, Ecuador